It’s stunningly diverse landscapes, friendly people and traditional culture makes Myanmar the perfect place to discover. From the white sands and palm-tree lined beaches of Ngapali, to the crumbling ancient temples of Bagan, you can travel around the country for weeks on end going from beautiful sight to another.
The typical traveller route is well trodden, a well-oiled machine if you will, but it doesn’t really seem to matter because all of the highlights are so memorable and enjoyable. We recently backpacked through this photogenic country, starting our adventure in the capital Yangon. From there we travelled to Ngapali beach on the west coast, to Old Bagan to see the ancient temples, next Mandalay to soak up city life, then onto to Kalaw to relax and walk in the green forests. From there we did the famous 3 day trek over to Inle Lake, finally spending some time there exploring the beautiful lake before returning to Yangon. We have written up ‘The Ultimate 2 Week Travel Itinerary' as a helpful guide for you to follow. If you have more time then you can always space it out over 3 weeks, like we did.
Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city, a sprawling network of British colonial buildings, streets of shabby apartments stacked on top of one another, Buddhist pagodas, and the odd modern high rise that breaks through the skyline. Regardless of its size, the city has maintained an incredibly local feel to it, you only need to wonder down any of the central streets of downtown to see people out selling their produce, men walking around in tradition wrap skirts (bana) and women wearing the signature sun-protective paint on their faces. A polished city this is not, and for those looking to tick off from a big ‘to do list’ may be disappointed. Yangon is a place to soak up atmosphere and to learn about the local way of life. You just need to take the time to wonder the streets, watch the locals and observe the culture that’s around you.
So either stay a night now in Yangon and head to Ngapali beach the next day, or just get on a sleeper bus that very same day. We would recommend just heading out of the city and then exploring Yangon at the end of the trip.
If you do wish to leave that day then you will need to book an overnight sleeper coach to Ngapali beach. There are two companies that specialise in bus tickets to Ngapali and that’s Ye Aung lan and Aung Thistar. Ye Aung Ian’s bus leaves at 4pm but you will need to be at the coach station for 3pm, and Aung Thistar leaves at 2.30pm and you will need to be there for 1.30pm. The bus costs 15,000 kyat for a local bus from either of those companies (4 people across), and a bit more on a VIP bus with 3 people across. Get a tuk tuk driver or cab to take you to the correct bus stop/station as it’s probably the biggest bus station we have ever seen! The overnight sleeper takes 14-16 hours and is a winding path along narrow local roads, so take travel sickness pills if you are prone to feeling ill.
It’s worth noting that both the airport and the bus station are 1.5 hours to 2 hours drive from downtown Yangon. It’s really not that far away on a map but the traffic is really bad.
So if you are flying into Yangon on day 1 and heading out on the sleeper bus that same day then it may be worth just staying near the airport/bus station rather than making a journey into town. Expect to pay around 7,000 kyat for a taxi to the bus station or airport from central Yangon, some negotiating may be needed.
What To Do
Yangon is one of those places with very few 'must-do' activities. But it is perfect for exploring by foot, watching the locals, and learn about the local culture. There is a grassy Maha Bandula Park that you can sit and people watch in, you can explore the streets of China Town, there is an interesting local food night market by the river (maybe don’t eat the food there though unless you like munching on offal broth!), by the night market you can cut through to the water at get a glimpse at the locals being ferried across the water on boats, there is the beautiful Kandawgyi Park and lake to visit in the north east which makes for a lovely afternoon stroll, and finally the most famous of all is the gleaming Golden Temple Shwedagon Paya which is a steep 10,000 kyat entrance fee for tourists only. It is definitely one of the most epic pagodas we have ever been to in terms of scale and beauty, but if you are on a tight budget then it might deduct from your noodle money!
Where To Stay
We stayed at the cheap and cheerful 20th Street Hostel in central Yangon near China town. The hostel was ok, not particularly clean though in the bedroom and Ali had a cockroach on her drying sock! The staff are really helpful though and can arrange your onward journey. They offer a free breakfast of noodles, fried vegetables and toast which was ok but not the nicest. It cost 10,800 kyat (£5.75) per night on Hostelworld so didn’t break the bank, and lots of the other accommodation was much more expensive than this. We would probably recommend staying elsewhere though, especially if your budget allows it.
If you need a place to stay by the airport then we would recommend Roly’s Hostel. It’s the cheapest we could find in the area at 27,200 kyat (£14.50). The rooms are spacious, you get a free breakfast and it’s only a ten minute walk to the airport. The WiFi isn’t the best though, and so we would suggest heading to Life Hotel nearby to borrow their internet for an hour or two.
