DAY 1: ARIIVE YANGON
Upon arrival, you will be greeted by your guide who will accompany you as you transfer to your hotel.
Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is a relatively quiet and charming city. Its impressive colonial and spiritual heritage makes it one of the most fascinating cities in Southeast Asia.
After lunch, visit Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to a 70-metre long reclining Buddha. A visit to Kyaukhtatgyi provides a great overview of Buddhism, with murals depicting the life of Buddha. The feet of the statue are carved with traditional symbols, and locals can often be seen gathering here to pay homage and pray.
Continue to a local tea shop for a chance to experience an integral part of Burmese life: drinking tea! Select from an array of snacks and enjoy a coffee or tea while sitting amongst businessmen, friends and families who gather at the tea shop to socialize or conduct business.
Next the guided tour goes to Kandawgyi Park, one of central Yangon’s greenest spots. Here, see the glittering Karaweik Barge, a replica of the Royal Barge, with the vast lake and views of Shwedagon in the background. Depending on the day of visit, Kandawgyi may be busy with local families who come on the weekend to relax in the fresh air.
From here, continue to Shwedagon Pagoda, the most revered Buddhist temple in Myanmar. Although the origins of the pagoda are unclear, local legend states that the original structure was built 2,500 years ago then renovated several times before taking its current shape in the 15th century. The 8-sided central stupa is 99 metres tall, gilded with gold leaf and is surrounded by 64 smaller stupas. Follow the guide’s lead around this massive complex and learn why this temple is so revered.
DAY 2: YANGON - BAGAN
After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the airport for a flight to Bagan (Nyaung Oo).
From the 11th to 13th centuries, when Bagan was the capital of Myanmar, rulers constructed thousands of huge stupas and temples, many of which are still standing today on the banks of the Irrawaddy River.
On arrival, the journey begins with a visit to an elevated temple with panoramic views of the magnificent plains of Bagan. Continue with a visit to the golden stupa of Shwezigon Pagoda for an introduction into Bagan’s rich history. Then, visit nearby Wetkyi-In Gubyaukgyi, a cave temple with exquisite jataka mural paintings, and the elegant Htilominlo Temple, noted for its fine plaster carvings and glazed sandstone decorations.
In the afternoon, pay a visit to a traditional lacquerware workshop and observe the production of one of Myanmar’s best-known handicrafts. Continue to Ananda Temple, an architectural masterpiece and one of Bagan’s most beautiful temples. Built in the early Mon-style, Ananda contains two unique Buddha images whose expressions seem to change depending on the distances from which they are viewed.
From here, travel by horse cart for a tour passing Thatbyinnyu, the highest temple in Bagan, Dhammayangyi Temple, a massive temple noted for its remarkable brickwork, and Sulamani Temple.
Wrap up the day with an unforgettable sunset over the plains from the upper terrace of one of the temples, then head back to the hotel for the evening.
DAY 3: BAGAN
OPTIONAL ACTIVITY: Balloon Experience Over Bagan - Start the morning with an unforgettable hot-air balloon flight over Bagan’s temple-studded plains -widely considered to be one of the most iconic experiences in Asia. Pastries, croissants, coffee and tea are provided while the balloon is inflated. Climb aboard before gently rising above thousands of gilded stupas and earthen temples all back-dropped by the impressive Irrawaddy River. Be sure to bring a camera, as this will surely prove to be one of the best photo opportunities of the entire trip. (Note: available only from late- October to late-March; all flights weather permitting
After breakfast, visit the colourful Nyaung Oo Market where villagers gather every day to buy and sell their produce and other goods. Continue to Myinkaba Village and take a short walking tour to explore the temples of Manuha and Nan Paya.
Explore more temples in the area, visit more craft shops or return to the hotel for a break to relax from the midday heat.
In the afternoon, continue to the rural village of Minnanthu, one of Bagan’s least-visited areas. Here, explore temples such as Payathonzu, Lemyentha and Nandamannya before heading to the riverside pier. Board a local boat for a slow cruise down the Irrawaddy River. While cruising, observe the lifestyle of fishermen and riverside villagers and take in the unique perspective of Bagan’s temples.
Return to the hotel in the evening.
DAY 4: BAGAN - MANDALAY
After breakfast in the morning, transfer to the airport for a flight to Mandalay.
Upon arrival, begin a sightseeing tour of Mandalay with a visit to Mahamuni Pagoda. This pagoda is home to one of the country’s most revered Buddha images which, over the years, has been covered with so much gold leaf by revellers that it has attained a unique and iconic ‘lumpy’ texture. Get a good look at this famous Buddha image and walk around the temple grounds for a feel of its unique spiritual vibes.
Mandalay is well-known for its skilled craftsmen and, while touring traditional workshops, learn more about the city’s cottage industries. Observe the production of wood carvings, kalaga tapestries, and gold-leaf, where the techniques remained unchanged from those used centuries ago to craft items for the Royal Court.
OPTIONAL ACTIVITY: Make a marionette- Visit a local craft shop, choose a marionette’s design (clothes, face, body) and make a unique personalised souvenir. The entire process takes around 1 hour and is suitable for adults and children.
This afternoon, continue the tour of Mandalay with a visit to Kuthodaw Pagoda, whose 729 marble stone slabs of Buddhist scriptures have earned it the title ‘World’s Biggest Book’. Continue to Shwenandaw Monastery, the only remaining building from the 19th century Royal Palace. This grand teak wood building is known for its exquisite woodcarving.
