The Best Places to Visit in Myanmar (with itineraries)

U-Being bridge at sunset in Mandalay

In this article I’ll explain the best things to do in Myanmar. At the end, I include suggested itineraries for 7 days, 10 days, 2 weeks and 3 weeks in Myanmar. I’ve written more detailed guides to most of these locations and will include links below.

Times change: Since writing this guide, the political situation has changed in Myanmar. Some adventurous travellers are still visiting, so I’m keeping these guides online. Also, in the hope Myanmar will open once more. If you do visit, check your government’s travel advice (it can impact your travel insurance) as well as local advice.

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Yangon

golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Things to do in Yangon

  • Watch the gold gleam at Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the oldest and most sacred Buddhist sights in Myanmar
  • See a 66 metre (216 feet) reclining Buddha at Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda
  • Prefer a seated Buddha? How about the 12 metre (40.5 foot) Buddha at Nga Gyi Pagoda?
  • Take the circle line train to watch local life in action
  • Stroll around some green space (and avoid Yangon’s dense traffic) at Bogoyoke Park

The above is just the highlights of the myriad things to do in Yangon. You can find out more in my post: The Best Things to Do in Yangon

It is very easy to visit Yangon on your own. However, if you prefer a tour, there are plenty of cultural and sightseeing tours in Yangon to choose from.

Recommended length of stay in Yangon: One whole day as a minimum, so 2 nights. Ideally, build in 3-4 days to properly explore Yangon.

Buddha at Nga Gyi Pagoda in Yangon

Should I visit Yangon or Mandalay? In my opinion, Yangon has many more sights and is, for most people, the preferred city.

Where to stay in Yangon

Budget: Little Yangon Hostel

Mid-Range: Jasmine Palace Hotel

Mid-Range: Hotel Grand United (21st Century Downtown)

Luxury: Sule Shangri-La: Click here for latest prices.

Luxury: The Savoy: Click here for latest prices.

Top travel tip: Plan your entire trip route before you set off around Myanmar. As Myanmar’s transport has very specific routes, it’s very easy to paint yourself into a corner that will result in you having to backtrack, chewing through time and money.

Getting to Yangon By Air: Yangon has an international airport and serves the largest number of destinations both within and outside the country.

By bus: Yangon is also very well connected by both bus and train routes. It’s from Yangon that you will have the greatest choice of places to travel to.

By train: Yangon is a major stop on the country’s train system. Do be aware that trains are not what you’d find in developed countries. Think: hard seats and no or inadequate air conditioning. Train travel is also much slower than bus. However, if you’re after a local experience, train is the way to go.

Golden Rock

Golden rock with spire near Yangon
Image: Courtesy of The Culture Map

A gold gilded rock hanging off a cliff edge that’s also a major pilgrimage site – need I say more? It’s best visited as a day trip from Yangon

If you want to take a day trip on your own, you can read how to do it using public transport. And you can find more info about what to see and do at Golden Rock.

For a tour with private transport, you can find out more and check Golden Rock tour prices. 

Bago

If you’re after more pagodas, an impressive reclining Buddha and a wine monastery, you will want to take a trip to Bago.

Bago is only a couple of hours away from Yangon, making it an easy day trip. You can find out how to get to Bago there via public transport and you can read about the sights of Bago.

If you prefer to take a guided tour (which can work out cheaper if you factor in getting around Bago by taxi), you can find Bago tours.

Bagan

Hot air balloons over Bagan

Things to do in Bagan

  • Visit thousands of pagodas – literally thousands, if you have the stamina and enough time
  • See the sunrise over the pagoda-spotted plains of Bagan. If you really want a special moment, see the sunrise from a hot air balloon.
  • Hike Mount Popa – a volcano with a temple on top because…well, that’s how they roll in Bagan.

Bagan is usually (and rightly) stereotyped as a destination for its temples. However, there is a lot more to do in Bagan than most people realise. You can read more suggestions in my post: Things to Do in Bagan – The Land of Pagodas.

And if you don’t think you’ll quite manage thousands of Pagodas, you can find my list of the best pagodas in Bagan.

Want to book a hot air balloon ride over Bagan? This is an activity you should plan ahead.

If you’re also considering booking a pagoda tour in advance.

Recommended length of stay in Bagan: I’d recommend 2 days/3 nights in Bagan because there is a lot to see and do and you’re not going to get tired of those sunrises and sunsets any time soon. As a bare minimum, 1 day and 2 nights but I really think you’ll kick yourself if you scoot through Bagan so quickly.

