The Irrawaddy River is a vital part of Myanmar yet is often missed out of holiday. This brings together some the country’s main highlights with a short 2 night cruise along the Irrawaddy from Mandalay to Bagan. A relaxing way to get a little off the beaten track and enjoy another side of this beautiful country.
Ngapali is Myanmar’s premier beach resort but if you’d rather finish in Thailand this can be easily arranged.
Day 1: Depart on a choice of flights to Mandalay, Myanmar
Day 2: On arrival private transfer to your choice of hotel for 2 nights in Mandalay
Day 3: Private guided tour of Mandalay city
Day 4: Board luxury small cruise boat in time for lunch and enjoy 2 nights on the Irrawaddy River
Day 5: Morning walk round the pottery village at Yandabo. Evening tour of Pakokku by trishaw
Day 6: Arrive Bagan for 2 nights. Private tour of Bagan’s incredible collection of ancient pagodas
Day 7: Private guided tour to Mount Popa with hill walk
Day 8: Fly to Heho. Private longtail boat to Inle Lake hotel for 2 nights
Day 9: Full day private guided longtail boat tour of Inle Lake highlights including Indein
Day 10: Visit Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung monastery. Fly to Ngapali for 3 nights on the beach
Day 11-12: 2 days to relax on beautiful beach, take a swim, walk to fishing villages and explore coast
Day 13: Fly to Yangon for 1 night. Private guided city tour incl. evening at Shwedagon Pagoda
Day 14: Private transfer to airport in time for your flight home
Day 15: Arrive home
Day 1: UK Airport / Mandalay
Depart on a choice of overnight flights to Mandalay. There are no direct flights and so there is the chance to perhaps break your journey in Bangkok, Singapore or Dubai.
Day 2: Arrive Mandalay
On arrival you’ll be met by your private guide and transferred to the city centre where you check in to your choice of hotel for 2 nights.
The rest of the day’s free to recover from the journey and explore the city under your own steam.
Day 3: Mandalay (B) - Private City Tour
This morning your guide will collect you for a full tour of the city. Mandalay was the last of the royal cities and is encompassed by smaller capital cities dotted around its edges. The centre piece of the city is the reconstructed palace that’s surrounded by a large moat. Visit Mahamuni Pagoda with its statues created in Buddha’s true likeness. Lunch will be in a local restaurant at own expense. You then visit a marble stone carving and an artisanal gold leaf workshop. See the largest book in the world at Kuthodaw Pagoda, where stories are etched on 79 stone tablets. End the day watching the sunset from high up on Mandalay Hill.
Day 4: Mandalay to Bagan 2 night Cruise (B / L / D)
After breakfast your guide will take you to the Irrawaddy jetty where you board the small cruise ship with just 16 cabins in time for lunch. Designed to take you back to the 1880’s when these beautiful craft made use of their shallow draft to take produce and passengers up and down the river this a fantastic addition to any holiday. The afternoon is spent cruising down the Irrawaddy leaving Mandalay behind and entering a more rural part of the country. Enjoy dinner looking out over the water. Moor overnight.
Day 5: Mandalay (B) Cruise to Yandabo and Pakokku (B / L / D)
Enjoy breakfast as the cruise continues along the beautiful river to the pottery village at Yandabo. Disembark and your guide will take you through the hand-made, labour intensive processes that seem to involve the whole village from the moulding of clay blocks through to the firing of pots that line the riverbank waiting to be transported to market. You’ll see these drinking water pots throughout your holiday that hold the fresh water for villagers and passers-by. You’ll also have the chance to explore the village and get a sense of the culture and lifestyle of rural Myanmar.
Back to the ship for lunch and the cruise continues down the river. This evening take a tour of Pakokku by trishaw. Pakokku is quiet, traditional country town best known for tobacco trading. Return to the ship for dinner.
Day 6: Cruise to Bagan (B) - Private guided Pagoda Tour
Enjoy breakfast as the cruise comes to its conclusion at Bagan. Disembark at 9am and you’ll be transferred on to your choice of hotel for 3 nights.
