Welcome to the land of loving and hospitable locals, untouched coastlines, and undiscovered temples. Burma, also known as Myanmar, is truly untouched. I can’t stress enough how important it is to visit this beautiful country before their tourism starts to boom. Backpacking in Myanmar is rewarding and unlike any other country in the area.
I explored ancient, abandoned temples without another tourist in sight. I walked along white sand beach on miles and miles of untouched coastline, with just the jungle and ocean around me. Locals stared at my blonde hair and pink leggings, intrigued. If you want to see the real Southeast Asia without seeing the effects of tourism, I highly, highly suggest visiting Myanmar. This beautiful country has so much to offer, and I’m already planning my next trip back.
I chose to start in Yangon and go to the west coast first, then made my way north, then east. I flew out of Mandalay, which is in northern Myanmar.
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Below is the ultimate guide to backpacking in Myanmar:
Here is a (very blurry) map of my route, over the course of 25 days:
Yangon- Ngapali Beach- Mrauk U- Magwe- Bagan- Mandalay-Hsipaw- Pyin Oo Lwin- Mandalay- Inle Lake- Mandalay
If you’re short on time, I suggest shortening the route (skipping the west coast or sticking strictly to the west coast), or taking flights in between each city. It’s costly, but will save you (literally) days!
This is a popular route among backpackers, which I suggest you do if you only have a week or two in Myanmar:
Yangon- Hpaan- Inle Lake- Mandalay- Bagan
Here is the ultimate guide to backpacking in Myanmar:
Yangon is the starting point for many people visiting Myanmar. Flights to Yangon from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur are relatively cheap. This city is a great gateway to the north, east, or west of Myanmar.
Ride the Circle Train
This is a great way to see Yangon, especially if you’re short on time. The circle train takes about 3 hours and costs 200 kyat (less than a quarter!). Enjoy the aromas of snacks and fruits as vendors sell them on the train, and hang out of the doorway to catch a glimpse of life in Yangon away from the city.
Also known as the Golden Pagoda, this is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar. For a taste of the Burmese culture, definitely visit this while backpacking in Myanmar.
This is a great area to stay in Yangon. The area is full of cheap food, cheap mojitos, and cheap shopping.
Where to Stay
For $6 a night, this hostel is one of the cheapest in Yangon and in a great location. There’s cubby beds with curtains for optimal privacy
Bus from Yangon to Ngapali: 13 hours, $12 USD
Ngapali Beach is, hands down, one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen in my life, and one of the highlights while backpacking in Myanmar. It’s secluded and untouched. Tourism has not yet made its way to Ngapali. Finding an empty coastline for miles and miles is unheard of in Southeast Asia, so get here soon before it changes.
Most guesthouses will offer free or cheap push bikes to rent. This is the best way to get around and explore the area.
The seafood in Ngapali is delicious. With crab, lobster, calamari, fresh tuna, and more, there’s plenty of seafood to get your fix! The town is full of different restaurants, all with similar menus and dishes.
Take a Boat Trip
A few companies will take tourists to Paradise Island, a picturesque island with clear blue water and white sand beaches. It costs around $35 for a boat, which can be split between a few people.
Rent an eBike and Go Exploring
My friend and I discovered a deserted beach, with untouched, white sand that stretched for miles, and clean, clear, blue water. After traveling extensively through Asia, I can say that this is extremely rare to find. We rented an eBike for the day and drove on secluded dirt roads until we came to an opening of an incredibly beautiful beach. This was a great way to explore while backpacking in Myanmar.
Where to Stay
You can get a bungalow for $18/night right on the beach. The family that owns these bungalows is so friendly. There’s free breakfast and free bike rentals. You’ll basically have a private beach to yourself!
Bus from Ngapali to Mrauk U: 14 hours, $15
Mrauk U is an undiscovered, ancient town north of Ngapali on the western side of Myanmar. Most backpackers skip out on this incredible destination solely because of how difficult it is to get to. Long, uncomfortable bus rides or an expensive flight and long ferry are the only ways of getting to Mrauk U. But I can say from experience that it’s completely worth it, and something you have to check out while backpacking in Myanmar.
Rent a Push Bike and Explore the Temples
The best way to get around the temples is to rent a bike. Similar to Bagan, the temples are spread out, but on a much smaller scale than they are in Bagan. Grab a map and go explore! You’ll be the only one at most of the temples, which are unlocked. You can rent bikes at some shops around town. I can’t remember the exact name of the company I used, but ask your guesthouse owner and they’ll be able to point you in the right direction.
Where to Stay
Mrauk U Palace Resort Hotel
Cheap accommodation in a decent area. Each room has aircon and a private bathroom, and guests get free breakfast.