Brown temple in Bagan

Where to stay in Bagan

Budget: Ostello Bello, Bagan.

Mid-Range: The Hotel at Tharabar Gate.

Luxury: Bagan Lodge

Getting to Bagan

By Air: The nearest airport is Nyaung U, which is just a couple of miles from old Bagan. It is a domestic terminal only.

Compare flight prices and routes with Skyscanner or search on CheapOAir

By bus: Bagan is well connected by bus:

  • Inle Lake (10 hours)
  • Yangon (9 hours)
  • Mandalay (7 hours)

I used and like JJ Express, one of the VIP buses but there are plenty of companies to choose from. Be aware that most buses travel at night. You can read more about booking buses and air transport in my post: Myanmar: Things to Know Before You Go.

By train: Bagan is on Myanmar’s rail network and you can connect with Yangon (16 hours) or Mandalay (8 hours)

Take the boat from Bagan to Mandalay

One of the highlights of my trip was taking the boat from Bagan to Mandalay. Of course, you can take the boat in the opposite direction too. You can read more, including details for booking, in my post: Taking the Boat from Bagan to Mandalay.

Inle Lake

Fisherman at sunset on Inle Lake

Things to do in Inle Lake

  • Take a day trip on Inle Lake exploring the waterways with its stilt houses, markets, floating gardens, pagodas, local traders and restaurants
  • Spend a night on the lake watching the sun set and the sun rise over the water
  • Explore the crumbling ruins of Shwe Indein before it becomes as popular as Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Watch my video of a day on Inle Lake here.

The lake is by far the main attraction at Inle Lake and your priority should be a trip on the water.  You can find out more about the sights in my post: Inle Lake Tour: Things to Do in Inle Lake

It is possible to book a tour of the lake when you arrive but be aware that not all tours are created equally. I booked ahead with Rickshaw Travel and my tour included a night on the lake (though you have to book that tour as part of a longer package in Myanmar). More details in my post above.

Otherwise, there are plenty of Inle Lake Tours you can book online, allowing you time to compare what’s included and read reviews.

Recommended length of stay in Inle Lake: As with Yangon, one whole day is a minimum, so 2 nights. Two nights should be enough in Inle Lake unless you plan on chilling out in a lake-side bungalow. Nyangshwe has very little to entertain besides cafes and restaurants.

Blue Inle Lake with green mountains

Where to stay in Inle Lake: Most of the accommodation is located in nearby Nyuangshwe with a range of budget to luxury options. I would, however, recommend at least one night on the lake for the sunrise and sunset views.

Budget: Song of Travel Hostel Nyangshwe

Mid-Range: Thanakha Inle Hotel Nyangshwe

Mid-Range: Aureum Palace Resort & Spa Inle Nyangshwe

Luxury on the Lake: Golden Island Cottages on Inle Lake.

Luxury in Nyuangshwe: La Maison Birmane Boutique.

Getting to Inle Lake

By Air: The nearest airport is Heho, which is about 45-60 minutes’ ride from Nyangshwe via winding mountain roads. Expect to pay around $20 for your taxi (one of the best deals you’ll get in Myanmar for a taxi ride). Heho is a domestic terminal only. A stay on the lake is about another 20 minutes away from Nyuangshwe by boat (or another 40 or so minutes by road).

Compare flight prices and routes with Skyscanner or on CheapOAir.

By bus: Inle Lake is on pretty much everyone’s itinerary so it is well connected with bus travelling from:

  • Yangon (13 hours)
  • Mandalay (10 hours)
  • Bagan (10 hours)

As mentioned above for Bagan, I used JJ Express, travelling at night. You can read more about booking buses and air transport in my post: Myanmar: Things to Know Before You Go.

By train: Inle Lake is not on Myanmar’s rail network.

Hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake

Hills of Kalaw Myanmar

Courtesy of knee surgery a few months before my trip, hiking was firmly off my agenda. However, hiking from Kalaw to Inle Lake (or vice versa) is a very popular option in Myanmar. Do your research first as I spoke to a number of tourists who did the hike and were underwhelmed by the scenery which has fallen victim to the slash and burn method of agriculture, replacing what could have been green hillsides with patches of burnt earth.

Getting to Kalaw: Most people start in Kalaw and trek to Inle Lake rather than the other way around.

