Burma, Famous Sites and Hidden Secrets
A comprehensive tour of Burma (Myanmar) from north to south, taking in all the famous sites as well as many of the lesser visited, but equally picturesque, ones
Burma (Myanmar) tour, from the Shan Plateau to Mergui Archipelago
Our Burma tour – Famous Sites and Hidden Secrets – is a comprehensive 3-week, escorted tour of both the famous and the off the beaten track destinations in this fascinating, beautiful and still very traditional country. From the crumbling colonial architecture and glittering pagodas of Yangon, we’ll travel, via historic Mandalay and the awe-inspiring temples of Bagan, to the mountains of Shan State and sublime Lake Inle.
Our southern section heads east to the dramatic Golden Rock and the spectacular sites and gorgeous scenery of little-visited Mon and Karen States. Additional destinations in this picturesque, but rarely-visited, region of Burma (Myanmar) include the old colonial period ports of Moulmein, Tavoy and Mergui, now known as Mawlamyine, Dawei and Myeik, plus charming Ye Town, finally open after having been off limits to foreigners for nearly 70 years.
Discover hill-tribe villages, floating gardens, bustling markets, remote temples, ruined cities and unspoilt beaches. Travel by boat up the Salween and down the Irrawaddy; by local train to Bago and even on occasions horse and cart and of course on the way discover the unique Burmese cuisine and meet plenty of the super friendly locals.
A wonderful and comprehensive tour of the famous sites as well as some of the hidden secrets of this wonderful country.
Here's an idea of what you can expect to do and see day-to-day.
Day 1 - Yangon (Rangoon) - walking tour and sunset cruise
Arrival in Yangon (Rangoon), and check-in to a comfortable downtown hotel close to the famous Scott Market. Time to relax before an afternoon walking tour of the city and scenic, sunset boat cruise on the Rangoon River.
Overnight: Yangon Transport: Boat, Walk, Meals: D,
Day 2 - Yangon (Rangoon) - local train and Shwedagon
Departure for a fascinating and unusual train journey on the Rangoon circular line. The (very) slow local train completes a loop through the suburbs and outlying villages providing an original and behind the scenes view of local life; a great introduction to Burma. After lunch we’ll take a stroll through picturesque Kandawgyi Lake Gardens before a sunset visit to Shwedagon Temple, Burma’s most sacred, & certainly one it’s most awe-inspiring, sites.
Overnight: Yangon Transport: Minibus, Train, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 3 - Mandalay - Inwa ruined city and sunset at U Bein Bridge
Morning flight to Mandalay and a visit to the nearby ancient city, and former 14th- to 19th-century capital, Ava (Inwa). Discover the ruined city, temples and villages by horse and cart before an afternoon visit to the prestigious Mahamuni Paya and sunset at the iconic U Bein Bridge – reputed to be the longest teak bridge in the world.
Overnight: Mandalay Transport: Minibus, Plane, Boat, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 4 - Pyin U Lwin - visit to a hill-station
Scenic drive to the old British hill-station of Pyin U Lwin located on the edge of the Shan Plateau. The small town’s 1,200m altitude meant it was a popular and cool retreat for the former British colonists and many historic buildings remain as well as its prestigious botanical gardens. We’ll time our return journey for sunset (and sundowners), on the Mandalay riverside.
Overnight: Mandalay Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 5 - Bagan - down the Irrawaddy to Bagan
Morning departure by boat down the Irrawaddy to Bagan; bucolic river scenes, country views and a great way to arrive in the historic ancient city. Late afternoon orientation visit and sunset at the site of the ruined 11th- to 13th-century capital – still containing over 2,000 chedis, stupas, pagodas – and certainly one of the most incredible sites of Southeast Asia!
If Irrawaddy water levels are too low our journey will be overland via Monywa
Overnight: Bagan Transport: Minibus, Boat, Meals: B, D,
Day 6 - Bagan - day tour of the temples
Morning guided tour with the afternoon free to visit Bagan at your leisure. Armed with a map, hat and torch (to discover temples’ hidden stairways), roam the country lanes by bicycle, hire a pony and trap, visit the best known temples or find some hidden chedis of your own. Your guide will be on-hand to advise and recommend but we’d like to let you spend some time at this phenomenal site at your own leisure and pace.
Overnight: Bagan Transport: Minibus, Bike, Walk, Meals: B,
Day 7 - Bagan to Kalaw - onto the Shan Plateau
Departure by road, heading eastwards to the distant Shan Plateau. Our first stop will be Mount Popa; one of the country’s most sacred sites located on the cone of an extinct volcano which rises dramatically, and near vertically, from the plains below. In the afternoon we continue up the Plateau itself to our day’s destination, the charming little town and old hill-station of Kalaw.