Then head to the top of Mandalay Hill as the sun begins to set to enjoy magnificent views of the city and Irrawaddy River from the highest vantage point in the area.
DAY 5: MANDALAY - AMARAPURA - AVA - SAGAING - MANDALAY
OPTIONAL ACTIVITY: Mahamuni Face Washing - Wake up early in the morning (around 04:00) and catch a local taxi to Mahamuni Pagoda (without guide). Every morning before dawn, monks wash the face of the ‘lumpy’ Buddha image with special fragrant water and brush its teeth. The ritual takes around an hour and is a unique insight into Buddhism. Return to the hotel around 07:30 for breakfast.
OPTIONAL ACTIVITY: Balloon Experience Over Mandalay – As a hot-air balloon rises against the backdrop of Mandalay Hill, the first site to greet guests is 729 white pitaka pagodas housing the world’s largest book. Drifting above the vibrant city, witness barefoot monks collecting alms, bustling morning markets, boats coming alive on the Irrawaddy River and U Bein Bridge in Amarapura. (Note: available only from late- October to late-March; all flights weather permitting)
For those willing to wake up extra early, there are some amazing optional activities to partake in. Otherwise, depart for an excursion outside of Mandalay after breakfast in the morning to explore the former capitals of Ava, Sagaing and Amarapura.
First, cross a bridge over the Irrawaddy River to Sagaing. Covered with 600 white-painted pagodas and monasteries, Sagaing Hill is widely regarded as the religious centre of Myanmar. It is home to more than 3,000 monks and 100 meditation centres. Visit pagodas such as Swan Oo Pon Nya Shin and U Min Thone Sae.
Then, visit Sagaing’s local market, a typical Burmese market that few tourists visit. Here, one can find a range of items for sale including locally made pottery, silver and other handicrafts. We will also stop at a small pottery village to see the process of making the ubiquitous water pots found throughout Myanmar.
Then continue south of the city to Ava, the Burmese capital from the 14th to 18th centuries, where a short ferry ride will head across the river to a waiting horse and carriage. While taking this charming form of transportation, visit the old wooden Bagaya Monastery and the remains of the Royal Palace and Fort. There are many small villages located amid Ava’s ruins and, while travelling by horse and cart, get a glimpse of local life in the Burmese countryside. We’ll stop for lunch in Ava before returning to our car.
Return toward the city and stop at Amarapura, a former capital whose name means ‘City of Immortality’. First visit a silk weaving workshop which produces exquisite handmade products. After touring this tranquil site, continue to U Bein Bridge for a walk along this 200 year-old teak wood bridge. The bridge was constructed of 984 teak wood posts that were once part of the deserted Inwa Palace. At 1.2 kilometres in length, it’s the world’s longest teak wood construction. That’s not what the bridge is most famous for, though. As the sun begins to dip below the horizon, get ready for a truly unforgettable experience. The entire area becomes bathed in a vivid golden light. As traditionally-dressed locals pass over the bridge, be sure to snap some photos of the bridge’s iconic silhouette -widely considered to be one of Asia’s best photo opportunities. Afterwards, head back to the hotel in Mandalay.
DAY 6: MANDALAY - HEHO - INLE LAKE
After breakfast, transfer to Mandalay Airport for a flight to Heho.
From Heho, a scenic one-hour drive leads to Nyaung Shwe, the gateway village to Inle Lake. Along the way, stop at the wooden Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery which features beautiful carvings and a collection of Buddha images. We will also stop in Nyaung Shwe for a short walk around town and visit to the colourful market if it is being held that day.
Upon reaching the edges of Inle Lake, board a private motorboat to head out to Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most spectacular sights. Pass villages built on stilts over the lake, inhabited by the local Intha people. Observe the famous leg-rowing fishermen and see their floating gardens built up from strips of water hyacinth and mud and anchored to the bottom with bamboo poles. Visit Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the lake’s main sanctuary, which contains five sacred Buddha images covered in gold leaf.
Explore the local crafts of Inle Lake with a stop at the weaving village of Inpawkhone and a cheroot factory, where traditional Burmese cigars are made by hand.
If time permits, there may be time to enjoy a short walk through one of the lakeside villages.
Overnight: Inle Lake
DAY 7: INDEIN - INLE LAKE - HEHO - YANGON
After breakfast, visit the lake’s morning market. The market rotates its location around the lake’s villages in a 5-day rhythm and is visited by lake inhabitants and surrounding hill tribes who come to sell and trade their wares. (Note: market is daily except on dark-moon day and full-moon day).
From the middle of the lake, continue down a small canal leading to the Pa-oh village of Indein. Explore the area on foot, strolling around the village and wandering through the beautiful Alaung Sitthou area. Alaung Sitthou is filled with picturesque ancient stupas and has magnificent views of the lake below.
After today’s tour, drive to the Heho Airport for the flight to Yangon and upon arrival, transfer to the hotel.
DAY 8: DEPART YANGON
Depending on flight time, there is an option to take a ride on Yangon’s Circle Train in the morning.
This unique ride passes through the outskirts of town (20-30 minutes ride), and gives unique insight into the lively, colourful lifestyles of local people in Yangon’s rural areas. Disembark at the Kyi Myin Daing Market and peruse various stalls and interact with friendly vendors before transferring back to Yangon.
In the afternoon, if time allows, visit Bogyoke Market, formerly known as Scott’s Market, and browse through the wide selection of Burmese handicrafts and other goods before transferring to Yangon International Airport for the onward flight. (Note: Market is closed on Mondays and on public holidays)