Myanmar is a country that most people have never heard of, let alone traveled to. The country has been closed off from the world and hasn’t really done much to promote tourism. Now, the country is certainly making strides and hopefully the introduction of Bagan as a UNESCO World Heritage Site will help tourism grow. But it is still a country that most know nothing about. If you have the opportunity, you may not meet a more generous group of people. Here is a 5 day itinerary for your trip to Myanmar.
- Day 1 – Arrive in Yangon
- Day 2 – Depart of Bagan
- Day 3 – Sunrise in Bagan
- Day 4 – Depart for Yangon
- Day 5 – On to your next adventure!
Day 1 – Arrive in Yangon
You will almost certainly be flying into Yangon internationally. Yangon is a modern airport with really good signage in English so getting around is super easy. Getting an eVisa to Myanmar is really easy and you should get your approval within a couple days. The entire process is really simple and costs $50.
Once at the airport, you’ll probably want to have your hotel come pick you up. Although there are a row of taxis outside who are more than happy to take you, there is no guarantee that they know English (other than a few words to get you in their cab). Also, there really isn’t a way of knowing if they’re just taking you around in circles either. The traffic in Yangon can be really bad so it just might be easier to have the hotel shuttle come pick you up.
As a tourist, you’ll probably want to stay a bit south and closer to where everything is in Yangon. However, know that the further you go, the further your commute will be to get to the airport. Depending on when you decide to depart, the traffic can be really bad so just keep that in mind. Also, an early morning departure means there won’t be traffic but it also means there aren’t as many taxi drivers available. It took a while for the hotel staff to flag a taxi down for me at 4:30am.
After getting settled in, walk around and get the lay of the land. Depending on the time, you’ll want to check out Shwedagon Pagoda, see the Chaukhtatgyi Buddha, or even shop at the Bogyoke Aung San Market. Overall, I’d try to eat some local foods which you’ll be able to spot because of the locals. You can also ask locals or the hotel staff to point you in the right direction.
I will say that everyone I met in Myanmar was kind and helpful. It didn’t matter where I went, they were always helpful. The hotel I stayed in was the Tryp by Wyndham which was outside of the downtown area but the staff was so helpful. It’s a pretty standard hotel but the service they provided was to notch. I don’t know if that’s a testament to the staff or the country but I can also say whenever I went to eat somewhere, people were always happy to help me even if there was a major language barrier. A smile and a good attitude can go a long way.
Yangon itself isn’t that interesting of a city. Yes it has some places but it doesn’t really stick out as anything exceptional. The good thing is that there are plenty of places to eat local cuisine so you can really get a sense of what Burmese food is.
Day 2- Depart for Bagan
Before you leave, you should try the traditional Burmese breakfast dish of mohinga. It’s this noodle dish with a boiled egg, veg, and some other things in this slightly spicy broth. It was certainly good. The hotel staff insisted I try it before I left because they had encouraged me to try it the night before. How can you say no to something like that?
Arguably the highlight of the trip is going to Bagan. This town is about a ninety minute flight from Yangon and there are multiple flights daily that will take you there. There are two main domestic airlines in Myanmar: MAI and KBZ. I flew KBZ and it was great. What surprised me was that even on a short domestic flight, a complete meal was served along with an after meal tea if you wanted. It just isn’t something you’re used to seeing on domestic routes in the US.
At the airport, again, you’ll probably want to have a shuttle come pick you up. The airport is tiny and you basically get off the plane, walk across the tarmac, enter the terminal, and exit. There’s really nothing there and there probably won’t be any taxis just sitting around waiting for passengers either. I’m pretty sure the hotels in Bagan are used to this because it seemed like everyone had a driver waiting for them (granted there were only 10 of us on the plane).
While at the airport, you might as well buy your ticket into the Archaeological Area (as it’s called) and it’s 25,000 kyat. It’s printed right on the ticket so if someone tries to collect more, you know it’s a scam. I just bought my ticket at the airport to save myself the hassle later on.
Here’s the thing though. I was never once asked for my ticket nor was I ever stopped by anyone at any of the checkpoints for my ticket. To be honest, I had been zipping by these checkpoints all day the next day until I realized what they were. I didn’t even notice them. Now I was there during the rainy season (July) so maybe those checkpoints aren’t staffed when there aren’t many tourists around. But I couldn’t figure out how anyone would know if you had a ticket or not. It’s a good idea to have one just in case but when I was there in 2018, I was never approached.
Once at your hotel, you’ll want to start exploring, and for good reason. As soon as you enter teh archaeological zone, you’ll be seeing pagodas left and right. There’ll be so many you won’t know which way to turn. I stayed at the Bagan Lodge and you can read my review here.