Bagan in is one of the world’s greatest archaeological sites, a sight to rival Angkor Wat. The setting is sublime, a verdant 26 square-mile plain, part-covered by palm and tamarind, caught in a bend of the Irrawaddy and framed by the hazy silver-grey of distant mountains. Today you will enjoy a tour of some of a selection of the 3,000 plus monuments and enjoy take a horse and cart to watch the sunset over this wondrous landscape from the Shwesandaw Pagoda. Lunch will be in a local restaurant at your own expense.
Day 7: Bagan (B) - Private guided tour to Mount Popa
This morning your guide will collect you for a day tour to Mt Popa, strikingly perched on the top of an extinct volcano and the highest landmark in the central zone of Myanmar. On arrival climb the 777 steps to reach the mountain top Taungkalat monastery where powerful nats (Burmese spirits) are said to live. From here you can enjoy a panoramic view of Bagan and the surrounding countryside. Watch out for the macaques that live here and are protected, as they may steal hats, sun glasses etc.
Lunch (own expense) will be at the stunningly located Popa Mountain Resort and then your guide will take you on an hour’s walk along Taung Ma Gyi (Burmese for ‘Mother Hill’). The plunging valleys around the peak are dramatic and on a clear day you can enjoy views stretching past Bagan and the Irrawaddy River. On your way up you’ll also find the best views of Popa Taungkalat Monastery, as well as an impressive array of flora and fauna, including many different species of birds and butterflies in a striking array of colours and sizes.
On the way back to the hotel break the journey with a stop at a local toddy palm farm. This day will also show you more of the Burmese countryside as you get to see a little more of rural life and villages along the way. Back the hotel late afternoon.
Day 8: Fly Bagan (B) to Inle Lake
Early morning airport transfer and short flight to Heho Airport. Flying in Myanmar is part of the adventure as outside Yangon the airports are still very simple and the service is more like a bus service with coloured stickers denoting which flight you’re on. The flights will be by prop-plane.
On arrival your private guide will meet you and transfer you to Inle Lake where you board you private longtail boat. After 20 minutes the channel starts to open up and you get a sense of lakes’s size and what life here is like before docking at your choice of hotel for 2 nights. The rest of the afternoon is free or an extra tour can be added.
Day 9: Kalaw (B / L) - Private Walking Day Tour of Hills, Villages & Countryside
Today you’ll join a local walking guide for a day exploring the surrounding countryside, farms and villages. Head straight out of the back of the hotel and you’re immediately out in the countryside, following a well-established track south along the side of the valley. You might meet locals using it to commute into Kalaw or farmers leading their buffalo to the surrounding fields (look out for buffalo water holes in which they wallow in the mud that protects their skin from the sun).
As you’re over 5,000 feet above sea level you’ll walk through pine forest and see the conservation schemes that are trying to re-forest the valley sides. Down below you’ll see a patchwork of fields that grow a bewildering variety of vegetables, fruit and of course rice. Walk for about 2.5 miles to Lutpyin a farming village mainly inhabited by the Taungyoe tribe. On the way enjoy the stunning view of the surrounding countryside. Your guide will show you round the village and you may get the chance to enjoy some local food from a village eatery. From here follow another track to Taunggyiche (1 mile). Here you’ll enjoy a packed lunch and perhaps spend some time mixing with the local community and watching everyday life.
Then head north-east towards Myin Ma Hti Mountain (1.8 miles) and visit the winding complex of natural caves and tunnels, filled to bursting point with Buddha images in an astonishing variety of shapes and sizes. From here head north and start back towards Kalaw (4 miles, approx. 2 hours) crossing Minelong Mountain ridge at elevation 4,776 feet. From here the trail goes generally down all the way to Nanthe (2.5 miles) on a further 20 minutes to the lodge.
Please bear in mind that the exact day may vary slightly and are fully flexible, so can be adjusted to your fitness / interest levels. The local guide and hotel manager know the hills very well so please feel free to talk to them about the day. I did the walk as far as the Myin Ma Hti Mountain and found the variety of landscapes and access to rural life fascinating. The tracks are good and not too strenuous.
Day 10: Fly Inle Lake (B) / Ngapali Beach
Early morning your guide will pick you up for the 45 minute transfer by longtailed boat to the northern edge of the lake where the car will be waiting to take you to the airport.
