Myanmar: A Two-Week Itinerary

Myanmar: A Two-Week Itinerary

Photogenic Burma should top any Southeast Asia backpacking trip. Here’s how to take in the country’s golden pagodas, verdant landscapes, and quaint lake and riverside villages on an intrepid itinerary by road and rail:

Yangon, Day 1-2

Yangon boasts a vibrance, colonial charm, and serenity few Southeast Asian cities could match.

Wonder the city’s gridded streets passing grandiose 19th Century British architecture, from the High Court Building to the Strand Hotel. Then head eastward down the famous Mahabandola Road, which is flanked by alleyways teaming with busy foodstalls and outdoor bookstores. 

Circle the golden Sule Paya temple in Yangon’s heart, and continue on toward Theingyi Zei to revel in a chaotic open air market, replete with strong spices and colorful legumes, before haggling in Bogyoke Aung San Market. 

Dip into any teahouse for a sweet milk tea. Check out Rangoon Tea House for a tasty thali and unique chai beer, and dine heartily at  Danu Phyu Daw Saw Yee Myanma Restaurant, one of the city’s best Burmese eateries.

No trip to Yangon is complete without visiting Shwedagon Pagoda, a gilded stupa which dominates the city skyline. It’s easy to spend hours just watching Yangonites socialise here while velvet robed monks pass by as the pagoda glows-up as evening descends.

 

Bagan, Day 3-5

 

Bagan, Myanmar
(Photo Bagan1 Credit: Tej Parikh)

Don’t let the 10-hour coach journey from Yangon be a deterrence. Bagan, an ancient city of thousands of Buddhist temples and pagodas, spread across a 26-sq-mile area, is one of the world's greatest archeological sites.

Bagan Sunset
(Photo Bagan sunrise Credit: Tej Parikh)

The best way to explore it is by e-bike. Scoot out early in the morning and late afternoon, when the heat is less intense, to find the perfect vantage point for sunrise and sunset atop one of Bagan’s many temples (Ananda, Dhammayangyi and Shwesandaw are among the must see).

 

Mandalay, Day 6

U Bein Bridge
(Photo U Bein Bridge Credit: Tej Parikh)

After around 6 hours by coach, you’ll reach Mandalay, Myanmar’s second-largest city, and an urban gateway to its northern countryside. 

Head for U Bein Bridge, for spectacular views across Taungthaman Lake. The 1.2-kilometre rickety bridge is considered to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. It's also an ideal spot for people-watching particularly as dusk falls and the frenzied activity on the narrow pedestrian bridge peaks.

 

Pyin Oo Lwin, Day 7-8

Anisakan Falls
(Photo Anisakan Falls Credit: Tej Parikh)

A 4-hour train journey will take you to Pyin Oo Lwin, a scenic hill-town. 

Hire a bike and take in the old colonial buildings in this former British administrations summer capital. Wonder through the nearby Myoma market to sample some warming shan noodle soup. 

When you’re energized, take the 40 minute hike from Anisakan town on an undulating rocky path to spectacular Anisakan falls, an ideal spot to have a dip, picnic, and chill. Then take a leisurely stroll through the vibrant 177-hectare National Kandawgyi Botanical Gardens, home to hundreds of indigenous flora and fauna. 

 

Hsipaw, Day 9-10

Hsipaw, Little Bagan
(Photo Hsipaw, Little Bagan, Credit: Tej Parikh)

The 6-hour rickety journey to Hsipaw is well worth it. Not long after departing Pyin Oo Lwin you will pass over the incredible Gokteik Viaduct, a 700m long river bridge, and the highest in Myanmar. You’ll also stop in remote villages, where vendors selling an array of Burmese snacks will trot on board.

Hsipaw is a microcosm of rural Myanmar. Venture to the decaying stupas of Little Bagan, and the nearby Bamboo Buddha monastery. Then chill with a Myanma beer on the banks of the Myitnge river at the simply-named River View Food Lounge, before cycling up to Sunset Hill, which overlooks the town, for a stunning panorama. Check out Hsipaw’s hectic central street in the evening for bustling food stalls and music concerts. 

Wake up early for the manic morning market, with its eye-catching legumes, fragrant spices, and clucking chickens. Then grab a bike and head south through the extensive rice paddy fields and quaint Shan villages, on the northern banks of the Myitnge.

 

Lashio, Day 11 

Lashio is your last stop on the Myanma railway. There’s little to do in this town, and it is usually the furthest northern point in Shan state many tourists are allowed to go unassisted. Check out the town’s sprawling market, but rest-up for a long day of travel ahead. (Air travel is quite the experience in Myanmar, particularly from Lashio’s makeshift airport ‘terminal’.)

 

Inle Lake, Day 12-14

Inle Lake
(Photo Inle Lake, Credit: Tej Parikh)

When you land at Inle Lake, base yourself in Nyaungshwe at its northern edge. Begin with a lake boat tour, taking in the best of the sunrise hustle, from majestically gliding fishermen, floating gardens, and river markets, to the scores of stilted villages. Climb up to the ornate Inn Dein and Phaung Daw Oo pagodas.

Back on terra firma, circle the lake by bike. Pedal hard up to the quaint Maing Thauk forest monastery, a hidden gem away from the hubbub of the lake for some peace and quiet, and panoramic views. Grab lunch at the Bamboo Hut, before settling down for some wine tasting at the Red Mountain vineyard. For sunset, cycle toward Inle Boat station where on the bend of Yone Gyi street you’ll find an unassuming smoothie shack with the best views of Inle Lake’s surrounding rice fields.

 

Yangon, Day 15

Fly back to Yangon for your return home.

 

By Tej Parikh

Tej is an international affairs and travel journalist. His work is archived at The Global Prism. He tweets @tejparikh90 and @theglobalprism.