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 O.A.T., 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 O.A.T. and discover the most unspoiled corner of Asia—a place quite unlike anywhere else on Earth.
6 nights from only $1695
Before your travel in Burma, discover another Indochinese gem in Laos, beginning in Vientiane, a timeless city that boasts ancient treasures like Wat Sisaket, with its 6,840 statues of the Buddha. Then continue to charming Luang Prabang, renowned for its architectural treasures that have earned it a place on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.View Extension Itinerary
We depart the U.S. on an overnight flight across the Pacific and cross the International Date Line.
Arrive in Rangoon late in the evening. An O.A.T. representative will meet you at the airport and assist with your transfer to our Rangoon hotel. Travelers on our optional Vientiane & Luang Prabang trip extension arrive earlier in the day.
After breakfast we have a Welcome Briefing and then begin 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 reveals 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 return to our hotel and enjoy lunch on our own. This afternoon we'll come together for an orientation walk, then witness 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. Our tour takes us near the Sule Pagoda, which serves as the heart of the city—both geographically and metaphorically. According to legend, this large golden pagoda was built more than 2,500 years ago during the time of the Buddha. Since then, a number of important political events and rallies have unfolded at the base of the pagoda, 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 a spot near the residence of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's beloved human rights activist, who was held under house arrest for nearly two decades. We'll return to Rangoon for lunch and then an afternoon at leisure.
Dinner is 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 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 head to a nearby jetty, where we'll board a boat to gain a new vantage of the Irrawaddy (also called the Ayeyarwady). From on board, we will be able to observe how everyday life plays out along the riverbanks.
This evening, we'll enjoy dinner at a local restaurant.
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.
After breakfast, we'll all head to a Bagan workshop to learn how to make a popular dish called pone ye gyi, a flavored soy-bean sauce. 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 lunch on your own and an afternoon visit to a lacquerware workshop.
Dinner this evening is included at a local restaurant.
After breakfast, we gain another unique perspective of Bagan when we travel 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 visit Khayminga Temple for a panoramic view of our surroundings. Then we'll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant.
Your afternoon is at leisure to explore on your own or relax at our hotel. Dinner is on your own 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.
Enjoy lunch on your own and some time at leisure, before we visit Mandalay Royal Palace, where Burma's last two kings lived. Then, we take a short drive to the ancient royal capital of 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 heavily utilized by the local monks in maroon robes who carry alms bowls back and forth to monasteries. 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 a local restaurant.
Tonight, we'll dine together at a local restaurant.
See the difference we’re making for Burmese girls at the Aye Yeik Mon orphanage in Mandalay.
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 90 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. Then, after we return to our hotel and some time at leisure, we visit Aye Yeik Mon, an orphanage for Burmese girls run by Buddhist nuns.
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.
Following breakfast this morning, we depart for Mandalay Hill. Upon arrival, we'll ride an escalator to the top, where Mandalay Hill Monastery offers sweeping views of the city below from the platform of the pagoda. 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 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. Dinner is also on your own this evening.
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 head to our hotel to check in and enjoy some time to relax. Later in the afternoon, we’ll visit Shwe U Min Pagoda, a cave filled with golden Buddhas. Then, we’ll climb approximately 280 steps to get to Theindaung Monastery, where we can enjoy panoramic views of the town. After that, our efforts will be rewarded with a hearty dinner at one of Kalaw’s local restaurants.
A diverse variety of ethnic hill tribes reside in small villages nestled among the hills that surround Kalaw—including the Palaung, Danu, Pa-O, and Taung Yo 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)—which is supported in part by Grand Circle Foundation—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.
Late this afternoon, we drive to Inle Lake, where we check in to our new hotel. Before our included dinner at the hotel's restaurant, we'll have the opportunity to take a scenic canoe ride on Inle Lake.
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. 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.
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 depart 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 hundreds of ancient pagodas cloaked in thick vegetation, followed by lunch in a local restaurant.
This evening we enjoy a festive 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. After our market visit, we can relax at our Rangoon hotel and prepare for our later flight.
This evening, we head to the airport for our return flights home. If you are continuing on the post-trip extension to Northern Vietnam: Hanoi & Halong Bay, you’ll fly to Hanoi.
5 nights from only $1195
After your travel in Burma, see two sides of Northern Vietnam with O.A.T. First, feel the cosmopolitan rhythm of Hanoi, the modern capital anchored by a tree-ringed lake. We’ll explore the winding streets of the Old Quarter, admire the classic Vietnamese architecture of the Temple of Literature, and witness handcraft traditions that have been passed down through generations. Then we experience the region by water, as we spend two nights cruising the calm, emerald waters of Halong Bay, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A water puppet show on our final day in Hanoi serves as the finale to our explorations.View Extension Itinerary