Whilst planning my Southeast Asia trip, I have to admit that the idea of visiting Myanmar hadn’t even crossed my mind. I didn’t really know much about the country and in all honesty, my initial perceptions of it was that it was quite dangerous for tourists to visit. Of course, I was completely wrong.
However as I became more familiar with travelling Southeast Asia and I met more and more travellers who could only sing Myanmar’s praises, I became increasingly keen to visit this country that sounded so fascinating, so intriguingly different to anywhere else I’d heard of. I had been told that now is prime time to visit, as it is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia that isn’t teeming with tourists, fast food outlets and commerciality. And being the curious little explorer that I am, I sure didn’t want to miss out!
I toyed with the idea for a while. It wasn’t originally part of my plan, so my time there would be limited, or I would have to sacrifice plans in other parts of Southeast Asia. As well as that, my friends weren’t willing to pay for the extra visa costs and flights to get there, and one downfall of the country being so uninterrupted by tourists meant that it would be harder to meet other backpackers.
But when did that stop me? With good timing, I made a plan to go with someone I had met back in Laos and we decided to go for 2 weeks. I usually spend about 3-4 weeks in each country in Southeast Asia, so I knew it would be a challenge to see everything I wanted in just 2 weeks. Here’s how we crammed it all in.
Yangon – 2 days/1 night
I’m not usually a fan of Southeast Asia’s huge cities, so I was keen for just 1 night to stay in Yangon. We flew into the city about midday and spent half a day just walking around downtown. The next day we went to check out the incredible golden Shwedagon Pagoda; it is absolutely huge and is known to be the most sacred pagoda in Myanmar. It was truly breath-taking and was definitely the highlight of our visit to Yangon. Other than that, the city didn’t really do much for me.
Overnight bus to Kalaw – 1 day/1 night
To save on time and accommodation costs, we hopped on the overnight bus to the charming hill town of Kalaw. I must say, I was surprisingly impressed with the night buses! On this particular one, we were even given a little goodie bag of toiletries and food, win!
Although Kalaw is a lovely little town, it is really just used as a starting point for the renowned trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake, so we spent just one day and one night here exploring and arranging our trek for the next three days. There are lots of companies to choose from, but going off recommendations we went with ‘Sam’s trekking’, which turned out to be a great idea! The food from the restaurant was also very delicious, and inexpensive too.
Kalaw to Inle lake trek – 3 days/2 nights
We opted for a three-day trek to Inle Lake, and it ended up being my highlight of our stay in Myanmar! Throughout the three days, we trekked through glorious scenery: huge rolling hills, stunning golden fields and tonnes of bright green rice paddy fields. Overnight we stayed in local villages with Burmese families and were served up authentic local food. The trek finished perfectly with a stunning tour of Inle lake by longtail boat. A definite must-do for a visit to Myanmar!
Overnight bus from Inle Lake to Hspiaw + 1 day/1 night in Hspiaw
The day after our trek it was straight on to the next spot and we hurried to catch an overnight bus to the pretty little town of Hspiaw. There we did a bit of exploring, but the main reason we ventured there was to take the famously scenic train journey to Mandalay which leads me on to…
Hsipaw to Mandalay by train/car – 1 day
This journey was another highlight of our trip to Myanmar. The rickety little train ran slowly through beautiful Burmese countryside and we were able to admire the gorgeous views the whole way as we stopped off at little towns and villages. The most exciting part of the journey was travelling over the Goteik viaduct, the highest bridge in Myanmar. The views were spectacular and the train journey is probably the prettiest I’ve ever been on. We actually stopped off at Pyin oo lwin rather than Mandalay in the end, as it is much quicker to hop off there and then bus it to Mandalay. Even then it was a 7-hour journey – train travel in Myanmar sure is scenic, but is definitely on the slow side!
Mandalay 1 day/2 nights
Mandalay was another big city that we weren’t too keen on spending too much time in. We did decide however to take a ride out to the U Bein Bridge (the longest teak bridge in the world I’ll have you know!) for sunset. It really was a beautiful sunset and was definitely worth checking it out. After spending a while admiring it and taking photos we took a seat to relax and watch with a yummy fresh coconut.
Overnight to Bagan 2 days/2 nights
All I can say about Bagan is wow, the ancient temple city really is absolutely beautiful. Littered with thousands of temples, the city truly is a cultural treat for the eyes. We were sure to head to the Shwesandaw pagoda for both sunset and then sunrise the following day, as the owner of our guesthouse informed us it was the best spot for incredible panoramic views. Indeed both the sunset and sunrise were absolutely breath-taking – it looked like something out of a fairytale.
Overnight bus to Yangon
For the last leg of the journey, it was another overnighter back to Yangon to catch our flights out of Myanmar! Knackered from all our travelling, we caught up on some sleep before heading to the airport. Retrospectively it could have been a good idea to fly out of Mandalay to save time moving around, but flights to Yangon proved to be the cheapest.
Considering the time we had in Myanmar, I felt pretty satisfied that we’d hit a fair few places with good measure. I would have loved to see more of the country, such as some of the beaches and Hpa-An down south for instance, but I’m so glad I was able to see the places I did. Myanmar is an absolutely beautiful and interesting country brimming with character, friendly locals and an intrigue that I haven’t picked up anywhere else. I would urge anyone to visit as soon they can before it becomes too overvisited!