I’ll have to admit that Myanmar was a bumpy road. I went from ‘I want to leave this country immediately’ to ‘wow, that was quite an adventure, I am happy I did it!’. So if anyone would ask me whether they should go to Myanmar, I would say ‘for sure’. However that being said, as with any other country in the world, please be open minded. Myanmar is still so untouched by tourism and can be quite overwhelming! On the other hand, it means that you’ll get to experience ‘the real culture’ not ‘let’s drink f**king strong buckets and pretend we are exploring Thailand’ kind of culture.
So this was my 10 day itinerary and its highlights. Feel free to copy it! This could easily be done in 10 days if you are travelling during the day or it could be squeezed into a week if you are taking night buses.
2 days exploring the temples in Yangon
I said this before and I will say it again, I didn’t particularly enjoy Yangon. I don’t know whether it was because I arrived there on the last day of Songkran and I didn’t feel like I wanted to be soaking wet for the 4th day in the row or because I booked a terrible hostel which was ridden with bedbugs and then spent the whole day walking around the city with my backpack trying to find an alternative accommodation. Either way, if you are starting your trip in Yangon I would suggest not spending too much time there.
But if you do, make sure you visit Shwedagon pagoda which apparently is 2500 years old and enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair; and Sule Pagoda which is located in the centre of Yangon and is the focal point of Burmese politics. I didn’t get to do this but I know that people also usually suggest visiting Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple where you can see a massive reclining Buddha image and also the circle train which takes you around the suburbs of Yangon.
If you still have time to kill and have already seen enough temples, pagodas and stupas (which I definitely did after 2 months of travelling through South East Asia) then indulge in the high life. I know, I know, I am not the best backpacker but how can you say no to a couple of Negronis at Shangri La Hotel when they cost you £2? The answer is, you can’t.
3 days touring the Inle Lake
I felt like Inle Lake saved my Myanmar experience. I believe a lot of people arrive in Kalaw and then trek to Inle Lake which I’m sure should be amazing, however if you are pressed for time then you can easily take an overnight bus from Yangon and arrive in Nyaungshwe the next morning.
I would highly recommend taking a one day boat tour organised by Ostello Bello (I’m not too sure whether you can sign up if you are not staying there but it doesn’t hurt to ask!). It’s looong and I promise you, you will be exhausted from the heat by the end of the day but it’s so worth it! Even if you won’t appreciate all the tourist traps such as local cigar and silver shops or a number of pagodas, nothing will beat the views of those tiny wooden houses on stilts and traditional Burmese fisherman who paddle their little boats with their feet and who will happily pose for your pictures.
An alternative is to hire a bike and take a bike tour around Inle Lake or even visit some local wineries. My dear Californian friend who I met in Inle Lake and who owns a winery, didn’t particularly approve Burmese wine but I personally wouldn’t complain drinking ANY wine and just admiring the views of this stunning corner of the world.
Lastly, try some local food! There’s no better place for that than the rotating market. I say this, however, I personally wasn’t adventurous enough to do so. But even if you don’t feel like tasting local delicacies then immerse yourself into a local culture and maybe buy a longyi?
And if you fancy some vegetarian Indian food, head to Innlay Hut Indian Food house. It has a ridiculous amount of TripAdvisor reviews and his owner, as well as the cook, is probably the no.1 Eminem fan. You will hear Eminem’s lyrics in the background, his posters on the walls and the guy who will take your order will present himself as Stan. Seriously, just read TripAdvisor comments and his responses. Cracks me up! It’s honestly the funniest experience ever (even though the food wasn’t exactly up to my standards).
3 days of raiding tombs in Bagan
Hands down my favourite place in Myanmar if not the whole world! It’s an ancient city with over 2000 temples which were built back in the 11th century. I’m telling you, it’s better than Angkor Wat. Rent an e-bike and spend your days driving around and exploring all the temples and pagodas. And you know what’s the best thing about it? There are no tourists so you can explore them and have no people in your pictures! It definitely makes you feel like a tomb raider.
And make sure you wake up for the sunrise! I don’t think I’ve seen anything more beautiful than the morning fog over Bagan’s temples. Unfortunately, most of them are now closed due to an earthquake a few years ago. When I was there we were searching for hours for a temple which would provide good sunrise/sunset views and we finally found one and the only temple which is the Rooftop place (obvs very original name). You can find it on Maps.me (21.085301, 94.521889). And finally, if you don’t mind sparing $100 or more and are not afraid of heights take a morning hot air balloon ride.
2 days of sunrises and sunsets in Mandalay
Last stop on my itinerary was Mandalay and I honestly after a bit of a sh*t experience in Yangon, I didn’t have any expectations. I thought it will be similar, but the truth is, it wasn’t. It was much better.
So if you get to go to Mandalay make sure you tick Buddha’s face washing and teeth brushing ceremony off your list. Unfortunately, that means you will have another early morning as it starts around 4 am, however, there’s something extremely magical seeing almost a two hour ritual of monks washing a huge Buddha image at Mahamuni Buddha Temple. We were told that the monk who does it every morning is so dedicated to this ritual that he never leaves the city and turns up for the ceremony every morning despite his age and poor health. Also if you are a male, you have an opportunity to buy a golden leaf and apply it onto Buddha’s image. (Not sexist or anything). The coat is currently around 15cm thick.
Once you’re done with the ceremony head to the U Bein bridge to admire the sunrise. It was built at the end of the 19th century and is believed to be the oldest teakwood bridge in the world. (Well at least that’s what Wikipedia says). Go there to snap some Insta worthy pictures and hang out with the monks who cross the bridge every morning to get to the temple.
And last but not least, finish your day on the Mandalay Hill. It’s quite a trek to get there as it’s about a 30min walk up the hill but it’s definitely worth the view. Or you can be lazy like me and take a taxi (and even ask them to wait for you!). This is probably the only place I know where you are allowed to talk to young monks. I might be mistaken but I think women are not allowed to talk to Buddhist monks or at least they are not allowed to touch them or be in a close proximity to them. Though here, don’t be surprised if they approach you and ask whether they can speak to you. This is their way of practising English. I got to chat with the sweetest 16 year old monks who were so keen to learn English and also so incredibly shy! Such a mind blowing experience!
Oh Myanmar, I definitely had a love/hate relationship with you and you definitely made me very very ill but you know what? I would do it all over again.