Most first-time visitors to Myanmar (Burma) focus on five destinations: Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, Yangon and Ngapali Beach. They offer a great mix of sights, ranging from the longest wooden teak bridge of Mandalay and one of Southeast Asia’s greatest archeological sites in Bagan, to the golden sand for a leisure holiday at Ngapali beach.
It usually takes 12 days to enjoy all of them, starting from Yangon. The best time to visit is between October and April, during the cool season, with more chances to enjoy the spectacular sunrise and sunset at a moderate temperature.
Mandalay – the Last Royal Capital of Myanmar
Mandalay, in central Myanmar, was the last royal city in Burma and is probably today the only place that actually meets people’s expectations for the “real” Myanmar.
Bearing the remnants of four royal capitals for more than 500 years, Mandalay owns some of the country’s most iconic sights, from the magical sunsets above the much-photographed U Bein Bridge to the World’s largest carved book at a vast assembly of stone tablets surrounding the Kuthodaw Pagoda.
Top Things to Do in Mandalay
Take a boat trip to U-Bein Bridge, the longest teak wood bridge in the world, to catch a beautiful sunset with orange hues enveloping the lake.
Visit different types of monasteries and pagodas, each of them having their own characteristics. Watch the face-washing ritual at Mahamuni Pagoda in the early morning, with the chance to press gold leafs on the bronze Buddha (only for male visitors). Touch the faded teak wood structure with rich carvings in Shwenandaw Monastery, which is the sole remnant of what was once the magnificent Golden Palace.
Extend your trip to the surrounding area like Inwa City, which served as the Burmese capital for over six centuries, retaining evocative pagodas and old monasteries. Or Mingun, located on the banks of Irrawaddy River, housing the largest unfinished stupa.
Suggested length of visit：2 full days
Reach Mandalay by Air
Mandalay is easily accessible via a 2-hour international flight from Bangkok (Thailand) or Kunming (China). Alternatively, it takes 30 minutes by air from Inle Lake or Bagan, or 90 minutes from Yangon.
Bagan – Hot Air Balloons Flying Over the Plain
Bagan consists of three districts – Old Bagan, Nyaung U and New Bagan. Old Bagan is blessed with highly impressive sunrise and sunset views over the most amazing pagoda complex in the world.
Enjoy the view either from the top of a pagoda or from a hot air balloon. The city itself is just GREAT, especially for photographers.
Top Things to Do in Bagan
Bagan Archaeological Zone, with over 2,200 ruins on the plains of Old Bagan, is the main reason why travelers visit Bagan. Most of the ruins are 10 centuries old. You can explore the zone either by biking or by taking a horse-cart ride.
Shwesandaw Pagoda is the most popular point from which travelers enjoy a panoramic view over Bagan at sunset.
A hot air balloon ride over the plains of Bagan is regarded by many as a must-do, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Balloons operate between October and March, with only a few still flying in April. The sunrise schedule is the most popular.
Take a photograph tour led by a professional guide, who knows exactly when is the best time to capture sunlight coming in, and who leads you to the best shooting points with unrivalled perspective.
Suggested length of visit: 2 full days
Reach Bagan by Air or Boat
It’s easy to take a 40-minute flight from Mandalay or Inle Lake to Bagan. A flight from Yangon to Bagan takes an hour and 10 minutes.
It’s also cool to cruise along the Irrawaddy River between Mandalay and Bagan. A 9-hour daytime journey on a fast boat allows travelers to enjoy stunning scenery and observe local culture.
Inle Lake – Traditional Fishing in “the Maldives”
Nicknamed the Burmese Maldives, Inle Lake is a vast expanse of blue water surrounded by mountains. The area features floating villages, floating gardens and a 5-day market. You can enjoy a nice combination of leisure and trekking there.
Top Things to Do in the Inle Lake Area
A late-afternoon boat trip on the lake is the most popular way of seeing this heaven-endowed area.
Local fishermen still fish in the traditional way – performing a balance act by using one leg to row and steer the boat, while the other commands the boat’s hull. This is believed to be the easy way of catching fish!
The 5-Day Market is an interesting place for experiencing local culture. There is a 5-day market rotation among the area’s villages – Nyaung Shwe, Heho, Taunggyi, Mine Thauk and Shwe Nyaung. An 8-km boat ride may be required to get to the market.
