Many will tell you two to three weeks in Myanmar is enough time to explore the country. You can either heed this advice or take it with a grain of salt. Our three weeks in Myanmar were the first time in four months James and I had to abide by any sort of schedule, but we made the most of our time!
While I would have happily spent an entire month, three weeks was plenty of time to explore. If you aren’t already aware, you’ll need to apply for an e-Visa before entering the country. The cheapest flights are to enter and exit the country via Yangon International Airport. While I found it to be a bit of a headache during the pre-planning process, it ended up working out in my favor.
Since I had such a great experience and made the most of my time, I want to spread the love so you guys can too. Check out this detailed itinerary on how you can make the best of your three weeks in Myanmar!
The ultimate itinerary for three weeks in Myanmar:
Day 1-2: Yangon
In all honesty, I think 24 hours in Yangon is enough. One of the best hostels in town in 20th Street Hostel, which is smack dab in city center. The car journey from the airport is quite long. Travelers shouldn’t pay more than 4,000 kyat (~$3.50 USD) in total.
Depending on the time of day, you can either take it easy or start moving once you’ve settled into your hostel. I’ve compiled a great guide to help you find your way around Yangon. You can find that here. Once you’re ready to leave Yangon, be sure to arrange your bus tickets at your hostel or with a travel agency as your next stop should be Bagan, the beautiful ancient city.
I recommend the Elite Express bus company as it was on time, clean and super comfortable. The ticket price included tooth brushes, tooth paste, snacks and personal televisions. At 18,000 kyat ($17.30 USD), it was the cheapest, most luxurious ride we’ve ever had. The buses leave anywhere from 7 – 9 p.m. and will arrive in Bagan between 4:30 – 5:30 a.m.
The bus will not pick travelers up from their hostel. I suggest splitting the taxi fare with others. A full car (4 travelers) to to Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Station cost us 5,000 kyat each (~$4.50 USD.)
Day 3-5: Bagan
You’ll arrive in Bagan just before or after sunrise. You can either head straight to the pagodas or go to your hostel, rest and catch the sunset that evening. I chose the latter because we were quite tired, while some friends have gone straight there. There’s no right or wrong way!
The town requests that all travelers pay a 25,000 kyat (~$24.30 USD) tourist fee upon entry to the town. This sort of thing is pretty customary in Myanmar as they’re making money from tourists. Have your passport ready when purchasing the ticket. Remember to carry the pass with you for the rest of your time in Bagan.
Where to stay in Bagan
I recommend Shwe Na Di Guesthouse, which is super close to many of the main pagodas. I was surprised to discover they allowed us to eat breakfast even though we hadn’t even checked in yet. Talk about hospitality! The breakfasts are free and filling. Think samosas, fried dough with honey, fried banana, toast, a variety of jams and eggs.
But, if you want to go to the pagodas straight away, you can always head down there and still make it to breakfast. It runs from 6 to 10 a.m.
Where to eat in Bagan
My favorite restaurants in the area were Sarabha Restaurant, Weather Spoons and Yar Pyi. I loved the Burmese food at Sarabha Restaurant so much that we went twice in a row.
I would have to say my favorite meal at Sarabha Restaurant was the tea leaf salad. Before venturing to this country, I would have never imagined to use tea leaves in food. But Myanmar does, and it’s done quite well. The complex spices and the crunch of the nuts combined with the vegetables and leaves were so unique to anything I’d ever tried. Also a favorite was the Burmese tomato salad. Life changing food, man.
For those seeking familiarity, Weather Spoon’s is the place. It is an extremely popular spot for tourists during dinner time. I ate some of [what I think is] the best pizza in Southeast Asia at La Pizza, which you can read about here.
The best pagodas in Bagan
The entire reason travelers go to Bagan is for the ancient pagodas. There are around 10,000 religious monuments scattered throughout the Bagan plains . Some of them date back to the 11th century! There are several ways to explore the sites. Some travelers like to rent a private driver. Others choose a horse and buggy. The uber athletic choose bicycles. Those who want a bit of a thrill choose to rent an electric-powered scooter, also known as an e-bike.
In my opinion, I think the best way is the e-bike. It allows travelers to be more flexible and explore as much as possible. We met up with friends and had free range to stop at some of the pagodas not on our list that looked appealing along the way. Some of my favorite sites in Bagan included:
- Ananda Pagoda
- Buledi Pagoda
- Dhammayangyi Temple
- North Guni Pagoda
- Lawkaoushaung Temple
- Gawdawpalin Temple
I suggest scooting to the Shwesandaw Pagoda for sunset or sunrise views. Luckily, we were traveling during the low season. There were only a few people on the deck during both sunset and sunrise. For those traveling during high season plan your morning or evening accordingly!
