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Tips for Travelling to Myanmar

In September and October I spent 2 weeks travelling around Myanmar. This destination was a last minute decision, as the group tour to Azerbaijan & Iran that I had planned for that time frame was cancelled. Somehow I had never been that interested in going to Myanmar: with only one WHS so far, the ‘return on investment’ didn’t seem worth it. Also finding the right season was always a puzzle: too many tourists during the high season (November-February), too hot or too wet outside that period. In the end it was a rewarding trip. Weather-wise it was fine, only maybe a bit too cloudy for excellent photos. Find below my Top Tips for Travelling to Myanmar as a World Heritage Traveller.

Slow train to Hsipaw

1. Allow as much time as you can

Myanmar isn’t a small country: it is larger than Italy & Germany combined (or for readers from the US: slightly smaller than Texas). Most roads aren’t in a great condition and you’ll have to share them with motorbikes, oxcarts and pedestrians. So any travel will be slow. The e-Visa that is available to most tourists will allow 28 days in the country. If you have that much time to spare, I would say: go for it. I had to make suboptimal choices during the 2 weeks that I had available. From the ‘Big 4’ (Yangon, Inle, Mandalay, Bagan) I had to skip Inle Lake to make room for a detour to the slightly more off the beaten track Hsipaw.

2. Aim for Sri Ksetra to cover the Ancient Pyu Cities WHS

For my WHS ‘tick’ I travelled to Halin, located between Mandalay and Shwebo. Although it’s always ‘interesting’ to see a remote site in rural lands, I would not recommend Halin if you had the choice. It’s quite costly to reach and not that exciting to visit. Halin however is only one of the three inscribed locations. If you’re set to create a WH centered itinerary, I would focus on Sri Ksetra. This is the prime location among the Pyu Cities. It lies about half-way between Bagan and Yangon.

Ananda Temple in TWHS of Bagan

3. Use Mandalay as a primary base

Mandalay as a city gets mixed reviews: in some of the trip reports which I had been reading beforehand it was even suggested to skip it in favour of more time in Bagan. It is a ‘modern’ city, in the sense that it has broad streets made for cars and parades. With ca. 1 million inhabitants it’s huge, and as everywhere in the Burmese plains it gets hot. I did enjoy my stay here, and there’s so much to see and do in the surrounding area that it warrants at least 4 nights. Be aware though where you will be staying in Mandalay – I actually switched half-way because my B&B in the outskirts of town would have involved a 45 minute walk during the night to the train station. There weren’t many restaurants in the area either. I can recommend the efficient Yadanarbon Hotel in the city center.

4. Choose your TWHS wisely

Of the current T List, I would say that Bagan and the Wooden Shwekyaung Monastery in Mandalay are the biggest contenders for future WH status. They are easy to visit and would be part of any Myanmar route anyway. A nomination of Mrauk-U seems to be considered also. However I believe we will see one or more natural WHS from Myanmar coming our way during the next years. For example Twin Taung Lake or the Myeik Archipelago. These will take a lot more time and effort to fit in. Myanmar isn’t much of a nature destination at the moment.

Palaung lady in Shan State

5. Don't forget the non-(T)WHS

This tip applies of course to every country, but more so to Myanmar as its steps into the world of UNESCO World Heritage have just started. Though you can never see it all, configuring a trip to Myanmar solely around (T)WHS would be a waste. It would leave out for example Yangon (home to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the National Museum and some crumbling colonial architecture) and Hsipaw (with its ethnic minorities and spectacular access via the Goteik Viaduct). These were among the highlights of my stay.

Els - 31 October 2015

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meltwaterfalls 2 November 2015

Thanks so much for this Els. Myanmar has been ruminating in our minds for a little while and is looking like a real option for next year. This will come in even more useful than your normal info. Thanks.