Best Things to do in Myanmar | Stories by Soumya

The Most Amazing Things To Do In Myanmar

Last Updated on January 3, 2024 by Soumya

After Myanmar started opening up to international tourists in 2012, there has been a constant, though not heavy, inflow of tourists. Travelers from around the world have been fascinated by a country that remained shrouded in mystery for long. After all, don’t we all wish to seek the unknown? And with so many unique things to do in Myanmar, there is no way the true traveler in our hearts could keep away for long.

Myanmar is a beautiful country with lots to offer. Ancient temples, white sand beaches, delicious food, and smiling people - here are the 16 most amazing things to do in Myanmar. Travel with us through Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Ngapali, and one secret destination! #myanmartravel #wanderlust #thingstodoinbagan #thingstodoinyangon

Curiosity got the better of both me and K when we finally decided to travel to Myanmar in 2018. And we are so glad we did. Sure, the ethical question of traveling to Myanmar always pops up. But I tend to agree with my friend Madhurima who has very eloquently described in her travelogue that traveling to Myanmar can be more a way to help the local community than to condone the government’s actions.

We spent nearly 2 weeks in the country and with a heavily-researched itinerary of Myanmar plus tips by locals, we think we did some of the most gorgeous things and saw some of the most gorgeous sights. Without further ado, let me take you through a quick tour of all the exciting things you can do in Myanmar.

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So, here’s a list of the best things to do in Myanmar

Best Things to do in Yangon, Myanmar

Yangon was our first stop and will probably be yours too. There are so many things to do in Yangon apart from strolling down its aging, colonial roads. I have listed some of my favorites here.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon | Stories by Soumya
Shwedagon Pagoda at dusk

Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda

Visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda is an absolute-must in Yangon. You will probably have heard lots about the surreal beauty of this gilded pagoda. The only way to believe it is to see for yourself.

The Shwedagon Zedi Daw or the Golden Pagoda is the largest in Burma. It was built around the 6th century but has undergone several changes ever since. The pagoda is covered with many tonnes of gold complete with a diamond spire. The pagoda shimmers and glitters when lit up in the evening and gives the entire place an out-of-the-world feeling.

Shwedagon is the holiest temple in Myanmar. Since it is a functioning pagoda, you can experience several rituals/festivities being held on-site. The temple is open from 4 am – 10 pm every day. Refer to the Official Website of Shwedagon for tickets and other details.

Ride the Circular Train

Riding the circular train in Yangon is a unique thing to experience in Myanmar. It is a great way to see the real Myanmar. The journey will take you through noisy railway stations, laid-back towns, smelly garbage dumps, and past fragrant street food stalls.

For me, the Yangon Circular Train ride was an inexpensive and incredible way to experience local life in Myanmar. If I get a chance to do this again, I would definitely do the tour with a local guide to get a deeper dive into Burmese life and culture.

Souvenirs in Myanmar | Stories by Soumya
Sand paintings are among the most preferred souvenirs from Myanmar

Binge on street food

Another thing I loved about Yangon was the omnipresence of street food. And unlike those of its more famous, Southeast Asian neighbors, Myanmar traditional food wasn’t spicy at all. Plus, there were so many veggie options. A win-win for me. I have been traveling with acute GERD for the last 6 years and have found that less spicy food, vegetarian food is always a boon.

I would highly recommend you to try the Samosa Thoke (samosa salad) and Laphet Thoke (tea leaf salad) on the streets of Yangon. Also, the barbequed meat and vegetables on BBQ street are superb.

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Myanmar traditional food – The best dishes of the Burmese cuisine
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Practical tips for Yangon

  • Getting around: While in Yangon, we mostly used taxis to get around the city. You can easily use the Grab app to book one or simply hail one on the road. They are convenient and cheap.
  • Accommodation: We stayed at the budget, but highly-rated, Merchant Art Hotel with a Shwedagon view from the terrace. Plan for a candlelight dinner with the glittering pagoda in the background.
    If you are a luxury traveler, you will want to check out Yangon Excelsior, an exceptionally-rated hotel.

