In recent years Myanmar has become a very popular destination for anyone who loves exotic destinations and is looking for an off the beaten track experience. For years, Myanmar (also known as Burma) was off limits for Western tourists but ever since it opened its borders to the West, there is a constant rise in the number of tourists who visit the country. And who can blame them? What’s not to like? Ancient temples, fascinating culture, gorgeous views and landscapes, the famous Myanmar handicrafts, these are just some of the highlights you can find in Myanmar. There is something for everyone from nature lovers to culture enthusiasts and photographers at heart. Unfortunately, many visitors who are looking for an off the beaten path experience are a bit disappointed by the number of tourist buses that can be seen in some of the most popular places in Burma. There are so many other places to see in Myanmar other than Bagan or Inle Lake, you just need to know where to go to avoid the crowds of tourists if you are looking for a more authentic experience. Even in popular places such as Bagan, there are still authentic places and hidden gems just waiting to be discovered. These were actually the highlights of our Burmese adventure. So, if you are looking for an off the beaten path experience, just follow our guide and tips!
Off The Beaten Track Myanmar - Highlights and Tips to Discover The Authentic Myanmar
Pindaya, Shan State
Why Should Pindaya Be on Your Off The Beaten Path Itinerary?
Pindaya is a small town located in the Taunggyi District, in the west of Shan State. We flew to Pindaya from Yangon and honestly, it was one of the best surprises of our trip. Most people come here to see the famous Pindaya Caves but we fell in love with the small family owned workshops and the gorgeous agricultural views. If you are interested in learning more about Myanmar’s traditional handicrafts and visit some of the most authentic family owned plants we’ve seen in Myanmar, you should add Pindaya to your off the beaten track Myanmar itinerary. Nature lovers will rejoice as well because Pindaya is surrounded by the most beautiful agricultural land, fields filled with colorful flowers and different crops. Driving and walking through the small rural villages, we saw so many unique sights we haven’t seen anywhere else in Myanmar, local kids riding their buffalo, motorbikes loaded with agricultural crops, there’s an air of authenticity in the magical area of Pindaya!
Getting there: The nearest airport is Heho airport (and then a 3-hour drive by car). Alternatively, you can drive from Inle Lake to Pindaya (2.5 hours) or from Mandalay (5 hours).
Off the beaten track highlights: Small family-owned workshops for traditional goods and gorgeous agricultural landscapes.
Kyaing Tong, Shan State
Why Should Kyaing Tong Be on Your Off The Beaten Track Itinerary?
Kyaing Tong or Keng Tung is a hidden gem for anyone who is interested in the hill tribes of Myanmar. It is located in the east of Shan State. Kyaing Tong is, in fact, part of the golden triangle of Southeast Asia, therefore, you can see the variety of cultural influences all around, including the many different spelling of the name of the town itself. Not many people come to this area but if you’d like to meet some of Myanmar’s hill tribes and learn more about their traditional practices, culture and lifestyle, you should definitely visit Kyaing Tong. Visiting the different ethnic tribes who live in the area helped us deepen our knowledge and provided a once in a lifetime experience to interact with some of the ethnic tribes who live here. Unlike some of the stories we’ve heard about visiting the long-neck tribes of Thailand, this felt like a much more authentic experience. We hiked through the different villages, and with the help of our guide, learned more about their beliefs and lives. Again, one of the highlights of our Myanmar adventure. Another highlight in the area – visiting the local market. We have a slight obsession with markets, for us, it is always an opportunity to have an authentic experience and this was one of the best markets in Myanmar (and we’ve seen plenty).
Getting there: Since Kyaing Tong is relatively secluded, the most convenient way is to take a flight to Kyaing Tong airport. Until a few years ago, this area was closed to outside visitors and therefore the rules for any necessary permits to visit the area change from time to time (permits in addition to your Myanmar visa). For more information concerning permits and access.
Off the beaten track highlights: Myanmar’s hill tribes and one of the best markets in Myanmar.
Mandalay Region, Central Myanmar
Why Should Mandalay Be on Your Off The Beaten Path Itinerary?
Mandalay is the second-largest city in Myanmar and it is located on the east bank of the Irrawaddy River. Many visitors start or end their trip here. There are many attractions in Mandalay but for an off the beaten track experience, leave the city and go explore the surrounding villages. Around Mandalay, there are many small villages that make a living by producing traditional arts and crafts. Each village has a unique niche or specialty and all of the residents of that village produce traditional handicrafts that are related to this niche. We went on day trips and visited so many small villages and witnessed the different stages of the production of traditional Myanmar handicrafts. Some of our favorite highlights in these villages were learning about terracotta pots, beads from petrified wood, handmade brooms, paper-mache toys and many more. When planning your trip, do try and visit the villages that are off the touristy routes. Some villages get groups of tourists but there are so many others that were really surprised to see us and were delighted to welcome us to their small workshops and explain the process, and at the end of our visit, even take selfies with us (at the broom factory we actually had to pose with each and every worker for about 10 minutes). Another highlight- Mandalay markets! Yes, we’ve already recommended Kyaing Tong Market, but that is the second-best market in Myanmar, Mandalay’s markets are at the top of the list and there are plenty to choose from (fish, vegetables and fruits, flowers and more). We visited all of them and were very surprised to see there were hardly any tourists around!
Getting there: If you arrive to Myanmar by plane, you’ll probably start or end your visit here. If you are arriving from Bagan or heading to Bagan from here, hire a driver/guide. We took a driver from Bagan to Mandalay and spent the day stopping at the small artisan villages on the way. It was one of our highlights of the trip.
Off the beaten track highlights: Unique small artisan villages with a specialty in Myanmar handicrafts and the best markets in Myanmar.
Any Other Tips for an Off The Beaten Track Myanmar Itinerary?
Off the Beaten Path Highlights for Bagan
Bagan is one of the most popular destinations in Myanmar, it’s impossible to avoid the crowds here. Nevertheless, for the pagodas – arrive early to explore the most popular pagodas such as the Shwesandaw pagoda or Ananda temple and don’t be afraid to go and explore the less known ones, especially during sunset (which can get really crowded) or sunrise. Better yet, discover the small villages around Bagan. We had one of our best meals at a private house in a local village. You can read more about this authentic experience if you like. Also, similarly to the Mandalay region, there are small artisan villages around Bagan so drive around and explore these unique artisan workshops.
Off the Beaten Path Highlights for Inle Lake
You’ve probably heard a lot about Inle Lake and trust us, no matter how many days you are planning to stay here, it is not enough because Inle Lake is addictive! There’s something magical in the air. However, some of Inle Lake’s attractions can get a little bit crowded. The small family-owned workshops we visited here were much more touristy than the ones we visited in Pindaya or Mandalay’s and Bagan’s surrounding villages. However, we were invited to visit the floating gardens of a local family and it was a truly unique experience. Just before sunset, we took a small boat and sailed through floating crops of cucumbers and tomatoes while our host was explaining about their unique method of growing these crops. So, if you are going to visit Inle Lake, don’t skip this attraction!
Myanmar is such a fascinating country with a complicated history and unique culture and customs. The tourism industry is on the rise, so there’s no better time to visit Myanmar than now. Especially if you are looking for an authentic experience, you’d better visit Myanmar now before its popular attractions get too crowded, and don’t forget to add some off the beaten track highlights to your itinerary.