Myanmar's cultural highlights are very much intertwined with the country's rich spiritual fabric. Buddhism is practiced by an estimated 89% of the population and the country is scattered with ornate pagodas and stunning temple complexes. The apex of this spirituality can be found at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda and also at leading attractions like Bagan and the archeologically rich site of Mrauk U in Rakhine State. The country is well-known for its arts and crafts, which are also heavily influenced by Buddhism. Artisanal traditions include woodcarving, stone carving, turnery, painting, and lacquerware. The best place to sample contemporary Myanmar culture is in Yangon, the country's biggest city, which has a smattering of modern art galleries, museums, and venues for live music and DJs.
Myanmar’s colorful and lively festivals are based on the lunar calendar and can really enhance your trip if it happens to coincide with one. The most popular festival in the calendar is Thingyan, the annual water festival where locals take to the streets with water pistols and buckets of water as the temperatures soar. November is the date for the Fire Balloon Festival at Taunggyi, east of Inle Lake. At night, balloons are released with fireworks strapped underneath them—with predictably explosive consequences. Also worth catching are the New Year celebrations in Shan State, one of the country’s most ethnically diverse regions. Expect live bands, traditional dancing, and—on New Year’s Eve itself—fireworks and a party vibe.