About the Post: This is a complete budget backpacking itinerary of Myanmar (Burma). And it will allow me to help you plan your Myanmar Trip especially covering the big four of Myanmar.
Last year I decided to witness a stunning new year’s sunrise from Bagan in Myanmar. I also wanted to plan my trip in such a way that I could do a Myanmar Road trip all the way from India. And hence, I started my journey from the Indian state of Manipur in Imphal. I crossed the border and it took me about 19 hours to reach from Tamu (Burma) to Mandalay, which was my first stop.
10 Day Travel Itinerary of Myanmar – Backpacker’s Guide
About Myanmar or Burma
Myanmar which was formerly known as Burma, remained under the military regime for several years before gaining its independence. It is located in the Southwestern portion of SouthEast Asia, sharing its border with prominent countries like India, Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, and China. And, Myanmar land passage is an important connection between India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway. Being home to more than 100 ethnic groups, Myanmar is definitely one of the most culturally adopted nations in SouthEast Asia.
Myanmar should be best explored on a slow travel. Realistically, I wouldn’t define any specific number of days, in particular, to be a perfect Travel Itinerary to explore Myanmar fully but one can at least explore the four main big cities of Myanmar which are MANDALAY, BAGAN, INLE LAKE AND YANGON within 10 days comfortably.
Here is my Myanmar itinerary based on my 10 days experience.
Backpacking for 2 days in Mandalay (Myanmar)
I reached my first destination in Myanmar- Mandalay, also known as the imperial city of erstwhile Burma. I had started from Tamu (Burmese border town to India) and traveled overnight by road to reach Mandalay the next morning. Mandalay is a business district but is home to several pagodas and museums.
Read all about my Border crossing experience
Day 1 – Exploring Mandalay City
As I reached in the morning around 8 am, and decided to keep it flexible as per the choice and walk around nearby attractions. Hence, all the below mentioned monasteries can be explored walking as they are nearby. But, you can choose to rent an e-bike/cycle as well.
We walked around Mandalay Palace, which is a huge fortress walled complex that was constructed in mid-1800. But, during world war II, most of it was destroyed. What is now left has been converted into a museum for visitors. The main entrance fee is 10,000 kyats\ 10 $ for one person.
Info – Myanmar Currency is called Kyats (1 USD = 1400 Kyats)
Next were few of the monasteries which I found of much relevance and were all at walking distance.Out of them, I chose Shwenandaw Monastery which is not an active monastery, as no monks actually inhabit the beautiful building that has become a popular attraction for tourists, photographers, and history buffs.
Mandalay Hill is one of the major attractions of Mandalay. Although I was tired to the bone as I didn’t get enough sleep for the last 24 hours before reaching Mandalay. But, I still made sure that I didn’t miss out on catching a glimpse of the panoramic view of Mandalay city from the hilltop. The highlight is Sutaungpyei pagoda on top and the views up there.
But, be prepared to climb a few hundred steps to reach the topmost point of Mandalay Hill. But the sunset view is worth the effort. I would highly recommend this visit.
After spending some time at Mandalay hill, I quickly rushed towards Sandamani Pagoda which lies in Southwest of Mandalay Hill. It can be well observed from Mandalay Hill for its grandeur which lies in well laid out 1700 small Buddhist shrines, each having unique significances. It has the largest iron Buddha statue in Myanmar called the Sandamani.
Kuthodaw Pagoda is also at a walking distance from Sandamani Pagoda. It houses the worlds largest book but it is smaller and more compact. Kuthodaw is spread out with avenues of trees between the rows of shrines whereas at Sandamani they are all lined up in rows side by side and clustered around the central pagoda with little space in between.
Another pagoda you can explore is Kyauktawgyi Pagoda, which lies in the southern part of Mandalay Hill and can be easily visited. The Kyauktawgyi Buddha is a huge sculpted image of the Buddha made of marble.
Pro Tip – Hiring a bi-cycle / E-Bike is a good idea if you want to avoid spending on Taxi / Tuk Tuk.
Life in Myanmar can be best observed while exploring the markets. Zay Cho Market and Jade Market are the local markets in Mandalay. This vibrant market opens from 6 AM until 5 PM and offers anything from fresh fruits, fresh spices to kitchen tools. Best way to see and explore the local way is to visit a market and witness the hustle and bustle.
