Myanmar (also known as Burma) is one of the least visited countries in Southeast Asia, even Laos is welcoming more tourists then Myanmar. But that doesn’t mean that Myanmar is not a fascinating country. In my opinion, Myanmar is an amazing country with kind people and lots to see. The most popular places to visit are Bagan, Inle lake, Yangon and Mandalay. Since I only had 7 days in Myanmar and didn’t want to fly every other day, I chose to visit Yangon and Bagan.
Yangon – the largest city and former capital of Myanmar
Walking around in Yangon (formerly Rangoon) you will find colonial architecture and traditional pagodas covered in gold leafs and studded with precious stones. I stayed at the Pan Pacific hotel located close to the main attractions and connected to a modern shopping mall. The Pan Pacific hotel is one of the best hotel that I have stayed at across Asia. The hotel amenities are excellent and everyone was very kind and welcoming. I didn’t expect such a luxurious and modern hotel in Myanmar.
Sule Pagoda (picture above) is more than 2.500 years old and one of the most popular pagodas in Yangon. Its location is quite unique as it is surrounded by modern and colonial buildings. I suggest you to visit this one before the Shwedagon Pagoda.
The main attraction in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is one of the most famous pagodas in the world and referred to as the crown of Burma. The pagoda is located on a hill and is 99 meters high, so it can be seen from everywhere in Yangon. At the top of the gold-plated dome you will find 7.000 diamonds, rubies, topaz and sapphires positioned to reflect the last rays of the setting sun. It is said that a hair of Buddha is inside the pagoda, but this has not been confirmed since no one is allowed inside the pagoda.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is truly beautiful and I recommend to hire a tour guide by the entrance to get the full story behind the pagoda. The tour guide will walk around with you for around an hour and then you can explore more by yourself if necessary. Unlike the Sule Pagoda, the Shwedagon Pagoda is surrounded by other beautiful buddhist monuments on the same complex, which are worth the time to explore.
Bagan – an archeological and UNESCO World Heritage site
From Yangon you can easily take a flight to Bagan for around US$100. If you are on a budget, you can also take the night bus for US$10. However the flight only takes 45 minutes and the bus is a 10-hour drive.
Bagan has been one of my favorite experiences in Southeast Asia. There are more than 2000 Buddhist monuments and the area is huge, so it never feels crowded. Bagan is incredible peaceful and the locals are so kind and live a very simple life. I stayed at the Amazing Bagan Resort near the airport and also close to restaurants. The hotel staff is very kind, but the amenities are very basic. But you are in the middle of an archaeological site, so you can’t really expect much. Bagan is all about sunrises, sunsets and chasing temples.
SUNRISE Mornings in Bagan are quite magical as you will see hot air balloons rise above the temples. But you have to get up early since hot air balloons only fly at sunrise due to the wind conditions. Since I had two full days in Bagan, I had the opportunity to watch the sunrise from a hot air balloon and from the ground as well.
Hot air balloon For my first sunrise in Bagan, I chose to do hot air balloon. If you are in Bagan for a few days, always choose hot air balloon for the first day since it can get cancelled if the wind is too strong. Then you still have the remaining days to do it. A hot air balloon in Bagan is about US$340-450 per person depending on the basket size. For me, it was a nice experience but a few months ago I also did a hot air balloon in Cappadocia (Turkey) and the one in Bagan was not as magical as that one. The one in Cappadocia is slightly cheaper and in my opinion better, as there are way more balloons in the air. I was also a bit unlucky in Bagan with the wind, meaning that the balloon was not completely flying above the temples. If you have never done a hot air balloon before and can afford it, then you should definitely do it. Bagan is the second best place in the world for hot air balloons.
From the top of a temple I actually prefer to watch the sunrise at the top of a temple. For this option, you have to either rent a e-scooter or a Tuk Tuk with driver. I did the latter as it was way easier than navigating in the dark on a scooter since you have to go off-road for the best temples. But also because it is not all temples that you can climb and the local driver knows which one is still OK to climb. Since Bagan became a UNESCO World Heritage site, you are not allowed to climb the temples. But it is not written as a law yet and therefore it’s a bit of a gray zone. Until it becomes a law, it’s still OK to climb the unguarded ones.
If you are not comfortable with climbing a temple, you can watch the sunrise from a hilltop.
SUNSET There are two options for sunsets, either a hilltop or find a medium-sized temple and climb to the top. For me the best and most magical view was from the top of a temple. Be ready on the ground about 10 minutes before sunset and then climb it. If you are climbing it too early, a guard might come by and tell you to go down.
CHASING TEMPLES The main reason to visit Bagan is to explore the temples. There are more than 2000 temples, so you will never be able to visit all of them. So it’s important that you don’t miss the best ones!
Large temples Make sure to stop by the Shwezigon, Htilominlo, Ananda, Dhammayangyi and Manuha temple. These are the biggest temples in Bagan (you’re def not allowed to climb any of these), but also the most crowded as they are accessible by tourbusses. Many of the temples have small shops in front of the entrance selling everything from souvenirs to snacks.
Smaller temples Another advantage by having a local Tuk Tuk driver is that he knows the best temples and the most beautiful temple complexes. To access the less crowded temples and the ones that you can climb, you have to go off-road and Google Maps is not too accurate with the locations. Do extensive research before you go and download maps.me as it works better than Google Maps.
Truth be told, I didn’t really know much about Myanmar before my trip. My cousin has been there for volunteering work, so I knew that it was a poor developing country. However, I was very positively surprised with Myanmar. It’s a great country, lots to see, kind people and I highly recommend you to go there before the crowds.
If you want to visit Inle Lake and Mandalay, I suggest you to stay another 5-6 days. For Yangon and Bagan, two full days in each city is enough. In Bagan, try to find a hotel with a decent restaurant since you might be tired from being out all day and some local places are not very hygienic.
Price level: Cheap. Accommodation is quite cheap in Myanmar, and if you are not on a budget then splurge on a nice 4- or 5-star hotel. Food is also very cheap if you eat local places.