Most visits to Myanmar need a travel itinerary: the sheer size of this incredible country makes it an intimidating and overwhelming place to visit. Myanmar is by far the biggest of the classic ‘South-East Asia backpacker’ countries and sadly ignored on the classic travel itinerary. Domestic flights aren’t budget-friendly and much of the country is restricted. Travel time (normally via bus) is notoriously slow.
But it’s not all doom and gloom! We’ve put together a travel itinerary for x3 different routes through Myanmar which are sure to cover every backpacker’s ambitions.
Itinerary 1 – the Backpacker Kite – takes in the classic backpacker ‘kite’ of Myanmar. Off the Beaten Path with Itinerary 2 is the extreme, all-encompassing itinerary for those looking to see everything and get off the grid. 10 Days in South Myanmar follows Itinerary 3, focusing on a quick trip for any backpacker visiting Thailand. The Popular 2 Week Myanmar Travel Itinerary (coming soon) should be perfect for those of you on holiday.
We won’t go in to any real detail about border crossings in this post – since these are constantly changing. Check online here or here for the latest government information before attempting to cross the border you intend to.
- 1: the Myanmar Backpacker Kite Itinerary
- 2: off the Beaten Path Itinerary
- 3: 10 Days in the South Itinerary
- 4: the Popular 2 Week Myanmar Travel Itinerary
- A Typical Backpacker Budget Breakdown
1: the Myanmar Backpacker Kite Itinerary
This is the classic Myanmar backpacker itinerary – and for several reasons. This loop can easily be completed in 2 weeks and takes in the most popular, safe and accessible spots. Yes, some of the places on this loop are a little touristy now, but remember that Myanmar touristy is still very tame in comparison with other South East Asian versions of touristy.
Start in Yangon, a pleasant introduction to the country that shows you markets, crumbling old colonial-style Burma and the must-not-miss Shwedagon Pagoda, probably the most impressive pagoda in the country. After a few days get your night-bus (the first of many, it’s the most convenient way to travel) to Bagan, which needs little introduction. Spend 2-3 days taking in the staggering amount of varied and seemingly endless temples, being sure to wake up for every sunrise you can. You’ll soon find out that it’s all about tactical post-breakfast napping in Bagan.
A shorter bus journey will take you to Mandalay, which is a sweaty, sensory overload of a city. We wouldn’t recommend spending more than a day in the city itself, but if you’d really like to spend time here then surrounding Amarapura, Sagaing and Mingun make for enjoyable day trips.
Now the choice is yours: you’ll have to decide between trekking in Hsipaw, or joining the other backpackers on the hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Struggling to decide? Check out our Hsipaw/Kalaw discussion in our Inle WIT.
Based on what other backpackers told us, we decided to do our trekking in Hsipaw instead: this had the added bonus of letting us see the breath-taking Goteik Viaduct. Whether you hike in Hsipaw or from Kalaw, a few days in Inle Lake is next on the calendar.
Spend some time in Inle Lake cycling, boat-tripping and sampling local Burmese wine before heading back to Yangon (or Mandalay, although budget international flights here are more limited) to catch your outbound flight. If you have a few days to spare in Yangon, then take a side-trip to Kyaikto to see the famous Golden Rock. This was the backpacker itinerary we followed, and we thought it worked pretty well. However, next time we visit we’re going to really commit to seeing some of the harder-to-reach destinations.
2: Off the Beaten Path Itinerary
This travel itinerary is designed for travellers with no time constraints on their Myanmar trip (and those who can successfully negotiate a visa extension!) It will take you well and truly off the beaten path, but just be sure to check beforehand if these areas are open to tourists as the situation changes all the time. At the time of writing, this full itinerary should be achievable for backpackers willing to plan ahead.
After your introduction to the country in Yangon, take the boat to Pathein. Spend your night catching a glimpse of the temples and pagodas in sunset, and sample one of the many local food stalls.
Now it’s time to check out the best beaches Myanmar has to offer. While the majority of visitors to South East Asia head to Southern Thailand for their blue sea/white sand fix, beaches in Myanmar remain unspoilt, quiet and undeniably beautiful. Ngapali is the most well-known and many people head here for a little bit of luxury. Looking for something a bit more local? Head to the area around Chaung Tha. It’s a little more backpacker-friendly here and this Myanmar travel itinerary will let you decide for yourself.
After your beach break it’s time to get back to the culture. Stop in Pyay to see Shwesandaw Paya and the old city’s remains, before heading to the bizarre capital city of Naypyitaw. There’s really nothing to see here, but other backpackers smiled when confirming this and still said that it’s worth visiting the unique capital for the experience. Where else has a ten-lane highway with less than ten cars on it? If you have time on your way to Bagan, stop at Monywa where markets, pagodas and the riverside will keep you occupied.
Next up is a Myanmar highlight, no matter what travel itinerary you cover: Bagan. Get your temple fix here, enjoying sunrises and exploring all day on your e-bike. If you have the cash, then hop on a flight to Sittwe, a short (for Myanmar) bus or boat journey to Mrauk-U. It’s possible to get all the way here by bus but the journey is very long and very bumpy (we heard anything from16 to 30 hours from Yangon). Enjoy exploring Mrauk-U’s beautifully preserved temples all to yourself, with the rest of the temple-spotters tripping over themselves to get the perfect shot back in Bagan.
