When in Myanmar: 6-day Easy Backpacking Travel Guide

Traveling Myanmar was an unforgettable and grateful experience. Aside from the beautiful places, what made me feel good about that trip was witnessing the simplicity of lifestyle of the Burmese. Since Myanmar is a former communist country, which remained a closed nation for so many years, the country has managed to keep the customs and traditions almost unblemished.

This is why if you're into travels with strong cultural immersion, then Myanmar is the country to bang in the bucket list.

Myanmar 101

Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia. The capital is Yangon, located in the southern part of the country. As of 2017, around 54 million people live in Myanmar, majority of which are Buddhists. 
To move around Myanmar, especially in the capital, white regular taxis are the most common. Metered rate is very rare, thus the rate is usually arranged with the driver. Likewise, air-conditioning unit is hardly used, so windows are usually open. The local currency is called kyat (MMK), which is used to pay in the taxi and other local merchants in Myanmar.

When I traveled there for 6 days in March, I was able to cover 2 cities, namely Yangon and Bagan. I could say that the trip was the easy backpacking type, which means I didn't feel rushed covering so many places with so little time. Let me share this DIY itinerary with you: 

Day 1: Yangon

Sule Pagoda > Maha Bandula Park > Independence Monument > Shwedagon Pagoda

To enter Myanmar, you'd most probably begin your trip in the capital where the Yangon International Airport is at. Yangon is huge that it tends to get busy and crowded, but there are several interesting places to visit. 
In the morning, you can start moving around to explore Sule Pagoda, which is a religious site located in central Yangon. If you wish to observe how Buddhists do their daily worship and activities, then head to the pagoda first thing in the morning. Entrance fee is 3000 kyats / USD 2.

Right across is the Maha Bandula Park, which is basically a public park in Yangon, but an interesting place to observe the daily lives of the Burmese. It's surrounded by a few British-inspired buildings including the Yangon City Hall and the red-bricked Court House.
The Independence Monument is also in the same area where you can find the white obelisk. The structure commemorates Myanmar's independence from Great Britain in 1948.
From afternoon to evening, it's best to stay at the Shwedagon Pagoda, the biggest and most important pagoda in Myanmar. It's also called the "golden pagoda" obviously for its striking color and famed for its size, standing at 326 feet (99 meters). Entrance fee is 8,000 kyats / USD 5. For more information and photos, check out my Shwedagon Pagoda blog entry.  

Day 2: Yangon

Kandawgyi Park > Botataung Pagoda > Botataung Harbor > JJ Bus Express Bus Station


The next day, you can start by spending time at the Kandawgyi Park. Although the lake is only man-made, the water that flows through its pipes comes from Inya Lake, which is the largest lake in Yangon.
The place is generally a recreational area, and it highlights Karaweik, the golden barge at the center of the lake. It's designed after a Burmese palace, but it currently works as a floating buffet restaurant.
Next, you can head south to visit the Botataung Pagoda, which is said to hold a hair relic of Buddha. It may not be as big as the Shwedagon, but it has a complex you can explore for half an hour. For more details about this pagoda, I wrote a separate Botataung Pagoda blog entry.

At the back of the pagoda, you find the Botataung Harbor where the Yangon River is also at. It's a chill area where you can go bird watching, and the birds usually go in flocks. In Buddhism practice, it's said that releasing birds is an act of sending away bad luck or misfortune.

At night, you can catch the bus to head to Bagan. It's a long journey that usually takes 12 hours, so it's best to take the sleeper bus. Several bus companies have trips to and from Bagan. With my experience, I took the Joyous Journey (JJ) Express Bus and it costed me 29,000 kyats / USD 19 per trip. It's recommended to book in advance. You can check their website to book and buy.

Bagan

Bagan is one of my favorite places in the world. It's a province in Myanmar that hasn't been touched much by modernity yet. You fall in love with its rawness and the simple life. It feels like being brought back in time with the presence of several Buddhist monuments built as early as 11th century.

