Min Gala Ba! Welcome to Myanmar. Your adventure begins with a welcome meeting at 6pm on Day 1. You can arrive at any time during the day as there are no activities planned until this important meeting. Check with the hotel reception where and when it will take place, or check the reception notice boards. Spend your free time getting amongst it today – maybe take an Urban Adventure on the circle train or stroll around the Kandawgyi Lake.
Depart the hotel in a private bus headed to Bagan (approximately 9 hours). There will be 2 drivers on board, and multiple rest breaks on the way. It's a good idea to pack some card games, a good book or even load up some podcasts to your phone. This is also a great opportunity to get to know your fellow travellers. Arrive in Bagan in the evening and check into your hotel. Stretch your legs after a long travel day by tracking down Bagan's top laphet (tea leaf salad) or mohinga (rice noodle broth) at a nearby restaurant.
Enjoy a full free day to explore the sites of Bagan. Stretch your legs, grab a bite to eat and go exploring. Try and close your wide-open jaw after seeing that super duper stupa-studded skyline (say that three times fast with a mouthful of pickled bitter melon!) The Nyaung U market, one of the best in the country, is a great place walk around. The archaeological museum is also a choice option. But there are 4,500 brick and gilded temples calling your name, and the fun has only just Bagan...
What you gonna do? Well it's up to you. If you like to get up early then check out the incredible balloon flight below. If you're looking for ideas, riding is the perfect way to take in the atmosphere of this place. You can drop by big-name sights like Ananda Pahto, Dhammayangyi Pahto and Shwesandaw Paya, as well as some of the smaller ones. There will also be plenty of chances to jump off the bike here and there so you can climb stairs to lookout points where the really awesome views are found. You can also pay a visit to the village of Kyunkalay, where you can enjoy lunch with a local family and see how ActionAid Myanmar is using responsible tourism to improve local infrastructure and living conditions. Another great option is a sunset river cruise and picnic beside the Ayeyarwady River, the country's largest river. Your leader can help you book any of these activities locally.
Rise and shine! Bound out of bed before dawn so you can catch the ferry for your cruise up the Ayeyarwady River to Mandalay. Watch the wonderful world of local life stream by while you're chilling out on the boat. It's a good idea to bring some snacks today, although there will be a cafe/bar on the upper deck with simple meals available. You'll arrive in Mandalay late afternoon, then be transferred to your hotel.
Join your group leader for a walking tour around Mandalay this morning, then the day is yours. Maybe head further up the Ayeyarwady River to visit Mingun, a world-class archaeological site. The main temple here was never finished, supposedly because an astrologer thought the king would die if it was finished. Harsh. But it sure is impressive. You'll also find the world's largest uncracked bell, which is possibly even cooler than the temple. And a glistening white stupa to go with it. There are plenty of things to do with your free time here. You can visit the teak Monastery Shwe In Bin Kyaung or the bigger Shwenandaw Kyaung, or check out the city by local transport (van or truck ride). Maybe make a stop at some cottage industries that make gold leaf (the sacred Buddha image of Mahamuni Paya is covered in six inches of it – and it is known to be over 2,000 years old). On the other hand, you can rest your legs and enjoy a puppetry or dance performance at the Mandalay Marionettes or Mintha Theatre.
Take a private bus to Kalaw (approximately 8 hours). Drive into the mountains of the Shan state. Keep that camera handy, because the scenery is awesome and there will be stops for photos. Your Instagram followers will be loving you for this, or maybe not loving you, just wishing they were here. Arrive in Kalaw late afternoon, with time to stretch your legs and get a feel for this beautiful spot, a former British hill station.
Head for the hills! Explore villages, farms and forests in the area outside of Kalaw. Feel that breeze? Welcome to the highlands, baby. This is the land of many communitoes, including the Palaung, Danu and Pa-O, as well as Indians and Nepalese who moved here during the British rule. This may explain why the chai is so good. Along your travels today you'll stop for lunch (which is included) at a local village.
Enjoy free time this morning in Kalaw. Take this opportunity to hit the local market and shop for some nice local handicrafts (or just some silly souvenirs for your friends back home). Or you can check out one of the beautiful Buddhist pagodas around. Stock up on snacks before your bus trip to Inle Lake in the afternoon (approximately 3 hours). Surrounded by the cool stilt houses, Inle Lake makes for fairytale kinda scene. Shimmering waters, floating gardens. Ahhh....
Freedom! Well, a free couple of days at least. Spend a free day exploring the lake and the surrounding villages. Your leader can help organise the transport: motorised long-tail boat. The sights: cool waters, floating tomato plantations, floating everything! (Even floating markets, if it's the right day.) The people: local silversmiths, weavers, cigar makers... and those fisherman, rowing their boats with their legs, how do they do it?. You can grab a bike and peddle to some local villages towards the end of the day, where people will greet you with smiles and cute traditional handicrafts.
Enjoy some time to chill today. You might like to visit the Mingala morning market, or maybe Nyuang Shwe's oldest Buddhist monastery, Yadana Man Aung Paya. There's also a traditional puppet show held every night in town, and a nearby winery that has ah-mazing views over the lake (your chance to sample a wee drop of the local varieties perhaps, and to be all distinguished and cultured and civilised).
Tar tar, spectacular state of Shan. It's been real. Make your way to the airport in Heho for your flight back to the hustle and bustle of Yangon (approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes). When you touch down in town, head off to visit the serious treasure of the Shwedagon Pagoda – this 98 metre high stupa is covered with tons and tons of pure gold, along with jade, rubies, sapphires, and diamonds. This is, literally and symbolically, the jewel in the Myanmar crown. Gather together your new best buds and tuck into a farewell dinner at Linkage Restaurant, a vocational training restaurant that’s part of Friends International, as you all cry bye bye Burma (well, Myanmar technically).
This trip ends today and you are free to leave at any time. See ya!