Gilded stupas and soaring Buddha statues, serene waterways lined with floating gardens, fascinating handicrafts and hill tribes: these are just a few of Myanmar’s little-known treasures. Throughout many decades of colonial and military rule, the people of Myanmar held fast to their ancient Buddhist traditions. Immerse yourself in the rich culture that has evolved here, from the timeless stilt villages of Inle Lake to the glorious temples of Bagan and Mandalay.
Attend an initiation ceremony for novice monks—funded in part by our visit—and experience the pageantry of this 2,500-year-old tradition.
In Yangon, hear from a prominent local writer or artist on Myanmar’s changing political climate, and enjoy a walking tour through the heart of the city.
Take part in a lamp-lighting ceremony at the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda, a sacred Buddhist site.
Hear a talk by a member of Inle Heritage on the conservation of Inle Lake, and meet the area’s iconic leg-rowing fishermen.
Itinerary - 11 Days
Day 1 — Yangon, Myanmar
Arrive in Yangon (Rangoon) and check in to our centrally located hotel. Set out to discover Old Rangoon, where British colonial buildings stand alongside Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Hindu sites. Stroll the topiary gardens of Maha Bandoola Park, and see City Hall and the Sule Pagoda—a 2,000-year-old gilded temple that rises from the island of a bustling traffic circle. Gather for a welcome dinner this evening. Sule Shangri-La Hotel (D)
Day 2 — Yangon
Begin the day examining royal artifacts at the National Museum, then browse the traditional handicrafts on display at the Bogyoke Aung San Market. After lunch, see the colossal reclining Buddha that stretches more than 200 feet at Chauk Htat Gyi Pagoda, and attend a talk on Myanmar’s changing political climate. Sule Shangri-La Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Mandalay
Transfer to the airport this morning and catch a flight to Mandalay. Visit the Shwe Nandaw Monastery to admire its intricate teak carvings, and see the 729 chiseled marble slabs of Kuthodaw Pagoda. Later, sail the Irrawaddy to Mingun, home to a massive, unfinished pagoda. Mandalay Hill Resort (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Mandalay
Rise early to witness the morning face-washing ceremony of the Mahamuni Buddha, the most revered Buddha image in Mandalay. Travel to Sagaing, where myriad pagodas gleam white and gold on rolling green hillsides. Take in views over this picturesque landscape from the hilltop Sun Oo Ponya Shin Pagoda, and offer rice donations at a nunnery. Continue to the ancient capital of Inwa and hop in horse-carts to visit Nan Myint Tower, Maha Aung Mye Bonzan Monastery, and the teak Bagaya Monastery. Then visit a silk-weaving or gold-leaf workshop. Cross the river via the U Bein Bridge—the world’s longest teak footbridge. Cap off the day with a sunset cruise along the Taungthaman Lake in a traditional sampan. Mandalay Hill Resort (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Irrawaddy River/Bagan
Board a teak riverboat for a leisurely float along the Irrawaddy to Bagan. Take in scenes of rural life along the riverbanks as we listen to a talk by our expert. Disembark to visit a riverside village, and arrive in Bagan this evening.
Bagan Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Bagan
During the 11th and 12th centuries, some 10,000 temples and monasteries were built across the Bagan plain. Today, more than 2,200 remain. Float above this magical landscape at sunrise on an optional balloon ride. Then head to some of the area’s most impressive sites, examining the 13th-century murals at Gubyaukgyi Temple and the gold-plated Shwezigon Pagoda, Bagan’s greatest reliquary. After lunch, stop in at a lacquerware workshop to watch artisans ply their craft. Visit the Ananda Temple, home to four great, gilded Buddha statues, and see the Htilominlo Temple. Ride a horse-cart across the Bagan plain, and enjoy a stunning sunset at the Dhammayangyi or Sulamani Temple. Bagan Lodge (B,L)
Day 7 — Bagan
Watch the sun rise from atop one of Bagan’s temples. Later, head to Nyaung U’s vibrant market, attend an initiation ceremony for novice monks at a Bagan monastery, and learn how local palm wine is made at a toddy palm farm. Enjoy a special al fresco dinner with views of the temples and entertainment provided by traditional dancers. Bagan Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Heho/Inle Lake
Fly to Heho and travel overland to Inle Lake, visiting Shwe Yan Pyay Monastery and Yawnghwe village along the way. Meet with some of Inle’s famous fishermen, and learn how they pole their skiffs with one leg during a demonstration. At the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, examine five Buddha images so smothered in gold leaf that they have lost all trace of their original forms. Observe artisans weaving silk in the village of Inn Paw Khone; and visit a cheroot factory, where traditional Burmese cigars are made by hand. Villa Inle Resort & Spa (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Inle Lake
Spend the day exploring the lake, from lush floating gardens to vibrant lakeside markets. Enjoy a Shan-style cooking class demonstration; examine hundreds of Shan-style stupas at Indein; and visit the Nga Phe Kyaung Monastery, perched over the water on stilts and teak planks. Later, enjoy a conservation talk by a member of Inle Heritage, an organization that looks after the cultural and natural heritage of Inle Lake and the surrounding region. Villa Inle Resort & Spa (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Yangon
Fly to Yangon this morning, and meet with monks on a visit to the Kalaywa Tawya Monastery and School Project. Encounter the glittering stupas of Shwedagon Pagoda, a gilded temple tipped with more than 4,500 diamonds. Participate in a lamp-lighting ceremony at the temple and enjoy time to stroll the grounds alongside the pilgrims and families that flock here. Gather for a farewell dinner this evening. Sule Shangri-La Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 11 — Yangon
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your flight home. (B)
Paula Swart is an expert on Asian culture
and history, with a special interest in Buddhism, and has been a museum curator for more than 20 years. A popular expert on more than 30 prior National Geographic Expeditions, her travels have taken her to Southeast Asia numerous times. She has recently organized an exhibition on Buddhist art, called Visions of Enlightenment, that included Burmese art. Paula holds degrees in archaeology, Asian art history, and Chinese history. She speaks five languages, including Mandarin, and has published several books and numerous articles on the art and architecture of Asian cultures. Paula also studied and lectures on artifacts from the shipwreck of the Dutch East India company ship Witte Leeuw (White Lion), which was found off the island of St. Helena and documented in the October 1978 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Price is per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $2,600. On the December departure, there is an additional holiday surcharge of $600 per person. The optional balloon ride on Day 6 is $350. Airfare to/from Yangon and within Myanmar is not included in the expedition cost. The group flights within Myanmar are $400 per person (subject to change).
Travelers should be in good health and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods of time. Daily activities may include city walking tours, visits to sites, game drives on bumpy roads, or easy hikes.
Click here for a description of all activity levels.
What To Expect
This trip includes numerous village and temple visits that require walking over uneven terrain, boarding local boats, and climbing stairs in often hot and humid conditions. We will frequently be required to remove socks and shoes to enter religious sites. Travelers should be in good health and physically fit.