Small Groups: Never more than 10-16 travelers—guaranteed!
A century ago, Rudyard Kipling described Burma as a place “quite unlike any land you know about.” Isolated from the world in the recent past, Burma—now known as Myanmar—remains a magical destination, yet one shrouded in mystery. When you visit Burma with OAT, you will watch the sun glinting off a 2,500-year-old temple clad in 60 tons of pure gold in Rangoon … witness “one-leg” rowers casting fishing nets and farmers tending to floating gardens on Inle Lake … see a procession of saffron-robed monks walking across the world’s longest teak footbridge near Mandalay … meet with members of hill tribes who cling to ancient ways of life and animist traditions in Kalaw … view thousands of mysterious pagodas dotting the golden plains of Bagan … and much more. Join OAT and discover the most unspoiled corner of Asia—a place quite unlike anywhere else on Earth.
We depart the U.S. on an overnight flight across the Pacific and cross the International Date Line.
Arrive in Bangkok late in the evening. An OAT representative will meet you at the airport and assist with your transfer to our Bangkok hotel. Travelers on our optional Vientiane & Luang Prabang trip extension arrive earlier in the day.
After breakfast at our hotel, we fly to Rangoon, Burma, and stop to exchange money before beginning our discovery of Burma’s largest city and former capital. Also known as Yangon, the architecture of many buildings in the downtown district of Rangoon reveal vestiges of British colonial rule. Our first stop is Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda, home to an enormous reclining Buddha whose crown is encrusted with diamonds and precious gems.
Then we'll transfer to our hotel and enjoy lunch on our own. This afternoon we'll come together for a Welcome Briefing before witnessing the most sacred Buddhist site in all of Burma—Shwedagon Pagoda. Also known as the Golden Pagoda, the 2,000-year-old hilltop temple complex covers more than twelve acres and dominates the Rangoon skyline. We’ll view the gold-draped, gem-studded pagoda at sunset, when the fading light shimmers off its 326-foot-high spire. Few places in the world radiate such a palpable sense of beauty and serenity as Shwedagon Pagoda.
This evening, we celebrate the start of our Burma discovery during a Welcome Dinner at a local restaurant.
Today we’ll enjoy a guided tour of Rangoon. We’ll begin by walking through the city center, taking in the bustling markets and colonial buildings. A number of important political events and rallies have unfolded at the base of the large pagoda located here, including the 8888 uprisings and the 2007 Saffron Revolution.
To learn more about the 8888 uprisings, so called because they occurred on August 8, 1988, we’ll travel by bus to Inya Lake—where many of the protestors were killed and arrested. The uprisings were spearheaded by students who stood against the Burma Socialist Party regime but soon spread to other parts of the country. Together, students, monks, children, doctors, and others fought for democracy, and their legacy lives on the shores of Inya Lake today. We’ll mingle with some of the local students, and maybe sample a snack from one of the neighborhood eateries, before continuing to the residence of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s beloved human rights activist. Behind this humble exterior, she was held under house arrest for nearly two decades. We’ll return to Rangoon for lunch and then an afternoon at leisure.
Enjoy dinner on your own this evening.
Early this morning, we’ll transfer to the airport for a short flight to central Burma. Our destination is Bagan, also known as the “City of Four Million Pagodas.” Many of the pagodas and temples are small and simple—but the number of them is staggering. Although Bagan’s centuries-old shrines, pagodas, and stupas do not actually total in the millions, there are well over 2,000 of them scattered along the remote 26-square-mile plain, flanked on one side by the Irrawaddy River. This qualifies Bagan as the largest temple city on the planet, as well as one of the most important archaeological areas in all of Asia. The majority of ruins in Bagan were constructed between the eleventh and 13th centuries, a time when Bagan was the capital of the First Burmese Empire.
After a brief stop at Shwe Sandaw Pagoda, we head to a village market in the town of Nyaung-U: a great opportunity to mingle with the locals and wander among stalls that feature locally-grown crops, rattan items, tea leaves, and colorful traditional clothing. Then we make a short stop to see Shwezigon Paya, a beautiful gold-domed pagoda constructed early in the twelfth century that is believed to enshrine a bone and tooth of Gautama Buddha.
Next, we witness the beauty of Ananda Pahto, a terraced temple peaked in shimmering gold that is considered a symmetrical masterpiece. Built around 1090 by a Burmese king inspired by tales of visiting Indian monks, Ananda’s perfection qualified it to serve as a prototype for successive Burmese temples. Inside its whitewashed walls are four large statues of Buddha, each with a different facial expression.
After lunch at a local restaurant, we’ll check into our hotel, followed by some time at leisure. Then we’ll visit a lacquer ware shop to learn about this local tradition before heading to a nearby jetty. Here, we’ll board a boat to gain a new vantage of the Irrawaddy (also called the Ayeyarwady). The people and the country’s economy depend on this natural resource, as you will undoubtedly observe by the countless number of barges, bamboo rafts, and fishing boats that ply the waters around us. From on board, we will be able to observe how everyday life plays out along the riverbanks.
Another treat is in store for our small group this evening, when we visit a local family as guests in their home for dinner. Your Trip Leader is sure to provide you with insights into local customs and traditions before your visit.
You may wish to rise early this morning for an optional hot-air balloon ride, a memorable opportunity to enjoy a bird's-eye view of the sun rising over the ancient temples of Bagan. Afterwards, enjoy a Champagne toast and return to the hotel for breakfast.
Then we gain another unique perspective of Bagan by traveling by horse-drawn carriage ride through the archaeological zone. Witnessing the morning sun illuminating the ancient temples of Bagan is an unforgettable experience. We’ll see Damayangyi Temple and stroll around Khayminga Temple for a panoramic view of the variety of unique temples and pagodas of the area. Then we’ll return to the hotel for lunch on our own.
After a busy morning, enjoy time at leisure this afternoon and dinner on your own. Or perhaps you’ll join our optional tour to discover Ancient Bagan. Travel to the Bagan Archaeological Museum for a tour of the relics here, including dolomite plaques and bronze lotus flowers. Then continue to the Nanmyint Viewing Tower for a breathtaking view of Bagan plains, studded with ancient pagodas. Afterwards, we’ll visit a nearby village to learn more about local life. Then enjoy dinner and classical Burmese performance at a nearby restaurant, all included with the tour. Please note: On Mondays and Tuesdays, the Bagan Archaeological Museum visit will be replaced with a guided tour of temples in the Bagan plains.
This morning after breakfast, we’ll head to a Bagan workshop to learn how to make a popular dish called pone ye gyi, a soy-bean sauce often served with noodles.
After this glimpse of modern life in the area, we return to the ancient world to tour Gubyauk Gyi Temple, which dates back to the 13th century AD. We’ll venture inside to see its colorful frescoes and stuccowork. Then we witness locals making palm sugar, before visiting the monumental Thatbyinnyu Pagoda, rising some 200 feet.
Enjoy lunch at a nearby restaurant and an afternoon at leisure. We gather again for dinner as a small group this evening.
After an early breakfast, we transfer to the airport for a 30-minute flight to Mandalay. We'll explore several highlights of Mandalay, which briefly served as capital of the last Burmese kingdom in the mid-19th century. We first visit the Mahamuni Paya, home to a highly venerated Buddha image, one of the most sacred in Burma. Over the centuries, devout Buddhists have been applying gold leaf to the 13-foot-high seated Buddha; that gold surface is now estimated to be about six inches thick. Then we visit Myawaddy Nunnery. Here, we’ll gain insights into Burma’s Buddhist traditions, observe more than 200 of the nunnery’s novice nuns during their lunch, and perhaps have a chance to participate in an informative discussion with the abbess.
Today, enjoy lunch on your own and some time at leisure, before we visit Mandalay Royal Palace, where Burma’s last two kings lived. Tonight, we’ll dine together at our hotel.
Following breakfast this morning, we depart for Mandalay Hill. Upon arrival, we’ll ride an escalator to the top of Mandalay Hill, where a hilltop pagoda offers sweeping views of the city below. Next we visit Kuthodaw Paya, often referred to as “the world’s biggest book” due to its marble slabs inscribed with the entire collection of early Buddhist writings (which, if read for eight hours a day, would take more than a year to finish). We’ll then explore Shwenandaw Kyaung, a traditional Burmese wooden monastery (and only surviving structure from the Mandalay Royal Palace) before traveling to a nearby gold-leaf workshop, where we’ll learn how sheets of gold are beaten into gossamer-thin pieces. Placing gold leaf on a Buddha image brings great merit to the faithful, so the layers of gold leaf on Buddha images throughout Burma get thicker and thicker with the passing years.
After lunch on your own, enjoy a free afternoon to explore Mandalay and dinner on your own. Or join our optional tour to Sagaing, a nearby religious center on the banks of the Irrawaddy. The tour includes tours of two of Sagaing Hill’s gilded temples and dinner at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we enjoy a pleasant boat ride a few miles upriver from Mandalay to the village of Mingun, home to a massive unfinished pagoda and the largest, un-cracked, fully-functioning bell in the entire world. Cast in bronze in 1808, the gigantic Mingun Bell is 13 feet high and weighs in at about 200 tons. The bell was meant to be a part of the Mingun Paya, which would certainly have been the world’s largest pagoda had King Bodawpaya not died in 1819 before its completion. An 1838 earthquake split the one-third-completed monument, reducing everything except its enormous base to rubble.
