Edit: The situation in Myanmar has taken a turn for the worse (read more about that here via Amnesty International).
This Myanmar itinerary still has value and Burmese people are wonderful people in a beautiful country to visit. I’ll try my best to keep on top of current affairs while living nearby in Chiang Mai, home to many ousted Burmese immigrants.
Their government have been known to hijack aid coming into the country. I live close to the Myanmar border and have teamed up with a trustworthy local refugee who has contacts for getting essentials such as food, medicine, baby food formula and feminine hygiene products to the people who need them the most.
Donations are welcome (to say the least) via Wise transfer, if you are interested in helping out – please shoot me a message on my contact form.
Bordering India and Bangladesh to the west and Thailand to the east, the nation of Myanmar has relatively gone under the radar of Southeast Asia travel.
Closed off for decades under military rule, Myanmar opened its borders in 2012 to a wave of new visitors and an air of democratic hope. Drawing in millions of tourists over the next decade, Myanmar’s treasures, landmarks and beautiful landscapes were enjoyed by many.
With the Burmese political future now uncertain, travel in Myanmar could again be a thing of the past. Yet, with such an alluring country, culture and people, the desire to travel to this ancient land will never be over.
So, whenever the doors fling open for foreigners once again, hopefully, this Myanmar itinerary will provide the perfect guide to exploring this unforgettable, complex and much-loved Southeast Asian country.
The Current State of Affairs With Myanmar
The best book for bringing you up to date with Myanmar’s history, before the recent coup is “River of Lost Footsteps,” by Thant Myint-U, a truly captivating read.
Over the past decade, Myanmar has been going through a transitional period. This was defined by the loosening of military rule and the rise of democracy, headed by Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Aung San Suu Kyi.
This progressive political leader, (except when it comes to the treatment of marginalised Rohingya Muslims) brought about many changes for the country, including an opening up to the world and an influx of foreign visitors and investors.
On the back of the worldwide pandemic, the military junta sought to seize back power after the 2020 general election results were falsely deemed to be illegitimate. This also resulted in the democratically appointed Aung San Suu Kyi being arrested on trumped-up charges.
At the same time, the people of Myanmar took to the streets in protest, pushing the country further into confrontation and increasing the potential for civil war. This clash between the military government, its police and other elements of the armed forces have created a sense of violence and a volatile environment that is too complex to fully understand for most countries.
With a closure to travel (and of course, Covid to boot) alongside the ever-increasing chance of civil war, travel to Myanmar and the future of the country is uncertain. We can only hope that this beautiful country does not revert back to its pre-2000 state, but it’s currently looking that way.
This Myanmar itinerary still stands as a showcase of how to see the very best of Burma and I will try to edit accordingly as updates come in.
Checklist Before Heading To Myanmar
Other than a well-put-together Myanmar itinerary, there are some other things you’ll need to organise before you head off to this somewhat enigmatic nation…
How To Get To Myanmar
The easiest and quickest way to get to Myanmar is to fly to its biggest city, and former capital, Yangon. You can get a direct flight to Yangon from many parts of the world, though often you will have to take a connecting flight from a Southeast Asian flight hub.
I was living in Bangkok when I visited Myanmar, with an average price of a return ticket setting me back around $150 USD.
Currency in Myanmar
Myanmar’s currency is the Kyat, (pronounced ‘chaat’) which is a closed currency that can only be exchanged inside the country. This means you won’t be able to get any currency before you travel. ATMs are available in Myanmar’s cities but not always working.
You can bring crisp USD to exchange at a bureau or at some hotels. When I first visited in 2012, the dollars had to be of a certain serial number. Then it changed to requiring perfect, clean untorn notes (that you will rather ironically pay for crinkled, shitty and old Myanmar khat).
Irony aside, is as strict as you can with the quality of US Dollars that you take into Myanmar, or it might get very frustrating when you get rejected or offered an offensively low rate of exchange due to a damaged US dollar note.
Note denominations come in 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000 notes, be prepared to have a massive wad of notes while travelling in Myanmar. At the time of writing, $1 USD was worth around K1,650
Securing a visa
Unless you’re a passport holder from one of the following countries, you’ll need to organise a tourist visa before you travel:
The whole process is actually pretty simple, and can all be done online in less than ten minutes. Head to the official government website, fill in the online form and then print it off to give to immigration when you arrive in Myanmar.
