Buddha images, Pak Ou Caves. Image © llee_wu/Creative Commons.
A 21-day/20-night trip worth remembering! From Yangon in Myanmar , you'll head to the Golden Triangle dividing three countries, and end at Luang Prabang, Laos – all told, a three-week expedition for the history books
In three weeks, you'll hit the trails, roads and rivers running through Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia's highlands and farmlands – all you'll need are eyes wide open to take in the amazing scenery.
The voyage begins in the city - Yangon, Myanmar’s largest metropolis. You won’t see many high-rises here, but one structure rises and shines above the city's skyline: the Shwedagon Pagoda, a symbol of Burmese Buddhism.
From here, you'll gravitate towards Yangon's other interesting pagodas: Botataung, home to several precious Buddhist relics; and Chaukhtatkyi, where you can admire a monumental, 70m-high Buddha.
The trail takes you next to Inle Lake – you'll ride a traditional long boat to cruise around the lake and discover workshops around the lakeshore churning out silk, traditional boats and Burmese cigars (“cheroots”). Further off, you'll chance upon Indein Village and its idyllic 17th century pagodas. You'll also spend half a day trekking through the eastern part of the lake, walking through tobacco and corn plots grown by local villagers.
At Bagan, one of Myanmar's most ancient cities, over 2,000 pagodas tower over the arid plain – among them Shwezigon Pagoda, Gubyaukgyi Temple (Wetkyiinn), Ananda Temple, and Sulamanni Temple. If you have extra time , squeeze in a visit to Nanphaya Temple, or take a horse cart ride around the Old Bagan temples.
Across the Ayeyarwady River from Bagan, you'll drive to several ancient cities still left standing: Pakhangyi, where one of the oldest wooden monasteries in Myanmar still stands; caves around the Chindwin River; and several outsized Buddha statues. The driving trail ends at Mandalay, Myanmar's last royal capital, where you'll visit a number of sacred sites, among them the heavily-gilded Buddha image at Mahamuni; Kuthodaw pagoda, site of the world's biggest book; and Mandalay Hill, where you'll watch the sun set over the city.
The roads from Mandalay lead to other “lost” cities and pagodas – the unfinished Mingun pagoda; and the abandoned former capital Ava, where you'll travel by horse-and-carriage to the old wooden Bagaya Monastery and the remains of the Royal Palace and Fort.
The borders between Myanmar, Thailand and Laos fall within the “Golden Triangle” area, and the next few stops bring you through the Triangle's top spots to see.
You'll make the land crossing from Tachilek in Myanmar to Mae Sai in Thailand, before making your way via long-tail boat to the Karen Ruam Mitr village for an elephant safari adventure, village visit to Yapau; and finally trek to Huay Mae Sai waterfall, where you can enjoy a swim and the forest breeze.
Across the border into Laos, you'll travel to Luang Namtha and meet the various ethnic groups who populate this region – the Hmong, Akha and Tai Lu – while visiting their villages and learning their way of life.
Down the Ou River, you'll ride a boat and explore a series of caves along the lakeshore, culminating in a three-hour cruise to the Pak Ou caves – sacred to locals since the sixteenth century, these caves now host hundreds of Buddha statues left behind by devotees.
Finally, you'll end your journey at Luang Prabang, where a number of authentic cultural experiences await – from a visit to the food market, to a dip at the falls of Kuang Si, to an ascent up the sacred Phou Si Hill to end your trip with a beautiful panoramic view.
Shwedagon Pagoda. Image courtesy of Mike Aquino
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