Where To Eat
We ate some very tasty Shan noodles, a Myanmar culinary speciality, at 999 noodle restaurant on 34th street. We ordered a bowl of Shan noodles, some Shan yellow rice and some spring rolls and the total bill came to around 5,500 kyat (£2.90). We would thoroughly recommend this place for a lunchtime dine.
Vedge Indian Restaurant is a good curry house catering to western tastes. Between 3 people, we ordered 5 of the cheaper dishes like daals and chickpea curries, 3 types of breads and a boiled rice and the total bill came to 20,600 kyat (£11) with no drinks included. This was probably one of our more splash out meals during our time in Myanmar, but we had just met a local in the park who wanted to practice his English with us, so we decided to treat him to dinner.
If you are by the bus station and need somewhere to eat, then Holly Hotel does a great Thai lunch for 3,000 kyat (£1.60) per person for a choice of dishes. We opted for green Thai curry with noodles, spring rolls and a seaweed and tofu soup which was very tasty. The restaurant also does mocktails with fresh juice for around 2,500 kyat (£1.30). The WiFi is good and the place is air conditioned, so if you have a while to wait at the bus station then we would recommend heading there to get out of the heat.
Day 2 - 5:
Beautiful white sands, palm trees and crystal clear waters define the stunning Ngapali beach. This gem feels particularly unspoilt by tourism even though there is a plethora of luxury resorts that line the beach front. The only sellers you will get here are the local ladies selling fruit from trays on their heads, and the occasional fisherman offering you a boat trip. The beach is a lengthy 3km long of flat white sands, and curves round in a scenic arc. In our 14 years of travelling, neither of us have seen a beach as beautiful as this one.
If you took the sleeper bus on day 1 then you will be arriving on day 2 bright and early at sunrise to settle into your hostel or resort (hopefully the room is available for you when you arrive!). If they aren’t ready for you then just dump off your stuff and head to the beach!
You will need to book a bus to Bagan on day 5. The journey is a really long 24 hours with a 2 hour break sandwiched in between 2 buses, stopping off at Pyay. Expect to pay around 30,600 kyat - 34,000 kyat (£16.40 - £18.50).
What To Do
What is there to do other than to enjoy the marvellous beach time that has presented itself to you?! We really didn’t want to do anything other than to lay on a lounger and enjoy the spectacular scenery around us. Our hostel didn’t have sun loungers, but you only need to ask at another place and they will most probably let you use one of theirs... the people are so nice here!
You can do a half day boat trip to a few of the small islands, the fisherman’s village and to snorkel, but we got a free one with our hostel and didn’t really rate it. They took us to a stoney beach to swim, and the water wasn’t very clear for snorkelling so perhaps you are just better off spending more time on the beautiful Ngapali. The price offered to us for a half day boat trip with one of the locals was $25 USD (£17.75) which quickly fell to 25,000 kyat (£13.33) when we said how expensive it was.
Even though Ngapali beach is a west facing beach so is optimum for sunsets, it is possible to see a sunrise if you head to the very top of the beach. Mark was very lucky to be gifted with a beautiful sunrise of hazy pink rays when he did an early morning run down the beach front.
Where To Stay
So the accommodation around Ngapali beach is incredibly expensive. Most of it consists of luxury resorts with fancy bungalows for around 188,000 kyat (£100) per night. We would advise getting your accommodation booked well in advance so you get the most choice when you are searching. Remember to use Agoda as well as Booking.com and Hostelworld to find some of the cheaper deals. We stayed in a resort called Gywin Taw in the fisherman’s village down at the end of the beach. Although the location wasn’t as dreamy (that particular stretch of beach is where the locals dry out fish and there is lots of rubbish and stray dogs), it is only a 5 minute cycle from the nicest part of the beach or a ten minute walk. The rooms were decent, bungalow style, you get a huge free breakfast of eggs, rice, toast, pancakes, fresh fruit and a hot drink, and the staff go out their way to be helpful to you. We literally had about 7 people waiting on us! The resort doesn’t have everything right just yet, but they are working hard to improve things, even offering a free boat trip and free bike hire as part of the package. The room was 34,000 kyat (£18) per night so was cheap for the area but the location isn’t the nicest.
