Mandalay – Bagan – Inle Lake – Ngapali Beach (15 days/ 14 nights)
Day 1: Mandalay
Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar. Boasting its rich cultural heritage, the city offers a unique representation of a Buddhist city with its conservative culture and traditional art. Mandalay was the last capital (1860–1885) of the last independent Burmese Kingdom before annexation by the British after the Third Anglo-Burmese War in 1885.
From the airport, if you wish, stop at the lovely village of Paleik, also called ‘the little Ava’. Visit the snake temple, home of several impressive pythons. Take a walk to this countryside village before driving toward Mandalay.
On the way, visit Mahamuni Temple – the most revered pagoda in Mandalay which houses a huge bronze Buddha image covered in thick layers of gold, one of the three holiest places in Myanmar. It is often crowded with pious devotees from all over the country.
Mandalay is also a center for arts and crafts. Here you will visit a gold leaf making workshop, where 24k gold is transformed into super thin gold leaves using only precise hammer blows, a technique which even the most modern hi-tech equipment cannot replicate. Walk down the marble carving street, where thousands of Buddha images are carved.
In the late afternoon, visit the Golden Palace Monastery, the best known wooden monastery in the country, famous for its intricate carvings. It is the only original building from Mandalay Palace having miraculously survived the bombings of WWII. Kuthodaw Pagoda is known as the biggest book in the world with hundreds of marble slabs inscribed with the entire Buddhist Canon.
At sunset time, a short car ride will take you to the top of Yankin Hill. Crowned with a quiet monastery, the location offers fantastic views of Mandalay city, fields and farmland surrounding the city. A very mystical moment far from the tourist crowd.
Day 2: Mandalay and the Ancient Capitals
Optional: Balloon Flight Over Mandalay. Mandalay is the second largest city in Myanmar and is the center of the Burmese culture. See the Royal City from up high, gliding in the basket of a hot air balloon. Starting in 2016, Balloon Flights allow visitors to see the Royal Palace complex and it’s moat, Mandalay Hill, the ancient capitals of Amarapura and the famous U-Bein bridge in the distance, long lines of saffron robed monks canvassing neighborhoods for the morning Alm-Giving, the busy life of the city as well as river activity on the Ayeyarwaddy. Discover hidden treasures that can only be seen from above with an exhilarating and exclusive flight : the best way to start a day of visit in Mandalay. A glass of sparkling wine after landing completes the surreal experience.
This morning, cross the bridge and drive to Sagaing Hills, dotted with pagodas and over 500 monasteries, it is a famous place for a retreat for Buddhist devotees. It is home to around 3,000 monks and nearly 100 meditation shrines. You’ll visit pagodas such as Swan Oo Pon Nya Shin, U Min Thone Sae and Shwe Taung Oo Maw.
Then, cross a small river and continue to Ava (which was the Royal Capital for almost 5 centuries, from the 14th through the 18th). The visit is done by pony cart; you will see Maha Aungmye Bonzan monastery, Nan Myint Watch tower (also called “the leaning tower of Ava“) and the very famous Bagaya teak wood monastery.
This afternoon before the sunset, you may visit the traditional cotton and silk weavers whose ancestors used to weave magnificent robes for the royalty. The weaving of silk longyis is so intricate and colorful that they can only complete an inch a day, it is truly amazing.
At sunset, visit the most picturesque U Bein Bridge on Taungthaman Lake, a half-mile long teak walkway also known as the longest teak bridge in the world.
Optional: Sunset Boat with Cocktails and Snacks. At sunset, visit the most picturesque U Bein Bridge. Enjoy an exclusive boat ride with cocktails and snacks on board.
Then return back to Mandalay.
Day 3: Mandalay to Bagan by boat – Day Cruise
Depart Mandalay on a memorable river journey down the Ayeyarwaddy to Bagan. This day cruise provides an opportunity to see one of the most interesting areas in Myanmar whilst relaxing on board. The boat is appointed with comfortable settings; it’s a great way to relax and enjoy spectacular views of historical monuments and the locals going about their daily lives.The perfect way to enjoy a day of sailing on the impressive Irrawaddy.
Upon arrival in Bagan, transfer to your hotel for the night.
Day 4: Bagan
The Bagan archaeological zone is one of the richest historical sites in Asia and the main tourist attraction in Myanmar. It is considered by archaeologists, historians and photographers alike as one of Asia’s holiest cities along with Varanasi in India and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It displays the greatest collection of Buddhist sculptures, lavishly decorated monuments : temples and pagodas decorated with mural paintings and plaster carvings from the 11th to 13th centuries. During its Golden Age, in the 12th century, Bagan was known as “the City of Four Million Pagodas”. While Kublai Khan and several massive earthquakes have reduced that number drastically, what remains is quite incredible.