You’ll need to make sure you have at least six months left on your passport and have your first hotel booked for the initial leg of your trip. Costing around $50 USD, it is one of the more costly visas in Southeast Asia, and you’ll only be granted 28 days.
Unfortunately, you don’t have the option to extend your Burmese visa either, and you will have 90 days from when the visa is granted to enter the country.
I first went to Myanmar when they had quite literally just opened their doors to tourism, back in 2012. I had to have a “meeting” tantamount to a light interrogation in Thailand’s capital with a lot of paperwork. Still, there are worst places to be and you can check out all of the weird things to do in Bangkok while you’re there!
Getting to Myanmar became a lot easier over time, now it’s uncertain how it’ll be, but I will update accordingly.
Popular Burmese Phrases
Myanmar was once a British colony and has lived amongst a decade-long influx of foreign tourists. Despite this, you’ll find that most everyday Burmese won’t speak a lot of English. Learning a few Burmese phrases of Burmese will help you get by in Myanmar and will also adhere you to the oh-so generous people of the country.
Here are a few Burmese phrases that will you help you get by:
- Mingalabar – Hello
- Je zu din ba de – Thank you. ( Jez-oo-baa – thanks)
- Ho de – Yes
- Ma ho bu – No
- Na ma le ba bu – I don’t understand
Pack Modest Clothing
Like many of the countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is a nation of gentle conservatism, with both men and women dressing by the eastern standards of modesty. Something that’s particularly important to be aware of when you’re visiting religious sites.
You won’t be allowed to enter or visit temples or shrines if your legs or shoulders are showing – a rule that stands for both men and women. For men, you can throw yourself right into Burmese tradition and buy yourself a longyi – a long cloth that wraps around your waist, covering your legs.
As oxymoronic as it sounds, they are both restrictive and comfortable at the same time! (Just try it out for yourself and see what I mean).
Apps To Download Before You Go
To really prepare yourself for your extensive Myanmar itinerary, it’s best to download a few helpful mobile phone apps. Wi-Fi is sketchy at best, and mobile data isn’t widely available, so it’s best to be prepared.
- Taxi apps. In major cities such as Yangon and Bagan, you can use the Uber-like taxi app Grab. This will help you book taxis with pre-programmed prices and locations, helping you avoid broken Burmese conversations with local taxi drivers. There’s also a local taxi app called Yangon Taxis, although it’s hit and miss whether this will work or not.
- Maps.ME With internet speeds not always at their best, it’s worth downloading offline maps on apps such as MAPS.ME – these will help you find your way around when trundling through the often maze-like streets of Myanmar.
Myanmar Itinerary Options
With only 28 days granted on your Myanmar visa, travelling through this vast country can feel like a bit of a whirlwind affair. I’d recommend taking at least three weeks to explore what Myanmar has to offer, giving you plenty of time to see many of the country’s most beloved sights.
If you don’t have the luxury of time, one or two weeks will be okay, but you’ll need to substitute overnight buses for domestic flights and sacrifice some of the off-the-beaten-track destinations.
Day 1: Arriving in Yangon (Food Option And/Or Cool Activity Option)
Depending on where you have flown from, your first-day landing in the former Burmese capital of Yangon may be one of jet lag, recuperation and relaxation (but read on if you land with more energy, I have a good idea!)
Yangon’s main international airport is a good half-hour drive north of the centre of the city. The cheapest way to get from the airport to downtown Yangon is via the bus service, which will set you back around K500. Alternatively, you can catch a taxi to the centre, which is far quicker and will only cost K14,000 ~ $8 USD.
Yangon has its fair share of accommodations, from higher-range hotels and budget hostels to everything in between. Once you’ve settled into your room, your first evening in the city can be spent trying the country’s vastly diverse cuisine.
A mixture of Bengali, Thai and Burmese flavours, Myanmar’s cuisine has a unique taste. I admittedly wasn’t the biggest fan when I was there, although I do frequent local Burmese places here in Thailand and Burmese Tea Leaf Salad is absolutely banging!
If it all seems a little overwhelming, you’re guaranteed a good feed at these eateries:
- Nepali and Indian Food (648, Merchant Road): For less than a few dollars, fill up on vegetarian thali.