Where To Eat
There are so many restaurants to eat at, either on the top end of the beach or just behind on the main strip. Most specialise in fresh seafood that have been caught that day. Some restaurants even display their catches at the front of their restaurants in ice buckets! If you are willing to hunt around you can get a great deal on food. We stopped off at a restaurant called ‘Treasure’ just on the main road, and we ate like kings for only 60,000 kyat (£3.20). We only ordered 2 fried noodles with prawns and a green papaya salad, and the staff came out with an additional cocktail each, peanuts, vegetable tempura, fresh fruit and a honey whiskey all for free. We couldn’t believe it so we went back there the next night and had the same thing. What an amazing price!
If your budget allows then splash out on some of the seafood dishes including the Rahkine fish curry. We also saw many fresh catches such as barracuda, red snapper, crabs and lobster.
There is a selection of cheaper restaurants on the sea front at the top of the beach including Silver Full which offer the same sort of priced dishes. This is also the cheapest place in town to get cocktails, because every day at 4-6.30pm is happy hour and all cocktails are 1,000 kyat (53p)! We were pretty drunk on 3 of the things. Sunset View on the beach front, a couple of restaurants down, do cocktails with 20% off for 1,500 kyat (80p), which was larger but less boozy than those at Silver Full. The food at Sunset View on the beach actually ended up being the tastiest we found in Ngapali.
Day 6 - 9:
You will arrive in a bit of a dishevelled state after 24 hours of buses into the lovely area of Bagan.
The ancient town of Bagan is one of Myanmar’s most prized tourist attractions, and is home to where the iconic picture takes place of hot air balloons rising over a temple-littered landscape. A few days spent exploring the crumbling ruins of the ancient temples is like no other, you just need to grab a bike or an e-scooter and get out into the dusty landscape. Bagan is undoubtably on the top of any travellers bucket list, and so going in peak season can make the experience a lot less special when shared with so many people, so we would recommend going in January/ February time when the crowds have died down a little. The street sellers can be a bit annoying too and very persistent, but once you see a sunrise or sunset over Bagan, all the nuances will float away.
Entrance to the ‘Bagan Archaeological Zone’ is a steep 25,000 kyat (£13.40) each, and you will be ticketed on your arrival to Bagan.
The sleeper bus will drop you off at the bus station so you will need to get a tuk tuk into town unless you are happy to walk 5km, perhaps in the dark. The drivers really try to rip you off here, so negotiate hard. The cheapest we could get a ride for was a pricy 3,000 kyat (£1.60) each and that was on a horse drawn cart!
When you arrive in Bagan, get your hostel or one of the agents on the main road to book your onward bus journey to Mandalay on day 9 at around lunch time. The journey takes around 5 hours and costs 9,000 kyat (£4.80).
What To Do
The main thing to do in Bagan is to explore the temples at ground level, so either hire a cycle bike or E-bike daily from your hostel or a rental shop on the main strip. Expect to pay around 1,500-2,000 kyat (80p - £1.07) for a push bike and 8,000 kyat (£4.27) for an E-bike per day. If you are hiring a cycle bike then you may want to check that it has lights because you will be out in the dark almost every day either before sunrise or after sundown.
In recent years, tourists have been allowed to climb up inside of the temples and walk around the upper levels to watch the sunset. In 2017 however, the government decided that they no longer wanted this to happen because of the damage being caused and so it is no longer allowed. Although there are still temples that the stairwells have been left open on, so every day the tourists ride around trying to find these temples to bag themselves a good spot for watching sun down later on. It’s half the fun of cycling round, trying to find a temple that’s still open that you can go up. The security don’t generally seem to mind that you are up there, they just occasionally pop round to check that everyone has paid for an entrance pass.
Mount Popa is a half day trip that you can do to a monastery on top of a mountain, but we did this trip and wouldn’t really recommend it. The accent by stairs is easy and takes around 30 minutes. The whole sight is infested with monkeys, they aren’t terribly bothered by visitors but there is monkey crap pretty much everywhere and the monestary is very shabby. If you plan to go to Mandalay Hill then this is a similar experience and a much nicer one!
There is also the morning market which is worth a trip to which covers everything from longyi (a traditional woman’s skirt) to daily groceries like fruit and veg.
If you want to splash out then you can do the hot air balloon ride over Bagan for sunrise. It’s a pricy $350 USD but is a once in a lifetime experience. Maybe next time!
Where To Stay
We stayed at Shwe Na Di Guesthouse which was a great place to stay. The WiFi is rubbish but the breakfast makes up for it! It’s a lovely free breakfast of omelet, toast, churros, tea/coffee and fresh fruit and it’s fine to ask for more of anything if you want it. One day Mark ate 3 plates of churros and syrup on his own! When we arrived early morning of day 6, the owners gave us a free brekkie even though we didn’t have a room until that evening. The room price was a bargain 22,000 kyat (£11.80) which was half the price of what everyone else paid, when booked on Agoda. Make sure you hunt around for the best deal.
