We arrived in Myanmar without a lot of expectations. We didn’t read a lot as we wanted to get an own, genuine picture. We just saw a couple of great pictures of hot air balloons over Bagan. Now, after we spent 12 days in Myanmar we can tell – Myanmar is so much more than that. Watching sunrises on mountains, trying to communicate with lovely locals and chasing the balloons in Bagan. The following article will go beyond what we saw and showcases a great Myanmar Travel Route.
For quick readers, here’s our suggestion:
14- Day Myanmar Travel Route
- Yangon – 1 night
- Hpa An – 3 nights
- Inle Lake – 2 nights
- Temples of Bagan – 3 nights
- Mandalay – 2 nights
- Yangon – 1 night
Most visitors enter the country in Yangon, which used to be the capital. So did we. The hostel we spend the first night offered an airport pick-up service for $10. Consequently, we got welcomed with a sign, our names were written on.
It’s always more relaxed getting picked-up at the airport than getting a taxi yourself. Of course, it’s a tiny bit more expensive but worth it from my perspective.
Driving through the chaotic traffic in Yangon we felt that we weren’t really in the mood for big city life. But after checking in, receiving a refreshing welcome drink and a shower we explored the city and had a visited the golden Shwegadon Pagoda.
Good to know: From the airport to the city centre it can easily take up more than an hour, depending on traffic.
We had a great dinner at Pansuriya, bought a sim card and got some rest for the next day. The next morning we left to the Aung Minglar Bus station with an Uber and waited there for an hour (or so) until the bus to Hpa-An left.
Good to know II: Aung Minglar bus station is further north than the airport, so the drive can take 1-1.5 hours.
In the bus, everybody smiled at us and it was a shame that we couldn’t communicate with the locals. They made the impressions as they would have had gazillion questions, so we just smiled back.
Beside some cheesy Burmese movies and an annoying wind chime the bus ride was comfortable. The bus driver drove in a decent speed and people have been very friendly. As soon as the bus stopped in a rural area you feel that Myanmar is not Thailand! It might have been Thailand ten or fifteen years ago. Vast areas of the beautiful country are undeveloped and toilets (for example) don’t have western standards, but who’d expect that! So, the adventure goes on.
As we travelled on a budget, we chose the bus, which is recommended for people who also want to save some bucks. If you want to make the most of your short time in Myanmar you can also fly to a couple of airports.
The town Hpa-An itself is not particularly beautiful but it has something about it what we really liked. We recommend you rent a scooter (handy if your hostel offers scooter rental) to explore your new neighbourhood.
We went on top of Mount Zwegabin enjoyed the first light of the day illuminating the picturesque valley and visited unique Buddhist temples around the town.
On top of that you can eat like a king! The area has some extremely good restaurants you shouldn’t miss out on! More on that and on our hike up Mt. Zwegabin you can find in our dedicated article (coming soon).
Hpa-An is no tourist hotspot and most ‘famous’ travel routes don’t pass by. On the one hand that’s great as you can explore Hpa-An without tourist crowds, the negative aspect is that it is harder to get to it and continue to your next stop.
In our Myanmar Travel Route, we would recommend going to Inle Lake after Hpa-An.
You now have two options on how to get from Hpa-An to Inle Lake. First, you can ask in your hostel or hotel if they would be able to arrange a bus (likely to be an uncomfortable minivan) or you get a local bus back to Yangon and from here with a larger, more comfortable bus to Inle Lake. As well as that there are travel companies in town you can check out and compare.
On the one hand, mini vans are not really recommended as they packed and the drivers often drive like lunatics. On the other hand, going back to Yangon can be tiresome. If you decide to go back to Yangon to catch a second bus to Inle Lake, be aware! The bus will arrive with delay in Yangon, almost for certain. That was the reason why we decided in favour of the minivan.
Arrived at the Inle Lake you will witness floating villages and inhabitants spending their whole life on the water. You can book boat tours and explore the unique setting and get a sense of the life here.
Different providers offer multiple tour options such as half day, day or even two-day trekking or cycling trips. As well as that you can visit the Red Mountain Winery for a half day. Once arrived at the Inle Lake you will spots these offers quite often or book them online in advance.
For a boat tour across the lake you can either ask local fishermen and agree on a price as well as do organized tours in groups. All that depends on how you want to travel and on the time and budget you have.
Deciding on an accommodation at Inle Lake you have two options. Either you can stay in quite costly accommodations around the lake or in the next town called Nyaung Shwe, where also the busses arrive.
Beside the floating villages of the Inle Lake the area also has temples you need to see. Some of them, such as ancient Kakku Pagodas have a surreal setting where great pictures are almost for certain.
Best Restaurants at Inle Lake
No stay is perfect without good food, that’s for sure. As everywhere in Myanmar you will find great restaurants at the Inle Lake and the town of Nyaung Shwe. Recommendations here are the following three:
Paw Paw Restaurant | One Owl Grill | Bamboo Hut
After you left the Inle Lake with a bus you will reach Bagan after a couple of hours.
