With tourism in Myanmar in its infancy route options are still rather limited. Most visitors will find themselves choosing from Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon), Mandalay, Bagan (the plain with all the temples) and Inle Lake (where the men row with one leg to keep their hands free for casting their fishing nets). This is not a problem for first time visitors at all, with plenty to choose from in the vicinity of each of these destinations.
The best season for a visit is during the cooler winter months, specifically November through February. The wet season starts in late May, peaks in August and ends as late as October. Not only is it hot and humid; rains are often heavy enough to disrupt travel so this is not a good time for photographers with limited time. Of course, if you are able to take a more relaxed approach you will find the place pretty much to yourself and could get some very dramatic shots indeed.
When finalising your dates it is well worth looking to include a Full Moon as many religious activities are based on the lunar calendar. Such opportunities should, of course, be treated with respect. Be a responsible photographer. Dress appropriately and ensure that your presence does not upset any of the participants or other observers.
For many the highlight of a visit to this, the largest city, will be Shwedagon Pagoda, especially if the visit is made through the late afternoon and into the evening. Many of the locals will leave their offices during this period and, on the way home, may stop by for some shopping, to have a beer or a chat with friends or pray. The area is therefore bustling with street activity giving rise to a whole host of ad hoc opportunities as well as the obvious shots of the pagoda from across the Royal Lake and from closer up.
An evening like this can be contrasted with a quieter morning checking out local markets or the various styles of architecture as your fancy takes you.
The mouth of the Ayeyarwady River (formerly known as the Irrawaddy) is only some 40km away and offers a chance for waterscapes on a grand scale. Such specialised excursions might be difficult to arrange on your own but should be possible through your hotel or a local travel service.
Mandalay has a number of photographically interesting temples though the most captured scene is that of pedestrian traffic on the U-Bein Bridge at sunset. Allow at least one evening for that excursion but also plenty of other time to find your own special images.
It will be well worth organising a trip to the ‘Snake Temple’ at Paleik – not just for the 3 pythons that sleep here around the Buddha statue but also because of the relatively unknown temple ruins in the area.
Three other names to play with are: Mahamuni, Amarapura and Inwa (also Inn Wa). These each have their own tourist attractions but you are encouraged to take the opportunity of being in a neighbourhood to explore beyond these and get to grips with something of the real Myanmar.
Some photographers enjoy the boat excursion to Mingun, as much for the riverside activities as for the ‘Cracked Temple’. If this sounds like your sort of trip, then do try to make the Yadanabon Market which gets going mid-afternoon.
Bagan needs little introduction. The fact that you are reading this article almost certainly means that you have seen images from here and are looking to visit.
Bagan is easily, and perhaps best, explored on foot. The days can be incredibly hot even in winter so do wear sun protection and take plenty of water if you decide to look for your own vantage points in the middle of the day. Early mornings can provide a gorgeous low-level mist as well as colourful skies but it is well worth being out at both ends of the day if you can manage the pace. Think also whether your budget will stretch to a balloon ride as that will truly be an experience.
One of the most popular excursions from Bagan is to Popa Mountain. There is an ancient temple here as well as views out over the plains. Hope for a glorious sunset.
At this point it is worth noting that Bagan and Mandalay are connected by a boat service. The trip takes the best part of a full day but offers additional photographic opportunities.
The Intha people of Inle Lake have become famous for their technique of leg-rowing as this does add another dimension to the already very photogenic net casting style of fishing. The creative opportunities are endless and so it will be well worth booking a session with locals (the only way you will get up close and be able to control the scenes) for the late afternoon.
A visit to the lake should also include time to explore the lake and its communities. The local markets operate on a 5-day rotating schedule and you should be able to find out where the best action will be by enquiring at your hotel. You can get around by boat or on land. The number in your group and your budget may influence that decision. Private motor boats might be too pricey for an individual though you might be able to arrange a shorter trip from a village to get a different perspective on the stilt houses.
The ruins of Indein south of the lake are worth a visit and those with more time on their hands might enjoy a visit to nearby Nyaung Shwe to record more of the Shan culture.
Ian is the Webmaster and Operations Manager for Photo Tours Abroad. His role is to ensure that all trips are optimized for photographers with time spent at sites during the best of the available light whenever possible.