Retreat to Mandalay, if only to sleep for the night, or catch another flight/onward bus journey. Now’s the time to check about the safety in the north of Myanmar, as you’ll be visiting Myitkyina and Bhamo in the Kachin State. While cities and towns themselves may be deemed safe, often the rivers, roads and access to/from them is not. Therefore, they can still be impossible for tourists to reach. Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, is a great base for the awesome, unspoilt hiking and insightful visits to the unique and traditional local villages. Relax and recover in Bhamo on your way back south, a sleepy, relaxing town with riverside settings and unique teak houses. If you have time, check out the setting for Orwell’s famous Burmese Days in nearby Katha.
All roads lead back to Mandalay in the heart of the country! From here, make for Hsipaw for some more hiking, taking the bus on the way there. If you’re normally an adventurous backpacker (and again, so long as it’s safe), you could stretch this itinerary to remote hiking available in Lashio too. On your way back take the train, marvelling (or closing your eyes) at the Goteik Viaduct, stop in Pyin-oo-Lwin. Enjoy the relaxed atmosphere, alternative hiking and waterfalls, before returning to Mandalay.
You’re on to the final stretch and ironically; you’re heading near the most touristy part of the country at Inle Lake. The 3D/2N hike from Kalaw – Inle is now incredibly popular, so instead base yourself in Pindaya. Enjoy much more authentic hiking here, a place which a typical backpacker itinerary will ignore. If you’re determined to see Inle, then be sure to save time (and cash) for a day-trip to the Kakku pagodas before making your way back to Yangon.
And there you go! Itinerary 2 is a travel itinerary for just about everywhere worth visiting as a backpacker in Myanmar. Although this itinerary is technically possible, we reckon it’s going to be a lot more enjoyable if you pick and choose which areas you want to get off-the-beaten-path: including everything, this itinerary would probably need 6 weeks minimum, and that’s before you even get to the South Itinerary in Itinerary 3.
3: 10 Days in South Myanmar Itinerary
This travel itinerary is the best of both worlds. First, you get to see some backpacker gems in Yangon and Hpa-an. Then, head off the beaten path further south down the narrow base of Burma.
As with the other itineraries, start in Yangon: the most progressive city in Burma. Take a couple of days to sip delicious local coffee and practice your haggling skills at the various markets. A short bus trip takes you to Kyaikto and its famous golden rock. After a night here head further east to Hpa-an, a beautiful town with jagged limestone mountains and enough caves to keep any enthusiast occupied for days.
Mawlamyine is the gateway to the coastal southern leg of Burma. Spend a couple nights here enjoying the markets. Next is Dawei, a beach town with plenty of coastline you can enjoy all to yourself. Finally, if you can afford it (it’s outwith just about every backpacker’s budget) then hop on a liveaboard for a week. There is some spectacular scuba diving to be enjoyed in the Mergui Archipelago with nobody else there. Make sure to comment below and let us know if you go scuba-diving here. Our budget simply would not stretch that far, but we met people who told us wonderful things about diving here that got us pretty envious.
Cross the border from down here and head over to Thailand if you’re continuing your backpacking adventures.
4: the Popular 2 Week Myanmar Travel Itinerary
When all is said and done, many travellers decide to spend 2 weeks in Myanmar. Perhaps that’s all you can get for annual leave. Maybe you’re heading somewhere else in a hurry instead!
Whatever the reason, it’s great amount of time and you’ll still be able to see a bunch of things. It’s such a great plan, that we’ve dedicated an entire blog post to a 2 Weeks in Myanmar Itinerary (coming soon).
So there you have it! Our three recommended Burma itineraries. It may take a while to get from place to place, and sometimes it won’t feel like the most flexible country. But remember – you can mix these itineraries up as you wish (where practical). While visiting Yangon on the Backpacker Kite Itinerary you can take a side trip to Kyaikto, for instance.
On the road you’ll meet other backpackers each with their recommendations and suggestions. We strongly believe that word-of-mouth is still a powerful tool, so if what they’re suggesting sounds good, be sure and go with it. If you disagree with anything we’ve written or if our information is already out of date, then please get in touch and comment below!
A Typical Backpacker Budget Breakdown
If you’re anything like us and you’re travelling long-term, then your daily budget is important. We’ve outlined our budgets below for our time in Burma. It includes most of what we spent and where. While this isn’t written with 100% accuracy, it’s not too far from it. The costs should give you a (rough) idea on what you’ll spend on transport, attractions and accommodation.
- Accommodation: 410,000MKK ($270)
- Entry Tickets: 80,000MKK ($53)
- Attractions: 189,000MKK ($123)
- Local Transport: 107,000MKK ($70)
- Domestic Transport: 250,000MKK ($163)
Total for 17D/17N (excluding getting there): 1,036,000MKK ($680)
This example budget is for two people. Food and drink is not included. The currency exchange rate was accurate at the time of writing (Nov ’18).
Like this post? PIN it for later↡