When we set out on our world trip, our first destination was set on Myanmar. I’ll be honest, I didn’t know much about the country or its marvels beforehand 😳 So I asked my friend Google to help me out and I soon discovered there was a ton of stuff to see. I also learned the country is not the easiest to visit and still has some parts that are closed to tourism, because of the occasional skirmish going on with the Rohingya moslim ‘rebels’. (read more about it on Wiki)
For this itinerary we’ll be focusing (mostly) on the non-conflict zones 😎
After having used every single day of our 28 days visa (easy online process btw), I can honestly tell you that Myanmar is a must go to destination! The people are really friendly and boy, there is A LOT to see! If you’re into ancient history and temples that is. If you are looking for an easy-going holiday by the pool, Myanmar might not be for you. Try neighboring Thailand instead 😉
Even with the full 28 days, we still feel we had to rush certain parts and even had to skip a few ideas as well. But all-in-all this must be the best 28 days itinerary to get the most out of your stay. It does include 2 flights, because traveling over land is just not always possible or just plain obnoxious. (image being in a small local bus for 16 hours on a bumpy road, on half a seat with 20 smelly locals and several noisy chickens next to you and a coiled spring pushing up your ass, all during the night! 😥 )
OK, let’s dive right into it: 28 days itinerary
This is the itinerary that we are going to follow. Blue routes are over land, orange routes are the flights. Click on the blue letters to get more info.
Part 1 – Kalaw to Inle Lake trekking – 5 days
You would fly on Mandalay and directly take the train to Kalaw. It goes in 2 stretches with an overnight stay in a super small village called Thazi. You don’t actually want to spend the night in Thazi, but alas you have no choice 🙄
Once you get to Kalaw, take some time to stroll around the old colonial town. It’s nicer than you would expect and surprisingly cool compared to the hot climate in the rest of the region. You might need to wear off the jetlag and you will need some rest for the coming days! 😀
Finally: embark on your 3 days trekking to Inle Lake with a great local guide and sleep in real homestays. We did the trekking with Rohit. He knows the area really well and was always smiling. He just started his own agency. Find Rohit Trekking on Facebook. Or alternatively check out Eagle Trekking.
The trekking takes you past awesome hill views, plenty of rice and other agricultural fields, past local villages and schools. And you get to spend the night with the local families. The food is freshly prepared for you and just amazing 😀 (read my separate Kalaw to Inle Lake blog post for more details)
Or check out my video to get an impression: (you’re welcome 😉 )
Part 2 – exploring Inle Lake – 3 days
Once you get to Inle Lake, you’ll probably find some accommodation in the village of Nyaung Shwe across the lake. There are plenty of nice restaurants and bars. So perfect to catch your breath. We stayed at Motel Album.
Next days be sure to rent some bicycles and make your way around the lake. There are a lot of ancient religious sites to be found.
I would recommend biking to Shwe Inn Dein (don’t forget the ancient ruins next to it) and then coming back by boat. You can make a stop at the Nga Phe Kyaung wooden monastery. Make sure you return late enough to see the sunset while crossing the lake. Magnificent 💡 😉
Next day, bike up to the Maing Thauk wooden pier to gaze at the boats and then up to the Maing Thauk Taw Ya monastery. The sunset view from the lookout next to the monastery, is just incredible! Trust me 😉
Last day you can bike to the beautiful Shwe Yan Pyay wooden monastery in the morning to learn about the local monks for example and then it’s back to Mandalay with the night bus.
In case my horror story in the beginning put you off. Don’t worry, Myanmar has the best buses I’ve seen in my whole life. The VIP bus is a 2+1, meaning on the left side you have 2 seats next to each other, an aisle in the middle and 1 more seat on the right. The seats are super comfortable and spacious. There is a cool breeze from the airco and in front of you, you’ll see an entertainment screen with the latest movies and series. Oh yeah, “do you also want a snack with that free bottle of water sir?” It’s like traveling business with a decent airline 😎 *dozes off in his blanket*
Part 3 – Discovering the caves of Monywa – 4 days
From Mandalay you take a local bus directly to Monywa. It’s a small, low comfort bus, but it’s quite alright for a couple of hours. The bus takes you out of the usual touristic route and we found ourselves to be the only white tourists in town. (little nap in the afternoon was needed 😛 we stayed at Hotel Ba Thaung)
Next morning, rent a scooter and head across the river to Po Wing Taung. This remote location hides one of the wonders of Myanmar: 500 caves carved out into the rocks! 😯 Each of these caves is richly decorated with Buddha statues and beautiful colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings. And on top of that, you’re virtually alone here!
They call this the Petra of Myanmar, but it reminded me more of the Ajanta caves in India. However the caves here are more numerous and smaller than in Ajanta. In any case, this is a MUST VISIT 😮
While you are in Monywa, I recommend you also check out the Thanbodday Paya, a pagoda with almost 600.000 Buddha statues! And the giant Buddha statues. Not far off, you’ll also find Bodhi Tataung, the garden of a thousand Buddha’s 😉
Part 4 – Ancient capitals surrounding Mandalay – 2 days
Back to Mandalay with the bus! Not much to see here actually. I don’t understand why anyone would include the city in their highlights. It was really disappointing. So we skip it all together and check out the surroundings. Because it has a lot of historical value with numerous ancient capitals in the vicinity.
I recommend to charter a tuk-tuk for 1 day and watch the sunrise at U-Bein bridge. The largest wooden bridge in the world (1,2km).
Then head down to Sagaign – the religious capital – and visit some of the amazing hilltop monasteries, such as U-min Thonze and Soon U Ponya Shin. Don’t get me started on those names, argh 😆 however the views are just marvelous!
In the afternoon you should go to Ava/Inwa (same place, old name vs new name). Which is a real treat if you like old ruins. There are plenty, scattered all over the ancient site. We actually found a tuk-tuk driver who was allowed there. If not, you’ll be stuck on those annoying horse carts (warning: tourist trap 😛 )
Next day you could opt to jump on the ferry and visit Mingun, with the beautiful white Hsinbuyme pagoda. Totally insta-famous, because literally every travel couple takes the same picture there. And I’ll admit, it’s a nice picture. But the line of selfie’ing Instagrammers takes away a bit from the experience. So up to you 😉
That’s it for part 1. Tomorrow I’ll post part 2, which will take us south to discover some more of the historical beauties that Myanmar has to offer! Read on with part 2 here.