18 days from £4180 per person
Places Visited: Yangon, Pyin Oo Lwin, Hsipaw, Mandalay, Monywa, Bagan, Inle Lake
Covering all of Myanmar’s classic sights, as well as a few side trips to lesser known, rural destinations, this figure-of-eight route around the country is the one we generally recommend to first-time visitors. It’s a wonderfully varied itinerary, featuring memorable sights on each day, from sparkling pagodas to old-world, British hill stations and little market towns on the banks of the Ayeyarwady. Myanmar’s greatest river is crossed several times during the trip via colonial-era bridges and ferries. Ox carts, long-tail launches and Chinese bicycles number among the other modes of transport you may encounter in addition to your main vehicle – a luxury, air-conditioned car – in the course of this wonder-filled, 18-day odyssey.
Fly from the UK to Yangon via Bangkok or Singapore.
On arrival in Yangon, you’ll be met by your guide and driver and accompanied to your hotel, where you’ll stay for two nights. Spend the remainder of the day recovering from your journey, perhaps venturing out for supper at the Savoy and a glimpse of the floodlit pagodas downtown.
A full day’s sightseeing in Yangon today starts with a visit to the splendid Sule pagoda first thing, and ends with its big brother, the Shwedagon Pagoda, in the evening.
After breakfast, your guide will lead you on a tour of the atmospheric colonial quarter, starting at the Sule Pagoda, whose position at the centre of a busy intersection belies its great antiquity. The flaking facades of former banks, teak traders and department stores in this district recall the heyday of British rule. Relics of an older, pre-colonial Burma dominate the collection at the National Museum, where the prize exhibit is King Mindon’s awe-inspiring ‘Lion Throne’. Yangon’s greatest sight, however, is without doubt the Shwedagon pagoda, which you’ll visit in the evening, when the setting sun envelops the great stupa in a golden glow.
Pyin Oo Lwin
Transfer to the airport for a morning flight to Mandalay, from where you’ll drive on in the afternoon to the former British hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin for a one-night stay.
A two-hour drive east of Mandalay takes you through the foothills of the Shan Plateau to Pyin Oo Lwin, where the British established their hot-season capital in the 19th century. At an altitude of 1,070m (3,510ft), the town is cool year round. A fine collection of evocative mock-Tudor mansions survives amid its leafy lanes, several of which have been converted for use as hotels. The big attraction here though is the National Kandawgyi Gardens, which were founded in 1915 and still host nearly 500 species of flowers, shrubs and trees. Sightseeing in Pyin Oo Lwin is traditionally conducted in old-style covered horse carriages, or ‘wagons’.
Travel by a combination of train and road to Hsipaw, crossing the Gokteik Viaduct en route.
The ramshackle market town of Hsipaw, on the Dokhtawady River, serves as a hub for the Danu, Shan and Lisu minority people who inhabit the area. The journey there by rail from Pyin Oo Lwin involves crossing the spectacular Gokteik Viaduct. When it was erected at the end of the 19th century, the trestle bridge was the highest in the world, towering 102 metres (335ft) above river level. Trains slow to almost walking pace for the traverse, which affords superb views over a jungle-filled ravine below.
Spend the day exploring the town’s markets and monuments.
Begin your day’s sightseeing with an early morning visit to the Hsipaw’s bustling fresh produce market on the riverfront, where, if you get there early enough, you’ll see lots of minority people from the nearby hills buying and selling an exotic array of goods. The residence of the former Saopha (local ruler) and his Austrian-born wife, East Haw, stands on the north side of town – a dilapidated shadow of its former self but worth a visit before heading off to discover Hsipaw’s teak monasteries, brick pagodas and more modern temples. End the day by climbing Buddha Hill for a splendid view over the valley.
Drive back to Mandalay, arriving in time to ascend the summit of Mandalay Hill for a panorama you’ll never forget.
Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city the Ayeyarwady River, was founded in the 1850s by King Mindon of the Konbaung Dynasty. The perfect introduction to the city is to climb the walkway leading up Mandalay Hill, which begins at a grand entrance flanked by a pair of giant leogryphs, and ends at the Sataungpyei Temple (the scene of a fierce battle in World War II) from where the view extends to the Shan mountains. Travellers not inclined to walk will be pleased to learn it’s possible to get there by car, covering the final stretch in a glass-sided elevator!
Visit the vestiges of three former Burmese capitals today, at Inwa, Sagaing and Amarapura
Rise early to watch Buddhist monks filing through the streets in long lines as they beg for alms, end route to the ruins of ancient Inwa, on the souther west edge of Mandalay, which you’ll tour by bullock cart. After lunch, it’s time to cross the Ayeyarwady to Sagaing, where hundreds of gilded stupas and monasteries adorn the flanks of low hills overlooking the river. On the opposite bank, Amarapura is the day’s final destination. Climb into a punted boat for a ride around U Bein’s much-photographed teak bridge at sunset – a quintessentially Burmese spectacle.
Take a boat ride along the river to Mingun in the morning, and visit Mandalay Palace and adjacent monuments in the afternoon before, winding the day up with a visit to the Mahamuni Temple.
Despite the fact it was never completed, the vast pagoda at Mingun forms an extraordinary spectacle, especially when approached on the morning boat from Mandalay, when the mighty brick edifice is highlighted to dramatic effect against its background of scrub-covered ridges.
A tour of Mandalay Palace and other religious monuments associated with the Konbaung Dynasty take up the afternoon. The undisputed highlight is the richly carved Shwenandaw monastery, the only part of the original palace to have survived the fire of WWII. In the evening, enjoy a performance of Classical Burmese music, dance or puppetry at one of several theatres in the city dedicated to traditional performing arts.
Travel west by road to Monywa for a one-night stay, visiting the Pho Win Taung Caves and Bodhi Tataung colossi in the afternoon.
Monywa, on the Chindwin River, is the springboard for a duo of wonderful sights that often prove the unexpected high points of trips around the Mandalay region. The oldest is the Pho Win Taung cave complex, where nearly 500 chambers have been hollowed from a low limestone hill. Many enclose Buddha images, with arched ceilings and walls plastered in murals. Nearby Bodhi Tataung, a hilltop religious complex, is dominated by two gigantic Buddha statues: one reclining, one standing.
Visit the temples of Pakkoku today en route to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bagan, which you’ll reach by local boat. Stay for three nights.
Paddoku’s gaudily decorated Buddhist shrines fill a couple of hours’ sightseeing ahead of lunch and your departure by boat to Bagan on the Ayeyarwady. The trip is a great way to experience life on Myanmar’s mightiest river, and a memorable way to approach the ruins of Burma’s ancient capital, whose strikingly gilded Lawkananda Pagoda hoves into view around late afternoon. Having checked in to your hotel, make your first foray to the site in time to watch sunset from the raised terrace of the Shwesandaw Pagoda – one of Asia’s most magical viewpoints.
Visit the ruins of ancient Bagan by car, horse cart or bicycle – or a combination of all three!
Over 2,000 brick, gold and stucco stupas and temples are scattered across this wondrous archaeological site – the remains of a once glittering city that thrived on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River between the 11th and 13th centuries. Many are exquisitely decorated inside and out, holding huge Buddha images and vibrant medieval murals. Horse carts provide a leisurely way to explore the sandy lanes linking the sites, but more energetic travellers may be tempted to cover some stretches by bicycle.
A break from touring the ruins today as you head for the otherworldly monument of Mount Popa, calling at Salay en route to see the town’s richly carved temples and colonial-era buildings.
Just over an hour’s drive east of Bagan across Myanmar’s sun-baked central plain, the flat landscape is interrupted in dramatic fashion by sheer-sided landform crowned by a tiny whitewashed and gilded monastery complex. This is Popa Taung Kalat, one of the region’s most revered pilgrimage sites. In addition to the wide-ranging views from the top of the rock, local people flock here to worship at a shrine dedicated to the 37 great Nat nature spirits of Burmese tradition.
