Last Updated on January 17, 2020 by Tina
In my previous post, I made a solo traveler’s guide to Myanmar. In this post, I’ll be sharing the second part of the guide which is places to visit in Myanmar.
Myanmar was part of my six weeks backpacking trip last June. In those six weeks, I planned on visiting five countries in Southeast Asia: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar, and Laos. I spent 10 days in Myanmar. I was able to visit the Myanmar Big 4 or the four cities that are most visited by tourists: Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay, and Bagan.
Places to Visit in Myanmar
Yangon used to be the capital of Myanmar until 2006 and is the largest city of Myanmar. It has the highest concentration of colonial buildings in all Southeast Asian cities. Myanmar used to be a colony of Britain from 1824 until 1948 and they made Yangon the Burmese capital in 1885. During that time they constructed a great number of majestic buildings in Victorian, Queen Anne, Art Deco, British Burmese, and Neoclassical style. Many of these structures now stand in a bad state because after the country’s independence, it was run by a military regime where no infrastructure improvements were made.
Although Myanmar has three international airports located in Yangon, Mandalay and its capital Nay Pyi Taw, it’s easier to find cheap flights in and out of Yangon. It is where I started and ended my Myanmar trip.
I find Yangon very chaotic compared to Mandalay and traffic is really bad. Among all the cities I visited in Myanmar, Yangon was my least favorite. Probably coz when I arrived there it was super hot to explore the city, and when I went back there from Bagan for my flight out of Myanmar, it was raining that I didn’t get to see much. I also got sick on my last night. I had a fever and diarrhea. And it was the only place where I got scammed during my backpacking trip. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t like it. I really love the sight of the colonial buildings around Sule Pagoda and the Shwedagon Pagoda is stunning.
Places of Interest/Things to do in Yangon:
Shwedagon Pagoda is the most famous landmark in Yangon. According to legend, it was built more than 2600 years ago. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar. The pagoda is 326-foot-tall (99 m) and its very top is tipped with a 76 carat (15 grams) diamond. Locals say the best time to visit the pagoda is before sunset. It is nice to watch the sky change its color and when it gets dark the pagoda is lit up by spotlights.
As mentioned in my earlier post, Burmese people are generally nice people. But you have to be very cautious with the super friendly people approaching you. Our neighbor got scammed when she visited Shwedagon Pagoda. What happened was a guy approached her and started talking to her. He was telling her facts about the pagoda and even offered to take pictures of her. She thought the guy was being friendly.
However, when she was about to leave, the guy told her to give him 20,000 Kyats (~USD 13.24) as a fee for guiding her. She was surprised because she never asked him to do it for her. But there was no point arguing so she just told him she only has 5,000 Kyats, just enough for her cab ride. And that didn’t stop the guy from asking money. He told her he could accompany her to withdraw money at the ATM. But she told him she doesn’t have an ATM card.
Entrance fee: 10,000 Kyats (~USD 6.62)
Sule Pagoda is located at the center of downtown Yangon. If you’re staying in downtown Yangon, then you can reach this place by walking. According to legend, this pagoda was constructed before Shwedagon Pagoda. If you have very limited time, you can skip visiting this so long as you don’t miss Shwedagon Pagoda.
As with Shwedagon Pagoda, beware of people approaching you. This is the only place where I got scammed during my 6 weeks backpacking trip. Bring a plastic bag to put your footwear so that you won’t need to leave your shoes with the locals at the entrance of the pagoda.
Entrance fee: 4,000 Kyats (~USD 2.65)
Relax at Maha Bandula Park and enjoy the views of the heritage buildings surrounding the park
Maha Bandula Park is walking distance from Sule Pagoda. It is a very nice park with an obelisk commemorating the Burmese Independence from the British in 1948 can be found at the center of the park. It is surrounded by important buildings such as the High Court, Sule Pagoda, and Yangon City Hall.
Visit Bogyoke Market
This was on my list of places to visit but was not able to go when I was in Yangon because I got sick and it was raining. My friend who had been there and my brother told me though that it is an interesting place to visit. Here you will find shops selling handicrafts, clothes, pieces of jewelry, foodstuff and many more.