Best Things to do in Mandalay

The old royal capital, the second-largest city in the country, the cultural capital, a medley of immigrants – Mandalay has many such titles to its credit. No doubt, it is always high up on the tourist radar. Here are some of my favorite things to do in Mandalay.

Visit the Mandalay Palace

Visting the resplendent Mandalay Palace is usually on the top of every Myanmar itinerary. Burmese kings and their families, an English invasion, capture by Japan, bombing by the Allies – the palace has seen it all. In fact, most of it was destroyed during the Second World War.

Only the original, teak-carved Shwenandaw Monastery survives today. The rest of the palace is a reconstruction of the original but a very good one at that. You can easily imagine strolling through those ancient galleries watching how the Burmese king and his family lived.

At Sagaing in Mandalay | Stories by Soumya
Sagaing near MandalayAn essential day trip from Mandalay

Get a sweeping view of the Sagaing pagodas

Sagaing was my favorite day trip from Mandalay. And that was because it was like another mini Bagan. Pagodas in every direction that I wanted to look at. Only these pagodas were colored white and gold. Hike on to one of the many pagodas on the Sagaing hill and get a sweeping view of the beauty around you.

Take a day trip to Mingun

Taking a day trip to Mingun is another interesting thing to do when in Mandalay. Mingun is home to the Instagram-famous Hsinbyume Pagoda with its white, wavy structure. Also, take time to see the massive Pahtodawgyi Pagoda that was never completed because of an ominous prophecy. Read more about it in my post on day trips from Mandalay.

Try some ethnic-fusion food

Since Mandalay has always been the confluence of Indian, Chinese, and other ethnic groups with the Burmese, it is easy to find fusion foods here. And we could not help trying out some exotic Indo-Burmese fusion food. And it was pure bliss – a very east Indian taste peppered with refreshing Burmese flavors. You can try some, especially the rotis and curries, at Nay Cafe on the 82nd 27th Streets in Mandalay.

Practical tips for Mandalay

  • Getting around: It is easy and cheap to get a motorbike to explore the city. The lender usually holds your passport for the time that you borrow the bike.
  • Accommodation: We stayed at the budget and highly recommended Hotel A1 which is located centrally in Mandalay. The staff is friendly. They speak good English and can help you with onward bookings and tours.

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3 Must-do day trips from Mandalay

At Bagan in Myanmar | Stories by Soumya
All smiles in Bagan – one of the must-visit places in Myanmar

Best Things to do in Bagan, Myanmar

You cannot leave Myanmar without visiting Bagan, one of the most beautiful cities in Southeast Asia. For some, it is the entire reason for coming to Myanmar. Here are some very interesting things you can do in Bagan.

Visit the ancient temples of Bagan

Beautiful temples of Bagan provide amazing photo opportunities | Stories by Soumya
Beautiful temples of Bagan provide amazing photo opportunities

Visit at least a few of the more than 2000 temples that mushroom out of the earth in Bagan. In literally every direction. Some of the important ones are the Bupaya, the Ananda Paya, and the Thatbyinnyu.

The real fun, however, is in stumbling upon the lesser-known, almost hidden pagodas. There are so many – you can almost play a pagoda-spotting game. My treasured finding was the leaning pagoda of Bagan which I happily included in my exhaustive list of leaning towers of the world. Who knew there was one in Burma too!

Explore the fascinating murals of Baganese temples

I had clearly no idea about the murals of Bagan before I went here and was completely awestruck by their beauty. Many lay hidden in the smaller temples of Bagan. Some of them have been badly damaged by earthquakes and rains. But there are few that are in good shape and tell the story of Buddha. Check out my Bagan itinerary to find out where to spot these murals.

Buy some authentic Myanmar souvenirs

While temple hopping, I saw numerous small shops stacked with beautiful Myanmar souvenirs. Sandpaintings, Yoke thé puppets, Kyeezee bells, and lacquerware abound. If you wish to, you can be part of a local workshop in lacquerware making or just stroll through the shops selling them.

