With three weeks in Myanmar, you’ll be able to spend a decent amount of time in all of the “Big 4” places – Mandalay, Inle Lake, Bagan, and Yangon – and also tack on a few other spots for good measure. We thoroughly enjoyed our first trip to Myanmar, and love encouraging others to visit this fascinating country that often gets skipped by travelers in SE Asia. To help you plan your great Burmese adventure, here’s a little rundown of our 3 weeks in Myanmar.
"This is Burma and it is unlike any land you know about." - Rudyard Kipling
Our trip to Myanmar was sandwiched in between stays in Thailand, so we got our visas in Bangkok, stored some things, flew out of there, and came back after the three weeks. Here’s the route that we took, along with an interactive map you can check out:
Mandalay – 3 nights
Pyin Oo Lwin – 2 nights
Hsipaw – 3 nights + night bus
Inle Lake – 3 nights
Trekking – 2 nights
Bagan – 3 nights + night bus
Yangon – 4 nights
Our trip started out in Mandalay, where we spent three nights and two full days exploring the 2nd largest city and its surroundings. One day was dedicated to the sites in the city – the former Royal Palace, Mandalay Hill, and a few of the temples. The other was a day trip with a hired driver where we saw a shinbyu ceremony, visited a large monastery, toured around a small island on a horse-drawn carriage, and took in a beautiful sunset at U Bein Bridge.
Pyin Oo Lwin
From Mandalay, we piled into the back of a local bus for an uncomfortable but cheap (only $1) ride up the road to Pyin Oo Lwin. This former hill station is much cooler, thus providing a nice break from the stifling heat. The main thing to do here is visit the lovely botanical gardens, which can easily be done in half a day with rented bicycles. When you’re ready to leave, buy your ticket to take one of the great train journeys of the world, as you cross the Gokteik Viaduct en route to your next destination.
Many come to Hsipaw to go trekking, but we didn’t end up doing it. Instead, we spent our time visiting the former home of a Shan Prince who has a tragic story. We also checked out the “Mini Bagan,” enjoyed a walk through the countryside, and attended a temple festival where things got surprisingly rowdy. If you make it to Hsipaw, make sure to pay a visit to the legendary Mr. Book to chat for a while – he’s an incredibly friendly and knowledgable guy who will impart lots of wisdom on Myanmar.
We were on the fence about going to Inle Lake for a variety of reasons, but we’re so glad we ended up doing it. Is it touristy? Yes – it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Myanmar. Does that mean you should skip it? Absolutely not! With your own hired boat, you can easily escape the crowds and spend a day meandering through the floating villages, stopping at markets and workshops along the way. Plus, there are great trekking opportunities that will take you far away from the Lonely Planet-wielding tourists out into rural villages.
Seeing the temples of Bagan on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” and the film “Samsara” is what really inspired us to finally visit Myanmar. This former kingdom is home to thousands of temples, stupas, and pagodas that stretch as far as the eye can see. Exploring the area requires at least 2-3 days and a variety of transportation – bicycles, e-bikes, hired cars, horse-drawn carriages, and even hot air balloons. Taking in the sunrise here was quite possibly the highlight of our entire trip, and was well worth the early wake-up call.
An incredibly comfortable overnight bus brought us to our final stop in Myanmar – Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, previous capital, and largest city. Despite being attacked by bed bugs in what might be the worst hostel we’ve ever stayed in, we enjoyed high tea at the Strand, a ride on the circle train, and the stunning Shwedagon Pagoda.
Impressions and Advice
We had a great time traveling in Myanmar and would love to go back to visit some of the places that we had to cut. Here are a few impressions and tidbits of advice for prospective travelers to this amazing country:
- Before arriving, we were worried about needing to pre-book all of our hotels. In the end, Mandalay and Bagan were the only places we booked online in advance. Not coincidentally, these also ended up being the most expensive rates. We’d advise to book online for your first stop of the trip and then ring hotels up along the way to get a better rate.
- The internet in Myanmar is terrible. In hotels, restaurants, and even in ‘net cafes we had zero luck getting a good connection. If you work online, keep this in mind and do your posting in advance. My need to get work finished up was what drove us to fly back to Bangkok after only three weeks instead of four.
- Most people you meet are very friendly and talkative, and many speak English very well. We really enjoyed chatting with drivers, tour guides, and people we met along the way, something that doesn’t happen in a lot of countries due to language barriers.
- Don’t come to Myanmar expecting an amazing culinary or party scene. The food isn’t bad, but it’s nothing special compared to nearby countries like Thailand or Vietnam. Ditto for the nightlife, or should we say lack thereof. Come to Myanmar to experience the culture, shining temples, and beautiful landscapes.