Bagan: It may be hard to imagine this quiet town as the center of an empire that stretched from Tibet to Thailand. The city sits on a broad plain stretching away from Ayeyarwaddy River. It became the capital during the first Myanmar empire, and entered its golden age in about 1057. Thousands of pagodas and temples, dating from the 11th to 13th centuries, occupied a compact area of only about 41 sq. km/16 sq. mi. During the 12th and 13th centuries, Bagan was a cosmopolitan center for Buddhist studies, attracting monks from as far as India. Schwezigon Pagoda was built to enshrine relicts of Buddha. The construction was finished between 1086 and 1090. The pagoda marked the north end of the city. The stupa’s graceful bell shape became a prototype for later stupas. Ananda pahto is one of the largest, best preserved and most revered of Bagan’s temples. Thought to date around 1105, this perfectly proportioned temple heralds the stylistic end of Early Bagan period. Bagan, capital city of Burma from 1044 to 1287, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with some 3,000 listed monuments.
Inle Lake: Inle Lake is nestled in a small valley rimmed with tall hills. The lake’s calm waters are dotted with islands, patches of floating vegetation, fishing canoes and about 17 stilt villages. They are inhabited mostly by the Intha people, who carry on their time-honored lifestyles much as their grandparents did. On the western shore, a stair pathway leads to the Inn Thein Pagoda complex and hundreds of small stupas overgrown by moss, weeds and greenery. Here, farmers still grow crops using traditional methods. Along a creek past rice fields is Sae Ma village, which has a primary school, where visitors can meet local children and their teachers. Tha Lay is a village of weavers.
Irrawaddy River Cruise: One of the most pleasant ways to discover a country is via its waterways, with the pulse of the river as the ship glides along the waterways. Ancient monasteries, temple ruins and villages of bamboo huts slip past. As early as the sixth century, the river was used for trade and transport. It is remains the bloodline of this once isolated land, flowing north to south, emptying into the Andaman Sea. The river is still vital with goods and people traveling this liquid highway.
Kakku: In the southern state of Shan, along a scenic road past farms of garlic, onion, potatoes, mustard and cabbage, there is the remarkable pagoda site of Kakku. More than 2,500 pagoda ruins are clustered in one small area. Legends date the site back to the third century BCE King Ashoka of the Indian Empire, and, also, to the 11th century Bagan dynasty of King Alaung Sithu. The stupas are decorated with stucco figures of mythical animals, celestial beings and floral motifs. The pagoda complex is located deep inside the country of the indigenous Pa O community. Visiting the site requires a local escort. It is an amazing glimpse into a people and their traditions that is off the beaten track.
Kalaw: Kalaw is a hill town in the Shan State that was popular with the British during colonial rule. In the rolling, pine-clad hills of the Shan Plateau, the town sits to the west of Inle Lake. Every five days, the hill tribe people come to town to buy and sell their handmade goods. Kalaw is surrounded by hazy blue mountain ranges interspersed with hiking trails. More than 300 species of birds occupy the forest. MaHa MuNi Hnyee Buddha statue was woven from bamboo strips more than 500 years ago. Other sights include Thein Taung Pagoda, Aung Can Tha Pagoda, Su Taung Pyae Pagoda and King Church.
Kyaikhitiyo: This small town is about 161 km/100 mi. from Yangon. Travelers come to see the mystical pagoda 5.5 m/18 ft. tall, built upon a huge gold-painted boulder, 5.24 m/50 ft. in diameter. At a glance, it appears that the boulder will tumble off its perch with the slightest breeze. Indeed, it appears that a piece of thread placed under the rock passes through from one side of the boulder to the other side. The bolder has maintained this unlikely position for 2,500 years. A steep road winds up from the base camp to Golden Rock to the pagoda on top, Kyaik-I-thi-ro, which means “pagoda carried by a hermit on the head.” The legend of the shrine says that it houses a relic of Buddha – hair of Gotama Buddha given the hermit residing there by Buddha himself.
Mandalay: Little has changed over the past century. Riverboat, trishaw and foot are still the main methods of transportation; and water buffalo still work in the fields. It is said that Buddha foretold a great city of Buddhism would be founded at the base of this hill. In 1857, King Mindon chose to fulfill the prophecy by establishing a new kingdom. After the British occupied the city in 1885, the fort compound became the colony’s government house and British Club. The Mandalay Museum and Library contain fine examples of Mandalay art and historic palm-leaf manuscripts. The 19th-century Kyauktawgyi Pagoda is famed for its huge seated Buddha carved from a single block of marble. The block from the nearby mines required 10,000 men laboring for 13 days to transport it from a canal to its current site. Sagaing on the right bank of the Ayeyarwady River is widely regarded as the spiritual center of Myanmar. It is crowded with about 600 pagodas, more than 100 meditation centers and monasteries, where at least 3,000 monks live.
