Soul seekers Myanmar: 8 spiritual sites that will blow your mind
South East Asia is the craddle of spiritality, of temples, pagodas, and monasteries. Myanmar, one of the world’s last frontiers, is awaiting for you.
This is where spirituality and esplendid architecture come together in a marriage of beauty and perfect harmony.
After having visited Bodhgaya in India, where Siddharta found enlightment, Swayambhunath, the monkey Temple in Nepal and some temples and monasteries in Chiang mai, I have to say, Myanmar managed to impress. This is one of the most magical and unexplored territories I’ve ever visited in my whole life.
Thailand’s grand palace
The air is hot and unbearably humid. I feel my skin sticking to every surface it touches.
The floor of the gran palace emanate so much heat, it threatens to melt the sole of my shoes.
Flocks of Chinese tourists wait their turn for a selfie near the temple statues. They’re running wild and loudly around the palace compound.
Hipster boys pose for they cellphones while attempting to fit the huge stupas within the picture frame. It’s almost hilarious.
We make our way through the crowds to offer a lotus flower and ask for a wish from lord Buddha. Kris, our guide, teaches us how to show respect when visiting a temple, as well as the basic etiquette rules.
One by one, we get on our knees and bow. A deep breath and a moment of silence for our wish. I cheated: I asked for health, wealth and true love. I guess that makes it 3 wishes. Am I being greedy? I smile to my self and thank the universe for everything good that has happened in my life. Even for the bad experiences, the ones that allowed me to grow.
The smells of the insense give an almost magical feeling to the place. The mix between devoted locals and wild Chinese tourists remind me of the duality of life. The yin and yang. Chaos and harmony.
This is my first day with the Viking cruises adventure which starts in Bangkok and continues through Myanmar. One of the few collaborations I will have in 2015 since I decided to restrict my partnerships to brands that are ethical, have high values and are in alignment with my passions.
Together, we’ll explore the old Burma, a country that has been closed to the masses till 2011. A devoted Buddhist country that has been involved into human rights violations, strong dictatorship and internal conflicts. A country that is still so pure and untouched by mass tourism, that will take me back in time, after Bangkok’s insane crowds of tourists.
As we finish our magical tour of the palace, the intense heat starts to become really unbearable: “is it too hot for you?” asks Kris with an open smile. “Super hot!” I reply and we both laugh. We head back to Shangi LA hotel where a swimming pool awaits for me.
I’ve packed my bags and in a few hours I’m landing in Yangon.
The golden stupa almost made me dizzy. I felt goose bumps all over my body. I had never seen anything half as beautiful as the Swedagon temple. Now I felt really far from home.
There were people from all backgrounds praying and walking around. No western tourists though.
They don’t seem to know that desire is the root of all evils, that attachment to certain thoughts is exactly what Sidharta (the Buddha) has taught us to avoid. But humans will always need idols and worshiping I guess.
I was mesmerized by the intensity of the temple. Monks washed Buddha statues with fervor, laymen and women offered flowers. Suddenly time stopped and I felt compelled to sit in silence and observe.
Guardians, demons and dragons adorn some of the smallest temples. The huge golden stupa reminds me of how small I am. It humbles me down. I feel an extreme sense of peace and happiness. I feel I was definitely meant to be here.
The 10 000 stupas
I could feel the weight of centuries behind each and every stupa in decay.
It felt magic. The skies were gray and there was some mist in the air.
I was surrounded by white, golden, brick and clay stupas. They were magical. I closed my eyes and wondered how that ancient place must have looked like when it was populated.
I imagined the villagers saying their morning prayer, the monks walking around with their saffron robes, the sound of the birds…
There was no one around. No tourists. Even my travel buddies moved on while I was left behind in absolute awe. I lost the sense of time and place again.
I guess Myanmar has this magical effect on me. It’s so unexplored, so untouched. Here I was alone again, exploring such an ancient spiritual site.
It smelled like fresh grass after a monsoon rain. The rays of light crossing the thick dark clouds, colored the stupas in different shades and colors.
I lost my group once more, while snaping hundreds of photos of every angle imaginable of the crumbling and restaured sites.
If there is a place every spiritual seeker should go, this is definitely one of them. My Myanmar photo album reveals some of th most outstanding instagram images you should not miss!
Kuthodaw biggest book in the world
It took eight long years to write the largest book in the whole world; 729 marble stone tablets, carved by hand, collect the teaches of the ancient pali written Tipitaka canon.
When the British colonizers took over the area, they vandalized part of the marble carved scriptures. In 1892 though, members of the royal family, together with a group of monks, restored this incredibly important Buddhist site.
Not many tourists have the chance to get here. In fact, we’re incredibly lucky to access so many remote areas of Myanmar.
As you may know, when I was 15 years old I wanted to become a monk. A Buddhist monk. Not something many western teenagers dream of, I guess.
The Mahagandayon monastery, is an active living quarter for many young and older monks that flock here to study the dharma.
Visiting a monastery was nothing new. Many years ago, I spent 3 days at the Burmese monastery in Bodhgaya, India (check out the story above!).
Watching the daily life of a monk was incredibly interesting. Realizing how much sense of humor they had, was a delight.
As we walked around, quietly and respectfully, we’ve heard the prayers and sutras coming from the dark and airy rooms. The typical saffron and red robes, dried under the harsh Burmese sun. They felt like a natural adornment to the monastery.
