Take in the sites of the 'Big Four' — Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon — as well as some hidden spots not normally on the tourist trail. In each destination, you will have a local guide who will share his or her town with you. Their passion is infectious: you will learn, laugh and love along the way and form a genuine connection with Myanmar culture.
Day 1: Arrival in Mandalay
Welcome to Myanmar! Upon landing at the Mandalay International Airport, your English-speaking guide and driver will be waiting to greet you and transfer you into the city.
After a chance to freshen up and relax at the hotel, head out late this afternoon for our first look at the royal capital. Take a stroll around the moat of Mandalay Palace to see the setting sun cast its last rays on the red-brick walls and Mandalay Hill then head to a Buddhist pagoda rarely visited by tourists.
Join the locals to buy offerings and, while walking around this serene site, get an introduction to Myanmar’s Buddhist culture. Then it’s off to dinner at a local restaurant or- if you are feeling adventurous- at one of the city’s famous barbecue shops.
Day 2: Mandalay- Countryside Biking & Nunnery Lunch- U Bein Sunset
This morning hop on bikes for an easy but scenic ride into the Mandalay countryside. We first cycle to the market, where locals come each morning to buy fresh produce, before continuing through the rice paddies and villages.
Around 11 we will reach a Buddhist nunnery where we will be treated to a very special lunch prepared by the nuns. This is a great chance to learn about Buddhism and the lives of the nuns. Afterwards, there may be time to stop in a Buddhist monastery to chat with monks who are studying English.
Hop in the car for the return journey to town. After a chance to freshen up at the hotel, visit Kuthodaw Pagoda, a collection of engraved marble slabs referred to as the ‘world's biggest book’ and Shwe Nandaw Kyaung, the last remaining building of the Royal Palace. Then drive to Amarapura, a small town that served as the royal capital in the 18th and 19th centuries. Along the way visit crafts workshops making gold leaf, marble carving and more. Early this evening reach the famous U Bein Bridge. This 1.2-kilometer structure is the world's longest teak bridge and spans the tranquil Thaung Tha Man Lake. Take a stroll along the bridge and enjoy a cold drink on the shores as the sun sets.
Day 3: Mandalay - Sagaing - Bagan
Pack your bags and check out of the hotel then drive across the Irrawaddy River to Sagaing, the Buddhist heart of Myanmar. If you wish, visit the morning market, another bustling and colorful place to rub elbows with the locals. Then head up Sagaing hill to see some of the 300 Buddhist monuments that fill the town. Returning down the hills we will stop at some atmospheric old ruins and continue to a special spot for a home-cooked picnic lunch.
Then it’s on to Bagan (drive time: 4 hours). The journey will take us through the heart of Myanmar’s ‘dry zone’ and will put us arriving in Bagan hopefully in time for sunset (fear not! You have two more nights to catch a sunset so no need to rush!)
Day 4: Bagan - Temple Exploration
Spend a full day exploring the temple plains, stopping in at famous monuments and some lesser-known sites. We will use bikes or electric bikes (like scooters) to cut through the smaller laneways and deliver a truly unforgettable experience. There are not enough words to describe the beauty of Bagan! If you wish, we can pop into a lacquerware workshop to see this labor-intensive craft being made by hand. This evening we head to a scenic spot to watch the sun set.
Day 5: Bagan - Cooking Class and cruising the Irrawaddy River
We start the morning with a cooking class with a dear friend of ours. She will join you at the local market and together you will shopping for ingredients for lunch. Then it's a short walk to her family home, getting a chance to see what life is like beyond Bagan's temple-filled plains.
Spend the morning cooking and chatting, learning about the local culture and culinary secrets of Myanmar. (Please note: this is a join-in activity so other guests will join but it is a maximum of six people so it is still a very intimate experience.)
After feasting on your dishes at lunch, we return to the hotel for a swim or siesta to skip the midday heat. Late this afternoon we head to the banks of the Irrawaddy River for a private sunset cruise with cocktails and local snacks. Enjoy watching scenes of life on the river and seeing the sun dip low in the sky.
Day 6: Bagan - Fly to Heho - Drive to Pindaya
It’s an early start this morning for a domestic flight to Heho. You will depart the dry zone and fly east to the Shan Hills, one of the most scenic parts of Myanmar. Upon landing your Shan local guide will be waiting to escort you to the car. We opt for a secondary road for the drive into Pindaya (drive time: 1.5 hours - 3 hours depending on breaks), stopping often for photos of the patchwork-quilt style farms and, if lucky, to meet with hill tribe farmers in their traditional dress.