I ended my day having a sumptuous meal with my travel partner Arnav at a Chinese night market along with random travelers from some other part of the world.
Day 2 – Mandalay Food Walk and Cultural Tour
Today I explored Mandalay and pagoda’s from another side of River Irrawaddy which is a main lifeline in Myanmar.
Day started with a sumptuous food walk through the local markets of Mandalay and this experience was powered by Beyond Boundaries Myanmar.
Recommendation– Myanmar being so diverse in terms of food and culture that I highly recommend to book a food walk with Beyond Boundaries, Myanmar to get an authentic and unique experience with the locals.
So half a day could be well-spent understanding various flavors of Burmese cuisine which actually is quite diverse. After savoring some tempura, Mohenga, Rice cakes, Lafatau, and of course the very famous Burmese Khauswey. I had my good share of food from breakfast till lunch, all washed off with an avocado smoothie. Oh, my absolute favorite.
PS- Tea leaf salad (Lafatau) is an absolute must.
Second half it was time for a breezy boat ride through Irrawaddy river to cross over and explore the other side. It was a good 60 mins boat ride with a scenic view. One can either do the same on your own by getting into public boats which run at regular intervals or can book through local tour operators. I did it through Beyond Boundaries, Myanmar.
Exploring the Mingun Pagoda Complex
A huge massive unfinished structure can be seen from far away as it lies right on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. It was built as the largest pagoda in Myanmar. But two large earthquakes did considerable damage to the Mingun Pagoda. In front of the pagoda facing the river are the remains of two giant Chinthe lions about 29 meters high, guarding the temple.
There are various street shops selling local handicrafts and other local items from Myanmar. And, also at reasonable rates. But, as a tourist, I recommend checking the rates before buying.
Few meters away from Mingun Pagoda, is the huge famous bell known as Mingun Bell built by King Bodawpaya. Consider not to miss this interesting place as it attracts a lot of Buddhist disciples and locals as well. The bell is rung by striking its exterior with a wood log.
The Hsinbyume Pagoda is a most unique all-white structure on the banks of the Irrawaddy River just North of Mandalay. The pagoda that is also known as the MyaTheindan Pagoda is located in the Northern part of Mingun town a few hundred meters from the massive Mingun Pagoda.
Hsinbyume pagoda’s architectural style is very different from other pagodas in Myanmar. The base of the structure shaped like circular terraces is a representation of the seven mountain ranges surrounding Mount Meru, the center of the universe in Buddhist cosmology. From the top there are great views of the Irrawaddy River and the nearby Mingun Pagoda.
INFO – Mingun archeological zone costs US$ 4. This ticket is valid for the Mingun Pagoda and for other monuments in the area like the nearby Hsinbyume Pagoda.
One of the most common pictures of Mandalay on the net is either a sunrise or a sunset picture from a wooden bridge popularly known as U-Bein Bridge.
Hence, after completing our Mingun Pagodas tour, we quickly returned to the other side of the Ayarwaddy river to witness the sunset at U-Bein Bridge. It is considered the most ancient and longest wooden bridge in the world.
Built on Tayngthman lake, this bridge is about 1.4 km long and is built from 1000 big pillars and thousands of wooden pallets.
Unfortunately, I got a wee bit late to reach and was stuck behind several hundreds of tourists on the bridge. Quite disappointing it was that I could not really get a decent shot during Sunset. So, here’s a tip, to reach there as soon as possible or as early as possible during sunrise.
Lastly, before heading back, I visited one of the most revered Buddhist temples of Mandalay, Mahamuni Temple. The temple or the pagoda was built in 1785 by King Bodawpaya of the Konbaung dynasty after the Mahamuni image was captured during the invasion of the Arakan Kingdom.
When I visited this temple complex, it was really an auspicious moment as the head of the temple had just walked in and I witnessed some rituals were performed in front of several devotees. There is also a museum which has detailed information about Buddhism.
Several shops around the temple sell offerings for the Mahamuni Buddha image such as incense sticks, candles, and flowers.
Entry fees to Mahamuni Temple is 4 USD.
PS-Myanmar is a Buddhist country and mainly practices Theravada Buddhism.