Where To Eat
There are loads of places to eat at around Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4 Street, and there you will be able to find western restaurants, Myanmar and Thai cusine, and then also the cheaper local tea shops that sell noodles.
We ate at on of the local tea shops on that road and ordered Shan Noodles for 1,000 kyat each, and a green papaya salad for the same price. They also did these delicious pastries filled with sugar and bean curd which were a highlight for 500 kyat a piece.
Tourists rave about Weatherspoon’s restaurant (funny name to choose what with the weathspoons in the U.K. being so shabby), which is jam packed every night but we found the menu a little expensive for our backpacking budget.
If you look around then you can find some cheaper Thai and Burmese food in the western style restaurants.
Day 9 - 11:
After an easy 5 hour drive from Bagan, you will arrive in Mandalay, one of Myanmar’s most modern cities after being totally destroyed during WW2. Mandalay is never going to win any contests for being a good-looking city because of it's hectic rebuild, it’s pretty standard in a lot of ways, high rise buildings, lots of traffic and not very much to see, but there’s something interesting about it. It’s great to explore some of the more local areas where there are markets, street food and temples. You don’t need very long here, but it’s a nice way to break up the more outdoorsy places of Ngapali, Bagan, Kalaw and Inle Lake.
To get to our next stop Kalaw, you can either take an overnight sleeper, or a shared cab, both of which were out of our price range. So we decided to take the train instead, spending one night in Thazi between trains. The route from Thazi to Kalaw is a slow train and is incredibly scenic, we thought even more stunning then our journey on the Trans Siberian train some months before! If you want to get the train then you will need to book your ticket to Thazi from the main train station in Mandalay at 5pm on day 11. The train takes only 3 hours and is a cheap 2,000 kyat (£1.07) per person for upper class. You will need to get to the station half an hour before the train departs.
What To Do
There are plenty of things to do in Mandalay for a couple of days of being there, the only issue is that everything is very spaced out. You can hire a taxi driver for the day, we think they are around $65 USD, but for our budget cycle bikes would be the only way we could get around at an affordable price. Our hotel rented us bikes for 3,000 kyat (£1.60) each, and although the roads are busy, we thought that it was safe enough to cycle as long as you were being careful at the traffic light-less junctions.
The main attraction here is to head to Mandalay Hill for sunset, it takes 45 minutes to walk up and the likely chances are that some monks will want to walk up with you the whole way to practice their English. Entry to the temple at the top is 1,000 kyat (53p), and is one of the most beautiful temples in all of Myanmar.
You can visit Kuthodaw Pagoda for free nearby, to see the worlds largest book.
The Mandalay Zoological Gardens is a mere 2,000 kyat (£1.07) entry and has some amazing animals from hippos to Bengali tigers, and gibbons to alligators. Nearly all animals in the zoo are native to Myanmar. It’s worth noting though that the conditions of some of the cages aren’t really up to scratch and at one point some there was an elephant dance show for visitors, which was pretty sad. We did enjoy most of it though because you are so close to the animals. At home you wouldn’t be able to touch a hippo!
Most people head over to U-Bein Bridge for sunset but it is about 20km away from town so you need to get a cab. We decided to try and cycle there and ended up stopping on the north east side of the lake which makes for an amazing sunset with a view of U-Bein bridge in the distance. We would say that being on the north east side on Yandanabon Kyuang Street would make a great alternative if you wanted somewhere more peaceful to watch sunset from (minus the road nearby).
Our favourite bit of visiting Mandalay was exploring the villages around Mandalay Kantawgyi lake and the rail track by bike. We were whizzing though dirt tracks with locals waving at us from outside their houses, it was a really cool experience. If you head down Kantawgyi Pat Road going east from the lake, and then cycle south on 82nd street, you will be able to see a lot of the locals going about their daily lives. Keep exploring the small roads to see locals living on the train tracks, vegetable markets and lots of friendly faces.
There is loads more to do in Mandalay if you get a driver and have a bit more cash to spare. There’s the Shwenandaw Monastery (teak wood monetary), Inwa Ancient City and Umin Thonse Pagoda (30 caves pagoda).
