12-Day Backpacker Itinerary for Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda at night, Yangon Myanmar

How many days do you need to truly explore Myanmar? The intrepid traveller will tell you that it takes weeks, months, even years to truly get under the skin of a country. Yet, most of us, particularly these days, are strapped for time – and short on money!

Myanmar is a country which, until recently, was one of the most undiscovered countries on the planet, not to mention the least visited country in South East Asia. Recent democratic changes, however, have encouraged backpackers to visit the country in much greater numbers than ever before.

With little outside influence over the years, great swathes of the country remained untouched. Deserted beaches, crumbling pagodas, forgotten mountain tops and ancient cultures were left untainted by modernisation. Up until a few years ago, there were no ATMs in the country and the internet was practically non existent. Transport has also improved with domestic flights across the country.

Bagan temples myanmar
The incredible temples of Bagan, Myanmar.

Now, however, things are changing fast. If you want to catch a glimpse of the old Burma, the time to go is now! If you’re short on time and money, then we reckon the absolute minimum time that you need to explore the highlights of Myanmar is 12 days. Here’s what you can fit in during that time!

Day 1: Yangon

Arrive in the old capital of Yangon and hit the ground running! As you’ve only one day here, you better get moving as there’s lots to see, explore and eat! Start your day with a typical Burmese breakfast of Mohinga, steaming fish noodle soup. Then, make your way by rickety taxi to our first stop of the day, Bogyoke Aung San Market, where you can browse a myriad of items from food, to souvenirs to clothes.

Bogyoke Market Myanmar
Bogyoke Market, Yangon.

In the afternoon, head to Inya Lake to relax in a shady café overlooking the lake and spot the home of national heroine, Aung San Suu Kyi, where she remained under house arrest for 20 years. As the sun starts to set, make your way to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous temple in the country to take photos of the 2,600-year-old dazzling ‘mountain of gold’ against a darkening sky. For the evening, 19th Street is a good place to mix with locals and expats and enjoy some authentic street food.

Day 2: Golden Rock 

Rise early and head two and a half hours east by car or bus to the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (or Golden Rock). You can go independently or take a local tour. Travel in Myanmar is an experience in itself and if you’re travelling by local bus, you’ll be sure to encounter some friendly and curious locals and make friends along the journey!

Kyaiktiyo Pagoda Myanmar
Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, Myanmar.

The Golden Rock is perched 1,100 metres on the top of a hill overlooking the Eastern Yoma mountains. You can follow the foot path up the mountain past various granite boulders, before arriving at the truly spectacular sight of the Golden Rock, a giant boulder precariously balanced on the side of a cliff, seemingly defying gravity, as it looks about to fall off at any moment. Legend has it that the boulder is perched on a strand of Buddha’s hair! Head back to Yangon where you’ll be taking the overnight bus to Mandalay leaving at 6pm. Or there’s the option of flying to Mandalay from Yangon. Check domestic flights through FlyMya.com.

Day 3: Mandalay

Arrive in Mandalay in the morning and get ready to explore the city. Take a river ride on the Ayarwady River the original ‘Road to Mandalay’ or go old style and ride through the city on a unique trishaw or horse drawn cart. In the afternoon, you could head to the nearby Mahagandayon Monastery to catch a glimpse into the world of the maroon robed monks of Myanmar and help them to practise their English! In the evening, climb Mandalay Hill from the town for an amazing view of the city as the sun sets.

Mandalay Hill Myanmar
Mandalay Hill, Myanmar.

Day 4: Bagan

From Mandalay, it’s only around three hours to the spectacular site of Bagan, land of over 4,000 temples built between the 11th and 13th centuries. An archaeological paradise and a photographer’s dream – you can spend the day getting lost amidst 1,000-year-old stupas, climbing to the top of one of them to take in the sunset. Unlike Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, you won’t have to share the enormous temple complex with millions of other tourists! Wander around the ancient ruins stopping to chat to some of the locals who still live among the crumbling temples.

Sunset over Bagan
Sunset over the amazing ancient ruins of Bagan.

Day 5: Bagan

One day just isn’t enough to explore Bagan. But today, why not try a different form of transport to marvel at the world’s largest concentration of Buddhist temples anywhere in the world! Renting a bicycle is one of the best (and cheapest) ways to explore the temples, costing around $1.5 US per day to hire!

