Myanmar is a magical country with a somewhat dismal past. These days, the tourism industry looks to be improving the lives of many locals. Those making their way to Myanmar with two weeks at their disposal should read on for the best tips and tricks to use when navigating this intriguing country, and the must-see sights.
Visitors will want to fly into the airport in Yangon. The Yangon International Airport is about an hour’s drive from the Sule Pagoda, which is considered to be the city’s center. There will be many drivers at the ready to take you to your accommodation; these drivers set their own prices based on the number of passengers and the distance. You’ll need to barter for a fair price! A taxi ride to the city center should cost around 8,000 kyat (US$6).
Depending on what time you arrive, either head for dinner at one of the many restaurants or food markets, or quickly visit the Sule Pagoda before chowing down. If you thrive after dark, head for a drink at 7th Joint Bar & Grill. This bar has different music-themed evenings, from reggae to rap. Gin and tonics are 4,000 kyat, which is more expensive than purchasing liquor from a convenience store but certainly cheap all the same. Try not to have too much fun, as day two of the itinerary is chock full of visits to shining and shimmering pagodas, thriving markets, and green spaces: none of which are fun visiting when hungover.
7th Joint Bar & Grill, Corner of 47th St and Road, Yangon, Myanmar, +95 9 260 600 552
Some of the top sights in Yangon include the Bagyoke Market, Schwedagon Pagoda, and Kandawgyi Lake.
Wake up early for the Bagyoke Market, as the city gets brutally hot late in the afternoon. This market was built in 1920. Hundreds of stalls line the oftentimes crowded space, selling everything from clothing to Burmese handicrafts and more. One of the best items to shop for here is jewelry, with shop after shop decorated with stunning pieces of jade. There are two of these markets located across from one another, but the old one is certainly more noteworthy.
After exploring the market, make a quick pit stop at a local food market. Like many fresh markets in Asia, Yangon’s is lined with recently slaughtered poultry, vibrant and intimidating fruits, and fresh vegetables. Chaos encircles each vendor as locals hover in the hopes of getting the best prices for their groceries.
After exploring both markets, head to one of the most stunning destinations on this itinerary: Kandawgyi Lake. This is where Karaweik is found, a striking structure with luxurious and colorful details. It’s actually an extravagant restaurant, otherwise known as the Karaweik Palace, where diners can view a royal cultural show while dining on some of the most delicious meals in Myanmar.
After exploring the park, head to the Shwedagon Pagoda. This iconic site is best photographed at sunset and at night, as the main stupa is lit up and glows.
Shwedagon Pagoda, Township, Yangon, Myanmar, +95 1 375 767
The Central Train Station is located about a ten-minute walk from the Sule Pagoda. Purchase tickets on the tracks rather than at a ticket counter before stepping onto the actual platform. Tickets are 200 kyat (US 15 cents) and the ride takes about three hours. A ride gives you a glimpse of what the outskirts of the city look like.
The rest of the day can be spent relaxing or exploring the many street food options. Then, in the evening, head to the bus station to catch an overnight bus to Bagan. Tickets cost anywhere from 13,000-19,000 kyat (US$9.50-14) depending on the type of bus. The journey takes about nine hours, and drops passengers off about ten minutes outside of Bagan’s city center.
A bus ride to Bagan leaving Yangon at 9 p.m. should arrive at around 6 a.m. This is probably too late to catch the sunrise, so head straight to your accommodation and prepare for a day of exploring the surrounding temples, of which there are more than 2,000.
Electric bicycles are the best way of getting between temples, and can be rented for an entire day for about 4,000-5,000 kyat (US$3-3.70).
Rise early and choose a temple from which to watch the sun rise over the Bagan Archeological Zone. Get your camera ready, sit back and enjoy the spectacular sight over the ancient city’s thousands of temples.
The Mani-Sithu Market is one of the main shopping centers in the city. It opens around 6 a.m., so head here after the sunrise and before the day gets too hot out. Whether on the hunt for some faux lacquerware or some thanaka (cosmetic paste made from ground bark) to see what the hype is all about, this is the place to go.
If you’re feeling a bit tired of temples by now, make your way to Mount Popa. This mountain is home to a stunning monastery, as well as one too many monkeys. Trips to Mount Popa usually commence at 8 a.m. and end at about 3 p.m., giving visitors some time to get their belongings together before heading to Kalaw via night bus.