Where To Stay
We stayed at Silver Cloud Hotel which was actually great and cost only 17,770 kyat (£9.53) a night. Our room was clean and every day you get a free all you can eat buffet breakfast of hot foods, fruit and toast. The location is perfect and relatively close to the train station. This was the only place on our whole trip where we had decent WiFi. The rest of the time we could barely pick up an email! Be aware of this when travelling to Myanmar and book what you can a few days in advance in case you get stuck without internet.
Where To Eat
We would say come to Mandalay just to eat at this restaurant! It is a local place serving amazing Indian food for next to nothing. We ate a biriani, chicken curry, coconut rice, 2 handmade chapattis (you can see 7 people making them there and then) and lots of little extras for 4,000 kyat (2.15)! It was the cheapest Indian we have ever had and the best chapattis in existence. The restaurant is opposite Unity Hotelon 82nd street and opens at around 4pm daily.
Paradise Restaurant on 66th street east of the moat is a local place serving bbq and Myanmar cuisine, and we ate fried Malaysian Noodles, chicken curry, a zingy seaweed salad and 3 Myanmar draught beers for 10,400 kyat (£5.60). The food was tasty and the restaurant was really busy with locals, which is a good sign.
Day 11 - 12:
Your train from Mandalay will arrive into Thazi at 8pm that same day. This is only really an overnight stopover before getting the train again the next day to Kalaw.
It’s a ten minute walk from Thazi station into town, and one of the first places you will see is the Moonlight Guesthouse where you can rest your head for the night for as little as 12,000 kyat (£6.40) for a basic room. Technically breakfast isn’t included in the economy room, but if you ask nicely then the owners may make you a packed lunch for the next morning. Maybe leave a little tip if they go out their way to do so.
If you feel like a little tipple then why not join the locals in one of the bars, they seemed pretty happy to see us and one guy even bought us some dried meat as a present!
Get to the station for 6.20am the next morning on day 12 and book your onward journey to Kalaw by slow train, it leaves at 7am. The route takes 6 hours and costs 1,850 kyat (£1.00) per person for upper class. This train ride is honestly one of the most epic routes we have ever been on, winding through jungles, countryside and mountains so enjoy it! The train also stops in many local villages where you can pick up some snacks and noodles along the way. It’s a lot of fun with the open sides and reclining seats on the train.
Day 12 - 14:
The town of Kalaw is nothing special in itself, but ended up being one of our favourite places to relax in Myanmar. The local food is tasty and cheap, the town is surrounded by beautiful pine forests and countryside, and this is the starting place of the 3 day trek to Inle Lake. There are tourists here, but it’s not nearly as popular as some of the other places we visited. You could easily spend 3-4 days here just enjoying the peace and quiet and exploring the surrounding green area.
After taking the train from Thazi, you will arrive into Kalaw at 1.15pm on day 12. We would recommend heading into town after dropping your stuff off at your guesthouse to book onto a 2 or 3 day trek to Inle. If you book your tour for day 14, then you will have the afternoon of day 12, and another full day to enjoy the delights of Kalaw. There are loads of companies that offer the trek, and all of them take the same trekking route to Inle except for one company which takes you through different villages but charges about double the price for the privilege. We ended up going with Eagle Tours because they have a fairly good reputation online, but we would say that our guide was a bit lack lustre. Our trek cost $55 USD per person for 3 days plus a $10 entrance fee to Inle Lake, and it was just us two on the trek for that price. Have a hunt around and see which one suits you. If you want to go cheap and don’t mind trekking with a lot of people, then Ever Smile tours is your best bet for 44,000 kyat (£23.60) per person plus the $10 USD entrance fee.
What To Do
Kalaw is the perfect place to relax, eat local food and do some short walks into the countryside. There is a fresh produce and flower market on every 5th day in the centre of town, and every day there is a standard market also selling clothes, snacks, trinkets etc.
It is possible to walk to the nearby MyintMathi caves which is a 2 hour walk one way through pine forests, ox-cart dirt tracks and through a minority village which is very pleasant indeed. We have written up the instructions for the walk here from Kalaw town. You can also walk up to a viewpoint from near the village which takes an additional 3 hours total, so all in all a 7 hour trek from Kalaw with the caves included. It is possible to walk to another viewpoint, a 3 hour walk one way, from Kalaw town, and the view expands across the hilly countryside of clementine orchards and tea plantations. If you want to do this walk then ask one of the locals which direction to head to, you don’t need a guide for these walks.
