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The ultimate Asian Highway road trip

India’s Daily News and Analysis recently mapped some of the must-see destinations along the upcoming India-Burma-Thailand stretch of the Great Asian Highway – with Burma getting four mentions along the way.

This exciting trail, beginning in Delhi and ending in Bangkok, traverses rebel territories, rainforest and arid plains, mountain passes and historical cities. The journey, which DVB recommends only to be undertaken by the intrepid adventure-seeker in a sturdy vehicle, would take about a week, allowing for military road blocks, border crossings, roadworks, and any number of unforeseeable chaotic escapades.

The route enters Burma from northeastern India at the Moreh– Tamu border crossing, runs 1,493 kilometres across the country, before exiting to Thailand at Myawaddy.

It will be open for travel in November, so plan your road trip now, and be sure to drop in on these top ten picks along the way:

 

  1. Agra, India

    Taj Mahal, Agra. (PHOTO: Public domain)

Get yourself in the mood for a long journey by stopping into the Indian city of Agra, home to the monument of love, the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan built the opulent palace during his long mourning period of beloved wife Mumtaz, and the site is a mecca for loved-up couples and romantics at heart.

The famed Agra Fort is situated just outside the gardens of the Taj Mahal, and can’t be ignored along the way. The fortress was built in the 16th century by the powerful Mughal empire; the site exists today as a reminder of the sheer might exercised by the rulers of the long-disappeared civilisation.

  1. Lucknow, India

Keep following the upcoming highway and you’ll find yourself at Lucknow, an Indian city that still boasts British architecture from the Raj-era. The Bara Imambada, the key monument in Lucknow, is a huge complex that houses a mosque, multiple courtyards and paths, and a ‘bawali’- a summer palace. Many Muslims come to visit the Bara Imambada to celebrate the Muharram Festival, but you can tour the grounds between 9am-5pm and get lost in the mazes and corridors that make the Bara Imanbada an awe-inducing visit.

  1. Guwahati, India

Although a rather modern and cosmopolitan city, Guwahadi has much to offer the traveller who yearns for the hidden treasures of an off-the-beaten-path location. The Assam State Museum is worth a visit for the expansive sculpture collection it houses, as well as interactive recreations of rural tribal homes that give an insight into the everyday lifestyles of the indigenous peoples.

  1. Shillong, India

Shillong, the ‘Abode of Clouds’, is the capital of Meghalaya, where the name evokes the beauty of the scenery. Head up to Elephant Falls, only 12 km from the centre, and see the stunning three-tier waterfall where you’ll often spot a TV or film crew taking advantage of the beautiful backdrop.

If tiny critters and bugs fascinate you, the Wankhar Entomology Museum is a kooky one-room display of butterflies, beetles, and stick insects pinned in glass displays in the home of one dedicated collector.

  1. Mandalay, Burma

The former capital of the past two Burmese kings, Mandalay is still considered one of the greatest Buddhist centres of the world. Here you will find famous pagodas such as Mahamuni, Thakkya Thidi, and the iconic Shwenandaw Kyaung – the Golden Palace Monastery, built to serve as King Mindon’s luxurious residence.

Word has it that his son, Thibaw, tried to use the palace for meditations after his father’s death, but became convinced the palace was haunted by the king’s spirit and ordered the building to be dismantled and relocated further away. Be sure to stop into the beautifully preserved monastery and decide for yourself whether it really is a haunted sanctuary.

Dusk in Mandalay. (PHOTO: Alex Bookbinder)

In the nearby Kuthodaw Pagoda, at the foot of Mandalay Hill, lies the world’s largest book- comprised of no less than 729 marble slabs inscribed with Theravada Buddhist text. Another relic from King Mindon, the pagoda and the priceless book contained within were recognised by UNESCO in 2013 on their ‘Memory of the World’ register. Work continues today to preserve the relics, after years of damage were caused by tourists and visitors, eager to leave their own mark on the ancient site.

Not sure when to go? Consider timing your visit to coincide with Thingyan, the Water Festival at the end of the dry season to welcome in the Burmese New Year (mid-April). Performers fill the air with music and splash water on passers-by. Imagine a universal water fight, where the entire city is the battle zone!

