Myanmar is an amazing country and we found two weeks in Myanmar was the perfect amount of time to spend exploring the main attractions. If you prefer to travel a little slower or want to venture off the beaten path, perhaps consider an extra week or so and make full use of the 30 day visa.
The best time to visit is between December and February where the weather is pretty consistently hot and dry, although it can be a little busy in some of the tourist spots at this time of year. Our 2 weeks in Myanmar included time spent in Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay, and we travelled variously by bus, boat and train, all of which were fairly cheap and easy to organise.
Getting to Myanmar
It was surprisingly simple to arrange our visa for Myanmar. The current advice for British citizens visiting the country is to apply using the eVisa system where the most popular option is a 30 day visa which costs 50USD. The form is simple to complete and our visa confirmations came through by email a day or two later. Some people like to use up the full 30 days when they’ve paid for it, which does make sense, but 2 weeks in Myanmar is enough to see the main attractions.
It’s advised to take a printed copy of the visa (we had to show this twice), to be prepared with proof of onward travel and there’s also a requirement to have enough money to last the duration of your stay although we didn’t worry too much about this one.
The main airports are Yangon and Mandalay and many airlines fly into these hubs – we flew into Yangon via Bangkok which was just over an hour’s flight time.
For more tips check out these posts – including the cost of travel in Myanmar and a quick overview on culture and tradition. Myanmar is definitely less developed than many other South East Asian countries so be prepared for some chaos – especially in the cities, but rest assured that the people are incredibly friendly and can’t do enough to help which will make your trip far easier.
Our 2 Week Myanmar Itinerary: Yangon to Mandalay
Yangon – 4 Nights
Yangon is a pretty crazy city – it’s massive, busy, loud and some areas are definitely not the cleanest – but despite all that it’s a fascinating place to spend a few days and there’s loads to see. Accommodation standards aren’t great for the money you pay but if you’re happy with basic guesthouses it’s not too bad for a couple of nights. We stayed at The Sat Yangon which cost 27USD per night. The easiest way to get around Yangon is on foot or by taxi – there are so many taxis that it’s always easy to catch one and they are typically very cheap.
Our time in Yangon accounted for 4 nights / days of our 2 weeks in Myanmar and was our favourite city that we visited – our itinerary looked something like this:
Arriving in the afternoon we dropped off our bags and headed straight for the National Museum for a bit of education on Myanmar culture and history. The displays can be a little difficult to interpret in places but it’s worth a visit to see things like the royal regalia, lion throne and collections of musical instruments and puppets. There’s also a piece of moon rock on display that was gifted to Myanmar by the USA.
Next we went to the People’s Park which is next to the Shwedagon Pagoda and got our first glimpse of this amazing temple. The park is popular with locals and is a pleasant place for a wander round – with great sunset views opposite the pagoda if you time your visit right.
On our second day we inadvertently had a bit of an intensive Pagoda day. We started with the Shwedagon Pagoda, by far the most famous in Myanmar and one of the most impressive in Asia, and followed this up with a visit to the Sule and Bototaung pagodas. We also spent some time wandering around the Bogyoke Aung San central market on our second day. If you’re spending 2 weeks in Myanmar you will see a LOT of pagodas, so don’t overdo it!
Today we did one of my favourite activities in Yangon and took a trip on the famous circular railway. It’s a 3 hour loop around the city on an old style train and it’s busy, hot and noisy but a brilliant way to see the city from a different perspective.
After the train we visited Kandawgi lake and braved the rickety bridge that circuits it and allows you to see some of the best views of the lake and park. It’s pretty close to collapse by the look of it though and a friendly local advised us not to use it if we could help it! After this we took a trip to the zoological gardens which I wouldn’t recommend – whilst they’re working on improving their conservation efforts it’s still a long way from a good environment for some of the animals they keep.
Finally, we visited the Ngar Htat Gyi Buddha and Chauk Htat Kyi Buddha statues which were amazingly impressive – especially the latter which features huge engraved feet.
On our last day in Yangon we hired a car and driver to spend some time seeing areas outside the city centre. Our first stop was Inya Lake, a large lake with plenty of nearby cafes and bars, that’s popular with locals in Yangon as a place to hang out and watch the world go by.
After a couple of hours here we headed for the War Cemetery to pay our respects – this is the home of over 27000 graves of allied soldiers who fought in Burma in the Second World War. It’s quite far from the city but well worth a visit if you get the chance.
Journey to Bagan – Night Bus (19USD)
Next up on our 2 weeks in Myanmar was Bagan. Our driver then took us to the bus station which is also a way from the city centre for our night bus. This cost 19USD each and took us into Bagan for about 4.30am. The night buses in Myanmar are pretty comfortable, often more so than countries like Thailand and Vietnam, and we booked all of ours via JJ Express by messaging them on Facebook.