The easiest, fastest, and the most fun way of exploring the site is by renting an e bike. These usually cost about $10/day USD and they’re SO WORTH IT. You don’t even have to know how to ride a motorcycle. Just go slowly, make a few practice runs, and you’ll be on your way. Most of the roads on site are just dirt paths that criss cross the fields so a car is just not going to get you anywhere close to where you want to go sometimes. Just be careful and pay attention to what you’re doing. I was trying to follow someone out to the main road and got distracted by something and I went flying over the handlebars. Seriously, I should have been wearing a disguise with a giant S on the front.
With whatever time you have, try to walk into as many pagodas as you can and see if you can find any with entrances to the top that are unobstructed and open. Most of the pagodas have locked gates that don’t allow people to get to the top but if you search around, there are definitely a few out there. Kids will come up to you to show you where to find them and for a few bucks, they’ll show you a couple. But there is a bit of fun in finding them on your own. You’ll want to mentally remember which pagodas are open for the next day.
At night, you’ll want to eat somewhere close to your hotel. Depending on where that is, you’ll have more food options. I wouldn’t recommend driving at night only because there aren’t any lights there so you could very easily get lost if you have to drive for any amount of distance. I pretty much tried to get back to hotel within 30 mins of sunset to give myself enough light to see.
Day 3 – Sunrise at Bagan
One of the biggest tourist draws is to ride a hot air balloon over Bagan to see the sunrise. I didn’t do this because the appeal just isn’t there for me but you’ll definitely see an armada of hot air balloons in the air and you won’t have to go very far to get on one if you choose.
However, I do recommend getting up early and going to your favorite pagoda that you find the day before that has an opening to the top. Hopefully you found one that is secluded and not very popular. I got really lucky since I was there when there weren’t too many tourists present but I was also able to find a pagoda that was empty. My guess is, if you paid one of the kids to take you the day before, you would be in a very crowded space the next morning.
The rest of the day, you can just continue to ride around. I pretty much rode around farther and farther to see more pagodas and then came back to the hotel around 11 to cool off and take a shower to clean off all the dust and dirt. Then I went back out later in the afternoon once it cooled down again and tried to go see some more pagodas. Your e bike rental is for the day so you can pretty much use it whenever.
Day 4 – Back to Yangon
Depending on your timeframe, you can go back to Yangon for your departure or move on to another part of Myanmar like Inle Lake or Mandalay. This is where I really think the time of year you go dictates how much you do or may want to do. It was incredibly hot and humid when I was there in July and considering July is the rainy season, I really didn’t want to risk spending too much time if it were going to be raining all the time.
I decided to fly back to Yangon but took a fairly late flight out so I could take the morning to drive around one last time around Bagan. There’s something really relaxing about driving or walking around alone through this vast forest of pagodas. It’s pretty cool.
Once back in Yangon, try to fill in any blanks you didn’t get a chance to see your first night there. If you’re in the area, try Khaing Khaing Kyaw Myanmar Food center. In Yangon, it was near a mall and just a few blocks down from the Tryp by Wyndam hotel. It served traditional Burmese food and the place was packed with people.
The young servers there weren’t quite sure what to think of me but were so nice in helping me out. Actually I think they got a kick out of watching me eat since I was trying to figure out what it was and they were watching my reactions. It’s kind of like a cafeteria style self serve and the servers come around and bill you at the end. I don’t know what I ate but it was really good.
Day 5 – On to your next adventure!
Going to the airport is easy but getting through security is a challenge. You have to go through security at the door to get into the airport but after you go through immigration, you end up having to go through security again (even though you haven’t left the secure area). Thus getting to your gate ends up taking a bit longer than normal. By the time I finally made it to my gate, I really only had 30 minutes before departure.
You may also want to try and spend all the remaining Kyat in your wallet. You’re technically not allowed to take the currency with you but more importantly, you probably won’t be able to find a single place that’ll exchange it for you (maybe the currency counter in Singapore?). It could be a nice souvenir if you want it but outside of that, spend it.
Sadly, this is where you go on to your next adventure. This was really bittersweet because I had such a wonderful time here (even if I did get some sort of food poisoning). The people were so nice and helpful that I can’t help but feel nostalgic.
Myanmar is a wonderful country and so welcoming to tourists that you should definitely go before it is overrun by tourist and it loses that personal touch. As the country grows with tourism, you’re going to have to deal with kids begging for money or other scams but that’s the same everywhere. The locals are incredibly warm and friendly and that’s probably what I remember most about my time there. Sure, Bagan was a great place to visit but it’s the people of Myanmar I’ll remember most.