Myanmar was never on my list when I started to plan for overseas trips in the early days of my travels. But a picture of Bagan convinced me that Myanmar has a rich history and an interesting culture worth to be discovered. Of the ten countries in Southeast Asia, it has the most intriguing story. Unlike other countries in the region, Myanmar just recently opened its doors to travelers. And to help you with your planning, here’s a two-week Myanmar itinerary and travel guide.
Myanmar already secures a certain spot of my heart. It’s actually the people that made my 2-week trip in Myanmar worthwhile. Daily life and undertakings of the locals are eye-openers. Thanaka-covered faces of ladies and betel nut chewing-spitting scenes of men are sights that will meet you on your stay. The visit might not be as organized as Thailand or Malaysia, but the simple and untouched beauty of Myanmar exudes that of its neighboring countries.
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THINGS BEFORE YOU GO
Filipinos are not required to secure a visa when entering and staying in Myanmar for 14 days. But if you plan to go beyond the limited days, apply for an e-visa for USD50 that will allow you to stay up to 28 days.
When availing the visa-free entry, you need to have a return ticket from major airports of the country like Yangon and Mandalay. I’m not actually sure about this but when the airline crew in Don Mueang Intl Airport in Bangkok saw that my booking is only a one-way flight, I spent few minutes assuring them that Filipinos are allowed to enter Myanmar for 14 days, visa-free. I also said that I’ll be traveling overland back to Thailand via the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border.
Few days before my target border crossing, I found a Facebook post by a Filipina who was barred from exiting Myanmar at the border control. She availed the visa-entry and the immigration insisted that she should take a flight out of Myanmar. I had no time to verify it with proper authorities so this is still a blur one on the visa-free entry of Filipinos in Myanmar. The post was just 2-month old that time. A friend of mine traveled overland from Myanmar to Thailand last 2016 on the same border and had no issues, she had no visa with her. Just to be sure, I booked a ticket out of Yangon International Airport.
Myanmar has two seasons; dry and wet, and most attractions in some regions are closed during rainy season due to heavy rainfall. Dry season starts from October to May. Wet season runs from June till October but Bagan and Mandalay usually stay dry, year-round. I visited the country in early weeks of September and I only experience occasional rain in Bagan and Inle Lake. Best months to visit is from November to February but consider joining flocks of travelers and encounter issues in securing your accommodation.
Myanmar currency is Burmese Kyats (MMK). If you’re in Bangkok, Thailand, I read online that Superrich Currency Exchange does THB to MMK currency exchange. On my visit, I changed my THB1000 at Mandalay Airport to cover my first few days in Myanmar. There are few money changers in Mandalay and few banks just in case you need to withdraw money from your ATM card.
When I ran out of cash, I tried withdrawing money from the bank but three banks in Mandalay weren’t able to read my two cards. I finally withdrew some cash when I was in Bagan. Though it’s not advisable to bring hefty US dollar on your pocket during a trip, it’s better to be prepared just in case you encounter issues with Myanmar banks.
What Route to Take
There are only two international airports in Myanmar; Yangon Airport on the south and Mandalay Airport on the north. If you’ll be spending two weeks in Myanmar, most travelers recommend entering via Yangon and exit thru Mandalay, or the other way around. The distance between Mandalay and Yangon is a 12-hour bus ride and booking a multi-city flight is more convenient than the cramp 12-hour land travel.
This is a topic I needed to check online before my trip to Myanmar. All hostels I’ve stayed in Myanmar offer quite reasonable yet stable Wifi connections. Few of the travelers I’ve met also bought a 4G sim card for their stay.
TWO-WEEK MYANMAR ITINERARY
Day 1 Mandalay Arrival
Depending on your time of arrival in Mandalay, you can spend the day by roaming around Mandalay and start to familiarize it’s chaotic yet bustling streets and avenues. You can rent a bike and scale Mandalay Hill for a scenic view of the city. Drop by Kyauk Taw Gyi Phaya, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Shwenandaw Monastery, Mandalay Palace, and Sandamuni Pagoda.
Day 2 Sagaing, Inwa, and Amarapura
Most hostels in Mandalay offer tours to the ancient capitals of Myanmar: Sagaing, Inwa, and Amarapura. Start the day by observing an alms-giving ceremony at Mahagandayon Monastery where thousands of monks reside and perform their daily routines. Continue the tour around Sagaing with a visit to a silk-weaving center and temples like Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda and U Min Thonze Temple.