Be sure to check out a photo essay of my favorite memories in Bagan that I put together. Check it out and click here!
Booking a bus ticket in Bagan
Book your bus ticket to Mandalay through your hostel or hotel once you’re ready to leave Bagan! We used the OK Express Mini Bus Service which was definitely more than just “okay.” It was a standard van, but was timely, comfortable and they gave us cold hand towels and water. The service in Myanmar rocks, man.
Day 6-7: Mandalay
Other travelers sometimes say Mandalay isn’t worth seeing. I think those people are wrong.
What to do in Mandalay
One thing we didn’t get to do that looked really interesting was a day trip to the Mingun Pagoda. The massive, an earthquake damaged the holy site over two centuries ago. The construction has never completed. It’s located about 10 kilometers outside of town on the West bank of the Irrawaddy River. This attraction is unique and definitely something I wouldn’t have missed.
One thing I enjoyed was walking the stairway to Mandalay Hill. The easiest way to spot the entrance to the climb is the two gigantic lion statues outside the main gate. Take off your shoes at the entrance and cover your shoulders and knees. This is a special place for the Burmese.
A moderately paced climb up the stairs takes about 45 minutes. However, it could be faster or slower depending on your pace. At the top you’ll see colourful and glimmering mosaic tiles, smiling faces and one of the best overlooks I’d seen in Southeast Asia.
There are groups of people who go to Mandalay Hill each day to practice their English with foreigners. Don’t be shy if they approach you – they’re just trying to learn!
This is a popular place to go mid-day and catch the sunset.
There is a foreigner fee for shoes. Toward the entrance, travelers are asked to pay a modest fee of 200 kyat, or about $.020.
Where to eat in Mandalay
I recommend Min Min’s Restaurant and stop for some dessert at the Nylon Ice Cream shop on your way back home.
Other popular places include Ko’s Restaurant and The Golden Duck. I can’t comment on either as I wasn’t a customer. They were recommended to me, though!
Where to stay in Mandalay
I recommend staying at Nylon Hotel. It was clean, comfortable and the free breakfast buffet in the morning was delicious! The buffet runs from 7 to 9 a.m. It includes samosas, noodles, rice, mixed vegetables, toast and fruits. While the hotel staff was wonderful and helpful, I will say they annoyed us a bit. James and I were really looking forward to sleeping in after days of exploring Bagan. Once the clock hit 7:00 a.m., the front desk staff called our room to inform us breakfast had started. Needless to say we were a bit grumpy and disappointed, but as many life twists go, it’s now a hilarious memory.
I highly recommend the next leg of the trip: A 12-hour train journey through the mountains. It’s worth it. One thing I suggest is booking your hostel in Hsipaw ahead of time – I’ll explain why in a bit.
Day 8: Train from Mandalay to Hsipaw
Now, what I’m about to tell those reading may not seem appealing. However, put all negative thoughts aside and trust me on this one. Travelers should ask the hotel staff if they can check out the evening of their last day in Mandalay. They should also reserve a taxi for 3:30 a.m. to the main train station on the following morning.
Once you’ve gotten that bit sorted, tuck in for an early night. Or, if you’re like me, play Plants vs. Zombies 2 until about midnight and hate yourself in the morning. Your choice.
There’s only one train station in town, so the cab driver will know exactly where to go. Be prepared to pay a little extra – about 5,000 kyat in total (~$4.30.) as it’s incredibly early. When you arrive to the train station, take the stairs immediately on your left. Turn right at the top and keep talking until you see the green ticket stand. My suggestion is to buy the “upper class” seats for 4,000 kyat. What you’re paying for is a comfortable seat as well as the opportunity to not feel like you’re going to die for the entire train ride. You’ll see what I mean.
Once the train starts moving around 4 a.m., you can relax and catch some sleep for a few more hours.
The beautiful views begin around 11 a.m. The rolling hills and lush, green mountains are absolutely breathtaking. There’s no need to buy snacks beforehand. People will be walking around selling fresh fruit, samosas and noodles. What a time to be alive, people.
My personal favorite part of the journey crossing the Goteik viaduct in Nawnghkio. There’s a lot of history to the bridge. It was the only American-made bridge built during the British Empire! It was built as a way for English to expand their influence in the region. The materials were sent to Myanmar from the United States and the steel used is from my hometown!
