Myanmar is one of Southeast Asia’s most enigmatic destinations. Long cut off from outsiders due to a military dictatorship from 1962 to 2011, Myanmar has only recently opened its doors for tourism on a broad scale. That makes now a great time to visit. This 10 day Myanmar itinerary is what we followed for our week and a half exploring this beautiful country in June of 2018. I think it gave us a perfect glimpse into the ancient temples, delicious food, and unique Buddhist culture of Myanmar.
10 Day Myanmar Itinerary
- Days 1-2: Yangon
- Days 3-5: Inle Lake
- Days 6-8: Bagan
- Days 9-10: Mandalay
Formerly known as Burma, after the majority ethnic group of the area (the Burmese), Myanmar has a complex history. In the 1800s, when British controlled India, they instigated a series of three wars with the Burmese people. The British gained control over the area and included it their administration of India.
This resulted in Indians coming in as second colonizers. As Indians, as well as Chinese, poured in, the Burmese people became the minority in cities like Yangon.
Just prior to WWII, a young Burmese man named Aung San recruited a small army to take back Burma. He negotiated with the Japanese military to receive training. He returned to Burma with Japanese invaders in 1941. The Japanese drove out British-Indian forces but didn’t treat the Burmese people much better. Aung San and his army looked to the Allied side of WWII in 1945 for help. Within two months, the British army pushed the Japanese out.
Burma remained a British colony until 1948 when it declared independence. Unfortunately, ethnic and political conflicts disrupted the new nation immediately. After a military coup in 1958, university students led a peaceful protest in 1962. The military killed over 100 students in response.
Over the next 50 years, the military suppressed opposition to its regime by banning other political parties and killing thousands during peaceful anti-government protests.
Starting in 2010, the military president began cooperating with a road to democracy. Now, the military has minimal power in most of the country.
IS VISITING MYANMAR ETHICAL?
Peace now prevails in most of the country, but their problems aren’t over. Most prominent in global headlines is the deadly violence perpetrated by Buddhists in Rhakine who have pushed the Rohingya Muslim population into neighboring Bangladesh. The Myanmar government hasn’t responded effectively to end the violence, something many people cite as a reason to boycott travel to Myanmar.
In my opinion, though, if we stopped visiting every country with human rights issues, we’d no longer visit most countries, including the United States. In the “west” we are often somehow blind to our own flaws but are quick to point them out in developing nations.
When you visit a developing nation, you do far more good for the local people than for their government. For this reason, I wholeheartedly advocate visiting developing nations. You will almost certainly have a change of heart and mind about how you think of the developing world.
Note: This post contains referrals links. When you use them, I may get a small commission at no extra cost to you!
10 Day Myanmar Itinerary Day-by-Day
Days 1-2: Yangon
Start your time in Myanmar in the capital city of Yangon, since this is where you will likely arrive if you are flying into Myanmar anyway. Though “gritty” by Myanmar standards, we found it to be easy to navigate and a great introduction to the food, culture, and temples of Myanmar.
We stayed at the Best Western Chinatown Hotel, which we chose for its comfort, location, and affordable price point. The hotel is very luxurious for the price, the staff are supremely kind (as are most people in Myanmar!), and it’s located just a block away from THE best place to eat dinner in the whole city – 19th Street. Lined with dozens of delicious local restaurants and food stalls, 19th Street is also where Anthony Bourdain ate in his Myanmar episode of Parts Unknown. Tip – order a Myanmar beer with your meal.
To make the most of your day in Yangon, I recommend booking a guided city tour with a local. We’re a big fan of taking city tours with local guides, as this is the easiest way to learn about a place and see the key sights in an efficient manner. Plus, you support the local tourism industry. We used 10,200 of our Chase Ultimate Rewards to book a half-day tour on Viator that included a visit to the iconic golden Shwedagon Pagoda and a rare opportunity to learn meditation with a Buddhist monk at Theravada Buddhist Mahasi Monastery.
Sitting in a meditation hall with the kind monk who guided us through 2 hours of meditation was a travel highlight of our 10 days in Myanmar for us – and one we could have not arranged into our itinerary on our own.
If you don’t have Chase Ultimate Rewards, you can still book the tour starting from USD $35.00 per person.
