In this (very long) article, you will find my Myanmar itinerary and how to plan your trip to this beautiful county including the 10 places you must visit in Myanmar (at the bottom of the article).
In the end, you will also find a list of practical tips for getting the visa, getting to know the locals, some curious info and more.
A bit of background and history of Myanmar
At first, while exploring Cambodia, I was in a huge moral dilemma regarding Myanmar and a potential visit to a country where freedom was something reserved only for a few lucky ones and where locals (including Aung San Suu Kyi and the Moustache Brothers) were unfairly imprisoned for criticising the government. It was a tough decision, I could have flown to Bali straight away and chill on their wonderful beaches or I could follow my instinct to explore yet one more country on my 23-month life-changing journey. As I am writing this post, you already know what I decided to do.
Myanmar was calling and I had to go.
I consider myself an ethical traveller, someone who tries to respect other cultures while on the road and surely sustain countries which are trying to develop and open up to the outside world. This is why I had to go to Myanmar and this is also the reason why I hope you will feel like booking a plane to this incredible country once you’ve read my article.
Myanmar only opened up to tourism in 2012, so relatively recently and this has two implications for your itinerary: first, there are still parts of Myanmar that you cannot visit as a tourist. There are also some parts that you can only visit under the supervision of a guide. Second, infrastructure is still being built: buses can be ancient, old, broken and dangerous (probably the worst I’ve sat my ass on throughout South-East Asia), roads are in the same state as buses with pollution reaching skyrocket level in the major cities.
Books to get ready for your trip to Myanmar
As I believe you should always know a little about the place you are going to visit, I always recommend reading books about the country. Ditch your Lonely Planets, buy a book or read honest blog posts instead. Here are my suggestions:
Burma – A country at the crossroad by Benedict Rogers
Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi
[On another note but about books… Did you know I just decided to express my love for books and reading on my Instagram more and more often? If you follow me there too, you might already know that I have recently kicked off a new community Instagram for people like me: who buy far more many books you could possibly read in a lifetime and be happy about it! Share your pictures with #tsundokutogether, I might also create a gallery here on my blog with the best pictures of your books obsession 😃 ]
My Myanmar Itinerary
Now, let’s get started! Choosing a route when visiting a country is crucial for having a great time there. So planning – especially if you have limited time – is going to be an important part of your trip to Myanmar.
I spent 3 weeks in Myanmar, travelling at a leisurely pace and only by land. There are other places I would have liked to have seen in but I didn’t manage to reach for various reasons, but I know I will be back one day to see them.
Choosing a starting and ending point:
After a lot of research, as I was leaving Cambodia I decided to travel in a big circle around Myanmar, flying in and out from Yangon. I could have finished in Mandalay like other travellers, but I would have missed some interesting spots I wanted to see, plus, there is always a hefty charge on booking a one-way ticket, that’s why I chose to travel to and from Yangon. I also believe Yangon is better connected to the other countries than Mandalay. Of course, this loop becomes harder the fewer days you have to travel within Myanmar so it is up to you to choose whether to save some dollars or maybe skip one or two of the highlights below. PS: As mentioned I travelled by land, there are also national airports where you can fly to if you are in a hurry or wish to save time between stops. Personally, I love travelling by land for two reasons: on the buses, you have the unique opportunity to sit down with locals and get a sense of their culture, language, lifestyle. Secondly, I love the slow pace (in Myanmar it can be extremely slow!) and watch the world pass by through my window seat.
How long do you need?
I’ve always been against those who rush through highlights to tick them off of an ambitious to-see list, therefore I always push people to see less but better.For example, I wouldn’t advise you to travel to Myanmar if you only had 7 days (my itinerary below needs at least two weeks) because travel around Myanmar is slow and you would really have to skip some important things. Generally speaking, 10 or (better) 14 days are going to be a great length of time in Myanmar.
STOP 1: Yangon (3 days)
Once I landed in Yangon, there was something in the air. I don’t know exactly how to describe it, but it smelled like hope. A friend of mine who had been there in 2012 as soon as they opened the borders, told me that the atmosphere was sad and deep, it was like time had stopped and the people were kind of scared and afraid of the future. But when I was there, I could tell there was something different. (Some) people were open to foreigners and it was nice to see how much effort they put into making me feel welcome.
Things to do in Yangon
Shwedagon Pagoda: Watch the gold gleam at Shwedagon Pagoda at sunrise, one of the oldest and most sacred Buddhist sights in Myanmar and in the world. TIP: you can use your ticket to go back in the evening and seeing the Pagoda in the different light of sunset.