Day 9: Hsipaw
The train will arrive into town around 3 – 4:00 p.m. We were greeted by a man who wrote James’ name written on a sheet of paper. He gave us a complimentary ride to our hotel like we were royalty or something. I’ll take it.
Where to stay in Hsipaw
I HIGHLY recommend Hotel Lily The Home. The owner is incredible and I want to go back so I can give Lily and her dogs more hugs.
If you choose to stay at Hotel Lily The Home, you MUST wake up early enough to catch the breakfast. This place is essentially a five-star resort for those ballin’ on a budget.
I suggest booking a bus ticket to Kalaw through this hotel. The same company runs each of the buses, but the one that leaves at 4:30 p.m. is the nicest of the three.
What to do in Hsipaw
There are plenty of options to trek in this area. Burmese friends said it can be quite dangerous due to the ongoing political situation. There are still quite a few landmines nearby. There have been known accidents even among those traveling with a guide, so keep that in mind.
We chose to walk around town and check out the markets until heading back to the hotel around 3. Lily had another taxi driver pick us up and gave us each a hug goodbye. Like a true mom, she waited by the door and waved until we left the premises.
Booking a bus in Hsipaw
I’ll give you fair warning: this bus is nice but it isn’t too comfortable.
I was mostly impressed with the Indian curry we stopped for along the way. I got this meal along with a soup and a ton of side vegetables for just 2,500 kyat, or about $2.20 USD.
Day 10-11: Kalaw
The bus will arrive to Kalaw around 4:00 – 4:30 a.m. It’ll drop you off on the side of the road at this hour, so I strongly suggest booking a place to stay in advance. I’ll give you more information on that in a bit!
Where to stay in Kalaw
We stayed at Seint Hotel, which was a quick walk from where we the bus dropped us off. The service was great. The free breakfast was tasty, the beds were extremely comfortable and the staff was accommodating beyond belief. Plus, the owner has several cute dogs. Who doesn’t love dogs?
What to do in Kalaw
This town is pretty much a hiking mecca. Most people come here to do a multi-day trek through the mountains to Inle Lake. I used our first day as time to totally relax and catch up on some writing. If you’re want to trek immediately, check out Sam’s Family Restaurant that afternoon.
There are three options:
- a three day/two night trek
- a two day/one night trek
- a one day trek
Since I was feeling a bit under the weather [but still like a badass] we opted for the two-day trek.
Day 12-15: Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
These dates can obviously be altered, but the two and three day treks are generally the most popular. We chose the two day option. For 55,000 kyat (~$40.70 USD) in total, we trekked about 18 kilometers per day. All meals and accommodation were provided and our host family and guide were incredible.
Our host family is part of the Pa’O tribe. They cooked us delicious and filling meals and told us stories about their heritage. According to the couple, the people of the Pa’O tribe believe they are children of a dragon and an alchemist. Each woman rocks a colorful turban meant to represent the head of a dragon. They also wear several layers of clothing, which symbolizes the scales of their matriarch. Learning about cultures is a strong part of why I am so interested in community-based tourism. As you know, I always do my best to be a mindful traveler and recommend you do the same.
Be sure to bring a small backpack and sturdy shoes. The company will drive your luggage to Inle Lake, where you will end up post-hike. Happy trails!
Day 16-18: Inle Lake
When you first arrive to Inle Lake, it is requested that travelers pay a 12,500 kyat ($11.60 USD) fee. Remember that the community is a biosphere reserve under UNESCO and requires a bit of extra TLC.
Where to stay in Inle Lake
The Nyaung Shwe area is popular as the accommodation is close to a lot of restaurants and shops. We stayed at Inle Inn, which was a bit of a splurge but definitely worth it. The staff was super sweet, generous and full of smiles. Plus there were a few cats roaming around, and you all know how I feel about cats.
What to do in Inle Lake
- If you stay in the Nyaung Shwe village, there are dozens of pagodas around as well as a local market. The markets are always my favorite spots to check out as they allow me to really interact with locals. I generally like to buy some fresh fruits to snack on and the market in town didn’t disappoint.
- Peep the sunset at Red Mountain Wine Estate, a popular mountainside vineyard and winery. Visitors can purchase wine by the glass or partake in a reasonably priced wine tasting. Those interested can pack a bottle to go in their bags to save for a rainy day! I personally tried the Shiraz and Sauvignon Blanc. Since I am a classy lady, I paired my wines with French fries. No, this was not the best wine I’ve ever had in my life. You know what, though? The people are trying that hardest and that made it taste a bit better in my eyes.