On the way (time permitting) you’ll make a short stop at Shwe Yaunghwe Kyaung, a two hundred year old Shan style teak monastery. At first glance it may appear to be a slightly tumbledown structure but it’s a working monastery that’s worth exploring and great for photos. Across from the stilted ordination hall you’ll find a white building whose brick and stucco corridors contain thousands of small Buddha images and beautiful floor tiles.
On arrival at the airport check-in and take the short flight to Ngapali. On arrival met and transferred to your choice of beach hotel for 3 nights (or more). Afternoon to relax on the golden beach, take a swim or explore the surrounding area.
Days 11-12: Ngapali Beach (B) - Free days
Ngapali Beach is perfect place to conclude any holiday around Myanmar. A short flight from the country’s main destinations, even the airport overlooks a palm lined beach. Ngapali offers everything you could want from a beach destination: miles & miles of wide white sand beach, clear blue sea, discreet low rise upmarket beachside resorts and plenty of local restaurants. It seems to have reached the sweet spot, whereby the facilities mean you can relax in comfort but the development hasn’t ruined the reason you visit.
The most active part of the day will probably be watching the fisherman bringing back their catch, but if you want to explore more there are snorkelling trips to outlying islands, you can rent a bike or perhaps hire a car and driver to explore the largely undeveloped bays that form a ribbon down the coast.
Day 13: Ngapali (B) / Yangon - Private Guided City Tour
After breakfast you’ll be transferred to the airport for the short flight to Yangon. On arrival met and transferred to your choice of hotel for 1 night.
Time to check-in then you’ll be collected for a private city tour. Although the city is no longer the official capital of the country it’s the most dynamic and forward facing city in the country. There are many cultural and historical highlights to be found in between the hustle and bustle of city life here. Visit Botahtaung Pagoda, the colossal reclining Buddha Chaukhtatkyi and Kandawgyi Lake. Lunch will be in a local restaurant at own expense. Walk through old streets lined with colonial buildings and do some shopping at Scott Market. In the evening take in the spectacular view of Shwedagon Pagoda all lit up. This is the most important Buddhist site in the country and is said to hold strands of Buddha’s hair and other relics. The spire reaches up to 99m and is encrusted with diamonds and covered by gold plate. Join the hundreds of locals who pray here as the sun sets and you get an indication of how Buddhism is the keystone of Burmese life.
Day 14: Yangon (B) / UK Airport
Day free until your airport transfer a flight home. Arrive back in UK the following morning.
Each featured itinerary is really a starting point from which to create your ideal holiday.
We can include as much or as little as you like, mix and match hotels, excursions and experiences, add extra nights and change the destinations you'd like to visit.
The common thread is that each is a privately guided holiday, allowing you to travel where and when you want, with your own private transport and dedicated guide.
- Return scheduled international flights (optional if you would like to arrange your own)
- English speaking, local guide & driver
- Choice of hotel accommodation
- Transport in private air-conditioned vehicles
- Domestic flights detailed in itinerary
- Admission fees to all attractions, temples and activities as mentioned in the itinerary
- All meals as detailed (B = breakfast, L = lunch, D = dinner)
- Entry visas (if applicable)
- Optional Tours / Excursions
- Any meals not listed in the itinerary
- Personal expenses
- Tips for Guides / Drivers (discretionary)
- Travel insurance
- Any camera or video fees charged at sites
The hotels below are there as examples, designed to act as a starting point from which to create your holiday. There are plenty of alternatives to choose from and when we quote we will include other suggestions so we get to understand your likes and dislikes. Quite often clients mix and match hotel categories throughout their holiday.
Hotels in Mandalay
Choose from a wide range hotels in Myanmar's cultural capital
Hotels in Bagan
Often at the top of a visitors’ wish list, Bagan’s 2,500 stupas and temples won’t disappoint
Hotels in Kalaw
Former British Hill station set amongst beautiful mountain scenery
Hotels on Inle Lake
Explore by private longtail boat and discover a water world dotted with stilted houses, floating gardens and ancient pagodas & temples
Hotels on Ngapali Beach
Ngapali offers everything you could want from a beach destination
Hotels in Yangon
Perhaps more famous to us as “Rangoon”, Yangon is Myanmar’s largest city