Whether you’re backpacking Myanmar or touring in a more upscale manner, this travel guide will help you plan the best Myanmar itinerary. We’ve highlighted the favorite destinations, temples, natural areas, markets and more that should be top of mind when traveling to this mesmerizing country. Become a part of the pulsating Burmese lifestyle in Yangon, hike to Lake Inle, visit floating villages and explore temple after temple.
Destinations to Include in the Best Myanmar Itinerary:
When you arrive at the Yangon International Airport, you’ll be about a one-hour drive from the city center of Sule Pagoda. Barter for a fair taxi price (around USD$6) and head into town. Top sights to hit while you’re in Yangon include the Shwedagon Pagoda. If it’s the dry season, plan to visit early in the morning before the mercury starts to soar. Explore, meditate and perhaps visit the nearby People’s Park – kids will love the amusement park rides. Return in the evening to see the pagoda all lit up.
Visit Bogyoke Market for Shan noodles and local delicacies, like fresh fruit and sticky rice cakes. The frenetic pace of the market will move you right along from stall to stall, where you’ll find every kind of souvenir, from puppets to prayer beaches, as well as stunning jade jewelry. You can even pick up a custom-made longyi, the typical wide-cloth covering worn by the Burmese. Then, explore Chinatown and shop for art and books along Pansodan Road.
Sule Pagoda is another excellent place to find a meal or snack – there is plenty of street food to choose from. Grab what looks good, then visit one of the many palm readers at the edge of the pagoda. Cheap Myanmar beer and barbecued meat can be found along 19th Street.
If you have a second day in Yangon, visit the nearby artificial Kandawgyi Lake in the morning – a lovely and peaceful way to start the day before sightseeing. If possible, visit at sunset, when the glittering Shwedagon Paya is reflecting upon the waters of the lake (also known as Royal Lake). If you have time, enjoy a meal and a royal cultural show at the striking and colorful Karaweik Palace, a reproduction of a royal barge. Visit the floating Shin Upagot shrine, east of the Kandawgyi Palace Hotel on the southern end of the lake. Later, end your day in the opposite mood, dancing the night away at local nightlife hotspots like the Atlas Lounge.
Breathtaking Bagan sits on a curve of the Ayeyarwady River and is home to countless temples and pagodas – and numerous Burmese restaurants. When you arrive, consider renting an electric bike (widely available throughout the city) for exploring and visiting the temples. The absence of car motors makes the temple visits much more pleasing. Another option and definitely a favorite? See Bagan by hot-air balloon!
However you plan to do it, wake up early, even 4:30 AM, to get to the Bagan Archaeological Zone at sunrise. The photography opportunities at dawn are incredible and well worth the early alarm. This vast area (26 square miles) contains amazing ruins. If you’d like a free tour by a local expert, contact the Ostello Bello hostel in New Bagan.
When you get hungry, you’re in luck – the local Bagan cuisine is fantastic, and everywhere. There are street food stalls and upscale restaurants. Don’t leave without trying the national dish of mohinga, a soup-based typical breakfast meal; deep-fried shan tofu; samosas; and lahpet thoke (tea leaf salad).
Move on to the Mani-Sithu Market, a nice antidote to the temple scene. Browse Burmese handicrafts, snacks, souvenirs, faux lacquerware and more at this market at the end of Lanmadaw Road. Look for thanaka, cosmetic paste made from ground bark used to create the face mask that many Burmese adults and children wear. The market is open daily (except Sunday) from 6 AM to about 5 PM.
Take a trip to the massive Mount Popa volcano in the center of Myanmar, about 30 miles southwest of Bagan. There is a shrine and monastery atop the volcano, at 2,500 feet, accessible via 777 steps. The shrine is known as the center of Nat spirit activity (spirits of humans who have met tragic ends) in Myanmar. In addition to the monastery, you’ll see your fair share of the estimate 2,000 Rhesus macaque monkeys who live here (watch out for monkey poop!).
Kalaw and Inle Lake
The hill station of Kalaw in the western Shan State is your jumping-off point for trekking and hiking in Myanmar. Admire the original colonial-era architecture, tree-lined streets and hill views, then set off on a multi-day trek to Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe) or Pindaya. A typical trek is two to four days with a guide. You’ll stay in local homestays in villages as you pass cabbage farms, walk along railroad tracks, travel through rice fields and more. Once you arrive, hop on a boat tour to see Thaung Thut, a village with lotus weaving, as well as local cigar and silver-making factories. Marvel at the leg-rowing farmers in their carved canoes, snap photographs of floating villages and partake in the local food, based on Chinese spices, fresh herbs and lake fish.
Explore the area surrounding Nyaung Shwe by bike (it’s about USD$1/day). Check out Mingala Market, the Pindaya Caves, the Tofu Palace, the hot springs and natural swimming pools, the Khaung Daing village and the Red Mountain Winery.
If you’re trekking to off-the-beaten-path, cave-formed Pindaya in the Shan Hills of the eastern Myelat region, you can see some of the more than 8,000 individual Buddha images in the shadowy caverns of the area. The town of Pindaya is a cool place to hang out between the peaks and on the water.
A city brimming with ancient relics, bustline local markets and bicyclists, Mandalay is definitely part o the best Myanmar itinerary. Rent a bike for the day and head out to see the top sights. Favorites include:
Jade Market: Bargain with merchants for wares at this lively market. There’s an entrance fee to this crowded market (often not charged), plus you can also just sit outside and peer inside to see the craftworkers cutting and polishing jade.
