Burma, despite its authoritarian government, is rapidly opening its doors to foreign tourists, thus allowing visitors to explore one of Asia’s last refuges of unspoiled beauty. Burma holidays can last as long as travelers wish, but the highlights – places like the golden city of Mandalay and the Bagan Plains – can be done in as little as one week. Follow our suggested itinerary to hit the country’s top spots in a logical sequence.
Day 1: Yangon
Yangon is the country’s largest city and its airport is the arrival point for most travelers to Myanmar. Small when compared to other Asian megacities like Bangkok or Saigon, Yangon still has a few things to hold travelers’ interests. The Shwedagon Pagoda is the chief attraction, and its 320-foot golden stupa is the defining feature of the Yangon skyline.
A more offbeat way to spend an afternoon in Yangon is to take a ride on the Yangon Circular Railway. This mass transit line circles the entire city and is a common way for locals to commute in the city, but far from an ordinary light-rail system, the line sees old diesel trains travel through the scenic countryside and villages that surround Yangon. It’s a cool way to see a bit of rural Yangon and to meet some locals and the entire three-hour trip is only $1.
Days 2-3: Inle Lake
Take a short domestic flight from Yangon to the Heho Airport, which is about one hour by taxi from Inle Lake. Once at the lake most travelers stay in the village of Nyaungshwe on the northern end of the lake, but the lake itself is the reason they come. Small waterside villages inhabited by various tribes line the lake and travelers can hire a boat to explore the floating markets and stilt homes of fishermen. The scenery is breathtaking, as the low-lying lake blends into the surrounding delta in a sea of greenery.
Days 4-5: Mandalay
A 30-minute flight from Inle Lake, Mandalay is the largest city in upper Myanmar. This holy, imperial city is known for its royal palace and the Mahamuni Buddha Temple. Inside the temple a golden and jewel-encrusted statue of the Buddha draws pilgrims from around Myanmar and is an impressive sight.
Don’t miss the opportunity to hike up the Mandalay Hill and stop in at its many temples and monasteries along the way. Mandalay is one of the holiest cities in the country and its large population of Buddhist monks and their flowing orange robes are always ready to strike up a friendly conversation with foreign visitors.
Days 6-7: Bagan
The Irrawaddy River is the lifeblood of Myanmar, as it spans the entire country from north to south. Travelers can experience a small stretch of the river by traveling from Mandalay to Bagan via passenger ship. Only $40, the trip takes nine hours and is perfect for leisurely wasting the day on the sundeck and observing life in rural Burma.
Once at Bagan, one of Asia’s greatest wonders awaits. The Bagan Plains is home to the world’s densest collection of Buddhist temples and pagodas, as literally thousands of ancient temples are strewn across the plains. Dating back to the 12th century, these temples are all that’s left of a once thriving city and its more than 13,000 temples. Dirt hiking trails connect the temples and travelers can easily spend days exploring the site’s archaeological wonders.