Unfortunately, the night bus to Kalaw from Bagan arrives quite early in the morning and is a very bumpy ride. Visitors can opt to go to Kalaw on day six and skip Mount Popa, and instead spend an evening exploring. If you’re super ambitious, take the less-than-pleasant night bus, which arrives at about 3 a.m. From there, choose a cheap hotel near where you’re dropped off, and get up early to begin the trek to Inle Lake at about 8 a.m.
One of the highlights of a trip to Myanmar is surely trekking from the quaint, quiet city of Kalaw to Nyaung Shwe, more popularly known as Inle Lake. You can choose your trekking guide, and the number of days you want to walk for (two to four days are most common). We suggest three days of trekking for this itinerary. (Those who choose a two-day trek join groups who have already been trekking for one or two days, which can make them feel a little left out. Four days of trekking is a bit too much if you only have two weeks in Myanmar.) A two-night, three-day trek should cost about 40,000 kyat (US$30).
If you enjoy traveling off the beaten path, you might find yourself hoping this trek to Inle Lake never ends. Along the way you’ll stay at local homestays in villages along the way. Expect cold water bucket showers and holes in the ground serving as toilets! Some tour operators in developing countries exploit the locals, who have no say over how their villages are developed, but this is not the case with a trek to Inle Lake. Only one or two tours travel through these villages. Tourists must adapt to the village’s way of life, instead of the other way around.
All along this trek you’ll experience amazing views, venturing along railroad tracks, passing local cabbage farms, rice fields, bulls carrying local produce, and much more. Finally reach Inle Lake, which sits between two mountainous areas.
On arrival, you’ll likely have to take a boat to your accommodation. Instead of heading straight to bed, take a boat tour. Some of the top sights on the lake include Thaung Thut (a village with lotus weaving), local cigar factories, and many silver-making factories. The boat driver will probably already have a fixed route, making it easy for tired trekkers to sit back, relax, and enjoy the sights before calling it a day.
Unlike in Bagan, foreigners are not allowed to rent electric bicycles or motorbikes for use around Inle Lake. However, the area surrounding Nyaung Shwe is explorable by bicycle. Renting a bike for a day should cost about 1,500 kyat (US$1). Top sights to include in a day’s itinerary include the Mingala Market, Pindaya Caves, Tofu Palace, hot springs and spa, lunch at the Khaung Daing village, the natural swimming pools, and the sunset at the Red Mountain Winery.
No trip to Myanmar is complete without partaking in a cooking class. Whether it be traditional Shan cuisine or delicious Burmese food, there are plenty of half-day cooking classes found in and around Nyaung Shwe. One of the most authentic and delicious is Mr. Min’s Cooking Class. Mr. Min’s brother, sister, and often his wife help cook the delicious Shan recipes, passed down from his mother.
After cooking and eating your fill, catch another night bus to the last city on our itinerary: Mandalay.
Because you’ll arrive on the night bus at about 4 a.m., it is best to head straight for the U Pein Bridge to catch the sunrise. Many accommodation options will not allow visitors to check in until later in the afternoon, anyway. When watching the sunrise, head out into the grass fields to the side of the bridge to get the best photographs.
Grab breakfast at a local Burmese restaurant and head to the Mingun Pier, where a ferry will transport you to an ancient city just across the river. The boat does not leave until 9 a.m., so kill time at the local food and flower market adjacent to the pier. The boat takes about an hour, and heads back to the pier at 12:30 p.m.. A round-trip journey is 5,000 kyat (US$3.70) per person.
Mandalay is full of historic relics, unique local markets, and more. The best way to explore this cool city is by bicycle, and you’re unlikely to see many other tourists this way. Check out the King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop Show Room & Sale Centre, Jade Market, and the surrounding pagodas. The best way to end the day in Mandalay is atop Mandalay Hill at sunset. Renting a bicycle for a day should cost about 3,000 kyat (US$2.20) per person.
Flights out of Mandalay’s international airport tend to be a bit more expensive. If the difference between a flight out of Mandalay and Yangon is more than $20, we suggest catching a night bus from Mandalay to Yangon and instead flying out of that city. The JJ Express, one of the best bus companies in Myanmar, has a $12 night bus that leaves at 9 p.m. from Mandalay and directly transfers to the international airport, arriving at about 6 a.m.