Next, we return to Mandalay by boat along the Irrawaddy and enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Take some time at leisure this afternoon before a short drive to another ancient royal capital, Amarapura. Upon our arrival, we’ll visit the world’s longest teak bridge. The U Bein footbridge stretches almost three-quarters of a mile over Thaungthaman Lake, and is still in use by locals walking to and from their villages to Amarapura. Constructed of more than 1,000 teak posts, the U Bein has withstood the elements for over two centuries. We hope to catch a memorable sunset by the bridge before heading back to Mandalay for dinner at our hotel.
We rise early for our flight to Heho. Upon arrival, we visit a local village inhabited by members of the Pa-O tribe, one of the many ethnic minorities in Burma. After a tour of the village, we transfer to Kalaw, situated along the edge of the Shan Plateau in eastern Burma. Popular with trekkers, Kalaw is surrounded by hill-tribe villages and also serves as the gateway to Inle Lake. The town is comprised of a mixed ethnic population—including descendants of the Nepali Gurkhas and Indian Hindus brought here by the British during colonial rule to build roads and railways.
After an included lunch at a local restaurant, we drive up the hillside to Myin Ka Village for a light trek around their plantations.
We return to Kalaw to visit Christ the King Church, a Catholic church founded almost 100 years ago by an Italian missionary. Then we'll climb approximately 280 steps to Theindaung Monastery to enjoy panoramic views of the town.
This evening we head to a restaurant in Kalaw for an included dinner.
A diverse variety of ethnic hill tribes reside in small villages nestled among the hills that surround Kalaw—including the Palaung, Danu, Pa-O, Taung Yo, and Danaw tribes. After breakfast, we first make a stop at the Kalaw morning market.
Then we set out to experience A Day in the Life of Myin Ma Htie village, home to members of the Danu hill tribe. Our discoveries include a meeting with a Buddhist monk for meditation and an enlightening discussion; a visit to a village school (when in session) to meet with Danu schoolchildren; a village walk; and trip to a surrounding vegetable plantation that supplies the village with food. Then we get an authentic taste of tribal life by helping prepare a traditional lunch with our Danu village host. A conversation with village elders and a demonstration in making local rum drinks conclude our time in Myin Ma Htie.
Today’s discoveries on Inle Lake begin with a boat ride to Nga Hpe Kyaung, a stunning wooden temple and Buddhist monastery built on stilts. You may hear people calling this “Jumping Cat Monastery,” because in the past, the monks there used to train their cats to do tricks. Then we continue to Nampan, a village built on stilts over the water. Here, we’ll visit workshops to learn about cheroots, popular cigars made by hand and wrapped in tree leaves, and see how Inle Lake canoes are built. We also see a lotus fabric weaving workshop, where women make a fiber out of the stems of lotus plants and weave fabric on wooden looms.
After lunch at a nearby restaurant, we continue to the village of Tha Ley to view the eleventh-century Phaung Daw Oo Paya, one of the most sacred sites in Burma. Four ancient Buddha images reside in a pavilion inside the pagoda—images that are so laden with gold their features are unrecognizable. During an 18-day pagoda festival each fall (featuring many leg-rowing contests), the images are ferried around the lake aboard a gilded barge shaped like a hintha, or swan.
Dinner is on your own this evening.
After breakfast, we travel by boat to visit some local workshops that produce Shan paper and traditional umbrellas. Here, we'll meet with some women of the famous Padaung hill tribe, and we'll be able to discuss with them their ancient tradition of wearing heavy brass ornaments around their neck and limbs. Then we visit Inthein (or Indein), a lakeshore village where we view the mysterious hilltop ruins of hundreds of ancient pagodas cloaked in thick vegetation, followed by lunch in a local restaurant.
This evening we enjoy a Farewell Dinner at our hotel.
After breakfast, we transfer to Heho for a flight to Rangoon. Upon arrival, we enjoy lunch at a local restaurant. Then we wander through the some 2,000 stalls of Bogyoke Aung San Market. Also known by its old British moniker, Scott Market, Bogyoke is a great place to interact with locals while haggling for all manner of Burmese handcraft items. Please note: If the market is closed on the day we visit, we will enjoy alternate activities.
We return to the airport for our flight to Bangkok. Dinner is on our own tonight in Bangkok.
We rise before daybreak for an early morning flight back to the U.S. If you are continuing on the post-trip extension to Phnom Penh & Angkor Wat, Cambodia, you'll fly to Phnom Penh.