- Lucky Seven (48th Street): A typical Burmese tea house, choose from a huge menu of freshly cooked, local Burmese dishes and wash your meal down with sweet tea that could rival teh tarik of Malaysia for an afternoon sugar rush.
- 999 Shan Noodle Shop (192, 28th Street): Cheap and cheerful, this tiny noodle shop is part of a chain offering traditional dishes from the Shan state.
Sports fans (particularly football fans) will at this point have seen the local population play what we call back in England “keep-uppy,” where a group of you, as a team effort, keep the ball up in the air for as long as possible using your feet, kneed, chest and head.
This is the national sport of Myanmar, called “Chinlone” and you will see it being played (usually by young gentlemen) all over your Myanmar itinerary. If you stand around watching for long enough and you’re confident enough to hold down a conversation once approached, there is a big chance that the locals will invite you to play with them.
This happened to me within the first few hours of arriving and it was a common theme for me as I travelled throughout Myanmar. Truly unforgettable.
Day 2: Exploring Yangon
On your first full day in Myanmar, you’ll get the chance to explore the country’s biggest city, Yangon.
Taking pride in place as one of the must-do things in the city is a visit to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda. One of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Myanmar and Asia, the Shwedagon Pagoda is a breathtaking sight.
Built upon the 167ft Singuttara Hill, the central pagoda is a gold-covered structure that looms large over the city skyline, helped by the restrictions of buildings being constructed higher than the pagoda.
Once you pass the huge Chinthes (Burmese Lions) at the entrance, you will enter a world of glittering gold, Buddhist imagery and an overwhelming sense of Buddhist religiosity. Like most temples and pagodas, you’ll need to remove your shoes before entering and wear modest clothing too.
With incense burning, religious devotees prostrating, and home to hundreds of robed monks, Shwedagon Pagoda stands alone – even after visiting the seemingly endless Buddhist temples and shrines across Asia (also known as “Temple Fatigue”).
Aside from Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon’s attractions include the Bogyoke Aung San Market, a bustling market dating back to the 1920s, which was built under British rule. The market sells a plethora of goods, making it a perfect place to pick up a bargain.
For a scenic view of the city and the wider rice paddies on its outskirts, a circular trip on its Yangon Circular Train route is a great way of seeing the entire city.
Know before you go:
- Location – Shwedagon Pagoda is located in central Yangon, just east of the people’s park.
- Cost – Entrance fee is K10,000
- Opening hours – 4am – 10pm
- Time needed – At least an hour to take in the splendour and sock up the ambience.
- Getting there – You can get a taxi to the pagoda from central Yangon for around K4,000. Ask your hotel to arrange a local driver for you, or use Grab.
Day 3: Yangon to Hpa-An
On this Myanmar itinerary, your first bit of travelling will take you from Yangon to the city of Hpa-An, the capital of the eastern Kayin state.
Though only 180 miles east of Yangon, travel in Myanmar is SLOW, at best, and you’ll definitely want to set aside a day to travel the distance. The easiest way to make this journey is a bus from Yangon to Hpa-An.
The bus station is a place of organised chaos, with only a Burmese script to indicate which bus stop goes where. With many hostels and hotels employing shuttle services to the station, it’s best to ask for a little help to get you on the right bus.
Most tourists choose the VIP option, which is operated by Shwe Mandalar Express which operates a bus from Yangon to Hpa-An twice daily. The journey takes around six hours, costs between K8,000 and K10,000 and you’ll be dropped by the clock tower in Hpa An.
After the metropolis of Yangon, the city and outer reaches of Hpa-An will appear more like a laid-back town, surrounded by picturesque mountain landscapes.
Day 4: Climbing Mount Zwegabin
One of the highlights of visiting the Hpa-An area is the chase to climb the nearby Mount Zwegabin. The best way to get here and travel around the Hpa-An area as a whole is to hire a moped for the day.
Located five miles south of the centre Hpa-An, Mount Zwegabin rises 722 metres above the landscape. Climbing Mount Zwegabin isn’t reserved for tourists, as you will find out on your journey to the top.
Considered to be a sacred mountain by the local Buddhist population encouraged by the pagoda at the summit – many make the climb to the top of the mountain with heavy loads on their back. The idea behind this is that the weight makes the climb to the top more difficult which in turn increases the divine merit achieved by the act.
