11 spectacular pictures that show an enchanted spirit of Burma

Burma’s core is vibrant antique temples and golden pagodas, dedicated nuns and monks, peaceful lakes and rivers, decorated hillside tribes, and lively markets. As a daring global traveler and photographer, I was looking for the most exquisite, pristine civilizations on the earth, which brought me to this fascinating country.

From the moment I first set foot in this magical land, I fell under its spell.

It was one of the most intriguing nations I’d had the pleasure of seeing – a photographer’s dream. In the most artistic way possible, I hoped to convey the essence of the lovely Burmese people, their magical traditions, and enigmatic rituals.

The magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda and its 60 tons of gold, crowned with a 76-carat diamond, took my breath away. I was amazed by the breathtaking vista of Bagan’s more than 2,200 temples and stupas peeking through the various layers of mist from a hot air balloon.

The site is quite extraordinary; the surrounding land is very dry and flat, with farmer’s smoke and mist billowing over rice, bean, and sesame fields as far as the eye can see.

The Ananda and Thabanyu Buddhist temples in Bagan
This photograph was taken from the pinnacle of a temple during a sunset over Bagan’s Ananda and Thabanyu Buddhist temples. There are around 2,000 temples and pagodas in this area. This monument is located in the middle of Burma, in a rural agricultural region, and many of the structures date back more than 1,000 years.The Intha fishermen on Inle Lake appeared to be in a dance, perfectly balanced as they rowed their boats by wrapping one leg around one oar and leaving both hands free to pitch their nets. Sunrise and sunset at Taung Tha Man Lake’s U Bein Bridge seemed unearthly, with its teak pillars thrusting into the brilliant scarlet orange sky.

The shores of Taung Tha Man Lake, Amarapura in Mandalay
Fisherman making their way out onto the water, taken at sunrise from the shores of Taung Tha Man Lake, Amarapura in Mandalay.


Taung Tha Man Lake
As I drove by Mandalay’s famous teakwood bridge, U Bein, one morning, I spotted a woman fishing on Taung Tha Man Lake. A beautiful sunrise produced a mirror-like reflection on the lake, giving the woman the appearance of walking on clouds.I discovered that there is much more to Burma than the typical tourist path. I met with many of the 135 tribes and learned that each has its unique set of customs, language, and dress. I walked steep paths through the dense green woodlands of Shan State to reach the Akha hamlet, where residents tended to their rice harvests.

I saw the Sea Gypsies in the Andaman Sea flying in the air to spear their daily meal of fish and the colorful onion farmers on the Chindwin River who looked like an impressionistic painting in the rural landscape.

 The Moken or Sea Gypsies

The Moken, often known as Sea Gypsies, are one of Burma’s 135 different ethnic tribes. They are a nomadic, seafaring people whose traditional ways of existence are under threat as they become more exposed to the Western world. I was on a boat in the Andaman Sea, watching guys spear their daily fish dinner.

I learnt that the Chin tribe tattoos their faces to disfigure their beauty and keep them from being abducted, but Naga warriors dress in strong headgear to display their fierceness. One might spend a lifetime tracking down and documenting the various tribes’ adorned bodies.

There were also many excursions to remote temples and monasteries filled with finely carved statues. During the daily processional, I heard the pink-robed nuns chanting as if angels were singing and assisted the monks in collecting money and donations. I rode the squeaky trains, which were always an adventure.

 A girl selling watermelon on a moving train (built in the 1950’s) that circles the entire city of Yangon
A little girl sells watermelons on a moving railway (constructed in the 1950s) that circles Yangon. All of these trains are being replaced right now.I explored a 500 million­year­old cave in the far eastern Kayin State, which seemed like a Jules Verne trip to the heart of the planet. Each excursion provided a unique cultural and spiritual experience.

Despite having been isolated and unspoiled for many years, the Burmese people still appreciate the pleasure of “being” and are not yet consumed by the material trappings of the modern world.

They are kind, caring, funny, and strong. I’ve visited this nation several times, yet I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface in terms of finding its fascinating riches and diverse peoples. Each time you visit, it threads its way into your spirit and touches your heart.

Personal favorite of mine captured in a monastery in Bagan
A personal favorite, photographed at a Bagan monastery. These young monks are full of energy, curious, and a joy to be around. I try to donate to the monasteries I visit as a way of expressing thank you for allowing me to take such lovely, intimate photographs.I discovered an intoxicatingly authentic nation, its people, and their customs. Burma is one of the few places in the world where both men and women wear colorful longyis (an ankle-length, wrap­around sarong) made from fine woven textiles.

Women wearing distinctive head coverings smoke cheroot (a large maize leaf stuffed with tobacco, tamarind, honey, and palm leaf bud) while chatting about their daily lives, with smoke streaming in and out of bamboo houses. Chewing betel nuts is a widespread activity among the indigenous, as seen by their red­stained teeth.

Kyauk Ka Lat Lake in Hpa-An, Kayin State, rowing toward a monastery
Kyauk Ka Lat Lake in Hpa-An, Kayin State, rowing toward a monastery.

Burma is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon. There are just too many historical sites and interesting places to visit to mention them all. It is my hope that these images will inspire you and help you fall in love with this wonderful country.

Burma’s marvels will capture you, whether you immerse yourself in its thousand-year-old temples, are charmed by the ubiquitous monks elegantly sliding in and out of monasteries and marketplaces, or are thrilled by the smiling smiles of women and children with their thanaka-brushed faces.