2 weeks in Myanmar! Part 2: Mount Popa, Bagan and Mandalay!

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How can it be the second and final week of our Myanmar adventures already? Our Yangon and Inle Lake days flew by in a flash and before we knew it we were on our way to join the monkeys on Mount Popa, to explore the temples and dusty paths of Bagan and to take the road, or boat in our case, to Mandalay! Here’s a round up of our Week 2 fun in Myanmar!

Read part 1 of our Myanmar adventures here!

Mount Popa

A rather modest 8 hour cross country bus trip took us between Inle and Bagan. The roads were so bumpy we couldn’t even hold our phones to read and, VIP bus or not, we couldn’t wait to escape the Myanmar buses and roads! After spotting an incredible resort with an infinity pool overlooking Mount Popa we decided to make an overnight stop at the Popa Mountain Resort en route to Bagan and hopped off the bus at Kyaukpadaung. We spent a night in the jungle (we were so tropical there was even a stick in our room for fending off the wildlife!) and the morning chilling out in the incredible infinity pool before braving the climb at Mount Popa.

Chilling out in the infinity pool!2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Mount Popa is a sacred mountain with glistening gold temples perched precariously atop of a dormant volcano. 777 steps lead the way to the top and it was an excursion I was most apprehensive of. Not only are the steps climbed in 40 degree temperatures they are also lined with many monkeys who are in search of food! There’s no escaping the monkeys: the babies were cute, the adult males not so much. It’s safe to say I’ve never climbed 777 steps as quickly in my entire life but it was worth every second and was an absolute assault on the senses! Check out our Popa adventures here!

All that glistens! Gold atop Mount Popa:2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundMy new buddies:2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Bagan

The incredible Bagan, filled with endless sunrises (our fave sunrise spots are here), sunsets (our fave sunset spots are here), temples and dusty roads, was next on our list and our first stop was to rent e-bikes to travel around the old city. It’s a stunning landscape in a city which has the highest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruin compared to anywhere in the world. Our first sunset saw us fall head over heels in love, so much so that we ended up spending an extra night to squeeze in some more Bagan adventures.

2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

4am starts are the standard in Bagan and the exquisite sunrises were clear and colourful with temple after temple visible across the skyline. As the sun rose the early morning hot air balloons filled the sky and the scene was postcard perfect. A little piece of our hearts have been left firmly in Bagan.

Picture perfect!2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundHead over heels in love!
2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

As for the e-bikes, I’m seriously relieved there’s no video footage of me parking mine up at the hotel and ending up inches away from the swimming pool after I forgot to let go off the accelerator. Twice. I’m convinced I was allocated a pink bike so everyone could see me coming!

Our best Bagan hotels for visiting the temples

Bagan hotels tend to book up fast so book your hotel as far in advance of your travels as you can. Hotels in Bagan are located across three areas: Old and New Bagan and Nyaung-U. Nyaung-U, a mix of boutique hotels and local residents about 3km from the temples, is our favourite. Old Bagan, in the heart of the temples, houses many of Bagan’s luxury hotels while New Bagan is home to larger hotels and new builds. We use Agoda for all our South East Asia bookings as it has the widest inventory and cheapest prices across the region.

Nguang-U

  • ZFreeti Hotel: we stayed in the Zfreeti, a small hotel with lots of great restaurant options in the surrounding streets and an inviting swimming pool! We rented electric bikes from the store across the street to get around – Check for lowest prices here
  • Other good options in Nguang-U include the Sky View Hotel and Motel Zein.

Old Bagan

  • Aureum Palace Hotel and Resort: located within the actual Bagan Archaeological Preservation Zone amongst the ancient temples themselves, this hotel give you the very best views of the Bagan plains. It’s definitely one of the most unique hotels we’ve ever seen – Check for lowest prices here
  • Other good luxury options in Old Bagan include The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate and the Bagan Thande Hotel

New Bagan

Click here for the best Bagan hotel Prices

Rocking our pink wheels!2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundIn the shadow of the temples:2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplaygroundWe continued with our Myanmar food adventures and Bagan blew us away in the food department. A fermented tea leaf salad was a firm favourite!
2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

The Road to Mandalay!

