Burma is home to some of the world’s biggest attractions – the kind that deserve either a really expensive wide-angle lens or the panorama function on your iPhone.
So on your next trip to Burma (because you’ve booked one, right?) why not see how many of these grandiose destinations you can tick off.
U Bein Bridge
Built in 1850, this iconic (and just a little rickety) bridge crosses 1.2 kilometres of Taungthaman Lake, making it the world’s longest and oldest teakwood bridge of its kind. If that doesn’t impress you, a golden-hour wander of its length will open your eyes to the local way of life – families of fishermen gather to collect their nets, fish flail about on its timber slats and half-naked children clamber down into the water to bathe. Just make sure to hold on tight to your camera amid the hustle and bustle, because there won’t be any retrieving if it falls through the cracks.
From ‘earth touching’ to ‘contemplation’ to (my personal favourite) ‘preventing the relatives from fighting’ pose, you can find statues of Buddha sitting or standing in over 100 different positions across this golden land. But one of Burma’s biggest and best is Chaukhtatgyi Paya’s Reclining Buddha. At 65-metres long and 16-metres high, this fella is huge. And near impossible to photograph.
Wander its length, marvel at the diamond-encrusted crown and try your hand at deciphering the 108 Buddhist symbols etched into the feet. If you need any help, the 500 monks calling this monastery home will be happy to oblige.
One of Burma’s most revered religious sites and famed tourist destinations, Golden Rock is a giant boulder balanced precariously atop the Mt Kyaiktiyo cliff face. It’s said that just to behold the golden rock is enough to convert anyone to Buddhism. Why? Because legend has it that it’s balanced on top of the hair of Siddhartha Gautama, making the whole granite situation a true miracle. Whether you’re a believer or not, the climb up to this big, blessed rock is a must-do. Especially at sunset; the colours will leave you inspired.
Kuthadow Pagoda (aka the biggest book in the world)
When I was told Mandalay plays host to the biggest book in the world, I was expecting a giant, leather-bound classic. A real tomb. What I was presented with, however, was much different. Every page of this ‘book’ is carved into a massive marble slab and housed within it’s own stone crypt at Kuthodaw Pagoda. That makes for 729 inscribed pages from the Tipitaka, the entire Pali Canon (scriptures) of Theravada Buddhism.
Kept immaculately neat by surrounding monasteries, a wander through this limitless library is a blinding affair. Sunglasses are highly recommended.
On the western bank of the Ayeyarwaddy River sits a 90, 718 kilogram bell, impossible to miss for its resounding chime. Made completely of bronze back in 1810, it’s said that the bell was cast on one side of the river and carried across on the backs of two boats (they must have been sturdy!).
The river’s canals were then dammed and the locals managed to lift the bell out of the river by raising the water level. Today, it is the proud centerpiece of Mingun village and draws many a cheeky child into its ringing centre. Inquisitive novice monks included.