Taking a boat to Inwa, ride a horse-drawn carriage to marvel on historic landmarks such as the Bagaya Monastery, Yandana Sinme Pagoda, Palace Tower, and Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery.
End the day by walking on the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura. The bridge is considered as the longest teak footbridge in the world with its 1.2-kilometer length. Walk the bridge end to end while waiting for a remarkable sunset to end the day tour to the historic regions of Myanmar.
Day 3 Mingun
Mingun is a tiny town 11-kilometer up of the Irrawaddy River on the other side of Mandalay. Despite it being a small area in Myanmar, Mingun has a massive unfinished temple and the second largest bell in the world. Interesting sites to explore are Hsinbyume Pagoda, Mingun Pahtodawgyi, Mingun Bell, and Sat Taw Yar Pagoda.
Day 4 Travel to Bagan
For travelers who have limited number of days on their Myanmar itinerary, you might consider leaving Mandalay to Bagan around 10 or 11 in the evening for an early arrival in Bagan. For travelers who enjoy a slow pace of travel, have the Mandalay to Bagan bus during daytime and check the vast plains of Myanmar from your bus window. The bus schedule I availed left Mandalay around noon and arrived in Bagan past 6 in the evening.
Day 5-6 Bagan E-biking and Temple Hopping Tour
Easiest and cheapest way to explore the Bagan temples is by renting an e-bike for only MMK5,000 for a 12-hr use. Riding a bike is not a thing for me but taking the electric bike around the highways and temple grounds of Bagan was indeed a fun experience. There are tons of stunning temples in Bagan and two days are not enough to cover all of them.
Here are suggested temples to include on your e-biking itinerary in Bagan:
- Ananda Temple
- Shwezigon Pagoda
- Dhammayangyi Temple
- That Bin Nyu Temple
- Gawdawpalin Temple
- Shwesandaw Temple
- Sulumani Temple
- Htilominlo Temple
- Manuha Temple
- Bupaya Pagoda
- Bulethi Temple (crowd visit this for sunset, temporary closed as of April 2018)
- Myauk Guni Temple (sunrise viewing, temporary closed as of April 2018)
Day 7 Mount Popa
Several hostels in Bagan offer a half-day trip to Mount Popa, a pilgrimage site for its Nat temples and relics on top of the mountain. Travel time from Old Bagan to the destination is about an hour and a half. It was a fortunate trip for us, not sure if it will be considered as good, because we visited the pilgrimage site before a big religious festival. Hundreds of buses were parked on the side street even few kilometers from the main site. This enabled us to join the swarm of locals planning to climb to the top of the mountain to pray.
We decided to join the flow but surrendered along the way. The event was a perfect timing though, to observe festivities being celebrated by the locals. A small cafeteria serving stir-fried noodles served our late lunch before heading back to Bagan. Added parts of the tour is a shortstop in a local wine and natural candy making center.
Day 8-9 Kalaw to Inle Trek
Most travelers consider Kalaw trekking on their Myanmar itinerary. From Bagan, head next to Kalaw to avail either a 2-day or 3-day trek to Inle Lake. The entire trek is the highlight of my Myanmar trip. Joining the trek allowed me to meet travelers around the world and to immerse with the locals by trying the food they eat and observe their daily life.
Apart from the vast rice fields and lush landscape of the trail, there is no internet connection which makes the trek a great detox from online life. Treks already include the guide fee, full-board meal, and lodgings.
Day 10 Inle Lake
Intha fishermen, the balancing fishermen of Inle Lake is one of the great reasons why I insisted to visit Nyaungshwe. An Inle Lake Tour will cover several spots in the famous lake that showcase the daily life of the Intha people. On a longtail boat, we hopped from one destination to another. Inclusions on our half-day itinerary were the floating garden, silversmith, long neck village, tinsmith, boat and cigar making factory, and the balancing fishermen. Added attractions to consider are the jumping-cat monastery, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, and Nga Phe Chaung Monastery.
Day 11 Yangon Circular Train Tour
From a tiring overnight bus trip from Inle Lake to Yangon, take a rest the entire morning to give way to a Yangon Circular Train tour in the afternoon. Most travelers recommend this when you’re in Yangon because the activity is an authentic trundle on Yangon’s suburbs on a bumpy, old, yet sturdy train.