Where To Stay
We stayed at Thitaw Lay House which was one of the best places we have stayed in 6 months on the road. We turned up to be offered a free upgrade to the family room, and because we booked last minute we got the room for a reduced rate of 26,600 kyat (£14.25). The room was beautiful, solid wood floors, ethnic throws on the beds and ginormous, and the guesthouse has some very well maintained gardens just outside. Every morning they would feed us a free breakfast of home-made banana bread, fresh bread that they had made in a wood burning oven, either a fried egg or cheese slice, vege fried rice, homemade jam, butter and a hot drink. It was honestly the best breakfast ever!
What To Eat
Food is great in Kalaw, there are quite a few western restaurants if your budget allows or dirt cheap tea shops selling noodles and fried goods. We ate at Parami restaurant on Min Street and ordered 2 chapattis, sweet potato leaf salad, okra and 2 bowls of Shan Noodles for only 3,700 kyat (£2.00) and it was delicious. We actually ate there a few times in a row because it was so cheap and tasty! We also ate at Picasso Healthy Spa and Restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, which was very fresh and tasty, but the portion sizes were a bit on the small side. We ordered a vege burrito, 2 nachos and a vege quesadilla for 10,000 kyat (£5.35). The avocado around this area is unbelievably tasty because it is grown here, make sure you try some in one of the restaurants.
The street food is actually great in the centre of Kalaw. We sampled a chickpea crispy pancake for 300 kyat (16p), pancakes with sugar for 250 kyat (13p), vege samosas for 100 kyat (5p) and our all time favourite coconut crumpets for 200 kyat (10p). If you want some cheap and tasty snacks then there are loads of bits to choose from.
Day 14 - 16:
3 Day Trek From Kalaw To Inle Lake
Leave on the morning of day 14 with your guide and tour group and make the long journey by foot to Inle Lake. We are avid trekkers so didn’t find it too challenging, it was just lovely to get lost in thought whilst walking through the hilly countryside of Myanmar. Your tour operator should have arranged to take your big backpacks to the end of the route so you will only be trekking with a day bag filled with the things you need for the next few days. Make sure you have sun cream, a sun hat and a change of clothes in case it rains. Taking a mozzie net is a good idea for sleeping under. You can probably trek in trainers if it is dry, but we took our walking boots because they were comfier for the longer distance.
The food on our trek was amazing, the local people feed you like kings! 4 types of fruit at one sitting and freshly prepared salads, we felt so lucky at the end of it to have been given some much. You also need to take 1 litre of bottled water which you can replace at several intervals during the trek.
The scenery is very diverse, going from reservoirs to forests, views of tea plantations on the hills to trekking on the train tracks. We loved crossing the rice paddies where the buffalos were grazing, this was probably our favourite part of the walk.
The boat trip at the end across Inle Lake is super fun, our driver was really speedy so we had massive grins on our faces as we bounced along the water, waves splashing out from either side of the boat.
It is also possible to do this trek over 2 days if you don’t want to do 3, the tour operator will just drop you slightly further into the route by tuk tuk. If you want to do a 2 day trek from Kalaw on your own then you can find instructions on how to do it here.
We loved the trek but perhaps we weren’t ready for the number of other tourists we had to share it with. On our second day we came across about 10 other groups on the route, some of them made of 12 people, and apparently some 20 groups will stay in the same village at any one time. Although this isn’t a problem as such, it felt decidely un-special to be doing the same as everyone else, to be in the countryside ‘on tour’. If you can get your guide to leave any earlier in the morning to avoid the crowds then it’s probably a good idea. Otherwise you may get stuck behind big groups if you are walking faster than them.
Day 16 - 19:
So after lunch at the end of your trek you will take the boat over Inle to arrive in the city of Nyaungshwe around early afternoon. Head to your hostel and give your legs a well deserved break after 3 long days of trekking.
Nyaungshwe is an alright place to chill out, eat some tasty food and this area is popular because it’s the cheaper backpacker destination close to Inle Lake. It’s mainly just set up for tourists, there’s bar upon bar lining the streets, loads of western restaurants to choose from, hostels and hotels, tour agencies, and places to hire bikes from. We didn’t love it, but it does seem like the most affordable place to base yourself for access to the highlight, that is Inle Lake.
Inle’s glistening waters are breathtakingly beautiful, and you can see why this is one of Myanmar’s most loved sights. Surrounded by mountains on the east and west sides, the scenery is unrivalled and one of the most stunning places we have ever been. Bamboo housed villages hover over the waters on wooden stilts, and locals wash themselves in the alluring waters. Fishermen paddle using one leg, making a scooping motion to move themselves along the surface.
