I spent three weeks in Myanmar in January/February earlier this year and it was one of the best trips I ever took, in terms of the country itself and on a personal level – I feel I changed for the better after my trip. My three weeks in Myanmar definitely helped me put my life in perspective and I met some interesting people that I really connected with, a win-win really.
I spent a long time researching Myanmar before I left; I poured over guidebooks, scoured the internet and read way too many blog posts. My style of trip planning is to read a lot before I go but not take a guidebook or fixed schedule with me on the actual trip. Everyone has their own style but I find this works best for me, I have a good memory so all those blog posts I read do tend to pay off!
If you’re the research type, you might find, compared to other countries, that there is a lack of accurate information for Myanmar. A lot of the information on Myanmar is outdated because the country is changing so quickly – even blog posts or guidebooks from 2015 or 2016 were out of date to some degree.
For someone who is trying to plan an itinerary (however loose), this can throw a bit of a spanner in the works. While I generally don’t follow set itineraries for multi-week trips, I do like to read other people’s itineraries to get some ideas. So if you’re looking at visiting Myanmar, I hope the trip I took will be of use to you.
Three Weeks in Myanmar: My Itinerary
This itinerary gives you a few extra days leeway if you want to spend extra time in a particular place that grows on you. You could also change it up a bit and go Yangon-Mawlyamine-Hpa An-Yangon then go Bagan-Mandalay-Inle-Yangon if you want to cut down on bus time. In hindsight, I think I would recommend this route more!
Yangon (3 nights)
A lot of travellers begin their trip in Yangon and it’s a good place to start – you’ll get an easy introduction to Burmese culture and food and it has great connections to other cities and towns. A big bonus is that most people start and end their trips in Yangon so there will be plenty of people at the end of their trip to give you advice! As for the city itself, there are numerous things to do in Yangon but to keep you entertained for your 3 nights I recommend:
Shwedagon Pagoda: You can visit any time of day – sunset and sunrise are both popular. I visited in the middle of the day and the tiles were burning on my bare feet, so keep that in mind.
The Circle Train: Probably my favourite thing I did in Yangon, for 200 Kyat (at the time of writing) you can ride the bumpy Circle train for 3 hours. Although a number of tourists do take the train, it isn’t a manufactured experience at all – people bring their vegetables to market, students commute from outlying villages and vendors board the train at almost every stop to sell food from their baskets.
Inya Lake: Take a taxi up to Inya Lake and have a stroll with all the young couples of Yangon. There are plenty of spots nearby for lunch and you can even play Aqua Golf like I did!
Bogyoke Aung San Market Market: Bogyoke market is fun and there are some bargains to be had, just haggle a little. Fabrics, food and jewellery are the main items but you can find pretty much everything.
Aside from these options, you’ll find plenty to fill your days; hit Chinatown, try Shan noodle soup, try a club (an interesting experience according to some guys I met), check out the museums and random roadside stalls.
Bagan (2 nights)
Take a night bus from Yangon to Bagan, that way you’ll get three days but only pay for two nights accommodation. The night buses (if you go with the right company, JJ Express is considered the best) are pretty luxurious for Myanmar – a ton of leg room, the seat reclines way back, a tv screen in the back of the headrest, food, blankets, the works really. Just bring allll your layers, the guidebooks and bloggers are not joking when they talk about how cold the night buses are.
Once you get off your nightbus, you will be mobbed by taxi drivers wanting to take you to the sunrise over the temples with the hot air balloons in the distance, en route to your accomodation. It makes a lot of sense to see the sunrise now as your bus will likely drop you off in Bagan around 5am but be prepared to haggle hard or find a group to share a taxi.
In Bagan, rent an e-bike and speed around the temples. Two days of this was really enough as there are over 3,000 temples in the archaeological zone, so unless you’re an architecture buff you probably don’t need much more time than this. I got up for sunrise at the temples every morning in Bagan and never regretted it but sunset is beautiful too (no hot air balloons though), if waking up between 5-6am is too early for you.
Other things to do: visit Mt Popa and the monkeys, relax in your hostel/hotel, try out some of the touristy (but still cheap) restaurants and try to visit all three areas, Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung U – they each have something to offer.
Mandalay (2 nights)
You can take the bus from Bagan to Mandalay but my advice is to take the boat! If you’re on a tight budget it might seem a little much but when you factor in that you’re paying for an 8 hour boat ride with food and unlimited tea and coffee, it doesn’t seem so bad. Taking the boat solo for the day was one of the best things I did! You can book your boat at any of the travel/ebike stalls around Bagan no sweat.
