Myanmar, previously known as Burma, is one of those places that has opened up to tourism in the last 5 or so years and is relatively untouched. It is already starting to pick up, but still was a beautiful country to visit, so do it before it becomes too popular of a destination!
If you love temples than Myanmar is the place for you, they are literally everywhere. It is predominately a Buddhist country with ~90% of its population practicing the Theravada branch of Buddhism. By the end of the trip your eyes will be spinning with pagodas, so it was quite nice to move on to a beach destination next.
I traveled with a group of 5 people and spent about 7 days exploring the most popular parts of the country starting in Mandalay and ending in their old capital Yangon. You can find the rough itinerary we followed at the end of the post and see my photo diary here!
Tour guide or no?
If you want a chance to see some other unique parts of Myanmar besides the temples and want a very laid-back experience, I would highly suggest doing your trip through a tour company. We did ours through a company called Asia Pearl Travels and were extremely easy to work with. It was pretty easy to customise the itinerary to what we wanted and even the price range of hotels. No food or entrance fees were included in the price, but we were picked up from the airport and they were able to help us with everything we needed on the trip from SIM cards to cash machines.
Things to do:
We did so many things, but these were my top pics in each location!
- Kuthodaw Pagoda – Definitely one of my favourite places that we got to visit during the trip. The book nerd in me was absolutely loving seeing the largest book in the world that resides by this pagoda. There are 729 stone-inscribed caves that house the pages of the book.
- Gold leaf production – The gold leaves that you see sold at pagodas are made through a long handmade process and are incredibility thin. Worth a look if you are interested.
- Maenu Okkyaung Monastery – that my group liked to call the Evil Queens place. The tour guide told us the story of why the monastery was build by brick rather than by teak as per tradition and it is definitely worth hearing as well as seeing the sight. Really quite beautiful and different that the others you will see during the trip
- U Bein Bridge – This is the longest and oldest teak wood bridge in the world If the weather cooperates with you, this is a beautiful place to see the sunset, while slowly crossing it. It however has definitely become a tourist area as the start of the bridge is littered with people selling things to you and large restaurants
- Bagan (25,000 Kyat per person archaeological entrance fee)
- Sunset on a Pagoda – My biggest suggestion is to find a pagoda you can climb to watch the sunset and see the view as it is absolutely stunning. Bagan has this beautiful haze when you look out at the view that gives it something extra.
- Sunset from the Irrawaddy river – Another beautiful way to see the sunset is to go out on the river on a boat and enjoy the sun set over the water and behind the haze of Bagan.
- Scooter ride around Bagan – One of my favourite days was riding around on the electric scooters and seeing all the sights that way. There are tons of scooter rental places in Bagan and for us rented about 4,000 Kyat a day and an additional 2,000 Kyat to be picked up.
- Local villages visit – A bit different from the pagodas and monasteries, we also did a few local villages visits seeing how they live their local life and even trying some of the food.
- Heho and Inle Lake (12,500 entrance fee)
- Pindaya – We actually had no idea what this was when we saw it on the itinerary, but it took us by surprise. It is essentially a huge cave filled with Buddha statues that have had statues continually added throughout the years.
- Rice paddies sunset – After getting back to Heho we spent some time wandering around and asked a homeowner to allow us to see the sunset over the rice paddies and it was quite the sight.
- Inle Lake – We spent our last day going around Inle Lake by boat seeing the all the different sights (see below for the itinerary). I will say the jumping cat monastery was a disappointment as apparently they no longer train the cats to actually jump and there weren’t as many around as you would expect.
Apparently lunch is the biggest Burmese meal and was typically tons and tons of small plates of food. Everything including meats, fish, veggies, soup etc. If you aren’t a fan of fish sauce, I would suggest being careful of what you eat as many of the dishes were very heavy on it. I loved it as there was so much variety and also extremely cheap! The meal pictured below came out to about £2.50 per person.
Dinner is typically smaller and often time the “left overs” from lunch.
- Visa ($50 USD) – Make sure you give yourself a couple weeks to apply and get the visa prior to your trip. Also ensure you print it out prior to arriving. They will not let you onto the flight without it.
- Cash machines – There are more now that tourism is picking up in Myanmar, but mostly in airports and the most touristy places. So the easiest thing to do is when you can pull out as much as you will need for several day. Also make sure you have multiple cards that can withdraw money as some of ours did not work.
- You can use USD, but if you do make sure the bills are pristine as they will not accept anything less.
- SIM cards – You can purchase these at any of the major airports (Mandalay and Yangon) for about $4 USD for a week. It’s nice to have as many of the hotels wifi is pretty terrible and it’s a good way to stay connected if you need to.
- Entrance fees – Many of the sights will require entrance fees and some even have photography fees (300 kyat per camera). Although it’s not a lot of money many places have them and they do add up, so make sure you have enough cash for this.
- Clothes – Women and men are required to cover up their legs and additionally women must cover their shoulders. It’s a good idea to wear flow-y bottoms for girls or bring a scarf when you are traveling around as a coverup. Men can also buy a Longyi if they feel like fitting in with the locals!
7-day Itinerary for Mandalay, Bagan and Lake Inle
Day 1 – Mandalay:
- 14:00 – Pickup from Mandalay Airport
- 15:00 – Mahamuni Image
- 16:00 – Mandalay Hill and surrounding pagodas and monasteries including Kuthodaw Pagoda (largest book)
Day 2 – Mandalay:
- 07:00 – Boat trip to Mingun
- 09:00 – Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing
- 10:00 – Boat across Irrawaddy River
- 11:00 – Horse carts to Maenu Okkyaung Monastary, Nyan Myint Tower, Bargayar Monastery with teak pillars
- 12:30 – Local lunch
- 13:30 – Silk weaving
- 18:00 – U Bein Bridge in Amarapura for sunset
- 19:00 – Return to hotel and get dinner locally
Day 3 – Bagan:
- 09:30 – Flight to Bagan
- 11:00 – Pickup from airport and check-in to hotel
12:00 – Visit Shwezigon Pagoda, Htilominlo Temple, Nathtaukkyaung Monastery, Ananda Temple, Gubyaukgyi Temple. Manuha Temple, Dhamayangyi Temple, Sulamani Temple
- 18:30 – Sunset on Pagoda
Day 4 (free day in Bagan):
- 09:00 – Breakfast in hotel
- 11:00 – Pickup scooters from New Bagan and explore Old Bagan
- 13:00 – Lunch locally
- 14:00 – Scooter ride around Bagan
- 17:00 – Bagan Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort for pool time and drinks
- 20:00 – Head back to hotel
Day 5 – Bagan:
- 08:30 – Nyaung U Market
- 10:00 – Head to Mt. Popa
- 12:00 – Lunch locally
- 13:00 – Return via Salay to see monasteries and Lacquered Buddha
- 16:00 – Visit local villages
- 18:00 – Sunset boat on Irrawaddy River
- 20:00 – Return to hotel for dinner
Day 6 – Pindaya and Inle Lake
- 09:30 – Flight to Heho
- 12:00 – Drive to Pindaya
- 15:00 – Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery
- 16:00 – Free time in Heho area
- 18:30 – Sunset over rice paddies
Day 7 – Inle Lake
07:00 – Visit Inle Lake via boat – Visit Inn Dein pagodas in ruins covered by trees and bushes, floating gardens, floating villages, long-neck ladies, Lotus-petal robe and silk weaving looms at Inn Paw Khone village, Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda – the most venerable pagoda on the lake, jumping cats’ monastery
- 16:00 – Flight to Yangon