Burma – Beyond the Tourist Trail
Burma – Beyond the Tourist Trail
Isolated for decades, Burma holds a wealth of cultural and historical treasures, and this trip spends time exploring its rich heritage and culture. Our tour covers the main highlights of the country but also includes some hidden gems and areas that rarely see Western tourists. From chaotic and charming Yangon, where we take a spiritual Shwedagon tour, to the Shan villages, local schools, and the grave of the first prince of Hsipaw, this tour really goes beyond the tourist trail. You have the chance to go trekking to the hill tribe villages in Kyaukme and take a spectacular train crossing over the mighty Gokteik Viaduct. Add in a cycle tour of Mandalay and a visit to a conservation project for retired elephants run by locals around Kalaw, and you can see why this tour is so different. A highlight for most travellers will be left until near the end of this trip. Bagan is one of the most spectacular sites in Asia, a vast collection of ancient temples which rise out of the dusty plains next to the Ayeyarwaddy and make for superb exploration. Burma is one of the most stunning parts of Asia.
Fitness ●●●●○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●○○○
- A visit to the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda
- Getting off the beaten track in Shan state
- Stay at a local home with Burmese people
- Travel like a local – travel on the train and bus
- Includes a spectacular train journey over the Gokteik Viaduct
Accommodation: Mix of hotels and a stay in a local hill tribe village house
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Yangon
End Point: Yangon
Transport: Private cars, local bus, train, bikes, boat, scheduled flights
Tour itinerary notes
While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.
Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour. In the event of a small group of less than 3 people, you will be allocated a local guide at each location, and will not have the same guide with you throughout the tour.
Day 1 - Yangon
Arrive in Yangon and transfer to your hotel. The rest of the day is free to relax or explore. Overnight at Hotel 51 or similar.
Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is a delightfully ramshackle city. Founded in the 18th century and becoming an important port it was destroyed by fire and then again suffered during the Second Anglo-Burmese War in the 19th century. Much of downtown Yangon hosts a splendid array of colonial style architecture dating back to the British occupation, including the wonderfully picturesque City Hall and the High Court. Many streets are thronged with people buying from the numerous stalls set up alongside the pavements, selling everything from fried insects to engine parts. Central Yangon contains the wonderfully gaudy Sule Pagoda, an ancient structure in the middle of a busy intersection, which gives a great picture of how Myanmar melds ancient spirituality and modern day commercial interests. The jewel in Yangon’s crown is however the Shwedagon Pagoda, a collection of stupas encrusted in gold which attracts pilgrims from all over Myanmar, and is said to contain hairs from Buddha. Containing numerous images of nats (spirits) and Buddha himself, Shwedagon is immensely important for the Burmese people, and is where Aung San Suu Kyi addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands demanding democracy from the military regime.
