If you’re traveling to South East Asia, the first places that come to mind are surely Thailand, Vietnam, and Indonesia. Years of isolation have meant that many people haven’t incorporated Myanmar into their itineraries, but they should change that. Myanmar is made up of over 100 ethnic groups, each with its customs, traditions, and even languages – so it goes without saying that the country has a rich and diverse culture.

That’s not all though, Myanmar is full of natural beauty – tropical rainforests, paradise beaches, and rolling hills are home to ancient temples and pagodas, just waiting for you to discover them. In this article, we’ll look at five things you can do in this beautiful country to make your trip special.

Marvel at the golden pagodas of Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon

Myanmar is often referred to as the land of the pagodas, and there’s nowhere better to start sightseeing these fascinating Buddhist monuments than the former capital, Yangon. It’s home to some of the most famous temples in the country, and no trip is complete without seeing these stunning buildings. The oldest, Shwedagon, Botahtaung, and Sule, are thought to date back over 2,500 years.

The structures have been built on and enlarged over the years to the point where the best-known, Shwedagon, is 99 meters tall! Thanks to its hilltop location, it’s visible from most of Yangon and attracts thousands of pilgrims every year. Watching the sunrise over Shwedagon is a real bucket list experience that shouldn’t be missed!

Of course, there’s more to see in Yangon than the incredible pagodas. Kandawgyi Park is a peaceful spot to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city while trying Yangon’s street food will surely tantalize your taste buds! We especially recommend the tasty skewers and samosas!

An unforgettable way to take in the sights and sounds of Yangon from above is the Mingalabar Balloon – a helium balloon that rises 400 feet above the city during good weather. Maybe sit this one out if you’re afraid of heights though!

Visit Mandalay, the capital of the last Myanmar Dynasty

Another former royal capital of Myanmar, Mandalay is a charming city that has risen from the ashes after being all but destroyed during World War II. The perfect way to arrive in Mandalay is on a relaxing cruise along the Irrawaddy River from Bagan, where you can enjoy the sights and sounds of the river, while hopefully spotting some wildlife on the banks too!

Once in Mandalay, there are several things to see and do that will enable you to learn about the history of the royal capital. We’d recommend climbing the covered stairway to the top of Mandalay Hill which provides excellent panoramic views of the city, especially at sunset. Before ascending, stop at the Kuthodaw Paya, which is also known as the world’s most famous book!

Aside from the temples, Mandalay is a friendly and welcoming city. The perfect way to get to know the locals is by popping into one of the city’s many tea houses – there’s a thriving culture dedicated to the leafy beverage here!

Explore our recommended Myanmar Classic Adventures

Myanmar Classic Adventures

Have a wildlife adventure on Meinmahla Island

So far, we’ve looked at two cities. And while Myanmar’s vibrant cities are full of architectural and religious treasures and welcoming people, sometimes you want to be miles away from the hustle and bustle of a city. Something that is bound to be an unforgettable experience is a trip to Meinmahla Island, where there are opportunities to see some of Myanmar’s native wildlife.

The highlight of a visit to this beautiful island is undoubtedly a night safari where you can go in search of the critically endangered saltwater crocodile. One of the world’s most potent and terrifying reptiles isn’t all that you can get your camera shutter clicking for though – keep your eyes peeled for the Ayeyarwady river dolphin, cute long-tailed macaques, and over 100 species of bird!

As well as searching for wildlife, it’s a great idea to devote some time to visit the local fishing villages. They’re sure to regale you with plenty of stories about the saltwater crocs and how the spirit of U Shin Gyee protects the local fishermen.

Meet local tribes and learn about their culture and customs

So, in the Meinmahla Islands, you can meet the generous and welcoming locals who will share stories of their cultures and traditions with you. They’re just one of over 100 ethnic groups that call Myanmar their home, and no-one should leave Myanmar without getting to know the country’s rich and fascinating culture on a deeper level.

Myanmar is home to many tribes that still live their traditional experience, and it is possible to visit and get to know their culture and ways of life. Not only is this a once in a lifetime experience, but it’s also a responsible form of tourism as you’re supporting a tribe in maintaining their identity.

Tribes here are welcoming and accommodating to foreigners, although it should be noted that they will expect you to respect their customs. Do be considerate and always ask before taking a photo. It’s also a good idea to come bearing a small gift and learn a couple of simple words as a sign of respect. This will be an unforgettable part of your trip.

Explore our recommended Loikaw and its people tour

Immerse yourself in the swimming and snorkeling paradise of the Mergui Archipelago

The Mergui Archipelago spent years untouched by tourism and is one of the world’s best-kept secrets when it comes to marine biodiversity! However, you can be one of the few people to experience this beautiful part of Myanmar, should you wish to.

The azure blue waters lap against the white sand beaches of over 100 uninhabited islands off Myanmar’s southern coast, many covered by dense and rich jungle vegetation.

As well as incredible wildlife and biodiversity, the indigenous Moken people live on the Mergui Archipelago. Known as the sea gypsies or sea nomads, seeing their way of life is the icing on the cake when it comes to this incredible experience!

This article was contributed to Trip101. For more tips and destination guides, visit Trip101.