Although not a hugely tall mountain, its steep gradient makes the climb a little more difficult, and I would suggest attempting the climb before the heat of the day really takes hold.
As far as climbing mountains in Southeast Asia goes; It’s no Puncay Jaya in terms of technicality, or as much of a hard slog as climbing Mount Kinabalu, however adequate footwear will make things easier for you. So it’s best to leave the Havaianas back at your hotel.
Once you arrive at the summit, all the sweat and aching legs will be worth it. Mount Zwegabin offers stunning mountaintop views of the surrounding landscape. The pagoda structure on the summit has also installed a glass floor, giving you leg-shaking views of the drop below.
Know before you go:
- Location – Mount Zwegabin is located five miles south of Hpa-An town centre.
- Cost – You’ll need to pay K4,000 for parking.
- Time needed – Around three or four hours to drive, climb up and down and get back, though the actual climb should only take a couple of hours.
- Getting there – Either hire a moped for the day or take a tuk-tuk.
Day 5: Visiting Kyaut Ka Latt Pagoda and Mahar Sadan Cave
Aside from Mount Zwegabin, the border area of Hpa-An is home to a number of worth-see sights. Again, the best way to get around to all these places without relying on anyone else is to hire yourself a moped for the day.
Six miles south of Hpa-An is the Kyaut Ka Latt Pagoda, a pagoda that needs to be seen to be believed. The pagoda stands on a lonely tower of limestone rock, surrounded by a lake, seemingly to define any rules of construction. The Kyaut Ka Latt Pagoda offers perfect photo opportunities, and you can pay to take a tour of the complex if you want.
From here, it’s an 11-mile ride further south to the Mahar Sadan Cave complex. This half-a-kilometre cave system can be explored on foot from one end to another. As a religious site, you will need to take your shoes off, so get ready to try and navigate around the bat poo on the floor…
The cave offers stunning views of naturally formed stalactites and stalagmites; it is also the longest and biggest cave in the entirety of the Kayin State. Once you exit the cave, the quickest way back to the entrance and road is to take one of the many small canoe-like boats paddled by a local.
Day 6: Hpa An to Kin Pun and the Golden Boulder
From Hpa An, it’s only a short distance to the small town of Kin Pun and the famous Golden Boulder. Looking at a map, the distance may seem short, but the actual route is a little more complicated.
Firstly, you’ll need to organise a bus from Hpa An (around two hours), but this will only take you as far as the transport hub town of Kyaikto.
From here, the only option is to take a tuk-tuk or taxi up the hillside to the small town of Kin Pun. There are numerous accommodations around the town that provide the perfect base to explore the Golden Boulder.
Day 7: Golden Boulder and Kyaiktiyo Pagoda
The golden boulder, otherwise known as the golden rock, is one of the top three most venerated Buddhist sights in all of Myanmar and is unmissable on your Myanmar itinerary.
Balanced on the side of a cliff, the boulder appears to be frozen in the motion of rolling downhill – legend has it that the rock is kept in place by one strand of the Buddha’s hair. If this wasn’t enough the huge boulder is covered in gold leaf, with a small pagoda on top.
Surrounding this otherworldly sight is a temple complex where many thousands come to show their devotion. If the sight of the boulder at the top of Kyaiktiyo hill is not enough for you, the journey to the top is as close to a rollercoaster as you’ll get in the country. You’ll join the hundreds of other visitors in a fleet of open-air transport trucks, squeezed onto the very uncomfortable wooden benches in the back.
Simply pay for your ticket and find a seat in one of the many trucks heading for the summit, and ready yourself for a very bumpy ride.
Know before you go:
- Location – Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is located on the mountain summit, just north of the town of Kin Pun.
- Cost – K2,000 for the truck to the top and K10,000 entrance fee
- Opening hours – 5am -8pm
- Time needed – At least half a day should be dedicated to Kyaiktiyo Pagoda.
- Getting there – The truck stop can be found right at the base of the mountain, north of Kin Pun town.
Day 8: Kyaikto to Bago
Making your way from Kin Pun back to Kyaikto is a simple taxi or tuk-tuk journey that your hotel can help to organise. From the coach transport hub of Kyaikto, you can take a bus over to the town of Bago, one of the overlooked towns on many people’s Myanmar itineraries.
