Myanmar itinerary: The best of Myanmar in 2 weeks

After being closed to visitors for decades, Myanmar is now rising to become one of the top vacation destinations in Southeast Asia. As Myanmar still draws smaller crowds than nearby nations like Thailand and Vietnam, now’s the perfect time to visit Myanmar’s incredible historical and natural sights. And if you enjoy a spot of seclusion on a paradisiacal sandy stretch under the tropical sun, Myanmar’s beach town resorts are arguably unbeatable. Conveniently, Myanmar’s most noteworthy attractions and destinations can be visited in a relatively stress-free and slow-paced two weeks, from the bustling city of Yangon to the stunning coastline of Ngapali Beach.  Despite remaining one of Southeast Asia’s least developed nations, Myanmar can be more expensive to explore than countries including Thailand, though you can still expect more-than-reasonable prices, and the growing tourism industry is helping to improve local life. We’ve created a two-week Myanmar travel itinerary that showcases the country’s culture, natural beauty and history. You’ll visit must-see places that include Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake, not to mention beaches from which you’ll struggle to tear yourself away.

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Bagan, Myanmar | Photo: Yves Alarie

LGBT travel in Myanmar

In Myanmar, same-sex acts are still illegal, punishable by prison sentences. In reality, such laws are almost never enforced, and it’s easy to avoid prying eyes when behind closed doors. Because Myanmar’s culture is mostly conservative Buddhist, the locals may not be particularly open to the LGBT community. However, both heterosexual and LGBT couples are advised against public displays of affection in Myanmar. Most people here dress and act conservatively – Yangon is a far cry from the partying city of Bangkok.

Overall, Myanmar is a safe country to visit for the LGBT community. The topic of sexuality is highly unlikely to be raised in any venue or hotel you visit. It’s worth noting that attacks on LGBT locals can and do happen, and while this is serious, tourists – especially westerners – receive different treatment (local business owners will gladly take your money). Many laws regarding same-sex acts are hangovers from British colonial rule and the recent harsh dictatorship. Sharing a room in most hotels with your partner won’t place you under suspicion.

Golden Rock Mountain Road, Kin Pun Sakhan | Photo: Jesse Hammer

Photo: Domi Chung

Best time to visit Myanmar

Myanmar, just like its popular neighbour Thailand, experiences a rainy season that usually lasts from around May to October, with the rest of the year being dry. However, unlike Thailand, Myanmar’s northern reaches can get rather chilly over winter, making it best to visit during the early or late stages of the dry season. November and March are ideal times to visit, when you won’t have to deal with crowds of tourists celebrating Chinese New Year in February or Christmas.

The whole of Myanmar is accessible between October and May, including all its pristine beaches and shimmering temples. Between June and September, the beaches along Ngapali tend to close, and rains cover the plains between Bagan and Mandalay. The wet season does, however, provide opportunities that the dry season doesn’t. For example, river travel on the Chindwin peaks during the rainy season, giving visitors the chance to see some of the more remote areas of Myanmar, plus hill tribes and epic scenery that few tourists get to witness.

How many days do you need in Myanmar?

By following our travel itinerary, you’ll spend 14 days in a variety of the best Myanmar destinations, stopping in areas such as Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. However, if you want to modify our two-week Myanmar itinerary, you can easily shave off a few days or extend your stay to a month. If you can only donate a week of your time to exploring this interesting Southeast Asia nation, we’d recommend spending two days in both Mandalay and Yangon, plus another two or three days in Bagan, Inle Lake or the Mergui Archipelago. But if you want to pack as many adventures and sightseeing opportunities into your trip as possible – and travel at a comfortable pace – we suggest spending at least 2 weeks in Myanmar.

Bagan, Myanmar | Photo: Sebastien Goldberg

Days 1 – 3: Yangon

As the former capital, largest city and economic hub of Myanmar, Yangon deserves at least two or three days of your time, and it’s the easiest place to start your two-week trip thanks to being served by an international airport, located approximately an hour’s drive from the city centre. There’s always a line of taxis waiting at the airport, and pricing is based on distance and number of passengers. Be prepared to do a little bartering to get a fair price. You should expect to pay around 8,000 kyat, which is around 6 US dollars.