  1. Bagan, Burma

    The ancient temples of Bagan as seen at sunrise in a hot-air balloon. (PHOTO: Reuters)

One of the country’s most irresistible charms, the ancient capital of Bagan is a place to get lost for hours exploring the more than 2,000 pagodas and temples. This archeological wonderland was built between the 10th and 14th centuries during the Pagan Dynasty, although the site has been left off the UNESCO World Heritage list due to poor conservation work undertaken by the previous government. But that could all be set to change thanks to efforts by restoration experts eager to preserve the ruins for generations to come.

Most major tour operators offer packages that include the option to float above the ruins in a balloon tour –an alternative that simply can’t be beat for the stunning aerial view this opportunity provides. While prices can be steep, the birds-eye views of the Irrawaddy River, hazy mountains, and rural villages are memories that will stay with you wherever you head off to next.

If staying firmly on the land is more your cup of tea, hire a bicycle or a horse-drawn carriage for the day, perhaps invest in a local guide who can help recreate the splendor of the medieval kingdom.

  1. Naypyidaw, Burma

A little more than ten years ago, Burma’s military regime decided it had had enough of its old capital, the colonial port of Rangoon, and gave notice that they were building a new roost for their realm. The result was the monstrosity today known as Naypyidaw, meaning ‘Abode of Kings’.

A sprawling concrete jungle, this soulless bureaucratic ghetto has little or nothing of interest to the average tourist. Surely the only reason you would go there is to witness the urban disaster with your own eyes. It does have an impressive parliament, and apparently the zoo is popular with MPs’ families at weekends. It also has a military museum and a jade museum. Otherwise you are stuck in the twilight zone. Have a quiet night in your hotel room (no choice, really) and get an early start the next day – Naypyidaw: been there, done that!

  1. Rangoon, Burma

Tourists visit the famed Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon (AFP)

Rangoon is home to perhaps the most famous pagoda of all, the Shwedagon Pagoda – a huge, glittering and gold 2,500 year old monument that is encrusted in 4,000 diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and according to legend, even enshrines strands of the Buddha’s hair.

Modern history and politics buffs can also get their fix at the Allied War Memorial Cemetery, and even drive by democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi’s home on University Avenue, where she was famously placed under house arrest off and on for some 15 years.

Rangoon’s former High Court, built 1905-11 (PHOTO: Colin Hinshelwood)

Once upon a time a bustling port and hub of the British Raj, the city’s colonial architecture is a delight to the eye. But enjoy it while you can – much of these 100 to 150-year old buildings are beyond revocation. Take a Heritage Walking Tour around the Old City to further appreciate its splendour.

 

  1. Bang Pa-in

Crossing into Thailand into Bang Pa-in district, you’d be crazy to miss the Bang Pa-in Royal Palace, which lies next to the Chao Praya River. Once the home to Thai kings, it fell into disuse after being built by King Prasat Thong in the early 17th century. Restorations only began in the mid 19th century, when King Mongkut ordered several new buildings constructed. In the middle of the ornate artificially constructed pond lies the stunning pavilion, home to the ‘divine seat of personal freedom’. Outside of the main palace area is the Varobhas Bimarn residence, where you can take in the sumptuous state dining room and a formal throne room. Ladies: don’t forget to wear a knee-length skirt and gentlemen – no shorts allowed when entering these rooms.

Today the palace is used infrequently for state business, so travellers can roam around the home of past kings for only a 100 baht entrance fee.

  1. Bangkok

    Patpong, Bangkok (PHOTO: Destination Thailand)

Fast, infamous, and forever fascinating, the Thai capital is the proverbial kaleidoscope of smells, sounds and sights to bamboozle the senses.

Enjoy a tour the Grand Palace, before taking a boat trip down the busy Chao Phraya River. And after a hard day’s shopping in the modern malls of Silom Road, you can take a break at nearby Patpong, epicentre of the city’s sexy nightlife.

Bangkok is also great city for international dining. So reward yourself for conquering the Asian Highway with some rooftop wining and dining.