Myanmar may not be the very first Southeast Asian destination that you think of going to. Or it it? After my first backpacking adventure in Southeast Asia of 3 months, Myanmar was the number 1 destination for the next trip. Why Myanmar? I had heard such good stories about it that it had aroused my interest enough to discover this country myself. So I decided to go backpacking in Myanmar during my next Asia trip! In this article I’ll tell you everything about my Myanmar itinerary of 1 month.
I found Myanmar a surprisingly beautiful and interesting country that’s actually very easy to travel. Also as a solo traveler. There are enough hostels in almost every touristy destination. Meeting new people also turned out to be no problem at al.
Myanmar itinerary of 1 month
Yangon ➤ Hpa-An ➤ Kalaw ➤ Inle Lake ➤ Mandalay ➤ Bagan ➤ Yangon
Myanmar has 2 major international airports, namely in Yangon and Mandalay. So you can choose one of the two cities to start your Myanmar itinerary. For example, you can decide to make a round trip and to start and end in the same city. But it’s also possible to start in one city and end in another and fly to your next destination.
My Myanmar itinerary started in Yangon, also known as Rangoon. Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city and was the country’s capital until 2007 when this title was taken over by Naypyidaw.
Although I had been traveling around Asia for several months, my visit to this city turned out to be a little culture shock. I arrived at the airport at night and arranged a taxi to my hostel. The streets were almost deserted, except for hordes of barking streetdogs, and I was glad to be in that car. The first thing I actually noticed was that the cars drive on the right side of the road, but the steering wheel is also on the right side. A crazy fact, but that’s because the cars are imported from left-driving countries.
What to do in Yangon
To explore the city on your own, you can walk around Downtown Yangon. This is also the best place to stay in an accommodation. I thought it was impressive and interesting to see what happened in the street. After a few hours of walking I felt pretty tired from all the hustle and bustle and new impressions.
Another way to explore the city is by train. The Circle Train runs all around Yangon city. A ticket for this 3-hour trip costs only 200 Kyat (€ 0.12). During this train ride you also get a good impression of the culture and daily life.
One of the most visited sights in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the world. This pagoda is the largest in the country and is covered with a whopping 50,000 kg of gold leaf. Amazing to see! After a small contribution you can enter the complex (without shoes) and walk around for as long as you want.
One of the most original (and for me personally one of the nicest) sights in Yangon is the abandoned amusement park next to Yangon Zoo. I don’t know when this amusement park was abandoned, but judging by its condition, it hasn’t been used for years. The entrance is quite difficult to find. You can walk there through the parking lot and climb between or over the fence. Fortunately a number of local children showed me the way and I got a real “private tour”.
Here you can read all about my experience with the abandoned amusement park in Yangon.
In the evening, 19th street is the place to be. All cafes put their plastic chairs outside on the street in the evening and there’s a cozy atmosphere. Just drinking a beer with a view of the public and vendors walking past is an attraction in itself. While sitting here I got a tiny flashback to the walking street in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, which is a similar concept.
Hpa-An is a town that is located east of Yangon, with the sea in between them. There are fewer tourists here than in many other popular destinations in Myanmar. And the tourists that travel here are mostly backpackers. I found there was a pleasant atmosphere and the surroundings were amazing! There’s plenty to see and do to stay for least 3 days. Hpa-An was definitely one of my favorite destinations during my Myanmar itinerary.
What to do in Hpa-An
Apart from the night market, there isn’t much to do in the city center, but the real sights are outside the town. I thought it was fantastic to drive around with the scooter through the beautiful surroundings. Renting a scooter costs an average of €5 per day. This gives you the ultimate opportunity to visit all the caves and temples.
Read all about the beautiful sights in Hpa-An here!
How to get there
Hpa-An is easily accessible by bus. The bus from Yangon takes about 8 hours. Hpa-An is often one of the first destinations in Myanmar when you travel from the Thai border. You can then travel via Mawlamyine by boat (2 hours), but also directly by minivan from the border town of Myawaddy (5 hours). Are you traveling on to your next destination? The “bus station” is located at the Clock-Tower of Hpa-An.
Kalaw is a town located in the mountains in central Myanmar. It doesn’t have many sights, but it is, among other things, the starting point for various treks through the amazing landscape.
What to do in Kalaw
The center of Kalaw can easily be explored on foot. For example, stroll around the local Kalaw Myoma market where you can buy clothes, food and other things. Here I bought my longyi, a traditional skirt that is widely worn in Myamar.
As I mentioned, Kalaw is the place to go for trekking. For example, I did a 3-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. We covered 60 km in 3 days and slept one night in a local village and one night in a monastery. An amazing, beautiful but also quite an exhausting experience. No western toilet for 3 days, but a hole in the ground and no western shower. That means taking a shower outside in your underwear with buckets of cold water from a barrel. Quite an experience!
Here you can read all about my 3-day trekking from Kalaw to Inle.
