5 Cities, 16 Nights in Myanmar

By Lyndon A · Feb 8, 2017

Mandalay, Myanmar
Main mode of transport
Aeroplane (Silk Air)
Cost per person
Mid range
Hotel 8 (Mandalay), Arthawka Hotel (Bagan), Viewpoint Lodge and Fine Cuisines (Inle Lake), Amazing Ngapali Resort (Ngapali), Loft Hotel (Yangon)

Best Bits

Burma is a great country and a special place. The tourism industry is still in its infancy (think less than 5 million tourist arrivals in 2016 vs more than 32 million tourist arrivals in Thailand last year) which adds incredible charm, authenticity and just the right amount of challenge. We never found a taxi driver who tried to rip us off or even negotiate (rates were the same as what our 2013 edition of the Lonely Planet stated). Highlights from our 5 city stop include:

  • hot air ballooning in Ngapali
  • fresh seafood in Ngapali
  • hiring electric scooters in Bagan and exploring the temples
  • boating on Inle lake
  • there are an awful lot of dogs and puppies everywhere, which is great of course. We used to feed them and they’re generally friendly and in good health.

Lyndon in Burma

Worst Bits

We didn’t have knockout food except for the fresh seafood in Ngapali and a delicious private lunch of Burmese cuisine on the boat on Inle Lake which was outrageously expensive. Otherwise our meals were very average with a good dish here and there. We choose to get from place to place by plane rather than boat or car which meant that we had 4 short internal flights during our 16 day trip. We don’t have any complaints about the airports, planes or cost, but every single one of our flight times was delayed, anywhere from 1-4 hours. The airline always made an effort to communicate the changes a day in advance, but even with the change, flights never left on time so we spent a bit too much time waiting around. Other than this, the only real negative is knowing that no matter how much of an effort you make to avoid it, some of your money will always make it into the coffers of the military.

Trip Dates and Comments on Timing

We went for 16 nights from mid-December to early January. The weather couldn’t have been better. We found the temperature to be pretty much the same in the 5 different cities - dry heat during the day (28-30 degrees celsius) and slightly cooler evenings (20-25 degrees). It didn’t rain during our visit. It was high season (or as one hotel called it on their rate card, Super High Season) being Christmas and end of the year, so accommodation prices were at their peak and in theory so were tourist numbers, but there weren’t too many crowds.

Arrival Logistics

We planned our trip in this order:

Mandalay (2 nights) Bagan (3 nights) Inle Lake (4 nights) Ngapali (5 nights) Yangon (2 nights)

It was the perfect amount of time in each location and a great flow. Starting in Mandalay and ending in Yangon was smart because by the end of the holiday it was nice to finish in a place with a few more creature comforts and a more lively vibe for New Year’s Eve. We stayed in budget hotels at the beginning and then chose higher end accommodation in the final 3 cities.

Main Activities

Temples, culture, beach, dining, hot air ballooning, boating

Food and Drink Highlights

Fresh sea food at Sea Queen restaurant in Ngapali. The prawns, snapper, curried vegetables and price were amazing! (Tea leaf salad pictured was also really good).

Lyndon in Burma

Dinner at the Green Elephant in Mandalay was also pretty good, the Mango Pork Curry in particular. Be Kind To Animals The Moon was pretty good in Bagan and is vegetarian. Lunch at Nyaung Shwe restaurant in Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake) was basic but very fresh.

Essential Packing for this Trip

Sun cream, mosquito spray, a light layer for going out on boats and for the evenings

Lyndon’s Experience…

Mandalay - stayed at Hotel 8 Mandalay was really just a place to land and move on from. It’s a city full of character and dust, be we didn’t hang around to explore. We went to the palace and fort (make sure you bring your ID) which architecturally was a very disappointing restoration. We did a fair bit of walking, stopping as we felt tempted by a cold drink or interesting store front. Having a drink on Strand Rd overlooking the river was nice as was stopping in local beer gardens and people watching.

Bagan - stayed at Arthawka Hotel We chose to fly to Bagan instead of taking a river cruise as many people do. The 10 hours on a boat felt like it might be one of those things that sounds good at the time but in reality becomes pretty uncomfortable. The flight was cheap and about 40 minutes long. There are three conurbations essentially, all quite close to one another (Old Bagan, New Bagan, Nyaung U). We stayed in New Bagan which had a greater number of mid-range accommodation options. The temples are everywhere, but particularly concentrated in the plains north of New Bagan.