Take the Yangon Circular train
This is another thing that was recommended to me by my brother that I didn’t get to try because I got sick. From what I have read, this is a great way to experience first hand the local culture. The train ride is three and a half hours and will take you to local markets and neighborhoods.
Nyaung Shwe/Inle Lake
Nyaung Shwe Township is where Inle Lake is located. Travelers with plenty of time usually do the trek from Kalaw in the western Shan State to Inle. I was not able to do this during my trip but might consider it the next time I go back to Myanmar. The highlight of the trip to Nyaung Shwe/Inle Lake is the boat tour around the lake. Do note that they collect a 15,000 Kyats (~US$ 9.93) Archaeological Zone Pass fee upon entering Inle Lake. Although no one’s going to check the ticket afterward, keep the ticket just in case.
Places of Interest/Things to do in Nyaung Shwe/Inle Lake
Do the Inle Lake boat tour
The boat tour is one of the must-dos when you visit Nyaung Shwe. It is the best way to explore the lake and to get a glimpse of the local life. I made a separate post about the boat tour here.
Have a wine tasting experience at Red Mountain Estate Vineyards and Winery
I learned about this place from my roommate at the hostel. She said it is a good place to watch the sunset. It is 100% local producer of both red and white wine in Myanmar. For only 5000 Kyats (~US$ 3.31), you can have a wine tasting experience while admiring the nice view of the vineyard. The place is very relaxing and people who love taking pictures for Instagram will surely love this place.
The second-largest city after Yangon, it lies at the center of mainland Myanmar. Fellow travelers I met in Nyaung Shwe told me there is not much to see in Mandalay. They said the better ones are the ancient cities around Mandalay- Sagaing, Inwa, Amarapura, and Mingun. I was not able to go to Mingun but I agree that Sagaing, Amapura, and Innwa have beautiful sights. But I’d say Mandalay has a lot to offer too.
Places of Interest/Things to do in Mandalay
Explore the Mandalay Palace and Climb the Watch Tower
The Mandalay Palace is the last royal palace built by the last Burmese monarchy. On the large complex are throne halls, audience halls, a monastery, a watchtower, a court building, a tooth relic building, and a library. It was built between 1857 to 1859 and was completely made from teak wood. It was built in the center of a large fort.
The palace was destroyed by fire during the Second World War after a bombing raid. Only the Royal Mint and the watch tower survived the bombing raid. The palace was rebuilt during the 1990s following the original design but partly using modern materials like concrete.
Entrance fee: 10,000 Kyats (~USD 6.62) (They will also ask you to leave your passport. If you are not comfortable doing this, you can tell them you left your passport at the hotel and ask if you can leave them a valid ID instead.)
Climb the Mandalay Hill
Mandalay Hill is a 240 meters-high hill. At the top of the hill is the Sutaungpyei Pagoda. The climb to the top is easy and takes around 40 minutes. It is mostly on a covered concrete staircase. What makes it hard is doing it barefoot, from the bottom to the top. I climbed around 2:00 PM and there were some parts that were still hot because of the heat of the sun. The reward of climbing the hill is a panoramic view of Mandalay- the moat surrounding the Mandalay Palace, the temples and pagodas, Irrawaddy River, the buildings, the hills and mountain ranges.
If you are unable to climb the stairs, there is a one-way motor road that leads to an escalator and elevator to the pagoda at the summit. The reward of climbing the stairs is that there is so much to see along the way, such as the gigantic standing image of the Buddha with his right hand pointing towards the city, small stupas, and shops selling flowers and umbrellas for the Buddha.
Located on the foot of Mandalay Hill, Sandamuni Pagoda houses the Sandamani image, the largest iron Buddha image in Myanmar. It is made of almost 19 tonnes of iron and is now covered with a layer of gold. Surrounding the central pagoda are 1774 shrines. Each shrine houses a single marble slab, where the teachings of the Buddha consisting of Sutta, Vinaya and Abhidhamma commentaries and sub-commentaries are inscribed.
