1 Yangon To most people when they first arrive, Myanmar's capital city feels low-key and leafy. Apart from shady streets of evergreen trees, Yangon is best known for its sparkling array of temples. The most magnificent is the 2,500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda, which is usually visible as your plane makes its final descent. Sule Pagoda is a 46-metre landmark in the city centre that radiates a calmness inside at odds with the snarling gridlock outside. If you start to feel 'templed out' spend a morning at the National Museum, take in the giant Bogyoke Market and finish up in a Myanmese teashop. Almost obligatory is a cocktail at the Strand Hotel ( www.ghmhotels.com/thestrand ), renovated in 1993 to recapture the ambience of its halcyon days in the 1920s. 2 Scuba Diving at Mergui In the far south of Myanmar lies the pristine Mergui Archipelago, comprising more than 800 undeveloped islands. Formerly closed to foreigners, this region of untouched white beaches, crystal waters and sea gypsies offers huge untapped potential for scuba diving. Live-aboard charter boats from Thailand are the best way to explore the region ( www.sunrise-divers.com ). Dive sites are scattered across an area of 26,000 sq km, and a seven-day circuit is needed to do the area justice. An entry fee of US$120 per person is levied 'for administration'. For non-divers, jungle walks, river trips and bird watching expeditions are easily arranged. 3 Mandalay Like Casablanca, the magical-sounding Mandalay disappoints on first inspection. True, the City of Gems is a hot and dusty introduction to central Myanmar, but persevere because the country's second city and cultural capital has plenty to keep visitors busy. A walk up Mandalay Hill will give you your bearings, plus fine views of the fort and palace below. Inevitably, there's enough to keep temple aficionados busy for days. The venerated Mahamuni Pagoda, for example, is a favourite of Myanmese pilgrims. Street theatre combining drama, music and even political comedy is popular with locals and tourists. The performances are highly visual, making knowledge of the language unnecessary. Shoppers can hunt for bargains in the city's many handicraft shops. Tapestries, silk and lacquerware are good value if you haggle. Mandalay is also a handy place to catch a ferry. 4 Irrawaddy Cruise If speed isn't your thing, a cruise along the great Irrawaddy River offers a leisurely way to pick up a feeling for the country. The classic option is a two-day downstream journey between Mandalay and Bagan. The restored colonial river steamers of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company ( www.pandaw.com ) are furnished with antiques and wicker armchairs, and the staterooms have brass fittings. The keen-eyed may catch a glimpse of dolphins from the teak observation decks. Local fishermen hold the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin in high esteem, thanks partly to its co-operation in driving shoals of fish within the range of their nets. Don't miss the riverside village stops, where you'll be greeted with genuine smiles rather than outstretched palms. 5 Bagan Bagan archaeological zone (admission US$10) is the sole reason some people visit Myanmar. Rent a car, bicycle or even a horse and cart and spend at least a couple of days exploring. Temples in various states of disrepair pepper the landscape. Clamber to the uppermost terrace of Mingalazedi and the stupas seem to recede to infinity. The Greater Bagan region is so vast, it's not uncommon to have an entire temple complex to yourself. Despite earthquake damage in 1975, most of the temples (all about 900 years old) are still standing - the result of continuing restoration. At Bupaya, crowds gather every evening for the jaw-dropping spectacle of the sun setting over the Irrawaddy River. Nyaung U village is the best place to find a cheap guesthouse. In old Bagan, the Thande Hotel ( www.baganthande.com ) will suit those with deeper pockets. 6 Kalaw This former colonial hill station is at the centre of a flourishing hiking industry. Situated on the rugged Shan Plateau, Kalaw is refreshing after the heat of the lowlands, and the scenery will inspire you to explore on foot. Choose a trekking service from the many along the main road. Expect to pay US$6 for a full-day's hike. The people at the Winner Hotel (tel: 9584 50025 or 9584 50279) are especially helpful. You'll pass through villages of cheroot-smoking Palaung and Pa-O tribespeople. On the three-day trek to Lake Inle, you'll stop overnight at monasteries. 7 Inle Lake Inle Lake has long been Myanmar's top chill-out spot. At an elevation of 900 metres, the invigorating air encourages activity, and the options are endless. Besides hiking into the hills, an obvious draw are the boat trips to visit stilt villages and Intha fishermen busy with their cone-shaped bamboo nets. But be warned: the floating market, temple and workshop circuit is one of the few oppressively touristic experiences in Myanmar. The Jumping Cat Monastery, which you should skip, is another. Instead, ask your boat pilot to head for the quieter, southern end of the lake. There's plenty to see, minus the crowds. Aquaculture thrives there. A wide range of fruits and vegetables is grown in the marshes, and nearby lies an entire village devoted to pottery making. Budget accommodation predominates in the settlement of Nyaungshwe, while upmarket hotels skirt the lakeside. 8 Pyin U Lwin A couple of bone-jarring hours from Mandalay by pick-up truck is the pretty former British hill station of Pyin U Lwin. The obligatory colonial-era mansions, golf course, botanical gardens and church stand toe-to-toe with Myanmese temples and Chinese shrines. The market brims with the produce of a temperate climate and a large Indian presence means you can enjoy a curry, followed by a bowl of fresh strawberries. Caves, tribal villages and waterfalls are the principal excursion destinations. The enticing falls at Anisakan cascade through five sections and make a pleasant spot for a picnic and a swim. There are hotels to fit all budgets. 9 Ngapali Beach After the dust of the plains a beach may be just what you need - and at Ngapali you'll have most of the 3km of sand to yourself. You won't be pestered by hawkers, irritated by the drone of jet-skis or driven insane by the thump of music from beachside bars. As you sit at a restaurant with your beer and grilled lobster dinner, watching fishermen hauling in their nets, the 'Thailand 25 years ago' label often given to Myanmar seems apt. Have a camera ready because the sunsets are sublime. There are plenty of new guesthouses, or you can treat yourself at the Sandoway Resort ( www.sandowayresort.com ). 10 Across the Thai Border It's possible to dip your toes into Myanmar by crossing from Thailand on a day trip. Join traders and expatriates on visa runs by crossing the border at Mae Sai. Thai baht, US dollars and Myanmese kyat are all used interchangeably, and the ethically minded traveller can feel confident that spending money here is likely to enrich locals rather than the government. Two-week visas enable the curious to bump overland a further 160km to Kengtung, the capital of the Golden Triangle. Security can be a problem in this part of the semi-autonomous Shan State, so look for the latest security updates before setting off from Thailand. Air Mandalay ( www.air-mandalay.com ) flies throughout Myanmar.