Downtown Yangon: Not since I was in India have I seen such crumbling beauty and one of my favourite things to do was simply to wander and get lost in the streets of Yangon: Some buildings are better restored than others, some have a colonial look but most of them tell a tale of a time long gone by.
Bogyoke Market: If you like people watching and browsing among hundreds of stalls of things you never have seen before, this is the place to be
Circle line train to watch local life in action. I had a very special encounter on this train – as it always happens when you embrace the local life and forget your camera and phone. I met this young student who I chatted to for the entire journey. Not sure how or why, but at some point, as we were talking about life, death and Buddhism, he passed me the book he was reading at an exact page and told me to read:
Everything comes and goes
we don’t need to push it away
and it will go away by itself.
I have no idea why or how, but those words were exactly what I needed at that precise moment of my life. If you read my Fiji post, you know what I am talking about since despite it had been 6 months, I was still in the deep hole of my heartbreak. (The poem was from the book “A Map of the Journey by Sayādaw U Jokita )
Theingottara Park (People’s Square & Park): Stroll around some lushly green gardens (and avoid Yangon’s dense traffic). If you get lucky, you can also meet some lovely little nuns dressed in pink strolling around the ark.
Caffeine fix & food in Yangon
Easy Cafe: Probably the best coffee in Myanmar, a bit more expensive than others, but surely worthy for a coffee fix
999 Shan Noodle Shop: love noodles? Come here! Very cheap, but tasty noodles, probably the best in town! Make sure to go there early as it closes at 7 pm.
Coffee Circles: probably overpriced, but definitely worth a stop for a coffee and a healthy salad – they have wi-fi so you can also get some work done while sipping on your drink.
Dream + sleep in Yangon
I spent a few nights at Little Monkey Hostel where I met some of my best friends during my travel (hello Percorra!) People who I later caught up again in other parts of the world. The hostel is nothing fancy, but the staff was friendly, it was clean and in a nice part of town.
STOP 2: Ngapali Beach (2 days)
I like to balance my city and cultural exploration with a bit of nature and possibly beach days, so while I was in Myanmar, I took a bus to Ngapali Beach where I took a few days by the ocean to think about my travel, my future and my mind. I also took the time to fall in love with myself again.
I spent three nights in Ngapali Beach and did little exploring up and down the Ngapali main road and its adjacent beaches during that time. I really needed some rest, reading and just chilling by the ocean.
The one thing you need to know is that Ngapali is mainly a resort type of place and prices are quite high in comparison with the rest of Myanmar and south-east Asia. As I was at the end of my trip, I visited Ngapali beach on a medium budget and I even added an extra night as I managed to share my room with another girl on my last and third night.
NOTE Ngapali beach doesn’t really open through its monsoon sea:son (typically mid-May to the end of September), and that’s no surprise because the monsoon in Myanmar means constant rain. Additionally, flights are very rare and expensive during the monsoon season. Basically, if you can, plan your trip to Ngapali beach outside the monsoon season.
Dream + sleep in Ngpali Beach
How to get to Ngpali Beach
There is a bus from Yangon but it cuts through the mountain range making for a long and bumpy journey. The closest airport is Thandwe Airport which is located in the north and just a couple of kilometres to the hotels in the north and less than 10 kilometres from most of the hotels in the main area.
STOP 3: Bagan (3 days)
Once upon a time, Bagan was a temple hub. Between the 11th and 13th centuries, there were over 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries in the city. Today, there are around 2,000 of them: all jammed into a 13 by 8 kilometres area that has become the Bagan Archeological Zone. It’s pretty sure you are going to see some temples while in Bagan and that’s one of the main reasons why people come here. Despite being one of the most popular destinations in Myanmar, Began welcomed me with an incredible sense of peace and silence. I guess it was because as always, I was travelling during mid-low seasons which has several advantages (no crowds and lower prices to mention just two) and disadvantages (fewer connections, hot air balloons season was off already). Temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius by 8/9am and although I was used to hot and humid weather after so many months in the region, it was pretty tough to stay out in the central hours of the day (tip to beat the heat in Bagan below).
Things to do in Bagan
Watch the sun rising among the thousands of Bagan pagodas and come back at sunset for a different show. While I was researching for this article, I read somewhere that today there are only 4/5 temples you can climb to see this incredible natural show while most of them were open last year while I was there. However, since these temples are incredibly old and precious, I think the government has made the right move to protect them from camera and smartphones armed tourists.