Day 2 - Yangon
This morning we visit the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda. You will learn about the history of the pagoda, the daily lives of the people living in the immediate surroundings and a deeper insight into the Buddhist religion and how the spiritual belief is mixed with the belief in nats – the Myanmar spirits. Pass workshops, markets and monasteries along the way. The tour includes a traditional Burmese breakfast, offerings to monks and the pagoda, and a visit to a fortune teller. The afternoon is free to discover downtown Yangon with all its heritage buildings on your own. You may wish to revisit Shwedagon in the evening to see this magnificent pagoda illuminated in all its glory. Overnight at Hotel 51 or similar (B)
Day 3 - Yangon to Lashio and Hsipaw
This morning transfer to Yangon airport for a flight to Lashio. We then travel by road to Hsipaw. On arrival set off on a guided walk (approximately 4 hours) through panoramic scenery with paddy fields and seasonal crops, small creeks, Shan villages, local schools (we will hopefully get an opportunity to visit a school), the grave of the first prince of Hsipaw, a local nunnery, and a wooden monastery. Learn about Shan life and see and witness first hand traditional industries like cheroot (cigar) rolling and bamboo weaving. Overnight at Tai House Hotel or similar (B)
Day 4 - Dokthawaddy River trip
This morning travel by boat along the Dokthawaddy River through beautiful mountain scenery. As we cruise at a leisurely pace you will be able to witness traditional village life from the water in this fascinating part of Myanmar. After the boat ride we take a short walk for about an hour to visit a 150-year-old Shan monastery in the forest. There is time for swimming (optional) at the river confluence before returning to Hsipaw for an afternoon at leisure. Overnight at Tai House Hotel or similar (B)
Day 5 - Kyaukme and Trekking
Early this morning we take a local bus from opposite the impressive post office. Stopping at local villages the bus journey is a great opportunity to interact with local people. Along with the locals themselves expect to be surrounded by (or sit on top of) vegetables, rice and anything else you can imagine! After a couple of hours, we arrive in Kyaukme. We then start the day’s walk (approximately 6 hours) in the mountains surrounding Kyaukme. During the trek, well get a good insight into the life of the Palaung people living in the area. We have lunch in one of the Palaung villages where people live according to century old traditions. Overnight at a local hill tribe village house. (Sleeping bag, mosquito net and mattress provided). (BLD)
Optional: People who choose not to go on the trek can stay at the One Love Hotel in Kyaukme (see day 6) – please advise us when booking. Any day excursions and meals will need to be booked and paid for locally.
Trekking in Kyaukme
Although the majority of the trek is relatively flat, the terrain is mildly rough, and some parts of the trekking are uphill and can be strenuous. At certain points of the trek, particularly in the mountains, the path is only wide enough for one person. Total walking time is approx. 6 hours.
An overnight bag is required, and the remainder of your luggage will be kept at the One Love Hotel in Kyaukme.
Day 6 - Kyaukme trekking
We spend the day walking amongst the hill tribe villages around Kyaukme. A simple lunch will be served at a local house in the village. Late in the afternoon we will head back to the hotel in Kyaukme. Overnight at the One Love Hotel or similar (BL)
Day 7 - Kyaukme to Pyin Oo Lwin and Mandalay
This morning we have some free time to explore the town with its colonial buildings and the busy and colourful market. Later we take a spectacular train journey crossing the mighty Gokteik Viaduct, once the second highest railway bridge in the world. The train leaves at 1105 and you will need to leave enough time to make sure you are at the Kyaukme train station which is about a 10-minute walk from the guesthouse. Staff from the guesthouse will walk with you and give you your train ticket. If you prefer not to walk you can hire a motorbike taxi with trailer. Against a backdrop of mountain scenery, the train will pass small villages and towns where vendors will board the train to sell drinks and local snacks. We should arrive in Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo) – the former summer capital for the British colonial administration- around 4pm but be prepared for some delays. On arrival we will continue by private car to Mandalay. Overnight at Emerald Land Hotel or similar. (B)
Tip: Visit the Kyaukme market in the morning and buy water, biscuits and bananas for your lunch on the train today. Please note that although the train has hard wooden seats, you may find yourself in the ‘first class’ carriage due to the insistence of local train staff, which has soft seats.