A short walk from the Sandamuni Pagoda is the Kuthodaw Pagoda. It is home to the world’s largest book. This “book” consists of 729 marble slabs inscribed on both sides in Burmese script. Each marble slab represents one of the “pages” of the book and housed with individual shrines known as a kyauksa gu. The texts inscribed in the slabs are from a page of text from Tripitaka, the teachings of the Buddha written in ancient Pali language. The shrines are lined in long organized rows around the complex.
Watch the Sunrise/Sunset at U Bein Bridge
U Bein Bridge is a wooden footbridge located in Amarapura that spans the Taungthaman Lake. It is believed to be the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. This 1.2-kilometer bridge was built from wood reclaimed from the former royal palace in Inwa.
Most people who visit Mandalay usually visit U Bein Bridge during sunset. And I almost did that too because that’s what I have read from blogs. But thanks to Mr. Zaw, my guide in Mandalay, he told me it is better to go there at sunrise because at sunset the bridge is full of tourists. So we went there at sunrise and I’ve seen less than 20 people at the bridge. And these people are locals doing their early morning exercise. I enjoyed the early morning breeze as I crossed the bridge.
Two months after I visited the bridge, Andreu visited it at sunset. He said it was too crowded so he didn’t stay long. Even the parking area was full.
Observe the Face Washing Ceremony at Mahamuni Buddha Temple
Every morning at 4:00 in the morning, the most senior monk at the Mahamuni Buddha Temple performs the daily ritual of washing the face of the Mahamuni Buddha image with fresh towels and brushing the teeth with large brush. The ritual lasts for about an hour.
Explore Dee Dote Waterfalls
If you want to take a break from temple/pagoda visits, I recommend going to Dee Dote Waterfalls. It is more than one-hour motorbike drive from Mandalay, but it is worth it. You need to hike for about 20 minutes from the parking lot to get to the waterfalls. There are rock pools at the swimming area and when I went there I had the whole place to myself. There are no clear signs as to how to get to the waterfalls so the moment I saw a rock pool I assumed that’s the main falls already. But when I got back to the parking lot after having a refreshing swim, Mr. Zaw told me there’s an even bigger waterfall at the top. Oh well, I had a great time at the rock pool so I’m fine.
Visit the Ancient Cities Around Mandalay
I was very lucky to meet Mr. Zaw, the driver of the Grab bike that I booked on my way back to the hostel after visiting Kuthodaw Pagoda. He offered me a tour the next day to the ancient cities around Mandalay. I didn’t expect to see and do much in a day but Mr. Zaw did a great job showing me around. I will not be able to describe all the places we visited, but I will share some of the photos.
If you want to do the tour with him too, you can contact him on Facebook: mrzawmandalay or send him an e-mail at email@example.com. His mobile number is 09796519466.
I was not able to go to Mingun because of poor planning on my side. However, during Andreu’s trip to Myanmar last August, he was able to go to there. The following pictures were taken by him.
Try Eating Local Foods in Tea Shops
Trip to Myanmar is not complete if you haven’t tried eating in a Tea Shop. There are plenty in Mandalay and the cities around Mandalay. During my tour with Mr. Zaw, he took me to three Tea Shops. Although the place doesn’t look very clean, the food we ate tastes good and are very cheap.
Watch the Bathing of Snakes at Snake Pagoda
If you’re looking for an interesting experience, then maybe you should add this to your list. In this pagoda, there are three pythons living near the statue of Buddha. At 11:00 AM every day, they are bathed in a swimming pool.
Located in the outskirts of Amarapura, the Jade Pagoda is believed to be the first jade pagoda in the world. It is covered with over 10,000 long tons (10,000,000 kg) of jade and has a height of 75 feet 6 inches (23.01 m).
An ancient city located in Central Myanmar, it is home to more than 3,500 stupas, Buddhist temples, monasteries, and other structures with many dating from the 11th and 12th centuries. At certain months (usually from October to April), you’ll see hot-air balloons soaring over the ancient pagodas early in the morning. Last year (2019), UNESCO inscribed Bagan as a World Heritage Site. Just like Inle Lake, they collect a fee for Archaeological Zone Pass upon entering Bagan. The fee is much higher, 25,000 Kyats (~US$ 16.56) for 5 days stay in Bagan. Keep the ticket with you because some temples ask for the ticket when you enter.
