An unpolished gem, Myanmar is one of the most mysterious travel destinations in the world. The country is treasure-filled and a complex destination, that you can’t even scratch the surface in 1 or 2 weeks. In this 2-week suggested itinerary, you will be able to see much of Myanmar’s best destinations such as Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar; Bagan, known for its Archaeological Area, showcasing the first Empire of Myanmar; and Mandalay, the last royal capital of Myanmar Kingdom. We have also included Inle Lake and other lesser-known destinations. If you’re a first-time visitor with 1 or 2 weeks on your hands, then we hope this guide will prove useful. Welcome to Myanmar!
Things to consider before traveling to Myanmar:
Language – The official language of Myanmar is Burmese language, also called Myanmar, which is spoken by the majority of population. English is not widely spoken except in most tourist areas and in hotels, souvenir shops, tour agencies and airports. All travel agencies in Myanmar can provide professional English-speaking guides and English-speaking drivers for driving tours of Myanmar. Speaking at least some Burmese phrases or attempting to learn is greatly appreciated by the locals.
Money and costs – The official currency in Myanmar is Kyat (pronounced ‘chat’), which is available in banknotes from 1 kyat to 10,000. Almost all transactions in Myanmar are completed in cash so make sure to bring enough, preferably US dollars. ATMs can be found in major tourist destinations like Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay but often have low withdrawal limits. Some high-end hotels accept international credit cards while most restaurants and travel agencies only accept cash. Foreign currency can be exchanged at most hotels and with money exchange kiosks. As of this writing, the largest Kyat banknote (10,000) is worth roughly 74 US dollars.
Etiquette – There’s no need for a foreigner to feel obligated to dress in traditional Burmese clothing. As in other Southeast Asian countries, modesty is the key in Myanmar. For women, avoid revealing clothes so you won’t get unwanted attention. Jeans and shorts not higher than mid-calf, knee-length skirts partnered with T-shirts or blouse are acceptable. For men, loose cotton shirts, T-shirts and pants are okay. Lastly, while visiting places of worship, you should be fully clothed. Don’t forget to remove your footwear before entering a temple.
Safety and security – There is currently no nationwide security advisory in effect for Myanmar. Check your country’s travel advisory website to get the most up-to-date information for your personal safety abroad. Myanmar is generally a safe destination and the locals are kind to tourists. However, tourists should exercise caution due to prolonged internal conflicts and possibility of civil unrest. Travel to Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states as well as areas along the borders of Laos, Thailand and China is strongly not recommended due to risk of serious civil unrest, ethnic conflict and clashes between armed groups.
Myanmar visa – Most tourist have the option to apply for a eVisa. The process takes four days and it costs 50 USD. For more info please visit the website of Ministry of Immigration and Population of Myanmar here.
Getting there – if you are in the region – don’t be a fool and include Myanmar in your travels. You can snap a round-trip airfare from Bangkok for 99 USD; from Ho Chi Minh City for 314 USD (if you don’t mind connecting flights, you can lower the price down to 220 USD); from Taipei a round-trip cost about 310 USD and pretty much from the rest of the world the prices start at 650 USD and up… all the way to the sky.
Getting around – Due to Myanmar’s slow, poor road transportation infrastructure, flying is recommended especially for long distance travel. If you are on a luxury vacation, consider hiring a driver to take you around major destinations like Yangon and Bagan. This option is expensive but will give you complete control of the trip. Renting a car and driving on your own is not recommended because some roads are tricky to navigate. Taxis are also a great alternative to get around in Yangon and other cities.
Accommodation – If you are going to follow this suggested itinerary, you will have to look for accommodation in Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. It’s true that accommodation in Myanmar is more expensive than in neighboring countries like Laos and Thailand, but the country is changing day by day. Guesthouses and hostels are popping up in Yangon and while the rates are still pretty high, at least the standards are improving. In Bagan, there’s not much to choose from because of limited supply and high demand that’s why you will most likely struggle to find budget accommodation. In Mandalay, there are plenty of accommodation options to suit every pocket, from budget hostels to luxury hotels.