Trekking in Kalaw
Trekking in Kalaw (just 90 minutes drive from Inle Lake) attracts increasing numbers of outdoor-activity lovers. It offers a chance to see rural life as it has been ever since pre-modern days and to see people from different ethnic minority groups.
Serving as Myanmar’s prime trekking destination, Kalaw was originally a summer retreat spot developed by the British. We arrange treks, starting from 1 day for general travel and 2 days for visitors who like immersing themselves in picturesque villages nestling on the slopes.
Click here to find out more about Trekking in Kalaw.
Farther north, Hsipaw provides a much less frequented trekking route.
Suggested length of visit: 3 full days
Reach Inle Lake by Air
Most travelers are likely to fly to Inle Lake from Mandalay or Bagan, taking just 30 to 40 minutes. From Yangon, it takes 70 minutes by air. Once you arrive at Heho airport, it takes about 50 minutes to drive into the lake area.
Yangon – the Capital of Myanmar’s Spiritual Life
Yangon (Rangoon), the former capital, is still the capital of Myanmar’s spiritual life, thanks to the Shwedagon Pagoda. Yangon is the biggest and most prosperous city in Myanmar, like Shanghai in China or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The city retains much of its colonial charm.
Top Things to Do in Yangon
The Shwedagon Pagoda is not only the spiritual center of the country but also the main center of activity for locals. The pagoda is shiny and impressive, for all its stupas are layered with gold, silver or jade. A stream of pilgrims worship there while kneeling on the ground and communicating with Buddha with their hearts and souls.
The Colonial District deserves a visit, to see its historical buildings such as the High Court Building and the Strand Hotel. You can learn more about its colonial legacy from a guide who will lead you on a walk around the quarter.
Don’t miss Bogyoke Aung San Market, a lively place where locals trade and buy everyday commodities. Prices are quite reasonable, with the largest selection of Myanmar handicrafts. Allow yourself an hour to explore and to buy something special to bring back home.
The Golden Rock
The Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo is the third most sacred site in Myanmar right after the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon and the Mahamuni Temple in Mandalay. It could be visited on a day-trip from Yangon.
Suggested length of visit: 2 or 3 full days
Reach Yangon by Air
Yangon is the perfect start- and finish-point for a Myanmar trip, as it has the busiest airport in Myanmar, with frequent international flights connecting with other Asian countries and many domestic flights.
There are 20 flights a day between Bangkok and Yangon, taking only an hour and 45 minutes. From Yangon to Mandalay it takes an hour and 55 minutes. To Bagan it is 80 minutes and to Inle Lake 70 minutes.
Ngapali– 3-km of Beach Without a Soul in Sight
According to TripAdvisor, Ngapali Beach is one of the top 25 beaches in the world: “Three kilometers of beach without a soul to be seen. No seashells, no rocks, no vendors!” A short beach holiday would make the perfect conclusion to a Myanmar trip.
Top Things to Do at Ngapali Beach
TripAdvisor is spot on. Ngapali Beach is a beautiful place for enjoying the sunshine and having a relaxed time with loved ones. Unlike beaches in Thailand, there is a slim chance of seeing big crowds or many hotels there. Click here to see the difference between Ngapali Beach and Thai beaches.
The resorts are a bit more chic, with Burmese style teak-built chalets and infinity pools. Just enjoy YOUR OWN beach – the brilliant sand, warm water and ocean breeze. It’s therapeutic, after sightseeing in Myanmar’s cities.
The dry season, from November to early April, has ideal weather conditions for beach holidays, while the rainy season, from May to October, may affect the experience with storms, delays on flights and closure of some resorts.
Suggested length of visit: 3 full days
Reach Ngapali by Air
A 50-minute flight from Yangon to Ngapali is the most convenient way of reaching the beach. Thandwe Airport, which serves the beach, is only about 10 minutes’ drive from most of the beach hotels. But you’ll not notice the airport, as you enjoy your time on the beach!
Visit Myanmar with Asia Highlights
We provide tailor-made tours to Myanmar. Tours typically start or end in Yangon or Mandalay and last approximately 9 days; visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.