Myanmar is rapidly becoming one of Asia’s most popular travel destinations. As the country continues to open up to international visitors, there has never been a better time to visit. Travelling in Myanmar unveils a unique combination of hidden beauties and burgeoning tourism hotspots, all whilst enjoying a welcoming culture. Whether you wish to watch the sun rise over misty temples, take slow river boat trips, or calculate a way to make your way through fragrant marketplaces, Myanmar can provide.
In Myanmar it is common to feel like the only tourist — local-dominated restaurants far outnumber tourist-centred restaurants (even around attractions), and many places are most effectively reached using public transport. Strolling through the chaotic streets of Yangon or Mandalay still garners curious stares from locals, and even simple things like cash and Internet can prove problematic.
Myanmar is easy to get to from other Asian destinations, and trust me when I say that it is well worth visiting. This enigmatic country captures the heart and invigorates the soul.
However, there is not all that much information out there about travel in the former country of Burma. After my experience there I have compiled the ideal Myanmar itinerary for two weeks in this travellers’ heaven. Two weeks should be enough time to see the major sites as well as some more unique experiences.
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Arrive Yangon (3 nights)
Yangon is Myanmar’s most well known city for tourists. Large-scale golden pagodas jut out of the bustling metropolis of interwoven streets and fearless motorcyclists. It creates an atmosphere of wonder and occupies the mind. Most of the sights here involve temples and pagodas, but there are also some beautiful lakes to wander around and museums to explore.
Yangon is the perfect place to begin your itinerary because there is plenty available here to introduce you to the culture, atmosphere and people of Myanmar. Yangon is generally a more traveller-friendly city to wrap your head around than Mandalay so it’s a good place to start.
3 nights in Yangon will give you time to adjust, settle in and see the sights.
Trekking in Kalaw (trekking, 2-3 nights)
After you have adjusted to life in one of Myanmar’s cities, it is time to change things up and head on a trek. Kalaw is a small town close to the famous Inle Lake and provides spectacular hikes through the Myanmar countryside. There are several companies which lead treks from Kalaw and the most popular product is the 3-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake.
The transport to Kalaw can take a while so it is a good idea to allocate a night to spend in Kalaw itself before commencing the trek. There are several guesthouses available to choose from.
The trek is rather long to Inle Lake but is not too strenuous. Getting out and doing this trek gives you the opportunity to see a side of Myanmar that many miss. The accommodation is usually homestays so not only will you be more comfortable than camping but you will get to experience how the locals live.
Inle Lake (2 nights)
If you’re in love with those photos of fishermen in Myanmar balancing delicately in their boats complete with woven hats and nets, then this is the place for you. Inle Lake is a tourist hotspot in Myanmar but must be seen.
The enormity of the lake means that there is plenty to do. Jump on boats and see how life on the water unfolds, or watch the fishermen from the safety of the shore.
Bagan (3 nights)
Bagan is easily Myanmar’s most iconic destination and there is no refuting why it holds this title. Out of the dusty basin rise over 2000 unique temples — nearly all available to explore.
Despite being Myanmar’s most popular destination, it is ridiculously facile to escape tourists and feel alone here. The area is still not set up for tourists like other South East Asian icons such as Angkor Wat, and it is easy to explore the area without even being given the option of buying a ticket (even if you actually did want to pay!). Without official ticket booths at all the entrances, proper roads and all the bells and whistles, Bagan can sometimes feel like you’re just discovering it.
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Rather than horse and cart or tour bus, it is best to grab bicycles or e-bikes from some of the locals and ride around the complex. You get total independence and the exercise does you good too. Hot air ballooning is a popular touristic experience in Bagan but is eye-wateringly expensive ($400 each, anyone?). If you can afford it then totally do it, otherwise you can watch the balloons from a distance which is equally spectacular.
If you’re in Bagan you must make sure you commit to seeing as many sunsets and sunrises as is humanly possible. There is honestly no better place for it.
From Bagan it is possible to get to your next destination, Mandalay, by taking the slow boat up the Irrawaddy which is a worthwhile experience.
Mandalay (3 nights)
Mandalay is not the most thrilling place but there is still enough to keep you occupied here and it has a very different vibe to the other areas of Myanmar. Your time in Mandalay will certainly be easy on the wallet as accommodation and food is incredibly affordable.
Taking the boat from Bagan back to Mandalay will take you an entire day in itself, so you are left with two full days to explore the city. Allocate one day to visiting Mandalay proper and seeing the Royal Palace (or at least walk around it), wander through the markets, and climb up Mandalay Hill.
On your second full day, I would recommend doing the ‘three cities’ tour. Drivers and taxis all around Mandalay offer this for a pretty good price so it will not be difficult to organise. This trip takes all day but takes you to some of the most beautiful locations around Mandalay. First you will get to experience a fully functioning monastic school where you can see young monks undertaking rituals and learning the ropes. You will be able to experience the beautiful, and still rather rural, Inwa, and wander through more temples and farm land. The day finishes up with a walk along U Bein bridge which is the world’s longest wooden bridge, and a spectacular sunset. Enjoy a coconut or Mandalay beer as the sun sets behind this incredible structure.
Comment below with any questions or comments! If you’ve been to Myanmar I would love to know.
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