Transfer to the Bagan airport in the morning for your flight to Heho, the nearest airport to Inle Lake, where you’ll spend three nights.
Magical Inle Lake lies amid the outlying hills of the Shan Plateau. The Intha people who live in stilt villages around its fringes have evolved a unique way of life based on fishing and vegetable gardens that literally float on the surface of the lake. You can skim past them on long-tailed boats, pausing at ancient stupa sites, monasteries, temples, weaving workshops (where silk is spun from lotus stems) and fresh produce markets to which Pa-O and other minority people travel from the surrounding mountains – all wonderful photo opportunities.
Board a long-tail boat after breakfast for your first excursion on the lake, to a succession of Intha villages, markets, pagoda sites and monasteries.
So-called ‘floating markets’ are held in rotation by different villages on the shores of Inle Lake, and apart from being a rich source of souvenirs provide a great opportunity to meet local minority people such as the Pa-O, who descend from the surrounding hills to sell fresh produce and stock up on supplies, many of them dressed in traditional costume. Tours on the water typically involve stops at stilted Intha villages to see cheroot factories, floating gardens, and the Phaung Daw U Pagoda – Inle’s most revered temple.
Spend the day relaxing in and around your resort, soaking up the lakeside views and atmosphere. For the more active, treks to nearby villages and a visit to a local winery are also on offer.
Myanmar may not loom large on the world’s viticultural map, but the quality of wine produced at a vineyard overlooking Inle Lake is high, and improving year on year – much to the delight of restauranteurs and hoteliers across the country. Visitors are welcome to call at the Red Mountain estate near Nyaungshwe to sample its blends of Shiraz-Tempranillo, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Fine Burmese cuisine is also served in the winery restaurant, whose terrace enjoys a wonderful view of the surrounding, vine-striped slopes.
Travel by road to Heho and fly to Yangon to connect with your onward flight to the UK.
Arrive back in the UK.
18 days from £4180 per person
✓ International flights from London
✓ 16 nights accommodation
✓ All internal transportation and transfers
✓ English-speaking guides
✓ Breakfast daily
✓ Entrance fees to sites and monuments listed in tour itinerary
Despite having been deposed as capital in 2005, Yangon (formerly ‘Rangoon’) is most travellers’ gateway to Myanmar. Its resplendent centrepiece, rising from a hilltop in the centr...
Mandalay, Myanmar’s second city on the left bank of the Ayeyarwady River, was founded in the 1850s by King Mindon of the Konbaung Dynasty, whose palace complex at the foot of Mand...
Pyin Oo Lwin
A two-hour drive east of Mandalay takes you through the foothills of the Shan Plateau to Pyin Oo Lwin (formerly known as ‘Maymyo’), where the British established their hot-season ...
The Goteik Viaduct
The iconic landmark of the great British-built railway running from Mandalay to Lashio over the Shan Plateau is the Goteik Viaduct. When it was erected at the end of the 19th cent...
Draped around the shores of Thaungthaman Lake on Mandalay’s southern fringes, the leafy suburb of Amarapura, site of the Konbaung Dynasty’s capital in the early 19th century, is f...
Myanmar’s largest collection of pagodas and monasteries, lies amid the low, wooded hills on the opposite bank of the Ayeyarwady River at Sagaing. Connected by an extensive network...
One of the more colourful characters of Burmese history was King Bodawpaya (reigned 1782–1819), a ruler of megalomaniac tendencies who boasted 206 wives and concubines, and launch...
This small market town on the Chindwin River, a half-day’s journey west of Mandalay, is the springboard for a trio of wonderful sights that often prove the unexpected highlights o...
For many, the opportunity to gaze at the ruins of ancient Bagan, silhouetted against their distinctive backdrop of dusty acacia scrub and distant hills, is reason enough to travel...
Just over an hour’s drive east of Bagan across Myanmar’s sun-baked central plain, the flat landscape is interrupted in dramatic fashion by a sheer-sided landform crowned by a tiny...
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