Prior to visiting Myanmar, I read numerous blogs saying that three weeks is a great amount of time for Myanmar, and even that may not be enough.
Extra time is great if you have it and want to spend time with the amazing people of Myanmar (probably the nicest in all of SE Asia), but for sightseeing purposes, there isn’t really “off the beaten path” here allowing for extended exploration.
For context, Myanmar just recently emerged from a military run country, and even now still has left over elements with their fingers on the pulse of the country. The country itself is made up of dozens of independent tribes, many of which spent decades at odds with the government or each other. Many of these tribes have recently signed agreements with the government, whereas others are still in a de facto conflict. Thus, many of the country’s regions are not open to tourism – not because it is really dangerous (Myanmar is incredibly safe contrary to what the media says) but because there is the chance the government and local tribes could run into a conflict.
This limits the areas available for a tourist to hit to a handful of (still spectacular) spots. Don’t get me wrong – you can learn a ton about the culture, meet the amazing people all from these locations. All I am saying is that, until more areas of the country open up for tourism, there’s no need to get cute – give yourself 7-10 days and you will love it here.
Without further rambling, here an ideal itinerary which can be done in 7 to 10 days.
Fly into Mandalay: Catch one of the world’s most amazing sunsets at their hilltop temple. You can also do a sunrise trip to a wooden bridge and some other temples. Other than that, not much else to see here.
Stay at Ostello Bello, an Italian hostel chain whose locations included Milan and Mandalay, and that, still to my amazement, is one of the only international chains of any kind to end up in Myanmar. For reference, they don’t have a Snickers but they have an Italian hostel serving up gourmet pizzas and pasta.
Bus or River Boat to Bagan: Budget pending, either are good options. If you can splurge do the boat if only to say you did. Bagan is the spiritual heart of Myanmar and home hundreds of thousands of tourists waking up at 4am and driving electric scooters in circles trying to find the perfect sunset point. Bagan has thousands of temples and you can’t go wrong watching the sun rise or set over any of them…unless you’re like us and it’s cloudy. Then it kind of sucks.
Stay in Old Town if you can. There are two Ostello Bellos, which are really nice, but they’re in the new town, which isn’t as exciting as the restaurant / temple / tourist heart of old town.
Bus to Inle Lake: Actually, bus first to Kalaw, spend the night and do a 2 day or 3 day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Recommend going with the company Eversmile. This the best (currently open to tourists) trek in the country.
Inle Lake: Spend a night or two here to recoup from the trek. Sunrise is a great time to hire a boat and head out onto the lake. Fisherman will pose for your Instagram worthy Asia fishing photo. Then check out the vineyard for sunset – yes, Myanmar has a vineyard. Who knew? Also, go to Innlay Hut Restaurant, an Indian restaurant with Eminem inspired decor. I kid you not – the owner is some dude who loves Marshall, acts like him and has Eminem swag everywhere. Order Mom’s Sphaghetti.
Stay at….wait for it….Ostello Bello. As mentioned, they’re a chain. Still don’t know how they ended up in Myanmar.
Bus to Yangon: I wouldn’t say Yangon is on the top 10 list of places to see in SE Asia. They do have the world largest pagoda, which is clad in gold, and I hear the suburban train is an interesting experience. Mostly just come here because it’s the biggest airport to fly out of. If you can swing it, don’t even bother, and just head to back to Mandalay from Inle and fly from there.
If you’re pushing an extra few days there, you can also check out Hpa An, a spectacular riverside cliff hanging village (reachable by bus from Inle or Yangon) or Ngapali, a beautiful coastal town in the Rhakine State (need to fly here as bud options are not very accommodation).
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