Do you want to know how to plan Myanmar vacation?
Myanmar is a very special southeast Asian country that is opening up to the world and developing at a dizzying pace. It should be on everyone’s bucket list for travel and sooner rather than later.
With beautiful landscapes, a rich culture and a friendly populace, it offers many unforgettable travel moments. Here is how you can plan 5 amazing experiences in Myanmar.
Watch the sunset in Bagan
The ancient kingdom of Bagan held sway in the central part of what is now Myanmar from the 9th to the 13th centuries and over 2,000 temples or pagodas remain from that time to bring awe to the hearts of travelers from around the world.
It is worth spending at least two days exploring the area by e-bike (electric scooter) and it is easy to hire these (ask your hotel) for around 7,000 kyats per day. You can also hire a taxi and driver, or go by horse and cart.
There are a number of options for watching the famous sunset over the hundreds of spires. The most popular (and busiest) place is the Shwesandaw Pagoda. This is close to Old Bagan and the high viewpoint affords some incredible photographic opportunities. If you want to escape the crowds, a quieter option is the Pyathadar Pagoda and quieter still is the pagoda at North Guni.
Foreigners are required to pay a 25,000 kyat (around $20) tourist tax to visit the Bagan Archaeological Area and this is occasionally checked at the more popular monuments so carry your ticket with you. There is an office at the airport and near the boat jetty.
Getting to Bagan is either by air (there are a number of domestic airlines and the prices are reasonable), by bus or train (slow and uncomfortable but inexpensive), or by boat from Mandalay (see below).
Bagan is a very popular destination in Myanmar and during the high season (December to January) it is advisable to book accommodation in advance. This can be done online. You can stay either in Old Bagan, New Bagan, or Nyaung U. The choice of hotels and eateries in Old Bagan is limited but you are in the heart of the ancient kingdom. There are plenty of good hotels and restaurants in New Bagan and it is only 10-15 minutes by e-bike to the closest pagodas. Nyaung U is near the airport and boat jetty and has a few hotels.
Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred site for Buddhists in the whole of Myanmar and it is also incredibly beautiful. The 100-metre-high gold pagoda is part of a fascinating complex of monastic and devotional buildings that is unsurprisingly on the Unesco World Heritage Site list.
The entrance charge for the Shwedagon Pagoda is around $8. Remove your shoes at the outer entrance and dress conservatively or you will not be allowed into the precinct. Wear a shirt or shawl that covers your shoulders and a skirt or trousers that cover your knees.
The opening hours of the Shwedagon are between 4 am and 10 pm every day of the year, except on certain festival days when it is open 24 hours.
There are four main entrances and once you have entered it is traditional to walk in a clockwise direction around the pagoda. Allow several hours to explore the many sights, from dragon footprints to the shrines for each birthday on the Burmese astrological calendar.
A lovely time to visit is a few hours before sunset so you can watch the sky turn pink and the lights slowly illuminate the pagoda. Make sure you also observe the glowing Shwedagon at night from one of the many viewpoints around the city.
Go for a bike ride at Inle Lake
Inle Lake is in Myanmar’s Shan State and one of the country’s most famous beauty spots. The typical way to see the sights is on a boat cruise to see the lakeside shrines and gardens, which is easily arranged in the small town of Nyuang Shwe.
To get off the beaten track and see life in the countryside you need to get on a bike. Bikes are easily hired in Nyaung Shwe, although they are often quite basic. To go with a local guide and see rural Myanmar, join a Grasshopper Adventures day trip on a well-maintained mountain bike.
Cycle through bamboo forests and alongside rice paddies, eat in a village tea house and wave back to the friendly people. This day trip includes some scenic boat rides (with the bikes onboard) to range further afield and there is even an opportunity to spend some time kayaking on Inle Lake at the end of the day.
Catch a slow boat on the Ayeyarwaddy
The slow boat journey from Mandalay to Bagan (or from Bagan to Mandalay) takes about 10 hours and this time spent on the mighty Ayeyarwady River (sometimes spelled Irrawaddy) is a fascinating opportunity to observe and reflect on life in Myanmar.
From misty jungles near Mandalay to the golden temples of Sagaing and wide sandy beaches, you can expect beautiful landscapes and riverbank life. Watch fishermen and bargemen at work, people spreading their laundry to dry and farmers plowing the fields with Brahman cattle. Also look out for bird life.
The boats leave the Mandalay Jetty (on Strand Rd. between 35th & 26th Streets) or Nyaung U Jetty in Bagan. Tickets can be booked online and it costs around $50 per person including a simple breakfast and a hot lunch. There are daily sailings from October through to the end of February. Departure time is at 7 am and check-in is at 6 am, although it is fine to get there at 6:30 am.
Experience Myanmar’s incredible food
Myanmar is a country of many ethnicities and the variety of food reflects that. From spicy Rakhine curries to the famous tea leaf salad (laphet), there are many taste sensations to explore.
In Yangon the food scene is burgeoning and you can experience many different regional foods, as well as high-quality western food. Many are housed in restored colonial mansions or shophouses and the architecture can be as much a pleasure as the food.
Getting out of the busy city, a great place to find out more about food in Myanmar is in Mandalay, where the famous tea shops are an integral part of the social fabric.
Take a Mandalay Tea Shop tour and taste a wide variety of popular dishes, including the national breakfast dish of mohinga, as well as visiting a local market.
Make sure to try food from Shan State while traveling in Myanmar, either in Yangon or around Inle Lake. Shan cuisine is famous for its noodles and freshwater fish dishes.
About Our Guest Blogger
Natasha von Geldern (aka the Wandering Kiwi) is a travel writer and blogger passionate about making the pages of the atlas real. She has traveled to over 50 countries so far and contributes to a number of digital travel sites. She loves inspiring others to travel.