Uncover Myanmar (19 days)

250px-Kyaitteyo_Pagoda,_miraculously_balanced_by_a_hair_of_Buddha,_on_Kelasa_hills,_Burma

Myanmar translates as union of many people with 135 nations living together in an area twice as large as any European country, yet leaving plenty of remote land to explore. Bordering on five countries -Bangladesh, India, China, Laos, and Thailand – Myanmar takes its influences from all. Land of Temples, Land of Festivals and Land of Tribes, the eastern portion of Myanmar is not to be missed. You travel by plane, by boat, by train and on foot to uncover Hsipaw, Kalaw, Pindaya, Loikaw and Kengtung. Panoramic vistas from hilltop temples, sunrise pagoda views and river villages at sunset set the stage for a unique discovery journey. Meet the many hill tribes at their colourful markets selling and trading their foods and wares and stay at a local village home. Trek hills that few western visitors have ever seen. Now is the time to Uncover Myanmar because remote jewels cannot remain hidden forever,

Day 1 – Yangon
Upon arrival in Yangon you will be greeted by your local guide and transferred to your hotel for check in.
Overnight in Yangon.

Day 2 – Yangon
Your guide and driver will pick you up at your hotel and you’ll venture downtown to explore the city center and its fabulous mix of architecture and sites. The streets are filled with historical buildings many of which have a faded colonial charm not seen elsewhere in Asia. You’ll start at the post office – a lovely historic building- and walk to Sule Paya in the middle of downtown, passing by Strand Hotel, Mahabandoola Garden and Independence Monument along the way. Then visit Little India and Chinatown, a colourful cacophony of restaurants, temples and markets. Reach Bogyoke Market, formerly known as Scott’s Market, where there is time to browse through the dozens of stalls and shops. This is Yangon’s best market for handicrafts and other goods. (Note: Market is closed on Mondays and public holidays).

Lunch at a local restaurant where delicious Burmese cuisine is served in a clean, comfortable environment.

After lunch we’ll visit Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to a 70-meter long reclining Buddha. A visit to Kyaukhtatgyi provides a great overview of Buddhism with murals depicting the life of Buddha, the feet of the statue carved with traditional symbols and often many locals gathering to pay homage and pray.

Continue to a local tea shop for a chance to experience an integral part of Burmese life: drinking tea! Select from an array of snacks and enjoy a coffee or tea as you sit amid businessmen, friends and families who gather at the tea shop to socialize or conduct business.

Next your guided tour goes to Kandawagyi Park, one of central Yangon’s greenest spots. Here you will see the glittering Karaweik barge, a replica of the royal barge, and the vast lake with views of Shwedagon in the background. Depending on the day of your visit Kandawgyi may be busy with local families who come here on the weekend to relax in the fresh air.

From here, continue to Shwedagon Pagoda the most revered Buddhist temple in Myanmar. Although the origins of the pagoda are unclear, the local legend states that the original structure was built 2500 years ago then renovated several times until taking its current shape in the 15th century. The 8-sided central stupa is 99 meters tall and gilded with gold leaf and is surrounded by 64 smaller stupas and your guide will show you around the massive complex, explaining why this temple is so revered. Enjoy breathtaking views of the golden stupa from this vantage point. Overnight in Yangon.

Day 3 – Yangon/Mandalay/Pyin Oo Lwin
Take an early morning flight north to Mandalay (via Bagan)

Your guide will greet you at Mandalay airport and from here embark on a scenic two-hour drive to the former British hill station of Maymyo, now officially called Pyin Oo Lwin. The town is located on a plateau 1000m above sea level and renowned for its cooler temperatures and lush foliage. Many reminders of the colonial era are still present in Pyin Oo Lwin, including brick and timber houses with British names and the Botanical Gardens to the south of town.

The afternoon is free at your leisure to explore on your own. Overnight in Pyin Oo Lwin.