While staying in Yangon, you’ll explore immense pagodas, historic colonial buildings and cultural attractions that highlight the city’s Burmese, Chinese, British and Indian influences. The nation’s tallest Buddhist pagoda is the Shwedagon Pagoda, which reaches a height of 99 metres and is believed to date back anywhere between 1,000 and 2,600 years. Less tall but no less incredible is the Sule Pagoda. It boasts a more modest height of 44 metres, but it’s been at the epicentre of various rallies and protests against Myanmar’s military government. Showcasing the city’s diverse religious heritage are sites such as Saint Mary’s Cathedral and the Musmea Yeshua Synagogue. Another monument that exists due to international influences is the Taukkyan War Cemetery, where 6,300 Allied soldiers are buried and another 27,000 are commemorated on the Rangoon Memorial.

If you’re more interested in outdoor attractions than architectural and cultural landmarks, we recommend relaxing by Yangon’s two artificial lakes: Inya Lake in the city’s north, and Kandawgyi Lake by the Shwedagon Pagoda. For a spot of local shopping, browse the hundreds of market stalls selling goods, produce and handicrafts at the Bagyoke Market, which dates back to 1920. Tropical temperatures can be brutal in the afternoon, making it best to arrive early at this crowded marketplace. Items of jewellery – especially pieces of Jade – are widespread at Bagyoke Market, as are Burmese food stalls offering exotic fruits, fresh poultry, and local ready-to-eat treats. Just like at the airport, you can expect a fair bit of bartering at Yangon’s markets, which only adds to the authentic shopping experience.

Kandawgyi Lake, Yangon | Photo: MG Cthu

Mr. Hudson highlight image

While staying in Yangon, you’ll explore immense pagodas, historic colonial buildings and cultural attractions that highlight the city’s Burmese, Chinese, British and Indian influences

Days 4 – 6: Ngapali Beach

After jostling with crowds for a few days in Yangon, you’ll be delighted to visit the scenic coastal destination of Ngapali Beach. While Ngapali – apparently named after Italy’s Naples – boasts a plethora of activities and attractions for adventurers, its main draws are its white sandy stretch and palm-dotted coastline, making it an ideal destination for those who dream of a Southeast Asian beach without the crowds of Thailand and Vietnam. On one of multiple daily flights, it takes about an hour to fly from Yangon to Thandwe Airport, which is a 10-minute drive from Ngapali Beach and its growing number of guesthouses, resorts and hotels. Domestic flight tickets tend to be inexpensive, especially if purchased in advance.

Accessible by boat, Pearl Island is a popular day trip from Ngapali Beach, home to clear waters that are excellent for swimming and snorkelling. Other boat tours visit the hilltop-situated Tilawkasayambhu Buddha and traditional fishing villages like the picturesque Jate Taw in the area’s bays. From Ngapali Beach, you can reach the area’s first fishing village on foot, though you’d be wise to rent a bicycle, motorcycle or taxi to explore further south. Mountain biking and rafting tours are also popular. If you’d rather take in the view of the coast from the sky, you might want to look into hot air balloons.

Ngapali Beach | Photo: Yves Alarie

Days 7 – 8: Bagan

Bagan is Myanmar’s famous ancient temple town and one of the world’s largest archaeological sites, occupying an area of about 26 square miles. It’s home to over 1,000 temple ruins that were built in the 11th and 12th centuries, with many still mostly intact. It also happens to be a former capital of a once powerful kingdom, making its story just as impressive as its architectural icons.

To reach the Bagan Archaeological Zone, you’ll need to first fly from Thandwe Airport back to Yangon, where you’ll catch a connecting flight to Nyaung U Airport. Both Air KBZ and Golden Myanmar Airlines offer one-stop connecting flights, which take just over four hours. When you arrive in Bagan, you’ll need to pay either 27,000 Burmese kyat or 20 US dollars to access the Bagan Archaeological Zone.

For the best views of this ancient temple town, ride the hot air balloons that depart before sunrise. The sunrise also looks incredible from the ground, but nothing beats taking to the skies in Bagan. While it’s still early morning, we recommend visiting the Mani-Sithu Market, which is one of the city’s most popular shopping destinations. The market opens around 6 am, and it’s a fantastic place to hunt for faux lacquerware and thanaka, a locally produced cosmetic paste made with ground bark.

