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SANCHAI LOONGROONG / 123RF
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Things to see in Myanmar
Amy Adejokun
Amy Adejokun Section editor

Landscapes

To go to Myanmar is to go on a discovery of new horizons. The landscapes will surprise you, each with its own particularity and charm. The north is divided between rice fields and tropical forests. In the centre of the country, the vast plains are criss-crossed by large rivers. This is also where you will find the majestic Mount Popa, a 1,518m high volcano and an oasis at the heart of this arid region of the country. Considered to be the refuge of the spirits of Good and Evil, it is an important place of pilgrimage for Buddhists; a monastery is located at the summit of Taung Kalwhere, at 737m of altitude. Impressive mountain reliefs rise up further to the east, along the Thai border. It is in these mountains that Lake Inle, the second largest lake in the country, is located. It is one of the most enchanting spots on the planet. Pirogue races are held here every year between September and October to celebrate the end of the Buddhist period of Lent. Also, don't miss seeing Kyaikto, or the Golden Rock, an emblematic figure of Buddhism and Burma. According to legend, the rock was placed here by two Nats (spirits) 2,500 years ago and is held up by a strand of Buddha's hair.

Coasts

Bordered by the Andaman Sea in the south and by the Bay of Bengal in the north-west, Myanmar has a total of 1,200 miles of coastline. The white sand beaches are mostly found along the Irrawaddy Delta. The majority of the coasts, like in Arakan (in the north-west) and Tenasserim (in the south-east), are high, rocky and lined with islands, especially in the south where the Mergui Archipelago is located. Since the hotel industry here is still not very developed, the country has been able to hold onto its wild character. This being said, the beach of Nagpali is starting to become the place to go in summer (March-April) for a good number of Burmese and is likely to become the next big seaside resort.

The fauna and flora

Half of the country is made up of forests. Every region has its particularities when it comes to the fauna and flora. Close to the tropical forests in the north, the home of monkeys, flying squirrels and thousands of birds, fields of sesame, tobacco and green tea plants cover the land. The middle and more arid part of the country is more suitable for the construction of Buddhist temples than stock breeding and agriculture. When Marco Polo visited Myanmar in the 13th century, he spoke of the flora and fauna as being "vast jungles full of elephants, unicorns and other wild beasts". It isn't very likely that you'll encounter a unicorn here, but the country does have 251 species of mammals, 687 species of birds, 203 species of reptiles and 70 species of amphibians. These numbers include 32 endangered species including the tiger, two species of rhinoceroses and the red panda.

Arts and culture

Buddhism is the central factor in Burmese culture. You cannot speak of art without referencing this religion, which characterises the country in all of its aspects. Burmese art is focused on the creation of places of worship: temples, monasteries, pagodas, Buddhas, stupas, etc. The most expressive Burmese art form is the puppet show but, unfortunately, it is becoming less and less popular among the inhabitants. The main themes of the puppet shows are the legends of the nats (spirits) and Indian mythology. Music and dance have always been considered to be the most "noble" arts because they are the most spiritual; they create a connection between the soul and the body. Very influenced by India, Cambodia and Indonesia, Burmese dance and music alludes to tales and legends linked to the life of Buddha.