Day 4 – Pyin Oo Lwin/Naung Pain (Train)/Kyauk Me/Hsipaw
We’ll depart around 0800 and transfer to the Pyin Oo Lwin train station where we’ll board the local train to Naung Pain Village. The journey takes around 5 hours passing through stunning scenery including the Gokhtiek Viaduct. (note: in case of severe rain train may be delayed and car transfer necessary)

A lunch box will be prepared and served along the way.

Upon reaching Kyauk Me we’ll stretch our legs with a walk around this charming town. Kyauk Me is a trading town nestled amid the Shan hills and is small enough that you can walk the whole town in one hour.

Continue on to Hsipaw and check in to your hotel. Overnight in Hsipaw.

Day 5 – Hsipaw/River trip/Hsipaw
Wake up early this morning and walk through the ‘candlelight market’. This busy morning market is filled with people from the nearby villages- including Shan and Palaung hill tribes, who gather in the predawn hours to trade their wares and produce. The market usually lasts from 3.30 until around 6 AM- thus, the stalls are illuminated by candlelight! If you wish, try a bowl of local Shan noodles here before returning to the hotel.

After freshening up at the hotel and having breakfast, we’ll set off for a boat journey along the Dokehtawaddy River. It’s a 15 minute walk to the river jetty where our private longtail boat is waiting. Cruise upstream for around 30 minutes to a fruit plantation where we’ll disembark for a walk through the plantation, village and then up to a 150-year old monastery (40 minutes walking time) After visiting the monastery, return to the boat.

The next part of our boat trip takes us to the confluence of the Dokehtawaddy River where we’ll stop for a swimming break and to take photos of the beautiful setting.

Continue to a hill tribe village where lunch will be served. Take a stroll around the village to meet with the locals and learn more about their culture, traditions and lifestyles.

Then return by boat to Hsipaw and walk to your hotel. The whole journey takes around 5 hours, so we’ll return in the mid afternoon.

Wander around the town and enjoy the sunset views over the river from one of the many hilltop temples. Overnight in Hsipaw.

Day 6 – Hsipaw/Mandalay
This morning after breakfast at the hotel, depart for the drive back to Mandalay. The drive takes around 6-7 hours and is along a sealed road in good condition. A stop will be made along the way for lunch.

Upon reaching Mandalay you will be taken to your hotel to check in then continue out for some sightseeing. Overnight in Mandalay.

Day 7 – Mandalay/Heho/Kalaw
This morning fly to Heho and continue by road to Kalaw.
Today is a long but a beautiful scenic drive to Kalaw, in the heart of the Shan State. The terrain changes dramatically as you leave the flat planes behind for the hills of Kalaw.

Arrive in the late afternoon and stretch your legs with a walk through town before checking in to your charming colonial hotel. Overnight in Kalaw.

Day 8 – Kalaw/Pindaya (Trekking)
This morning you’ll meet your Shan State trekking guide and, after breakfast visit Kalaw’s morning market, a small but beautiful market with an array of produce for sell. Depending on the day you may see Pa-Oh, Shan or Danu vendors in traditional dress buying and selling their wares.

Afterwards we walk to the trekking start point. Today’s trek takes around 4-6 hours and passes through the beautiful mountains around Pindaya.

The trip starts with one hour of gentle up and down terrain through pine forests followed by a one hour uphill climb to Peinnebin, a Palaung Village. Visit around the village and learn about the unique Palaung heritage.

Continue one more hour to Taungni where you will have lunch in a village home.

This afternoon walk downhill to Oomin Village, around 2.5 hours. This area is inhabited by the Danu people who grow crops such as ginger, potatoes, chili and rice.

Arriving late afternoon we’ll settle in to our overnight stay at either a monastery or family house in Ywadaw, a small village near Oomin. A local dinner of freshly prepared dishes will be served.
Overnight homestay in Ywadaw Village.
(Total distance: 5.5 hours)

Day 9 – Trek to Pindaya (full day)
Fuel up with a good breakfast before setting off on another amazing day of trekking. The route today takes you further around the Pindaya area and includes many stops at hill tribe villages. You’ll get to meet many friendly locals and learn about their unique traditions.