THE STORYTELLER’S TIPS: * For those of you who arrive on a night bus, use your first morning to see the sunrise. It’s unlikely you’ll be able to check into your accommodation before 1/2pm so make the most of your time since you are already awake. Do your research beforehand so you know where you want to go to see the sunrise and you can tell your driver right away. * Another way to get around the temples and Began is to rent an e-Bike. I stayed at Ostello Bello and they had an e-Bike sunrise tour each day for both existing guests and those who just arrived by bus.
Ananda Temple: my Burma’s gang and I took our eBikes for a further exploration one day and went to the Ananda Temple, one of the most incredible temples I’ve seen in my life. I had a shocking moment there as I realised my first tattoo resembles too well the symbol buddhas have on their forehead. And I did not know anything about buddhism when I drawn and got my tattoo 10 years ago!!
Mani Sithu Market: Local markets (like coffee shops, libraries and bookshops) are an obsession of mine when travelling in Asia or anywhere in the world. It’s where people connect, exchange goods and chat among themselves. It’s also the place where you can feel invisible and just enjoy the full immersion in the culture without worrying about being harassed or asked to buy something. There was only my group and I when we visited, much to the delight of the locals.
MyanmarTreasure Resort: waking up before sunrise and walking around in the scorching heat can be extremely tiring, that’s why with my gang, I decided to spend a chilled afternoon swimming and sipping cocktails at this resort.
Caffeine fix & eat in Bagan
- 7 Sisters Restaurant
- The Moon Be Kind to Animals (I had wonderful veggie food!)
Dream + sleep in Bagan
Getting to Bagan
STOP 4: INLE LAKE (2 days)
Tourism has definitely blossomed on Inle Lake. Maybe it was Steve McCurry’s fault or maybe it’s just what happens when a natural beauty gets discovered by the masses. Whatever reason, make sure to add this spot to your itinerary.
The local people (known as Itha, meaning children of the lake) used to live just on the lake’s resources, so tourism blossoming in the area has definitely improved their conditions.
Things to do in Inle Lake
Inle Lake at sunrise: another early rise – it seems Myanmar was the country where I woke up before sunrise the most! – to hit the lake and see the famous fishermen in action. There is a hot debate on the authenticity of this practice. But I personally have seen men using this technique in other places where they were not modelling for the tourists cameras but simply fishing.
Visit the floating gardens: along the lake and canals, there are impressive gardens which are probably as impressive as the floating houses
Explore the local palafitte shops and step back in time: while industrialisation and globalisation are surely taking place on Inle Lake and the rest of Myanmar, it seemed to me that there was a strong desire to keep their old traditions alive. While on the lake take the time to explore the craft shops including the silversmith, the ‘cheroot’ producer where you’ll have the chance to try rolling your own flavoured cigar/cigarette or meet the lotus weaving women. Lotus weaving is rare because it’s super labour intensive and hard, however in the connecting shop you can find gorgeous scarfs and textiles (which were far beyond my backpacking budget at the time!).
Meet the Padaung ladies: I had been asked if I wanted to see the long neck ladies in Chiang Mai, Thailand and I said no. And I said no again in Myamar as I am against zoos especially human zoos. So, I went off to the local market and there they were. I’ll admit it, I was curious to see if they resembled those women pictured in a postcard which is still hanging in my bedroom at my parents’ house. They did. They were exactly as I had imagined them for over 25 years. Beautiful in their gold neck rings and far, far away from me as something I read about, but could not understand completely. We shared a glance, a smile and a wave. It was a meaningful moment for me and I’m glad I didn’t book any tours to see them anywhere else.
Shwe Indein Pagoda: This is still a half hidden gem in Myanmar which I’m almost scared to share here to risk then to see it then every day on Instagram or similar. When I was there, last year, there weren’t many people around. This temple complex on the west bank of the lake, has fallen into ruins, pretty much like Ta Prohm temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Hopefully, it will remain as it is, unspoiled and off the mass tourist track.
Dream + sleep in Inle Lake
How to get to Inle Lake
Clearly, I’m a crazy person since I opted, once again, to take a night bus from Bagan to Inle Lake. Allegedly, it was another “VIP”JJ Express, but we stopped every few hours and we arrived in the middle of the night (this is something pretty common throughout Asia, for reasons I can’t explain).
