Once a year we went on vacation with our parents. Flo mainly around Austria or Italy and Leila has been to Croatia probably more than 40 times now. We met at a local film festival in our hometown of Innsbruck. So film and photography has always been a huge part of our lives.
After our first year in a relationship we decided that it was time for our first holiday together. We looked up the best islands around Europe and settled with Madeira. Flo has been a photographer for more than 10 years and still we really didn’t have any nice pictures together.
We took lots of pictures including landscapes, environmental portraits and more on this trip. When we came back home, 10 days later, we realized that our holiday was too short and just felt like we had to go again.
A few weeks later we spontaneously booked a one month trip to Southeast Asia with our first three countries being Thailand, Cambodia and Malaysia. It was during that time that we realized we had to find a way to make travel a permanent feature of our lives.
At that point it was all about traveling and taking photos, but we still didn’t know how to pursue travel as a career and how to make it our jobs. We both grew up in an old-fashioned country and when we started to pursue this career we were the only ones from our families/friends who tried it.
Flo started his photography/videography business after film school and had a bit of success in the wedding industry. However, it wasn’t yet possible to work from anywhere in the world. We just couldn’t settle with the thought of having a regular job and working for someone else’s dream.
When we traveled, we felt freedom and independence. No one tells you what to do or where to go and we absolutely love that feeling of freedom.
Inspiration to Visit the Incredible Myanmar
After our first trip to Southeast Asia we had to work hard and saved a lot of money as we knew we would have to come back. This time we planned to see even more – including Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Also Myanmar and Laos were on our list but they weren’t high priorities.
We ended up spending two months in Indonesia and then met up with friends and family in Thailand. Since we only had a few more days left on our trip, we couldn’t decide between going to the Philippines or Vietnam. The cheapest flights from Bangkok were to Cambodia and Myanmar.
Cambodia was already a place we had visited, so we thought let’s give Myanmar a try and booked the flight. It turned out to be a great decision.
Myanmar Itinerary: From Yangon to Mandalay
Most people do guided circular tours around Myanmar and it’s probably the only country where we would recommend something like that. As travelers, we just love to discover a country by ourselves. However, the way the main cities and destinations lineup makes a tour worthwhile.
Our visa was valid for 4 weeks and we spent around 3 weeks in Myanmar. We wanted to catch up with friends in Bali, so we decided to cut our trip 1 week short. If you have the time, we recommend spending the full 4 weeks in Myanmar as there is so much to see and do.
We started in Yangon and spent the first couple of nights there. From Yangon we took a bus to Hpa-An. Many people miss out on this destination which is a shame because it was one of the highlights for us. After that we made a stop half way back at the Golden Rock.
There are ways to go from Hpa-An directly to Bagan (which was our next stop) but it’s kind of complicated. So in the end we just decided to go back to Yangon instead. From there we took the night bus up north to Bagan and spent a whole week in this beautiful region of Myanmar.
Bagan is probably the main reason why people come to Myanmar. That was definitely the case for us. You are going to hear this many times from us but the temples are simply incredible. It’s one of those bucket-list places.
Next stop was Mandalay where we spent 10 days because we needed to work on a project that required some time. 5 days is most likely more than enough here but don’t get us wrong – there is a lot to see in Mandalay.
Favourite Place in Myanmar – Bagan
The best place in Myanmar for us was Bagan. The only thing that comes close to it is the temple complex of Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia. The whole experience is just mind blowing and hard to describe in words.
Let us put it this way – if you are into temples you won’t be disappointed at Bagan. For us, Myanmar was all about the culture and being outdoors to take unique photos. We definitely ticked that off our bucket list.
10 Best Things To Do in Myanmar
Myanmar is a country that offers a dizzying array of experiences that simply can’t be found anywhere else on earth. From majestic temples and breathtaking landscapes, to epic train journeys and unique local foods. Below are our top 10 recommendations for Myanmar in no particular order:
1. Take the Local Circular Train around Yangon
One of the best ways to see Yangon is to jump on the Yangon circle train. This half-day experience takes you through 29 miles of railway in an old-fashioned train. Not only will you see some of the best highlights of the city but you will also be onboard with local monks and commuters.
