Burma Beyond the Tourist Trail

Burma Beyond the Tourist Trail

Style: TravellerCultural discovery away from the crowds
Duration: 15 days
Type: GroupTravel with a small group of other travellers


Isolated for decades, Burma holds a wealth of cultural and historical treasures, and this trip spends time exploring its rich heritage and culture. Our tour covers the main highlights of the country but also includes some hidden gems and areas that rarely see Western tourists. From chaotic and charming Yangon, where we take a spiritual Shwedagon tour, to Kayah villages and old pagodas and monasteries, this tour really goes beyond the tourist trail. You have the chance to go trekking to the villages in Kayah state and learn about the ethnic longneck tribe. Add in a cycle tour of Mandalay and a visit to a conservation project for retired elephants run by locals around Kalaw, and you can see why this tour is so different. A highlight for most travellers will be left until near the end of this trip. Bagan is one of the most spectacular sites in Asia, a vast collection of ancient temples which rise out of the dusty plains next to the Ayeyarwaddy and make for superb exploration. Burma is one of the most stunning parts of Asia.

Tour Rating

Fitness ●●●●○ | Off the Beaten Track ●●●○○ | Culture ●●●●● | History ●●●●○ | Wildlife ●●○○○

Tour Pace


Tour Highlights

  • A visit to the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda
  • Getting off the beaten track in Kayah state
  • Travel like a local – travel on the train and bus

Accommodation: Mix of hotels 
Included Meals: Daily breakfast (B), plus lunches (L) and dinners (D) as shown in the itinerary.
Group Size: Maximum of 12
Start Point: Yangon
End Point: Yangon
Transport: Private cars, local bus, train, bikes, boat, scheduled flights
Countries: Burma

Tour itinerary notes

While our intention is to adhere to the day-by-day itinerary as printed below, a degree of flexibility is built in. Overnight stops may vary from those suggested and on occasions alternative accommodation, of a similar standard to that named below, will be used.

Tour Guide

Our guides are a key strength, chosen for their knowledge of and passion for the areas in which they work. All of our guides are carefully hand-picked, and are not just passing through these countries, but are usually locally born. Unlike some companies it should be noted we do not send a guide or tour leader from Undiscovered Destinations in the UK as we have every confidence in our locally appointed representative who is responsible for operating the tour on our behalf. Where possible you will have the same guide throughout your trip but on occasions it may be necessary to change the guide at one or more points during the tour. In the event of a small group of 4 or less, you will be allocated a local guide at each location, and will not have the same guide with you throughout the tour.

Day 1 - Yangon Arrival

Arrive in Yangon where you will be transferred to your hotel. Overnight at Eastern Hotel or similar. No meals included today.


Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is a delightfully ramshackle city. Founded in the 18th century and becoming an important port it was destroyed by fire and then again suffered during the Second Anglo-Burmese War in the 19th century. Much of downtown Yangon hosts a splendid array of colonial style architecture dating back to the British occupation, including the wonderfully picturesque City Hall and the High Court. Many streets are thronged with people buying from the numerous stalls set up alongside the pavements, selling everything from fried insects to engine parts. Central Yangon contains the wonderfully gaudy Sule Pagoda, an ancient structure in the middle of a busy intersection, which gives a great picture of how Myanmar melds ancient spirituality and modern day commercial interests. The jewel in Yangon’s crown is however the Shwedagon Pagoda, a collection of stupas encrusted in gold which attracts pilgrims from all over Myanmar, and is said to contain hairs from Buddha. Containing numerous images of nats (spirits) and Buddha himself, Shwedagon is immensely important for the Burmese people, and is where Aung San Suu Kyi addressed a crowd of hundreds of thousands demanding democracy from the military regime.

Day 2 - Yangon

This morning we visit the magnificent Shwedagon Pagoda. You will learn about the history of the pagoda, the daily lives of the people living in the immediate surroundings and a deeper insight into the Buddhist religion and how the spiritual belief is mixed with the belief in nats – the Myanmar spirits. Pass workshops, markets and monasteries along the way. The tour includes a traditional Burmese breakfast, offerings to monks and the pagoda, and a visit to a fortune teller and Burmese lunch. The afternoon is free to discover downtown Yangon with all its heritage buildings on your own. You may wish to revisit Shwedagon in the evening to see this magnificent pagoda illuminated in all its glory. Overnight at Eastern Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 3 - Yangon – Fly to Mandalay

