Before you go…
- You need a visa to visit Myanmar. And start early (a month in advance) – you apply online and can pick up the stamp at the airport.
- At the time of our travel, you needed a permit to visit certain areas. We didn’t need one for the itinerary described below, but it is worth checking (and bringing some additional passports photos just in case).
- Read books, watch documentaries/movies about the country (check my reading list here)
To bring with you…
- Torch (flashlight) as power blackouts are common (and electricity is cut in the streets as soon as the sun sets)
- Toilet paper
- Baby-wipes are handy (especially during treks, when you don’t fancy using the cold-water bucket everyday…)
- And more here
In this article… I am not going to recommend any accommodation, for 2 reasons
- The country is growing so fast that there are probably better ones these days
- There will definitely be better ones than where we stayed: we never booked anything in advance. We arrived in a new place, looked for what looks like the cheapest option and negotiated the price. When checking afterwards on tripadvisor, most hostels were ranked “terrible”.
Day 1: Yangon
I loved Yangon – the atmosphere, the street eats, the (relatively) low number of motorbikes, the decrepit colonial buildings. One day wasn’t enough, I wish we had stayed longer.
- Follow this (2-4 hours) walk from the Lonely Planet. Take time to wander through the streets of Yangon, past men still wearing the traditional longyi and women wearing Thanaka, this yellowish-white cosmetic paste. It will give you a good view of the city, away from the super-tourist attractions (and don’t forget to stop at a Myanmar tea house).
- The unmissable sites: the Shewedagon Pawa, covered with Golden Leaves, one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites and the Theingyi Zei market.
- Take a nice walk along the Inya Lake, if you are overwhelmed at the end of the day
- Where to eat ? Visit 19th St (between Mahabandoola and Anawrahta roads) where all happens. Order what the local sat next to you on a small stool with a beer.
- In the evening, we took the bus to Kalaw (10h).
Day 2: Kalaw (founded by the British to avoid the heat of the plains, the air is cool and the atmosphere is calm).
- Bus arrived at 4 in the morning
- We got lost looking for a pagoda. What could have been a very bad day turned into a cultural experience when a family (seeing us walking past, in torrential rain) offered cover. We spent the evening looking at their wedding pictures, drinking tea; us ladies got our first Thanaka and the boys tried their first betel. We never found the pagoda, but instead, we had the one of the most memorable times of the trip.
Day 3 & 4: Trek from Kalaw to Inlay Lake
- You might decide to reach the Inlay lake by foot instead of bus. Our guide was a local 70-year old man, with better legs than us and an impressive knowledge of the area. He was recommended by our guesthouse, Golden Lily Guest House (terrible ratings on tripadvisor, but clearly amazing recommendations).
- The trek is more a cultural experience, with no impressive views or challenging paths. We stopped in some villages, spent some time with children in schools and slept with Pa-O families. 15km the first day and 20km the second day.
Day 5: Inlay Lake surroundings
- We stayed in Nyaungshwe.
- The countryside that surrounds the lake is worth a visit. Rent some bikes early morning to reach the northwestern side of the lake (Khaung Daing) by boat. Your ride will take you past fisherman’s villages and hot springs.
- Finish the day with a glass of wine in Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery. The wines are not that exciting, but the sunset and the view are well worth the tough climb.
Day 6: Boat trip on Inlay Lake
- You won’t have any problems arranging a day trip on the lake.
- I didn’t enjoy that day very much – the boat brought us to some “traditional” workshops (weaving factories, cheroot factories…), all hoping you will buy something before you go. It was definitely the most touristy thing we did on the trip and the only time we felt the interaction was just for money.
- Inthein was beautiful though – crumbling stupas choked in greenary
- We left in the evening for a 10 hour bus drive to Bagan
Day 7 & 8: Bike around Bagan temples
- We arrived at 4am in Bagan and after a short sleep hired bikes to discover the pagodas (I have to admit, I was so tired at this point that I hired a motorized bicycle).
- Just go and discover! One plain, thousands of temples, all connected with a vast network of bumpy dirt trails. Little shade and nowhere to have lunch so plan accordingly.
- Try and find a small temple, where you can climb on top. This will be your spot for the sunrise the next morning (day 8).
Day 9: Mandalay
- Local bus to reach Mandalay (6h). Go with the locals, it’s (kind of) funny to be packed like sardines between bags, food provisions from local merchants and crying kids
- I was really disappointed by Mandalay. I hoped for the Queen city of Asia (thanks R. Kipling for getting my hopes up), but we discovered interminable straight roads full of concrete building.
Day 10: Hsipaw
- Woke up at 3am to take the train to Hsipaw.
- 10h of train – and it is an unforgettable experience – you sit on wooden banks, with the locals, and amazing views.
- We only spend an afternoon in Hsipaw but I wish we had stayed longer. I liked this laid-back little town, it is (was?) not crowded by tourists, but you had enough infrastructure to have a nice time (small in-the-open restaurants, barbecues, juices shops and nice places to have a beer)
- We stayed at Mr Charles guest house, reputed for his treks, and organised our trek.
Day 11 & 12 & 13: 3 days trek from Hsipaw.
- Probably the highlight of the trip. 5h of walking per day, passing through Shan and Palaung villages. Children playing in the dirt roads. Going through fields of buffalo. Women carrying goods from the farm. You stay in villages that have seen very few foreigners (at the time of traveling). Wash in a bucket. Rice & vegetable curry for every meal.
- I recommend taking a guide, as it enables you to communicate with the locals and learn more about the country.