How to Plan Your Time in Burma + Itinerary
[Author’s note 2017: Please consider the impact of your visit and the plight of the Rohingya when making your decision to go to Myanmar.]
What you will see in Burma (Myanmar): men in skirt-like longyi, women and children with thanaka paste on their faces, red betelnut-stained sidewalks, lady monks clad in pink, horse carts as a main form of transportation.
What you won’t see in Burma: Starbucks. McDonald’s. Hardly any ATMs. Tourist infrastructure.
Burma, to me, is one of the most exciting places on Earth to visit at this moment. A friend and I remarked that the experience was how we imagined traveling fifty years ago might have been. In many ways sheltered from the rest of the world until recent years, the country retains a raw, unfiltered quality — unsullied by mass tourism.
Two Weeks In Burma/Myanmar
The challenges of planning and executing travel in Burma, while steep at times – offer the reward of experiences (and conversations with locals) you just can’t get elsewhere on the planet.
So without further adieu, let’s dive in. Whether you have two, three, or four weeks to spend in Burma…you won’t forget your time there.
Baseline Burma Trip: Two Weeks
This trip is the “Golden Kite” classic itinerary, featuring the highlights.
[tabs slidertype=”left tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Days 1-2[/tabtext] [tabtext]Day 3[/tabtext] [tabtext]Days 4-6[/tabtext] [tabtext]Days 7-9[/tabtext] [tabtext]Days 10-13 [/tabtext] [tabtext]Day 14[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab](BANGKOK): It makes the most sense to begin most trips to Burma with a stop in Bangkok, Thailand – both for transit and visa acquisition. You’ll need at least a day to arrive and a day (minimum) to collect your visa. Outside of preparing your visa material for the consulate, take time to enjoy one of Asia’s capital cities and at the least – do yourself a favor and eat some street food already.[/tab] [tab]YANGON: Journeys in and out of Burma all originate in Yangon. It’s a great introduction to the country, and a place to get acquainted with local markets and teahouses before heading out.[/tab] [tab]MANDALAY: Burma’s other hub, a large city with many small treasures in and around the area. A highlight is the U Bein bridge, the world’s largest teak bridge, in nearby Amarapura. Go for sunset, bring your camera, and keep your eyes open and ready to see some beauty.[/tab] [tab]BAGAN: Experiencing Bagan can be summed up as follows: temples for days. Bike, horse cart, or drive (though I recommend the prior two) around 1,500 temples. A good guide can recommend the ones not to miss. Be sure to catch one at sunset.
[/tab] [tab]INLE LAKE: Inle is often a traveler’s favorite place in Burma for a reason. Spend at least a day out on the lake, cruising past floating gardens, markets, and artisans. You won’t want to miss the The mountains that surround are a great place to trek or day hike. [/tab] [tab]Back to Yangon: You’ll likely want to spend two days in Yangon, and it’s wise to place one of those days at the end of your trip to give yourself a cushion for onward travel.
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If Three Weeks…Add:
[tabs slidertype=”left tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Kyaiktiyo[/tabtext] [tabtext]Kalaw[/tabtext] [tabtext]More days in each place[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab]A religious site and pilgrimage for the Burmese, it’s also an interesting sight for any eyes to behold. Legend has it that the rock is balanced on a strand of Buddha’s hair. Takes some effort to get there (buses from Yangon, followed by transport arrangement or massive hike up the hill it’s perched on) but offers a different side of traveling in Burma that I found to be particularly memorable. [/tab] [tab]This is the place to be if you’re hoping to do any trekking while in Burma. Three days treks that end in Inle Lake are particularly popular, so it would be wise to add this in between Bagan and Inle if it suits you![/tab] [tab]Slow down the pace of your trip, and add days to each of the places in the baseline itinerary. I found the most excursions available in Mandalay and Inle Lake. Mandalay has Amarapura, Inwa, and Mingun nearby to explore. Inle is also a great place to spend some more time just relaxing and enjoying Shan (the region) food.[/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]
If Four Weeks…Add:
[tabs slidertype=”left tabs”] [tabcontainer] [tabtext]Mount Popa[/tabtext] [tabtext]Ngapali Beach[/tabtext] [/tabcontainer] [tabcontent] [tab]A day trip (roughly 50 km) from Bagan that will most likely require hiring a car. The climb to the top takes 2-3 hours but offers magnificent views.[/tab] [tab]Burma’s beach offering. I personally did not journey there, as I felt beaches could be experienced elsewhere in Southeast Asia and other parts of Burma could not. If you have the time, it does look like a beautiful place to relax.[/tab] [/tabcontent] [/tabs]*Final two photographs sourced from Creative Commons
If your visa is taken care of, or you decide not to get it in Bangkok – add in a short trip to Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock) at the end of the plan, in place of the first two days in Bangkok.
If short on time, you will want to travel this itinerary by air. You will more than likely need to book it all upon arrival in Yangon. I used Santa Maria Travel on 32nd Street.
Travel information is limited. I found it key to read up on Burma as much as I could before arriving. The only guidebook available, Lonely Planet’s Myanmar, provides a great base of information – but you may want to supplement it with up-to-date knowledge, as the country is changing more rapidly than the editions can keep up with.
I have several posts with information in draft form, but until they’ve arrived — here are a few I found particularly useful:
What I referenced most: Wikitravel for Myanmar, especially accommodations in individual cities.
Visas: How to Get a Myanmar Visa in Bangkok on TwoTravelholics . Detailed instructions with visuals. A great resource! Update: Travelers from more than 100 nations can now apply for an e-visa or visa on arrival if transiting through Yangon International Airport (as well as a few others.)
What to wear: Ode to My Burmese Longyi on Legal Nomads (following this advice made my trip.)
This book was my in-country reading this time around, and I really enjoyed it.
And this award-winning piece is one I wrote about an encounter in Mandalay, for travel editor Don George.
Finally…be social! Finding other travelers online, whether through Twitter, Instagram, or friends was the best source of relevant information of all. (I hope this Burma itinerary has been helpful for you!)
Is Burma/Myanmar on your travel wish list?
Interested in seeing more posts like these? One of the most useful (yet somehow difficult to find) resources for travel is a flexible itinerary from someone who has been there. Hence, I’ve committed to sharing my 2, 3, 4-week itinerary suggestions here on PTT. Where would you like to see next?