By Melissa Reichwage
Myanmar has much to offer, as adventurers realize after a bit of quick research. Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake, and Ngapali Beach are well on their way to becoming major tourist destinations.
To get the full Myanmar experience, you should combine the colonial heritage of the cities with ancient Buddhist culture and stunning rural landscapes. The classic Yangon-Mandalay-Bagan-Yangon journey gives visitors an insight into all of the above.
Day 1—2: Yangon
The Yangon International Airport (RGN) is served by a number of airlines including Air China, Qatar Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and AirAsia. As the country’s main economic hub and former capital, it is a logical starting point. Plus, Yangon has plenty to offer the curious traveler.
For lodging, I recommend the Governor’s Residence, which is one of the most famous luxury hotels in Yangon. The colonial style mansion has a romantic old-world atmosphere. The Strand Hotel is another stunning spot—it was built in 1901 by two of the Sarkies Borthers and has a fascinating history.
Once you’ve settled into your hotel, explore the city. One of the first impressions you are likely to have is that this city of five million has a completely different feel than others in Asia. Downtown Yangon, where much of the colonial architecture still remains, is accessible by foot. However, some of the sites are a lengthy walk and it is best to call for a taxi.
Shwedagon Pagoda is the most important religious site in Yangon. The golden structure watches over Yangon from Singuttara Hill. Second in command is Sule Pagoda, located almost perfectly in the center of the city. The 46-meter-tall, octagonal-shaped gold pagoda serves as a major traffic circle and is impossible to miss.
For a taste of nature within the city limits, join the young couples walking around Inya Lake and Kandawgyi Lake. They both have paths for easy, casual walking. When you’re tired out, float on over to the giant Burmese royal boat on Kandawgyi Lake. You can eat dinner while enjoying traditional dancing and theatre. The sunset from here is especially stunning.
Before you leave town, do some shopping at Bogyoke Aung San Market, where you can purchase local crafts and traditional textiles.
Day 3—4: Mandalay
Fly to Mandalay International Airport, in the center of Myanmar. It is the second largest city in the country, after Yangon. It is a highly-religious area, with around half of Myanmar’s monks living in the surrounds.
Mandalay was established by King Mingdon Min of Burma in 1857. The city has seen its fair share of drama, from British conquest to bombing and fires during World War II.
On your first day in Mandalay visit important cultural sites: Kuthodaw Pagoda, Mandalay Palace, and Shwe Nandaw Kyaung. On your next day, take a day trip to Sagaing, located 20 km southwest of Mandalay on the opposite bank of the Ayeyarwady River. It is home to some 500 stupas, and has a peaceful pace led by local Buddhists.
Day 5—6: Bagan
Just when you think you’ve seen the best that Myanmar has to offer, fly to Bagan to be blown away. The 26-square-mile green landscape with palms and tamarind has the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas, and ruins. It is impossible to visit all 2,230 of the temples, but you can definitely get a pretty good view from a hot air balloon.
Once you’ve had a bird’s eye view, rent a horse cart or bike to see the structures up close. Many contain frescoes, carvings, and ornate statutes of Buddha that require a full day to admire.
Day 7: Yangon
Return to Yangon to fly onward to your next destination. You will likely feel a sense of wonderment from your one week Myanmar holiday and the desire to learn more about this diverse nation upon returning home.
Melissa Reichwage is an avid traveler and international development and health professional currently living in Colombia. She holds a Master’s in Public Health from Emory University in Atlanta (USA). With familial ties in Myanmar, she has a special affinity for the beautiful landscapes and the people there.