How to get there
The drive from Hpa-An to Kalaw in theory takes about 10 hours, but in reality our bus took no less than 14 hours. On the way to Kalaw you can also decide to make a stopover in Naypyidaw, the (new) capital of Myanmar. Of course you can also travel directly from Yangon to Kalaw. In theory, this bus ride takes about 9 hours.
Inle Lake (Nyaung Schwe)
Inle Lake has an area of 116 km² and is located east of Kalaw. I thought Inle Lake itself was a beautiful, but perhaps a slightly overrated destination in Myanmar. The main tourist attraction is seeing the fishermen on their traditional boats during the sunrise. But this is actually sort of a tourist trap if you ask me. Fortunately, there are plenty of other great sights and activities around Inle Lake!
If you travel to Inle Lake, you’ll stay in the town of Nyaung Schwe. The city center is small, but I found it to have a very pleasant atmosphere.
What to do in Inle Lake
There are a number of pagodas in the city center, including the Yadana Man Aung Su Taung Pyay Pagoda and the Kyaung Daw Pagoda. That’s right, a mouthful and you don’t have to remember them, because there are more beautiful temples to visit during your Myanmar itinerary.
In the center there’s also a small night market where I managed to score some nice souvenirs and have a good meal. However, it’s somewhat touristy. If you prefer to go to a traditional market, visit Mingalar Market where they sell fresh vegetables, fruit, clothing and other items. Here I bought a small silver necklace for a bargain price.
In addition, there are a number of very good Indian restaurants in Nyaung Schwe, including Dosa King Restaurant. With the popular Innlay Hut Indian Food House, I had a really bad experience. The owner (who appeared to be heavily intoxicated) kicked and brutally beat his dog out of the restaurant in front of all the guests. I left immediately while he was yelling at me. So don’t go there!
You might not expect it, but you can also test your taste buds in Nyaung Schwe with a wine tasting at the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery. In case you’ve had a wine tasting before, this one can be a bit disappointing. There’s no explanation given about the wines and the way of tasting. Luckily I was with a bunch of French friends who made the whole tasting a lot more fun with their knowledge! The view from the wine tasting is amazing during sunset nevertheless.
You can admire a piece of local culture at Aung Puppet Show. This very talented gentleman has been performing traditional puppet shows for years for the survival of his craft. These dolls are controlled by dozens of ropes on a wooden handle. Very special to see!
Every year around the month of November, in honor of the end of the rainy season, the Taunggyi Balloon Festival is celebrated. In 2019 I had the honor to be present. It’s not just an ordinary festival though. During these days, hot air balloons with fireworks are released in the evening. Dangerous, but very special to experience (from a distance of course).
Here you can read all about my visit to the bizarre Taunggyi Balloon Festival.
How to get there
So what ‘s highly recommended is to do a 3-day trekking to Nyaung Schwe. If you don’t like this, you can also travel there by bus.
Mandalay is Myanmar’s second largest city. The center is very busy and I didn’t found it to have a nice atmosphere. But the city also has very nice places that are definitely worth a visit.
What to do in Mandalay
Mandalay has a lot of cool sights. Especially in the north of the city there are beautiful palaces, monasteries and pagodas. A number of you can easily visit during a walk, such as the Shwenandaw Monastery, Sanda Muni pagoda, Kuthodaw Pagoda and Kyauktawgyi Pagoda which are all within walking distance of each other. One of the main attractions, the Mandalay Hill with the richly decorated Su Taung Pyae Pagoda, are practically next to it.
The Shweinbin Monastery, more towards the south-west, is also recommended because of the beautiful woodcarvings. Even more to the south is another monastery, namely the Bagaya Monastery. When you travel a little further south you will encounter to the U-Bein Bridge. Be sure to visit this bridge during the sunset, but don’t expect to be the only one!
A visit to Mingun is also highly recommended. You can take the boat from the Mingun Jetty and will return a few hours later back in Mandalay city. This ancient city is full of ruins and temples, the highlight of which is the Mingun Pahtodawgyi. This temple was seriously damaged by the earthquake, but it is still very impressive to visit. The white Mya Thein Tan Pagoda is also recommended, as is Mingun Bell.
A landmark that is a bit away from Mandalay city is the Dee Doke Waterfall (also known as Deedote Blue Lagoon). It’s approximately 1.5-2 hours drive from Mandalay. For example, you can rent a tuk tuk or taxi, but from Ostello Bello Hostel there are also tours if there’s enough interest. Upon arrival it’s about half an hour of hiking, but the view is great! Good to know: the water is only beautifully blue during the dry season.
How to get there
Mandalay is very easily accessible from various destinations in Myanmar. From Kalaw and Nyaung Schwe it is about 5 to 7 hours by bus.
I can call Bagan my favorite place of my Myanmar itinerary. It’s full of beautiful temples, stupas and ruins. Since this year, Bagan has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List. This is noticeable in the number of new rules. For example, you were allowed to climb the temples at the beginning of this year, but now all stairs are closed with gates. You can still enter most temples, but you are no longer allowed to climb it.