This morning transfer to the airport for your flight to Mandalay. On arrival transfer to your hotel. In the afternoon visit the Mahamuni pagoda and have a look at the century’s old Buddha statue originating from Mrauk Oo. Continue to Amarapura, a quiet village where you can hear the sound of weaving machines. Finally visit the famous Mahagandayon Monastery complex with hundreds of monks, a 100-year-old weaving vocational training institution and watch the sunset from the charming U-Bein Bridge, and taste a sip of Mandalay rum which has been produced since 1886. Overnight at Victoria Palace Hotel or similar (B)

Day 4 – Mandalay – Explore by Bike

This morning we explore Mandalay by bike. The ride starts in the back lanes of town, passing markets and through lively neighbourhoods heading for the north east of the city. After a short ride we find ourselves in the true countryside where farmers tend to their fields, and villagers go about their daily rituals, often stopping to wave as we pass by. We make some interesting stops, first at a market to learn about the different produce on sale, and then to see bamboo being woven which is used to construct everything from roofs and walls to fans. We take a walk through a typical central Myanmar village and learn about their way of life and their different crops. On our way back to town we stop at a tea shop for a refreshing drink and snacks. We return from our ride around noon and take you by motorbike back to the hotel. Please note: you should wear clothing suitable for this activity: quarter length pants, shorts, t-shirts are all advisable, as are comfortable closed shoes. Sunscreen and hat are a must. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at Victoria Palace Hotel or similar (B)

Day 5 - Mandalay to Bagan by Bus

This morning we take the public bus to Bagan where we arrive at lunchtime and transfer to the hotel. This afternoon, enjoy a sightseeing tour with a guide who will show you the best-known temples of the area. We start by climbing a pagoda to get a first impressive view over the whole plain. From here the guide plans his way to some of the other impressive temples that have been here for hundreds of years. Places like the Ananda, Dhammayangyi and Thatbyinnyu will certainly impress you. Overnight at Villa Bagan Hotel or similar (B)

Day 6 - Explore Bagan

Today is a free day in Bagan to discover its delights at your own pace. You can rent a horse cart, a bicycle or an electric bike or if you book early enough (at least 6 months is a good guide) you may be able to take a spectacular early morning balloon ride over the Bagan plain. Overnight at Villa Bagan Hotel or similar (B)

Please note that accurate weights of all passengers are required for the Balloon flights’ safety calculations.

Pregnant women and children under the age of 8 or under the height of 137cm are not permitted to fly.

Any Passenger in excess of 125 kg/280 pounds is required to pay a 100% surcharge of the ticket price.

Day 7 - Bagan to Kalaw

This morning we have a long drive (around 6 hours) to an elephant conservation project near Kalaw. If time allows after the journey, we will take a wonderfully peaceful walk in the forest before encountering the elephants and their mahouts. The project was started by local school friends with a focus on protecting the local environment, elephants and the traditions of local people living in the area. The project includes a natural environment for retired working Asian elephants and helps the local population through education and micro finance. We will learn about the elephants and have time to help wash them in the river and feed them in beautiful surroundings. We will also have lunch at the project in its perfect natural setting before continuing on to Kalaw. Overnight at the Dream Villa Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 8 - Kalaw – Pinlaung - Loikaw

Today we leave Kalaw and head to Loikaw (approx. drive of about 6hrs). En route we stop at Pinlaung and visit a newly-discovered maze cave with Buddha statues. On arrival we continue by private car to Loikaw. Overnight at Kayah Land Hotel or similar (B)

Day 9 - Loikaw

Today start with a visit to the bustling morning market of Loikaw, the former palace of the Kayah prince and Kayah Museum and see some of the artefacts of this state. Travel to Pemsong village where we take a 2 hour walk of the ‘trail of the ancestors’. During the walk, your local guide will tell you the story of their ancestors including their belief in spirits, the importance of the totem pole and herbal medicines. Enjoy a picnic lunch before continuing to Kasae Kum village to see how the rings that some Kayah women wear around their necks are made. This is an excellent opportunity to learn about the legends of the longneck women. We end at one of the Kayah villages where you will meet more longneck women. We then drive towards Loikaw and visit a traditional Kayah boxing training centre and enjoy some sundowners with typical Kayah liquor (or simply a beer) with Kayah sausages. Overnight at Kayah Land Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 10 - Loikaw – Kayah Village Walk