Overnight: Kalaw Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 8 - Kalaw - hike through the hills
Head into the surrounding hills to visit one of the area’s Palaung hill-tribe villages with a scenic walk, mountain views and chance to meet some of the village’s friendly inhabitants. Afternoon return to Kalaw with time to explore the small town, perhaps browse the market or sit in a local tea shop and watch the world go by?
Overnight: Kalaw Transport: Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 9 - Pindaya - hill-tribe market and cave temples
Day trip through the picturesque countryside of the Shan Plateau taking in one of the local farmers’ markets before heading to the town of Pindaya to visit the spectacular Shwe Umin cave temples. Lunch by the lake and a chance to check out the traditional umbrella making which Pindaya is famous for. In the afternoon we’ll continue our scenic route to Nyaung Shwe – gateway town to the famous Inle Lake.
Overnight: Nyaung Shwe, (Inle) Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 10 - Lake Inle - day boat tour
Day boat trip around the picturesque lake including visits to a lakeside village market, a traditional hand rolling cheroot factory, fishing villages, a fascinating lotus weaving project and of course the highly unusual floating gardens.
Overnight: Nyaung Shwe, (Inle) Transport: Boat, Meals: B, L,
Day 11 - lake Inle - boat journey to In Dein
Morning departure across the lake and up river to the small lakeside village of In Dein from where we’ll hike through the picturesque landscape to visit the site of a ruined Shan city, known as the Shan Bagan, where myriad ruined stupas dot the lush vegetation. Return to Nyaung Shwe for lunch and an afternoon at leisure.
Overnight: Nyaung Shwe (Inle) Transport: Boat, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 12 - Lake Inle - morning at leisure and return to Yangon
Free morning at Lake Inle to do your own thing; cycle to the extraordinary Red Mountain Winery, check out the local market, visit a local village by canoe or just relax in a tea shop before an afternoon return flight to Yangon.
Overnight: Yangon Transport: Plane, Walk, Meals: B, D,
Day 13 - Golden Rock - local train and sunset at Golden Rock
Travel by local train to the ancient Mon capital of Pegu, now Bago, & on to Kyaiktiyo – the Golden Rock. Yes, the gold leaf clad boulder balanced precariously on a mountain top, is spectacular, but it’s the whole experience that’s so memorable. Ride 1/2 way up the mountain on an open-topped truck crammed with locals before continuing on foot with the pilgrims. Awesome views & overnight in a ridge-top hotel as absurdly situated as the rock itself.
Overnight: Golden Rock Transport: Minibus, Train, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 14 - Hpa-an - dawn at the rock and on to Hpa-an
Down the mountain and off south to Hpa-an Town – capital of Karen State. Stop off on route to visit some spectacular cave temples and hot springs with the afternoon to explore the bustling and friendly town itself before a sunset visit to a beautiful riverside pagoda.
Overnight: Hpa-an Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 15 - Hpa-an - Zhwegabin sacred mountain
Hpa-an is surrounded by dramatic limestone karst scenery including the sacred Zwegabin Mountain – symbol of Karen State – and we’ll spend the day exploring the area’s caves, tunnels, temples and mountains by road, boat and on foot, as well as visiting some of the area’s traditional Karen villages.
Overnight: Hpa-an Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 16 - Moulmein - down the Salween River
Early morning departure for a boat journey down the scenic Salween River to Moulmein, (now Mawlamyine), with a stop at a riverside Karen fishing village on the way. Formerly home for several years to George Orwell and immortalized by Kipling, we reckon it’s one of the country’s friendliest and most scenic towns. Visit a lively market before heading up for sunset at one of the hill-top pagodas overlooking the town and Gulf of Martaban.
Overnight: Mawlamlyine/Moulmein Transport: Boat, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 17 - Moulmein - day trip to Bilu Island
Off to nearby Bilu Kyun – ‘Ogre Island’ – to visit traditional Mon villages and discover some of the local handicrafts and cottage industries. They don’t see many tourists yet, but villagers will be happy to demonstrate how they make cane walking sticks, bamboo hats, slate blackboards and even back-garden rubber band making! (Sounds odd, but absolutely fascinating). Afternoon return to Moulmein for some sundowners at a waterfront café?