Day by day itinerary: The best way to spend 2 weeks in Myanmar for first time visitors
Day 1: Yangon
Your adventure in Yangon starts today! Take a flight that arrives in Yangon International Airport as early as possible. Upon arrival at the airport, you will be received by one of the representatives of your chosen tour company and you will be transferred to your chosen accommodation in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. If you did not arrange an airport transfer, you may take a taxi to downtown area which should costs around 7,000 kyat or 7 USD.
Where to stay in Yangon:
Check into your chosen accommodation where you will be staying for three days. Then, set out this morning to see some of the most beautiful attractions in Yangon. Start by indulging in a traditional Burmese breakfast. Most hotels provide meals buffet-style but if you would like to try something different then you can head to the town center. Afterwards, visit the Shwedagon Pagoda and Taukkyan War Cemetery. You may also explore the Thiri Mingalar Market, which will give you an excellent introduction to community life of the people of Yangon as well as an opportunity to mingle with them.
Day 2: Yangon
For one of the most memorable breakfasts you’ll ever have, wake up to a sumptuous meal on your private room. A traditional Burmese breakfast includes Mohinga, a national dish of Myanmar, which is a rich fish-based broth with rice noodles, onion, ginger, chill, turmeric and other ingredients. Htoke (Burmese salads), Ohn-no khao Swe (coconut milk-based dish served with chicken and wheat noodles) and Nan bread or Paratha with yellow beans are also popular for breakfast.
Yangon is home to some of the grandest colonial-era buildings in South East Asia. On day 2, visit some of the most famous buildings in Central Yangon. Start with Yangon City Hall, the seat of Yangon’s government. It is a fine example of Burmese architecture with British colonial influence. Next to it is the Sule Pagoda, the most iconic landmark in the city. Do not miss to visit the Maha Bandula Park and the Independence Monument. After lunch, head to the High Court Building, one of the grandest colonial-era building in the city. It was built in the early 19th century as a seat of the high court during the British colonial era. Next is the Strand Hotel, one of the most famous luxury hotels in Southeast Asia. Built in the early 20th century, it remains an icon that epitomizes heritage and luxury. End the day at Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Myanmar’s largest Catholic cathedral.
Day 3: Yangon
For your final day in Yangon, get a one last whirl through the downtown area to take in any museums or other attractions that you might have missed. You can start with the Bogyoke Aung San Market (also known as Scott Market) located in Pabedan township. Then, head up Chaukhtatgyi Buddha (Reclining Buddha), one of the most revered reclining Buddha structures in Southeast Asia. After lunch, hop on the Yangon Circular Train at Yangon’s downtown train station in Bogyoke Aung San Road and go through a three-hour journey on an old-fashioned train. This circular line is probably one of the best ways to explore Yangon and to enhance your cultural experience in Myanmar.
Day 4: Yangon to Bagan
After breakfast, take a morning flight to Bagan where you will spend the whole day exploring its famous and less popular attractions. A visit to Nyaung U Market will be a great start. This is a relevant and educational stop to create basic understanding of Bagan. Some of the other destinations you can visit are Bagan Temples and Sulamani Guphaya Temple.
Where to stay in Bagan:
Day 5: Bagan
Get up before dawn and see the sun rise over Bagan. As the sky glows red, over 2,000 temples will reveal themselves first in silhouette and then in all its immense glory. Alongside this are the hot air balloons setting off over the temples. If you have money set aside for hot air balloon ride, which usually costs USD 300 per person, then you will surely get an impressive 360 degrees view of the entire temple area of Bagan. Enjoy your breakfast at the hotel before you start your own Walking Tour of Old Bagan. Visit the Ananda Temple, Shwesandaw Pagoda, Shwezigon Paya and Dhammayangyi Temple. Join a sunset tour at the Bagan Archaeological Zone.
Day 6 to 7: Bagan
On days 6 and 7, visit all the temples and other attractions in Bagan that interest you. You may also embark on an overnight trip to Kalaw, the hiking and trekking mecca of Myanmar. At an altitude of over 1000 meters, Kalaw is the best place to escape the heat. It is surrounded by marvelous mountains, vegetable gardens and rice fields. There are also plenty of colonial-era buildings in the town of Kalaw. Just like the other rural towns of Myanmar, there are not many attractions in Kalaw for tourists. But if you would like an actual get-away-from-it-all, totally unplugged holiday, then you will enjoy it.