This morning we visit Hta Nee La Leh and meet some members of the community who will explain their shrines where animist traditions are practiced, and enjoy lunch in a local home. The rest of the day is at leisure. Overnight at Kayah Land Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 11 - Loikaw – Pekon – Samkar – Inle Lake

This morning drive to Pekon where we take a private boat over the wide Pekon Lake towards Samkar village (approx. 2 hours) where we visit Samkar monastery. Continue by boat to Inle Lake (approx. 2.5 hours). Overnight at Paramount Inle Hotel or similar (B)

Day 12 - Inle Lake

Enjoy a full day exploring this magical lake by boat. We discover its natural beauty, visit the floating gardens, see some of the famous leg rowing fishermen, and have a cup of tea at a local home. Around the lake, traditional markets are held in different villages according to a 5-day rotating schedule. Today we visit one of these colourful markets frequented by Shan and PaO people. We also visit a local cheroot factory (where Burmese cigars are made), floating tomato gardens, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Intha Heritage house - where Burmese cats are bred - and if there is time a weaving factory. Overnight at Paramount Inle Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 13 - Inle Lake

We visit the ruins of Indein, partly covered by vegetation and which until recently lay undiscovered. If time allows we will take a short walk to enjoy a fantastic view over the lake and visit a school in Tha Ley village. A home-made cooked lunch will be served in a local house. We continue towards the Nam Pan village for a very interesting trip by small canoe exploring the side channels and observing village life. We continue with a short walk to Red Mountain Winery for a wine tasting before returning to the hotel. Overnight at Paramount Inle Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 14 - Inle Lake via Heho to Yangon

This morning, transfer to Heho airport for a flight back to Yangon and on arrival transfer to the hotel. The rest of your day is free in Yangon. Overnight at Eastern Hotel or similar (B)

Day 15 - Yangon Departure

Transfer to the airport for your homeward flight. (B)

Optional Extension to Ngapali Beach 4 Days/3 Nights

(Not available as an extension in the wet season May – October)

Day 14 – Inle Lake – Heho – Thandwe (Ngapali Beach)

Transfer to Heho airport for a flight to Thandwe for Ngapali Beach. On arrival transfer to the hotel. Overnight at Yoma Cherry Lodge or similar (B)

Day 15-16 – Ngapali Beach

Spent the next 2 days at leisure at Ngapali Beach. Overnight at Yoma Cherry Lodge or similar (B)

Day 17 – Ngapali Beach – Yangon

Transfer to Thandwe airport for your flight back to Yangon. On arrival you will be transferred to your hotel. Time at leisure. Overnight at Cloud 10 Hotel or similar (B)

Day 18 – Depart Yangon

Transfer to the airport for your departure flight (B)

Optional Cultural/Historical Extension to Mon/Kayin 5 Days/4 Nights

Day 15 – Yangon – Bago – Kelatha Wildlife Sanctuary - Golden Rock

This morning we depart Yangon and head to Bago (approx. 1.5hrs drive) where we visit the colourful market where the locals trade flowers, fresh vegetables, fruits, herbs and household items. After the visit to the market, we continue to Kyaikto train station where we take a short train journey (approx. 30m) to Taung Sun. On arrival you will be met and taken to Kelatha Wildlife Sanctuary. We visit the small information centre before a home-cooked lunch at the local village. After lunch take a walk in the sanctuary with a ranger to see the flora and fauna. Continue to Kyaiktiyo where we shall visit the Golden Rock pagoda, balanced on the edge of a mountain, and one of the most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Burma. Over the years the rock has been totally covered with gold leaf. Overnight at Merit Resort or similar (B)

Kelatha Wildlife Sanctuary

Kelatha Wildlife Sanctuary is a protected area in Myanmar stretching over 22.45 km2, established in 1942, mixed deciduous forest in Mon State. The sanctuary receives south-west Monsoon rains every year (rainfall in June, July and August) and houses, the Shwe Parami Forest Monastery and the Kelatha pagoda is the famous pilgrimage site on the hillock inside the sanctuary. The sanctuary protects the forest and wildlife animals such as pangolins, birds, butterflies and mammals (according to the report the sanctuary comprises 9 bird species, 17 mammals, 71 butterfly species, 12 beetle species and 14 reptile species). The nearby Gulf of Mottama is a famous area for the spoon-billed sandpiper birds to migrate during the winter.

Golden Rock

The Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo is one of the most sacred, must-see sights in Burma. The huge, gold-leaf boulder balances precariously above you on the edge of a cliff. Topped with its glittering stupa, it is believed to house a single Buddha hair that maintains its equilibrium.

