Dabbling in Jet Lag
Myanmar (or Burma) is becoming a popular destination in Southeast Asia. Interestingly, Myanmar has only recently opened its doors to tourism over the past decade, which gives the idea that Myanmar is ‘untouched’. There are, however, still many challenges that you will encounter during your travels.
Myanmar is, indeed, different from its neighbors. It has had a tumultuous past and continues to fight with an oppressive military regime. I would recommend taking some time to understand the history and the government of Myanmar before traveling so that your tourism has a positive impact on the people.
Here is a complete 2-week Myanmar itinerary to inspire you and help you organize your next trip.
General Myanmar Travel Information
In general, most nationalities need to apply for a visa before traveling to Myanmar. Since, at the time, I traveled with my United States passport I could apply for an eVisa. Here is some general guidance for visas when traveling to Myanmar.
Getting to Myanmar
There are only a few entry points to Myanmar. It is safest to avoid all land borders and enter by air. For my trip to Myanmar, I flew into Bangkok, then flew to Yangon via Air Asia.
When visiting a temple, you will be required to remove your shoes. You can wear socks. Keep these things in mind before you decide to visit a temple.
1. You will need pristine US dollars. The bills must be flat with no folds or any markings. While I paid mostly in Kyat during my time in Myanmar, exchange offices and banks only accept USD. Bring all the money you need, and exchange a portion at the airport. There are places to exchange your USD in every city, and you can often find better deals. There are ATMs, but they are few and far between, and they are usually not in operation.
2. Bring small bills. Some restaurants, hotels, and merchants will only accept USD.
3. When leaving Myanmar, exchange your remaining Kyat before immigration. It is impossible to exchange your remaining Kyat after immigration. Many tourists were caught in this trap and forced to purchase useless items.
Burma or Myanmar?
The country formally known as Burma gained independence in 1948 from British rule, however, in 1962 the military took control through a coup d’etat.
In 1988, unrest over economic mismanagement and political oppression by the government led to widespread pro-democracy demonstrations throughout the country known as the 8888 Uprising. Security forces killed thousands of demonstrators, and, after another coup d’état, the State Law and Order Restoration Council was formed. In 1989, martial law was imposed after widespread protests, and the ruling military junta (that retains majority power today), changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar. So, while both Myanmar and Burma represent the same country in terms of tourism, the political situation is drastically different.
Politically, the name Burma was seen as a relic of the country’s former British colonial past, and Myanmar was more inclusive of the many ethnic groups in the country. Other names were also changed, such as Rangoon, which is now referred to as Yangon.
Today, Burma and Myanmar are used interchangeably. Here is an article that analyzes this name change, what you ‘should’ say, and the question: does it even matter?
2 Week Myanmar Itinerary
My 2 weeks in Myanmar started in Yangon, and, from there I traveled to Inle Lake, then Bagan, and, finally, Mandalay. I spent 3 days in each city and traveled by bus. Below I describe the sites I visited in each city as well as some useful tips to help you get the most out of your trip.
Useful tip: For bus travel, avoid the VIP ticket. You don’t get better seats, and you pay nearly double the price for a few crackers and a small bottle of water.
My trip to Myanmar began in Yangon. I spent 2 days in Yangon at the beginning of the trip, and an additional day at the end. Despite the extreme heat, Yangon is a lovely place to explore. It is easy and safe to get around on foot.
Here is a complete list of all things to see and do in Yangon.
- Shwedagon Pagoda – This is Yangon’s most famous landmark, and represents Myanmar’s most important pilgrimage site. The massive gold-plated pagoda is visible from much of the city, and the main stupa enshrines sacred relics of the Gautama Buddha as well as the three previous Buddhas.
- Kandawgyi Hall and Karaweik Lake -Karaweik Hall is a huge golden barge floating on Kandawgyi Lake. You can walk around the lake and explore the park. It is easily reached on foot and offers a nice day trip.
- Sule Pagoda – The Sule Pagoda is a Burmese stupa located in the heart of downtown Yangon. According to legend, it was built before the Shwedagon Pagoda during the time of the Buddha, making it more than 2,600 years old.
- Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda – The Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda is known for its enormous 65 meters long Reclining Buddha. The highly revered image is located in a large shed North of Kandawgyi Lake.
- Nga Gyi Pagoda – The Nga Htat Gyi pagoda is known for its enormous seated image of the Buddha, and is located across the street from Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda.
Bagan was once the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, which was the first kingdom that unified the regions. During the 11th and 13th centuries, Bagan was home to 4,446 Buddhist temples and pagodas. Today, this ancient city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with 3,822 temples still remaining.
Bagan was my favorite city in Myanmar. The massive number of temples is exceptionally impressive. There are several ways to explore Bagan, and the most common is by bike. Several temples are located in areas that are not accessible by car. If you are looking to get off-the-beaten-path, then renting a bike is the best option.
Useful tip: If you choose to visit via bike you will be exposed in the sun all day. The region is very dry and it gets exceptionally hot during the day. Be sure to use sunscreen and carry enough water.
To rent a bike for a day, it should cost around 1 – 2 USD per day and you can rent via your hostel/hotel or visit one of the many bike shops in Old and New Bagan. E-bikes are also an option. E-bikes cost around 4-6 USD per day.
Before visiting the ancient city, you must pay the Bagan Archaeological Zone Fee to access the pagodas. It costs 18-20 USD and is valid for three days. Make sure to bring the ticket with you while visiting the pagodas. You can buy the ticket at the bus/train station or at the airport or ask your hostel/hotel for assistance.