- In the evening be sure to check out the local puppet show as it’s pretty funny and easy on the wallet. This place can be easy to miss. It’s located down a somewhat conspicuous alleyway, but it’s totally worth it. Mr. Aung has been running the show for the past 20 years! Before that, his father ran the family business, and before that, his grandfather. You get the point.
Marionette shows were extremely popular in Myanmar for years. Like, I’m talking centuries, you guys. With the advent and popularity of motion pictures, the trend died down. He now runs the business solely catering to travellers passing through. The thirty minute show includes performances by eight different marionettes controlled by Mr. Aung. If you’re into taking a peek at a country’s traditions, I recommend stopping by. At 5,000 kyat a ticket ($4.26 USD), it’s a steal.
Whatever you do, be sure to get a massage at Win Nyunt
James and I spent our anniversary on a 12-hour bus ride (#blessed), so we decided to do a treat each other to a massage.
I wanted nothing more than a woman to knead the bejeezus out of the knots in my shoulders. I decided to go to Win Nyunt, which was a hilariously awkward situation. We’d read a review on TripAdvisor that stated “Not for sissies.” Be prepared. They will stand on you and use force in a way that is not exactly painful but in no way comforting. For 5,000 kyat for an hour of mild torture, it was well worth it to walk out of Win Nyunt feeling like a million bucks.
Location: Yone Gyi Road, Nanadawun Qr, Nyaung Shwe, Myanmar
Where to eat in Inle Lake
There are a number of great restaurants around Inle Lake, but I’d have to say Sin Yaw Restaurant takes the cake. If you’re interested in trying one of Myanmar’s most unique dishes, don’t skip out on Sin Yaw’s tea leaf salad. The vegetarian menu is extensive and the portions are large for a great price.
- If you’re a fan of seafood, pop by Lin Htet, located conveniently across the street from Sin Yaw. This place serves up some great Burmese curries which come with a massive amount of side dishes. I’m talking fresh mangoes, carrots, roasted peanuts, pickled mangoes and… lots of fish-based items. There’s a decent amount of vegetarian food here as well, so fear not!
- Those who are in the market for dim sum should check out Live Dim Sum. There are an array of steamed bun and dumpling options – including a few that are straight up vegetarian. Since I love eating more than most things on Earth, I ordered a personal pot of tea, fried spring rolls, veggie dumplings and a tofu dish for just $4.50 USD… and that was a splurge.
- One of the more modern spots in town is Pub Asiatico, a pub located off the main road. James and I popped in here for a beer and a game of pool and left feeling really impressed. The drink menu is outrageously diverse and different than anything we’d come across in Myanmar. While the price tags on most drinks were too steep for our budget that day, I don’t think they’re unreasonable at all. Something that made my heart skip a beat is the fact that Pub Asiatico offers CHILLI INFUSED VODKA. Heroes.
Pub Asiatico offers a few budget-friendly food and drink specials. Visitors can enjoy sunset drinks on the rooftop for happy hour, which is hosted from 4 to 7 P.M. each day. From 7 to 9 P.M., visitors can get a free beer with any pizza of their choice! I’m going to give you a heads up, though: this isn’t a place to get some of the best pizza in Southeast Asia. I’ll give it a 5/10. Order with caution.
Day 16: Travel to Yangon
I personally feel as though two days on Inle Lake is enough time, but that’s up to you. The night bus to Yangon leaves around 5:30, so that even gives you an extra half-day.
As always, there are a few options you can choose for this 12-hour bus ride. While I can’t speak for the caliber of the other buses, I will not recommend the 20,000 kyat (~$17.04 USD) option as the seats didn’t recline despite what we were told. Ain’t nobody (er, me) got time for more discomfort.
If you’re planning on staying longer thank three weeks in Myanmar, you can totally omit this trip to Yangon. I’ve been told Ngapali Beach is incredible, which might be a wonderful alternative for those wanting to chill out a bit.
Day 17 – 18: Yangon
Chances are you have to return to Yangon as it’s the cheapest option to enter and exit the country. Though I do recommend staying close to the city center the first time around, I think it’s smart to stay closer to the airport on your way out.
I stayed at Roly’s Hostel, which was great. The man who runs the hostel is a super talented guitar player and singer and is really easy to talk to about any topic you can imagine. We had a fun night listening to him play guitar, watching soccer (er, football) and talking about our cultures over a few beers. He offers free airport pickup and sends
While I know is technically three days shy of three weeks in Myanmar, it’s close enough! Please allow some space within this for your own research or things you’d like to do that I haven’t mentioned. I really love Myanmar and I hope this comprehensive itinerary will help guide you in the right direction.