If you’ve never considered visiting Myanmar, perhaps this post will have you putting it on your 2020 calendar!
Myanmar opened its doors to tourism in 2011, yet in 2019, it’s easy to find yourself completely alone in its vast networks of temples, bustling markets and rugged countryside. While it’s largely untouched by Western influence, Myanmar has great tourist infrastructure between the major sites.
Myanmar borders Thailand to the East, making it an easy extension to your trip– but Myanmar is worth specifically planning a trip to.
(This post covers only the most famous Myanmar sites: Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake at a very surface level. For more off-the-beaten path Myanmar, stay tuned, I’ll be writing about my time in Chin State soon, as well as more in-depth guides for each of these places.)
Day 1: Arrive, walk around Downtown Yangon
Yangon is Myanmar’s former colonial capital as well as economic center, full of historical sites and modern amenities. Downtown Yangon is easy to walk around, full of shopping and street food. The architecture ranges from Hindu and Buddhist temples to British colonial to contemporary modern, making it an interesting place to check out. For shopping, be sure to stop by the Bogyoke Aung San Market.
If you’re into British colonial architecture, the High Court and Secretariat buildings are the most impressive– we didn’t go inside because we were more interested in visiting temples, but now I wish we had!
If you arrive in the morning, however, I recommend skipping to Day 2, and getting out into the countryside as soon as possible– the heart of Myanmar lies in its charming rural areas. (I personally loved Yangon though.)
Day 2: Visit National Museum and Shwedagon Pagoda
Myanmar boasts a rich history and is incredibly ethnically diverse. Visiting the National Museum covers both bases, from ancient Myanmar til the end of British rule. (For history buffs, you can also visit General Aung San’s home to learn more.)
No visit to Yangon would be complete without visiting Shwedagon Pagoda, which means ‘Golden Lion’ in Burmese. When it was built in 637 c.e. by the Mon people, it allegedly housed several relics of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha.
Shwedagon is debatably the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world, and is the largest, holiest Buddhist temple in Myanmar.
Tip: For the best view of the Pagoda, catch sunset at Kandawgi Park.
Day 3-4: Bagan (take the night bus)
One of the highlights of my trip was spending three days riding around this sprawling temple complex. (You’ll only need two, but we had so much fun we stayed longer)
You’ll probably want some traditional clothing, so if you didn’t purchase a Longyi in Yangon, stop by Nyaung Yu market just north of old Bagan. I recommend staying here or in New Bagan for the best rates– Old Bagan has a few luxury hotels if that’s more your style.
Bagan was the capital of a Burmese empire from 1044 to 1287, and has roughly 2,000 temples. It is estimated that 10,000 were constructed at the time!
The general highlights of Bagan are Ananda Temple, Dhammayangyi (see above), Thatbyinnyu and my personal favorite, Dhamayazika pagoda. The view from the viewing tower is also incredible, anytime of day. And yes, you can go inside these temples– but it is no longer permitted to climb on top of them (thank goodness)
The best part of Bagan though is exploring, getting off the beaten path and discovering your own favorite temples. (I’ll reveal my secret favorite temples in another post)
Day 5: Mandalay
Mandalay was the capital of Myanmar from 1850-1885 before the country was completely overtaken by the British. The last royal palace, residence of King Thibaw, is surrounded by walls in the middle of the city.
Above it, Mandalay Hill makes for a great sunrise/sunset spot. Around the city there are several iconic temples, one of which, Kuthodaw Pagoda, is “the largest book on Earth”, featuring thousands of stone tablets dedicated to the teachings of Buddha.
The temple on top of Mandalay Hill is gorgeous itself, covered in thousands of mosaic tiles.
Day 6: ‘Suburbs’ of Mandalay
There are several towns just outside Mandalay worth visiting, and with a tuk-tuk driver, you can visit them all in one day at a leisurely pace.
In the morning, visit Mingun, home of the famous Hsinbyume Pagoda and unfinished Mingun pagoda. For those on a tighter budget, the public ferry leaves from Mandalay at 9:00am every morning and returns around 1:30pm; there’s only one per day, so make sure to arrive early to catch it! (Otherwise, opt for a private boat for $40 round-trip, highly recommended!)
Then, visit Sagaing Hill, like Mandalay Hill has many colorful mosaic temples, and jaw-dropping views.
Time permitting, check out the Maha Aung Mye Bom San Monastery in Inwa, and definitely don’t miss the famous U-bein bridge in Amarapura, one of the longest wooden bridges in the world.
Negotiate well, and you may only pay $10 for transportation for the entire day. Feel free to tip for good service!
Day 7: Inle Lake
The best day of this itinerary– Inle Lake! For $30, hire a boat and spend the afternoon cruising around. There are several floating temples and small villages which you can visit around the lake, such as Indein and Nga Phe Kyaung. These temples aren’t nearly as interesting as simply being where you are and enjoying the nature; besides, you’ve seen plenty of temples at this point!
During your tour, opt to visit traditional weavers, who spin lotus fibers into beautiful longyi, cheroot rollers (all natural Myanmar cigarettes), and silversmiths.
Inle Lake was one of the absolute highlights of my trip, and cannot be missed!
Day 8: bus to Yangon/fly home
If you had to cut one day, and make the trip exactly 7-days, I’d cut one day in Mandalay or Yangon. There’s a lot to do in both places, in fact I stayed for 3 days in Yangon, 4 in Mandalay and would’ve stayed longer (in Yangon, Mandalay as a city I didn’t love).
I hope this put Myanmar on your map for 2020. It’s changing quickly, so the best time to visit is now!
Or, you could just stay longer! I’ll be posting a lot of information about Myanmar soon, thanks for reading!
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