Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has always seemed like a mythical place to me, somewhere I wasn’t sure I would ever make it to. It’s an extraordinary country with a rich history that has at times been steeped in conflict. The tourism infrastructure in Myanmar is behind most of its neighbours in Southeast Asia. This can make travel there both challenging but at the same time refreshing.
Before our visit in January 2019, we debated whether we should be going to Myanmar at all. The Rohingya Crisis was very much an active issue and there was a lot of scrutiny of how the country’s leadership was handling it. We wondered if we would be supporting what the military was doing with our tourist dollars. After doing as much research as we could, we decided to go because it seemed tourism helped locals more than it did harm. I urge you to research the current situation in Myanmar before you visit so that you are making both a safe and conscious decision.
With that said, Myanmar was an incredible experience. It felt like we were visiting just before the cusp of change. Before mass tourism and crowds inevitably change your experience of a country. In Bagan we felt like explorers riding our e-bikes through archeological sites and abandoned temples. There were no helmets, no rules, just freedom and adventure.
This is a quick 1 week Myanmar itinerary that covers Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay. Ideal if you are already in Asia, limited on time, and looking to get a feel of the country and see its most famous sights. If you have more time I would strongly recommend extending your trip to also see Inle Lake, explore the south coast, or just spend more time in Bagan.
When to go
The best time to visit Myanmar is during the drier months of November to February, when the temperatures are more moderate. This also coincides with the hot air balloon season in Bagan which typically goes from October to April. However in March and April the temperatures can soar to over 40 degree Celsius, especially in Bagan and Mandalay. We went in late January and the weather was perfect, hot during the day but cool in the evening and early morning.
- An eVisa is required for entry into Myanmar by citizens of most countries (US, Canada, EU, etc). You can easily apply online here and the process only takes a few days. Make sure to get this before arrival as there is no visa-on-arrival option and you will not be allowed to board your flight without it.
- Yangon and Mandalay are the two main points of entry for flying into the country. There are numerous flights from major cities in Asia on regional carriers and most of them are quite affordable. We flew into Yangon from Kuala Lumpur and flew out of Mandalay to Singapore both on Air Asia.
- Your options for traveling within Myanmar are by air, bus, or private transfer. The roads are not great and most land transfers take much longer than they should. Flying is definitely your best option, especially if you’re short on time.
Myanmar 7 Day Itinerary:
Day 1: Arrive in Yangon
Arrive at Yangon International Airport and make your way to your hotel. The best way to get around is by hailing a ride via the Grab App, the Asian version of Uber/Lyft.
We stayed at the Belmond Governor’s Residence and absolutely loved it there. It’s located near most of the major sights such as the Shwedagon Pagoda.
After getting settled, it’s time to experience the magic of Burmese cuisine. Our favourite restaurant was Feel. It was so good we went there three times in two days. It’s less like a restaurant and more like a food market with endless mouth-watering displays of street food and traditional dishes. Definitely try the Shan noodles, they are life-changing.
Experiencing Burmese cuisine at Feel
Day 2: Yangon
Your full day in Yangon will mainly be dedicated to visiting the numerous pagodas around town. Start early and head to Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous temple in Yangon. Keep in mind that you’ll need to have your shoulders and knees covered when visiting any temple in Myanmar, and that you’ll have to leave your shoes behind. Spend a few hours admiring the intricate details and observing the rituals of locals and monks. Shwedagon Pagoda is a popular temple and it was already quite busy when we went around 8am in the morning.
In the afternoon you can visit Kandawgyi Lake or more pagodas. We visited the beautiful Swe Taw Myat Pagoda. It was a lot less busy than Shwedagon and we really enjoyed our time there. Other pagodas worth a visit are Sule Pagoda, Botataung Pagoda, and Chauk Htat Kyi Pagoda.
Shwedagon Pagoda Swe Taw Myat Pagoda
Day 3: Yangon to Bagan in the morning, Explore Bagan
Try to catch the first flight of the day to Bagan. We booked a 7am flight on Golden Myanmar Airlines and arrived at Nyaung U (Bagan) airport at 8:30am. This way you have the whole day to explore Bagan and figure out which temples you can go to for sunrise the next day.
If you didn’t know, sunrise in Bagan is a big deal. If you’ve ever seen a photo of Bagan, it was likely taken at sunrise, depicting hot air balloons rising over a land of temples. It’s a magical moment that’s definitely worth the early wake up call.
Taking Golden Myanmar Airlines from Yangon to Bagan
We stayed at The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate in Old Bagan. We chose Old Bagan because of its central location to most of the temples. Many tourists also stay in New Bagan or Nyaung U, which offer cheaper accommodation options as well as more restaurants and shops.
