Yangon, Bagan, Sale, Mount Popa, Mandalay, Heho, Pindaya, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Ngapali Beach
Combining cultural interests with some light adventure and plenty of R&R, Essential Burma takes you on a journey to all of the country's most fabled destinations, including fairytale Bagan, lush Kalaw and tranquil Inle Lake. Add the contrasting cities of Mandalay and Yangon, as well as a few days on stunning Ngapali Beach - and you have yourself a world class holiday.
As with all our itineraries, we have created lots of free time for you to enjoy as you please. If you would prefer a more ‘complete’ travel programme, we will be happy to oblige. We can also tailor this holiday to meet your exact needs - your holiday, your way.
arrive Yangon, Shwedagon Pagoda
Upon arrival in Yangon, you will be met by your guide and transferred to your hotel. Formerly named Rangoon by the British, Yangon was the country’s capital until 2006 and is still Burma’s largest and most influential city. Its dusty streets are lined with an intriguing array of traditional wooden houses and shacks, mighty Colonial-era relics, and more modern - although often already decaying - office buildings. The city’s landscape is also sprinkled with a large number of green spaces, and the skyline more often pierced by a golden spire than any high-rise building.
Your first day is yours to spend at leisure, until a late afternoon visit to perhaps Burma’s most iconic site, the majestic Shwedagon Pagoda. This 2,000 year old temple is one of the most significant religious sites in Burma and undoubtedly the one most readily associated with the ‘Land of the Golden Spires’. It's also the perfect spot to enjoy your first Burmese sunset.
Explore the many shrines that surround the pagoda, as locals from across the city flock to this incredible landmark to make their daily prayers. Outside of the main compound, makeshift food markets appear; your guide can introduce you to your first flavours of the local cuisine. As night falls, the pagoda is lit up in the most mesmeric fashion.Overnight in Yangon.
Yangon, City Tour
Enjoy a full day tour of some of the city’s key sites. Your guide will be happy to tailor your itinerary, however most will want to visit the central Sule Pagoda, an octagonal golden stupa dating back over 2,000 years. The faded Colonial architecture lining Strand Road, the bustling nearby port and Yangon’s central market are equally compelling. You can also visit Karaweik Park and its Royal Bird and the Bogyoke Market, also known as Scott Market, where you can purchase a wide range of local products and handicrafts. Nearby is the bustling Chinatown, perhaps the perfect place to break for lunch.
There is also time to visit the huge reclining Buddha at the nearby Chaukhtatgyi Paya before returning to your hotel in the late afternoon.Overnight in Yangon.
Yangon, Nyaung U, Bagan, Temple Tour
Early morning transfer to Yangon Airport for your flight to Bagan. Upon arrival at Nyaung U Airport you will be met by your guide. First stop is the thriving Nyaung U market, where local vendors sell a wide array of spices, vegetables and unusual household goods. The bustling atmosphere is just what you need after such an early flight, and for many the chance to soak it up in one of the small tea houses is also high on the agenda.
During any visit to the Bagan temples, we ensure your day(s) remain both flexible and personal. Having met with your guide, you will be able to discuss in detail what you are looking to achieve from your time in the region. While some wish to explore as many temples as they can during their stay, others like to travel at a slower, more relaxed pace.
Maximum experience, minimum crowds
With literally thousands of sites to chose from, it’s no easy task selecting which temples and pagodas to make a bee-line for first. However, Bagan certainly has a few headline acts, with the golden stupa of the Shwezigion Pagoda usually appearing high on most clients’ wish-lists. The 11th century Shwesandaw Pagoda, with its strong Mon influences, is also likely to be near the top, or Ananda, with its 1424 Buddhas mounted in the walls.
For many, though, it’s the smaller pagodas, tucked away in the corner of a rice field, while for others it’s those journeys through the countryside, following little-used dust tracks, or leaving the air-con for an hour in favour of a horse-drawn cart amongst the temples and pagodas.
Sunrise and sunset are often considered the most impressive time of day in Bagan. Your guide will be glad to suggest a choice spot, depending on your preferences.
We do appreciate that some visitors are wary of becoming ‘templed-out’. To combat this we can create more varied days, with visits to villages, such as Myinkaba, to observe the process of traditional lacquer-ware crafting, or Bagan town centre, or just simply create more time to leisurely laze by the pool.