Overnight: Mawlamlyine/Moulmein Transport: Taxi, Boat, Meals: B, L,
Day 18 - Thanbyuzayat - Death Railway and on to Setse Beach
Visit the town’s lively morning market before heading south with stops at Kyauktalon Pagoda, perched atop a limestone pinnacle, the world’s largest reclining Buddha (Win Sein Taw Ya) and Thanbyuzayat – terminus of the infamous Japanese-built ‘Death Railway’ and WW2 cemetery. Last but not least, we visit the iconic Kyaikkami Monastery located in the old colonial town of Amherst, on a rock outcrop jutting into the sea. Overnight accommodation in the charming little seaside town of Setse.
Overnight: Setse Beach Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 19 - Dawei - head south via Ye
A short drive south brings us to the delightful little town of Ye. Until late 2013 the town had been off limits to foreigners since independence in 1948. (So to say it’s off the beaten track is an understatement.) We’ll visit the spectacular temple site atop charmingly named Banana Mountain as well as taking in the rustic riverside market before continuing to Dawei, formerly Tavoy.
Overnight: Dawei (Tavoy) Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 20 - Dawei - explore the coast
Our day tour of Dawei starts out with another lively waterfront market before heading to the nearby Dawei Peninsula. There can’t be many stretches of coast left in Southeast Asia as spectacular, but yet so little developed. Now is the time to visit, as in 10 years’ time it’s fishing villages, deserted bays and seaside pagodas may well be a distant memory.
Overnight: Dawei (Tavoy) Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 21 - Myeik - the old colonial port of Mergui
Next stop, after a morning drive, is the charming old colonial port of Mergui, now renamed Myeik. In the afternoon we’ll do a walking tour through streets barely changed in 70 years and take in sunset views of the bustling port from one of the hilltop pagodas.
Overnight: Myeik (Mergui) Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L, D,
Day 22 - Myeik - explore the surrounding area
A fascinating day discovering – by road and by boat – some of the area’s traditional industries such as lobster and soft-shelled crab farming, bird’s nest processing, a traditional style shipyard and an unsual visit to a cashew factory.
Overnight: Myeik (Mergui) Transport: Minibus, Walk, Meals: B, L,
Day 23 - Myeik - Mergui boat tour or explore the town
For our final day in Myeik, we propose an optional day cruise by boat through some of the myriad isles of the spectacular Mergui Archipelago (weather permitting). Activities include swimming and snorkelling, a picnic lunch on the beach and a chance to explore some islands on foot. An alternative day in Myeik allows you to explore the town’s ancient temples and windy lanes, mingle in some of the friendly tea-shops and stroll around a lily-covered lake.
Overnight: Myeik (Mergui) Transport: Boat, Walk, Meals: B, D,
Day 24 - Yangon - morning at leisure and return to Yangon
Morning at leisure in Myeik, afternoon return flight to Yangon and end of tour.
Extra accommodation after the tour in Yangon or beach extensions to Ngapali or Ngwe Saung are available on request.
Airport transfers are included if you purchase the 'with flights' package. If you purchased your own flights, airport transfers can be arranged.
Overnight: Departure Transport: Plane, Meals: B,
The nitty-gritty, the things you need to know, the answers to your burning questions.
Just a few of the many highlights
Where do we start? Yangon's colonial splendour, Mandalay's U Bein Bridge, Bagan, Lake Inle, hill stations, the Golden Rock, Hpa-an, old ports of Moulmein, Tavoy and Mergui, Irrawaddy and Salween River cruises....
- Rangoon: noisy, bustling, dirty, terrible roads, little street lighting - wonderful!!! A Southeast Asian city as they used to be
- Tour the ruins of world famous Bagan where hundreds of ancient temples across a plain make this one of Asia's most spectacular sites
- Explore the old port of Moulmein - to our mind one of the friendliest, scenic & most charming of Burmese towns
- 2 day boating around the stunning Lake Inle; local markets, lakeside villages, floating gardens, temples.
- Take a day cruise down the Irrawaddy by boat from Mandalay to Bagan. Sunrise departure from Mandalay and bucolic riverside views
- Lashings of authentic local cuisine, tea shops, beer stations and oodles of very friendly locals!
Air Departures (UK)
Guaranteed Places Left Special Price Solo Traveller Closed
*Air departures are from the UK. Land departures start from Rangoon (Yangon)
*Land departure dates correspond to the FIRST day of the itinerary.
We choose our hotels based on a combination of location, comfort and convenience. Here is a *selection of the types of hotel/rooms you can expect to stay at on this tour...
Bagan Umbra Hotel, Bagan view
- Delightful garden setting with temple views
- Swimming pool & poolside restaurant
- Quiet location in Nyaung U Town
Ayarwaddy River View Hotel, Mandalay view
- Great waterfront location in downtown Mandalay
- Sunset views over the Irrawaddy River from the 'Skybar'
- Friendly staff, comfortable and well-appointed rooms
Mountain Top Hotel, Kyaikto, (Golden Rock) view
- On the mt summit, a short walk from the Rock itself
- Wait 'til you see the views!