Day 8 – Mandalay explored by bike
This morning we explore Mandalay by bike. The ride starts in the back lanes of town, passing markets and through lively neighbourhoods heading for the north east of the city. After a short ride we find ourselves in the true countryside where farmers tend to their fields, and villagers go about their daily rituals, often stopping to wave as we pass by. We make some interesting stops, first at a market to learn about the different produce on sale, and then to see bamboo being woven which is used to construct everything from roofs and walls to fans. We take a walk through a typical central Myanmar village and learn about their way of life and their different crops. On our way back to town we stop at a tea shop for a refreshing drink and snacks. We return from our ride around noon and take you by motorbike back to the hotel. Please note: you should wear clothing suitable for this activity: quarter length pants, shorts, t-shirts are all advisable, as are comfortable closed shoes. Sunscreen and hat are a must. In the afternoon visit the famous Mahagandayon Monastery complex with hundreds of monks, a 100-year-old weaving vocational training institution and watch the sunset from the charming U-Bein Bridge, and taste a sip of Mandalay rum which has been produced since 1886. Overnight at Emerald Land Hotel or similar (B)
Day 9 – Mandalay to Bagan
This morning we take the public bus to Bagan where we arrive at lunchtime and transfer to the hotel. This afternoon, enjoy a sightseeing tour with a guide who will show you the best known temples of the area. We start by climbing a pagoda to get a first impressive view over the whole plain. From here the guide plans his way to some of the other impressive temples that have been here for hundreds of years. Places like the Ananda, Dhammayangyi and Thatbyinnyu will certainly impress you. Overnight at Thande Nyaung U or similar (B)
Day 10 – Explore Bagan
Today is a free day in Bagan to discover its delights at your own pace. You can rent a horse cart, a bicycle or an electric bike or if you book early enough (at least 6 months is a good guide) you may be able to take a spectacular early morning balloon ride over the Bagan plain. Overnight at Thande Nyaung U or similar (B)
Day 11 - Bagan to Kalaw
This morning we have a long drive (around 6 hours) to an elephant conservation project near Kalaw. If time allows after the journey, we will take a wonderfully peaceful walk in the forest before encountering the elephants and their mahouts. The project was started by local school friends with a focus on protecting the local environment, elephants and the traditions of local people living in the area. The project includes a natural environment for retired working Asian elephants and helps the local population through education and micro finance. We will learn about the elephants and have time to help wash them in the river and feed them in beautiful surroundings. We will also have lunch at the project in its perfect natural setting before continuing on to Kalaw. Overnight at the Dream villa hotel or similar (B)
Day 12 - Kalaw to Inle Lake
This morning, transfer to Inle Lake. Before arriving at the lake we visit a recently set up vineyard, one of only a couple in the whole country. We visit the ruins of Indein, partly covered by vegetation and which until recently lay undiscovered. If time allows we will take a short walk to enjoy a fantastic view over the lake and visit a school in Tha Ley village. A home-made cooked lunch will be served in a local house. We continue towards the Nam Pan village for a very interesting trip by small canoe exploring the side channels and observing village life. Overnight at Hupin Kaung Dine Hotel or similar (BL)
Day 13 - Inle Lake
Enjoy a full day exploring this magical lake by boat. We discover its natural beauty, visit the floating gardens, see some of the famous leg rowing fishermen, and have a cup of tea at a local home. Around the lake, traditional markets are held in different villages according to a 5-day rotating schedule. Today we visit one of these colourful markets frequented by Shan and PaO people. We also visit a local cheroot factory (where Burmese cigars are made), floating tomato gardens, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Intha Heritage house - where Burmese cats are bred - and if there is time a weaving factory. Overnight at Hupin Kaung Dine Hotel or similar (BL)
Day 14 - Inle Lake via Heho to Yangon
This morning, transfer to Heho airport for a flight back to Yangon and on arrival transfer to the hotel. The rest of your day is free in Yangon. Overnight at Hotel 51 or similar (B)
Day 15 - Yangon Departure
Transfer to the airport for your homeward flight. (B)
Optional Extension to Ngapali Beach 4 Days/3 Nights
(Not available as an extension in the wet season May – October)
Day 14 – Inle Lake – Heho – Thandwe (Ngapali Beach)
Transfer to Heho airport for a flight to Thandwe for Ngapali Beach. On arrival transfer to the hotel. Overnight at Linn Thar Oo Lodge or similar (B)
Day 15-16 – Ngapali Beach
Spent the next 2 days at leisure at Ngapali Beach. Overnight at Linn Thar Oo Lodge or similar (B)
Day 17 – Ngapali Beach – Yangon
Transfer to Thandwe airport for your flight back to Yangon. On arrival you will be transferred to your hotel. Time at leisure. Overnight at Aung Tha Pyay hotel or similar (B)
Day 18 – Depart Yangon
Transfer to the airport for your departure flight (B)
Optional Cultural/Historical Extension to Mon/Kayin 5 Days/4 Nights
Day 15 – Yangon – Golden Rock
This morning we depart Yangon and visit the war cemetery in Taukkyan where thousands of prisoners of war who worked on the death railway in Kayin and Mon state are commemorated. Continue to Kyaiktiyo where we shall visit the Golden Rock pagoda, balanced on the edge of a mountain, and one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Burma. Over the years the rock has been totally covered with gold leaf. Overnight Golden Sunrise Hotel or similar (B)
The Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo is one of the most sacred, must-see sights in Burma. The huge, gold-leaf boulder balances precariously above you on the edge of a cliff. Topped with its glittering stupa, it is believed to house a single Buddha hair that maintains its equilibrium.