You’ll start with a one hour walk to Naungye, a Shan-Tare village. Continue over rolling hills to Phaung Taw(2 hours), a Danu village where from the months of October to December giant sunflowers will be growing on the hills.

We’ll stop here for lunch before continuing to Shan Ywa Village, our overnight stop for today. The walk takes around 3.5 hours and passes through Tebin Village.

Dinner will be served in the village. Overnight homestay in Shan Ywa.
(Total distance: 6.5 hours)

Day 10 – Trek to Pindaya (half day)
Our final day of trekking takes us to Pindaya. The walk takes around 3.5 hours and is mostly downhill. We’ll have one final village lunch before arriving in the town of Pindaya in the early afternoon.

Transfer to the hotel for check-in and a chance to freshen up. Then we’ll visit the famed Pindaya caves, filled with thousands of Buddhas and meditation niches. Overnight in Pindaya.
(Total distance: 3.5 hours)

Day 11 – Pindaya/Nyaung Shwe (Optional biking)
Leave the hills behind this morning with a drive to Nyaung Shwe, the gateway town for Inle Lake. Many tourists only pass through Nyaung Shwe which is a shame as it is a fabulous little town with a great atmosphere and many activities going on.

Start with a visit to the Nyaung Shwe morning market where locals gather every morning to buy and sell fresh produce from the lake and its surroundings.

Continue by local trishaw down to the bustling canal which is a hive of activity in the morning as boats from the lake come in to unload tomatoes and other vegetables for distribution to the markets around the country. Watch as baskets laden with produce are transferred from boats to trucks and bikes.

Hop back on the trishaw and wind through quiet streets. Make a stop at the ‘tomato house’, a warehouse-like structure where the tomatoes are sorted and priced for sale. Then continue past some of the many monasteries and nunneries in the town, stopping for photos as you go.

Then check in to your hotel.

There is an option this afternoon to rent a local bike and pedal to some of the farms in the area or the Red Mountain Wine Estate. Overnight in Nyaung Shwe.

Day 12 – Inle Lake/Hpe Kom (By Boat)/Loikaw (By Car)
After breakfast, your journey will begin with boat trip to Hpe Kom located at the far south of Inle Lake (when water is shallow the journey may take up to 6 hours). Along the way, you will have an opportunity to visit Thar Khaung Village which has an ancient monastery, panoramic views and friendly local people. The boat trip is a shutterbug’s delight, with picturesque scenery of the Shan mountains and valleys flanking the tranquil waters of the lake. Unchanged by time and filled with unspoiled villages and beautiful nature, this is the ‘real’ Inle Lake that few tourists rarely get to see.

Along the way, stop for lunch at a local restaurant near Thar Khaung village. After lunch, proceed to Hpe Kom for a short visit around the charming little town.

Reach Hpe Kom late this afternoon where a car is waiting to transfer you to Loikaw. The last stretch of today’s journey takes around 2 hours. Upon arrival in Loikaw, check in to your hotel. Overnight in Loikaw.

Day 13 – Loikaw
This morning you will have a traditional breakfast in a local tea house before setting out for Demawso market. This market is only open on Wednesdays and Saturdays and is a spectacular opportunity for travelers to see the ethnic groups wearing colourful traditional costumes and trading their wares. On the return drive, we’ll explore more of Loikaw as we stop to visit Ngwe Taung Dam and San Mone Padaung villages.

Lunch at local restaurant.

After lunch, visit the Kayah State museum gain insight in to the unique culture and tradition of ethnic groups in this region. Then, visit a field near the village containing spiritual posts, locally known as Kaehtobo which are used during the Kayah New Year celebrations in April. At that time, the local people offer food to the guardian spirits at this location.