- Almost as precariously perched as the nearby Golden Rock
Cinderella Hotel, Moulmein/Mawlamyine view
- Our favourite hotel in Moulmein, (Mawlamyine)
- Decent Wi-Fi, great little restaurant and comfy rooms
- Central but quiet location
21 Paradise Hotel, Setse Beach view
- Odd name but a delightful spot
- Beachside resort facing the Andaman Sea
- Well-appointed, comfortable rooms in a garden setting
Hotel Grand Jade, Myeik view
- The rooftop cafe's perfect for breakfast or sundowners!
- Central location in Myeik Town
- Friendly, helpful staff and maybe the best Wi-Fi in town
*This list should be considered a guide only, hotels/rooms may change (without notice) depending on availability.
Visa Info & Notes
Visas: Visas are required for all nationalities other than those of Asean member states and they are not available on arrival at either international airports or land crossings. The choice for Myanmar/Burmese visas then is between applying in advance for a visa at a Burmese embassy or consulate or applying online for an e-visa. The relatively recently introduced e-visa facility replaces visas on arrival and seems to work very efficiently.
In either case, your passport has to have a minimum of 6 months validity from the date of arrival and at least 1 blank page in your passport. Note, even equipped with a valid visa, airlines will generally not let you board flights for Burma (Myanmar) without proof of onward travel. (This is an airline regulation even if it’s not generally applied by Burmese immigration.)
The e-visa system is slightly different than for instance Cambodia since, if your application is successful, you will receive an approval letter which is handed to immigration officials on arrival in exchange for an entry stamp. (There is no cut-out visa.) An online tourist visa application costs $50, is valid for 28 day’s travel and takes up to 3 working days to process. (There is no additional charge at the border.) Express 1 or 2-day visa applications are available for an additional cost. These approval letters are valid at any international airport and at the Myawaddy, Kawthaung and Tachileik border crossings. This is the official visa application site.
A standard tourist visa, also valid for 28 days, costs approximately $40, or the equivalent of in the currency of the country where you’re applying. Processing varies from embassy to embassy with some offering a next day collection, (for a supplementary fee) while others taking up to 5 working days.
Your solution then depends on where you’re applying from and if you do happen to have a Burmese embassy at the end of your road so much the better but otherwise we can’t see any reasons for not taking advantage of the efficient e-visa scheme which we reckon is well worth the extra few dollars. We’ve received these in the past on the same day as application though, as we said, they do ask to allow up to 3 working days. If you’re planning on departing from a land crossing such as Tachileik for our Shan State tour, please ask us for a covering letter explaining that which you can show to airlines/immigration in the event they do ask for an onward flight ticket.
Meals: breakfasts are usually buffet style with lunch and dinners based on local food. Lunches on the road are typically simpler dishes such as variations on noodles or fried rice while your tour-leader will generally order more elaborate-style dinners consisting of a selection of local fare.
Dishes are only mildly spicy and both vegetarians and vegans are very easily catered for. For any other likes and dislikes please remind your tour-leader at the start of the tour. A number of meals are not included, which allows you to ‘do your own thing’ or take a break if you’re feeling ‘riced out’.
Burmese culinary influences correspond to its geographical location and mixed population so include Chinese, Indian and Thai as well as a host of minority dishes such as those of the Shan, Karen or Mon.
Accommodation: all choices fall into the comfortable 3* range and are en-suite and air-conditioned. We have posted a selection of sample accommodation on the lefthand hotel tab but please note that as we try and avoid the larger hotels, availability, in high season particularly, means we use several options in each destination.
Activities: note that no activities are compulsory and that any offered can be tailored for various fitness levels or alternatives suggested.
Further info: detailed descriptions and photos can be found on the corresponding page of our travel blog
Holidays should never end, stay a little longer. These extensions go well with this tour...
Here is what out guest have to say about their experience on this tour...
Rob & Jan
" We have just returned from Burma Famous sites and hidden Secrets. The holiday was extremely well organised and ran like clockwork. Our guides, Win Win in the North and Po in the South were wonderful. We can't praise them enough. Nothing was too much trouble for them.
Congratulations on a very enjoyable tour, and thank you for all your help and advice before we went away. "
Christine and Graham Rose
" It was a lovely tour with something new every day. Wi was fun as our leader and quietly conscientious and efficient. We would definitely want her to be our tour leader again! Food was better than we were expecting; Wi and the guides chose very well for us. Accommodation was variable, which was to be expected, but rooms were always clean and comfortable.