Here is a complete list of my favorite temples, monuments, and pagodas in Bagan:
- Htilominlo temple – One of the largest temples, this is a red brick building that retains some of its original intricate carvings.
- Mya-zi-gon – Down the path from Htilominlo towards the river, this is an attractive smallish temple with a golden spire.
- U-Pali-thein – Over the road from Htilominlo, this is another large temple. This one is rectangular in shape and made from white stone. It contains brightly colored murals from the 18th century.
- Thatbyinnyu Phaya – Another large white stone temple. For the best pictures, there’s a small mound behind the temple that you can climb for better views.
- Shwezigen Pagoda – This large complex is one of the most impressive structures in Bagan. It dates back to the 11th century and is said to contain tooth and bone relics.
- Ananda temple – A massive and very impressive white stone structure with tall Buddhas. This is one of the most notable temples in Bagan and one you must see.
- Dammayan Gyi Pagoda – This is the largest pagoda that’s so often seen silhouetted against the sunrise in photos of Bagan.
- Alodawpyl – Located over the road from Dammayan Gyi, this impressive temple has a striking gold roof.
- Maha Bodhi – This tall white stone pagoda is decorated with thousands of carved Buddhas, making it quite unique compared to the other structures in the area.
Inle Lake is a shallow lake located in a valley between two mountain ranges. It stretches 22 km and is inhabited by various tribes who live around the lake and on the lake itself. The villages on the lake are wooden stilted houses of the Intha fishermen.
The town where the lake is located is called Nyuang Shwe, and this is where the majority of visitors stay.
Given that the lake is the main attraction, the most popular activity involves visiting the lake and the small villages on the lake by boat. There are several companies in the town center that offer boat tours, and every tour has more or less the same itinerary. I decided to go with a small family that was looking for customers near the lake. Many of the larger companies monopolize the profits, so it is often recommended to look around and help the smaller families.
In addition to visiting the lake, it is also possible to rent a bike and explore the area around the lake. It is definitely less crowded and it offers an overview of life on the lake. Bikes are available nearly everywhere, just ask your hostel.
If you are looking for something really off-the-beaten-path I would recommend a wine tasting near Inle Lake. Information about the vineyard can be found here.
Mandalay is the second-largest city in Myanmar and the former capital of Myanmar. It is the religious hub of upper Myanmar with half of Myanmar’s monks residing in the Mandalay region.
Most attractions in the Mandalay area are covered by the Mandalay Archaeological Zone ‘Combo’ Ticket which costs 10,000 Kyat ($7.50 USD) and is good for one week. It provides entry to the following:
- The Royal Palace – The Royal Palace of Mandalay sits just south of Mandalay Hill and is surrounded by a high wall with an expansive 64-meter wide moat. It was home to the last royal family in Myanmar before their surrender to the British in 1885.
- Shwenandaw Monastery -Shwenandaw Monastery, also known as the Golden Palace Monastery, is decorated inside and out with intricate wood carvings. It is really an impressive sight to see.
- The other sites included on the ticket are Atu Mashi Monastery, all the sites in Innwa (Bagaya Monastery, Yandana Sine Pagoda, Nan Myint Watch Tower, and Mai Nu Monastery), and the Mandalay Cultural Museum.
Sites NOT part of the Archaeological Zone Ticket include Mingun and Saigan (5,000 Kyat for both) and Mandalay Hill (1,000 Kyat), both of which are worth visiting.
Several other places around Mandalay supposedly require the ticket, but no one seems to be checking. This includes the following:
- Kuthodaw Pagoda – The Kuthodaw Pagoda sits in the northeast corner of Mandalay at the base of Mandalay Hill. Kuthodaw is known for the 730 white stupas that surround the central pagoda. Each stupa contains a marble tablet covered on both sides with a Burmese script. The first 729 tablets comprise the teachings of Buddha and the final (730th) tablet tells of the creation of Kuthodaw Pagoda and is the largest book in the world.
- Sanda Muni Pagoda – Sanda Muni Pagoda contains a golden stupa surrounded by 1,774 white stupas that house marble slabs inscribed with the teachings of Buddha. Here you are not permitted to roam freely among the stupas as you are at Kuthodaw.
Summary of My Experience in Myanmar
Overall, my experience in Myanmar was positive. It offered a unique perspective, especially after having traveled in other southeast Asian countries. I did get food poisoning twice, and I would caution other travelers in this area. Additionally, I would skip Mandalay. There were several other parts of Myanmar that I wish I would have seen. Mandalay was not as unique as the other cities. In addition, the archaeological zone ticket is money that goes directly to the military, and citizens do not see a dime. In the other cities, you can directly help the citizens by eating in their restaurants, renting bikes, etc. It is important to keep this in mind when traveling to Myanmar.
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Read More About My Adventures In Asia
Hope you enjoyed my post on Myanmar and found my 2-week Myanmar itinerary useful. Here are some of my other adventures in Asia that you might find interesting.
- Getting Lost in Kyrgyzstan: Hike to Song Kol
- 2 Weeks in Laos: The Ultimate Guide
- Hot Air Ballooning Over Vang Vieng – A Bucket List Adventure
Have questions about preparing your Myanmar Itinerary? Send me a message in the comments below!
Interested in more travel tips & tricks? Check out my other posts for more travel tips.