Shwedagon Pagoda

Myanmar itinerary and highlights 2017

I first visited Myanmar in December 1996. We spent Christmas Day on the atmospheric and quiet Inle Lake. In Bagan we road bikes through empty, dirt roads and met few tourists at the (not yet ”restaured) temples. We passed through landshapes where people lived as in the European middle ages. All seemed to follow the same itinerary during the allowed 14 days visit: Yangon-Mandalay-Bagan-Inle Lake-Yangon. I remember it as one of the most special countries I ever visited.

In 2017, I mainly returned to see those parts of the country, which were not open to tourists in 1996: Mrauk U and surroundings in Rakhine. Hsipaw (and the hill tribes) as well as walking from Kalaw to Inle Lake. As always, I travel independently without guide and make arrangements as I go.

Around Hsipaw
Traditional village, Shan State

Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive Yangon, visit Schwedagon Pagoda.
Schwedagon pagoda is timeless and had lost nothing in the past 20 years. Still the most impressive pagoda I have ever seen and should clearly be nominated a UNESCO world heritage site.

Shwedagon Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda

Day 2: Walk around Yangon
Considering  all tourists spend at least a day here, Yangon seems relatively free from tourists. The somewhat touristy Bogyoke Aung San marked is best avoided, but fabulously authentic markets and streetfoods are available on every corner. Of the major cities in South-East Asia Yangon is my favourite.

Eating like the locals
Street food, Yangon

Day 3: Fly to Sittwe, local pickup (5 h) to Mrauk U

Traveling like the locals, Rakhine State
Traveling like the locals, Rakhine State

Day 4: Visit Mrauk U temples

Mrauk U
Mrauk U

Day 5: Boat trip to Shin villages

Woman with the traditional Chin tattoo
Woman with the traditional Chin tattoo

Day 6: Bus from Mrauk U to Kyaukpadang (1 h from Bagan)
The visit to Mrauk U and Rakhine was the highlight of the trip and described in a separate post

Shin villages on a river near Mrauk U
Shin villages on a river near Mrauk U

Day 7: Local pickup to Mt Popa and hitchhike down to Bagan

Mt Popa
Mt Popa

The temple on top of Mount Popa is the most important nat temple in Myanmar on top of an extinct volcano.
Day 8: Visit Bagan temples
The re-visiting of Bagan was the major disappointment of the entire trip. Quite frankly I find the Disney-like restoration of the site very disturbing and with the massive tourist influx in huge  buses moving between the temples, the site has lost much of its charm.

View over the Bagan plains
View over the Bagan plains

Day 9: Plane to Mandalay and visit Mandalay
Obviously the boat trip on the Irrawaddy is the way I´d recommend for traveling between Bagan and Mandalay. However I already did that in 1996, it takes 12 hour upstream and the plane took 20 minutes and cost less than 50 US dollars.
Day 10: Visit Mandalay
Mandalay is as wide-spread as I remember it and the tourists do not seem to take up much space. The obvious thing to do is to visit Sagaing, Mingun and perhaps Innwa on a day-trip. Which I did in 1996 and did not feel like repeating.

Mandalay street food
Mandalay street food

Day 11: Shared taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin and visit to the Botanical Garden
Shared taxis are of great value: From Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin the price was 4,5 dollars, with pick-up and drop-off at your hotel. The attraction of Pyin Oo Lwin are the Botanical Gardens, special in the context of Myanmar but probably not otherwise a major sight.

Pyin Oo Lwin
Pyin Oo Lwin

Day 12: Train to Hsipaw
The 7 hour train ride to Hsipaw passes the famous Gokteik viaduct as well as seemingly untouched villages.

Gokteik viaduct between Mandalay and Hsipaw
Gokteik viaduct between Mandalay and Hsipaw

Day 13: Hike to Pankam Village
An atmospheric village walk described in a separate post.

Around Hsipaw
Around Hsipaw

Day 14: Visit around Hsipaw village and the market
Although Hsipaw is now on the tourist trail, it is by no means overcrowded.

Hsipaw market
Hsipaw market

Day 15: Shared taxi to Lashio, visit market and plane to Heho, overnight in Pindaya
Lashio is very close to the Chinese border. Almost no English is spoken here, however a small bakery right next to the market served the best caffé latte I had on my entire trip.

Yazegui village
Yazegui village

Day 16: Hike from Pindaya to Yasegyi village and visit Pindaya caves
The Pindaya Caves are a highlight of any visit to Myanmar and the hike up to Yazegui village is lovely.

Pindaya Cave Temple
Pindaya Cave Temple

Day 17: Pick-up to Kalaw and visit town
Kalaw village really is not much of a place to visit, the attractions are the hills outside town.
Day 18:  Kalaw-Inle Lake hike, stay overnight in village

Kalaw-Inle Lake
Kalaw-Inle Lake

Day 19:  Kalaw-Inle Lake and stay in Nyaungschwe
Walking from Kalaw to Inle Lake was another highlight of the trip and described in a separate post.

Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail
Kalaw-Inle Lake: On the trail

Day 20: Visit Inle Lake and overnight in hotel on the lake
Inle Lake has also developed into something of a tourist trap: Thousands of boats ply the lack, hundreds of craft-shops are set up for tourists around the lake and the former stilt-town of Nyaungschwe has developed into a nightmare of concrete and construction.

Traditional fisherman on Inle Lake
Traditional fisherman on Inle Lake

Day 21: Visit market and overnight in hotel on the lake
At the far Southern end of Inle Lake, where fewer tourists come, more authentic villages may be visited. But the time is long gone where Inle Lake was an unspoilt destination.

Kayan woman (Long Neck Tribe), Inle Lake
Kayan woman (Long Neck Tribe), Inle Lake

Day 22: Plane to Ngapali Beach
The most developed beach resort in Myanmar. The beach itself is great, lined with small shops selling grilled fish as well as big resorts.
Day 23: Ngapali Beach

Ngapali Beach
Ngapali Beach

Day 24: Plane to Yangon
Again, the plane takes less than 1 hour and costs less than 70 dollars. The bus takes more than 20 hours.
Day 25: Yangon
Day 26: Leave Myanmar

Highlights:

  • Mrauk U and the Chin villages
  • The hill tribe villages around Hsipaw
  • Walking from Kalaw to Inle Lake
  • The Pindaya cave temples
  • Schwedagon pagoda
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