Fare for the circular train is MMK200 (~USD0.15). The train loop has 39 stations and the entire trip will take around two hours depending on the time of day you’ll have it. I’m not sure if circular ticket holders can hop-on and hop-off the train because it seems that the stations are not strictly monitored. Observe how the locals take the train, vendors converting the train aisle into a market alley, and the realities of daily life of Burmese people living by the rail.
Day 12 Yangon City Tour
Since Yangon is Myanmar’s capital, you can expect that the region is a melting pot of Myanmar’s diverse people, culture, and food. Similar with historic and cultural regions of Mandalay and Bagan, Yangon has several religious sites for Buddhism. These include the Shwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda, Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple, Nga-htat-gyi Buddha Temple, and Botataung Pagoda.
For parks and museums, you can consider Myanmar Gems Museum, Yangon Zoological Gardens, Kandawgyi Lake, Bogyoke Market, and Maha Bandula Park.
Day 13 Yangon Food Tour/Departure
To uncover Burmese cuisine, spend your last full day in Yangon hopping from one restaurant to another. There are few food spots in the city to try traditional and modern and fusion dishes. From curry sets to tea leaf salad, Mohinga, and a lot more.
Day 14 Yangon Departure
Two weeks is enough to explore the most popular Mandalay – Bagan – Inle Lake – Yangon Myanmar itinerary. If I could’ve spent more time in the country, I’d be willing to visit Goteik Viaduct, the highest railway bridge located in Pyin Oo Lwin. Golden Rock, Bago, and Ngapali Beach are also regions that worth a space on my Myanmar itinerary.
WHAT TO EAT
Shan noodles, Myanmar’s version of pho, is a thin and flat noodle with either pork or beef broth served with sides like peanuts or pickled veggies. Ordering a curry set will astonish you as a bowl of curry (whether fish, chicken, pork, or beef) is served with almost a dozen bowls of side dishes. What’s surprising is that they’re all free and the entire set is relatively cheap.
If I’ll recommend a dish that shouldn’t be missed when in Myanmar, it would be the Tea Leaf Salad. It’s quite interesting to know how they utilize the tea leaf for a salad. Tea leaf is mixed with cabbage, tomatoes, nuts, and peas to create a perfect ensemble that could be a snack or appetizer.
WHERE TO STAY
Booking a place to stay on my Myanmar visit was really easy. Most backpacker hostels and lodgings in Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, and Yangon already partnered with booking platforms like Agoda, Traveloka, Booking, and Hostelworld. You can book a hostel bed for as low as USD6 and it already includes a nice breakfast. Ostello Bello Hostels rates are a bit higher normally at USD14.
Here are the hostels I’ve tried during my stay. All of them offer free breakfast and stable Wifi connections. Ostello Bello Bagan has free pasta few times in a day.
- Mandalay – Four Rivers B&B Mandalay
- Bagan – Ostello Bello Bagan
- Inle Lake – ABC Hostel
- Yangon – Four Rivers Youth Hostel
Sample Expenses Myanmar Itinerary
TRANSPORTATION Mandalay Airport to City 4000 Jeep in Mandalay 1000 Hostel to Mingun Jetty 3000 Return Ferry to Mingun 5000 Mandalay to Bagan bus 9000 Bagan to Kalaw van 11000 Total Taxi in Yangon 4700 Inle Lake to Yangon 20000 Hostel to Yangon Airport 6000 TOURS Ancient Capital Tour 9000 Horse Carriage Tour 2500 Mandalay Bike Rental 2000 Mandalay Motorbike Tour 5000 Bagan 2-day E-bike Rental 10000 Bagan Archaeological Museum 5000 Mount Popa Tour 10000 Kalaw to Inle Trek 32000 Inle Lake Boat Tour 2000 Yangon Circular Train Your 200 Shwedagon Entrance Fee 8000 Bogyoke Park Entrance Fee 800 ARCHAEOLOGICAL FEES Mandalay Zone 10000 Mingun Zone 5000 Bagan Archaeological Zone 25000 Inle Lake Zone 12000 FOOD BUDGET 99475 MISCELLANEOUS Towel Rent (2x) 2000 Bagan Village Guide 1000 Trekking Shoes 4500 Inle Lake Trek Guide Tip 5000 Grocery 12500 ACCOMMODATION Four Rivers B&B Mandalay (3 nights) 36000 Ostello Bello Bagan (3 nights) 54000 ABC Hostel Inle Lake (1 night) 11000 Four Rivers Youth Hostel (3 nights) 45000 TOTAL MMK460,175 (~USD350)