After getting settled, head out to rent your e-bikes. E-bikes are basically electric scooters and are by far the best way to explore Bagan. They’re easy and safe to drive, even if you don’t have any scooter experience. You’ll have to return them each day to charge and pick up new ones the next day, so choose a rental that’s close to where you’re staying.
Now that you have your e-bike, it’s time to set off and explore the temples of Bagan. It’s hard to describe the thrill of adventure when you’re riding a scooter through narrow dirt paths and discovering abandoned temples all around you. I felt like I was in an Indiana Jones movie the whole time.
The majority of temples in Bagan are now closed for climbing due to conservation efforts and also damage sustained during an earthquake. However we still found a handful of open ones. Some of these we discovered by researching online and asking locals, and some we discovered just when passing by. On the map above I’ve pinned the approximate location of some of the open temples we found.
There are also man-made viewing mounds located throughout the area. These can provide you with an elevated view over the area and are a good option for sunrise or sunset if you can’t find any open temples.
Another great option for sunrise is obviously to go on a hot air balloon ride. However at roughly $300 per person they are not within everyone’s budget. Since we only had two mornings in Bagan we decided we would rather spend them on the ground.
Return your e-bike at the end of the day and determine a pick-up time for the next morning. Check what time sunrise is and make sure to head out at least an hour before that time.
Day 4: Bagan
Set your alarm for about two hours before sunrise and pick up your e-bikes. We mapped the temple we were planning to visit for sunrise, but still got lost a few times in the dark, so you’ll want to give yourself plenty of time. There will be many other sunrise chasers on the road, everyone on a mission to catch that magical view. We were approached a few times by locals on scooters who offered to take us to “the best sunrise pagoda”, we didn’t take up these offers so can’t comment on how legit they are.
The temple we had scoped out was already pretty full by the time we arrived, but we found a spot to sit and wait for the sun to come up. When it finally did, along with the hot air balloons, it was simply incredible. We were all in awe of the sight and it was like a National Geographic photo come to life.
For the rest of the day, explore more on your e-bikes and don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path. It’s not necessary to have a map or know where you’re going, because there are temples all around and you never know what you’ll discover. For sunset we ended up at another open temple and the view was spectacular.
Sunset in Bagan
Day 5: Bagan Sunrise, Transfer to Mandalay in the afternoon
Wake up early for another sunrise mission. For our second morning we had scoped out another temple. After getting lost and almost not finding it, we arrived just in time for one of the most glorious views of our lives. A blanket of mist was covering the ground as the sun slowly rose, soon followed by a flight of hot air balloons. It was beyond words.
Spend the morning exploring more of Bagan as you will be leaving in the afternoon. If you have more than 1 week in Myanmar, I’d strongly recommend spending a couple more days in Bagan, it was by far my favourite stop on the trip.
We arranged for a private car to Mandalay for a bumpy 4-hour drive. Alternatively you can also take a bus or fly.
We stayed at the Hotel Apex in Mandalay which totally exceeded our expectations. After checking in we had dinner and watched the sunset on the hotel rooftop bar and it was a great welcome to the city.
Sunset view over Mandalay from Hotel Apex
Day 6: Mandalay
Mandalay is home to numerous beautiful temples and today you’ll be visiting four of them.
Get a taxi and make your way across the river to the town of Mingun/Min Kun for a half-day trip. This is where you’ll find the famous white Mya Thein Tan Pagoda as well as the unfinished Mingun Pahtodawgyi.
The Mya Thein Tan Pagoda (also known as Hsinbyume Pagoda) is known for its distinctive shape and has become somewhat of an Instagram hotspot. While the Mingun Pahtodawgyi is not nearly as photogenic, it has a pretty interesting history. It was meant to become the largest stupa, but it was left unfinished and now has several large cracks in it due to an earthquake.
Mya Thein Tan Pagoda Mingun Pahtodawgyi
In the afternoon return to Mandalay and visit the Kuthodaw Pagoda, which is known as the world’s largest book. The grounds feature over 700 small stupas each containing a stone tablet inscribed with Buddhist texts.
For sunset head up Mandalay Hill and visit the hilltop Su Taung Pyae Pagoda. While the pagoda itself is nothing extraordinary, it does offer panoramic views over Mandalay.
Kuthodaw Pagoda Su Taung Pyae Pagoda
Day 7: Depart from Mandalay
If you have a later flight, you can spend the morning visiting the U Bein Bridge, which is considered to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. Unfortunately we had an early flight and couldn’t make it there.
The airport is about 45 minutes away from downtown Mandalay and the best way to get there is by Grab/taxi. You’ll find that the international departures are mostly limited to China, Singapore, or Bangkok. For more flight options you may have to fly back to Yangon.
Hope you enjoyed this 1 week Myanmar Itinerary. If you’re heading to Singapore after, take a look at my blog for the 10 Best Things to Do in Singapore.