Watch a mind-blowing sunrise/sunset

It is fascinating to watch the sunrise over Bagan while gliding over the temples in a hot-air balloon. Similarly, watching the sunset while standing at the foot of a ruined pagoda or atop a well-restored one is enchanting. The sky changes into all hues of pink and purple and provides excellent opportunities to capture those striking pagoda silhouettes.

Practical tips for Bagan

  • Getting around: While in Bagan, we got an electro-bike that was the easiest and most popular way to get around the dusty roads of Bagan.
  • Accommodation: We stayed at the Amata Garden Resort in New Bagan. It was a pretty property and the balconies provided amazing views of the balloons at dawn. For more options on accommodation options in Bagan, check out our post on Traveler Recommendations on the Best Places to stay in Bagan.
  • Food: Highly recommend trying out the deep-fried shrimps available near the Bupaya temple and the homemade icecreams of Shwe Ou restaurant.
Sunset at Bagan | Stories by Soumya
Sunsets in Bagan can be so colorful

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Best Things to do in Ngapali, Myanmar

If you are looking for a beach in the historic land of Burma, try Ngapali. It is one of the best beaches in Myanmar. And there is so much you can do here apart from lounging in the sun.

Enjoy the beach

Pristine white sands and photogenic palm trees – Ngapali is the perfect destination for Instagram lovers. But more than that, it is a wonderful beach with an unending view of the Indian Ocean. What an amazing feeling to swim or simply get wet in those warm waters! You can also try out water sports in Ngapali. For details, head to my post on the best things to do in Ngapali.

Ngapali Beach | Stories by Soumya
The Ngapali beach in Myanmar

Explore the neighboring village of Thandwe

When you are in Ngapali, you can also explore the sleepy little village of Thandwe – an hour’s drive from the beach. The markets here are vibrant and locals friendly. Gyeik Taw fishing village is also nearby if you wish to have a peek.

Try some delicious seafood

When you are close to the beach, how can you not have some delicious seafood? Beach shacks open up every evening in Ngapali serving you with the most delectable grilled fish and lobsters. You can just sit by the moonlit sea and enjoy your meal.

Practical tips for Ngapali

  • Getting around: Most Ngapali resorts have shuttles that can pick you up from the Thandwe airport where you will arrive. Once in the city, you can rent a motorbike and travel around.
  • Accommodation: We stayed at the Amata Resort & Spa on the Ngapali beach. Their breakfast spread was great. Rooms were spacious and cozy. And since it was around New Year’s eve, the hotel was beautifully decorated.
  • Best time: The best time to visit the beaches of Ngapali is between November-February when the temperatures are lower and the resorts are fully functional. Resorts usually shut down between June-September because of monsoons.

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Best Things to do in Mrauk U, Myanmar

If you are looking to do something really offbeat in Myanmar, then head to Mrauk U in the Rakhine state. Once the prosperous capital of the ancient Arakan Kingdom, Mrauk U is now a sleepy town of ruined pagodas.

Take it slow and easy

Mrauk U is one place where you can really take it slow and easy. And you can disconnect from the rest of the world. Mrauk U seemed so far from the chaotic world that we live in. I simply loved ambling down those narrow streets, smiling at locals, and stepping in to relish the local buffet multiple times.

Temples of Mrauk U in Myanmar | Stories by Soumya
Monks at one of the many temples in Mrauk U

Visit the intriguing temples of Mrauk U

My favorite bit in Mrauk U was visiting the lost and ruined temples from the 15th century. They were old. Many were simply piles of stones. But they told a number of stories – of old, prosperous times. And that can be so tempting for all you history lovers out there. Read my complete travel guide on Mrauk U to find out what temples you should include in your itinerary.