Bagan – 3 Nights
Arriving in Bagan we dropped off our bags and headed straight to the famous Sunset Pagoda to witness our first sunrise complete with iconic hot air balloons. Our three days here were basically spent scootering round the town visiting an enormous array of pagodas and temples and being sure to catch each sunrise and sunset from a different spot.
A full day by day of our 3 days in Bagan is written up in a more detailed blog post.
Bagan to Mandalay – Express River Cruise (32USD)
Our next journey was an early start – leaving from the jetty in Nyaung U in Bagan at 5.30am and catching our boat to Mandalay. This cost 32USD each and we arrived into the city at around 5pm, a long day but one of our favourite journeys and one we’re really glad we took. We booked via email with MGRG Express Boats, where the cruise includes all food for the day as well as complimentary tea and coffee.
Mandalay – 3 Nights
Mandalay was similar to Yangon but possibly slightly less crazy. The city seems a lot more spread out, making it more of a challenge to see on foot, and taxis are harder to come by unless you’re happy to jump on the back of a motorbike. Unfortunately this was probably our least favourite stop of our 2 weeks in Myanmar, but is popular with many other travellers and still worth seeing. Our two days here looked a little like this:
We started by purchasing the Mandalay Archeological zone ticket which costs 10000K per person – it’s valid for 5 days for all main historical attractions. Once we’d secured this, we headed for the biggest attraction, the City Palace. It’s a huge complex surrounded by a moat, reconstructions of the old halls and buildings and there’s a good view across the city from the viewing tower you can climb
After this we took a stroll to see some of the shrines and temples – there are plenty of these in Mandalay if that’s your jam and we enjoyed the Yadamabon San Kyaung temples complex and the Bo Bo Gyi nat shrine at base of Mandalay Hill. (Hope I spelt those right!). One of the more famous religious buildings was up next, in the form of the Sandamuni Pagoda and temples – hundreds of white stone structures containing inscribed stories of the Buddha on marble tablets and an impressive gold stupa.
Finally we made sure to see arguably the best pagoda in Mandalay – the Kuthodaw Pagoda. This is the home of the biggest book in the world, which takes the form of 729 massive stone tablets. The inscriptions are incredibly precise considering how small the lettering is and it’s well worth seeing. Our other favourite stop off in Mandalay was the famous Monastery – this is an old teak building that is remarkable for having survived the damage from WW2 and fires that destroyed much of the city.
Mandalay to Inle Lake – Night Bus (12USD)
The final stop on our 2 weeks in Myanmar was Inle Lake which it turned out was one of our favourite places. We arrived early from the night bus leaving us a full 4 days to explore. The bus we took was JJ Express again and cost 12USD each. Best of all when we arrived at 4.30am we could check straight into our hotel and grab a couple hours’ more sleep. We’d 100% recommend staying at the Yar Pyae Hotel in Nyaung Shwe for cheap, clean and large modern hotel rooms, friendly staff and a good breakfast.
Inle Lake – 3 Nights
We’ve written a list of our best things to do in Inle Lake so I’ll avoid repeating too much here. If you can try to squeeze in as much as possible as there’s loads to do and it’s a really nice town to spend some time in. Our favourite activities if you’re short on time and can’t fit them all in were the boat trip on the lake (which is pretty much an essential), our cooking class and our visit to the winery up on the hill for an amazing view and some surprisingly decent wine.
Inle Lake to Mandalay – Night Bus (12USD)
Finally we hopped back on a night bus to Mandalay ready for our flight to Chiang Mai the following day.
In spite of reports to the contrary we found Myanmar extremely easy to travel around for our two week trip and wouldn’t hesitate to visit again.
Alternative Routes for Leaving Myanmar
To avoid looping back to Mandalay at the end of your 2 weeks in Myanmar there are a couple of alternatives – for us this option seemed the cheapest and easiest way to get back to a major airport for our onward flight but some may want to dodge another night bus if they can.
The first option would be to head straight to Inle Lake from Bagan – this means you’d miss out on the boat trip but could then head straight to Mandalay after spending time at Inle Lake. You can reach Inle Lake from Bagan by bus or by plane – the bus takes around 10 hours or it’s about a 40 minute flight.
The second option which many tour routes seem to do is to fly from Inle Lake (Heho) to Kengtung and then take a bus onwards to the land border with Thailand. It’s forbidden for foreigners to cross this area overland which makes the additional internal flight necessary.
So in summary, Myanmar is an amazing country to visit and I certainly subscribe to the view that you should try to visit sooner rather than later as the tourism industry starts to explode. Hopefully our 2 weeks in Myanmar itinerary has been helpful, and there’s still plenty more to explore if you have more time to spend.