Here’s our guide to spending 2 weeks in Myanmar:
Day 1 -2: Yangon
Explore the bustling streets of downtown Yangon – 19th Street being the popular traveller street, nestled in the heart of China Town. Get lost in the Bogyoke Aung San Market, and become dazzled by an emporium of jade jewelry, wooden trinkets and local produce. Don’t forget to pick up a must-have Longyi, as you’ll need one of these culturally significant pieces of clothing to cover your legs at many of the spectacular temples you’ll soon be visiting… Expect to pay around $5. In the daytime, make sure to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. It’s one of the most structurally impressive, and decadent Buddhist temples in the world, and it’s golden nighttime glow totally captivates the skyline of Yangon! If you have time, take a couple of hours to visit the Sule Paya Pagoda (a beautiful 2,000 year old Golden Temple. The Utopia Tower within Bogyoke Park is a bizarre arcade, with beautiful views across the lake gardens and city.
Overnight Travel: Yangon to Bagan
There are several transport options to consider. Trains costs £30 for an “upper class” sleeper cabin, which is highly recommended. Flights are expensive, costing between £120 and £200 for a return. Buses leave downtown Yangon to Bagan every evening at 6pm. They arrive at 4am (which leaves you time to jump in a taxi and clamber up the side of a temple in time for sunrise). A “normal bus” will set you back 15,000 Kyat / £8, whereas a VIP bus is 18,000 Kyat / £9.50. The VIP bus is seriously worth considering (especially JJ Express coaches!), but these fill up quickly. In our experience, the small increase in price for the VIP coach is worth every penny. Make sure you allow 2 hours to get from Yangon to the bus station – this is no exaggeration as the roads are extremely congested during rush hour.
Day 3 – 6: Bagan
Bagan Archeological Complex requires a $20 p/p entrance fee, which can come as a shock to most tourists who are blind-sided by this. However the costs of this supposedly go into the preservation of these spectacular monoliths. This place has to be seen to be believed, as there are approximately 2,200 temples scattered across the dry an arid shrubland. A lost civilization of unknown magnitude. It’s possible to rent E-bikes or push bikes to see the most of Old Bagan, which is where the majority of temples reside. You can’t cover much by foot, so we recommend peddling your way around the vantage points and hidden gems. E-bikes are around $7 per day, whereas push bikes are $1. Head in the general direction of Old Bagan and you can’t go wrong. For those seeking a romantic window into the past (and a bumpy ride!), we recommend flagging down one of Bagan’s many horse drawn carriages. They’re touristy, but novel and allow you to soak up the sights.
Sunrises and sunsets in Bagan are an absolute must. The sun rises in – you guessed it – the East! Ask your hotel/guest house/driver to help you find a nice quiet temple that faces your intended direction, and await the concerto…
There are many cultural dancing and puppet shows in the evening, that can be combined with hearty local food. Here are a few options:
- The Amata Boutique House. Thiripyitsaya Quarter, New Bagan. 061 65099: Performances nightly from Oct to March starting with a 30min puppet show followed by an hour of traditional Shan and Karen dancing. Free with a meal in the restaurant (with Asian mains for around K6000–7000). Daily 7–8.30pm (Oct–March only).
- Bagan Golden Palace Main Rd, Old Bagan: Nightly shows of traditional dancing; $24 with dinner buffet or $10 entrance plus à la carte meal. Daily 7–9pm.
- Nanda Restaurant Bagan–Chauk Rd, Wet Kyi Inn. 061 60790: Enjoyable 40min puppet shows, free with a drink or meal at the restaurant (although the pedestrian Chinese food is expensive, with mains at around K5500–7000). Daily at 6.30pm, 7.15pm and 8pm.
Hot air balloon rides are expensive, at around $350 to $400 per person for 45 minutes. We had a genuinely fascinating view of the balloons whilst viewing sunrise from our temple. They took off in their 10s, 20s and 30s, to a movie-set of low lying mist, and sharp golden light refractions that split over colossal stone temples…
If you have spare time, take a wonder around the Nyaung U Market – supposedly one of the best in the country.