We will reach Pindaya in time for a late lunch (note: not included. In case you are hungry, we will have plenty of fruit and snacks in the van as there are no restaurants on the way). Pindaya is a charming town inhabited by the Danu, Pa Oh and Shan ethnic groups.
After checking in we will head to the Pindaya Caves. These ancient limestone caverns are filled with thousands of Buddha statues and since most tourists go in the morning, we are likely to be the only ones there. Then head back to the hotel for dinner or out to a local restaurant.
Day 7: Full day Pindaya Trek - Drive to Kalaw
We lace up our hiking boots today (trainers are ok!) and head to the hills. If you have enjoyed your market visits thus far (and we bet you will!) then we can stop in the Pindaya market on the way to the trekking start point.
We then spend a full day walking through tea plantations, fruit farms, and small villages. There is no rush- we will stop often to chat to the locals and take photos. A simple but filling lunch will be served in a village or scenic spot.
We descend down a different path and reach Pindaya late this afternoon where our car is waiting to take us to Kalaw (1.5-hour drive). After checking into the hotel, the evening is free to explore at your leisure. (The guide will show you nearby restaurants and any other sites you may wish to visit.)
Day 8: Kalaw - A Day with Elephants
After breakfast this morning, you'll drive through the Shan Hills to the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp, a ‘retirement home’ for former logging elephants.
You will spend the day working with the mahouts (elephant caretakers), interacting with the elephants and learning more about these gentle giants. The elephants are not tamed like circus elephants. They are free to wander as they like but they love human company so you will likely get a lot of trunk-to-face time with them.
Aside from the elephants, the scenery at Green Hill Valley is simply stunning and there is plenty of time to just sit back and soak it all in. Return to Kalaw before sunset.
Day 9: Kalaw to Shwe Nyaung by train; drive to Nyaung Shwe
There is no need to jump out of bed early this morning; we have no specific plans until leaving for our train around 1 pm. You can sleep in or take a walk through the town’s streets and market. Or, if you wish, a half day trek into the scenic hills can be arranged.
After midday, board a slow-moving commuter train for a scenic trip to Shwe Nyaung. On board, mingle with locals and enjoy the passing sites of farms, hills, and small villages. Sample snacks purchased from the vendors who hop on and off the train as it ambles along.
Once reaching Shwe Nyaung, the vehicle will be waiting with the bags for the short drive to Nyaung Shwe- the gateway to Inle Lake. The guide will give a brief orientation tour as you drive in and then assist you with check in before an evening at leisure.
Day 10: Inle Lake - Full day Boat Trip
Take a short trishaw ride or walk to the Nyaung Shwe jetty where we board a private, wooden motorboat for a full day excursion on Inle Lake. Explore villages built on stilts and floating gardens, getting a chance to learn about the life and culture of the lake’s residents. Stop in at workshops making incredible hand-woven silks and fabrics created from the fibers of the lotus flower.
During the day, also visit Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda where you can join local devotees as they come to pay homage to this sacred site. If time allows, there will also be a stop at Nge Phe Chaung, a wooden monastery with a remarkable collection of Buddha images.
Day 11: Nyaung Shwe - Heho - Fly to Yangon
This morning is free at your leisure to explore Nyaung Shwe. There are plenty of great bike rides in the area or you may prefer to simply relax in one of the town's numerous cafes.
After lunch time, transfer to the Heho airport and fly to Yangon. Your guide will be waiting to greet you and transfer you to the hotel for check-in.
Day 12: Yangon - Discover the city by foot, by car and train
Set off for a full day exploring the former capital of Yangon with an expert local guide. There is no other city in Southeast Asia with such a rich blend of heritage, culture, and charm as Yangon.
We will explore the diversity of downtown with its colonial buildings, leafy side streets and bustling street markets. Pop into the famed Strand Hotel for a drink before returning to the riverside to check out the action along the Yangon River.
During the day we will also visit Sule Pagoda, the city’s tranquil lakes and stop for a delicious local lunch. This afternoon we hop on the city’s ‘circular train’, a commuter train that slowly moves around the city giving us plenty of opportunities to observe local ways of life.
Day 13: Yangon - A Spiritual Shwedagon Discovery
Spend an insightful morning in and around Myanmar’s most holy site: Shwedagon Pagoda. More than just a monument, this fabulous ‘insiders’ excursion will teach you about the beliefs of the Myanmar people and put you in touch with the culture. Make donations to monks, meet a fortune teller and much more as you walk around the pagoda and its surrounding neighborhood.
After lunch, the afternoon is free to explore on your own or do some last-minute shopping for souvenirs.
Day 14: Yangon - Departure
The morning is free at leisure until it is time to depart. Your driver (no guide) will collect you at your hotel and transfer you to the international airport for your onward flight.