Since reopening its doors to tourism, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) is quickly becoming a new travel hotspot. After hearing some good feedback from family and friends, we decided it was time to check out Myanmar for ourselves. We are very glad that we did!
Myanmar is rich in history and tradition, and it has a unique culture which is well worth discovering. We spent two full weeks traveling around the country and we managed to see most of its important sites. We rounded our trip off with a bit of relaxation time at the end.
Of course, two weeks is nowhere near enough time to see everything that Myanmar has to offer. But, it’s long enough for first-time visitors to get a taste of the country. Go for less time then that and you’ll miss out on some great sights!
Below is our complete itinerary. It included busy cities, ancient temples, local villages, natural beauties, and some great insights into Myanmar’s culture and history.
Yangon (2 nights-1 full day)
Yangon will be the starting point for most travellers visiting Myanmar. Myanmar’s main international airport is in Yangon, so it’s where you’ll likely land. Formerly known as Rangoon, Yangon is Myanmar’s biggest city, and it served as the capital of Myanmar until 2005. The capital has now moved to Naypyidaw. Like most large cities in South East Asia, Yangon is heavily populated and very hectic. The traffic is crazy and it takes a while to get anywhere. But the city has some very interesting attractions that make it definitely worth a short stopover.
What not to miss in Yangon?
This Pagoda is the most important landmark in Myanmar. It’s a sight to be seen, especially at sunset, and its opulence will amaze you!
If you need to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, head to Kandawgi Lake for some peace and quiet. It has great views over both the shiny Shwedagon Pagoda and the impressive Karaweik floating palace, with its two golden Karaweik birds reflecting down onto the lake.
The Chaukhtatgyi pagoda is home to a 66 meter long, 17 meter high reclining Buddha. It’s the third largest Buddha in the country, but the most admired.
Click here to read more about our time in Yangon.
Bagan (3 nights-3 days)
A little over an hour’s flight from Yangon, Bagan is a completely different city. It’s a lot smaller and much quieter, but nonetheless, it’s a very exciting city. From the 9th until the 13th century, Bagan was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan. During this period of rule, over ten thousand temples were built on the plains that surround it. Nowadays, around two thousand of these remain, and they can be freely explored.
Bagan is divided into three parts, Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyanung-U. The bulk of the temples and pagodas are within the archaeological zone of old Bagan. Bagan’s archaeological zone is home to the largest concentration of Buddhist temple ruins in the world. Its plains of endless pagodas are world famous amongst travellers and are particularly spectacular to gaze across at sunrise and sunset.
What not to miss in Bagan?
Go temple hopping in the archaeological zone
With over two thousand pagodas to choose from, you definitely won’t be short on options. But, choosing which ones to visit might be a bit of a struggle!
Sunrise in a hot air balloon
The most popular activity in Bagan is hot air ballooning at sunrise. Any travellers who are lucky to do it will tell you that it’s an experience not to be missed. Sadly our own flight was cancelled due to bad weather conditions on the day, and we missed out. I am still upset about it!
Visit a local market and village
The best market to visit in Bagan (if not in Myanmar itself), is in Nyanung-U. Close to the airport, this colourful market is mainly frequented by locals; overseas visitors are scarce. It’s a great place to watch the local people going about their daily life, and you won’t be pestered into buying anything. Combine your outing to the market with a visit to a local village, will give you some real insight into the everyday lives of the locals.
To find out more about our time in Bagan click here.
Mandalay and its surrounds (2 nights, 2 days)
Mandalay is Myanmar’s second largest city and its last royal capital. It’s also the cultural centre of the country. It’s a huge city, and as the last royal capital, Mandalay is home to a large variety of royal and religious sites. There are many interesting temples to see, and we would have loved to have stayed on longer to continue exploring the city.
What not to miss in Mandalay?
The Shwenandaw monastery was built in the nineteenth century and is the most significant of Mandalay’s historic buildings. Its detailed and beautifully carved teak panels tell the tales of Buddha’s life.
Take a look at the “World’s Largest Book”
The Kuthodaw Pawa houses 729 stupas. Each stupa holds a marble slab inscribed with one of the Buddist scriptures. Put them all together and they become the world’s largest book! It’s a great idea and a fascinating place to visit. The gilded pagoda in the middle is just the icing on the cake.
Explore the surrounding areas
The best part of Mandalay was not the city itself, but the other ancient capitals and religious sites that surround it. Mingun, Sagaing Hill, Inwa and Amarapura are all worth visiting. Be sure not to miss the U-Bein Bridge at sunset or sunrise, and make sure you also take a cruise up the Ayeyarwady River to Mingun.
To find out more about our time in Mandalay click here.
Inle Lake (3 nights- 3 days)
Measuring twenty-two kilometres long by ten kilometres wide, Inle Lake is Myanmar’s second largest lake. It’s a great place to add to your trip if you want to learn about the unique way of life of the Intha community, the region’s inhabitants. Many of the Intha live entirely above the water, in houses built on stilts. Their homes are only accessible by one-person-wide, long tail, traditional wooden boats.