STOP 5 MANDALAY (2 days)
Bustling alleyways, street markets everywhere, pagodas and monasteries at every corner: Mandalay is this and more. The riverside city is worth stopping at at least for a day or two. Here are the best things to see and do in Mandalay, the second largest city in the country.
Things to do in Mandalay
U Pein Bridge at Sunset: with its whopping 1.2 kilometers in length, is estimated to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world. It was built in 1850 and is utilized by both locals and tourists alike. It’s great to walk along its length and then stop to have a chat while the sun sets on the horizon. I had one of the best conversations of my life while sitting on the ancient bridge.
Day Trip to Mingun: Once an unknown city, today Mingun has become very popular among travellers, which means that as soon as you arrive, you’ll be bombarded by vendors trying to sell you all sorts of things. The three main things you will want to include are: the Mingun Bell and the Hsinbyume Pagoda. The Mingun Pagoda is essentially a giant pile of bricks. Visitors make the short journey up the stairs to find it housing only one small Buddha relic, and the side stairs were closed as of June 2017. That being said, it is a nice relic to photograph as it stands some 492-feet tall. The Mingun Bell is one of the heaviest bells in the entire world, and it is believed to weigh some 200,000 pounds. Be sure to get into the bell to get a feel for its size. When I was there, there was a guy playing his guitar to a bunch of kids whom were singing along and laughing at some funny songs.
The last sight is the Hsinbyume Pagoda or, as I called it, the wedding cake. This pagoda is a shimmering white structure that visitors can enter and explore. It was built in 1816 and is painted white. The pagoda went under restoration in 1874 after an earthquake shook its structure, but King Mindon did an amazing job restoring the pagoda back to its original state. Today, it is one of the most notable attractions in all of Myanmar.
Sunset at Mandalay Hill
There is no better way to end your trip to Mandalay than witnessing a sunset up to the Mandalay Hill. You can either walk the mile-long journey or pay a taxi or truck at the bottom of the hill to take you up the hill. If I don’t remember wrong it should cost around 7,000 kyat or so. At the top of Mandalay Hill is Su Taung Pyae Pagoda shimmering with glass-covered and vibrantly colored tiles. From here, you can see the entire Mandalay city and the many pagodas around the area. This is also a great place to connect with the locals and especially the monks. They will come up to you to chat about your home country and to practice their English. It’s a great exchange opportunity: to know more about being a Buddhist monk in Myanmar and to share a bit of your world with the people hosting you.
Caffeine fix & food in Mandalay
Mandalay is filled with cheap, street side restaurants which often lack any sort of signs that indicate the name of the restaurant or what it is they are serving. However, the food is likely to be delicious and very cheap (with 2,000 kyat you can get a full meal). While in Mandalay, make sure to try some traditional dishes like the bean paste salad, Shan noodles, and tea leaf salad. Special mention goes to Mingalabar Restaurant.
How to get to Mandalay:
You guessed right. I boarded yet another bus from Inle Lake and for the initial hour, I wish I didn’t. My assigned seat was broken and as it was sliding ahead, my legs got stuck and I could not move. It was the first and last time, I really struggle to endure the journey. In fact, I didn’t. I asked to be moved and a very friendly family let me take one of their reserved seat for the rest of the (8/10 hour journey).
Dream + sleep Mandalay
STOP 6: Yangon (2 days)
I spent another couple of days in Yangon, wandering the streets, taking (thousands) of pictures and working from my hostel and various cafes before taking off to Bali, my next and last stop of my incredible trip.
This is my itinerary and I feel I’ve seen enough for my first time there. I think most countries should be visited at least twice in a lifetime and I hope to go back to Myanmar one day, maybe when new parts of the country will open up to foreigners.
OTHER INTERESTING INFO & FACTS TO PLAN YOUR MYANMAR ITINERARY:
Phone, Internet & Wifi
Not too long ago, mobile phones were basically inexistent and SIM cards could cost $2,000. Basically no now had a phone and the internet did not exist. There was no roaming and no wifi. My friend who visited in 2012 told me that arriving in Myanmar meant disconnecting from the world and in fact I did not hear from him for a month while he was there.
Money & ATMs
You can withdraw cash from various ATMs and pay with credit card at several places. Even if we consider this the norm, think that only 6 years ago there were no ATMs and credit cards did not exist, so make sure to appreciate this little advantage.