Stay in Mandalay-My stay was pre-booked through booking.com at a very comfortable hotel which was quite reasonable and affordable. Please do check the hotels as they come out to be economical manier times than hostels in Myanmar.
Exploring Bagan (Backpacker’s paradise in Myanmar)
Bagan was one of my main reasons to plan a trip to Myanmar. For I had heard so much about the stunning sunsets and sunrises apart from the thousands of temples and Pagodas there.
Bagan is one of the important ancient cities of Myanmar (BURMA). Dotted with almost over 4000 temples, Buddhist pagodas, and other religious structures in various parts of Old Bagan, It is sometimes proudly known as Sea of Temples. It has also been recognized as the UNESCO world heritage site. Bagan was formerly known as Pagan in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar.
Bagan is mainly divided into three parts mainly Nyaung-U, Old Bagan, and New Bagan. In Old Bagan, you’ll find most of the ancient, crumbling buildings and structures, while most people reside in New Bagan.
Note – To enter Bagan Archeological Zone , each visitor has to pay a sum of 25000 Kyats ~ 18 USD at the Bagan entry points. This is a one time fee.
Day 3 – Mandalay to Bagan (Half Day exploration)
I started for Bagan which took about 4 hours from Mandalay by road. I had pre-booked a mini-van from our hotel just a day before for 9000 kyats. I started off around 8 am, so as to reach Bagan by lunchtime. And, accordingly, I had the second half of the day to start exploring.
Bagan is best explored by hiring e-bikes. They are super cheap and easy to ride and gives complete flexibility to move around your own suitable way. You can check out for the same in the hotel/ hostels, you are staying in.
Hired an e-bike post-lunch, and quickly checked out the city maps to move towards Old Bagan to catch the sunset from one of the many vantage points of Bagan.
Honestly, the first day I was a little clueless about which place to head first, hence I proceeded towards Old Bagan to visit a temple and later to proceed towards catching Sunset.
My recommendation is to spend at least 2-3 days in this wonderful place in order to soak in the ancient temple city vibes.
Also, do keep in mind that maximum tourists come here in order to witness the sunsets and sunrises, hence finding yourself in a pool of tourists won’t be much of a surprise.
After watching Sunset, I came back to our Hostel and ended the day.
I stayed in a hostel and chose Bagan Vibes Hostel which was in New Bagan Area. Staying here also helped me to network with like-minded fellow travelers in order to understand the various sunrise points. There are other good hostel chains like Baoba Beds, Ostello Bello Hostel in Bagan but all were sold out due to high season.
Hence, if you are traveling during high season, please pre-book your stay.
DAY 4 – Catching Sunrise, explore Old Bagan and Mt. Popa Tour
In order to understand the city better, getting a city map handy was a great idea in order to commute especially during early morning hours. Today, we chose to watch the sunrise from Sulamani Temple. So, along with my partner who was riding the bike we quickly proceeded for the sunrise well before time, say around 5.30 am.
PS-If you are traveling in the winter months, it gets very chilly during the early mornings. Hence, I advise you to carry a light jacket and a scarf to cover up. Bagan is also a very dry and dusty city hence covering yourself with a scarf is very much required.
Post catching the mind-blowing sunrise with hot air balloons in the sky, We came back for our breakfast.
Note – Hot Air Balloon ride is around USD 350 for 15 mins. But, it totally depends on the season, hence prior checking the weather condition is recommended.
It also gets extremely hot mostly during midday and apart from catching sunrise and temples, basically there is not much to do. Hence, after resting for a while I decided to go on a Half day tour to Mt. Popa.
Mt. Popa is considered to be a sacred place to worship for the locals. It can be visited either during early morning but it takes about 1.30 hrs to reach from Bagan hence 3-7 pm tour is generally what I would recommend for a lovely hilltop sunset.
But, be prepared to climb about 777 steps and face monkey havocs in the way. Hence, do not carry any food items in hand to avoid them.
Mt. Popa tour cost me about 9000 Kyats but it was all worth the experience. The panoramic views and sound of bell gong truly reverberated my senses.
Day 5 – Exploring Bagan Ancient temples and Sunset cruise on the Irrawaddy river.