What not to miss in Inle Lake?
Take a boat tour around the lake
A boat tour is the best way to explore the lake and to see the locals going about their daily lives. You will pass entire villages built on stilts out over the water, and admire Inle Lake’s many floating hydroponic gardens. You may even come across one of the many traditional Intha fishermen, who will happily demonstrate their unique leg-rowing technique (in exchange for a tip of course)!
Go Hot Air Ballooning over the lake
If you missed out on Bagan, you can still take a hot air balloon flight, this time over this serene and picture-perfect lake. We were lucky enough to do just that and no words can quite describe what we experienced; it was simply spectacular.
To find out more about what to do in Inle Lake click here.
Ngapali Beach (3 nights-3 days)
Ngapali Beach is Myanmar’s prime beachfront destination. It’s located on the Bay of Bengal coast, in the South of the Rakhine State. Ngapali Beach is a tropical paradise, and although it’s the most popular beach in Myanmar, we found it to be really quiet, even at the start of the peak season.
The beach is lined with coconut palm trees, the sand is bright white, and the clear blue sea is warm and inviting. It’s one of the most beautiful beaches in South East Asia, but for some reason, it still flies under the radar. It’s a great way to end a busy trip to Myanmar, and the perfect place to relax.
What not to miss in Ngapali Beach?
Walk to the nearby villages
The beach is the perfect place for a nice stroll, and on each end, you’ll find local fishing villages where you can see the locals attending to their daily chores. The village of Gyeik Taw, south of the main beach is particularly interesting. There you’ll see local villagers drying thousands of small fish on the beach.
Relax over sunset with a cocktail
Relaxation is why you came to Ngapali Beach in the first place, so why not enjoy it with a cocktail in hand? Head to the beach bars for cheap cocktails and breathtaking sunsets.
To find out more about Ngapali Beach click here.
Things to know before your first trip to Myanmar
The currency in Myanmar is the Kyat (pronounced “Chat”). Most transactions in the country are conducted in cash unless you’re at a high-end hotel or restaurant. It is not possible to get Kyat outside of Myanmar, so you need to bring cash with you to exchange on arrival. US dollars are preferred and they should be in pristine condition. You’ll find ATMs in most major tourist destinations like Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, where you can withdraw Kyat notes.
TIP – Make sure you change or use all of your Kyat before you leave Myanmar because it’s pretty much impossible to exchange those notes anywhere else.
You will need a Visa to enter Myanmar which you can easily apply for online here. The tourist eVisa costs 50 USD and is valid for 90 days from the date of issue. It allows you to stay in Myanmar for up to 28 days from your date of arrival.
Once you submit your application, you should receive an approval letter via email within three days. You need to print out that letter and present it to the immigration officer when you arrive in Myanmar.
Getting around the country
Myanmar has very poor roads, and it takes hours to get anywhere. Unless you are on a budget, we recommend taking internal flights, especially for longer distances. It is, however, possible to travel by bus to all of the places above at very low cost. Just don’t be in a hurry!
We had limited time and wanted a worry-free holiday. So we decided to use a local travel company called Pro Niti Travel. They organised everything for us, from flights, drivers, hotels and tour guides. They tailored our itinerary to our needs, which let us choose the length of time in each place, and which hotels we stayed at. With everything organised, we could relax and enjoy Myanmar without stressing about getting from A to B. Pro Niti Travel’s services were flawless and we highly recommend them. They cater for any budgets.
What to wear in places of worship?
When visiting temples in Myanmar it is important to be respectful. Both men and women should cover up their shoulders and knees. Don’t forget to remove your shoes and socks before entering a temple.
TIP: Wear flip-flops while temple hopping, or you’ll quickly become tired of removing your shoes each time!
Burmese is the official language of Myanmar and it is spoken across the country. English is not as widely spoken, except in the tourist’s areas where most hotels and some restaurants have staff that speak English. Try and learn a few words of Burmese before your trip. Locals will really appreciate it. English speaking local guides are available in all touristy areas and at the main tourist sites.
Foreigners are only allowed in some areas of the country and those areas are perfectly safe to visit. Incidents of crime against foreigners are extremely low and they are severely punished. Yangon is one of Asia’s safest large cities and has no areas that you need to avoid. We did not feel unsafe at any point during our trip. In fact, we felt extremely welcomed.
We were quite surprised at just how much we loved Myanmar. Being such a new travel destination, we didn’t really know what to expect. Maybe it was because the day we arrived we were greeted with a hug by Veronica from Pro Niti. Maybe it was because everyone else we met was friendly and always gave us a smile. It might be because even after visiting a dozen temples we weren’t templed out like we have been in other Asian countries. Or it could be because there weren’t hordes of tourists everywhere. Whatever it was, we were sad to leave Myanmar, and we’ll be planning another visit there in the future. Hopefully, that will be well before everyone else gets the memo about just how wonderful a country it is!
For full details on each of the destinations mentioned here, please check out the articles below:
Where to stay in Myanmar
Use the search box below to explore the available accommodation in Myanmar:
Tours and Activities