Day 16 – Golden Rock – Mawlamyine - Hpa An

Today we leave Kyaiktiyo and drive through Mon State towards Mawlamyine, where we pass the area which is supposed to be the seat of the last capital of the Mon kingdom, the city of Suvannabhumi. Burmese archaeologists have recently started searching for the exact location of this ancient city. We also pass the ancient city Thaton, which is famous for its durian and betel nut. When we reach Mawlamyine we visit the Mon Museum which has some interesting displays of Mon culture. We walk around the area with impressive buildings from colonial times when writers like Orwell and Kipling lived in the city and we visit the first Baptist church. Finally today we visit the Seindon Mibaya Monastery with its exquisite wood carvings. We continue to a local house where we enjoy a home-cooked lunch of Mon specialties. After lunch, we take a cruise on the Thanlwin (Salween) River and head to U Na Auk village from where we take a tuk tuk to visit the amazing carvings and decorations of the temples and ordination hall donated to the village by Mr Na Auk; a successful Mon trader during the British period and whose story is taught in modern schoolbooks. We then continue to Hpa An, where we arrive around 1730. On arrival, experience a spectacular sight as hundreds of thousands of bats fly out of the cave every day before sunset to go and find water and food, and then continue to the hotel. Overnight at My Hpa - A Residence by Amata or similar (BL)

Mon and Kayin State

The more remote areas of Mon State and Kayin State are undiscovered areas of Myanmar offering spectacular nature and intriguing tribal culture dating back for many, many centuries in the history of South East Asia. The Mon are believed to be one of the first civilisations in this part of the world. Although their kingdom was lost to the Bagan king in the 11th century, their rich culture can still be seen in daily life with their specific sarongs, traditional food, language and music instruments. The Kayin (also known as Karen) are one of the indigenous tribes of the jungle known for their traditional boxing skills. Kayin is a state of beautiful, natural scenery rich with traditional villages and waterways surrounded by spectacular limestone mountains.

Day 17 – Hpa An

Today we travel by kayak and on foot through typical Kayin scenery and traditional villages. In one of the villages we will take a leisurely walk to see how local people live and work. We have a traditional home cooked lunch in a local house and then we continue to Kawgun Cave to see the artwork of clay Buddha statues dating back to the 7th century and the period of the Mon kingdom. We then head to Water Cave where we take a boat trip through the cave. We then walk to Yathae Pyan Cave just to enjoy a spectacular view of the sunset over the paddy fields before heading back to the hotel. Overnight at My Hpa -An Residence by Amata, Deluxe Room, Residence Deluxe Room (BL)

Please note: as the creeks in this rural region are quite shallow we use small kayaks to travel around which means that you could get wet – sandals, shorts and a t-shirt are recommended and of course a hat. We are supporting local communities in this off the beaten track region and therefore you will be accompanied by local people who have limited English skills but love their area and will lead you through their community with pride.

Alternatively, you can take a bicycle tour in the morning -

In the morning, meet your bike guide at Hotel Gabbana (private transfer from your hotel to Hotel Gabbana is arranged). After a safety briefing and personalized bike fitting, we cycle to local villages and beautiful rice fields. Pass by Kyauk Ka Latt Pagoda and continue to the Kayin villages passing the paddy fields overlooking Mt. Zwekabin which is the landmark of Hpa an. You will have a chance to take the photos with the stunning views along the way. You will then have a break at the traditional Kayin village and have tea with local people. A Kayin vegetarian home cooked lunch will be served at local house before we continue bike back to Hpa An.

Day 18 – Hpa An – Kyaikto - Bago – Train to Yangon

This morning we leave Hpa An and head to Kyaikto (approx. 2.5 hours). We visit the Rubber Plantation and see the rubber production process, and you will have the chance to taste some local fruit jam. Lunch will be served at nearby restaurant before heading to Bago, where we take a train ride to Yangon (approx. 1530) where you will be transferred to your hotel for your last night in Yangon. Overnight Eastern Hotel or similar (BL)

Day 19 – Depart Yangon

Transfer to the airport for your international flight (B)

Arrival and departure transfers
Domestic flights
All accommodation
Services of English speaking guide / tour leader where mentioned
Meals as listed (B – Breakfast, L – Lunch, D – Dinner)
Entrance fees for sites listed as part of the itinerary

International flights
Any airport taxes
Travel Insurance

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