After another stunning sunrise witness from Dhamayangyi Temple, we proceeded towards exploring the various main temples of Bagan in detail. Once you get to Bagan, you will feel like not to miss any morning to capture the stunning sunrise only because each point gives different photography angles.
Today, our local tour around Bagan was powered by none other than Beyond Boundaries, Myanmar again . Because, I was absolutely convinced by their expertise on providing a unique experience to all their guests.
Some of the prominent Bagan temples which I visited were Shwezigon Pagoda, Ananda Temple, Dhamayangyi Temple, Thatbyiunnyu Temple, Sulamani Temple. All this is spread across several acres in the Old Bagan area. Apart from these, there are also several big and small unnamed pagodas around this area.
I also had a local lunch with a family who hosted us to give an authentic local cuisine experience and this was arranged by Beyond Boundaries, Myanmar.
Post the lunch, I headed for a lacquerware workshop as I wanted to understand the whole process. Bagan is a very tourist-friendly place and one of the most popular hand-made souvenir items is lacquerware. They also showed us to identify a difference between fake and original ones as the latter is much more high priced.
There are several curio shops and lacquerware boutiques scattered all-around Bagan.
Lastly, we headed for our last activity which was a cruise boat experience on river Iyyerawady to witness the captivating sunset. It was a good 2 hours chilled out experience which was much needed after a hectic day.
I bid goodbye to Bagan after a 3-day action-packed experience and proceeded further to my next destination in Myanmar.
Explored the serene Inle Lake (Laidback charm of Backpacking)
Inle lake is in the beautiful hilly regions of Shan state of Myanmar. It is one of the prettiest and quaint towns of Burma. One should definitely not miss out visiting this place.
TIP: Ideal way to explore is to undertake a two-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, to get the best backpacking experience through the interiors of Myanmar.
Day 6 – Reaching Inle lake from Bagan
I wouldn’t really praise the minivan journey of Myanmar to be one of the best, as it totally depends on the bus company services. So, after a long and tedious journey in a cramped minivan, I reached Inle Lake after almost 8 hours.
NOTE: Each visitor has to pay a mandatory Inle lake development fee of 15000 kyats at the time of entry.
After constantly traveling fast for the last 7 days, I decided to give some slow time to my travel and hence opted to go for a perfect staycation at a bit upscale luxurious lakehouse resort in Inle Lake.
Although, there are plenty of hostels in Inle Lake including the most famous ones like Ostello Bello, Baoba Beds, or Hardwood hostels which offer reasonably priced accommodation.
But, given the stunning location of Inle, I would recommend you stay in ViewPoint Ecolodge, Inle Lake which is located right beside the Lake in Nyaung Shwe Town. You can easily book a water stilt bungalow for two nights at Inle ViewPoint Ecolodge with all-Inclusive packages.
The first day I kept it easy, just to stroll around the nearby markets and explore the nearby surroundings of Inle Lake, Nyaung Shwe Town.
Day 7- Full Day tour around serene Inle lake, Myanmar
I started early as my resort had pre-arranged a full-day tour around Inle Lake on request. The long tail boats are a major and faster means to commute to different spots and areas in Inle Lake.
Inle lake is dotted with several tourist attractions which are more or less located on the banks of the lake and can be best explored through boat.
Witnessing and photographing the Inle Lake fishermen is one of the main attractions of Myanmar. The people of the lake are called Intha. And, you will find plenty of fishermen showcasing their unique style of fishing while doing a balancing act. They have a unique way of catching fish in the shallow water.
Sometimes it is believed they do pose for the tourist for a small amount of tip. Although, I cannot really comment on that.
Shan state and its people are also known for their unique talents in silverware jewelry making, Cigar Rolling, fabric weaving out of lotus stems, and many more artifacts.
I was actually tempted to purchase many souvenirs and locally made clothes from the flea markets of Inle Lake. Each location has a specific day and timings to set up a makeshift market that sells souvenirs, handmade garments, jewellery or food items as well.
I ended the day with a relaxing Spa at my resort to pamper my senses. Note that Inle ViewPoint Ecolodge has a lovely variety of spa on offer.
Next day I set out again by boat to explore and today I also enjoyed the very authentic and delectable Shan Cuisine right on the boat along with some local Inle Wine to tickle the taste buds.