While buses should only take three hours to get there, costing K5,000, it’s best to take the day out to travel from Kyaikto to Bago. One of the most reliable companies we found was Win-Express which runs hourly shuttles between the towns.
Day 9: Explore the city of Bago
The city of Bago is full of strange and wonderful sights, a great mixture of Buddhist pagodas and monasteries mixed in with local markets and cottage industry workshops.
One of the city’s most popular sights is the Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha. This huge statue of the Lord Buddha reclining in peace is a sight to behold. Believed to be first constructed in the mid-10th century, the Buddha was ransacked during the conflict in the mid-18th century.
Re-founded in the overgrown jungle in the late 19th century, the Shwethalyaung reclining Buddha is now one of Bago’s most sacred sights.
Alongside the many religious sites, Bago is famed for its markets and cottage industries. These include a wood carving workshop, where many men and women sit cross-legged while carving out complex designs from wood – many of which are for the Chinese market.
Another is the ‘leaf market’ where women sit and roll handmade cigarettes and cigars, similar setups can be found across Myanmar.
Day 10: Overnight bus from Bago to Nyaungshwe
The day has come to make one of the longest trips you’ll take on your Myanmar itinerary; the journey from Bago to Nyaungshwe, home of Inle Lake. The best way to make this bus journey is to take an overnight bus, as the journey can take between 10 and 12 hours.
The VIP buses are some of the more comfortable ones in Southeast Asia, and although they are without beds, the large sofa-like chairs offer surprising comfort. Not quite as impressive as the coaches you’ll find on a Patagonia itinerary, but also not as claustrophobic as some popular trips in India during Holi Festival!
It’s best to organise an early check-in or to book an extra night in your hotel, as you may arrive tired and grumpy at your Nyaungshwe accommodation at 5 am in the morning.
Know before you go:
- Location – Nyaungshwe is located around 350 miles north of Bago.
- Cost – The night bus will set you back around K23,000
- Time needed – Journey will take around 11 hours, but don’t be surprised if it takes longer.
Day 11: Boat trip along Inle Lake
One of the most famous tourist destinations in this Myanmar Itinerary, Inle Lake has seen travellers flocking there for better or worse.
One of the best ways to soak up the 45 square mile lake and its surroundings is to organise a boat tour. While this all may seem a little artificial and tourist trappy, there’s no denying the natural beauty of the lake and joining one of these boat tours is the easiest and most convenient way of seeing a lot in a day.
Setting off from the Nyaungshwe Canal jetty in town, you’ll pass by majestic water buffalo grazing and vast swathes of inlets before boating out into the vastness of Inle Lake. Though this waterway was once a haven for fishermen, tourism has quickly taken over, and the fish trap-wielding boatmen you often see out on the lake are now directly employed by the local government. Still, they make for a pretty lovely photo.
Much like the floating village of Santa Marta, Colombia, there’s a whole community that lives out on the lake, propped up by stilted wooden houses joined by boating channels. Many of these stilted buildings are home to a few cottage industries, many of which are only supported by tourist purchases – taking nothing away from the skill it takes to make spun lotus cloth, intricate silverware and handmade cigars, all of which can be seen on the lake.
During the boat tour, you will not only visit places trying to sell you a thing or two but also some genuinely unique spots. One of these is the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, located in the lakeside village of Ywama.
At the centre of the pagoda is a shrine made up of five buddha heads, so overly adorned with gold leaf that the faces are unrecognisable and seem to be five blocks of solid gold. Visit Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda at the right time of the year and witness the festival held here, where the relics are taken out on a replica royal barge and taken to be venerated in Nyaungshwe.
Day 12: Cycle tour and Burmese wine tasting
Though many come for the delight of Inle Lake, there’s a lot to see around the surrounding area of Nyaungshwe. One of the best ways of exploring this relatively flat landscape is to hire a bicycle and take a self-guided tour on two wheels. Many of the hotels and hostels provide a bicycle rental service for as little as K1,500 a day.
Alongside simply biking around the beautiful surrounding landscapes of Inle Lake and Nyaungshwe, you can combine it with a trip to the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards and Winery.
Wine tasting and Myanmar might not go hand-in-hand, but the Red Mountain Estate has flourished, with over 185 acres of vineyards to its name. Importing over 400,000 vines from France, Spain and Israel, Red Mountain Estate is one of only two wine-producing estates in the county.