Bagan | Photo: Thien Kim Nguyen

Bagan, Myanmar | Photo: Victor Deweerdt

Days 9 – 11: Mandalay

Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar and one of the nation’s most active economic hubs. As the last royal capital of Burma, Mandalay’s main draws are cultural, religious and royal monuments, though its shopping destinations, surrounding towns and Mandalay Hill also make Mandalay well worth a visit, even if for a short stopover. We recommend spending at least two days in Mandalay, though you wouldn’t struggle to fill a week with exciting activities and sightseeing. Mandalay is also easy to reach from Bagan, with flights from Nyaung U Airport to Mandalay taking just 30 minutes.

Located on a vast lake in the city center, the 19th-century Mandalay Palace is perhaps the most popular attraction in Mandalay. Religious sites of interest include the Mahamuni Buddha Temple, famous for its huge golden replica of the Mahamuni Buddha image, and Mandalay Hill, which offers gorgeous sunset views from its hilltop monastery. For a quirky activity, attend a gold leaf-making workshop at the King Galon Gold Leaf Workshop Show Room & Sale Centre. To browse hundreds of stalls of artisan-made jewellery items, head over to the Jade Market.

During your time in Mandalay, you might want to get an insight into the local culture by venturing slightly outside of the city. In the town of Sagaing, you’ll see about a dozen or so temples climbing the hillside, while you’ll get a glimpse into life far removed from the rest of the world in Inwa. You’ll also see the ruins of structures built during several ancient kingdoms. After strolling along the bucolic river banks of Inwa, head over to Amarapura. Here, local men famously dive underwater to catch fish, a tradition that’s held for generations. Don’t forget to check out the iconic rickety bridge that gives Amarapura its name.

Shwe In Bin Kyaung, Mandalay | Photo: Ling Xian Su

Mandalay | Photo: Roman Raizen

Day 12 – 13: Inle Lake

Located in central Myanmar, Inle Lake is one of the nation’s most popular tourist attractions and one of the most significant ecosystems in Southeast Asia. Inle Lake is also home to thousands of different species of migratory birds as well as local tribes that live by the water, making it a fascinating place to visit for its culture, nature and beauty. You can reach Inle Lake on a budget from Mandalay by taking a night bus. The bus trip takes about seven hours. If you’re prepared to fork out a bit more cash, you can fly from Mandalay to Heho Aiport on the outskirts of Inle Lake. The lake is best explored by boat tours that cost around 15 to 12 US dollars for the day. While you’re here, you might want to soak up the scenery by hiking in the surrounding hills and mountains.

If you can afford to spend a couple of extra days around Inle Lake, we recommend joining a guided Inle Lake trek that usually last either two or four days. You’ll start in the quiet city of Kalaw and hike to Inle Lake, also known as Nyaung Shwe. Along the way, you’ll take refuge in local homestays where hole-in-the-floor toilets and cold-water bucket showers are the norm. You’ll need to adapt to the local way of life to embark on these non-exploitative tours, but in return, you’ll get an authentic taste of Myanmar and venture by cabbage farms, railroad tracks, rice fields, scenic vistas and much more. When you arrive at Lake Inle, make sure you have enough time to visit attractions that include silver-making factories, cigar factories and Thaung Thut, a lotus-making village.

Inle Lake | Photo: Mega Caesaria

Day 14: Back to Yangon and home

If you’re travelling home from Yangon early on day 14, you might want to head back to Yangon from Inle Lake on day 13, which will give you the chance to see more of Myanmar’s most-populous city and former capital the night before catching your flight. Frequent flights that take just an hour travel from Heho Airport to Yangon, from which you can fly to just about any hub in Southeast Asia, whether it’s Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok or Singapore. It’s also possible to return to Yangon in the early morning of your 14th day if you’d prefer to spend an extra night at Inle Lake.

More time in Myanmar?

Follow our two-week Myanmar itinerary, and you’ll see a diverse array of the nation’s highlights. Still, in reality, two weeks is not enough to see all the country has to offer.

If you have a little more time in Myanmar, we recommend visiting the Mergui Archipelago, though you’ll need four or five days to make the most of your stay. This archipelago consists of a string of undeveloped, postcard-perfect islands located about 100 miles north of Thailand’s island of Phuket, which is too developed, flashy and tourist-centric for many people. If you can, travel to the Mergui Archipelago via a yacht tour from the city of Kawtheung, which is close to the Thailand border crossing. For more Myanmar destinations, we suggest the beach towns of Dawei and Thandwe, the limestone caves of Pindaya, and the picturesque Kachin State. You can also travel to Myanmar’s northern regions to embark on a Himalayan trekking tour.

Bagan, Myanmar | Photo: Alexander Schimmeck

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