Myanmar, the sleeping beauty of Asia, offers a glimpse of what Asia was some 50 years ago; a rare mix of harmonious charm and sensual delights. It is a land of flamboyant Buddhism, peopled by quiet, dignified folk who are amazingly kind and welcoming. A former British colony once named Burma, Myanmar, the largest country in Southeast Asia, is very generous to its visitors, offering a wide range of beautiful scenery and archeological wonders, golden-robed monks and innumerable temples, and a lifestyle so lively it is sure to keep you busy.
Yangon and its magnificent Shwedagon, the spectacular plain of 2,230 temples in Bagan, the cultural city of Mandalay, the lakeside villages of Inle, and several less-travelled destinations such as Mogok and the Golden rock of Kyaitkiyo, will leave you in awe of this fascinating and dynamic land.
There are three distinct seasons: the cool, dry winter from November to February; the unpleasantly hot summer from March to May; and the wet, humid monsoon from May to October - also not terribly pleasant. Generally, most of the year will have daytime temperatures around 30°C (86°F) and mid-20s (high 70s) temperatures at night. During the cool season, however, you can expect temperatures closer to 25°C (77°F) and 15°C (59°F). Coastal areas are usually cooler but more humid.
Although Myanmar essentially remains a"fly in, fly out" destination, the good news is that the military government has gradually extended visa stays, resulting in more and more airlines putting Yangon on their itinerary.
There are some road border crossings at the Thai/Myanmar border (noticeably the Mae Sai-Thachilek and Ranong-Kawthoung crossings) but they sometimes close because of guerrilla and bandit activity in the area.
In times of certainty, foreign travellers can travel the famous Burma Road and enter Myanmar via the Yunnan province in China, although border traffic is all one way. It's not possible to cross back into China from the same checkpoint.
Yangon lies in the fertile delta country of southern Myanmar on the Yangon River. Although the population hovers around 4 million, the city seems so full of trees and shade that some neighborhoods are practically jungle, giving it a totally different feel from other Asian cities of comparable size.
At night, Yangon's wide boulevards come alive with hordes of stalls selling delicious food and piles of huge cigars. If you can close your eyes to the decay of the old colonial architecture downtown, you'll probably agree that this is one of the most charming cities in Asia.
This sprawling cultural centre is the most Burman of Myanmar's cities. It was the last capital of Myanmar before the British took over and is the country's second-largest city, complete with bustling markets of produce and handicrafts from all over northern Myanmar.
Bagan was founded in 849 on the banks of the Ayeyarwaddy river about 500 kilometers north of Yangon. Today it is only a small town ... with a big past. Bagan once was the capital of the first realm in today's Myanmar, whose area of dominance had roughly the extent of the present Burmese state.
Bagan ... today it is, strictly speaking, more of an archaeological site than a town, because more than 2,000 pagodas cover in mostly undamaged condition an area of about 40 square kilometers about the extent of the classical Bagan. Besides that, one finds in this area, which can be managed in walking stages, at least another 2,000 temple ruins. Even though Bagan is less famous than Angkor Wat in Cambodia, it is occasionally compared to the temple city of the Khmer concerning its archaeological importance.