When people ask me about Myanmar, I immediately think about the people of Myanmar.The stories I tell are all about that or the other episode with the locals. In a country where travellers are still like pink flamingos in a big city, you are likely to be photographed, stopped for a chat and more often than not helped with directions or recommendations.
Some of my most memorable in Myanmar are those spent with the children. I remember that time at the Shwedagon Pagoda where an entire family decided to keep me company while I was exploring the stupas, or that time at one of the bus stops where two very little kids where serving alongside their dad, I still remember the day when Aung sat next to me watching sunrise on one of the temple. His smile is for me the smile of Myanmar.
While backpacking through Asia – or anywhere in the world where there is a language barrier – it is easy to end up in groups of other travellers and spend days, weeks, even months together. Being in a group makes it harder to connect with the local community and that’s why I always like to save time for myself alone.
THE STORYTELLER’S TIP: if you are an open and chatty person,you won’t have any troubles connecting with the locals, always remember that what might be normal in your country can be offensive, weird in another (learn the traditions before going!) . Also, be aware that not all Burmese people speak English, so you might have to speak slowly and repeat several times what you want to say. Also keep a translation app handy at all times. Technology, used wisely, is a great thing.
Food and STREET FOOD in Myanmar:
I ate street food and meals sat on tiny stall for most of my trip. Most of the time, I’m unable to contain my curiosity for local foods as I always want to try new things and flavours. I never had a problem with food except that one time in Chiang Mai… But then again, I’ve believe that my stomach has developed resistance to anything after so many months in India and Asia.
Cost of travel in Myanmar
- Bad news – Myanmar is a lot more expensive than the rest of Southeast Asia because it’s a country that is still being built which means that the infrastructure, as well as accommodations and services, are still a step behind in comparison to its neighbouring countries.
- Accommodation costs: A dorm bed will set you back around $20-$30 a night. You can get a basic private room with en-suite from around $35 for a single bed. Popular ‘package tourist’ destinations like Ngapali beach can cost as much as $100 a night for a 2-star hotel (though there are a couple of hostels there too). On the plus side, you usually get a free breakfast (filter coffee and toast) with your accommodation.
As you might have noticed I stayed at Ostello Bello in most of my stops. It’s a clean, friendly chain that offers good standard dorms and lots of activities and the social scene – I met lots of my now friends at the various Ostello Bello I stayed at.
- Food costs – street food is most affordable – around $1-$2 for a plate of something basic. Local restaurants costs around $2-$4 a meal. Anything remotely westerns (air-conditioning or featuring something like pizza) and you’re into the $7-$12 bracket.
- Drinks – bottled water is well priced, under 50 cents a litre. Beer is also cheap at a couple of dollars per bottle.
Myanmar has that weirdest half-hour difference to its time zone so it’s 6 and a half hours ahead of GMT.
The plug sockets of Myanmar should be the gold standard – you’ll find most sockets have multiple adaptors for European and North American 2-pin plugs as well as my very own British three-pin. I travel with the Apple World Travel adaptor pack, which makes life even easier.
Suitcase or Backpack?
You’ll be better travel with a backpack than a suitcase – I actually think this wherever you are travelling too since crowded public transports, stairs, delays and all things in between can slow you down a lot. And if you need tips for packing you bag, read this.
Like most of my friends who visited Cuba, I feel like telling you what they keep telling me: Go Now. Or using Bernard Shaw’s words “I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad” and this means the big chains, the westernisation of Asia, the 7/11 and McDonalds of the world. Myanmar still feels authentic and genuine, but as I’ve already seen in many other parts of the world, it won’t be long before it changes and adapt to much to the tourists needs and wishes.
So, don’t delay and get to see it before tourism, technology and international chains change the true face of this incredible country!
Top 10 Things to do in Myanmar:
1 – Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
2 – Get lost in the streets of downtown Yangon
3 – Circle line train in Yangon
4- Ngpali Beach
5 – Inle lake
6 – sunrise in Bagan
7- U Pein Bridge at sunset
8- visit Mingun
9 – Mandalay Hill
10- talk to the locals
And that’s it – my extra-long article with a Myanmar itinerary and 10 top things to do is over. I think I should have wrote an ebook instead or at least split in a few articles. But hey, here it is and I hope you’ll find it helpful.
Have you been to Myanmar? Any extra tips you want to share – let me know in the comments below and share or pin add links social.
Note: there are affiliate links in this Myanmar itinerary post. If you book through them, I get a tiny % of your purchase which I invest to maintain this blog – there is no catch or added cost for you whatsoever.