We will visit the principal pagodas including: Shwezigon Pagoda, the first monument built in pure Myanmar style, a prototype for later pagodas, is one of the oldest and loveliest temples and remains an important place of devotion for the Burmese; Ananda Temple, a masterpiece of the early style temple architecture. Built in 1066, the gilded and whitewashed Ananda is among the most elegant temples, with delicate decorations. Visit Gubyaukgyi Temple, strongly influenced by the Indian culture; the great Dammayangyi and the impressive Htinlomilo.
Go for a pony cart tour among the temples before sunset. This evening, ascend to the top of an elevated location, watch the sun sink into distant hills and experience peaceful, tranquil moments and the indescribable magical power of Bagan.
Day 5: Bagan: villages and lacqueware discovery, sunset cruise
Optional: Balloon Flight Over Bagan. While a visit to the Bagan archaeological zone is a must for any visitor to Myanmar, the Royal Way to see the temples and pagodas is without a doubt by taking a hot air balloon flight. Passengers get picked up at dawn from their hotel and are ferried to the departure site, offered a cup of coffee or tea and snacks before a short briefing on the day’s flight. The view from above is breathtaking as the Bagan plain reveals all of it’s treasures. The immensity of the site takes its full meaning as you glide over more than 4000 temples, pagodas and stupas. After a 40 minutes flight, the ground crew meets the passengers at the landing point and offer a glass of champagne before returning, exhilarated, to the hotel for the breakfast proper.
This morning after breakfast, visit to the vibrant Nyaung Oo Market, where the locals gather to sell their fresh product.
Then, we will take you to several hidden villages, to learn more about the village life of the inhabitants of Bagan. Discover their unbelievable handicraft and the agriculture methods that they have been using from generation to generation. You will have many opportunities to interact and exchange with the people from Bagan; a real human experience that will remain in your memory forever.
Bagan is also famous as the centre of Myanmar’s thriving lacquerware industry. In the afternoon, the tour includes a stop at a local lacquerware workshop to watch the skilled artisans at work on the various stages of production.
This evening you will enjoy a sunset cruise on the mighty Ayeyarwaddy river that will provide you with different views of the amazing archaeological sites as well as a glimpse of the local people going about their daily lives as the sun goes down.
Day 6: Bagan – Heho – Inle Lake (Flight)
Transfer to the airport for the flight to Heho, the gateway to the Southern Shan State. Upon arrival, an hour drive to Nyaungshwe followed by one hour boat transfer to your hotel at Inle Lake. Natural and unpolluted, famous for its scenic beauty and the unique leg-rowing of the Inthas; the native lake dwellers, Inle Lake is a hidden spot of scenic beauty.
The different tribes living in the nearby mountains gather in town to meet and sell their fresh product. Visit the town market and a couple of famous pagodas before continuing to Inle Lake, a world’s hidden spot of scenic beauty.
You have the rest of the day for explorations of the lake and environs by longtail boat. View the traditional lifestyle of the inhabitants of the area, the Inthar, best known for their unique leg-rowing technique and peculiar cultivation of floating gardens.
Visit Nga Hpe Chaung Monastery, which houses plenty of early Shan Buddha images. In the past this temple was known for its ‘jumping cats’ but these days there are only a few felines walking and playing around. But none of them are jumping anymore.
Other highlights today, in addition to the beautiful mountain scenery that surrounds you, include a visit to the venerable Phaung Daw U Pagoda, the holiest place in the southern Shan State.
The Inthar and their unique fishing method, the floating gardens and villages, the friendly hill tribe people will leave you a lifetime of memories.
Day 7: Inle Lake – Excursion to Indein
Optional: Balloon Flight Over Inle Lake. Your journey commences with an early morning flight over Inle Lake, home of the Inthar people. The pilots carefully use their knowledge of the winds to steer the balloon over the floating villages and water gardens. Breakfast is taken either on your special retriever boat in the middle of the lake or next to one of the beautiful Shan villages wherever we land. To fly over the lake in a balloon, has to be one of the most beautiful ways to experience one of Myanmar’s most scenic and cultural attractions.
Today, spend a full day aboard a boat exploring the breathtaking lake, surrounded on both sides by high hills. You will have a chance to visit the market, which is held once in every five days. Its location rotates between the lake’s villages in a 5 day schedule, and is one of the best opportunities to see hill tribe people coming down to sell their products and to buy provisions.
Situated on the western shore of the lake, the Pa-oh Indein temple complex is often referred to as a mini Angkor. After a short and pleasant walk through a bamboo forest, the mysterious monuments appear, some still covered in vegetation. The internal wall of the ruins, dating back to 1054 AD and nearby shrines will take you back in time and make you feel like explorers.
In the afternoon, visit Impawkhone, a silk weaving village, a traditional blacksmith workshop, a cheroot (the Burmese cigars) making workshop and surrounding villages. Return to the hotel in the evening.