Everything about Bagan is special. The sandy, dusty roads in and around the town, the scenery while watching the sunrise and the sunsets that color the temples in a magical orange.
After your two days at the Inle Lake you will roughly spent three to four nights in Bagan, depending on your time and interest in temples. The area is huge and it needs time to orientate and to explore the area.
The best thing while traveling is the app Maps.me! An offline map where you can easily mark things you want to see. An absolute must have while exploring the temples of Bagan.
Normal scooters are, in contrast to Hpa-An, not allowed for tourists anymore. But there are e-scooters, which are as good and the great thing – they are quiet! You can rent them everywhere in town or at your hostel for around $3 per day. They are great fun and a great way to explore the temples in the morning, search for shelter in the midday heat and grab some food after watching the sunset.
Important to note is the following: The government closed most of the temples for climbing in January 2018! Yes, that’s sad, you are right. We have been upset about it as well once we figured it out. But there are still certain ways how to get views.
A lot of rumours are around but nobody exactly knows why temples are getting closed. Beyond that, the government might re-open certain temples again. But, again, nobody knows for sure, so ask around once you arrived in Bagan.
You might ask yourself where to get a great view on the hot air balloons, where to stay and what to eat in Bagan. We are working on a dedicated article, that will summarize everything you need to know in your time Bagan! In the meanwhile, feel free to reach out to us!
In our time in Bagan we stayed in the Myanmar Han and loved it here! It is located a few kilometres outside of the partially busy town but easy to reach with the scooter. It also offers multiple shuttles, the price is unbelievable and the pool is great. Highly recommended! Check it out!*
In and around Mandalay there are various things to see. One of the most famous spots certainly is the white Hsinbyume Pagoda that looks like coming straight from a fairytale. It is located ten kilometres northwest from Mandalay and should be on your list when in the city.
Beyond that you should also think about a boat trip to explore everything from a different angle. Morning cruises upriver to Mingun, for examples, are a certainly unique experience.
For Myanmar-standards quite touristy and extremely pretty is the longest wooden bridge in the world. Here you want to arrive before sunset to witness the breathtaking light mirroring in the river. If you want to get an even better view, almost on your own, our tip would be to arrive a little early, organize a boat trip (ask a local fisherman) and look for a great spot to watch the sun sinking into Mandalay’s river.
If you follow our tour and you are in Mandalay you should consider one more thing. The train ride that passes the Goke Hteik Viaduct, a railway trestle in Nawnghkio, western Shan State in Myanmar 100 km northeast from Mandalay. If you aren’t afraid of heights, certainly a train ride you will do once in your lifetime. The bridge is up to 200m high and 600m long and connects the two towns of Pyin Oo Lwin and Lashio. Check it out!
Travel Tips Myanmar
Some things are handy to know beforehand and the following paragraph summarizes a few of those.
First, Myanmar is a big country! Transportation will mostly take up an entire day and takes longer than anticipated!
Second, in Myanmar, you will travel a lot by bus, which is affordable and on average good, especially night busses from JJ Express. Burmese people really like aircons, so pack a hoodie and perhaps a small blanket. This is more comfortable and keeps you warm at night.
A third tip from my side is to refrain taking mini vans. They are normally packed with people, stop a hundred times, drivers don’t speak a word English and often drive like lunatics (at least we made this experience). You will be on the save and more comfortable side spending a couple of dollars more on a bigger bus.
Don’t spend too much time in Yangon. One day is fine as the incredible country a lot more to offer.
A fifth tip is that you should plan to spend enough time in Bagan. Every angle is spectacular and while driving around you will find marvellous places where you want to watch a sunrise or sunset. Don’t rush!
Speaking of sunrises! Finally, I would like to point out the sunrise on Mount Zwegabin! Not only this but exploring the area around Hpa-An is extremely worthwhile. Recommended to check that out!
What You’ll miss when following our Myanmar Travel Route
As said before this was a suggestion of a travel route for Myanmar. As in every trip, time plays a crucial factor. Often, we are not able to spend enough time to see everything we want to in a foreign country. Same with Myanmar in this case. For transparency’s sake, I want to point out what you would miss when you do the above mentioned trip.
The Golden Rock
The Golden Rock aka the Kyaikto Pagoda is a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site and located northeast from Yangon. If you have one day more, it is easy to stop by on your way from Yangon to Hpa-An. As we unfortunately didn’t have the time, we decided not in favour of the impressive golden monument but it certainly would have been great to see.
We heard great things about Ngapali Beach and certainly would have visited in our time if we wouldn’t have had so much beach and surfing on our plan in Indonesia, where we travelled next. If you did not plan a lot of beach and you also like sandy toes, try to make it here. Crystal clear water and powdery beaches are waiting for you.
Hopefully this post brought across that we fell in love with this country. It has a bit of everything and it felt like travelling in time. For me it was important to also point out stops to which we didn’t make it to offer a holistic picture of Myanmar. Now, it’s your turn. You need to decide which stops you liked most and book flights.
This was our Myanmar Travel Route, if you have any questions feel free to leave a comment.
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