Bus from Mrauk U to Magwe: 11 hours, $12
Magwe was a stopover point between Mrauk U and Bagan. We were confused getting off of the bus, which apparently wouldn’t pass Bagan on its way to Mandalay. We spent the night at a sketchy guesthouse and woke up early to catch a minivan to Bagan, which leave every 2 hours starting at 7 am.
Bus from Magwe to Bagan: 4 hours, $6
This was one of my favorite places while I was backpacking in Myanmar! Bagan is an ancient city with over 2,000 temples sprawled throughout. That doesn’t even come close to how many there used to be, over 10,000. If you love Indiana Jones-esque exploration, then Bagan is the place for you.
A few of the temples attract hoards of tourists, because of the tourist buses and companies that take groups of people here. While these temples are impressive and visiting the more popular temples is definitely something you should do, I found it much more thrilling and fulfilling to go off the beaten path and explore other, smaller temples. Some temples were surrounded by unkempt grass, only reachable by a bumpy, unused dirt road. We were the only ones at many of the temples, and found excitement in climbing up the narrow, cramped stairs to the top.
Some of my favorite temples in Bagan were Dhammayangyi Temple (supposedly haunted), Nyaung U, Buledi Temple, and Lowka Oushang (for sunrsie). However, my favorite sunrise and sunset spot was at an unnamed temple we found. We were the only ones there, which made the experience so much more magical.
Watch the Sunrise
One of the most beautiful sunrises I have ever seen was in Bagan. The sky turned fiery red as the silhouettes of hot air balloons soared across the sky. The first time I saw the sunrise was at a temple shared with quite a few other people, the Lowka Oushang temple. The second time, we ventured off into the darkness in the early morning hours and watched the sunrise from our own, secluded temple.
Watch the Sunset
I recommend doing the same for sunrise and finding your own temple to watch the sunset. There’s nothing like watching the sun dip below the mountain as you watch from an abandoned temple that you have to yourself, as the mist rolls in and darkness settles over Bagan. This was one of my favorite things to do while backpacking in Myanmar.
Where to Stay
Mya Than Kar
Decent free breakfast, comfortable beds, hot water, aircon, in New Bagan. EBike rental available here as well.
Train from Bagan to Mandalay: 7 1/2 hours, $2.50
Mandalay is the economical hub of Myanmar. I found it to be quite hot and dusty, and preferred Yangon to Mandalay. In my opinion, it’s a good place to spend a night or two. It’s a good place to end your time in Myanmar, since their airport offers cheap flights to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, if you don’t feel like making the journey back down south to Yangon.
U Bein Bridge
This is the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. Spanning 1.2 kilometers, it crosses over Taungthaman Lake. It’s best to visit the bridge during sunrise or sunset, when the bridge stands out against the sun as a silhouette.
Where to Stay
This hotel was originally $40/night, but for some reason, was 50% off- so we snagged it for $10 each! Their buffet breakfast was delicious, the bed was comfortable, and their shower was amazing.
Bus from Mandalay to Hsipaw: 7 hours, $8
Hsipaw is a popular starting point for a few treks around Myanmar. Once you arrive in Hsipaw, it’s possible to catch transportation to Namhsan, where a 3 day, 2 night trek back to Hsipaw begins. Hispaw is also the origin or destination for one of the most famous train rides in the world, the Gokteik Viaduct.
Hike to Nam Tok Waterfall
Unfortunately, there wasn’t any water when I hiked to this waterfall, but it’s supposed to be incredible, and a great place to cool off. The trek to the waterfall is through the rice paddies, which is quite lovely. It takes about 2 hours to hike to the falls from the town.
Hike to the Hot Springs
If you’re looking for a place to interact with some locals, the natural hot springs in Hsipaw is a great place to relax and unwind. You can’t miss this while backpacking in Burma!
These mini temples in Hsipaw resemble those of Bagan.
Where to Stay
Red Dragon Hotel
For $15 a night, this hotel was pretty decent! Their breakfast on the rooftop was delicious, their showers were powerful and hot, and the beds were comfortable. Such a treat while backpacking in Myanmar!
Train from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin: $3, 7 hours
This is one of the most beautiful train rides in the world, and a must-do. The train, which is over 100 years old, passes over the Gotyiek Viaduct, a 200 meter high bridge. It passes over a valley and is heart wrenching and exhilarating at the same time.
Pyin Oo Lwin
The blue lagoon is off the tourist’s radar. We were the only foreigners at the blue lagoon! Rent a cheap motorbike for 8,000 kyat a day from Grace II Hotel in town, they have the cheapest rates. The ride to the lagoon is spectacular and through the mountains. It’s free to enter the lagoon and park your motorbike. Make sure you trek up for about 20 minutes to find the turquoise pool!
