See how Kyaiktiyo Pagoda (Golden Rock), balanced on the edge of cliff, covered in golden leaf and topped with a small stupa, embodies the beauty and spirituality of Myanmar. Support communities directly, from the hill market of Myanmar’s “vegetable garden” outside of Bagan.. Witness the incredible sight of Bagan’s 4,000 temples and monasteries, plus take in the memorable scene from a sunset cruise on the Ayeyarwady River. Travel to the village of Kyunkalay, an undeveloped town beyond Bagan that you won’t find mentioned in any guidebooks. Learn how locals are working with ActionAid Myanmar and using responsible tourism to improve local infrastructure and living conditions.
The glories of this ancient land (now known as Myanmar) are revealed to travellers in this journey. We start in Yangon, a city crowned by the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda, then fly to Mandalay, before journeying on to the fabled 11th century capital, Bagan. The Inle Lake region exudes tranquility and enables us to sample the hospitality of the local people who call this part of the world home.
Welcome to Myanmar and Yangon. You will be met on arrival and transferred to your hotel. Feel free to explore Yangon – maybe by taking a walk to Sule Pagoda or the Victorian Strand Hotel – then join your welcome meeting at 6pm. Please check with the hotel reception where and when it will take place, or check the reception notice boards. We'll be collecting your insurance details and next of kin information at this meeting, so please ensure you have all these details to provide to your leader. If you're going to be late, please inform the hotel reception or your booking agent in advance.
With an overnight bag packed, embark on the journey to the Golden Rock. Along the way, stop at Bago (about 1.5 hours from Yangon), an ancient settlement of the Mon Kingdom in the 13th century. Here you'll visit the Shwemawdaw Pagoda, which is even larger than the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, and the Shwethalyaung Buddha, one of the largest reclining Buddhas in existence. Then, it's an approximately 2.5 hour drive to the base camp at Kinponsakan. Here you'll transfer to an open air truck with basic wooden bench-style seating. The next hour, towards the summit, will be bumpy. But the views are well worth it. The Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo Pagoda) is a place of pilgrimage for Buddhists. The small pagoda (7.3 metres high) sits atop a gilded 25-metre boulder, which appears to balance precariously on a tabular rock. Legend has it that the boulder is held in position by a strand of Buddha's hair. Spending a night in Kyaiktiyo is one of Myanmar's most spiritual experiences.
Accommodation in Kyaiktiyo is more basic than in other destinations on this trip. Due to this being a very popular place of pilgrimage, hotels can often be overbooked and the site crowded. At times we may not be able to secure our preferred accommodation at the summit, and may stay back in the town at the base. Travel times vary, and the journey can be arduous in the wet. Your patience will go a long way toward your enjoyment here.
Enjoy a morning of strolling around Kyaiktiyo (the name means 'pagoda borne on a hermit's head' in Mon language). After descending from the summit, return to Yangon, retracing your path from yesterday (approximately 5 hours). You'll arrive back in Yangon late in the afternoon.
Take a walking tour of downtown Yangon this morning. As you stroll through the streets lined with dilapidated colonial edifices and their restored neighbours, your leader will bring the past to life, as well as explain the present activity. Afterwards, leave for the airport and take a flight to Mandalay – departure time will vary depending on flight availability. The flight takes approximately 1 hour, and after landing it’s approximately a 1 hour drive to the city and your hotel for the next three nights. Mandalay is Myanmar’s ‘Jewel City’, and you’ll and savour the sights, sounds and flavours of this bustling metropolis. Tonight you might enjoy a walk to one of the markets, where a great time can be had enjoying the hustle and bustle or bargaining for local wares.
Make your way down to the city’s lively waterfront, which offers an interesting backdrop for a boat trip upriver. The archaeological site of Mingun is your destination, the location of a number of interesting sights, including the world's largest, albeit unfinished, pagoda – Pahtodawgyi. It’s also home to the world’s second largest ringable bell, the beautiful white Hsinphymae Pagoda, and temples dating back hundreds of years. The river is effectively a major trading, communication and commuting route and a wide range of different boats, barges and steamers can be viewed along the way. The journey usually takes 1 hour on the way there, and 40 minutes on the way back.
Later in the afternoon, embark on a tour that visits the remnants of one of the once great cities that surround Mandalay – Amarapura, just 11 kilometres south of the city. Weather permitting, you might also glimpse a breath-taking sunset over the 200-year-old U Bein wooden bridge.
Today you’ll enjoy a full day tour of the city. You’ll visit the Mandalay Palace, built as the residence for King Mindon and the Burmese aristocracy in the 19th century, it sits inside a walled fort at the bottom of Mandalay Hill. Continue to Shwe In Bin Kyaung, the intricately carved Swenandaw Monastery, then visit the nearby cottage industries where gold leaf is made. This gold leaf is used extensively in the important pilgrimage site of the Mahamuni Buddha Temple. Here local Buddhists climb to an impressively decorated 2,000-year-old central Buddha statue and press gold leaf to its exterior. Get another insight into Mandalay’s role as the centre of Myanmar’s arts and crafts industry with a visit to a stone-carving workshop. The surrounding mountains are made from quality marble (Sa’kyin) and there are numerous artisans plying their trade along Kyauk Sitt Than, which literally means ‘Stone Carving Road’. You’ll finish your tour around 2pm, and then have some free time to relax. Later, visit various temples, notably Kuthodaw Pagoda, which claims to house the world's largest 'book' – 729 slabs contain the complete text of the Tripitaka, Theravada Buddhism's most sacred text. You’ll then be transported to the top of Mandalay Hill, where Lord Buddha is said to have left a footprint. A clear day reveals beautiful sunset views from the summit, and a host of religious shrines scattered along the hill.
