Myanmar, a country long shrouded in mystery, welcomes visitors with genuine smiles, arrestingly beautiful scenery and temple cities of forgotten empires. And, this comprehensive trip takes in all of its storied treasures, with evocative nights spent in colonial mansions and thatched, lakeside houses complemented by private guided touring throughout, ranging from river cruises and 4WD trips to city tours and train rides. You'll start in Myanmar's historic royal capital, Mandalay, comparing its palatial sights to the hundreds of stupas that grace Sagaing's rolling hills and the thousands of temples that dot Bagan's green plains. Then, there's Inle Lake's water-top pagodas and stilted villages before you end in Yangon to contrast European architecture with the giant, golden beauty of its Buddhist history.
Let a private chauffeur transfer bring you to the airport where you can rest up before your overnight flight in a premium lounge.
Arriving into Mandalay, you'll be treated to an expert-led tour of Myanmar's last royal capital. While the city centres around a mysterious, forest-clad palace, you'll be brought along canals lined with colonial gardens and to teakwood monasteries that house immense marble slabs of Buddhist scriptures. On the way, there are gold-leaf pagodas to admire and artisan silk weavers and woodcarvers to visit – skills unchanged since they were first used to bedeck the royal courts. Gaze over it all from the top of Mandalay Hill as the sun sets, before returning to the luxury of your hotel, its teakwood suites surrounded by stunning landscaped grounds.
Ringed by royal subjects, you’ll head out into Mandalay’s surrounds to discover green hills lined with sparkling pagodas and rivers dotted with temples. You’ll cruise out on the mighty Irrawaddy River, passing washerwomen and buffalo carts to reach Mingun – the site of a stupa base that evidences the colossal folly of an 18th-century king. Continue on to Sagaing where over 600 pagodas and monasteries cascade down verdant banks to form Myanmar’s religious heart. You’ll then drive back through basket-weaving villages to reach U Bein Bridge. Dating back 200 years and measuring over two kilometres, it’s the world’s oldest and largest teakwood bridge, offering spectacular views over the surrounding riverbanks and streams.
In the Pegu Range of the Myingyan Plains, a three-hour private transfer from Mandalay, Mt. Popa rises into the clouds – a volcanic plug capped with spindling temple spires. Along the way, you’ll stop off for forest treks, toddy farms and remote villages to reach its pilgrimage stairway. Here, barefooted, you'll ascend for stunning views over Bagan's plains to the Irrawaddy River as you learn about the mountain's unique significance to Burmese animist worship. Then, continue to Bagan itself and your intimately boutique hotel just moments from the ancient temples.
Today, an in-depth guided tour will showcase the highlights of this ancient city. You’ll wind between gilded stupas, redbrick statues and century-old monoliths, with your expert guide bringing it all to life. Particular temple highlights include Thagyar Pone for its spectacular views, and the Indic detailing of 12th-century Ananda. You’ll also enjoy an afternoon visit to Ngat Pyit Taung Monastery, with its sacred caves and accompanying primary school, where you can meet the children, all warm smiles and hearts. You might also want to consider an optional dawn balloon flight; watch as Bagan’s thousand-strong collection of temples come to life as the sunlight breaks across the plains.
Today, you’ll head out into Bagan’s surrounds to witness traditions unchanged in villages well off the beaten track. Here, sealed roads are replaced by working oxen and the odd cyclist, with today's drive bringing you through tobacco plantations, chilli farms and hidden artisan communities. Along the way, you'll make stops at bustling market towns to sample a delicious medley of sizzling snacks before pausing at Pakkoku – a town famous for its velvet slipper. It's a unique shopping experience, before you enjoy a boat ride back – across the Irrawaddy – to Bagan.
Fly south to Inle Lake – a mountain-ringed shimmer host to stilted villages watched over by creeping vineyards. On arrival, you’ll cruise through canals edged with floating gardens to your thatched-house accommodation, tucked away on a lotus-filled inlet. From this intimate base, a succession of private tours will bring you to craft workshops, waterside markets animated by regional tribes and the lakes’ floating civilisations. Join the fishermen who row with their legs to take in golden pagodas, teakwood monasteries, bright-green gardens and entire towns that float on the water. You’ll also be brought out to a local village all but hidden in the surrounding mountains, with ancient stupas that frame magnificent views.
Myanmar’s largest city contrasts its fading colonial charm with the bright, much older, gold of its Buddhist iconography – a juxtaposition both impressive and profound. You’ll experience the best of the former, with a stay in the opulent Belmond Governor’s Residence, once the estate-home of the city’s 1920s ruler. A private tour will then bring you to Yangon’s highlights; there’s the royal barges of its lake-dotted park, the 70-metre-long reclining Buddha of Kyaukhtatgyi Pagoda and Shwedagon’s 100-metre-high burnished spire that dominates the city's skyline. You’ll also ride its Circle Train to tour the lesser-visited outskirts, sipping your way through teahouses and visiting marketplaces that punctuate old colonial streets. At the end of it all, there's Little India and the Chinatown night market – a feast for all senses.
A last private transfer will bring you the airport for your overnight flight back to the UK. On arrival, a private chauffeur will then see you home.
"This itinerary swaps a river cruise for a journey by road from Mandalay to Bagan, meaning you'll be able to visit remote villages and toddy farms, as well as see the natural, rural beauty of Myanmar. To me, it feels more immersive when travelling by road, although luxury cruises are incredible experiences in themselves."