Providing an eclectic wine-tasting wine flight and jaw-dropping views of the area, a tasting at Red Mountain Estate is the perfect way to end a bicycle ride around Inle Lake.
Know before you go:
- Location – Red Mountain Estate is located just under three miles southeast of Nyaungshwe
- Cost – Around K2,000 – K4,000 a glass
- Opening hours – 9am – 6pm
- Time needed – Give yourself a good few hours to soak up the views and taste the wines.
- Getting there – Cycling to Red Mountain Estate will take around 20 minutes from the town centre.
Day 13: Nyaungshwe to Bagan
Heading west from Nyaungshwe to another of the county’s most popular sights, Bagan will take around eight hours and will demand another day of travelling. JJ Express Bus is arguably one of the most highly-rated companies to make this journey and will cost around K18,000.
Unfortunately, this is where the locals like to take advantage of tourists. Instead of dropping you in Nyaung-U, the centre of town, most buses have an agreement with local taxis to drop you at the bus station on the outskirts of the city. From here, you’ll be coaxed into paying an extortionate fee to the taxi man to drop you off in Bagan.
As things go, this is an impossible situation to avoid, as the buses will simply refuse to move if you don’t get off there. (Once you’re off, they will happily take the locals on the bus into the centre of town). I can’t remember how much we paid in the end, but we managed to barter down the taxi man to half the price he originally stated.
It’s not the nicest start to one of the prettiest areas in Myanmar, but it’s just one of those things you have to accept in such a complicated country.
Day 14: Tour the temples of the Bagan Plain
The plains of Old Bagan make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are home to over 2,000 Buddhist temples, a small fraction of the 10,000 that once stood here.
Bagan, formerly known as Pagan, was the capital of the first Burmese empire, known as the Pagan Kingdom. The 10m2 Old Bagan Archaeological Zone is best explored by the area’s newest feature e-mopeds.
These mopeds run off a battery and do far less damage to the environment compared to their petrol-running cousins. Many hostels and hotels run an e-moped rental service for the day and this makes it so much easier to travel between the multiple temples.
You can’t climb the temples anymore, but you’ll find plenty of mounds to the summit to enjoy the view over the temples. Popular times to see these views are during dawn and dusk, for their undeniable sunset/sunrise potential.
Know before you go:
- Location – Old Bagan Archaeological Zone is located to the west of Nyaung-U and north of New Bagan.
- Cost – K25,000 entrance fee
- Time needed – There are endless temples in Bagan, and you’ll want at least a day or two to explore as many as possible.
Day 15: Admire Old Bagan from the skies
One of the more indulgent ways to see Old Bagan is from the side of a hot air balloon. The flat landscape that the Bagan plain sits on makes it perfect for being viewed from above.
Ballooning season in Bagan runs from October to April and should be booked well in advance of your trip to make sure you get a space. Lasting 45 minutes, sunrise hot air balloon rides take you over the Bagan plain, floating over the endless temples below. You can also catch sight of locals going about their day, feeding cattle, farming and heading to market.
Know before you go:
- Location – Balloons Over Bagan’s offices are located in Nyaung-U.
Cost – Around K590,000 for one person.
- Time needed – Most hot air balloon rides last 45-minutes, but you’ll be picked up an hour or so earlier for breakfast and a safety briefing.
Day 16: Bagan to Mandalay
The journey from Bagan to Mandalay takes a supposed five hours, but you’ll want to set aside a day to allow for any delays or traffic jams going into the city.
This is a very popular journey, and you can choose from a number of different operators that make the journey several times each day. These include JJ Express, OK Express and Hello Express. Bus fares range anywhere from K7,500 to K12,000 depending on how much comfort you’re looking for.
Know before you go:
- Location – Mandalay is located 107 miles northeast of Bagan
- Cost – Bus fares range anywhere from K7,500 to K12,000
- Time needed – At least half a day.
Day 17: Exploring Mandalay (& The Moustache Brothers)
Once the royal capital of the country, no Myanmar itinerary would be complete without a visit to the city of Mandalay. Your first port of call should be the Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery in the west of the city.
Another temple, I hear you say? Yep, but not like any other. Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery is unlike any other religious building in Myanmar, built entirely from teak wood, engraved and carved with intricate patterns and has stood here since 1895.
