2 weeks itinerary for the highlights of Burma

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
6
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
8
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
5
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
6
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
9
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
70 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
Myanmar (Burma)
Length of time
1-2 weeks
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 1,000
Time of year visited
November
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
114th/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

Travelling in Burma (Myanmar) is a bit like being in a parallel world – like the rest of the world went one direction and Burma just took the other turn on the highway.  Whilst that may be starting to change a little bit as the country opens up more, you can be sure that there will be continued political swings that keep Burma as one of the countries firmly in the “unusual” bucket for travelers.  This, plus its series of genuinely world class attractions, makes it a superb travel destination for a 2 week trip

Burma for most people is all about the 4 key highlights of Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake.  All are definitely worth seeing and will form the core of any trip you make there.  Bagan, with its world-renowned temples spread in their thousands across the plain, and Inle Lake, with its stunning mirror effect and serene villages on stilts, are arguably the highlights, with Mandalay and Yangon as interesting cities that you need to fly into, but well worth the visit.  I’ve included them below in a 2 week itinerary that won’t be rushed whilst also making sure you get the most out of your time here

I’ve written below some further travel tips for travelling around Burma, but my 2 biggest tips are:

 

  • #1 Is it safe?  You will naturally have seen in the news Burma very often flaring up with the latest crisis and the story of the country is truly a sad one considering the repression in particular of the ethic minorities and continued belligerence of the military junta.  But, from a tourist point of view, such changes have not in the slightest stopped the country as it opens up more and more to overseas visitors.  Whilst it may sound like a country to avoid based on headlines, thousands more come to the country each year than the year before and flare ups occur only in the remote areas foreigners are not allowed in, and still with no tourists ever having come to harm because of the troubles.  There are far more countries in the world with far more dangers that receive far more tourists on a regular basis

 

  • #2 A feeling of real Burma.  Consider wandering off the beaten track just a little to see the real country that has been surprisingly untouched by the tourism wave of the 4 main sites.  One of the best adventures I’ve experienced was the 6 day trip down the Irrawaddy River by ferry in Northern Burma from Myitkyina (or you can start in Bhamo / Katha to reduce the time) to Mandalay.  Breathtaking mountainous jungle vistas, the chance to see the real local villages along the mighty Irrawaddy River, and the old echoes of the former colonial past.  A truly great travel experience and I’ve included the details in the travel entry – Exploring Northern Burma by train and ferry from Myitkyina, via Bhamo and Katha to Mandalay

highlights

#1 Just the sheer other-worldliness of the place. Whether it be the old 35 chat notes or guys wearing skirts, it’s all just wonderfully odd 

#2 The view across the lush plain of Bagan to see thousands of temples sticking out into the distance, many of which glistening in the sun

#3 Meeting the locals as the get on with their lives in what has been a turbulent country

#4 Making your way through forgotten towns and a land still vacated by tourists as you take a ferry down the Irrawaddy in Northern Burma

#5 Taking one of the boats through the serene mirror lake of Inle Lake

#6 Cycling around the temples of Bagan, finding one that in any other place would be a top tourist spot, yet here it is just a number, and just having it to yourself

#7 Seeing the beautiful and imposing Shwedagon Paya in Yangon

#8 Taking the short boat ride from Mandalay to see the giant cracked Mingyun Paya

#9 Taking one of the long bus journeys for the scenery, sense of adventure and relief once you’re off the bloody thing!

#10 Heading into one of the glorious old colonial buildings now acting as a market in Yangon

#11 Looking down on the views of Mandalay's giant Palace from Mandalay Hill

#12 Seeing the sheer scale of the Irrawaddy River - often too wide to see the other side

#13 Wandering with monks along the world’s longest teak bridge at U-Bein near Mandalay

#14 Going to see George Orwell’s old house where he wrote Burmese Days, and the former British Club, along the Irrawaddy at Katha

The Route

Rough itinerary

Day 1-3 Yangon – give yourself a day to settle in and then make sure to check out the Shwedagon Paya, one of the local markets and the Karaweik Palace Royal Barge.  More than anything though, just wander around the bustling streets, old colonial buildings and pick up on some of the smaller things that make Burma so different.  Travel entry for more details here – A couple of days in the parallel world of Yangon
Day 4-6 – make your way up to Mandalay via the overnight sleeper train and give yourself 2 days to take in the views of the Palace from Mandalay Hill and head further out to see the giant Mingun Paya, the old colonial capital of Inwa and walk with the monks across the world’s longest teak bridge at U-Bein.  Travel entry for more details – Seeing some of the key sites around Mandalay
Day 7-9 take the boat from Mandalay to Bagan to give yourself 2 days to explore the sheer vast number of temples across this world-class site.  First day should simply be getting lost cycling around in the mystery of it all, second day taking a guide to explain the context and show some of the key sites.  Travel entry for more details – Cycling around the Temples of Bagan
Day 10-12 – spend a couple of days chilling out and taking mini boat trips around Inle Lake.  Travel entry – Boating around the serene Inle Lake in central Burma.  To get there really depends on what you want – the easiest way is to fly, but the more adventurous is the 10 hour bus.  One of my most memorable / mental bus journeys was this one – the roads and number of stops are a shit show, but the views are spectacular
Day 13 – fly back to Yangon
OPTIONAL EXTRA – to extend this trip and allow you to see some of the real Burma outside of the 4 marque attractions, fly up to Myitkyina from Yangon and make your way over 6 days down the Irrawaddy River to Mandalay, via Bhamo and Katha. You’ll see hardly any tourists, beautiful mountains and the former signs of a parallel world when the former colonial power was in place.  Adds 6 days to the trip, but you won’t regret it

Other Travel Tips

  • Be prepare for things to be a little odd at times – men wearing skirts, odd denominated notes, bus drivers driving their buses into rivers to “cool them down” – that sort of thing
  • Burma is a heavily Buddhist country so remember some of the key things – cover up in temples, don’t touch the Buddha or show the soles of your feet or disrespect the monks, take your shoes off when entering temples / private homes and make sure to return friendly greetings.  The Burmese are very chilled out and will give you heaps of leeway, but it helps to be courteous
  • Be prepared for an upset stomach and some stage.  Its kind of par for the course
  • Each of these 4 main attractions also have individual travel entries and you can see them here:
  • As with all countries, see if you can do a bit of reading about the place to give yourself some of the context.  You can get the overview history from wikipedia, but for stories that give you more depth (and are more enjoyable), I’d really recommend two books: 1. Burmese Days by George Orwell because it brings to life what it must have been like in Burma during the British Raj and the harsh contradictions this brought.  2. The Glass Palace by Amitav Gosh, which charts the story of a small number of families as they navigate their way through the fall of the royal dynasty in Mandalay to the British inn the late 1800s, through to the end of the second world war, and in particular covers the teak trade

Experiences nearby

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone