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Itinerary map here

Itinerary:
The Golden Triangle of Myanmar

3 nights: Mandalay and surrounding area for the Royal Palace, Mandalay Hill temples and pagodas, sunset at nearby U Bein Bridge, Sagaing hill and ancient city Inwa. Optional multi-day trekking trip in ##Hsipaw# and nearby tribal area.
2 nights: Bagan for biking around the ancient empire of Pagan, climbing up and down of pagodas, and admiring sunrise of Bagan from a hot air balloon. Visiting the holy Mountt Popa and the temple on top of its mountain.
3 nights: Yangon for the city of old meets new, witness the country’s development by walking through old colonial architectures standing along with building-in-progress modern construction complexes and indefinite amount of street food and night markets.



" This best-of Myanmar itinerary is perfect for those who only have one week to 10 days in Myanmar while backpacking around Southeast Asia. Myanmar is easily accessible from Bangkok, Singapore and other major Southeast Asian cities via air nowadays. With the country’s door being more and more open these days, you would want to see it now while it is still somewhat authentic and raw, before it become the next resort heaven! "


Some general information:

As of April 2015, most streets outside of Yangon are poorly lit. I recommend bringing a small headlamp or flashlight when walking around at night. Although pitch dark at times in some places, not once I felt threatened of my own safety. A source of light would be a good tool to watch out for potholes and open drains.

1

Mandalay

3 nights

Introduction:

Mandalay is a prosperous city by Myanmar’s standard due to its historic and present trading activities with China. It is easy to get in via air from different big cities in Asia. The city is built based on a grid system so it is extremely easy to navigate. Mandalay is divided by many quarters per ethnic group - Muslim, Chinese, Christian and so on, each of them has it own Burmese root but ethnic influenced flavors.

What to do:

The city center of Mandalay is quite a way from the airport. You can get to the city by shared taxi or private taxi. Plenty of taxi drivers will wave you to their official taxi stand after customs at the airport. Note: Passengers of AirAsia and Golden Myanmar Airlines will be able to hop on their free shuttles to the city. At our first glimpse of Myanmar, the dirt roads, friendly people, small and primitive airport, we knew we were already falling in love with this country. Plan of having your torch or headlamp with your at nightfall if you are walking around the city. The streets were dim and we wanted to make sure motorists can see us.

To tour Mandalay and its surrounding area, you will need to purchase a 1-week Mandalay Zone Admission Ticket (10,000 kyats) in order to go to some of the sights below. Keep the business card size ticket with while touring Mandalay, as some places you will visit ask for it at the entrance.

We opted to hire a driver along with two backpackers we meet on the street, it was 50,000 kyats for the entire day for about 12 hours. Alternately you can haggle a deal with a motorcycle taxi driver for less of a price if traveling alone. Though less-than-fluent in English, our taxi driver was attentive and very personable. We tour through Mandalay Palace, multiple temples including Sandamuni Paya and Maha Myat Muni Paya, so many of them that I can barely remember all of their names.

He also took us to the boat dock where you will get on a long tail boat to visit the ancient city of Inwa. In Inwa, the only way to tour the region is hire a horse cart, perhaps your rental motorcycle too if you have one. Inwa is like a good preparation for Pagan, it is similar but far less crowded.

We also toured around Sagaing and visited several temples and pagodas. Our wonderful taxi driver invited us to make a stop at a local nun school. It was delightful to see and play with the curious pink uniformed little nuns. We thought it was a wonderful bonus stop. He also took us to lunch at a very local restaurant where we were the only obvious foreigners there, food was wonderful and a mere of 1000 kyats ($1 USD).

On the way back to Mandalay we stopped at a stone-craving street nearby where we saw many people, young and old, kneeling down and craving Buddha out of stone and marble blocks.

Not to be missed is a visit to the U Bein Bridge around sunset time. Is it the best sunset I viewed while in Myanmar. This world longest teakwood bridge is the daily commute for a lot of Monks and nuns from monasteries on both side of the bridge. You can get there by motorcycle taxis or private taxi. We once again got lucky and found backpackers to share a private taxi with.

Eat & drink:

Fantastic news for avid foodies, Mandalay is a great place to get some cheap grub just off the side of the street. Most of the local favorite restaurants either don’t have a name or the name is in Burmese and hard to recognize by us non-residences. I would just use an old tactic - if the restaurant is packed with locals, it has to be a good place.

Myanmar is a food heaven due to its diverse demographics. Shan regional cuisine is exceptionally famous in Mandalay, as well as Chinese influenced Burmese food. Another great meal I had while in Mandalay was a barbeque restaurant off the street in the Chinese quarter (recommended by a local shopkeeper), they serve grilled skewers of meat, veggies, fish, you name it. They are freshly grilled then brought to your table along with multiple little plates of delicious chili sauce. Perfect to slow-eat with a large bottle of Myanmar Beer. We found asking a local on the street who can converse a little English gave amazing eatery recommendations.

Where to sleep:

We stayed at The Royal Pearl Hotel in the Chinese quarter during my time spent in Mandalay. I highly recommend The Royal Pearl because it offers luxurious rooms (and very helpful staff!) per Myanmar’s standard for an exceptional price (~$30/night double). Otherwise, there are plenty of guesthouses around the city that offers cheap beds to lay your head on. During peak travel season, be sure to reserved your room in advance as travel amenity in Myanmar is still at its developing stage and bed space might be scarce (as of April 2015).

Next:

There are a few ways to bring yourself to Bagan. We opted for a slow boat cruising down the Irrawaddy River. The boat cost $40 per person including a simple breakfast and lunch. It was an enjoyable 10-hour open deck boat ride. Making your reservation in advance is recommended. Alternatively, you can take the bumpy and uncomfortable train, an air conditioned VIP bus or fly to Bagan with one of the local airlines.

2

Bagan

2 nights

Introduction:

The ancient empire of Bagan was once a bustling city, now it is the most visited destination in Myanmar among travelers. You can’t say you have been to Myanmar unless you’ve visited Bagan.

What to do:

Once you’re in Bagan, you will need to pick up a Bagan Archaeological Zone card for 15,000 kyats for one week. Similar to the tourist pass you need in Mandalay, at some places in Bagan, you might be asked for your tourist card. You will be given a temple map at this time, be sure to have it with you as it would be your guide through Bagan for the next few days. We marked the temples we visited and drawn down temples that are not shown on the map but worth to climb up for sunrise/sunset viewing.

There is no better way to go around Bagan than renting an e-bike or a good ole’ bicycle to traverse around ancient temples. E-bikes rental are usually 8,500-10,000 kyats per day. Almost every hotel/guest house would have a fleet of them ready to be taken for a ride.

Pick a morning (5am type of morning) to wake up before sunrise, splurge on riding a hot air balloon with one of the many local provider for a sunrise tour. It is a must-do if budget allows. Since our budget did not allow, we opted to climb up one of the small pagodas we found from the previous day to enjoy the sunrise. We were one of the few people who were at the ‘secret’ pagoda we found and it was the most peaceful and surreal sunrise I had ever encountered.

Unlike Mandalay, Bagan is a village filled with ancient pagodas for miles and miles. We spent most of our days biking, visiting and summiting pagodas. One afternoon we decided to bike around the non-touristy area south of the main road where local schools locate and villagers reside, we found it exceptional delightful to see some local lives.

On our third day we took a shared taxi (about 1 hour from Bagan) to the nearby Mount Popa. We climbed up 777 steps to get there. From afar, the temple impressively standing at the peak of the mountain. It seemed to me that the monkeys in the area own the place.

Eat & drink:

There are plenty of street joints serving up cheap noodle bowls and burmese dishes. Although tourist oriented, we went to a french-owned Burmese cafe in Nyaung-U called Black Bamboo a couple times. It is in a lovely zen garden settings where lunch/dinner are served nicely and more refined than the usual street food places we had been living off of. Black Bamboo also have exceptionally fresh fruit juices and a delicious chicken tea leaf salad.

Where to sleep:

Plenty of guest houses and hotels in Nyaung-U and New Bagan. We stayed in Nyaung-U since it is closer to the pier and main town. Keep your headlamp close to you as power outage happened nightly when we were there. Wifi was spotty but it exists.

Next:

The historic capital and the biggest city in Myanmar, Yangon is our next stop. You can get there with the bumpy uncomfortable train, or a comfortable bus ride. It is a 10-hour journey through dirt roads and well-paved highways. JJ Express has new comfortable buses that resemble business class cabin of a commercial airliner. We elected to take a cheaper (13,000 kyats) local-mainly bus with Burmese karaoke music blasting in the background. Great bus experience regardless!

Conclusion

That’s it for a quick trip in Myanmar. I highly recommend spending more time to visit different part of the country. You will find pristine beaches along the southern coast of the Andaman Sea. From Yangon I flew down to Kawthaung for a liveaboard dive trip with the Smiling Seahorse around the Mergui Archipelago. The underwater life is vibrant and totally worth the visit! Other interesting parts of Myanmar include the northern tribal area and lovely beaches and distinct culture in Western Myanmar bordering Bangladesh!