You’ll notice I mention our Chase Points a lot in this 10 day Myanmar itinerary. Tim and I both have the Chase Ultimate Rewards Sapphire Reserve Card. It has a larger annual fee ($450 per year), but it comes with $300 cash back on travel purchases and access to airport lounges around the world (which typically range from $20-50 per visit without a pass). If you apply and are approved, you can earn 50,000 bonus points. That is the equivalent of about five tours of Yangon for 2 people. Note: I will also receive a small commission in points if you apply and are approved. Learn more here.
If you opt against a city tour, you can easily visit the Shwedagon Pagoda on your own – and you should! It is one of the most beautiful sites in Myanmar, and not just for its 27 metric tons of gold leaf that adorn the central stupa. The temple is also a hub for locals who come to pray, picnic, or just walk around the complex. Getting to immerse ourselves in the local life was a highlight of our visit!
If you have time, consider also visiting Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple for its reclining Buddha and young monks taking care of the resident cats.
While in Yangon, I also recommend eating lunch in a traditional food hall and tea house, such as the Rangoon Tea House. Do not miss the delicious lǎp’eq·ye tea – black tea sweetened with condensed milk. It’s the most delicious tea I’ve ever had! If you go with the guided tour I recommended above, your guide will take you to one. If not, though, you can visit on your own!
Days 3-5: Inle Lake
From Yangon, fly to Heho. Direct one hour flights start at $100 on numerous domestic airlines. Alternatively, 11-hour bus rides start at $25 to Inle Lake itself.
If you opt for the flight, you will need to take a taxi or private transfer to your accommodation at Inle Lake. You can arrange this when you arrive. Expect to pay between $25 and $50 for the transfer, depending on where on the lake you are going.
There are a number of villages and towns you can stay in on the lake. The largest town near the lake is Nyaungshwe, but I don’t recommend staying in the town itself. Inle Lake is a perfect place to stay in a more rural spot, away from crowds, and enjoy simplicity and quiet as you take in lake life.
We stayed at a beautiful resort called Hupin Inle Khaung Daing Village Resort right on Inle Lake. With a soaring ceiling and intricate woodwork, the lobby felt rich and luxurious, and our spacious cabin sat on stilts over the water. If you do stay at a hotel or resort on the lake, chances are high that you won’t be near restaurants. Most likely, you will be getting your meals from your accommodation.
Note: There are some multi-day hiking options that you can do from Kalaw to Inle Lake. We didn’t do this since we were short on time, but I have heard good things.
The best way to explore Inle Lake is to get out on it. Your accommodation can arrange a boat trip for you with a local guide to explore some of the nearby towns and temples. I highly recommend organizing a tour through HOME Myanmar.
We redeemed 20,176 Chase Ultimate Rewards for our tour, which took us to a village where we were able to spend time with a local family, sharing rice crackers and tea over conversation through our guide, who acted as a translator. We also had lunch at our guide’s home with her mom and baby sister. Sometimes village tours make us uncomfortable and seem showy or exploitative, but this was not like that at all. So few tourists come to their town, they clearly weren’t just putting on a show.
In addition to visiting a village, I recommend visiting Shwe Inthein Pagoda, where over 1,000 Buddhist stupas stand at Shwe Inn Thein Paya. Some of these date back to the 16th century. Hpaung Daw U Pagoda is also worth a visit to see worshippers placing gold leaf on a Buddha head.
Days 6-8: Bagan
After your relaxing time at Inle Lake, return to the Heho Airport and fly 40 minutes to Bagan/Nyaung-U Airport (from $85, multiple airlines). Alternatively, you can take a 9-hour bus for $17 to Bagan.
We stayed at Six Stars Guesthouse in Nyaung U (the new city of Bagan). It was nice enough, and there were a few restaurants within walking distance. It was not centrally located, however. For the price, it met our needs, but you may want something in a better location.
Bagan is known for its 2,270 Buddhist temples and pagodas. We hired a private guide (again using Chase Ultimate Rewards points – 7,600) for the day and visited so many temples. If you don’t have rewards points, you can book comparable tours for between $30-80 USD (depending on inclusions and duration).