Recommendation – Shan cuisine is one of the best in Myanmar and a must-try.
Inle region is also famous for its Vineyards hence trying out their local wine is highly recommended .
There are many monasteries also which can be explored around Inle Lake. Post lunch I headed for my rendezvous with Kayan tribal women popularly known as “Long Neck Tribe”. They wear brass rings around their necks to give them the illusion of being elongated.
Met with one of the young Kayan girls, who explained how she wore double the weights of rings around her neck as compared to her age, as a part of tradition.
These women sell scarves, bags, and try to make a living by selling similar handicrafts mainly to tourists.
Before, leaving Inle Lake, I wanted to check out one of the Vineyards of Inle. Hence, as per the recommendation, I headed for Red Mountain Estate & Winery to sample freshly casked local wine. At 5000 kyats, I got to taste 4 types of wine with a panoramic view overlooking Lake Inle.
I boarded a night bus, this time VIP bus was quite comfortable for my overnight journey from Inle Lake to my last destination in Yangon.
Apart from the train journey which caters to slow travel mainly, it is generally wise to travel in Myanmar by bus for they are quite comfortable.
NOTE – Bus tickets can be booked from JJ Express Bus service in Myanmar
Backpacking in the colonial charms of Yangon
Day 9 – Reaching Yangon and Full Day City Exploration
Reached Yangon early morning after a comfortable bus journey from Inle Lake which took around 12 hours.
Ensure that you book a comfortable VIP bus for this long travel.
Yangon formerly known as Rangoon was also the past capital of Myanmar before Naypyidaw. It is presently the largest city of Myanmar.
Yangon is also one of the major industrial epicenter of Myanmar. Commercialization is far more advanced in Yangon than any other city of Myanmar.
The city’s architecture has a colonial influence due to the invasions of Britisher during the early 19th century. After being under several years of international isolation, Yangon architectural wonders totally seemed to have been neglected.
So I preferred staying in Lake Esperado Hotel which was located in the business district of Yangon overlooking the famous Shwedagon Pagoda.
Although, one can also choose from plenty of hostels around the downtown area of Yangon. But, before I ended my 10 days backpacking trip in Myanmar, I chose to stay in a quiet neighborhood, which offered a fantastic aerial view of the city from the rooftop.
Yangon can be best explored either by Grab Cab , e-bikes or bi-cycle.
So, after freshening up, I headed out towards downtown Yangon, and started with War Memorial right in the centre of the town. I walked through many colonial architecture of Yangon which had a similarity with my own city, Kolkata because both have been under British rule.
Next I went on to visit the largest and the oldest golden pagoda in Myanmar. Witnessing Shwedagon Pagoda was really ecstatic and it’s a must visit when in Yangon. The temple, believed to be more than two thousand years old and is adorned with many precious gems and jewellery donated by disciples from all over the world .
It has a very large complex, hence ensuring that you are well prepared to walk and explore the same giving enough time.
Note, that it is worthwhile to visit Shwedagon pagoda specially during or post the sunset because it offers an enchanting golden frame in the evening.
The entry to this largest and the most prominent pagoda will cost you 10000 kyats. But it’s totally worth it.
One can also explore Sule Pagoda which is a smaller pagoda but also is very beautiful. The pagoda, known in Burmese as the Kyaik Athok Zedi, is surrounded by busy streets, a market and colonial era buildings like the Supreme court building and Yangon city hall.
In the afternoon, I ferried myself to the other side of Yangon, to the Burmese fishing village called DALA.
Dala is the countryside village of Yangon located on the other banks of Irrawaddy river. A quick exploration by trishaw was what I did and visited some really rural areas to witness many Burmese artisans at work. Dala also gave me a sneak peek into the local way of life in Myanmar.
Day 10 – Explore the Yangon Neighbourhood in Circular Train
Yangon Circular Train is another way to experience slow travel and to witness the daily life in Yangon. It was commissioned during British colonial era and has not been modified much after that.
The journey is not exactly very comfortable but keeping that aside, it’s the best and cheapest way to explore Yangon in 3 hours. One can hop on – hop off the train at any given stations and can avail a faster commute. The local vendors sell tea, snacks and fruits right throughout the journey which can make the journey quite interesting actually.