As a former royal capital, the Mandalay Palace is another must-see. Although not the original building, as it was destroyed by a ravaging fire, the modern Royal Palace is a replica built in the 1990s. There’s no denying the palace’s architectural beauty. One of the biggest highlights is the wooden watchtower, which provides jaw-dropping views of the city and landscape below.
A visit to Mandalay’s jade market will pull back the curtain on old artisan traditions of crafting, grinding and displaying jade objects. Even if you’re not looking to purchase any of the items, visiting the jade market is an experience in itself.
Once the sun goes down, and your appetite rises, head to the streets of Mandalay for some of the best street food in Myanmar. The city’s central location on the road between India and China has given Myanmar cuisine its own unique flavours and feel.
My favourite thing to do by far in Mandalay was an evening visiting the Moustache Brothers. Chained together for 7 years of hard labour for simply making a joke about the Burmese junta, the likes of Ricky Gervais rightly criticised this patent freedom of speech violation (not that this bothered the governmental powers that be too much).
The brothers were still raising a proverbial middle finger to the corrupt government years later and I was happy to have met them, after their slap-stick comedy routine in Mandalay. I’m genuinely curious and confused with regard to whether they are still going or not, but I highly doubt it with the current situation.
Day 18: Day Trip to Pyin Oo Lwin (OR Amazing Sunset Option)
Day Trip Option: Forty-two miles east of Mandalay is the small town of Pyin Oo Lwin, colloquially known as Maymyo. Sitting so close to the city of Mandalay, Pyin Oo Lwin is the perfect destination for a day trip from the city.
During colonial times, Pyin Oo Lwin was used as a hill station escape for the British during the high heat of the dry season. Nestled amongst the highlands of Myanmar, Pyin Oo Lwin has a much more temperate and cooler climate. Named after one Colonel May, Maymyo, ‘May’s town’, Pyin Oo Lwin has long had the highest level of Anglo-Burmese people in the country.
On your day trip to Pyin Oo Lwin, you can enjoy the plethora of old colonial architecture, much of which was written about by British novelist and essayist George Orwell, who was briefly stationed here in the 1920s.
You can also wander around National Kandawgyi Gardens, a botanical garden that was started by the British – in imitation of London’s Kew Gardens. A hike out into the surrounding hills may leave you encountering one of 135 different ethnic minorities who have lived in this area unchanged for centuries.
Know before you go:
- Location – Pyin Oo Lwin is located 42 miles east of Mandalay.
- Cost – The train will set you back around K1,200 and a taxi K10,000 to the centre of town.
Time needed – Take the whole day to explore Pyin Oo Lwin.
- Getting there – The train will take around 4 hours, while a taxi is likely to take 1 hour and 20.
Amazing Sunset Option: If you have temple fatigue and you’re more of a sucker for sunrises, then simply take a 20-minute taxi from Mandalay centre and watch the sunrise from U Bein Bridge, stay for as long as you like and drink tea with chatty and curious locals. (This is my preferred option).
Day 19: Back to Yangon from Mandalay
With the final days of your Myanmar itinerary coming to an end, you may wish to spend your final hours in Yangon, mainly due to its better connections with the rest of the world.
It is possible to fly out of the country from Mandalay, but you’ll normally stopover in Yangon. Taking the overnight bus from Mandalay is arguably your best bet if you want to keep your air miles down. This route will take around 10 hours, though being on one of Myanmar’s main routes, it can be less.
Wind Down in Yangon To Finish off Your Myanmar Itinerary
With your final days in Myanmar coming to an end, you can spend your final full day exploring all that you missed in the country’s main city.
With all the sightseeing the first time around, you may wish to delve into the nightlife of Yangon, an often-overlooked element of the city. You can find a number of ‘beer stations’ serving up cheap beer, and you can really solace amongst the local Burmese population, or a sugary tea in a teahouse if that is more your, well…. cup of tea.
Yangon also has its fair share of green spaces and parks to enjoy.
General Aung San Park is a park dedicated to the national hero General Aung San and has a wide expanse of green space and water features, perfect for escaping the city rush. Another is People’s Park; again, this offers a tranquil space surrounded by greenery and water, an ideal way to say goodbye and end your Myanmar itinerary.