Myanmar is a large country, and you could spend months here and still not see everything. At a bare minimum, seven days would provide just about enough time for a whirlwind tour of the “big four” sights of Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan. With more time on your hands you’ll be able to work some farther-flung possibilities into the mix.
With Myanmar becoming ever more popular as a tourist destination, would-be travel renegades are having to try a little harder to get their off-the-beaten-track fix. With a little advance planning, and by avoiding the corners of “The Kite”, you could max out your visa without seeing a single tour bus.
1 Tanintharyi Region
Head down to Myanmar’s deep south, whose abundance of beaches and islands are becoming easier to explore.
An enjoyable stopover on the slow road from Yangon to Mandalay, with ancient Pyu ruins, the towering Shwesandaw Pagoda and one of central Myanmar’s best night markets.
This little-visited crossroads town has a beautiful lakeside setting, a clutch of quirky temples and stand-out street food.
Those staying in Kalaw or Nyaungshwe often make a day-trip to see Pindaya’s wonderful Buddha-filled cave – trump this by staying the night in this wonderfully chilled-out town.
Inspiration for the town of Kyauktada in Orwell’s novel Burmese Days, Katha’s backstreets are dotted with atmospheric colonial buildings; the 1924 tennis club still hosts matches today.
6 Indawgyi Lake
Kayak across or bike around Myanmar’s biggest lake to seldom-visited villages and Shwe Myitzu, a golden pagoda that floats above the water’s lapping waves.
Discover Kachin State’s wild side in the thickly forested Himalayan foothills outside this remote far northern town.
Myanmar’s default itinerary follows a vaguely kite-shaped route around the country, taking in the “big four” with a visit to the Golden Rock – the kite’s string – as an optional side-trip from Yangon. Many travellers are happy to spend the duration of their entire 28-day visa in these places alone.
The country’s largest city, home to the stupendous Shwedagon Pagoda, with its huge clusters of gleaming golden spires, as well as one of Asia’s most perfectly preserved colonial centres.
2 Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)
Join local pilgrims on a night-time walk up Mount Kyaiktiyo, at the summit of which sits a golden, apparently gravity-defying boulder.
The most enjoyable way to reach Inle Lake is on a two- or three-day hike from this relaxed – and occasionally chilly – mountain town.
4 Inle Lake
Take a boat trip around spectacular Inle Lake, which features “floating” villages and farms, and a truly photogenic cast of locals.
Markedly more relaxed than Yangon, Myanmar’s second city also has its fair share of sights and restaurants, and is the best place in the land for local-style entertainment.
Quite simply, one of Southeast Asia’s must-sees – catch sunrise or sunset from one of its thousands of temples.
The chance to see colourfully attired minority folk is one of Southeast Asia’s major tourist draws, and Myanmar is no exception to this regional rule. The national government does, of course, have something of an axe to grind with certain groups, but the danger zones are all off-limits to travellers.
The startling limestone karst scenery around Hpa-An is home to the Kayin, resplendent in their distinctive striped longyi.
2 Mrauk U
Much of Chin State remains off-limits to travellers, though you can get an easy sampler of Chin culture on a boat trip from Mrauk U – the tattoo-faced old ladies hereabouts are particularly photogenic.
Catch the colourful Kachin National Day celebrations way up north in multicultural Myitkyina.
4 Kyaukme and Hsipaw
Head for the tea-swathed hills north of these two towns, where Shan-dominated valleys give way to tea-growing hills tended by the Palaung, crisscrossed with great trekking routes and peppered with homestay opportunities. Hsipaw itself is a laidback town offering a taste of Shan culture.
5 Inle Lake
Myanmar’s most easily accessible minority folk live around Inle Lake – most notable are the long-necked “giraffe” women of the Padaung group, though those trekking here from Kalaw, or visiting the umpteen local markets, will also see pockets of Pa-O and Danu.
A small Shan State city surrounded by Akha, Lahu and other colourful ethnic groups, yet almost entirely tourist-free – and even more tempting now that restrictions have been lifted on the nearby Thai border.