Backpacking Myanmar 2019 - Tips & Itinerary from Yangon to Mandalay
Backpacking Routes,  Southeast Asia

Myanmar backpacking route (AKA Burma)

Myanmar, or Burma if you prefer, is a comparatively more difficult and frustrating backpacking destination when compared to its welcoming neighbours in Southeast Asia. However it also has a special charm that often grips first-time visitors. The country certainly offers a greater sense of stepping into the unknown than some of the increasingly samey backpacking towns and destinations in neighbouring Thailand.


TIME NEEDED – 3/4 WEEKS

It can be done in more or less time but travel in Myanmar is quite slow and unreliable so it is possible some days will be spent mostly on buses or trains (or waiting for them to show up). Therefore perhaps allow for a bit more time than you initially think.


POSSIBLE BUDGET – £500 | €575 | $650

These figures are calculated on February 2019 prices and exchange rates. Budget travel in Myanmar is more difficult than the rest of SE Asia but it’s still a fairly cheap country to visit. A possible shoestring budget for a backpacking trip in Myanmar might be in the region of $25 per day but could be done on slightly less or plenty more depending on your preferences. The figures above are based on staying in cheap places and travelling, eating and drinking like a proper shoestring traveller. It doesn’t include the cost of flights in or out of the country or a visa. 

Read more on the cost of travel in Myanmar.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

It’s highly advisable to get travel insurance before any form of overseas travel. SafetyWing is one company that offers affordable and well-reviewed travel insurance cover for backpacking trips.


VOLUNTEER IN MYANMAR

We can offer you a $10 discount to join Worldpackers, who have a host of work placements across Southeast Asia including some in Myanmar. You might also want to check out or list of useful travel websites for backpackers (not country-specific).


 Backpacking Myanmar – A 4 Week Itinerary

Planning a backpacking trip in Myanmar can be a difficult task as there is less information about it and budget travel facilities are nowhere near as widespread as what they are in Thailand for example. The Banana Pancake trail has yet to fully hit Myanmar and despite an influx of travellers it is unlikely to do so soon. Therefore for those sick of the whole youthful party scene, this will certainly be a welcome relief.


Yangon

backpacking Myanmar

Train in YangonCC BY 2.0

(3/4 days)

Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and main economic centre although it is no longer the capital. It’s a bustling city with impressive temple complexes and an affordable transport system and serves up an intoxicating introduction to Burmese life. British, Chinese and Indian influences are all clearly evident in a city with an intriguing past. It is the perfect place to start your time in Myanmar with highlights including numerous pagodas, religious sites as well as the home of Aung San Suu Kyi where she spent years under house arrest.


Getting from Yangon to Bago:

Buses from Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal go to Bago while all Mandalay bound trains stop here and it is only the equivalent of a couple of dollars or so for a ticket. If there is a group of you, consider hiring a taxi for the day (260km round-trip) as you will probably need one in Bago anyway as the sights are quite spread out.


Bago

(1 day)

Lots more pagodas and reclining Buddhas! You could do this as a day trip from Yangon or stay overnight. Either way you will need to head back to Yangon to continue your journey and catch the train north. If you’re not massively into the Buddhist/religious aspect then you could skip it altogether as Bagan is far more impressive.


Getting from Bago to Pyay:

First head back to Yangon which shouldn’t take long. It is 285 km from Yangon to Pyay but is a lengthy journey, most pleasant by train. Trains leave at 7:00am and 11:00am from Yangon Kyemyindine station and at 13:00 from the main station in Yangon (fastest option). It takes about 9-10 hours to get from Yangon to Pyay by train and around 7 by bus.


Pyay

(1/2 days)

It’s possible to take a night train from Yangon all the way to Bagan but it’s a long trip so you may wish to break it up by stopping in Pyay, a small town on the Ayeyarwady River halfway between the two. There’s not a great deal to see but that in a way is part of its appeal given the few parts of Myanmar that have opened up to tourism have done so in quite a big way. There’s little chance of you falling into tourist traps here because there aren’t any. This is a nice spot to grab a bike or hike and explore a rarely visited part of Myanmar.


Getting from Pyay to Bagan:

It is about a 10 hour bus journey from Pyay to Bagan with no train links. It is worth forking out a little extra for the only slightly more expensive air-con buses.


Bagan

Myanmar travel itinerary

Bagan pagodas, CC BY-SA 2.0

(3/4 days)

Perhaps the most iconic image of Myanmar. It has the largest and most extensive collection of Buddhist temples, pagodas and ruins in the world and is a truly incredible sight. As well as visiting the temples, you can witness monk and monkess initiation ceremonies and hire a boat out and explore the river. You can also do a day trip to nearby Mount Popa which is an extinct volcano but very green and a bit cooler than the hot plains that occupy much of the country.