We highly recommended the day trip to Mt. Popa which is 65km East of Bagan. Here you’ll climb 777 steps to a monastery capped mountain, dedicated as a shrine to the Nat spirits (which play a large part in the lives of the average citizen). A bus goes here from Nyaung U bus station at 8am every day. It takes 2.5 hours. However, you can hire a taxi for 35,000K which is what we recommend.
Overnight Travel: Bagan to Kalaw
Take an overnight bus for $15 – $20. It leaves New Bagan town at 7.30 pm, and arrives in Kalaw at 4am. Again, VIP is recommended!
Day 7-8: Kalaw
The beautifully tranquil and warm-hearted city of Kalaw is a former hill station that bills itself as the ‘Pine City’. It is a lovely place to wander, and a very popular spot for those taking two or three-day treks to Inle Lake. There are beautiful gardens, pine-forested hills, and a large selection of Nepalese food (which made it’s way to Myanmar from Nepalese labourers who came to build the railroad during British rule).
The Pindaya Caves are only a 45 minute drive away from Kalaw. Pilgrims flock here to worship 8,000 Buddha statues within the winding labyrinth of caverns, tunnels and chambers of this huge limestone cave. Pindaya is also surrounded by beautiful scenery, and the drive itself was just as captivating. We had a driver called Shan Lay, who was incredibly insightful, and a very friendly and interesting character. You can contact him to arrange a trip to the caves by calling him on 09978604306.
We were lucky enough to be the first-ever customers at the Sprouting Seeds Cafe, a community development programme that provides education, trade and applicable skills to teens in Myanmar and Thailand, through the owners NGO Whispering Seed. I’d highly recommend coming here to simply be inspired by their dedication and commitment to positive change, and maybe try some of their delicious homemade cakes and snacks.
If you have extra time, walk up to the Thein Taung Pagoda Monastery at sunset, or checkout the beautifully embellished catholic church. If rum sours and Burmese acoustic music’s your thing, then head to Hi Bar. Here you’ll find a shoebox sized bar full of charm and close-knit community. It’s a small, dark and smokey locals bar with a whole lot of charm. If you’re not too hazy in the morning, head to the Kalaw Market for an invigorating barrage of sights, smells and sounds.
Day 8-10: Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
This is an absolute must. I highly recommend booking through Ever Smile Trekking. Here’s our in-depth account of the trek.
On the first day of the trek you’ll pass through rural villages and farms, but each trip is vastly different to the last as there are a large array of routes and turns to choose from. You can discuss this with Ever Smile prior to booking, or simply allow your guide to choose the best option for you based on his or her gut instinct. Ever Smile were eager to find us the most interesting and rural route as it was a busy time of year, so rather than tearing us through the same well-trodden tourist path, we got to experience true Burmese countryside. We were the only people on our particular route, and we met many friendly locals along the way. We had the option to swim in the lake, pass between mountains, and cross paddy fields before staying the night in a local persons house in a hilltop village. All food is provided, and they your bag off to your hotel at Inle Lake.
On the second day, it was the final stretch to Inle Lake. You will cross through forests, mountains, and a steep decline until you’re finally at your destination where a long, thin motorboat awaits to take you 45 minutes across the lake to Nyaungshwe. You’ll see local life on the lake, fisherman with a distinct leg rowing technique, and loads of industries such as cigar makers, silversmiths etc. There’s a floating market that happens every five days.
