Following the lifting of Western sanctions, Myanmar - also known as Burma - has become a magnet for tourists. It has some wondrous sights: a thousand temples scattered across the countryside in Bagan; the leg-rowers and floating gardens of Inle Lake, and majestic rivers - the Ayeyarwady and the Chindwin - navigable into the furthest reaches of the country. But the big draw is the chance to see a country where the 21st-century world has barely intruded. This is changing but there is still a strong sense of the old Orient here. It's a place where Buddhism is still a way of life.
Be prepared for the different way of travelling you will encounter in Myanmar, and don’t believe the stories about the ridiculous expenses and immense difficulties that are putting many people off from travelling here. The beauty of being here is in not knowing what will happen and in the understanding that both you as a traveller, alongside the local people are helping to bring about a new beginning.
The country is bordered on the northwest by the Chittagong Division of Bangladesh and Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh states of India. Its north and northeast border is with the Tibet Autonomous Region and Yunnan of China. It is bounded by Laos and Thailand to the southeast.
Burma has 1,930 km (1,200 mi) of contiguous coastline along the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea to the southwest and the south, which forms one quarter of its total perimeter.
In the north, the Hengduan Mountains form the border with China. Hkakabo Razi, located in Kachin State, at an elevation of 5,881 metres, is the highest point in Myanmar. Many mountain ranges, such as the Rakhine Yoma, the Bago Yoma, the Shan Hills and the Tenasserim Hills exist within Myanmar, all of which run north-to-south from the Himalayas.
The mountain chains divide Myanmar's three river systems, which are the Irrawaddy, Salween (Thanlwin), and the Sittaung rivers. The Irrawaddy River, Myanmar's longest river, nearly 2,170 kilometres long, flows into the Gulf of Martaban. Fertile plains exist in the valleys between these mountain chains. The majority of Myanmar's population lives in the Irrawaddy valley, which is situated between the Rakhine Yoma and the Shan Plateau.
Like all South-east Asian forests, the forests of Myanmar can be divided into two categories: monsoon forest and rainforest. Monsoon forest is dry at least three months a year, and is dominated by deciduous trees. Rainforest has a rainy season of at least nine months, and are dominated by broadleaf evergreen.
Travelers to Myanmar shouldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit the country’s sprawling national parks, where they will be rewarded with some of most diverse and beautiful ecosystems on the planet.
Khakaborazi was established first in 1996 as a nature reserve and then as a national park in 1998 in order to protect the biodiversity around the Hkaborazi Mountain (the tallest mountain in Myanmar at 5889 metres) which is the perfect habitat for rare butterflies and various kind of Orchids.
The park consists mainly of pine and mixed deciduous forests, making it the perfect habitat for rare butterflies including the yellow and black Papilionidae (Swallowtail) and the bright orange Pieridae.
Animals such as Takin, Musk Deer, Blue Sheep, Black Barking Deer and the Phet Gyi call this national park their home.
In addition, the park is a popular base camp for climbers with their sights set on scaling the Khakaborazi.
Nat Ma Taung National Park occupies an area of 720 square kilometres in southern Chin State. The park, which surrounds the 3,054 metre high Nat Ma Taung (formerly Mount Victoria), is comprised of evergreen and mixed deciduous forests.
The park is primarily known for the rare species of Myanmar orchids that grow there, as well as several species of butterflies. Wildlife found in the park includes leopards, tigers, wild boar and gibbons as well as, 159 different species of birds, five of which are indigenous to Myanmar.
Lenya National Park is located in the Tanintharyi (Taninthayi) Region in southwest Myanmar. It is home to the largest population of the endangered Gurney’s Pitta in the world.
The forests of Lenya also support one of the two important remaining tiger populations in Myanmar as well as Asian elephants and tapir.
The Lampi Island Marine National Park is a demarcated marine national park located in Lanbi Island, Mergui Archipelago, Burma. Lampi Island is covered by tropical lowland wet evergreen forest in the interior, mangrove forest along rivers and fresh-water sources, and beach and dune forest along the coast. Other major habitat types are coral reefs, seagrass, freshwater streams and swamps.
The main island of Lampi has two major perennial rivers and many small seasonal streams. Fresh-water resources are abundant. The variety of habitats supports a high diversity of both terrestrial and marine resources.
One of the main purposes of the park is to protect the sea grass beds, which are important feeding grounds for dugongs, a large marine mammal similar to the manatee.
Loimwe National Park is located in eastern Shan State near Lwemwe (Loi Mwe), which means "misty mountain." The 43 square kilometre park stands 1,689 m above sea level and is a one-hour drive from Kyaingtong (Kyaing tong).
Popa Mountain National Park, also known as the “Oasis of the Dry Zone,” is located near Kyaukpadaung Township in the Mandalay Division of central Myanmar. The park features mixed deciduous, evergreen and pine forests, as well as hill grassland.
Wildlife in Popa includes barking deer, wild pigs, wild dogs, jungle cats and 140 species of birds. Several species of monkeys also make their home in the park, including approximately 150 rare dusky leaf monkeys, which are known for their large white-rimmed eyes and white mouths.
Tanintharyi National Park is located in the Tenasserim Hills of southern Myanmar, near the Thailand border. The park is made up mostly of evergreen and hill forests. In addition, it is one of the few remaining places in Myanmar where mangrove forests are protected.
Wildlife in the park includes Asian elephants, leopards, barking and Sambar deer, goat-like serows and red gorals, as well as several dozen species of birds.
The National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens is a 69 km drive from Mandalay near the alpine town of Pyin U Lwin. These 437 acres of gardens contain more than 300 species of orchids, as well as 514 species of indigenous trees.
Several endangered wildlife species can be found at Kandawgyi as well, including Eld's and hog deer, Takin and the Burmese star tortoise, as well as several types of pheasant and water fowl.
There are three separate museums at the site dedicated to fossils, petrified wood and butterflies, respectively. Since 2006, an annual flower festival has been held at the gardens each December, featuring more than 7 million flowers.