How to Do Myanmar in a Month
A month in Myanmar gives you time to stretch things out a little—no small luxury in a giant country where infrastructure remains decidedly shaky. A few weeks allows you to explore big-hitters like Bagan, Mandalay, Yangon, and Inle Lake at leisure, while also allowing scope for lesser-visited gems. These include the temple complex at Mrauk U in Rakhine State, Nay Pyi Daw—the surreal, purpose-built capital—and Maw Lam Yine, the sleepy riverfront capital of Mon State.
Inn Wa, Myanmar (Burma)
Getting off the beaten track in Burma is sometimes easy. Other times, it’s not. A host of factors conspire to keep tourists on the straight and narrow path; touts, tour operators, and the government want to point you towards places where you have to pay a fee on top of another fee on top of another fee just to ride in a horse and buggy around a tiny island while trinket pedlars swarm you at every stop (I’m using a loose example here). That’s not my idea of a good time, and that’s exactly why I deign to make my own itinerary everywhere I go. I decided against visiting a well-known tourist trap of an island south of Mandalay in favor of visiting a neat little rural village nearby. No touts, no louts, and no other visitors - just me, my travel companion, my camera, and a host of amazing Burmese farmers. I don’t need another reason to get off the track.
The temperature dropped as the sun went down, and fog fell over the city. This was good news, as we had planned on wandering the ferret warrens surrounding the big Mawlamyine markets. We came upon this game of kickball, and put our adventuring on hold to make fools of ourselves in a typically Burmese way. Mawlamyine is a part of Southern Burma that sees relatively few outside visitors, which really is saying something when you consider how few tourists visit Burma each year. Burmese are generally kind, open, and honest folk who will readily invite you into their homes for a bite to eat, or into their game of kickball - only to laugh at how incredibly bad you are when you can’t keep the ball in the air for more than two seconds. I must have joined in half a dozen games while wandering the city in a single night - unexpected, and tons of fun. For those wondering, this game is called chinlone, and it is one of Burma’s oldest traditional games. In typical Burmese fashion, the game is not about scoring points, but how well you play the game. Perfect.
I hope that every traveler has the opportunity to experience sunrise from a temple in Bagan - one of the most astonishing places on earth. In general, the history of Burma is amazing. Specifically, the history of Bagan is unlike any other on earth. It’s a little dizzying, in fact - tens of thousands of temples built on a dusty plain by kings, emperors, war lords, and chieftains that stretch on and on until the buck up against the horizon. The best way to explore Bagan is to get out on foot and wander - preferably in the presence of a knowledgeable local guide.
Naypyitaw, Myanmar (Burma)
Built on scrub ground amid rice paddies at great expense (some reports have it at around $4billion), Naypyidaw has been Myanmar’s seat of government since 2005. Despite all the investment, it is not what you would call an enthralling city. Nevertheless, the vast, empty highways, grandiose government buildings and sights such as a giant gilded pagoda and a zoo and safari park make it a worthwhile stop on the road from Yangon to Mandalay.
One of the most accessible destinations in Chin State, Mt Victoria (Nat Ma Taung) is also one of the most alluring spots in the country. The mountain itself is, at 3053metres, Myanmar’s second highest and it stands amid a beautiful national park that is a prime spot for birdwatching. Try to visit in November when rhododendron season is in full swing.