All our guides are highly experienced Bagan specialists, fully trained and licensed to work at the temples. Along with their exceptional knowledge of the Bagan region, the various temples and pagodas, and the civilisations that built them, your guide will know how best to avoid the busier times of day, not to mention where to catch the best sunrises and sunsets. Put simply, they’ll adapt the itinerary to suit your preferences and know every trick in the book when it comes to getting the best photos and most tranquil moments.
If you have any specific requirements or special interests, be sure to let us know and we will arrange the guide with the most suitable expertise.Overnight in Bagan.
Bagan, Temple Tour
Continue your tour of the Bagan Temples.
In the evening, we suggest eating out at one of New Bagan’s local eateries for a true taste of the local specialities. Don’t be afraid to join in with the locals and take their advice on what to order – after all, when in Rome…Overnight in Bagan.
Bagan, Sale, Mount Popa
Starting early, drive south from Bagan to the ancient town of Sale (pronounced Sa-lay), on the eastern banks of the Irrawaddy River. There are literally hundreds of ruins in the Sale region; however, few have ever been studied by archaeologists and historians. Sale is famous for Yoke-sone Kyaung, a 19th century wooden monastery, featuring intricate wooden carvings. There is also a museum to celebrate the life of Sale’s most famous son, the poet and author Sale U Ponnya.
Continue south for a further hour, passing a number of rural villages, before arriving at Mount Popa. The mountain is in fact an extinct volcano and as legend will tell you, is the home of the ‘Nats’, or spirits. For the energetic, there are 777 steps to climb to reach the dramatically perched shrine on top of the mountain, offering commanding views in all directions. Also, close to the mountain lies a village where you can learn about the palm sugar and oil cottage industries which are in operation.
Return to Bagan, arriving mid-afternoon. The remainder of your day is at leisure or there will be a chance to visit one or two pagodas if you wish.Overnight in Bagan.
Bagan, City Tour, Mandalay Hill
Morning transfer back to Nyaung U in time for your flight to Mandalay. Upon arrival, you will be met by your guide and transferred into central Mandalay.
The economic centre of upper Burma, and the country's 19th century capital, Mandalay, or ‘City of Gems’, is the country’s 2nd largest city. It's synonymous with British Colonial rule and romance, due in part to Kipling’s love-affair with the city.
Taking its name from the hill that watches over it, modern Mandalay is a thriving centre of commerce (relatively speaking of course – this is no Los Angeles!) with a bustling city centre and central market.
Enjoy a day touring some of the city's key sites. Your guide will be happy to personalise your programme, however we would recommend a morning visit to Zaycho Market, noted for the variety of local items available. Be sure to visit the Kuthodaw Pagoda at the foot of Mandalay Hill to read a few pages from the world's largest 'book' (an entire Buddhist canon recorded on 729 stone tablets!). Also on the list is undoubtedly the Mahamuni Paya, to witness the endless stream of devotees adding gold leaf to the Mahamuni Buddha; and the former Royal Palace of Shwe Nan Daw - constructed almost entirely of wood and dating from 1879.
In the late afternoon, walk, run or drive up the 790 feet of Mandalay Hill to explore the hilltop pagodas & temples and enjoy panoramic views as the sun sets.Overnight in Mandalay.
As an alternative to the flight from Bagan to Mandalay, you could travel along the Ayeyarwady River. There are a number of cruise options, ranging from a one day cruise to several nights on a luxurious vessel such as the RV Paukan.
Please ask your consultant for further details. Close
Mandalay, Mingun, Sagaing
After breakfast, transfer across the city to Mandalay port, where you will board a private chartered boat for your cruise along the Ayeyarwady River as far as the 18th century royal capital of Mingun.
After just 45 minutes cruise, you'll disembark and explore Mingun on foot, taking in the key sites, such as King Bodawpaya’s unfinished temple and the mighty Mingun Bell, considered to be the world’s largest un-damaged bell. There will also be time to visit the enchanting Hsinbyume Pagoda, with its crisp white wave-like roof set perfectly against the deep blue sky above.
After returning to Mandalay for lunch, visit Sagaing, taking in Kaung Hmu Daw Pagoda, an enormous solid dome shape stupa, and the famous Sagaing Hill. Enjoy breath-taking views across the entire region and the clusters of pagodas that dot the surrounding hills. Sagaing, unsurprisingly, is a popular retreat for Buddhist devotees. The area is also famous for its silverware workshops.