To arrange the next step of the journey, get your hostel or an agent to book your return coach journey to Yangon on day 19 in the afternoon. We searched around for the cheapest prices and went with Full Moon coaches, where a 3 across VIP sleeper was 18,000 kyat (£9.65), or a 4 across VIP sleeper was 13,000 kyat (£7.00) and because there wasn’t enough people on the cheaper one, they upgraded everyone to the 3 across coach for free. The journey takes 12 hours and leaves at 3pm from Nyaungshwe.
What To Do
Go on a boat tour. This is the must-do thing at Inle Lake and is really easy to organise. Just get your hostel to book it for you, or if you want to hunt around then there are loads of agencies that can arrange it for you, or local boat men walking around offering boat hire. The main thing to be aware of is that the boat hire is generally cheap but the drivers get commission on where they take you, so they want to drop you off in their mates restaurant or shop, which can be very annoying. You will need to discuss with your driver beforehand if you can make your own itinerary. Expect to pay from 15,000 kyat (£8.05) to 24,000 kyat (£12.90) for an all day hire on a boat. The more people you get then the cheaper it is. We would recommend visiting the following places on your boat tour: the lotus root weaving factory in Phaw Khone, the middle of the lake to catch some fishermen in action, the boat makers workshop, one of the local markets (not the floating market), the Inn Tain Monastery and bamboo forest in the west, the Nga Hpe Kyuang wooden jumping cat monastery (although there are only about 6 cats when we visited and none of them were jumping!) and the floating gardens. We would say give the silver smiths, the long neck weavers, the cigar makers and the umbrella makers a miss. There are loads of beautiful villages to visit which are hovering over the water on stilts, like the Nampans or Maing Tauk villages, and a canal network which is almost like a boat road system.
You can hire a bike from Nyaungshwe and do some cycling to nearby villages and the countryside. Bikes cost around 1,500 kyat (80p) from a local shop.
Get a massage in Win Nyant for an experience of a lifetime! Be prepared for the masseur to stand on you with their full body weight, pinch and grab your muscles through clothes. It was pretty funny watching Mark’s pained expression for an hour and worth the 7,000 kyat (£3.75).
Where To Stay
We stayed at the Green Valley Inn Guesthouse in Nyaungshwe and the place was good value for money, including a breakfast of eggs, toast, churros, fruit and tea/coffee. The staff are really friendly and look after their guests. There are loads of hotels and guest houses around Inle depending on your budget, and if you can splash out then it may be worth staying in one of the bamboo huts actually on the lake itself rather than staying in the city. We have heard that the south side of the lake is much quieter and very scenic, whereas there is a lot of boat action in the north.
Where To Eat
Namastee Indian restaurant do an amazing set menu of meat curry, vege curry, popadom, nan bread, mint yoghurt dip, daal soup and fresh salad for only 3,500 kyat (£1.90) per person and it’s really tasty. We had that a couple of days in a row because it was such good value for money.
We also went to Mo Sin, a local restaurant, which has a set menu for 4,000 kyat (£2.15) for a bbq’ed meat, rice, small beer and tom yum soup. Ali skipped the set menu and ordered a Thai vege curry, rice and papaya salad which also came to the same price.
The highlight of our food experience in Inle was a local tea shop on the bottom of Sao San Htun Street where we got 2 bowls of Shan Noodles, pastries filled with sugary coconut bean paste, crispy wonton and bhaji, and a chickpea pancake for a total of 3,000 kyat (£1.60). You really can’t beat the local food, it’s cheap and ridiculously tasty. The only problem is that the local tea shops / restaurants were just a bit harder to find in the touristy Nyaungshwe.
Day 20 - 21:
So you will probably arrive in Yangon bus station at the ridiculous hour of 3am after being on the night bus. From there you will have to negotiate a tuk tuk driver to take you into downtown Yangon, maybe grab some other people to make your journey cheaper. A taxi normally costs around 7,000 kyat (£3.75), but these guys know you don’t have many other options at this hour so may bump up the price. Have somewhere to stay booked beforehand so you can head straight there. If you stay one night in Yangon then that’s probably enough time to soak up the city atmosphere. All of the other info for What To Do and Where To Eat is at the top of this page.
That takes us up to day 21 on the itinerary which is your final day in Myanmar. We hope you have found this guide helpful, you can easily stretch this out into a more leisurely 3 week itinerary if you have the time.