Visit the Anisakan Falls
It’s a hike to these waterfalls, but well worth the visit. I recommend going in the early morning to avoid the heat and the crowds, and to have the waterfall virtually to yourself.
Inle Lake is a very touristy part of Myanmar, but beautiful none the less. It’s the second largest lake in Myanmar, and a wonderful place to come and relax for a few days. It’s also a final destination as a very popular trek in Myanmar, which begins in Kalaw. If you’re doing this trek, make sure you’re going with Sam’s Family. There are 4 cities boarding the lake. Visiting Inle Lake is a great way to learn about local villages in Myanmar.
Take a Boat Ride
It’s $15 for a boat in Lake Inle, and is the same price no matter how many people you have in it. You’ll pass villages on stilts and fisherman.
Visit the Markets
Hire a bicycle for the day and ride around Lake Inle, visiting the markets. There’s also a vineyard nearby, with $4 wine tasting and bread and cheese. It’s well worth the visit!
The towns below are east of Yangon. If you choose to stick to Inle Lake, Bagan, and Mandalay, then make sure you stop in the towns below on your way up north.
You can easily see the Golden Rock, which is said to be balanced from a single strand of hair from Buddha, on the same day that you arrive. There are a few hikes around the area, and is a nice place to spend a night or two before heading to Hpa-an.
One of the best things about Hpa-an is the chance to spend the night in a monastery. Visit Mount Zwegabin, a 4 hour hike up a mountain with beautiful views of the surrounding area. There are also stunning caves nearby, the Saddar Cave and Kawgun Cave. From here, you can head straight to Mandalay, or stop in Inle Lake on your way up north.
For you adventurers at heart, consider taking a trip to Indawgyi Lake. It’s a 24-48 hour train ride from Mandalay. Barely any foreigners visit this lake, which is the biggest lake in Myanmar. It’s an incredible place to see the true rural Burmese life. Spend your days kayaking on the lake or trekking through the nearby mountains with a guide. There’s only one guesthouse here, but if it’s full when you arrive, there are plenty of options for home stays.
Purchase your Myanmar eVisa on their official government website for $50. It takes a few days to process, so make sure you’re planning ahead and leaving enough time to receive it. Print it out and bring it with you to Myanmar.
I’ve read multiple sources online that you needed an onward ticket in order to enter Myanmar. This is totally based on luck. I didn’t get asked for an onward ticket, but I know people who have.
One of my best pieces of advice for proof of onward travel is using FlyOnward. You simply enter your origin and the date you wish to “fly out,” pay $10, and you’ll have a real, onward ticket for 24 hours (you can pay more to rent one for 48 hours). Basically, the company purchases the flight ticket, and then works out the logistics of returning it for a full refund. All you have to do is pay $10!
I fell in love with Lahpet Thoke, which is a tea leaf salad. It’s raw tomatoes, garlic, fried beans, tea leaves soaked in oil, onions, chilis, and other delicious spices and herbs that make this an incredible snack. I also ate a lot of tomato salads covered in peanut sauce, and avocado salads.
Burmese Curries are also delicious. It’s rice, chicken or pork curry, beets, eggplant, and accompanying vegetable dishes. They usually give you between 5 and 10 different dishes, and refill it as you eat.
Fried rice and fried noodles are very popular in Burma. If you order the soup, make sure you’re sharing it with someone! Tom Yam and Thai Soup is very popular in Burma, and they’ll bring out an entire pot of it for you to enjoy.
Mohinga is another popular Burmese dish, which is a bowl of rice noodles with deep fried fritters in a fish based soup.
Burma is predominately Buddhist. Touching someone’s head is considered to be disrespectful, and it’s expected that you remove your shoes before entering any temple or private dwelling. “Mingalaba” is the standard greeting in Burma, you’ll get warm smiles after saying this!
I budgeted between $25-30/ day in Myanmar. My biggest expense was accommodation and long haul transport. Accommodation was between $6-$15/night (the rooms were split between two people, so $15 each). Food is incredibly cheap, prices range from $1-5 per meal. Beer is around $2 for a big delicious bottle of Myanmar beer.
You can go backpacking in Myanmar for as little as $10/day if you hitchhike, sleep in tents, and avoid tourist traps. Eat the local food, try not to move around too much (taking a lot of buses adds up quickly), and choose to travel by train when you have the chance.
Myanmar is one of the more expensive countries in Southeast Asia, but worth every penny. Get there before tourism changes it!
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