2. See the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
The almost 100 meter gold plated stupa of Yangon called the Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most majestic temples in Myanmar. This pagoda dominates the area with its diamond studded spire set on top of a small hill in Yangon. If you come at night, the pagoda is lit up by spotlights.
3. Watch Bats Fly at Sunset in Hpa-An
Flo’s personal highlight of the trip was watching thousands of bats fly out of their cave at sunset near Hpa-An. Located just 9km from the city near the Thanlyin River, Bat Cave is a place that can’t be entered but which offers a stunning spectacle of thousands of bats flying out at sunset.
4. Hike Mount Taung Wine (Hpa-An) for Sunrise
The hike to the top of Mount Taung Wine only takes around 45 minutes which makes it an ideal climb for early in the morning. However, the climb is steep and it can become quite humid even in the early hours. Nevertheless, the views are mesmerising and make it well worth the effort.
5. Explore the Temples of Old Bagan
As mentioned before, Bagan will be the highlight of any trip to Myanmar. There are over 2000 temples inside the historic royal city of Old Bagan. One of the highlights (of course) will be a balloon fight at sunrise. This magical experience allows you to float between the temples as the sun slowly rises.
6. Try the Unique Local Cuisine of Myanmar
Since Myanmar was closed off to the world for so long, much of the cuisine here is unknown. This makes the food experience here a surprising and delightful one. Many of the dishes in the south and east are influenced by Thai cuisine and in the north and west it’s more of an Indian influence.
7. Discover the Gorgeous White Temple in Mingun
The Hsinbyume Pagoda otherwise known as the Mya Thein Tan Pagoda is one of the most beautiful temples in Myanmar. We were impressed by the architecture here, especially the concentric terraces that resemble waves. You can find the temple about 10km’s northwest of Mandalay.
8. Walk up the Mandalay Hill for Sunrise
At the top of the Mandalay Hill you will discover the most amazing view of Mandalay’s city sprawl. What is most impressive about the views are the golden temples which spring up from the lush landscape. The climb takes 30 minutes but it will take longer if you stop for photos on the way.
9. Marvel at the 1000 Buddhas of Lumbini Garden
The 1000 Buddha statues found throughout the Lumbini Garden are absolutely stunning. These statues are located in more of a park rather than garden, but nonetheless are still majestic to see. You can combine this attraction with Mount Zwegabin which makes for a fantastic climb.
10. Meet the Wonderful Locals of Myanmar
We loved meeting the locals. The language barrier was definitely an issue but we managed to get by without English. There was a real sense of hope for this country. Especially because the people are so incredibly hospitable in a way we’ve only experienced in places like Indonesia.
Cherished Memories – Bat Cave & Streets of Bagan
Specifically we remember two moments that were so out of the ordinary that we will never forget them. The first one was when thousands of bats exited their cave at sunset in Hpa-An. The whole thing went on for at least 20 minutes and it was unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.
The other memory was from a random street in Bagan. I think it was the first morning we went out to explore. It was freezing cold as we started early in the morning. When the sun started to rise you could see all the light rays through the trees as there was so much dust and sand in the air.
Feeling the warmth of these first sun rays and literally seeing the light in this magical place felt so inspiring. We imagined that we could see something like this but the experience itself was so intensive that it’s, again – almost impossible to describe it in words.
Tips for your Visit to Myanmar
The first tip we can offer is to make sure you sort out your visa for this country as it seems to change every year. We also read on travel blogs that it was illegal to bring drones into Myanmar. Although, I’m not sure this is true anymore as we had no problems using our drone.
Don’t rely on Google Maps. If you look up locations it can be wrong and you can end up in the wrong mountain! This almost happened to us in Hpa-An when we wanted to see the Taung Wine Pagoda.
As far as we know, there are not many scams in Myanmar and the people here genuinely want to help you. As a general rule, it’s good to find out the price for a taxi or tuk-tuk. Often the price is lower than what they are asking for. This is to be expected in every country, though.
We recommend booking your bus with your hotel. The process is super easy. They have their own apps which work really well. Enjoy one of the most fascinating countries in the world, Myanmar! Be sure to reach out to us if you have any questions or would like any more tips for this destination.