Top Things To Do in Myanmar: Tourist Attractions and Itinerary Ideas is a guest post by fellow travel blogger Maria Laborde from LatinAbroad.com
Under iron-fist military rule for almost 50 years, Myanmar opened up to significant democratic reforms between 2011 and 2012.
Since then, tourism has boomed in the former hermit land, with an outstanding 60% growth expected this year.
Thankfully, it’s not too late to visit. Myanmar is still unspoiled by Southeast Asia standards.
It is truly a breath of fresh air!
From its genuine people to its virgin landscapes, I suggest you immerse yourself into this newly-opened country ASAP.
Below, the top things to do in Myanmar and tourist attractions I visited during my two-week trip.
Author’s note: Burma’s fragile infrastructure was heavily damaged by floods that affected 10 out of 14 states the summer of 2015. More than 100 Burmese were killed and hundreds more injured and displaced. Please visit this Myanmar flood relief page to find out how you can help with your time and/or money.
Things To Do in Myanmar: Top Attractions
Yangon, The Old Capital: 1-2 Days
Many people think about skipping Yangon, Myanmar’s old capital.
If you’ve been to any major city in the world, you’ll feel a change of dynamics and energy right away.
Another reason Yangon is definitely worth a stop is to marvel at the Shwedagon Pagoda and its 325-foot golden stupa.
The sight’s aura will captivate you, for it is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in the country and an important pilgrimage site.
To me, there’s something deeper, inexplicably addicting about Yangon though–hiding somewhere between its feeble early 1900s baroque buildings, its people, colorful longyis (sarongs), and of course Shan noodles!
Many locals I met throughout my journey confirm the old Burmese capital is the best place to savor the traditional Burmese dish by the way.
So listen up foodies! I recommend you get lost and go on a scavenger hunt to find the country’s best Shan noodles during their visit.
Inle Lake: 3 Days
Nothing like the second-largest lake in Myanmar after a fast-paced introduction to the country in Yangon.
Home to several endangered species and other unique flora and fauna, Inle Lake became the first UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in the country in June 2015.
It is a fascinating wetland ecosystem, sprinkled with entire villages built on stilts; farmers practicing floating island agriculture; and fishermen with a distinctive one-legged rowing style.
Allow yourself at least 3 days to soak in its unique culture, naturally-clean air, water, and cooler mountain climate.
My friends and I booked a reasonably-priced local private guide and boat for a few days through One-Stop Travel Myanmar to explore hundreds of pagodas and vibrant markets at the Maing Thauk and Indein water villages.
We didn’t see one other tourist in the low season.
On our free day, we rented some bikes and cycled to the Red Mountain Estate, a winery and restaurant with a spectacular viewpoint.
Pindaya: Day Trip from Inle Lake
My day trip to the Pindaya Caves was, hands down, one of my favorite Myanmar attractions. Just imagine more than 8,000 Buddha statues and altars, sheltered inside a mysterious system of caves.
Throw in a spectacular viewpoint before you even step foot into the attraction itself and…
From solid gold to jade and marble, each Buddha has been donated by a family in the hopes of harvesting blessings.
Bagan: 4 Full Days
Between the 9th and 13th centuries, Bagan was the ancient capital of the Pagan Kingdom, which ultimately united all regions that make up modern-day Myanmar.
From the over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries erected during the kingdom’s height, about 2,200 survive today.
As such, this fascinating archaeological zone is Myanmar’s equivalent to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat–so you can’t miss it.
In 4 days, we were able to see all major attractions, in addition to several minor, yet still impressive sights, at a relatively-leisurely pace.
Again, our wonderful private local guide and driver booked through One-Stop Myanmar ensured we saw as much as we could, but without exhausting ourselves, on a comfortable air-conditioned van.
One of the days we explored Bagan independently, however, in order to rent bikes and see the ancient city from a different perspective.
It was extremely hot, exhausting, and dusty by the end of June–albeit rewarding.
We couldn’t have cycled for more than a day though! You just can’t cover as much ground.
Some of our favorite Bagan attractions and temples include:
- Ananda Phaya
- That Byin Nyu
Mount Popa: Day Trip from Bagan
Mount Popa is a popular day trip from Bagan, included in most itineraries.
However, I can’t really recommend this attraction for 2 weeks in Myanmar.
If it’s on your plans, I suggest you scratch it off.
Sure, Popa looks cool and special from a distance.
Yet, once you climb to the top, you quickly notice there are many other sites throughout the country that showcase more impressive architecture–and better viewpoints.
I can attest to this from personal experience.
Given the choice, I would opt for an extra day in Bagan or even Inle Lake instead.
Phoe Win Taung and Monywa: 2 Full Days, 1 Night
On our road trip from Bagan to Mandalay, we visited several off-the-beaten-path Myanmar attractions that blew us away.
First was Phoe Win Taung Hill, with its fascinating labyrinth of caves, filled with incredibly-well-preserved murals, frescoes, and Buddha statues.
Second stop was Bodhi Tataung, or Buddha ‘the Redeemer statue’ (as like I like to call it!), in the outskirts of Monywa.
Soaring at 424 feet (129 meters), it is the second-largest statue in the world!
Speaking of Monywa, both the city itself and the vicinity were surprisingly interesting.
We stayed at the Hotel Chindwin, which proved to be a brilliant choice as it has outstanding rooms. Better yet, it is a short walking distance from Monywa’s night market, full of cheap local street food to sample.
Another unique attraction that stunned me was the unique design of Thanboddhay Paya.
According to locals, its design was conceived by a globetrotting monk who explained each of the paya’s Buddhas represented men who became enlightened thanks to him–over half a million or so.
The paya might only be 80 years old, but its history, bright Candyland-like colors, and 500,000+ Buddha images make it worth visit.
Bagan-Mandalay by Boat
Need more downtime or ideas for unique things to do in Myanmar? Another option is to take a 10-hour day cruise between Bagan and Mandalay.
While no stops are offered at sites of interest, you get to see hundreds of glimmering pagodas, village people, and brightly-robed monks from the historic Irrawaddy River.
If you opt for a boat trip transfer, however, you must ensure you visit in the right season or river levels can adversely affect your Myanmar holiday.
When to go down the Irrawaddy, then? Right after the rainy season, between October and January. During these months, river levels are high, storms are unlikely, and the sun is not that hot yet.
Mandalay: 3 Full Days
The last royal capital of Burma is a fantastic base to explore several top attractions in the central region.
From Mandalay, you can see Amarapura, Sagaing, and Inwa in one full day; while you can pay a visit to Mingun in a leisure morning.
Again, I recommend enlisting the help of a local guide and driver will ensure good time management and a wealth of historical fun facts.
What about Mandalay itself? You can hit all significant sights in just one day.
Some must-see attractions in the Mandalay area include:
- Myatheindan Pagoda, Myanmar’s Taj Mahal equivalent as it was built for love
- Kuthodaw Pagoda and The World’s Biggest Book; Kyauktawgyi Temple and its big Buddha, carved from a single block of marble
- Mandalay Hill, its bedazzled temple and ritualistic sunset chats with local monks
- U Bein Bridge, the longest and oldest teakwood bridge in the world
- Shwenandaw Monastery, a converted teakwood royal palace, gilt with gold and filled with exquisite carvings