Lyndon in Burma

In terms of activities:

  • Hire e-bikes. These are essentially mopeds/scooters with electric engines. They’re easy to drive, and you don’t need to use gears or anything. I don’t have previous experience of riding bikes and got the hang of it after a couple of hours. Needless to say start slow. They’re really worth doing as you can rent a couple (or share one) and ride around the temple complex, stopping at random temples and popping in to Old Bagan to have a look around. It’s a lot of fun, and you really don’t need a guide. The Lonely Planet has a big section on the temples, and we used that. It’s also fun trying to find your way around and work out where you are. Bikes cost about 8000 kyat (8SGD) per day, so cheap. Depending on how much free time you have, you can do this for a couple of days no problem. Watch out for the local driving style - it’s a bit slapdash and road signs are purely for decoration. There’s a restaurant near Old Bagan called “Be Kind To Animals The Moon” which is a good vegetarian restaurant and worth a visit. Good mango lassi. Don’t order the pineapple curry - it’s just weird. Vegetable curry is good though.

  • Ballooning - we didn’t do this in Bagan as some friends had bought us a trip in Ngapali. Recommended. There are a lot of balloons in the air in Bagan, but I expect its’ still amazing and I’d do it if we went back. Tip - make sure you’re in one of the smaller balloons, which holds 6-8 guests. The bigger ones hold 12-14, and it’s like being on a bus apparently. We flew with Oriental Ballooning, and they said they operated the smaller balloons in Bagan but you should check in advance.

Lyndon in Burma

  • Food - we didn’t find anything in Bagan to get excited about. Be Kind To Animals is good. Nothing in New Bagan left much of a mark. There are riverside restaurants which have lovely views in New and Old Bagan. We ate in one of the ones in New Bagan called King Si Thu and the food wasn’t good, but a good place for a drink and to watch the sunset. They attract tour groups unfortunately. If you’re keen on eating Indian with home made puree bread there’s a place called Royal in New Bagan which does good Puree.

  • We stopped for drinks at one of the 2 hotels in Old Bagan (both have views over the river) at the Hotel River View. The setting was amazing with temples on the grounds and great views. They also had cold local white wine which wasn’t as abundant as expected.

  • Mount Popa - We hired a guide (35,000 kyat) and driver (45,000 kyat) through our hotel for a half day trip to Mount Popa. We visited the temples at the top of one of the pillars of rock. Lots of fun, lots of steps to climb. We took a guide, but you don’t need one. Read the section in the Lonely Planet before visiting so that you understand the signficance of the temples and the role of Nats (spirits) in Burmese religion. There were a lot of monkeys, so if you don’t like monkeys you should probably stay away. We like monkeys fortunately. Enterprising locals keep the stairs mopped and relatively clean for your barefoot (no shoes allowed) which is needed because of the monkeys. It’s courteous to give them a small tip.

Lyndon in Burma

Inle Lake - stayed at Viewpoint Hotel

We stayed in the town north of the lake called Nyaungshwe. Things to do:

  • Hire a boat to cruise around the lake - We rented one through our hotel for 25,000 kyat, but you can get them for 15k or lower if you shop around. They’ll take you on a 4-5 hour tour of the lake, stopping at silversmiths, weavers, a boat maker, a monastery, a restaurant etc. There isn’t any hard sell, although you do feel that some of the places are set up more to sell to tourists rather than as genuine production centres. It’s a fascinating place though - there really is a lot of life and agriculture on the lake, and the people are great as is usually the case in Burma.

Lyndon in Burma

  • Lunch on the lake - some of the hotels will offer a “lunch on the lake” where you have lunch on your own boat on the lake, services by another “kitchen boat”. We did it for Xmas Day, and whilst beautiful and really nice Burmese food it’s not worth the money. They charge north of 200 USD for the experience, and you can do the same by taking a picnic with you on a regular boat hire essentially.