Day 10 – 12: Inle Lake (Nyaungshwe town)
Nyaungshwe is a small town that sits on the northeastern edge of Inle Lake. It’s a little touristic, but has a vibe that’s relaxed and backpacker friendly. Expect no wifi, overbooked hotels, and some slightly expensive food joints. A bike will cost $1 per day, so with this in mind I recommend the following day trip. Peddle west of Nyaunshwe along a disheveled road, and through some farmland. Eventually you’ll take a left and start to head south, parallel to the mountains. You’ll reach reclaimed hot springs after about 5 miles. It’s not what you’d expect, and the entrance fee is $10 – but it’s welcome retreat after 2 or 3 days of trekking! After the dip, head south to Kaung Daing, an Intha village which produces fresh Shan state tofu, a local delicacy. You can now get back to the other side of the lake on a boat ferry, and then cycle north to the Red Mountain Winery; where you’ll head up the hill for some wine-tasting, and a magnificent view of the lake and the vineyards. Just before sunset, cycle back to Nyaungshwe through the sugar cane fields.
Those with extra time should visit the Mingala morning market, or the Yadana Man Aung Paya (Nyuangshwe’s oldest Buddhist monastery).
Up until this point the trip has been action-packed. Depending on whether you’re after some relaxation or some adventure, there are a couple of options of how to spending the final days of your trip…
Option 1: Adventure in Hsipaw
Hsipaw is much less developed than Kalaw, and has it soul rooted firmly in the untouched countryside that surrounds it. It’s a snoozy town that operates as a central hub/community supplied farmers market, which is in full swing. I highly recommend picking up some local raw honey which will set you back about $1.50 for a 350ml bottle.
More options for adventure and trekking tours with Mitch Michael from Myanmar Trekking (an excellent, young guide who has a lot of local knowledge and enthusiasm). He’ll take you to all sorts of places, including a Buddhist Monastery, the Dotha Wardy River via boat,waterfalls and local farmhouses. Who would have thought solar power was so popular in Myanmar? If you get the chance one evening, then check out the Sunset Hill, or one of the many temples facing West.
Travel from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin via train ($2)
The journey takes 6 hours along a slow an bumpy track, precariously crossing an unfathomably steep valley, across an old steel bridge that disappears into the blackness below you. A thrill, nonetheless. You can stop off in Pyin Oo Lwin for a few hours before carrying on to Mandalay / Yangon, or choose to stay a whole day or more at the Meditation Centre or the National Kandawgyi Gardens. Either way, make sure you eat at Krishna restaurant in the evening, which is run by a large Indian family and offers the best authentic food I can recall in recent memory.
Pyin Oo Lwin is a town that eludes long forgotten old world charm, and it has deep colonial routes as it was the home of the Summer Palace of the Governor of British Burma. It’s got unique history, and it’s modernising very quickly. It’d be great to catch a glance as it’s one of the few places in the world that’s been able to retains it’s (not so) colonial glory. It’s a populated by European architecture and lush, exotic gardens.
It’s easy to fetch a VIP bus from Pyin Oo Lwin to Yangon from here.
Option 2: Relaxation on Ngapali Beach
This is the most famous beach in Myanmar, so potentially not the best, but it’s certainly the most well-established. It’s also incredibly hard to get to unless you’re willing to fly, or via Yangon/Mandalay if you plan to use the trains or buses. I’ve had consistently good reviews of the tour company Friends Forever – who operate in Ngapali and will take you on fishing and snorkelling trips to secluded paradises. The beach is the perfect spot to watch sunsets whilst winding down with a beer.
Day 13-14: Yangon
Before you’re flight home, check out as many local delicacies as you can at Feel Myanmar Restaurant – a buffet where you can try traditional dishes of Burma. Visit Vista Bar in the evening – an amazing rooftop bar with a impressive view of the Shwedagon Pagoda in the midst of the city skyline. Explore the Happy World amusement park (and take some Mandalay Rum with you!). And finally, take a ride on the Yangon Circle Line which takes roughly 3 hours to travel around the city (at a snail’s pace). It’s a mere 200 kyat (15 cents) and you’ll likely spark compelling and friendly conversation with locals and tourists alike.
So there we have it, your ultimate 2 week whirlwind magical adventure in Myanmar. Please feel free to contribute your own suggestions in the comments box below!