A giant gold temple glitters in the evening sun, shimmering softly as the rays transition from orange to pink. Buddhists pray at the foot of statues within the compound, while pressing their foreheads to the ground. Outside, clusters of people laugh boisterously as they sip on traditional cups of tea, as rich as they are sweet. Music floats through the street markets, filling the gaps between the sound of honking cars, frying food, and chortling families.
This is a glimpse into the beauty of Myanmar, a country almost untouched by the western world. Even in downtown Yangon, the capital city, there were very few foreigners around. If you are looking for a new taste, a new smell, or an extremely old building, this is a country worth exploring.
Here’s my best effort at a 5-day Itinerary in Myanmar:
A Brief Overview
- Price: Besides the flight, the most expensive part of your trip will be your accommodations. For whatever reason, hotels are proportionally expensive compared to local street food, shopping and taxis. Any by expensive, I mean that you can still stay at a guest house for around $20 USD per night. What I am trying to say is, it’s cheap here, but not as cheap as most S.E Asian countries. You can grab dinner for less than $1 USD. A 15-min taxi ride will run you about $2. Even temple visits (which only charge foreigners) are about $3 USD each (in Yangon).
- Food: Spicy cuisine; fried rice, fried noodles, and lots of chicken, seafood, or pork.
- Etiquette: Be careful where you take photos: It’s rude to photograph meditating monks, as well as taking photos of people without permission. You must take off shoes and socks when entering a Buddhist site. Don’t wear any form of Buddha imagery (t-shirt, etc) If you happen to have a Buddha tattoo, cover it. (Read more about that HERE.) Never touch another person’s head, cheek, or face. Don’t use your foot to point at anything. Myanmar is extremely conservative, so do your best to cover your shoulders, and knees.
Yangon: 2-3 days
No itinerary would be complete without a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is highly underrated. I don’t understand why it isn’t a world heritage site, the way the Taj Mahal and the Colosseum and even the close Ankor Wat are. It’s huge. It’s gorgeous. It will leave you awe struck. Be prepared to spend the whole day visiting this monument. Get here early in the morning for a relatively empty pagoda, before the tourists (and the heat of the day) come. If you finish exploring around 12-1, you can rest or siesta, and return around 5-6pm to catch the Pagoda lit up for the evening. Novices (baby monks) will be meditating and practicing their evening prayers, and the inner ring of the temple is filled with candle lights.
Despite the obvious beauty and mystique of the Shwedagon Pagoda, walking around Kandawgyi Lake was by far my favorite activity in Yangon. Families picnicked along the waters edge with their children, and couples strolled by, enjoying their afternoons. The water springs fill the air with rainbows from the waning light, and the Palace sits off in the distance, beckoning you closer. The rickety boardwalk is in slight disrepair, squeaking and and moving as you walk, and the areas currently under construction are entertaining to walk through.
Sule Pagoda & Reclining
Sule Pagoda is also noteworthy, as well as the Reclining Buddha. Depending on how adventurous you are, your second (or third, for us in relax mode) day in Yangon can be spent visiting the surrounding temples and street markets.
Mandalay and Bagan: 1.5-2 days
Sunrises are a must see in Bagon. Check out my posts on where to see the Hot Air Balloon Sunrises and beautiful sunsets in Bagon for detailed information about the best spots to view. Rent a scooter for a day and putter around all the temples. Here are some of my favorites:
- Ananda Temple
- Dahmmayan Gyi Phaya Temple
- Shwezigon Pagoda
- That Byin Nyu
- Sinbyushin Monastic Complex
If you are spending a second day in Mandalay/Bagon, talk to your guest house about renting a taxi to the Mandalay Hill, where a gold temple awaits, or take a trip out to the Mandalay Palace and walk through the compound.
If you have extra time, I recommend taking a bus to Inle Lake, which is a bit of a trek from both Bagon and Yangon. It’s supposed to be very beautiful, which is not something I would take for granted in Myanmar. Most of the natural features of the country are quite sad. I’m not sure if that’s due to the season I visited, or because the country lacks conservation efforts to keep their rivers and lakes clean.