Getting from Bagan to Inle Lake:

The trip from Bagan to Inle Lake is one that many travellers in Myanmar do although some do the country in the opposite direction and others go via Mandalay. Again there are no trains, so the buses are the best budget options. As of 2019, they cost in the region of $10-20 with various class options, taking 8-10 hours. It’s advisable to avoid the crowded minibuses and shuttle vans. There is some good info on the different options for getting between Bagan and Inle Lake (2019) here.


Inle Lake

(3 days)

This is another essential stop on almost every backpacking route in Myanmar. It’s quite touristy by Burmese standards here but is one of the four main travel highlights of Myanmar (along with Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan). It’s a 20 km long shallow lake and is home to many different tribes who live on the lake itself so it is a pretty unique place.

You can take a day tour of it although it’s advisable to try and speak with other travellers before booking one because some are major tourist traps where you are taken to a range of workshops/shops and repetitively encouraged to buy things.


Getting from Inle Lake to Hsipaw:

Another long journey here with daily AC buses taking 12-15 hours. They usually stop in Pyin u Lwin too so you could go there first and just take the train all the way from Hsipaw to Mandalay later on. There is info on doing this trip (in reverse) here.


Hsipaw

(2/3 days)

It is another long journey from Inle Lake to Hsipaw but in Myanmar you will soon get used to that! This town has one of the best markets in Myanmar and situated in a valley has some nice hiking opportunities. It is the start of one of the world’s most spectacular rail journeys down to Pyin u Lwin.


Getting from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin:

The train ride down is stunning and this is easily the most pleasant leg of this Burma backpacking route. At the time of research (February 2019), trains leave Hsipaw at 9:30am and arrive in Pyin Oo Lwin 3:55pm.


Pyin Oo Lwin

(2 days)

The train ride down from Hsipaw is the main highlight but Pyin Oo Lwin has plenty to offer too. From the town you can visit some of the local Shan villages and some spectacular waterfalls. The town itself has a weird British vibe with horse and carriages and colonial houses.


Getting from Pyin u Lwin to Mandalay:

Another very pleasant if frustratingly long train journey. Trains depart Pyin Oo Lwin at 4:40pm and take over 4 hours to roll into Mandalay, which is only 70 km away.

You can find excellent info on train travel in Burma via Seat61.


Mandalay

Burma backpacking route

Monks in Mandalay, CC BY 2.0

(2/3 days)

Mandalay is the natural concluding point to your backpacking route in Burma although it is very possible to do the trip in reverse and start from here. This is the Second City of Myanmar although there is not quite as much to do as in Yangon. The city does have the famous Royal Palace though and is known for its cultural diversity. It is also home to half of Burma’s monks.

Besides Yangon, this is where the only other remotely major international airport is and there are flights to Northern Thailand where you can continue your travels.


Check out our other Asia routes!


Myanmar Backpacking Tips

The Ethical Question – Should you even visit Myanmar?

For years Myanmar was run by a military junta with Aung San Suu Kyi, often under house arrest, painted as a Mandela-like figure who would one day bring democracy and hope to the people. To the surprise of many, that essentially happened in the mid 2010’s, which has contributed to it being easier to visit. However since then the awful persecution of the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority by the Myanmar military has stepped up with Aung San Suu Kyi and the government seemingly all too happy to tolerate it. It’s certainly an issue you need to be aware of and should read up on before deciding if Myanmar is a country you want to visit.

Getting to Myanmar

If you do decide to come and many backpackers certainly do, you will find getting into the country is a challenge in itself. Land border crossings are limited and movement is often restricted while there are few international airports. The easiest way in is to fly in to Yangon which you can do from many cities across Southeast Asia with Air Asia typically offering the widest choice of ‘cheap’ fares.

Getting from Mandalay to Northern Thailand

This is the most popular and obvious way to link a trip to Myanmar in with a longer stint backpacking in Southeast Asia. You can fly from Mandalay to Chiang Mai for about for around $150 with Bangkok Airways at the time of research and it may work out cheaper to go via Bangkok with Air Asia depending on how much baggage you have.

Note that travel in certain areas of Myanmar is still highly restricted and it’s hard to cross by land into Thailand so flying is your best bet. The rules do change every now and then so perhaps check on the current situation when you come to travel but in all likelihood you will find yourself flying in and out of Myanmar. You can easily combine this route with our backpacking route for Thailand.

Backpacking Myanmar Alone – Is it safe?

