Tourists receive a four-week visa to Myanmar. That is a long time – longer than most people have for a trip, and you can see plenty.
It’s not enough to see the whole country – Myanmar is the biggest country in SE Asia, but knowing what to see is pretty straightforward – there is a tourist route that almost everyone sticks to, and as we learned, trying to deviate from the route is not so easy.
We went during the monsoon season – low season effectively. The weather was fine – in fact, if I were to ask my kids if our trip was badly effected by rain, their answer would be “what rain?”. We had some, mainly in the late afternoons, and probably two out of 26 days could be called really rainy. The upside was excellent prices at hotels, and very few other tourists, anywhere.
We loved the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon – an unmissable site.
Bagan – one of the greatest archeological sites in the world. I am an archaeologist by training, and I make it my business to see as many archaeological sites as possible when I travel. Bagan is up there in the top five that I have ever seen.
Inle – we had a great time here – it’srelaxed and lots of fun. We loved the boat ride to Sankar, and we thought Kakku was incredible. Just traveling around on the lake itself is a great experience.
Mandalay – ranks lower than the first three. It is on nearly every itinerary and the surrounding sites are very interesting, and we had a very good time here. But one wouldn’t make a special trip to Myanmar to only see Mandalay or the surrounds.
Kengtung – spectacular landscape and wonderful hiking – but we would have preferred more control over our itinerary. Whatever you think you’re going to be seeing here isn’t necessarily so – it’s all up to local government when you get there as to what they will let you see, and what they won’t. For those with the extra time and money required, it’s a great stop.
Hsipaw – we really had a good time here. Nothing essential to see or do – just an opportunity to hang out in a small town, get to meet the people and take some good hikes. It’s a great way just to get a feel of Myanmar.
Monywa – I thought the surrounding sights were excellent – great non touristy sites hidden away off the beaten track. Less than a day’s journey from either Mandalay or Bagan – I’d suggest it to anybody who has the extra time.
Pyin oo Lwin – the botanical gardens were excellent, but one night max! You don’t even have to sleep over – it’s an easy day trip from Mandalay.
What we missed:
We intentionally missed the southern part of the country and the coast – both areas receive a huge amount of rain in the monsoon and it made no sense for us to go there. So, we missed Golden Rock and Moulmein, as well as Hpa-an and the coastal resorts. These are the places we will go back to next time, during the dry season.
Serious Trekking – we did some short day hikes in the Hsipaw and Kengtung areas – it was fun, though wet and muddy! We did not consider the popular hike from Kalaw to Inle – a couple of days of wading through mud would not have been much fun.
Balloons over Bagan – this looks spectacular and while its very pricey, we may have wanted to do it. But, they don’t fly during the monsoon period.
Bottom Line: Travel during the monsoon worked out just fine. It did mean that we didn’t go to the South, but we would have run out of time anyway. I’d suggest to anyone looking for better prices and fewer tourists to go during the monsoon.
(PS: I am now custom-designing trips to Myanmar. For more details click here).