Practical tips for Mrauk U

  • Getting around: The best way to get around Mrauk U is on a bicycle or a private taxi. We hired a taxi and a tour guide and it was definitely worth it especially because our guide – a polite man called Myint Zaw (find him here) – was extremely knowledgeable.
  • Accommodation: We stayed at the Golden Mrauk U Guest House and loved their breakfast which consisted of local delights along with bread, eggs, and fresh fruit juice.
  • Food: Try the super delicious Rakhine shrimp curry in Mrauk U but only at a non-touristy, local shack to get the authentic feel.

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A Complete Travel Guide to Mrauk U

This, in gist, was how we spent our two weeks in Myanmar.

We wanted to stay back more but could not due to other plans. But we are looking forward to going back to Myanmar and boating on Inle Lake, visiting the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, and roaming the streets of Naypyidaw.

Myanmar is a country with a vibrant local culture, an enduring history, and enchanting natural landscapes. It is the perfect destination for all kinds of travelers. Have you been to Myanmar yet? Do you want to go there? What would you love to see in Myanmar? Let us know in the comments below.

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Soumya is an acclaimed travel writer who has traveled to 30+ countries and lived in 8 while pursuing her passion for history and culture. Her writings have been published in BBC Travel, Architectural Digest, National Herald, and many more. She loves exploring world heritage sites and has a deep affinity for everything ancient, especially the lost civilizations of Mesoamerica!

11 thoughts on “The Most Amazing Things To Do In Myanmar

  1. Oh, what a great article about best things to do in Myanmar. I remember my time there, walking through streets of Yangon with Shwedagon visible from many places of town, riding e-bike at Bagan, seeing wonderful sunrises and sunsets. What a great time it was!

    I would add that Napyidaw was also quite interesting to see. The “famous” 20 lanes highway where almost no cars passes, capital city without almost any tourists. Visit it next time for surreal, ghost town experience!

  2. Great post!! I have always wanted to travel in Myanmar and it been on my radar since I started my travel journey. I always love the tranquility of the local people and love to get experience it by myself. Not a lot of people seem to travel there unlike other super touristy countries in Asia and that would be one of the main reason for me. I would totally book this post for a future reference.

  3. I would love to go, but I never seem to be able to find the right time. I also know that there’s some political dissent going on there, which is difficult to navigate. I still hear such wonderful things!

  4. We’ve yet to visit Myanmar but I know that whenever we do, I’ll be referring to this informative post for our trip planning. You were certainly able to make the most of the two weeks you spent there with this well planned itinerary. I’ve heard so much about the Shwedagon Pagoda and I’d love to see it shimmering in the evening as you’ve described – must look ethereal. Feeling immersed in the local culture and sampling the local cuisine is always something we love to experience. So I’d love to visit those ruined temples of Mrauk U and also head over to the village of Thandwe. Dining in those beach shacks on the local seafood specialties must have been such a memorable experience!

  5. Oh Myanmar, such a gorgeous places and surprises. Though it isn’t as modern as other Asian countries, I love its unique nature appeal.

  6. Myanmar has been on my wishlist for a while now, everyone who I know who’s been there loved it as much as you. It’s one of the few places in Southeast Asia I haven’t been yet and from this post, it sounds like I have been missing out. Bagan with the temples sounds lovely, I’m a sunset girls so I would love to see that. It’s also good to know there will be plenty of delicious vegetarian street food options for me there. Although I do have some ethical reservations about visiting Myanmar at the moment, I hope I get to go soon (hopefully the situation there will improve as well). I’ll definitely save this guide for when I do.

    1. I understand. Ethical concerns are bound to arise. But if we can choose homestays and local businesses to work with, that would help the people directly instead of funding the government. And hopefully the government will also see reason soon. Fingers crossed.

  7. This is such a well written and thorough guide. It seems you have done a lot to cover anything I could think of between your many articles on Myanmar from the souvenirs to day trips to articles on the culture as well as this one. There is a lot I didn’t know about this country, but you’ve shown how enchanting it is with the food, culture, and landscape and now I can’t wait to visit. The pagodas look so impressive and the countryside in your photos is simply stunning.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Michele. I absolutely loved traveling through Myanmar and want to write more about this fab country. I hope you get to visit here soon so that you can also experience it.

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