Bagan Myanmar
Hiring a bicycle is one of the best ways to explore Bagan.

You can also rent a horse cart with driver for a full day, or if you feel like doing something different and splashing out, take the once in a lifetime opportunity for a hot air balloon ride at sunset over the temples. Catch the overnight bus to Kalaw or fly from Nyaung U Airport to Heho.

Day 6: Kalaw

Your next stop is Kalaw, the start of your Burmese trekking adventure! You are now in the Shan district and Kalaw is an old hill station, 1,320 metres above sea level, surrounded by amazing mountain scenery. Book yourself on a two-day, one-night trek, with a guide, who will take you through unspoiled landscapes, passed local agriculture and hill tribe villages. Spend the night in a tribal village with a local family, where you’ll be cooked a homemade local meal – likely the best food of your entire trip! 

Trekking Kalaw
Local village kids you meet whilst trekking in Kalaw

Day 7: Kalaw

The next day, continue your trekking voyage towards the famous Inle Lake – the walk is practically down hill all the way! You can stop for a Burmese lunch at one of the villages surrounding the lake and take in the beautiful scenery, whilst learning more about the culture in this area. Finish your journey at the tourist friendly ‘Nyaungshwe Township’ by taking a canoe boat on the lake for around an hour and a half. Here, you can book yourself in a guest house, grab a beer and a bite to eat and just relax after your trek!

Nyaungshwe Township Myanmar
Nyaungshwe Township, Inle Lake, Myanmar.

Day 8: Inle Lake

Inle Lake is like a mirror, it’s glassy water reflecting everything around it and creating a somewhat dreamy atmosphere. Framed by mountains all around, sprinkled with pagodas and dotted with bamboo houses on stilts – one thing is for certain, you’ll be wanting your camera here!

myanmar leg rowers inle
Famous leg rowers of Inle Lake.

Take a boat trip on the lake to see the famous ‘leg rowers’, fisherman who have taught to row using their legs so that they can see above the high reeds on the lake. Visit one of the floating restaurants on the river or head to the local market to barter for souvenirs and locally handmade goods.

Day 9: Inle Lake

If you’re feeling energetic, Inle Lake is a great place for trekking in the surrounding hills, which are home to a variety of ethnic minority villages, each with their own language and unique culture. As you’ve only got one day, you won’t be able to book yourself on one of the overnight treks, but even just getting up into the hills will offer a spectacular panorama of the lake and encompassing area. You could also rent a bicycle and explore some of the local pagodas and nearby villages.

Inle Lake, Myanmar
Beautiful scenery around Inle Lake.

Day 10: Ngapali Beaches

Although your Myanmar trip is nearly over, you may be craving some well deserved beach time! You can either take a 14-hour bus ride to the beaches of Ngapali or you can fly from the nearby airport of Heho to Thandwe, the nearest airport to the coast. Ngapali beach (rumoured to be named after the Italian city of Naples) is located on the Bay of Bengal and is Myanmar’s most popular beach destination, complete with white sands, palm trees and traditional fishing villages.

Ngapali beach
Ngapali Beach, Myanmar.

Relax on the beach, or if you’re feeling adventurous you can try kayaking, snorkelling, fishing boat trips or even scuba diving.

Day 11: Ngapali Beach

Spend another day relaxing at the beach or have a wander or cycle to the nearby fishing villages which offer a more authentic slice of the local way of life in seaside Myanmar. Of course, make sure you try the delicious local seafood including fish curries, fried squid, king prawns and barracuda – all at great prices!

Ngapali Beach, Rakhine State, Myanmar
Ngapali Beach, Myanmar.

Day 12: Yangon

If you can bear to drag yourself away from the beach, head back to the city of Yangon, by bus or by plane, where we end our spectacular journey in Myanmar!

Yangon colonial buildings
Colonial buildings in Yangon.

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Our Recommended Travel Resources

  • Travel Insurance: True Traveller and World Nomads.
  • Flight Search: Skyscanner.
  • Accommodation: Booking.com and HostelWorld.
  • Local Transport: 12Go Asia.
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