Burma, known internationally as Myanmar, is a must-see destination for travellers that like the two big B's of Southeast Asia - Buddha and Beaches. Although the country is itself considered one of the off the beaten track destinations in Asia, as travellers yearn to discover all the hidden corners of the world, it has become infinitely more popular. However, because some regions of the country are off limits to tourists, most visitors keep to the usual path, yet there is still so much more to see.
Few visitors ever find themselves in Loikaw, the capital of the Kayah states in Southern Myanmar. However, there are several aspects of the city that make a visit worthwhile. Even when first entering the city, it's most fascinating attraction will catch the eye of visitors right away. The Taung Kwe Pagoda is the centerpiece of Loikaw, comprised of a series of white and gold monuments that sit perched above the city on top of limestone outcrops that jut out dramatically from the surrounding plains. After climbing the series of steep steps up to the pagodas, visitors are treated with panoramic views over the city and the wilderness beyond.
However, the stunning Taung Kwe Pagodas are not the only attraction in Loikaw. Many of the people in this capital are dedicated to the preservation of the distinctive tribal customs that are quickly fading from other regions of the country. One of the most fascinating tribal customs still in practice belongs to the local Padaung tribe. The women of this tribe wear a series of bronze spiral rings around their necks that stretch them, believing that the longer the neck, the more beautiful the woman.
The Golden Rock
The Golden Rock is truly a little known locale in Myanmar. It is located a five hour drive from Yangon, yet even then requires an hour hike up a series of stairs that host their own small Buddhist temples along the way. After the long and leg-numbing hike, visitors are treated to an awesome sight. On the top of the cliff is a very precariously perched large boulder that looks like it is about one good push from tumbling down. More fascinating still, on top of this massive boulder is a pagoda. Both the boulder and pagoda are coated in gold leaf so that they shimmer and shine in the sun. While Myanmar has thousands of temples within their boundaries, none of them are quite as much of a spectacle as the Golden Rock.
The Shwedagon, or the Greater Dragon Pagoda, is considered to be the most sacred site of Buddhism in Myanmar because it contains a strand of Buddha's hair as well as a series of other religious relics. For 2,500 years, this great glowing pagoda has sat atop Singuttara Hill in Yangon. Over the centuries, it has grown from 8 metres tall to the stunning 99 metres it stands today with the entirety of the temple is covered in gold leaf with the stupa encrusted with 4,531 diamonds. With such accoutrements, it is no small wonder that Myanmar's most religious site is also the country's most grand. Visitors to the shrine should be aware that it does host a dress code that includes modest dress such as shirts with at least elbow length sleeves, trousers and guests must remove their shoes before entering.
Depending on when visitors head to Ngapoli, they may get two totally different experiences. From November through March, Ngapali is Myanmar's premier resort town. The white sand beaches are crowded with locals and visitors enjoying their beach vacation and the luxury hotels along the Bay of Bengal are bursting at the seams. Alternatively, during the rest of the year, Ngapali is the sleepy little fishing village where visitors get around by walking or riding on ox carts that double as taxis. The atmosphere during these two seasons is so different; some visitors may think they are visiting two different towns. Regardless, any time of year is a great time to visit Ngapali, though it may be a little rainier in the off season, but there will be infinitely less crowds and more culture abound.
Not unlike the Taung Kwe Pagoda in Loikaw, the Pagodas of Taung Kalat stand above all the rest. The multiple pagodas are built atop an extinct volcano plug in the middle of the Myanmar wilderness. The nearest town is two hours away by car and many pilgrims to the area make the trip just by walking. To reach the summit of Taung Kalat, visitors must climb 777 steps to the summit and run the gauntlet of Macaque monkeys that live along the path and all expect treats. The extinct volcano towers over the surrounding countryside, allowing visitors to see the hundreds of temples at Myanmar's most popular tourist destination, the ancient city of Bagan, as well as the cylindrical peak of Mount Popa, the volcano that actually caused the creation of the volcano plug upon which the Taung Kalat sits.