How to spend a month in Myanmar: a complete itinerary
Despite tourism gaining momentum in the past two decades, Myanmar remains relatively undiscovered compared to its neighbours.
We maxed out our month visa in the country, and could easily have done this twice over: the hospitality of the Burmese people is humbling, the landscape frequently breath-taking, and the food can be surprisingly good!
YANGON (DAY 1 - 2)
This exciting city, whilst not the capital, is Myanmar's cultural and commercial hub. Home to the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, crumbling colonial buildings and active markets, it's an eye-opening introduction to the country.
MAWLAMYINE (DAY 3 - 4)
Whilst not the most attractive city, sip a local beer on the banks of the Thanlwin River and you may find yourself enjoying the place which has inspired writers such as Kipling and Orwell. Mawlamyine makes an ideal base to explore attractions such as one of the world's largest reclining Buddha, cliff-top pagodas and the sobering Thanbyuzayat war cemetery.
HPA-AN (DAY 5 - 7)
Small enough to explore on foot, with glorious sunrise and sunset spots, we enjoyed a pleasant three days in Hpa-an and its surrounding countryside. The day tour offered by most accommodations to nearby caves was a highlight of our thirty days, even if we did get incredibly sore bums from spending ten hours bumping around on a tuk-tuk!
PYIN OO LWIN (DAY 8 - 10)
It was a fairly horrid journey from Hpa-an to Pyin Oo Lwin. We left at 11.00am and arrived the next day at 7.00am, after three bus changes. After a good sleep, we explored the area's gardens and waterfalls over two days. It used to be a British hill station and its cool climate and numerous restaurants mean that its remains popular with locals as well as tourists.
HSIPAW (DAY 11 - 14)
The train to Hsipaw from Pyin Oo Lwin was an adventure in itself and I strongly urge you to get to, or from, Hsipaw by rail! There is a ramshackle charm to Hpa-an, with its dark-wood buildings, riverside location and trekking opportunities – check the current situation before you go, though, as reports of unrest in Shan state are common and unfavourable weather may wash out some trails.
MANDALAY (DAY 15 - 17)
Mandalay is not known for its beauty, but there's plenty to explore. Monasteries, markets and workshops line the streets and there are numerous day tours to take you to out of the smog to the nearby villages, pagodas and other attractions, such as the famous U Bein Bridge.
KALAW (DAY 18 - 20)
Known primarily as the starting point for multi-day hikes to Inle Lake, Kalaw is surrounded by forest and is worth dedicating some extra time to, if you have it. We chose not to hike to Inle Lake but went on a lovely day hike to MyinMathi caves.
INLE LAKE (Day 21 - 24)
Images of the 'one-legged' Intha fisherman decorate postcards and guidebook covers, and it is here that you can see them for yourself. Its mountain scenery, stilt villages, floating gardens and genuinely local markets make this one of the most magical places in the entire country.
BAGAN (Day 25 - 27)
The temples of Bagan cover a massive twenty-six square miles, making it nearly impossible to see them all. It's tempting to try, though: the decaying maroon temples and hidden towers are a joy to explore. Its scale makes it easy to find a temple of your own, despite the thousands of visitors that are whizzing around on e-bikes at any one time.
YANGON (Day 28)
We could have squished our itinerary to fit in another location, but we chose to fly back to Yangon two days before our flight to San Francisco. Why? Because of Thingyan. The New Year festival grinds public transport to a halt and we didn't want to take our chances. It turned out to be the best decision, as we celebrated with other tourists and citizens of Yangon and had the happiest end to our month in the country.
Where else should you consider?
Myanmar is huge, and there were a lot of places we were sad to miss. If you have longer, or want to substitute one of the places above for somewhere different, consider these.
Monuments: mt Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock) & Mrauk U
Visitors flock to pilgrimage site Mt Kyaiktiyo for the Golden Rock, a huge stupa-topped boulder perched precariously on the mountain. The nearest town is Kinpun, some 11km away.
The Mrauk U archaeological site is a more remote alternative to Bagan: its stone temples are dispersed between workaday Chin villages and you're likely to have the place to yourself.
waterways: Ayeyarwady River & INDAWGYI LAKE
Regarding the Ayeryarwady, the stretch between Bhamo and Katha sounds the most fulfilling, but any time on the water (the most common route is between Mandalay and Bagan) is recommended.
If you find the prospect of crowds of Inle Lake off-putting, head to the remote Indawgyi. It is home to the rare sarus crane among other bird species, and it's Shan villages see very few tourists.
Beaches: Ngapali, the Myeik Archipelago & Dawei
We decided not to have any beach time in Myanmar, but if we did, Dawei would be our preference - we heard from a very small number of travellers how incredible it is. If you fancy an easier option, Ngapali is an established resort town.
typicaL Towns: PYAY, Pindaya & katha
Between Yangon and Bagan, along the highway, Pyay has a dazzling pagoda and makes a welcome stop off on a long-distance bus journey.
Travellers typically flock to Pindaya to explore the Pa-O, Danu, Palaung villages nearby, and undertake treks into Shan state. You can walk to/from here from Kalaw.
As the setting for Orwell's novel Burmese Days, Katha makes a good stop off from the ferry. There's also train and bus links to Mandalay and elsewhere from here.