Today you will drive to Bagan (approximately 5 hours), which is one of the most impressive archaeological wonders of Asia. You’ll be in a comfortable vehicle and you’ll stop along the way in a local village. When you arrive in Bagan you’ll transfer to the hotel and have some free time rest up or stretch you legs. Later today you’ll take a cruise out on the Ayeyarwady River as the sun begins to set. Stop on the river bank for a sunset drink and admire the changing colours as the sun descends across the stupas that fill the area and great Ayeryarwady River.
You can explore the incredible sights of Bagan today, travelling by private vehicle between temples sites. This archaeological site is where Theravada Buddhism was introduced to the Kingdom of Bagan, and was once the site of 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries. Today, the ancient city still has over 4,000 brick and gilded ruins, and is a remarkable sight. Nyaung U’s lively market contrasts with the eerie silence of the plains littered with temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins, including Gawdawpalin, Thatbyinnyu, Ananda and Shwezigon – all names of temples and pagodas that bear testament to a glorious past. The graceful ageing of the temples, the stucco peeled off by the dusty winds, has revealed beautifully rusty red bricks that glow golden brown in the sun. Marvel at the spire-lined skyline, the lion-guarded doors, the wood carvings inside, and the foliage-covered ruins. After visiting a local lacquerware workshop to gain insight into a craft this place is famous for, you might catch a glorious sunset from one of the ruins.
Travel by boat to the small village of Kyunkalay (approx 1 hour). This is a tiny place that you won’t find in any guidebooks or on Wikipedia — entirely undeveloped with no electricity, no school for the local children, and not even a monastery until 2017. The main form of transportation is by oxen cart and bicycle. We’ve partnered with ActionAid Myanmar, an organisation working to bring human rights and social justice to neglected communities. ActionAid doesn’t believe in handouts, instead helping communities to find their own sustainable solutions. Intrepid has formed a partnership to help introduce tourism to the community of Kyunkalay in a way that is responsible, sustainable, and won’t negatively impact their culture and heritage. You’ll get to walk around the village and learn about important tasks locals do, such as harvesting beans and vegetables, or growing flowers. We’ll then join a local family for lunch in their home, where you’ll be able to learn more about what life is like in this part of Myanmar. Walk to the nearest jetty, where we’ll cross the Ayeyarwady River, the largest and most important waterway in Myanmar. We’ll reach Nyaung U Jetty on the other side, and from here back to your hotel.
Today drive approximately 25 minutes to the nearest airport in Nyuang U, and then hop on a plane to Heho (approximately 40 minutes), the gateway for Inle Lake. The calm waters of Inle Lake are the life-blood for local communities. They live in stilt houses along the lake's shallow fringes and surrounding areas. You’ll drive through picturesque countryside and rolling hills to your final destination, Khaungdaing, situated on Inle Lake not far from the main township, Nyaungshwe. (approximately 1 hour). This afternoon, visit the monastery at Khaung Daing Village. On the way, with your leader’s assistance, you can buy some food and staple items at the nearby market to offer to the monk’s at a monastery – the cost is included in your trip. At the monastery, you can make the offering to the monks. Have a discussion about their way of life, and perhaps help them practice their English.
A full day is spent on the lake seeing local life, exploring the floating gardens, and catching a glimpse of the local Intha fishermen who are famous for their unique 'leg-rowing' technique. The Intha leg-rowers navigate their long, narrow craft by standing on the stern with one leg and wrapping the other around the oar. This unique style evolved because the reeds that cover the lake and the floating plants make it difficult to see above them while sitting. The lake is also home to a wide array of bird-life including egrets, cranes, ducks, storks and various birds of prey. Visits may be made to some of the local villages, home to cottage industries such as silversmiths, weavers and cigar makers. If you’re lucky, you might even see the floating market which circles the lake every five days. Here you can buy traditional wares produced by the locals.
After breakfast, take a longtail boat along a narrow canal to the Indein ruins complex (approximately 45 minutes). Disembark and discover a pagoda and stupas built in the 8th century. Explore the atmospheric ruins; crumbling stupas being reclaimed by greenery, and up a hill over 1000 zedi from the 17th and 18th centuries. Enjoy views across the valley and lake from the pagoda, browsing through the rows of shops along the corridor uphill, or just marvel at the surroundings. Hike to some of the smaller local villages, through farming land and forested areas. The hike is approximately 9km (5.5mi) and takes about 2.5 hours, through some uneven and sloping terrain, but within the capabilities of most fitness levels. Return to Indein, where you’ll meet your boat and return back to the hotel this afternoon. This evening, reward all your efforts today with a traditional Shan dinner, where you’ll get to sample some of the local-style culinary specialties.