Day 8: Inle Lake – Excursion to Sagar
This morning venture south to Sagar village, accessed via a delightful three-hour boat ride. This journey affords a mesmerizing immersion in the tranquil natural habitat of the lake, which teems with migratory birds. The hazy Blue Mountain range encircles the lake, which is ringed by traditional thatched huts of the local Inthar. The impressive ruins of Sagar lie on the banks of the Beluo Chaung River. This collection of ancient Buddhist stupas and nat shrines dates to the 1600s. The area hosts complex irrigation systems, which helped Sagar to flourish in the late Middle Ages. This hidden village rarely sees a foreign visitor. It’s the kind of beyond-the-ordinary experience that really sets this journey apart.
Exploring their villages and interacting with the graceful, welcoming locals will afford a glimpse into a way of life that has existed for hundreds of years on the Shan Plateau. It is a rare privilege to experience their traditional way of life, as if one were allowed to go back in time.
Note: Sagar has a distinctive dry and rainy season which can affect the suggested itinerary. From approximately June to September, the rain can be heavy and thus the pottery workshops are closed. As well, at this time, thick vegetation on the water can cause blockages in the narrow passages leading to the village preventing boats from reaching all villages. When the water levels drop there may also be some places mentioned that are inaccessible. Should any of these occur, visits to alternate villages in the area will be substituted.
Day 9: Inle Lake – Ngapali Beach
This morning, you’ll be transferred to Heho and will take a short flight to Thandwe before reaching Ngapali Beach, one of the few of its kind in Asia not over developed by the needs of mass-market tourism.
Just relax and enjoy paradise.
Days 10 to 12: Ngapali Beach
These next days, just relax and enjoy the beach. Or perhaps wander and explore the nearby village on your own.
Day 13: Ngapali – Yangon flight
Take your flight back to Yangon. Explore the commercial capital Yangon, the largest city in Myanmar with a population of over 5 million. Its tree lined wide avenues, shady green parks and beautiful lakes give Yangon the reputation of one of the most charming and lively cities in Asia.
The orientation tour of Yangon includes the Sule Pagoda, quite unusual in that its octagonal shape extends right up to the bell and inverted bowl, City Hall and the colonial buildings. Visit Chaukhtatkyi Pagoda – which houses a spectacular 70 meters long reclining Buddha. Make a photo stop at the distinctive Karaweik Hall a reproduction of the Royal Barge on Kandawgyi Royal Lake; and enjoy a spectacular view on Shwedagon Pagoda.
For sunset, visit the marvelous Shwedagon Pagoda, the glistening golden stupa that towers over the metropolis, one of the wonders of the world. It is the spiritual centre of the country. Witness the colors transform on the 100-meter chedi which is enclosed in over 40 tons of gold leaf. This moment will be for sure an unforgettable experience.
Optional: Oil lamp Ceremony at Shwedagon Pagoda
Live an experience unique in the world in a very spiritual place. For sunset, you will visit Shwedagon Pagoda and participate in a special event: an oil lamp ceremony organized for you and only for you. This is a perfect opportunity to learn about the Buddhist culture, taking an important place in the daily life in Myanmar. 1,000 oil lamps are waiting for you to be lit. Both visually and spiritually stunning, this is an event that will for sure stay in your memory for ever.
Day 14 – Yangon
A morning in Yangon like a local. Today, you will be immersed to the ‘real’ Yangon with a fascinating morning excursion “like a local”, through the city and its suburbs. Start with a ride on the ‘Circular Train’, a famous transportation in Yangon. Enjoy watching the busy morning activities on the train: the locals go to work and the sellers show their fresh goods. (Train ride is 20-30 minutes; basic carriage with no air conditioning). Jump off at one of the stations and take a ride on a trishaw (the most famous local transportation in Myanmar), through a local neighborhood. Visit nearby colorful markets to see fresh goods such as bananas and coconuts being sold as well as fresh fish, vegetables and other staple items. It’s then time to take a break- with the locals! Sit at a tea shop, sip on sweet tea or coffee and taste a variety of traditional Myanmar snacks.
Optional: Farewell dinner at Le Planteur Tonight, you are invited to a farewell dinner at the famous Le Planteur restaurant. With it’s prime location on the shore of Inya Lake, not far from Aung San Suu Kyi’s house, and the elegant atmosphere of a continental restaurant, you are sitting at one of the best tables in Yangon. Fine wines of the world will accompany your delicious and very special last meal in Myanmar, at Le Planteur.
Day 15 – Yangon (Departure)
Depending on your departure flight, visit to one of Yangon’s fabulous bazaars- an endless jumble of color, clamor, heady aromas and contraband goods. The Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market) has an enormous array of handicraft and arts goods.
This will be a wonderful opportunity to pick up some souvenirs to bring home. If shopping doesn’t tickle your fancy, you can head out to Chinatown and check out that busy part of town or take a stroll along the waterfront to see well preserved colonial buildings or simply stop at a tea shop and mingle with the locals.