You probably heard it before but Myanmar (previously called Burma) is one of the places you definitely need to visit sooner rather than later. The country has opened to international tourism only a few years ago and is moving fast. If you want to catch a glimpse of the original Myanmar and travel back in time, this is the destination you should prioritize for your next trip.
3 Reasons to go
- Bagan. Rent an electric scooter and explore this vast plain where more than 2000 temples remain from the 9th to 13th centuries. A once in a lifetime experience.
- Locals. Burmese are very friendly and welcoming. They are not used to meeting with tourists all the time (like it’s the case in neighboring South East Asian countries) so you can expect fun moments sharing selfies and smiles.
- Variety. Myanmar has a lot to offer and it’s hard to choose when you have only one week. Actually, even if you had stayed 3 weeks that wouldn’t be enough either. From lakes (Inle), temples (Bagan), old colonial cities (Yangon), nature (Hpa An), and beaches (Ngwe Saung), there’s something for everyone.
Destination 1: Yangon
The old capital is very different from other large Asian cities. The old buildings dating from the British colonial era seem to be eaten by wild plants and it gives them a unique look. Yangon is truly exotic and you must stop for a day, at least to visit the country’s largest pagoda : Shwedagon.
Destination 2: The Golden Rock
Also known as Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, this pilgrimage place is very popular among Burmese tourists and is exactly what you’d expect. A big rock covered in gold, at the edge of a mountain. You definitely go there for the atmosphere more than the rock itself but it’s absolutely worth it.
Destination 3: Hpa–An
(Pronounced Pa-An). A great starting point if you want to explore the countryside and drive a scooter in between karst rocks and rice fields to explore the numerous caves found in the area.
Destination 4: Bagan
A must see for anyone visiting Myanmar. Often compared to Angkor in Cambodia, it’s actually much larger and way less crowded. But once again, go there soon it’s getting more and more popular!
How to book your vacation?
If you enjoy organizing your own trips.
Start booking hotels:
Day 1: land in Yangon (formerly Rangoon)
The capital was moved to Naypyidaw in 2006 but Yangon remains the largest and main city of Myanmar. It is therefore the most convenient airport to enter the country (you don’t have many choices).
Day 2: Explore Yangon
Start your day by a visit of the Shwedagon pagoda. Although it’s outside the city center, a quick taxi ride will get you there. Go early in the morning to beat the heat but also to see the Burmese pray and see the life at the Pagoda. This peaceful and impressive place is also a good introduction to Burmese culture.
Spend the rest of the day exploring downtown Yangon, where you can easily walk around Pansodan Road, the colonial area. End the day on a rooftop bar (the one called Yangon Yangon) to catch the sunset and nice views of the city.
Day 3: Golden rock
Take an early morning bus to the Golden Rock (referred by this name for tourists). The bus station is about an hour outside the city center so you need to wake up early that day but you can finish your night in the bus (4 ½ hours ride). Once you arrive and check in at your hotel, hop on one of the large pick up trucks bringing people to the top of the mountain, at the entrance of the Golden rock/Kyaiktiyo Pagoda. Make sure you know when is the last ride down so you don’t miss it (most Burmese spend the night there sleeping outside, so don’t count on watching them to know when to head out). The ride up and down is half the fun of going to the top of that mountain, but if you are afraid of speed, hire your own taxi. Read more about how to organize your visit.
Day 4: Hpa–An
Take a morning bus to Hpa-An (3 ½ hours). Once you check-in, rent a scooter for two days. The whole region around Hpa-An is very beautiful and hides many treasures inside its karst mountains. The scooter rental will hand you out a map but you can also download the area on Google Maps and pinpoint the caves you want to explore, then, when you use it on plane mode you will still be able to access all the information you saved.
On the first day you can go to the Kaw Gone Cave, with hundreds of Buddhas carved right on the walls, and then to Kyaut Ka Latt, a cool rock standing on a lake.
Day 5: Hpa-An
Spend the entire day exploring the area. If you’re not comfortable with renting a scooter, you can also hire a taxi for the day or join a group excursion organized by your hotel.
A nice loop for one day can include a visit to Sadan Cave, with a stop to Lumbini Garden on the way, where hundreds of Buddha statues stand (It’s also the departure point to Zwe Ga Bin mount hike). The dirt road leading to Sadan Cave crosses beautiful rice fields.
On the way back you can stop at Kaw Ka Thaung cave, which is also a great place to get some food at one of the few restaurants built on stilts next to a natural pool.
Head back to Hpa-An and take a night bus for Yangon (and save one hotel night!).
Day 6: Bagan
Once you arrive in Yangon (in the middle of the night, around 3:30am, if you take the 9pm bus from Hpa-An) go straight to the airport for an early flight to Bagan (1 ½ hour).
Land and check in at your hotel before renting an electric scooter for the next 2 or 3 days. To preserve the temples from gas emissions, the tourists can only rent electric scooters (called e-bikes) and regular motor bikes are forbidden for foreigners.
Bagan is famous for its fantastic sunsets and sunrises, so expect to wake up early for the next two mornings, this is something you don’t want to miss. You also have the option to fly over Bagan in a hot air balloon.
Day 7: Explore Bagan
Pick up a map and make sure to get lost. That’s how Bagan is best visited 🙂 Being alone in the middle of old temples ruins is quite unique.
Day 8: return home
From Bagan, you can either fly to Yangon or Mandalay, the two main international airports. Mandalay is a 5-hour bus ride from Bagan if you prefer taking one more bus. Depending of your international flight time, you may have one more morning on day 8 to explore Bagan (don’t miss the sunrise!).
Tips & advice
- Travelling to Myanmar requires a visa. You can get it online in three days on the official immigration website.
- The best time of the year to visit Myanmar is during Fall and Winter.
- Because of the rapid increase of international visits, the tourism infrastructures didn’t evolve as fast as the number of entries. Therefore, it is very common that hotels are fully booked during peak periods. Make sure to book your nights in advance online. Although transportation and food costs are quite low in Myanmar, due to the lack of inventory, accommodation can be slightly more expensive than neighbouring countries.
- In Bagan, the hot air balloon is very popular and gets booked weeks in advance. Plan accordingly if this is something you want to do (costs about $400 per person for one hour).
- Make sure to dress appropriately whenever you visit a holy place, temple or pagoda. This means covering shoulders and wearing long pants. You can buy a traditional Longyi (sarong-like Burmese national cloth) and keep it with you in case you must cover your knees at some point during the day.
- To buy bus tickets, the easiest way is to ask your hotel desk. Driving times shorten over time as road infrastructures improve very quickly.
- To search flights for Bagan, the aiport code is NYU (Nyaung U Airport).