PINDAYA & KALAW
A lively little town comprised mainly of Taung yo and Danu people, Pindaya's main attraction-and a spectacular one-is in the limestone caves in the hills above, where a maze of chambers contains over 6,000 Buddha statues. The short hike to the source of the Zawgyi River takes you through some lovely scenery.
Meet people of the Pa-O and Danu tribes in small, traditional villages. Kalaw was a British hill station which has retained its charm, many fine colonial buildings and a colorful array of peoples, including many Gurkhas.
Closed to foreigners for decades and only recently opened, Kayah State and particularly Loikaw offers the opportunity to explore some of the country's most traditional villages including those of the Karreni (Red Karen) and Padaung minorities whose women historically wore a series of rings around their neck giving them the name "long-necked" people. With rugged mountains, dense forest, pristine river and lakes, this area offers the adventurous traveler one of Asia's most remote and traditional regions.
The new capital established by the military hunta feels somewhat forced, with its zoos and broad streets. Strictly for the political science enthusiast traveling in Myanmar.
The "Golden Rock Pagoda," with its huge, precarious boulder on the edge of a cliff is a sacred place that's quite difficult to get to but certainly worth the effort. There's real magic-both scenic and spiritual-in store for you at the summit, which is reached by truck, foot and sedan chair. Accommodations are basic here.
Renowned for its seafood and beautiful pagodas, this old port has a fine beach and a World War II cemetery. The spot recalls the classic Kipling poem Road to Mandalay-"By the old Moulmein Pagoda lookin' lazy at the sea, there's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me."
A three-hour drive from Mandalay, this town with its pleasant climate was a favorite retreat of the Brits. In addition to delicious strawberries and miniature stagecoaches (which act as local taxis), the place has many colonial buildings, including Candacraig. Wile away an hour strolling through the fine botanical gardens or hike to Anisakan Falls for a swim before heading to the next destination on your Myanmar tour.
MINGUN, SAGAING & AMARAPURA
Mingun, a picturesque town reached by river, features the world's largest uncracked bell and the crumbling remains of what was to have been the world's largest pagoda. Sagaing is one of the most important religious centers in Myanmar with over 600 pagodas and monasteries covering a ridge above the Irrawaddy offering outstanding views. Briefly the capital of Myanmar, Amarapura is now notable for its weaving and handicrafts and for the fabulous U Bein Bridge-a mile-long structure made of teak-which is the perfect spot for watching the sunset. It's possible to visit these three places in a single, fast-paced day.