We took the early morning (also known as the 530am, middle of the night) boat to Mandalay (here’s how we got on!). As we cruised up the Iranwaddy river in the morning sun we had a real ‘life is beautiful’ moment and the 12 hour boat journey passed in a flash. It was incredible to witness local life along the river and we were fortunate to catch an exquisite sunrise as well as many friendly locals on the water who waved us along on our journey!2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Mandalay

Crazy, motorbike filled Mandalay was a total shock to the system after Bagan and we yearned for the simple days we’d spent zooming from temple to temple in the Bagan sunshine. We soon adjusted back to city life and were excited to explore our final stop.2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

We started our Mandalay morning with a trip to the Zegyo market and immersed ourselves in local life among the vegetable, flower and meat stalls lining the streets. Our visit to the Shwenandaw Kyaung Teak Temple was a surprise treat and we were amazed by the detail in the wooden temple. We made quick stops at Mandalay Hill and the Jade Market before making our way to the Mahamuni Buddha Temple, the second holiest site in Myanmar after the Shwedagon Pagoda. Our Mandalay highlight was sipping pineapple juice while watching the sun set at the U-Bein bridge. The bridge is famous for the gorgeous silhouettes of the monks making their way home across the river after a day of work and it was the perfect finish to our Myanmar trip.

Market life:2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground Shwenandaw Kyaung Teak Temple:2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground Mahamuni Buddha Temple:2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground Hard at work at the Jade market:2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground A classic sunset at the U-Bein bridge:2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Oh Myanmar, why did you have to pass so quickly?

It was hard to believe our Myanmar trip, the one we’d spent months planning for and dreaming about, was all over. Every moment was an adventure and our time there was a mix of awe, amazement and adventure. It’s safe to say that the places we saw and the experiences we had will stay with us forever.

Where we stayed

The Popa Mountain Resort was the highlight of our Myanmar accommodation. It was a luxurious step back to nature and we basked in the Mount Popa views from both our balcony and the infinity pool. Bliss!

Popa views:
2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

The Zfreeti hotel was a perfect base for Bagan and we loved being on the cusp of the Old town and its many temples as well as the convenience of the e-bike shop directly across the road. It was so good we opted to stay an extra day!

Love the lobby decor!2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

Despite a rocky start at the Smart Hotel in Mandalay (the rooms look nothing like the pictures on the website) the hotel were quick to help us out and we enjoyed our stay there for its location, reasonable price and rooftop restaurant.

Room with a view:
2 weeks Myanmar Itinerary Bagan Mandalay ©thewholeworldisaplayground

5 thoughts on “2 weeks in Myanmar! Part 2: Mount Popa, Bagan and Mandalay!”

  1. Hi Elaine!

    Mount Popa blew me away when I visited in 2014. So glad I happened upon your post, because the photos of Myanmar you took are among the best I’ve seen. Major photo envy!

    There’s nowhere else from my two years of travelling that I miss more.

    Happy travels!

    xo

    Reply
  2. Thank you so much for the beautiful pictures. We are just finishing planning our trip for the end of December 2016. We will be arriving in Mandalay and quickly taking a boat to Bagan. We had originally planned on going to Mt. Popa for the day, but I’ve heard such opposing viewpoints. We planned on going to the resort for some swim time/rest time, but we were going to go back to Bagan for the evening. It sounds like you loved it, but I just don’t know about climbing up to the monastery with all of the vendors, monkeys and poop. Mind you, I’ve done a lot of traveling, so I could do it. Just wondering if I want to go with my girls and if it’s worth it.
    I was in Myanmar 30 years ago and have the fondest memories of stopping at tea houses in the middle of the night and having ladies put thanaka on my face. They are the friendliest and most genuine people I have met throughout all of my travels. Can’t wait to get there! Thanks for the help.

    Reply
    • Wow Veronique, Myanmar 30 years ago must have been incredible! It’s fascinating now but will be interesting to see how it compares to your previous trip. For Popa, it really depends on how much time you have in Bagan – Bagan is amazing and if your time there is limited in I would spend all of it there. Popa is best described as an experience… it’s picture perfect from a distance with the golden pagoda glistening on top of the Mount and climbing to the top is fun with all the monkeys but the sights at the top are nothing of note. The resort was our highlight of our Popa visit and I believe it’s possible to pay for a swim if you don’t want to stay. For us it was perfect as we were passing by and had a night to spend but I wouldn’t rush from Bagan just to climb to the top as it might be a disappointing experience.

      Hope that helps, feel free to fire across any more questions!
      Elaine

      Reply
    • Hi Henrik, it’s around 90 minute drive from Bagan to Mount Popa so it’s physically possible yes but (unless its changes recently) it’s illegal to hire motorbikes in Myanmar. Yes yo ucan do it but the company’s are flouting the law. It’ll also invalidate your travel insurance. You can hire electric scooters but these won’t have the range to make it to Popa. Hope this helps.

      A taxi or bus might be better options.

      Reply

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