Return to Mandalay in the late afternoon.Overnight in Mandalay.
Mandalay, Heho, Pindaya, Kalaw
Early morning transfer to Mandalay Airport for your flight to Heho. Upon arrival transfer to the small town of Pindaya, enjoying the scenic backdrop as you pass farmers bringing their crops to the roadside by ox-cart, for collection by wholesalers from as far afield as Yangon and even China. You’ll immediately notice the refreshing difference in climate, with Heho sitting at an altitude of over 3000 feet.
Upon arrival in Pindaya, proceed directly to the main attraction – the Pindaya Cave. Set high into the hillside, the cave is packed with literally thousands of Buddha images of varying size and age. You can walk deep into the cave, passing amongst the Buddha’s and stalactites. Once outside again, enjoy the panoramic view across Pindaya before descending back into the town for lunch.
In the afternoon it’s back on the road, passing through a remarkably Tuscan landscape as you approach Kalaw. Thanks to the forgiving climate the town was popular with the British during Colonial times and is now experiencing something of a small revival, with travellers and trekkers using the town as the ideal base to visit the nearby minority tribes and to trek as far afield as Inle Lake.Overnight in Kalaw.
Kalaw, Nyaung Shwe, Red Mountain Vineyard, Inle Lake
After breakfast visit the bustling Kalaw market before driving to Nyaung Shwe, set on the shores of Inle Lake. It’s a picturesque drive; along the way you will pass many farmers bringing their crops to the roadside by ox-cart, for collection by wholesalers from as far afield as Yangon or China. You’ll immediately notice the refreshing difference in climate as well, with Heho sitting at an altitude of over 3000 feet.
After a chance to explore Nyaung Shwe, transfer to the Red Mountain Vineyards and Winery, close to the lake shore. Enjoy a tour of the vineyards and learn about the the history of wine production in the region, and there will, of course, also be plenty of opportunity to sample the vineyard’s variety of grape!
Having toured the vineyard, board a small boat and proceed onto Inle Lake. The narrow channels widen as you approach the lake proper, and you’ll soon be crossing the broad & (usually) tranquil waters, with hills and mountains surrounding you in every direction. The panorama is simply breathtaking, a mood only enhanced as you pass the fishermen deploying their unique foot-rowing technique.
The region is home to at least eight different tribes, who live both on and beside the lake. Inhabitants of this region rely on the lake in a variety of ways, be it for transport, food or income. During the afternoon, you will visit a floating vegetable garden and several minority villages, including Inpawkhone, a floating village famed for its weaving. You will also have the chance to learn about the traditional fishing methods used by the native Intha people. Later, there will be time to visit the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, with its famous five golden statues that are paraded around the lake throughout the fortnight-long festival of Hpaung Daw U, and the old teak Ngaphechaung monastery.
Upon arrival at your resort, the remainder of your day is at leisure. Get ready for one of life’s great sunsets!Overnight on Inle Lake.
Inle Lake, In Dein
After breakfast, it’s back on the water, cruising in a southerly direction along the western bank as far as In Dein and Ywama. You will then continue up a narrow canal, as far as a small Pa O minority tribal village. Disembark at the central marketplace and follow the old covered path that leads to a 13th century monastery, and the very impressive ruins of over a hundred ancient pagodas, some still well hidden by the surounding lush deep vegetation.
Upon reaching the main stupa atop a hill, stop to enjoy sensational views of the surrounding mountains, and down the valley to Inle Lake in the distance. Return to the lake and return to your resort where the remainder of your day is at leisure. In the evening, drift off to the distant sound of fishermen beating the water with their paddles, as they herd the fish towards their nets.Overnight on Inle Lake.
Heho, Thandwe, Ngapali Beach
Morning transfer back across the lake and on to Heho in time for your flight to Thandwe. Upon arrival you will be met by your guide and transferred the short distance to Ngapali Beach.
Without doubt one of the most picturesque beaches in South-East Asia, Ngapali beach is a 2 km long crescent of fine white sand leading down to crystal clear water. Development has been minimal and therefore just a handful resorts lin the beach and to the southern end you will find a small fishing village.
The remainder of your day is at leisure.Overnight in Ngapali.
Your day is at leisure.Overnight in Ngapali.
Your day is at leisure.Overnight in Ngapali.
Ngapali Beach, Thandwe, depart Yangon
Morning transfer to Thandwe Airport for your flight to Yangon to connect with your onward flight.
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