By air: If you’re flying into Heho, you’re halfway there – just take a taxi from the airport. There is a train from the aiport (2 hours) but only once a day in the morning so you’d need to coordinate your flight time.

By bus: there are buses from Mandalay (8 hours), Bagan (8 hours) and Yangon (12 hours)

How long do you need? The most common treks are either 2 or 4 days long.

When should you go? The high season (which is both the most popular but also the driest season) is November to February. Myanmar has a wet season unlike most of the rest of Southeast Asia – it pours, sometimes relentlessly (compared to the once-a-day heavy showers of most monsoons). This can make for some pretty miserable trekking conditions.

Finding a guide and tour – it’s possible to pitch up and find a guide in Kalaw but if you prefer to do your research first or book in advance here are some hiking guides in Kalaw.

Mandalay

U-Bein Bridge at sunet in Mandalay

Things to do in Mandalay

  • Get out of the city and see the U-Bein bridge (the longest teak bridge in the world, which also happens to be 200 years old) at sunset
  • Take a hike up Mandalay Hill, passing monks en route
  • Visit Mandalay Palace: don’t miss the spiral climb into the watchtower and the throne room

Getting to U-Bein Bridge: You can book a local driver to take you to the U-Bein bridge at sunset. I paid around $40, which was steep given it’s just 30 minutes outside Mandalay. You can take a tour of U-Being Bridge for the same price and if you spend a little more, you can find a tour that will give you a wider tour of Mandalay including lunch. 

It’s easy to explore the rest of Mandalay independently. However, be aware that the city is sprawling (necessitating taxis) and taxi prices are high. So, it’s highly likely that a tour of Mandalay will your better option.

Recommended length of stay in Mandalay: Were it not for the U-Being bridge, I would have happily skipped Mandalay altogether. The sights are few and the city doesn’t hold up to the romanticised view many tourists have of it. If you’re able to time it right, you might get by without spending a night in Mandalay. As a maximum, I’d recommend 1 or 2 nights.

Monks in pink robes at souvenir stall in Yangon

Where to stay in Mandalay

Budget: Ostello Bello, Mandalay

Mid-Range: The Link 83 Mandalay Boutique Hotel.

Luxury: Mandalay Hill Resort

Getting to Mandalay

By Air: Mandalay has an international airport that is also well connected domestically. However, be aware that the airport is about 20 miles outside the city, which can be time consuming (over an hour) and costly due to the traffic. Internationally, you will connect with more destinations by flying from Yangon.

Compare flight prices and routes with Skyscanner or on CheapOAir.

By bus and train: Mandalay, like Yangon, connects with most of the tourist stops in Myanmar. See destinations above for travel times.

By boat: see above for details about taking the boat between Mandalay and Bagan – one of the highlights of my trip.

Bike around Pyin Oo Lwin

Red tower and octagonal building in  Pyin Oo Lwin

I also didn’t make it to either Pyin Oo Lwin or Hsipaw (below) thanks to my knee and also prioritising some beach time but if you’re looking for a mountain alternative to Kalaw, heading north of Mandalay is a good alternative.

Pyin Oo Lwin is an old British Colonial spot where the officers would bolt to escape the very un-British sweltering weather of Myanmar. Expect British colonial architecture and a chilled out vibe with great cycling.

Getting to Pyin Oo Lwin: Pyin Oo Lwin is on the train line and takes 6 hours from Mandalay. There are no buses from Mandalay, which is a shame because by road it’s only 2 hours. Ask locally and you may be able to arrange a shared taxi. You can also reach Pyin Oo Lwin from Yangon (12 hours by bus). Pyin Oo Lwin also connects with Hsipaw by bus ( (4 hours) and train (7 hours).

Trek in Hspiaw

Hsipaw is a trekking destination that draws people in and keeps them there (probably because it’s cooler and the air cleaner than most other places in Myanmar).

Getting to Hspiaw: Also on the train line, it takes 13 hours from Mandalay or 7 hours from Pyin Oo Lwin. There are buses from Mandalay ((7 hours), Pyin Oo Lwin (7 hours), Inle Lake (12 hours) and Yangon (15 hours).