What to do in Bagan
I rented an electric scooter every day (tourists are not allowed to ride a normal scooter) and drove on small paths through the grassy landscape. Everywhere small and large temples loomed and it felt like an adventurous fairyland. Two days I got up early to watch the sunrise from one of the temples with a fantastic spectacle of balloons flying overhead.
All about the sights, tips and useful information about Bagan you can read here.
How to get there
Bagan is easily accessible from Mandalay by bus, which takes about 4-5 hours. But you can also reach the city by boat. However, this boat trip takes about 10 hours and is more expensive than taking the bus. From Kalaw, Bagan can be reached in about 6 to 7 hours.
With this Myanmar itinerary you end up again in Yangon. From Yangon you can easily travel to your next destination. For example, I traveled on to Nepal.
How to get there
From Bagan to Yangon is quite a trip of about 10 hours by bus.
Alternative Myanmar itinerary
On the way to Kalaw you can also decide to make a stopover in Naypyidaw, the (new) capitalcity of Myanmar. An unsuccessful attempt to make this city the largest capital has led to its extinction. Empty squares and meter-wide highways without cars. A special scene!
In addition, the beach destination Ngapali is also recommended. Reaching this beach is a bit more difficult, but there are a few options.
- There are direct domestic flights between Yangon and Thandwe, but tickets are not cheap.
- The budget option is to take the bus from Yangon which takes no less than 15 hours.
- If you want to go to Ngapali from Bagan, your only option is to take several minibuses that drive via Pyay. This ride takes no less than 24 hours.
Ngapali is therefore a difficult destination to travel through. There are no direct flights to Mandalay or Bagan. So taking the plane or bus up and down from Yangon is the best option.
Accommodations Myanmar itinerary
There are more than enough accommodations in all destinations included in this Myanmar itinerary. There are even hostels with dorms in almost every destination, something I didn’t expect in advance! OstelloBello and Baobabed are the most popular hostels that can be found in most cities. Often these also have a swimming pool. So it’s not that difficult to meet people as a (solo) traveler.
The most useful website for booking your accommodation in Myanmar is simply Booking.com.
Transport Myanmar itinerary
Myanmar is huge and the distances between the various popular destinations are big. It’s already a 600 km drive between Bagan and Yangon! That’s even more than driving from Amsterdam to Paris, which is 500 km.
Most distances in Myanmar are easily covered by bus. These touring buses are surprisingly modern and comfortable. There are standard touring buses, but also VIP buses with super comfortable seats and often an interactive screen in the seat in front of you. For a ride of 8 hours you pay on average no more than € 20.
Tickets are easy to book online, but you can also buy tickets at the bus stations or in your guesthouse. Buying your ticket at the bus stations can be very confusing and chaotic, so I would recommend booking them online or at your guesthouse.
In reality, bus rides are often far from flawless. It often happened to me that I was picked up way too late and that the buses made a lot of (pointless) stops. In addition, the aisle of the bus was regularly full with luggage and bags of vegetables or fruit.
During one of my bus rides, the driver shouted something in Burmese through the bus in the middle of the night. Next, most people got off the bus and so did I. I was ready for a bathroom break! But when I crouched behind the bush, the bus suddenly drove away! He left me and dozens of other passengers behind! Fortunately there was an English-speaking female monk who explained to the tourists that the bus was too heavy for the tollbooth. So he had to go through the toll booth with as little weight as possible so that we could board again afterwards. Well, that’s good to know if it happens to you too!
In addition, there are also Grab taxi’s in many places in Myanmar. Via the app you can see exactly how much the ride will cost. An ideal type of transport!
Culture in Myanmar
Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country. No less than 89% of the population is Buddhist. It’s useful to know that wearing clothes or tattoos depicting Buddha is not appreciated. You can even get arrested, which has already happened to several tourists because of their Buddha tattoo. So cover it well!
In Myanmar, a lot of traditional clothing is still worn, namely the longyi. This is a sheet of about 2 meters long and 80 cm wide. Both men and women wear these “skirts”, but they are tied in a different way. It’s greatly appreciated by the locals if you also wear such a longyi. Be sure to ask them for help to tie these too, as they will laugh at you without shame when you wear the garment incorrectly.
In addition, many locals decorate their faces with thanaka, a pale yellow paste that is used as a sunscreen and cosmetic. It is made from the bark of the thanaka tree that is ground into a powder and mixed with water. It’s also a kind of fashion and it’s applied in different motifs.
Another striking scene is the chewing of betel quid. Betel quid is a stimulant and highly addictive substance that’s often combined with tobacco. These leaves are chewed and happily spat out on every street corner. So don’t be surprised by the many red spots on the ground. One consequence of chewing that stuff are red-colored teeth. According to the locals, chewing it results in stronger teeth and is seen as a form of beauty. I found the taste very rancid and to be honest, I prefer to keep my teeth white.
A sensitive subject, but important to know is the persecution of the Rohingya ethnic people. According to the Burmese government, the Rohingya do not belong to the minorities of Myanmar, nor to peoples living in Myanmar. Extreme violence has been used against these people for years and, according to the United Nations, the Rohingya are one of the most persecuted minorities in the world. Most of them flee to neighboring countries.