Young monks walked back and forth, while memorizing the teaches in pali language. I was transported to another time and place.
A young chubby monk approached us with a smile. Our local guide, Nyo started asking him questions. His English was perfect and we had the chance to chat with him for a while. He was delighted to answer all of our questions. I saved mine for the day I can approach a monk and have a private talk.
He had been a monk in that monastery for 11 years and decided to dedicate his life to the path of spirituality. He seemed happy and peaceful. I envied him somehow.
Peaceful were also all the stray animals who adopted the monastery as their home. They all seemed to be well fed, and cared for. If I was a stray animal, that’s where I’d like to live.
Once again, we were venturing off the beaten path. Very few westerners ever come here.
On the same day, we visited the birth place of some of the statues we had been visiting.
This was the craddle of buddhas, demons, gods and goddesses. Seeing the raw materials being transformed into those highly sacred and worshiped statues was fascinating.
The sale teak wood monastery
My favorite village in Myanmar. We were greeted by smiley but shy children who were happy to see a few foreigners visiting their home town.
It was a lazy Sunday and we could hear the chantings and prayers coming from a leafy area.
That’s where villagers gathered every Sunday to hear their favorite monks teachings.
It was a hot sunny day. The village felt so peaceful. The last traces of colonial British rule were still aparent and gave an extra spice to the local architecture.
Child monks walked around on their saffron robes, chatting with their friends. There was no sense of rush in here.
There were no sellers trying to shovel postcards and useless souveniers down your throat. No one wanted your money. People were trully genuine and friendly.
The huge Your Saun-Kyaung teak wood monastery was breathtaking. The old wood carvings from the 19th century portraying Buddha’s life were flawless.
We kept staring at them for a long time. Dragons climbed up walls and stairs with their bodies, beautiful young ladies with vuloptous bodies adorn the sides of the temples, representing temptation and desire.
Every inch of this place is pure art. It’s a live museum with pieces of ancient tools and dog footsteps
This village touched my heart. I wish I could stay there for a few days. Life felt perfect and harmonious there.
Bagan temple complex
They say Bagan is the cherry on the top of the cake.
As beautiful and magical as Bagan might be, part of the experience got spoiled by the dozens of stalker like vendors who chased us around with postcards and pictures.
Fortunately, when traveling with Viking cruises, a van or bus is always parked near by, so its easier to escape the harassment
Bagan is special. Bagan is pure magic. The old stupas, the massive ancient temples piercing the skies with their pointy diamond orb…. The large terraces from where the sunset seems to be more dramatic and romantic than anywhere else.
Bagan is the most touristy of all sights we’ve been to, but Myanmar would not be complete without a full day visit to one of the most incredible wonders of the world.
I climbed the small stairs and tight tunels on a rush to reach the large terrace of one of the pagodas. The panoramic view over Bagan almost made me forget about the hot bricked floor that burned my barefeet.
I wondered how it must have felt like to live there back in the day. Bagan felt sacret. Holy. Special. I felt richer after witnessing so much beauty.
The 500.000 decipctions of buddha
It’s just one hour away from Mandalay but a world away from anything I had ever seen before.
The town of Monyasa, is unknown to the tourists, but a must visit destination for the Viking cruise travelers.
A deeply untouched area, where farms and fields ornamented by lush plantations displays a rural Myanmar lost in time.
This is also the location for the Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paya, a complex of temples where over 500.000 images of buddhas can be seen in every shape and form.
Built in the 1300s, this temple has a unique and espectacular interior. Entire walks are covered in tiny little buddhas at the same time, huge statues addorn every corner of the temple.
The Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paya is an ode to the Theravada branch of Buddhism, or Nihayana, the small vehicle. The closest sect to the original teachings of Buddha.
Variations of Buddha statues, shows us the different stages of sidhartha’s life. The extreme ornamented ones might reminds us he was a rich prince, whereas the more humble images directs us for the fact that a life of simplicity was the path to follow towards nirvana.
I walked around in silence… Barefeet… The floor was warm, inviting a contemplative state of mind. I observe the rest of the group who are in absolute awe. They too are mesmerized by the beauty and splendor of this hidden gem.
Groups of young girls look at us filled with curiosity and giggle to each other, revealing the fact they’re still not used to foreign tourists.
Once more, I feel tremendously blessed to be here. I tell my local guide, Nyo that the whole itinerary Viking prepared for us was absolutely outstanding. She replies: “good! Good to know you’re enjoying this trip. We wanted to take you to the most special and espectacular corners of Myanmar.”. And they did!
Myanmar is home to some of the most sacret sites in the world. A place where time seemed to have stopped. Where food is healthy and varied. Where the arts and crafts are still done the same way for generations.
A country where shy but genuine smiles will greet you wherever you go. A country with virtually no crime. Where people are honest and humble.
If you ask me, I’d tell you very few countries have awakened so many positive emotions in me.
Myanmar is home away from home.
HAVE YOU BEEN OR ARE YOU PLANING TO VISIT MYANMAR? Share your stories on the comment section bellow!
Note: I was invited to sample a river cruise trip with the ethical company Viking cruises. I’ve chosen my destination based on my personal preferences and was not requested to write any article. All opinions and personal experiences are honest and 100% unbiased (I think you know very well how honest I am!). Viking is in perfect alignment with my values and ethics, employing local people, empowering local communities, helping the local economy, exposing the tourists to the local culture, local food, traditions and costumes.