Day 8: Bagan – Inle Lake
On day 8, check out some of the places in Bagan that you might have missed. Getting tired of Bagan? Then it’s time to move onto Inle Lake. Buy a sleeper bus ticket, which costs about USD 12. Travel time is approximately 8 hours, so you will most likely arrive at Inle Lake at 5 in the morning.
Where to stay in Inle Lake area:
Day 9 to 10: Inle Lake
On days 9 and 10, get acquainted with the wide expanse of Inle Lake, the most picturesque freshwater lake in Myanmar. You’ll ride into the heart of Inle Lake on a long boat with or without a tour guide. Cruising along the channels of the lake will give an opportunity to learn about the community, the one-legged paddling technique of the fishermen and the life in the lake in general. You can visit the Jumping Cat Monastery and the other monasteries that dot the lake. Do not miss to visit the hand-woven textiles shops, which produce the Longyis (traditional clothing in Myanmar) and other hand-woven clothing.
Day 11: Inle Lake to Mandalay
After breakfast, leave on an early flight or bus from Inle Lake to Mandalay, the final royal capital of Myanmar in the late 19th century. Buses between Inle Lake and Mandalay run every day and travel time is approximately 7 to 8 hours. Daily flights are also offered by Golden Myanmar Airlines. In the Afternoon, start your sightseeing tour. Some of the restaurants you can try after your tour, which are favorites of locals and tourists alike, are Aye Myst Tar, Ko’s Kitchen, Yunnan III and Lashio Lay.
Where to stay in Mandalay:
Hotel by the Red Canal, Mandalay
Day 12: Mandalay
No trip to Mandalay would be complete without going on a gastronomic adventure. So on day 12, visit some of the foodie shops scattered around Central Mandalay. Try some of Myanmar’s famous food like Mohinga (Burmese fish noodle soup), Meeshay (rice noodles with pork), Shan Tohu (Shan style tofu) and Thoke (salad).
If you want to learn more about Burmese Cuisine, then join a food tour which lasts for about 3 hours. Grasshopper Adventures, LM Travel Myanmar and A Glimpse of Mandalay are some of the top-rated tour companies in Mandalay offering excellent food tours.
If you want a more in-depth food experience, then you may consider joining a traditional cooking class, wherein you will learn how to cook the most popular Burmese cuisines and know its history and origin. You will also be introduced to traditional Mandalay flavors and learn the simplest way to cook them. Ma Ma Guest House Mandalay is currently the number one cooking class in Mandalay based on online reviews.
Day 13: Mandalay
From food to adventure, nature to culture – everything in Mandalay screams awesome! Aside from the pagodas, there are so many attractions in Mandalay that are worth visiting. The best way to see Mandalay is to hire a taxi for a full day tour (8 hours). Some of the destinations you can visit are Mahagandayon Monastery (Amarapura), U Bein Bridge (Amarapura), Hillside Temples and Inwa Ava (Mai Nu Oke Kyung).
Day 14: Mandalay
After 3 whole days of adventure in Mandalay, allow yourself a full day to recover and just spend your time wandering through Mandalay’s nearby attractions. If you still have time, you can stock up on souvenirs at King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop, Zegyo Market and Aung Nan Myanmar Handicrafts Workshop. Some of the most common souvenirs you can buy in Myanmar are traditional Longyi (traditional clothing in Myanmar), golden leaf, jewelries, bells, paper umbrellas, cigars and Buddha statues.
This is the end of our 2-week suggested itinerary (if you have less than 2 weeks, you can check out “A taste if Myanmar in 5 days” guide). You may extend your vacation for as long as you prefer or until you get to see all attractions that interest you. Take time to meet the locals, sample the best Burmese dishes or even make a quick visit to Yangon Circular Railroad Ride. If the pace gets too hectic, then reorder your sightseeing priorities. Happy travel!
Have you been to Myanmar? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.
Featured image: Novice Buddhist monks walking around the sacred Shwezigon Paya, one of Myanmar’s most revered pagodas, in Nyaung U, Bagan, Myanmar (R.M. Nunes / Bigstockphoto.com)