About 800 barely populated islands with white-sand beaches sitting in a turquoise sea, some of the best diving in the region, roving sea gypsies and barely a hotel or tourist to be seen. It’s hard to believe that a place like the Myeik Archipelago still exists in Southeast Asia. Accessing these gorgeous islands takes time and is not cheap, but those who make the investment will get to live out every beach junkie’s fantasy in one of the last unknown areas of Asia.
The temples, monasteries, ruined palace and crumbling city walls of the former Rakhine capital of Mrauk U stand as a permanent reminder of what a remarkable place it must have been at its zenith in the 16th century. Back then, wide-eyed Western visitors compared the city to London or Venice. But Mrauk U is no museum piece; its temples are surrounded by working villages and emerald-green rice fields. Best of all, Mrauk U sees no more than 5000 foreigners a year, so you’re likely to have this ruined splendour to yourself.
Attractive, laid-back Hsipaw is ideally placed for quick, easy hikes into fascinating Shan and Palaung villages, as well as more strenuous ones to barely visited hamlets. The surrounding area feels far less discovered than the treks available around Kalaw, or much of Southeast Asia. Hsipaw itself is a historic town with a royal past – it has its very own Shan palace – and an area known as ‘Little Bagan’, full of ancient stupas. There’s also a great morning market by the Dokhtawady River.
With its cooler temperatures, higher elevations and many locals descended from Nepali Gurkha soldiers, Kalaw boasts an almost Himalayan atmosphere. Unsurprisingly, this is one of the best places in Myanmar for upcountry treks, with the authorities relaxed about foreign visitors getting off the beaten track. As you hike through the Danu, Pa-O and Taung Yo villages that dot the forests, fields, trails and roads that link Kalaw with Inle Lake, you’ll get a real insight into the lives of the hill peoples who populate the area.
Stranded in splendid isolation on the Myanmar–India border, Rih Lake is small but perfectly formed: a heart-shaped, mystical body of water surrounded by lushly forested hills. As spectacular as the lake is, the rugged journey here through the little-seen mountains, valleys and villages of northern Chin State is also memorable. Only a handful of foreign travellers visit each year, so you are guaranteed attention from the friendly locals. Don’t expect much in the way of comfort, or tourist facilities. Instead, revel in being way off the beaten track.
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