Ngapoli: Long stretches of coast have beautiful beach resorts on Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Some 800 pristine tropical islands dot the waters off the southern tip of the country. The rich marine life provides great diving and snorkeling. A deserted section of silver sand is easy to find here. Ngapoli Beach stretches between two villages – Ngapoli and Gyeiktaw. There are villages nearby and small islands to explore.
Yangon: Formally known as Rangoon, it served as Myanmar’s capital from 1885 until about 2005, when a new city, Naypyidaw, became the administrative capital. Yangon remains the largest and the most important commercial center in Myanmar. Even so, its infrastructure is undeveloped compared to other major cities in Southeast Asia. Yangon rests in the fertile delta of southern Myanmar on the slow Yangon River. With its tree-lined boulevards, it is evocative of many of Southeast Asia’s former colonial cities. It embraces the largest collection of remaining colonial buildings in Southeast Asia as well as interesting pagodas. The national museum houses the Sihasana Lion Throne, used by the last Burmese king. The Buddhist Art Museum is in a 1952 Art Deco-style building and features an amazing lotus window with all the attitudes of the Buddha. The original Botataung Pagoda was named after the 1,000 military leaders who escorted relics of the Buddha brought from India. It was completely destroyed during World War II, and was rebuilt after the war. The pagoda is said to have been the first built by the Mon around the same time as was Shwedagon Pagoda, according to local belief, over 2500 years ago, and was known as Kyaik-de-att in Mon language. The pagoda is hollow within, and houses what is believed to be a sacred hair of Gautama Buddha while Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar, as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas. Its original shape has changed beyond all recognition over the centuries. Its bell-shaped superstructure, resting on a terraced base, is covered in about 60 tons of gold-leaf, which is continuously replaced.
Best Time to Go
The best time to visit is from November to March when temperatures are relatively low, averaging between 15ºC/59°F to 3ºC/86°F. In December and January, temperatures can drop to near freezing at night in the highlands of Kalaw and Inle Lake. In April and May, the hottest season, temperatures often rise to over 37.8ºC/100°F in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. Monsoon season begins between mid-May and mid-June, bringing frequent rains, especially in the southern and western regions that last until September.
Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
Yangon remains the largest and the most important commercial center in Myanmar.
Day 2: Yangon
Founded early in the 11th century, this city is filled with tree-shaded boulevards, shimmering stupas float above the treetops and an array of historic sights.
Day 3: Yangon / Heho / Inle Lake
Inle is a beautiful lake dotted with patches of floating vegetation and villages on stilts, and primarily inhabited by the Intha people.
Day 4: Inle Lake
Tekking into the Shan Mountains passes by villages of Ma Gyi Pin, Moe Kaung, Dong Ta Khawh, Hti Ne and Naung Khe.
Day 5: Inle Lake
Dein village on the south end of the lake has a path that leads up a covered stairway where ancient stupas are partially hidden in the vegetation.
Day 6: Inle Lake / Heho / Bagan
In Bagan, Mount Popa is an extinct volcano last active 250,000 years ago, and is the most important nat worship center in the country.
Day 7: Bagan / Irrawaddy River Cruise
Bagan, capital city of Burma from 1044 to 1287, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with some 3,000 listed monuments.
Day 8: Irrawaddy River Cruise
The mighty Irrawaddy River features historic royal capitals and the small towns and villages of lost Burma.
Day 9: Irrawaddy River
Bagan – Ohn Ne Choung – Aung Pun Choung: traditional riverside farming and fishing communities seem pulled out of the past.
Day 10: Irrawaddy River
Aung Pun Choung – Yandabo – Pauk Taw Pauk Mying: cruises pass by the confluence of the Chindwin and Irrawaddy River, and pauses at Yandabo, famous for its terracotta pottery from the riverbank clay.
Day 11: Irrawaddy River
Pauk Taw Pauk Mying – Sagaing: Sagaing is a center for Buddhism in Myanmar with over 5,000 monks and more than 1,000 hermitages and sanctuaries. The city of Innwa served as capital of the Burmese kingdom for nearly 400 years.
Day 12: Irrawaddy River
Shwe Kyet Yet – Mingun – Sithe: the village of Nwe Nyein village is known for pottery.
Day 13: Irrawaddy River / Mandalay
Sithe – Mingun – Sagaing: Mingun has the world’s largest working bell. Mandalay is the country’s second largest city, and the center of Burmese culture.
Day 14: Mandalay / Bangkok / Depart
Kalaw (2 days)
Kalaw is nestled in pine tree and misty blue mountain ranges, making trekking a popular activity here.
Kakki (1 day)
Somewhat off the beaten track, Kakki has more than 2,500 pagoda ruins that are clustered in one small area.
Kyaikhitiyo (2 days)
This small town is famed for a giant gold-painted boulder that seems balanced on the very edge of a rock with a deep chasm below. Atop the boulder is a mystical pagoda that is said to house a relic of Buddha.
Ngapoli (4 days)
Myanmar has long stretches of coast with beautiful beach resorts on Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
$400-$600 per person per day. Land only, double occupancy.