I recommend visiting the following temples, all of which you can see in a day:
Sulamani Pahto – built in the 1100s and has the best brickwork in the area. Inside, you can still see original plaster and stucco work, including ancient paintings depicting the life of Buddha.
Ananda Pahto – Bagan’s most popular temple. From the courtyard surrounding the white stone temple, it looks almost regal thanks to the intricate details and shimmering golden top.
Nathlaung Kyaung Temple – considered the only Hindu temple that remains in Bagan.
Shwezigon – known for its blindingly golden stupa.
Htilominlo Temple – built in 1218. The brick temple has a terraced design on the outside and traces of old murals inside.
Make sure you end the day with a sunset view over the temples dotting the surrounding area!
Note: Seasonally, you can also take a hot air balloon ride over the temples. This wasn’t available when we were there, but it looks amazing. We would have done it if we had the opportunity! With 10 days in Myanmar, you could easily add this to your itinerary.
With a second day based in Bagan, I recommend taking a day trip to Mount Popa. You can hire a driver or a guide for between $20-50 (again, depending on inclusions). A golden temple perched on top of the tall, narrow core of an extinct volcano, Mount Popa sounds like something out of Game of Thrones.
It’s 777 steps up Mount Popa (2418 ft) to the gilded shrines, temples, and monastery that sit on top. Along the way, you’ll pass by hundreds of macaque monkeys, which are cute and terrifying at the same time. Afterward, consider having lunch (or at least stopping for the views!) at the Mount Popa Resort.
Days 9-10: Mandalay
From Bagan, fly from Nyaung-U Airport to Mandalay (30 minute flight, starting from $60 from multiple airlines). Alternatively, you can take a 4.5 hour bus for $9.
I recommend spending two days exploring Mandalay. On the first day, explore the city itself. We hired a private guide using, you guessed it, our Chase Ultimate Rewards points. We used 7,000 points to book this half day tour, but if you don’t have Chase points you can book it for $19.
These are the key points of interest you don’t want to miss in Mandalay:
Shwe Inbin Monastery– an intricately carved teakwood building dating from just 1895.
Mahamuni Pagoda- The Buddha image here is considered a “living” Buddha. Legend holds that Buddha breathed upon this statue, indicating his approval of it. He stated it was his only true likeness and should live for 5,000 years. As a result, the Buddha statue here is a pilgrimage for Buddhists. Pilgrims cover it on gold leaf, which has created blobs of gold all over the statue.
Kuthodaw Pagoda- home of individual stupas for each of the 729 slabs engraved front and back with writings from Buddha. Some say this is the world’s largest book. It would take a full year of reading 8 hours per day to get through it all.
Mandalay Hill and Su Taung Pyae Pagoda– The view from the hill looking out over the city is beautiful, but the real draw for me was the pastel and mirrored tile mosaics covering the hilltop temple. The Candy Land colors made this one of the most beautiful temples I’d ever seen.
Shwenandaw Kyaung Monastery– The teak monastery building itself had previously been an apartment within the royal grounds for the king. When the king died in 1878, his successor had it moved outside the palace walls and turned into a monastery.
On your second day in Mandalay, take a boat or hire a driver (which is what we did) to explore the other side of the Irawaddy River and the town of Mingun.
There are three main places you’ll want to include in your itinerary in Mingun as part of your 10 day Myanmar trip.
Hsinbyume Pagoda– you’ve seen this one on Instagram. It’s the beautiful white one that looks like ocean waves.
Mingun Stupa– would have been the world’s largest had it ever been finished. Instead, it sits as a giant pile of bricks and even has a large crack from an earthquake.
Mingun Bell – the world’s second largest bell. It was cast in 1810, originally to go with King Bodawpaya’s huge but never finished stupa.
From Mandalay, my 10 day Myanmar itinerary comes to an end! While there are certainly many more amazing places you could visit in Myanmar, this route covers the highlights and is a great way to get a full understanding of the country and what it offers to travelers in one itinerary covering 10 days in Myanmar.
Have you been to Myanmar? Would you add anything to this 10 day Myanmar itinerary? Let me know in the comments!
Like this 10 day Myanmar itinerary? Pin it!