Places of Interest/Things to do in Bagan
Rent an e-bike and visit as many temples and pagodas as you can
This was actually one of my favorite activities during my six weeks trip. I don’t know how to drive an e-bike but I asked a local to teach me how. It was the best thing that happened. I got to see lots of temples because of the e-bike. Originally I was planning to just walk and just settle for what I could reach but I’m really glad that I met that local who taught me how to drive. The area is so big and the temples are scattered and far from each other.
There are plenty of shops renting e-bike in Bagan. You can rent it for 5000 Kyats (US$ 3.31). I highly recommend the bike shop in front of BaobaBed Hostel Bagan. The owner is very friendly and accommodating, unlike the first shop I asked who made me feel that it is impossible for me to drive an e-bike.
I recommend starting early to catch the sunrise. If you still feel sleepy afterward, maybe go back to your room to take a nap or have breakfast then continue checking out the temples. You won’t be able to check out all the temples so just try and visit the ones that are highly recommended. In the hostel that I stayed at, BaobaBed Hostel Bagan, they give a map with a recommendation of the must-visit temples, sunrise and sunset spot and restaurants and bars.
Watch the sunrise or sunset at the temple area
One of the must-dos in Bagan. I tried doing both. I’ve read in blogs that in the past, people were allowed to climb temples. So what they do is they choose the taller pagodas to watch the sunrise or the sunset. However, to preserve the temples, they no longer allow tourists to climb the pagodas. When you’re in Bagan, many locals will approach you and tell you they know a temple that you can climb that is a good spot to watch the sunset.
For the sunrise, I didn’t know how to ride an e-bike yet so I woke up really early to walk to the viewpoint. The staff at the hostel said it is a good spot for sunrise. However, when I got there it was full of tourists.
For the sunset, me and my roommates agreed to meet in the hostel so we could do it together. However, on my way back to the hostel I got lost and wouldn’t be able to get there in time so we agreed to just meet somewhere near the spot that’s supposed to be a good sunset spot. But I didn’t find them in the meet-up place. I also couldn’t contact them at that time because they didn’t have an internet connection. So I just decided to watch the sunset by myself. The spot I choose wasn’t that bad.
Check out Nan Myint Tower
One of the things I regret not doing was going to Nan Myint Tower. It is an observation deck where you can have a panoramic view of the temples. There is a fee (I think it is around 5,000 Kyats (US$ 3.31)) but the view there is stunning. How do I know? When Andreu visited Bagan 2 months later, he made a video call with me and showed me the view from the tower.
Climb Mt. Popa
Mount Popa Monastery/Popa Taungkalat Monastery is located atop a huge rocky outcrop on the slopes of the extinct volcano Mount Popa. To get to the monastery at the top, you need to climb 777 steps barefoot. At the top the view is amazing.
If you are afraid of macaques, doing this might not be a good idea because there are lots of them from the jump-off point all the way to the top. Do not wear a cap or sunglasses while there because they might grab it. Be very careful, I’m not trying to scare you but one of them jumped on me and stayed on my back for quite some time while I was going down. I tried not to move because I was afraid that it might bite or scratch me.
I booked my Mt. Popa tour in the hostel and it costs 10,000 Kyats (~US$ 6.62).
Go on a sunset river cruise
I joined a sunset river cruise organized by the hostel when I was there. It costs 8,000 Kyats (~US$ 5.30) and includes transport from the hostel to the port and back, snacks and drinks. We didn’t see the sunset that day though coz it was drizzling. But it’s a good place to socialize with other travelers, in case you want to take a break from the temple hopping activity.
I hope this post made you want to visit Myanmar. If you have any questions, feel free to write it down in the comments section below. Subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss any of my posts. And please follow my Facebook page @iwentanyways and like my Instagram accounts @iwentanyways and @tnadeperalta for updates. For more pictures and videos of my trip to Myanmar, check out my highlights in my IG account @tnadeperalta.