Bagan is mainly divided into 2: the Old Bagan and New Bagan. In terms of accommodation, the cheaper ones are mostly found in Old Bagan while the newer and mainstream hotels are in New Bagan. I stayed at Shwe Nadi Guest House located in Old Bagan.
There are several ways to move around Bagan, which actually depends on the traveler. For the adventurous, you can rent an e-bike (7000 kyats / USD 4.5 a day) or manual bike (1500 kyats / USD 1 a day). For a more traditional type, there are horse cart tours offered, which I actually took during my first day in Bagan. It tends to be more expensive though. I was quoted with 30,000 kyats / USD 20 for a 3-hour tour but luckily, I got to split the cost with a co-traveler.
On the next 2 days, I used a manual bike to go around. The only setback with using a bike is that sometimes, it's hard to get through deep sandy roads. Also, if you travel during the dry season (March to May), expect a very dusty ride. Wear face mask if you have dust allergy.
There's an estimated 2000 pagodas, stupas, and temples scattered around Bagan. Of course, it's hard to see everything, but it's good to know the notable and significant ones. Actually, I enumerated some and you can read them in my Bagan ''Temple Run" Guide.
Some monuments are climbable (usually the bigger ones), some aren't. A few are gated by care takers, and in case it's closed for climbing, you can simply request them to open it for you. It isn't really mandatory to tip them, so it's all up to you.

A good way to easily visit as many sites as possible in Bagan is to choose which area to go to in a day. Here's a sample 3-day itinerary:

Day 3: Bagan

Bulethi Pagoda (good to catch the sunrise/sunset) > Shwezigon Pagoda > Htilominlo Pagoda > Upali Thein Pagoda 


Htilominlo Pagoda

Day 4: Bagan

Dhammayan Gyi Temple > Sulamani Temple > Bagan Golden Palace > Shwesandaw Pagoda > Tha Kya Hi Hpaya

Dhammayan Gyi Temple

Day 5: Bagan

Ananda Temple > Thatbyinnyu Pagoda (tallest pagoda) > Shwegu Gyi Pagoda > Mingalar Zedi Pagoda > Bagan Bus Station

Thatbyinnyu Pagoda


Day 6: Yangon

To return to Yangon, it would also be good to take the bus in the evening again. If you have more time, you can also visit other notable provinces in Myanmar such as Kalaw, Inle, and Mandalay.
Once back in Yangon, another interesting activity is by exploring Yangon's railway system. It has several trips across Myanmar. However, given a limited time, you can choose to take the circular route, a train ride that starts and ends at the Yangon Central Railway Station.
A ticket only costs 200 kyats / 0.60 USD but passes several stations and lasts around 3 hours. Actually, it isn't really an attraction, but rather an experience to see the daily commute and it gives a very local feel. When the trip reaches the suburbs, sights like the rice fields and lush green are so amazing.

In the afternoon, you can spend time shopping at the Bogyoke Aung San Market where you can score cheap souvenirs. Some of the popular souvenirs in Myanmar include handicrafts (especially hand puppets), lacquer ware, and longyi.
For food tripping, the 19th street in Yangon is popular, especially for outdoor barbecue, seafood, and drinks (try the Myanmar beer!). The price varies per restaurant, but you can probably set a USD 8-10 budget per person. It's also the so-called Chinatown of Yangon. It's best to go here at night!

How to get there

At the moment, there are no direct flights to Myanmar coming from Manila. The common transfer hub is in Malaysia, so it has to be 2 flights. The first flight, Manila-Kuala Lumpur, is around 4 hours. You can check Cebu Pacific or Air Asia for low-cost flights. The second flight, Kuala Lumpur-Yangon, takes 1.5 hours and only Air Asia serves this flight. Getting to Myanmar looks like a long journey (and there's usually a long layover in Kuala Lumpur), but I'd say it's definitely worth it!

Is Myanmar in your bucket list? What can you say about Bagan? 




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