Things To Note:
What with the troubles in the north western part of the country in the Rakhine state, many embassies have advised against all travel to several parts of the country. The tourist areas of Ngapali beach and Hsipaw are still reachable for tourists, but it’s best to check in advance the conditions of visiting from your government embassy website. For example, it is possible to travel to Hsipaw by train from Mandalay, but we believe it is not possible to do any trekking in this area at the moment. Places such as Ngapali beach are under military supervision and so it is necessary to expect passport checks are several points during your journey there. From our experience of visiting Myanmar during this time, there is nothing to worry about as a tourist. This is one of the safest countries we have ever visited and the people are some of the friendliest and most peaceful we have met. (Written January 2018)
Time Of Year
We went in January and it was a great, because the earlier crowds visiting in the dry season had dispersed and you got to enjoy lots of the sights with fewer people. It felt very quiet at times around the touristy restaurant areas in Bagan and Inle Lake, there are obviously quite a lot of travellers but apparently nothing compared to what it is like in November/ December time. The weather is very pleasant in the day and can get a bit nippy at night times in the countryside, but as long as you take some warm layers there is nothing to worry about. We didn’t have any problems finding accommodation, in previous years we read that there hasn’t been enough for the number of tourists, but because of the ongoing political situation we believe there are fewer people visiting at the moment.
Animals And Insects
There can be quite a few mosquitos in the cities during the dry season and we have heard that there are a lot more during the wet season, in the countryside also. Check your embassy for advice on Malaria and other mosquito-born diseases. At the time of visiting, there was a low risk of Malaria in most places in the countryside and none in the cities. We were take a lot of care not to get bitten, and this time Ali decided to take anti-malarial drugs because she is prone to getting bitten regardless!
We were told by a trekking guide that there are a lot of snakes in the countryside in the Kalaw area during the months of March and April and that some can be aggressive when near fires. Local people like to burn their crops and when that happens the snakes make a slithering escape! So if you are trekking in the countryside at this time your guide should be able to advice whether it is safe to trek that particular route or if you need to take another one.
There are many stray dogs across the whole of Myanmar, and sadly it looks like a lot of them have had a very hard life. Be careful walking around small streets at nighttime when dogs can become scared and territorial, we carried a stick around with us just in case! Also there are some cases of Rabies in Myanmar so make sure you check your embassy website for travel advice and get vaccinated.
Myanmar is a very traditional country where nearly all of the women dress conservatively, wearing Longyi’s (mid calf length wrap skirts) and they cover their shoulders. As a tourist we think it’s only fair to dress appropriately and follow suit, particularly in the villages. The only place Ali had her shoulders and knees out was at the beach in Ngapali, and even then the locals were completely covered up, swimming in the sea fully clothed!
Food And Drink
Some of the tastiest food we have eaten in Myanmar has come from the local restaurants and tea shops. Although we wouldn’t necessarily advice eating things like meat from the street vendors, we ate lots of the breaded and fried goods and didn’t have any problems at all. If the locals are eating there then you are probably fine! Some of our favourite dishes were Shan noodles, green papaya salad, tea leaf salad, curries, chapattis, avocado salad, churros and papaya. You can find food as cheap as 400 kyat (22p) for noodles in a tea shop. A good price for a draught Myanmar beer in a local tea shop is 800 kyat (43p), and 2000 kyat (£1.07) for a large bottle.
It is incredibly easy to organise your travel in Myanmar. Most hostels can book onward coach journeys for you and you can always pick up a tuk tuk or cab at a bus station. The journeys by coach can be long and laborious though, the roads can be long and winding in places and the drivers love to play their dance tunes all night long on the loud speakers. If you are prone to travel sickness then be as prepared as you can be with travel sickness or sleeping pills. The train is a really nice way to travel, very cheap, but it takes a lot of time compared to the bus. From our experience, traveling in Myanmar was always to schedule, well organised and straight forward. You can just arrange it all when you get there unless you want to fly. When getting a cab or a tuk tuk, you will need to negotiate hard to get a good price, or try to get your hostel to book it for you.
You will need a visa to enter Myanmar and, due to the political state, there are current restrictions as to where and how you can enter the country. In January 2018, the only way to enter is to fly into the cities of Yangon, Nyi Pyi Taw or Mandalay, or to cross the border by land at Tachileik, Myawaddy or Kawthaung. We believe you have to exit the country the same way that you entered and flying is more straight forward than a land border crossing. Make sure that you research the most up-to-date information on the government embassy website, because the situation may change quickly. An e-visa cost us $50 USD each and was for 28 days access to the country.
We hope you find our guide helpful, we would love to hear from anyone who followed it.
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