As for Mandalay itself, I actually spent 3 nights but honestly, 2 are enough; I spent the extra night because I got the worst food poisoning of my life and felt too weak to take the bus. Mandalay seems to be a bit hit and miss for some people – I don’t feel overly qualified to give advice on the city because I was awfully sick for most of my time there but I did like the day I got to enjoy before falling sick.
Get a group and rent a taxi for the day or if you know someone with some experience driving on South East Asian roads, rent a motorbike and go solo to the spots around the city that all the guidebooks list.
Some of them may be touristy (looking at you U Bein Bridge at sunset) but it’s worth it and I really didn’t find it that touristy compared to Inle Lake or some of the temples in Bagan. A lot of the backpackers in Myanmar seemed particularly concerned about whether a place was touristy or not (more so than other countries I’ve been to), and it got a bit exhausting – some places are touristy for a reason people!
Inle Lake (3 nights)
There are day and night buses from Mandalay to Inle Lake – I took the day “bus” (which was actually a modern, air-conditioned 12-seater van) and recommend it. Try to find one that takes you door-to-door from your accommodation (most do), I heard that getting to the Mandalay bus station can be a beast.
Again, I spent 4 nights in Inle Lake because I was still recovering and because I’d hoped to break up my trip from Inle Lake to my next destination Mawlamyine by stopping over in a village, but found that wasn’t possible. So I stayed an extra night in Inle Lake and chilled out – there was still plenty to do!
In Inle make sure to:
Get on the water as much as possible: I took a boat ride every day I was in Inle Lake – there is heaps to explore and you can ask your driver to take you to different spots each ride. Just try to avoid the workshops where people pretend to make handicrafts when you walk by then go back to playing Candy Crush when you leave.
Rent a bike: Cycling around the bumpy roads was great fun, you can loop around part of the lake then get a boat back across with your bikes.
Cycle to Red Mountain winery: Is the wine good? Not particularly. Is it the cheapest wine tasting you’ll do ever do? Probably. Cycle up at sunset for questionable wine, weird cheese palate cleansers and great views.
Visit the market in the town: Tip – the market in town sells the same stuff as the rip-off floating shops on the lake for much less and you get a more local feel. I stopped to talk with some of the vendors, who remembered me and waved at me every time we saw each other!
You can also check out floating restaurants for lunch, cycle to the hot springs and caves and find some Western food if you’ve got cravings – try One Owl Grill for the best burgers you’ll find in Myanmar!
Mawlamyine (3 nights)
I then took a very long winded, two-leg bus trip to Mawlamyine via sawdust-covered concrete steps in Bago. Would I recommend it? Not really. Was it hard to find a bathroom in Bago at 3am? Yes. Was it actually that bad? Nope (well the bathroom was – yikes!). It was a long journey but I managed to sleep for part of it and it meant I didn’t have to stop over in Yangon.
While Mawlamyine didn’t leave much of an impression on me, I highly recommend the day tour to Ogre Island with Mr. Antony (book at Breeze Guesthouse), checking out the crazy market or going for a stroll by the river.
There’s nothing wrong with Mawlamyine but it doesn’t really compare with Bagan, Inle or Hpa-An (I mostly remember it for the mango smoothies my hotel had). There are no proper hostels either (just bunk rooms in hotels/guesthouses) so there wasn’t the whole social vibe thing either.
I only stayed the third night so I could take the morning boat to Hpa-An (book at Breeze Guesthouse – so worth it!!).
Hpa-An (3 nights)
I’ve already expressed my love for Hpa-An – it was a highlight of my trip.
Take a tuk-tuk tour to the caves, go swimming in one of the swimming holes, climb Mt Zwegabin and try out one of the casual food joints around town (there’s even a mall with ice cream if you’ve got cravings). The market was also a delight, there was so much fruit and such friendly, generous vendors! You can read my in-depth guide here.
There are plenty of other things to do in Hpa-An as well if you wanted to stay longer but three nights is a good amount of time to see a lot of things without feeling rushed.
Back to Yangon (1 night)
I then got the day bus back to Yangon and spent one night there before flying back. I didn’t do particularly much (sick again!), just checked out the markets and went back to my favourite food spots.
Other places to visit
If you wanted to switch up your trip or add a few other places you definitely could, the recommendations I got from fellow travellers were:
Dawei: This chilled beach town in the south came highly recommended – accommodation fills up quickly though.
Kalaw to Inle trek: Insanely popular but I decided not to, I was going on a trek back home a few days after I got back and I just didn’t feel like it (good thing too considering I was sick at the time I could have done the trek).
Monya: A small town between Bagan and Mandalay, I was told it’s a nice place to stop for a night or during the day to break up your travels.
Hsipaw: Mountain town with plenty of hiking – I heard only good things about it.
There you have it – three weeks in Myanmar. Check out my other Myanmar posts for more tips and advice.