Mandalay Hill: Climb up this 760-foot hill, past pagodas and monks, for fantastic city views, particularly at sunset. The Sutaungpyei Pagoda is at the top of the hill – you can observe local people pouring water over the Buddha statues, a traditional Buddhist ritual. Back down at the foot of the hill, explore the Atumashi Monastery, the all-wood Shwenandaw Monastery, the Kuthodaw Paya, the Sandamuni temple, the Kyauktawgyi Buddha Temple.
Shwe In Bin Kyaung: Take a quiet moment to enjoy this peaceful teak monastery. In stark contrast to the typical gold-plated temples and monasteries of the region, this teak building is supported by tree-trunk poles and adorned with engraved balustrades and roof cornices.
Mahamuni Paya: See the 2,000-year-old, 13-foot-tall, seated Buddha and the many who come to worship here. Gold leaf has been applied for centuries, leaving a six-inch layer of pure gold. The face is polished each morning at 4:30 AM.
Mandalay Palace: Explore this 1990s recreation of the last kings of Myanmar. It is composed of more than 40 wooden buildings, including a spiral, wooden-walled watchtower. Check out the main throne room and its gilt filigree pyramid. From the road outside the palace, you can see the tomb of King Mindon and a large drum tower.
Myanmar Marionettes: Enjoy a renowned puppet performance.
Shwekyimyint Paya: Marvel at Buddha images that were collected by the kings of Myanmar.
Gold Pounders’ District: Many of the gold-leaf sheets you see places on sacred Buddha images in Mandalay have been pounded in workshops in this area. Check out the two main showrooms: King Galon and Golden Rose. You can learn about the process and purchase souvenirs, if you like.
Mahamuni Pagoda/Mahamuni Buddha Temple: Add this striking and important Buddhist pilgrimage site to your Myanmar itinerary. You’ll find the Mahamuni Buddha image, the most highly revered Buddha image in the country, inside the 1785 pagoda. Learn more about the history of Buddhism and see maps depicting the faith’s spread during the last 25 centuries at the Mahamuni Museum on the temple grounds. The pagoda is located between 82nd and 84th streets and is about a USD$4 taxi ride from downtown Mandalay.
Ancient Cities: While in Mandalay, visit the remains of the ancient cities of Amarapura, Sagaing, Innwa and Mingun. There are a number of interesting sites and monuments among them. Your ticket to the Mandalay Archaeological Zone allows entrance to the sites.
From Yangon, head east to soaring Mount Kyauktiyo, home to the one of the most sacred Buddhist relics in Myanmar, the Golden Rock. The huge stone defies gravity on its perch on a ledge above lush forest and hillsides. The story goes that it is suspended by a single thread of Buddha’s hair. You can tackle the winding staircase to get a closer look.
Looking for the beach? Head to the yellow-white sands of Ngapali on the Bay of Bengal. Local restaurants offer catch-of-the-day seafood specials and there are plenty of water sports to keep you busy for hours.
If you’re backpacking Myanmar and want to try something a little less known than Kalaw, go for Hsipaw, the former royal capital of the Shan people. In between hikes into the mountains, get a feel for local culture at the Central Market or the Shan Palace.
This rustic town is a favorite of those backpacking Myanmar for its great hostels and guesthouses with views of the dramatic peaks and the waterside setting on the Thanlwin River. There are plenty of coffee houses and beer bars on Zaydann Road and roadside eateries to fill you up for hiking. Explore farther and visit the hilltop monastery of Mount Zwegabin.
A large city with a more relaxed feel than, say, Yangon, Mawlamyine is deep in Mon territory near the border of Thailand. Feel the cultural blend as you tour the Central Market, the Shampoo island with its many interesting Buddhist shrines, despite the funny name, and the Uzina Paya stupa.
Also known as the Myeik Archipelago and the Pashu Islands, the Mergui Archipelago in the Andaman Sea is a delightful eclectic Burmese destination. There are more than 800 islets in total, so you’ll find everything from secluded white-sand beaches to monkey-filled mangroves to fishing villages and communities of sea nomads.
An alternative to Ngapali – though not as pristine – Ngwe Saung enjoys an enviable location on the edge of the Bay of Bengal. There are plenty of five-star resorts to go around, as well as great Southeast Asian seafood at a smattering of shoreside restaurants.
Unlike any other destination on the best Myanmar itinerary, Naypyidaw was built and proclaimed capital by then Burmese military leader Than Shwe. Though it largely failed, you can take a look at the huge parliament complexes and the colossal golden Uppatasanti Pagoda.
Another under-the-radar Myanmar destination, Mrauk U is in the dusty Rakhine State in the far western portion of the country. Come here for stupas and temples and a look at the Arakanese religious building. The area is thought to have been an important merchant center during the late Middle Ages.
When Is the Best Time to Visit Myanmar?
Ready to plan the best Myanmar itinerary? It’s important to visit during a comfortable time of year for the activities you are envisioning. The best time to visit is during the dry season, from October to May. The temperatures range from 72 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and the entire country is accessible. Can’t make it then? Travel any month except notoriously wet September. Keep in mind that the beaches of Ngapali are closed between June and September.