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The busy streets of Mandalay, the gilded Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon, the lapping waters of Inle Lake, the vast plains of Bagan… We could go on and on about beautiful places to explore in Burma. But let’s talk logistics.
Burma is still a developing country, and it was closed to tourism until relatively recently, so it could be assumed that infrastructure is patchy at best. Whether it’s getting from A to B in the speediest way, or taking the slow road for some highlights, here are some of our favourite journeys.
1. Mandalay to Bagan – River Cruise
There are a few ways to get from Mandalay to Bagan, and by water certainly isn’t the quickest route. But sometimes it’s worth taking the slow road (or river).
Day cruises (such as the 10-hour journey from Mandalay to Bagan) can be a leisurely way to travel on the ‘Road to Mandalay’ with the bonus of gliding past sleepy villages, and occasional floating pagodas, rather than bumping past them in a car.
Alternatively, for those with more time on their hands, there are also beautifully furnished riverboats. With teak bedrooms, delicious food and massages available on-board, they can outdo even the finest of hotels. The floating five-star Sanctuary Ananda is particularly special. It actually meanders up to Bhamo in northern Burma, before travelling south past Mandalay, and finally to Bagan. See the landscape change dramatically from the deck with teak forests, tangled jungles, sheer-sided gorges, and market towns all making an appearance.
2. Bagan to Ngapali Beach – Internal flight
Not the most thrilling journey, so we’ll keep it short. Internal flights are often the most convenient method of travel for long distances throughout the country, but they’re not quite the same to what we are used to in the West. With multiple stops, think of them as flying buses. A flight from Bagan the best way for tourists to reach Ngapali, the beachy idyll.
3. Pagoda to pagoda in Bagan – Scooter
It’s difficult to grasp the enormity of Bagan. This ancient city dates back to the 11th century, and some 10,000 Buddhist temples have been built since. Only (only!) around 2,000 remain, but the archaeological site spans roughly 8 miles. Cover more ground, and feel the breeze in your hair, on an e-bike. Unlike electric bikes as you know them, e-bikes here are more akin to scooters. During peak season you can escape the crowds, and even have smaller pagodas all to yourself!
4. Kawthaung to Myeik Archipelago – Yacht
Board a private yacht to explore one of Burma’s most beautiful places; the Myeik Archipelago. Travel to the small town of Kawthaung (another internal flight easily accessed from Yangon) to access this circular route. Commence your island hopping on one of Burma Boating’s vessels, and sleep soundly in plush cabins, before exploring long stretches on untouched coastline, thick mangrove forests, and marine life under turquoise waters.
5. Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw – Train
This train travels from the ex-British colonial outpost of Pyin Oo Lwin, to the market town of Hsipaw in the Shan Hills. Midway between the two, the Goteik Viaduct connects two sides of a gorge, some 100m above the river. Look out of the window to appreciate this feat of nature, but be sure to hold your camera tightly. It’s a long way down to retrieve it…
6. Monywa to Yangon – River cruise
With an enormous gold Buddha that peers over the landscape, an immense network of caves that are home to thousands of Buddhas, and the elaborate Thanboddhay pagoda, packed floor to ceiling with (you guessed it) even more Buddhas, Monywa is well worth the stop.
Explore the area before boarding the swish (all teak, shiny brass and sunset cocktails) RV Kalay Pandaw and cruise northwards on the Chindwin River. Some of the stops along the way are only reachable by boat and, as such, the stops are serene. Highlights include the unspoiled architecture of the Mingkin Temple, and the remains of the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (sunk by the Japanese in 1942).
7. Inle Lake to Sagar – Longtail boat
Sagar is in the southern region of Inle Lake, but despite Inle’s popularity, few make the trip to see this incredible area. Board a longtail boat and pass tangled greenery, small villages and undulating landscape before reaching 108 stupas that date back to the 16th-century. For a few months every year they are partially submerged, thereby known as ‘sunken’ stupas.
8. Kalaw to Inle Lake – On foot!
Sometimes, the best way to discover an area is strapped into walking boots in pursuit of the great outdoors. Kalaw is a former British Hill Station that, with crisp mountain air, was seen as respite from the heat during the colonial era. The two-day hike to Inle Lake starts here, and journeys through rolling hills, small villages, and dense forests in Shan State. Stop on the way and rest with a night at the Htee Thein Monastery.
9. Yangon circle train – Local train
“We’re on a road to nowhere…” These trains go around, and around, and around and are basic, to say the least, but they provide a fascinating way to see daily life in Yangon, outside of the buzzing city centre. You’ll pass some slightly dilapidated roads, and occasional heaps of rubbish (be prepared) but soon the edges of the city are replaced with abundant green foliage, colourful flowers, paddy fields, kids playing, and farmers going about their business. This is authentic Myanmar, take it all in.
10. Around Ava – Horse and cart
Between the 14th and 18th centuries, Ava was the royal capital of Burma. Travel back to this bygone era aboard a horse-drawn carriage. Putter down dusty roads, amble through the countryside and stop off to visit remnants of the area’s illustrious past, such as the Bagaya Monastery, and the remains of the Royal Palace and Fort.
Things to note!
– There are some buses, and they are an affordable way of getting around. But (and it’s a pretty big but), they can be very bumpy rides, often play noisy television screens through the night, and can take a frustratingly long time. They do provide goodie bags with food and a toothbrush, so it’s not all bad.
– If you’re taking a train, ask your hotel for the times. Online timetables can be out of date, particularly in rural areas.
– Private cars are a good way to travel middle-distances, ask your hotel to arrange your transfer.
We’d be (more than) happy to help with your travel plans. Get in touch with our team for more information.