Backpacking in Myanmar is no more dangerous than other parts of Southeast Asia and is considerably safer than many countries around the world. The areas with trouble are well away from the typical backpacking destinations and you may not even be allowed to visit them as the Myanmar regime is keen to keep what’s going on there away from prying eyes. Apply the usual common sense and you should find a safe and welcoming country.

Extending your trip

You could easily combine this trip with our main backpacking route for Southeast Asia or sections of it. You could for example do this instead of travelling from Bangkok to Chiang Mai through Thailand.

If you like being away from the hordes of tourists and backpackers then our Indonesia route may also appeal as it features a few more destinations which aren’t so popular and it’s easier to get off the beaten track there.

As for Myanmar itself, this route covers all its major points of interest. Some of the other areas have travel restrictions in place (and many guesthouses and hotels do not accept foreign guests) so it’s not always the best country to go off exploring random areas.

Heading West, Myanmar is a good link between doing some travelling in Southeast Asia and India. Check out our backpacking route for India for some inspiration.

Budget Accommodation in Myanmar

Many of the budget places have no online presence with the internet still not great in the country. Certainly outside of Yangon, booking online isn’t really a necessity or even a wise idea here. Small backpacker areas are developing with a few budget options but expect to pay slightly more for a bed here than in other parts of Southeast Asia. Luckily transport is very cheap despite the large distances so it balances out to be roughly as affordable as Thailand for example.

Visa Requirements for Myanmar

Only people from other countries in the region can visit Myanmar without a visa. E-visas and ‘Visa on arrival’ are now available for almost everyone else and has made visiting the country that little bit easier. There is some handy info on the visa policy of Myanmar here with $50 the cost at the time of research (not included in the budgets at the top). This goes straight in the government coffers, which only adds to the ethical dilemma.


This article was last updated in February 2019. 

Use the comments selection below for any questions. We aim to reply to them all!


11 Comments

  • Marcel

    Hi, i want to go backpacking in Myanmar this summer and I was wondering if it is also possible to visit all these places without using a motorcyle ? Can you get a taxi or a tuk tuk everywhere?

    Kind Regards,
    Marcel

    • MyFunkyTravel

      Yes, there’s taxis everywhere or Trishaws (cycle rickshaws) in most cities which are ok for shorter journeys so you don’t need to use motorbikes if you don’t want to.

  • MyFunkyTravel

    Hi Patrick, Not really any major difference. Where are you heading after Hsipaw?

    Only opted to do it like that as it’s a bit easier to start/end the route in Mandalay given you can take a flight to Thailand from there. It would probably be more logical to go from Inle Lake to Mandalay and then Pyin Oo Lwin and take the train to Hsipaw from there. However you’d probably end up just having to go all the way back to Mandalay from there to leave Myanmar or head elsewhere in the country.So I guess it’s just a question of whether you want to bypass Pyin Oo Lwin on the way to Hsipaw or way back. I think it’s hard to travel in Myanmar without doing some backtracking at some point!

    • Patrick

      Our planned itinerary is Yangon – Bagan – Kalaw – trek to Inle Lake (arriving Feb 18th to Inle). Then we were thinking Inle Lake – Hsipaw – Pyin Oo Lwin – Mandalay – Yangon – OUT to Chiang Mai…. we are pretty set on doing this plan above up until Inle Lake for sure which we would arrive at on February 18th. We want to fly out of Yangon to Chiang Mai on the 24th or 25th and therefore are willing to change up our plans for the final week, any thoughts on a more effective or worthwhile plan? we are basically doing Hsipaw and Pyin for the the viaduct ride.

      • Patrick

        that being said…we could also fly out of Mandalay instead of heading back to Yangon…the prices of flights are half the price from Yangon though (save $250 CAD)

      • MyFunkyTravel

        Sounds like a good plan although you might want to allow for a bit more time for the 2nd half of the route. 6-8 days to do all of Inle Lake, Hsipaw, Pyin Oo Lwin & Mandalay would be really pushing it timewise, especially if you’ve got to get back to Yangon for the flight out.

        It’d be possible if you’re not really planning on stopping in Hsipaw or Pyin Oo Lwin and just want to do the ride but I’d say both are worth a visit for at least a day or so. Either way just be sure you allow yourself enough time to make any flight connections as trains/buses are frequently late.

  • Patrick

    Hello! I am wondering what the difference is between taking the train from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin, or doing it vice-versa (Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw). I am coming from Inle Lake and therefore would be stopping on the bus in pyin oo lwin on the way to hsipaw anyways, but you seem to have continued on to Hsipaw on the bus and then doubled back. Is there a big difference in going from Hsipaw to Pyin Oo Lwin vs. the opposite?? THANKS! p.s. I love this website and check it often, it has helped me plan my upcoming trip around southeast asia immensely.

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