Ngapali Beach

Palm trees and sandy beach at Ngapali Beach

Things to do in Ngapali Beach

  • Relax on the beach enjoying that rare experience of having practically nobody else on it
  • Eat seafood that’s been freshly caught by the local fishermen that day
  • Take a day trip to Pearl Island

The beauty of a beach break is that it doesn’t require much planning beyond picking a hotel, choosing your restaurants for lunch and adding in a few minor sights. Luckily, I’ve written a guide covering all of those things: Ngapali Beach Hotels, Restaurants and Sights.

Do be aware that Ngapali practically shuts down during monsoon season (May to October). You’ll find one or two places running a limited service but do you really want to have a beach stop at a wet and windy ghost town?

Recommended length of stay in Ngapali Beach:

I stayed 4 nights and I was ready to move on after that. However, keep in mind that I was travelling solo and I didn’t stay in a luxury resort. With a bit more accommodation comfort and a companion, I could have happily enjoyed 7 nights at Ngapali Beach.

Although it’s possible to visit for a night or two, you’re probably going to have to fly there so it’s probably not going to be worth the expense for a very short stop.

Fishing boats at sunset in Ngapali Beach

Where to stay in Ngapali Beach: You can find full details of where to stay in my post: Ngapali Beach Hotels, Restaurants and Sights.

Getting to Ngapali Beach

By Air: Flying to Ngapali Beach is going to be your best bet because all other transport modes are seriously limited. The local airport is Thandwe and is just a few kilometres from the beach hotels. You can find flights from and to Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Heho (Inle Lake). However, these routes thin in monsoon season with cancellations on the day being common. Your most reliable route is in and out of Yangon.

Compare flight prices and routes with Skyscanner or on CheapOAir

By bus: The only bus route running to Ngapali comes from Yangon and takes around 11 hours.

Naypyitaw

Empty street of Naypyitaw in Myanma

Why visit Naypyitaw? Naypyitaw is insane. Several lane highways – deserted. Grand buildings and a stupa to rival Shwedagon in Yangon – all deserted. Five-star hotels you can get absolute bargain deals on – because they’re deserted. Are you spotting a theme here?

Many visitors wrongly assume that Yangon is the capital of Myanmar…and it was until 2006. However, Naypwitaw stepped into the role after being purpose-built for the job. This capital city, which looks like a scene from an end of the world Blockbuster, must surely must be one of the most bizarre capitals in the world.

There are conspiracy theories about the capital e.g. that the empty highways are, in fact, runways and the entire city was designed for escape in the case of invasion. Whatever the truth behind this strange city, it was enough to inspire an entire episode of Top Gear (who wouldn’t want to race through those empty streets) and makes for a true once-in-a-lifetime travel experience.

Check out this drone footage of Naypyitaw.

Don’t believe me about the 5-star hotel prices? Click to see them for yourself on: 

Hotels.com | Agoda | Priceline | Hotels Combined | Booking.com | Otel.com

Why didn’t I go? Because getting there was a pain in the posterior. With buses running only from Yangon and Mandalay, it wasn’t possible to add the capital into my circular sightseeing route without either backtracking or skipping one of the other sight – neither of which I was prepared to do. If you do want to go to Naypyitaw, make sure you figure out your route before you start travelling.


If you want more details to plan your trip including visas, check out my full guide Myanmar Travel Guide: Know Before you Go.

Choosing a Route for your trip

Shwe Indein Pagoda ruins in Myanmar

Choosing a route is going to be an important part of your visit and not just for the usual reasons – efficiency of travel, and packing in the sights you want to see – Myanmar only opened up to tourism relatively recently and this has two implications for your itinerary.

First, there are still parts of Myanmar that you cannot, as a tourist, visit. There are also some parts that you can only visit under the supervision of a guide. This post covers only those places you are free to wander all on your own (without getting arrested or without hiring a guide).

Second, infrastructure is still being built. So, although it should make sense for you to be able to take a bus from one major tourist spot to another, it’s not always possible. A tourist ‘trail’ has sprung up and if you want to detour from it, be prepared for slow or expensive travel; most likely both.

My Myanmar itinerary: I spent 3 weeks in Myanmar, travelling at a reasonably leisurely pace. There are other places I would have liked to have added in but didn’t reach for various reasons – hiking was out due to recent knee surgery and a trip to the capital (Naypdidaw) was out due to bad planning and a pre-booked tour at Inle Lake. I have included these spots to give you more complete information for planning your trip.