Continue with a visit to a traditional weaving shop and as the day comes to an end, head to Taunggwe Pagoda to enjoy the magnificent sunset views over Loikaw. Overnight in Loikaw.

Day 14 – Loikaw/Hpe Kom/Pin Laung/Nyaung Shwe
After breakfast at local tea house, take a leisurely stroll for more sightseeing in this colourful, interesting town.

Then, set off to Nyaung Shwe by car stopping for lunch en route. The drive is highlighted by the areas stunning natural beauty and panoramic scenery of the Shan mountain ranges. You will pass through the little town of Hpe Kom and Pin Laung, Pa-O villages whose residents welcome the visitors with friendly smiles. Upon arrival, transfer to your hotel and rest of the day at leisure. Overnight in Nyaung Shwe.

Day 15 – Inle Lake/Heho/Kengtung
Transfer to the Heho airport this morning for the flight to Kengtung.

Upon arrival at Kengtung, your locally-based guide will greet you and transfer to your hotel.

(Note: Only Kengtung airport-hotel transfer is included. Please check with your travel consultant for surcharge for transfer from Thai border or Tachileik airport)

Kengtung is in a lush valley and most of the city’s buildings reflect the traditional architectural styles of the Shan people, such as wooden houses with balconies. After freshening up set off with your guide to explore the city streets, lake, teashops and the Maha Myat Muni pagoda.

This evening we suggest to dine at a local restaurant and try some Shan food, the regional cuisine. Overnight in Kengtung.

Day 16 – Trek in Kengtung
After breakfast visit Kengtung’s local market. This daily market is visited by villagers from the surrounding area who come to sell their products and barter for goods. Visiting the market, you will see minority hilltribes in their traditional dresses.

Then depart by road to Pin Tauk Village, the starting point of today’s trek. Set off on foot, trekking 45 minutes to 1 hour to the Akha minority village of Hwe Lon. Spend some time in the village and interacting with the locals to discover more about their unique customs and daily lifestyle.

After a picnic lunch, resume trekking to an Ann Village perched on the slopes of a hill (approximately 30 minutes). The Ann minority is known for their traditional black dress and blackened teeth. After walking around the village, stop at Lone Tree Hill for panoramic views of the city and continue to Kengtung. Overnight in Kengtung.

Day 17 – Trek in Kengtung
This morning after breakfast drive in the direction of Mong La. The drive follows a good road with gorgeous views of mountains dotted with tribal villages. After around 2 hours (40 km), we’ll arrive at the start point of the trekking trail.

The first hour of the trek features rolling, hilly terrain but mostly 20 to 30 degree slope. In the middle of this natural landscape, we will suddenly arrive at breathtaking beautiful wooden monastery, which is thought to be more than 300 years old. There are wood carvings on the doors and paintings on both the interior and exterior walls. Inside the Buddha room, there are paintings of Jakata stories, ancient Buddha images and other impressive religious figures and furniture.

Continue on foot a short way to Wan Nyat, a unique village whose inhabitants are Loi people living in long houses. Spend time walking around the village to learn about the way of life, culture and traditions of the Loi.

If you wish, continue hiking one more hour along a flatter, easier trail to another Loi village. Wang Seng is rarely visited by tourists and features an impressive and even larger monastery. A lunch box will be served along the way.

After your visits, return along the trekking trail to your car and drive back to Kengtung, arriving in the late afternoon. Freshen up at the hotel and then head out to a local restaurant for dinner. Overnight in Kengtung.

Day 18 – Kengtung/Yangon
After breakfast at the hotel, this morning is at your leisure to explore Kengtung. If time allows, visit a traditional Shan lacquer ware workshop and the water buffalo market which is held twice a week in Kengtung.

Then transfer to the Kengtung airport for your onward flight to Yangon.

Transfer only provided in Yangon. The rest of your day is free to shop or explore as you wish.
Overnight in Yangon.

Day 19 – Depart Yangon
You will be driven to the airport for your departure flight.

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