Lyndon in Burma

  • Visit a vineyard - We visited the Aythaya vineyard which is maybe 30 minutes out of town. We really liked it. The wine is of course not great, but you go for the experience. (Curiously, they do sell some really great local Shan beer in bottles without labels, in case you want to try it. Can’t remember the name - Golden something?). Out of the wines, the rose is the most drinkable. (Tip - if you like wine, take a couple of good bottles with you to Myanmar - most restaurants are completely cool about you taking your own alcohol)

Lyndon in Burma

  • Market - there was a market in the town we were staying which was really interesting. It’s a proper local market, not targeted at tourists in the way that the floating markets on the lake are. Worth a ten minute walk around. Again, all the people are really friendly.

  • Food - again, unfortunately, we didn’t find anything knockout. There’s an Indian restaurant which is ranked second or so in Tripadvisor which is fun. It’s called Inlay Hut Indian Food house, next to the Apex hotel. Don’t order the mutton dishes - the meat isn’t great. The chicken was good. Turn up early. It gets full and the service gets slower and slower. The owner is a character who projects Eminem (you’ll see).

  • Our hotel was delightful. Beautiful, private rooms that were set like little villas on stilts on an off-branch of the lake. The location was great, the included breakfasts were delicious, fresh and always beautifully displayed with a mix of local and western options and the staff were helpful making bookings. The spa was closed over the Christmas period which was disappointing.

Lyndon in Burma

Ngapali - stayed at Amazing Ngapali Resort

Our hotel was just a 5 minute drive from the airport yet we never felt as if we were next to it. The beach was a nice long stretch of white sand and it was never crowded. We were mainly interested in relaxing, but we did a few other activities:

Lyndon in Burma

  • strolling along the beach for sunset beers at one of the bars

  • hot air ballooning described above which was a wonderful experience

Lyndon in Burma

Lyndon in Burma

  • hiring inner tubes on the beach for about $1 to bob in the waves and watch the sunset

  • boat hire with a company called Forever Friends. It cost $100 USD for the 2 of us for the entire day and included a couple of snorkelling stops (the coral wasn’t good but there were large schools of fish which were entertaining as well as puffer and clown fish), lunch at Paradise Island (fresh cooked seafood lunch which was excellent) and fishing which we didn’t do. It seemed expensive but it was a good day out and other rates were comparable.

  • kayak and SUP hire wasn’t available through our hotel or at our end of the island.

  • our room was great - spacious, airy, clean and directly on the beach. The hotel facilities were quite average and we wouldn’t recommend eating in the restaurant.

Yangon - stayed at Loft Hotel

We arrived on the afternoon of December 31st, grabbed a quick (and average) lunch down the street at Le Comptoir, had a quick look around Bogyoke market which was very near to our hotel and then made it back in time to freshen up and receive friends in our hotel lounge for drinks.

We had a few local snacks and appetisers at House of Memories (used to be the office of General Aung San) before attending a free concert by Myanmar’s most iconic rock band, Iron Cross. They were excellent and I would highly recommend checking them out, but the event was carnage. We brought in the New Year at the trendy Japanese bar and restaurant near the waterfront called Gekko.

Our hotel room was great, as was the hotel overall. We would recommend it.

Fitting in a visit to the Shwedagon temple is a must on any stop through Yangon. It’s a very special place.

Lyndon in Burma

For money - take USD, in 100 dollar bills. Make sure they are pristine - they won’t accept any that are marked or torn. You get a better exchange rate for higher denomination bills. There are also ATMs there which seem to work with Singapore cards.

About The Traveller

Gender & Age Range
Male, 40 - 45

I’m from


My favourite trip as of late
Travelling around the coast of Sri Lanka.

Travelling Style
Book the important stuff, but leave some flexibility in the schedule.

I like to go on the following types of trips
Gourmet, Boat Trips, Wildlife, City Breaks, Historical, Beaches, Food, Scuba Diving, Wine, Adventure, Culture, AirBnb, Birthday Trips, Relaxing, Luxury

It’s a dealbreaker when
The locals are unfriendly.

Continent I know the best

First Last Name

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.

I’m from Perth, Western Australia

My favourite trip as of late is New Zealand, solo travel in lots of nature for a soul-refresher.

My travelling style is to Book the first night, then wing it from there!

It’s a dealbreaker when I’m stuck around large groups of package tourists.

Continent I know best is Asia.

See profile

Enjoyed this trip?!

Then we think you'll love...