Choosing a route: I travelled in a big circle, starting in Yangon and, after a lot of research, I believe this is the best route. It’s easier to find cheap flights in and out of Yangon – the city connects with way more places internationally compared to Mandalay – and the major tourist spots form a bit of a circle that will save you zig-zagging the country because you’re flying into Yangon and out of Mandalay. Of course, this loop becomes harder the fewer days you have to travel within Myanmar so some of my suggested Myanmar itineraries below, take a different tack, focusing on the real highlights.

How long do you need? I’ve long been a proponent of ‘it’s better to see somewhere quickly than not see it at all’. So, if you only have 7 days in Myanmar, you only have 7 days. As I’ve mentioned, I had 3 weeks but I could have wrapped it up in 2 weeks if I’d been focused and I’d say 2 weeks is a fantastic trip length. 10 days is still going to get you through most of the highlights and, because travel is slow in Myanmar, 7 days is going to involve some real cherry-picking of the sights. But, as I said, you have as long as you have, right? My suggested Myanmar itineraries can be found at the end.

Booking a guided tour of Myanmar

Since Myanmar has opened up, many companies now offer tours throughout the country. I love Intrepid Travel. I’ve taken several of their trips over the years and they have never disappointed with the quality, especially given the affordable price. Always a great mix of solo travellers, couples and all ages, Intrepid Trips are perfect if you’re new to travel, don’t feel like planning your own itinerary or want to venture into a country you’re not sure about visiting alone. I’d especially recommend them for Myanmar given recent trouble – you know you’ll have a local guide to steer you safely through the country.

Suggested Itineraries

Note: for all of these itineraries, you will have to adjust your ‘nights’ if you choose to take night buses instead of flying. This is easier if you have more time. For shorter trips, I’d recommend flying if your budget allows and then try to aim for early morning or late-night flights to avoid wasting your limited sightseeing time in transit.

7-days – Yangon (2 nights) – Inle Lake (2 nights) – Bagan (2 nights) – Mandalay (1 night)

10-days – Yangon (3 nights) – Inle Lake (2 nights) – Bagan (3 nights) – Boat Bagan to Mandalay – Mandalay (2 nights – includes an early evening arrival from the boat to Mandalay). This is an extended version of the 7-day itinerary. I wouldn’t get too excited about adding in any other stops because transport is slow in Myanmar and you’d be very pushed. As it is, this is a nice itinerary (IMO)

2-weeks – Start with the basic 10-day itinerary and amend it according to your preference. Options include:

For beach bums: Yangon (3 nights) – Inle Lake (3 nights) – Bagan (3 nights) – Mandalay (1 night) – Ngapali Beach (3 nights) – Yangon for flight out (1 night)

For sports lovers: Yangon (3 nights) – Klaw (3 nights – arrival + 2 day trek) – Inle Lake (3 nights – includes some rest time) – Bagan (3 nights) – boat Bagan to Mandalay – Mandalay (2 nights – includes an early evening arrival from the boat to Mandalay)

For culture vultures: Yangon (4 nights including a day trip to Golden Rock) – Bago (1 night) – Inle Lake (3 nights) – Bagan (4 nights – for more temples) – Mandalay (2 nights)

3-weeks – Yangon (3 nights) – Klaw (4 nights for the 4-day trek) – Inle Lake (3 nights) – Bagan (4 nights) – boat Bagan to Mandalay – Mandalay (2 nights – includes an early evening arrival from the boat to Mandalay) -.Ngapali Beach (4 nights) – Yangon for a flight out (1 night).

With 3 weeks at your disposal, you can tailor this itinerary in many ways.

If you want to add in Pyin OO Lwin/Hsipaw, skip Ngapali Beach and reduce your Klaw trek to 2 days. You could also skip the beach to explore Naypyitaw.

And if you have 4 weeks in Myanmar, you can simply add all of these into the 3-week itinerary.

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Close up of U Being bridge at sunset with people walking on it

Image credits: Kalaw, Naypyidaw, Pyin oo Lwin

Author - Jo Fitzsimons

Hi, I'm Jo, the writer behind Indiana Jo. In 2010 I quit my job as a lawyer and booked an around the world ticket. As a solo female traveller, I hopped from South America to Central America, across Asia, the Middle East and Europe. It was supposed to be a one-year trip but over a decade later, it's yet to end. I've lived in a cave, climbed down a volcano barefoot, spent years as a digital nomad, worked as a freelance travel writer, and eaten deadly Fugu. Now I'm home, back in the UK, but still travelling far and wide. You can find out more About Me.