Day 16 – Golden Rock – Hpa An
An early start today as we travel to Hpa An. Today we travel by kayak and on foot through typical Kayin scenery and traditional villages. In one of the villages we will take a leisurely walk to see how local people live and work. We have a traditional home cooked lunch in a local house and then continue by kayak to Saddar Cave where we explore. Overnight at Hotel Thanlwin Paradise or similar (BL)
Please note: as the creeks in this rural region are quite shallow we use small kayaks to travel around which means that you could get wet – sandals, shorts and a t-shirt are recommended and of course a hat. We are supporting local communities in this off the beaten track region and therefore you will be accompanied by local people who have limited English skills but love their area and will lead you through their community with pride.
Mon and Kayin State
The more remote areas of Mon State and Kayin State are undiscovered areas of Myanmar offering spectacular nature and intriguing tribal culture dating back for many, many centuries in the history of South East Asia. The Mon are believed to be one of the first civilisations in this part of the world. Although their kingdom was lost to the Bagan king in the 11th century, their rich culture can still be seen in daily life with their specific sarongs, traditional food, language and music instruments. The Kayin (also known as Karen) are one of the indigenous tribes of the jungle known for their traditional boxing skills. Kayin is a state of beautiful, natural scenery rich with traditional villages and waterways surrounded by spectacular limestone mountains.
Day 17 – Hpa An – Cruise on the Thanlwin River and Mawlamyine
We board a private board boat for a cruise on the Thanlwin (Salween) River – one of the longest rivers in Myanmar ending in Mon State. As the river is quite narrow we have fantastic views of life on the river banks. We stop in Pa Lin village for a walk around the community which is home to Kayin, Shan, Mon, Bamar and PaO people. Continue along the river and stop at a small jetty in U Na Auk village from where we take a tuk tuk to visit the amazing carvings and decorations of the temples and ordination hall donated to the village by Mr Na Auk; a successful Mon trader during the British period and whose story is taught in modern schoolbooks. On arrival in the city of Mawlamyine we visit a local house where you will enjoy a home cooked lunch of Mon specialities. This afternoon we visit the Mon Museum which has some interesting displays of Mon culture. We walk around the area with impressive buildings from colonial times when writers like Orwell and Kipling lived in the city and we visit the first Baptist church. Finally today we visit the Seindon Mibaya Monastery with its exquisite wood carvings. Return to Hpa An for the evening. Overnight at Hotel Thanlwin Paradise or similar (BL)
Day 18 – Hpa An – Bago – Train to Yangon
We journey back north passing through rural villages and towns of Mon and Kayin State. Just after leaving Hpa An visit Kawgun cave. The artwork of clay Buddha statues dates back from the 7th century, the period of the Mon kingdom. After about 3 hours we stop for a visit at the former Royal Palace I Bago. From Bago we continue by train back to Yangon, a great way to take in the scenery. On arrival at Yangon station transfer to the hotel. Overnight at Aung Tha Pyay or similar (B)
Day 19 – Depart Yangon
Transfer to the airport for your international flight (B)
Arrival and departure transfers
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader where mentioned
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary
Any airport taxes