Some Important Tips for Myanmar Backpacking :
Myanmar is not providing the Visa on arrival facilities for Indian Passport Holders. But, acquiring the same is pretty easy, as all you have to do is to apply for an E-visa in Myanmar Tourism Site E-Visa is generally issued at the cost of USD 50 for a general tourist single entry visa which allows stay upto a period of 28 days.
Best Time to Travel in Myanmar
Myanmar gets very hot during the summer . Hence the best time to visit between Nov- Feb . But, to keep in mind that being a high season during winters, everything may tend to get pricey.
What to wear while travelling in Myanmar
Myanmar is fairly a conservative religious country. Hence, it is advised to dress modestly to respect the religious sentiments of the locals. Also, because it gets considerably hot during day time. Covering your body parts is generally recommended. Locals wear Longyi (both men and women) which is also part of their traditional attire.
Other recommended places in Myanmar
I would say if you stretch a few more days then you can add less touristic places like Hpa-An , Kyauk Kalap , Kyaiktiyo or to the beaches like Ngapali Beach or Mergui Archipelago.
What to pick as a souvenir gifts from Myanmar
Myanmar is famous for various handmade items be it from natural fabric garments out of Lotus stem weaves, precious stones, wooden carvings, lacquerware items, Sandpainting, organic weaves, and many such. One can choose from as small as fridge magnets, thanaka bark packs for women, various kinds of cigars to niche handmade colorful umbrellas.
What to Eat in Myanmar
Burmese cuisine may not be that famous as its neighbouring country. One it is definitely one of the most interesting ones I savoured while on my 10 day trip in Myanmar. Their dishes are rich in flavour and nutrients.
The must try food items while in Myanmar are Mohenga, Lafat -Thaut (Tea Leaf Salad ), Khauswey , Tempura, Shan noodles, Morning Glory for veg lovers and of course the fresh fruit smoothie which are much easily available.
Summarized 10 Day Travel Itinerary of Myanmar
Day 1 – Reach Mandalay and explore the various temples/pagodas either on foot or by E-bike .
Day 2 – Head for a local food tour (if opted) and take a boat ride across river Ayeyarwady to explore Mingun Temple complex. Watch Sunset at U-Bein bridge in Mandalay.
Day 3– Reach Bagan and explore surrounding areas of Old Bagan to witness sunsets at your chosen point.
Day 4 – Balloon ride in the morning and then Bagan city tour followed by half day tour to Mt. Popa
Day 5 – Post sunrise capture, head to explore more ancient temples/museums of Bagan. Second half take a cruise along the river to experience a stunning Bagan sunset.
Day 6– Reach Inle Lake and explore the quaint surrounding of the town by self exploring.
Day 7 – Take a full day tour of Inle Lake on boat and visit the various workshops and small scale artisans at work. Also, meet Kayan Tribe women at work.
Day 8 – Head to witness some big/ small monasteries in Inle Lake town, get some spa rejuvenation and then head to explore the local Vineyards of Myanmar (Red Mountain Estates & Vineyards) .
Day 9 – Reach Yangon and do a local city exploration along with a trip to Dala to witness the daily life in Myanmar. Visit the famous Sule pagoda and Shwedagon Pagoda .
Day 10 – Take a Yangon Circular Train to experience the slow charm of life in Yangon.
Day 11 – Trip ends and fly out of Yangon.
Note: My Myanmar travel itinerary was planned with a starting point at Mandalay, but if someone is directly flying to Yangon, Myanmar then you can also start the same itinerary from Yangon and follow what is mentioned above.
So, I hope that even if travel is on a halt right now, this article has given you enough pointers to plan out your next travel to Myanmar.
Myanmar is definitely an interesting country which needs to be explored and experienced at its own pace. Hence, my advice would be not to rush and do slow travel in order to savor the real joy of time travel.
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If you have more questions pertaining to Myanmar, do reach out to me in the comments sections and I shall be happy to help as always.
Disclaimer – There was no compensation involved, but I was hosted by Viewpoint Eco Lodge and Esperado Lake View Hotel in Yangon. Also, Beyond Boundaries, Myanmar offered a complimentary tour. But, as always all the opinions mentioned are based on my personal experience.
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