In Myanmar thousands of temples cluster in verdant plains, giant golden pagodas form city skylines and fading architecture remembers a unique colonial past. You’ll discover its riches on stage-coach rides through royal capitals, tuk tuk sprints to monolithic stupas, sails between floating markets and a luxurious cruise along the Irrawaddy. However, while Mandalay’s forest-clad Royal Palace, Ava’s lost-capital heritage and Yangon’s gilded stupas impress, it’s Bagan that stands out. Here, giant temples peak through a verdant canopy and spindling stupa spires cap misty volcanoes.
Start in style with a chauffeur transfer to the airport where premium-lounge access will help you relax before your overnight flight.
Arrive into the last royal capital of Myanmar to check into the silk-lined guestrooms of your luxury resort. It’s a city where monasteries and old colonial buildings host large, shaded gardens and traditions unchanged. Perhaps find its regal status in the forested Royal Palace or climb its pagoda-studded hills for a citywide overlook.
Board your indulgent river ship to settle into your butler-served teakwood cabin as you cruise the Royal Lake to reach U-Bein. Here, you’ll marvel at the world’s oldest and longest teakwood bridge before travelling on to the Shwe In Bin monastery whose intricately carved dark-wood tiers exemplify the best in Burmese architecture. Continue on to Min Gun where a three-wheeled tuk tuk – the nation’s favourite form of transportation – will bring you to its monolithic pagoda. Paya Hsinbyume is a particular highlight whose seven whitewashed terraces represent the seven ranges around Mt. Meru, the mountain at the centre of the Buddhist universe.
Start with Ava, an imperial capital whose successive rebirths between the 14th and 19th centuries are realised in an eclectic collection of watchtowers, fortified walls and grandly gilded temples. You’ll explore it all on a horse cart tour before spending the afternoon lazing along the Irrawaddy’s gentle waters; watch as riverside villages, working oxen and waving children drift by. Take some time to enjoy your ship’s cultural workshops, spa treatments and custom swimming pool before a sunset cocktail and a dinner with the captain.
Cruise into Bagan where verdant plains are studded with no less than 2,200 temples, pagodas and stupas – the remains of a once all-powerful empire. You’ll visit a selection of its handpicked highlights, including Shwezigon Pagoda’s gold-leaf beauty and Ananda Temple’s imposing, 12th-century edifice that hides a tranquil interior. After another indulgent lunch, take in the beautifully frescoed interiors of Sulamani and the village setting of Gubyaukgyi Temple before watching the sun set over the Irrawaddy as you enjoy a farewell dinner.
With some further time to explore Bagan in detail, you’ll stay in a luxurious lake-view villa – complete with private Jacuzzi – at the only accommodation sited among Bagan’s temples. After disembarking, you’ll drive out through verdant toddy farms and sun-parched plains to arrive at Mt. Popa, a volcanic plug whose mist-shrouded summit hosts a tumble of pagodas that command views out over the entire region. The next day, a boat hop and jeep tour will take you past ox-tilled farms to reach remote villages famed for their artisan crafts before a leisurely Irrawaddy-cruise brings you back to Bagan.
Inle Lake is a window into an aquatic world where traditional lives still play out on its vast, mountain-framed waters. A scenic flight, drive and water transfer will see you pass villages built on stilts, leg-rowing fishermen and floating gardens to reach your waterside hotel, a French delight realised in designer minimalism. Your guided touring will bring you between floating monasteries, ancient hilltop pagodas and canal-line temples home to gilded royal barges. In lakeside markets and remote villages reached by secret inlets you’ll also meet the tribes that call Inle home. On your last day here, a scenic drive through the Shan Plateau’s mountain fields will see you to Pindaya where thousands of Buddha images line a labyrinthine cave complex.
Fly down to Myanmar’s largest city to check in to The Strand – the only hotel in the colonial part of the city. It looks the part too, with its Victorian colonnades housing billiards tables and local antiques. Your guided touring here will show you Yangon’s giant reclining Buddha, leafy lakeside parks and skyline-defining golden pagodas that measure nearly 100m tall before you discover colonial Rangoon in the city centre. Here, fading European architecture is interspersed with busy marketplaces and ethnic enclaves. A teahouse visit and a ride on the Circle Train will then bring you to the city’s lesser-visited outskirts for a taste of day-to-day Burmese life.
Stay: The Strand Hotel
Fly back to the UK overnight to be met by a private chauffeur who’ll ensure a comfortable last leg. Alternatively, for some extra relaxation, fly out to Thandwe on the Bay of Bengal to stay in a private villa whose tropical gardens open right onto the fine sands of Ngapali. Speak to our specialists about extending your stay.
"This itinerary is designed to showcase Myanmar’s idyllic riverside life with an iconic river cruise on the Irrawaddy, and also demonstrate the centuries-old traditions of Inle Lake where it really does feel as though time has stood still. We've also included a memorable teahouse visit and journey on the Circle Train in the de facto capital, Yangon."
Low Season from: £3,995 pp
High Season from: £4,710 pp
Please note: it is not possible to cruise the Irrawaddy between May and July due to weather conditions.