Arrival - Yangon
Upon arrival, you will be greeted by your Exotissimo Guide who will accompany you as you transfer to the hotel. Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is a relatively quiet and charming city. Its impressive colonial and spiritual heritage makes it one of the most fascinating cities in Southeast Asia. There are no activities planned for today, however should you arrive early optional excursions are available. Overnight in Yangon.
Depart your hotel at 08.00 with your Exotissimo guide for a morning tour of Yangon. Start with a visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, one of the country’s holiest sites. Instead of taking the lift, like most tourists, we’ll spend time exploring the eastern base of the temple first. Turn down a hidden laneway to discover a busy market tucked amid a labyrinth of small alleys. Fresh produce, rice, noodles and a variety of dry goods are on sale in this atmospheric little market. Then venture back through the ‘monks market’, a row of shops selling various religious items. Here you will find monks robes, alms bowls, offerings, incense and other unique Buddhist objects. As your browse the stalls your guide will explain the use and rituals of Myanmar’s Buddhist people.
In the morning hours the pagoda and its surroundings are busy with local pilgrims, monks and nuns coming to pay their respects to the Buddha and say their prayers. Make your way up the stairs to the gilded Shwedagon and spend time walking around the platform and learning about Burmese beliefs such as the astrological system and its role in the daily life of the locals. The faint tinkling of bells, sounds of chants and early morning light create a serene atmosphere.
Having worked up an appetite it’s time to head to a local tea shop, an open-air tea shop busy from morning till night with local office workers, businessmen and families who come to enjoy a meal and a chat with their friends. Sample a cup of sweet tea or local coffee along with some lunch. The famous mohinga noodles are one of the most popular dishes but more than a dozen other meals are available including mee shay noodles, nan gyi, chappati-style bread with dips, cakes and savory pastries.
This afternoon we’ll continue with a spiritual-focused walking tour. Although Myanmar is predominately Buddhist, there are several forms of religion practiced in the country most of which were introduced by immigrant populations. Exploring the diverse religions in downtown Yangon provides insight into the rich tapestry of cultures in Myanmar and unveils a side of the city rarely explored by tourists.
We start at Kheng Hock Keong Temple, Chinatown’s largest temple, and continue walking our way through western downtown. Along the way we will visit mosques, churches, Hindu temples and even a synagogue before finishing at Sule Paya. Your guide will explain the rich diversity of the religions in Yangon and teach you about offerings and blessings in each place of worship. Beyond the major regions, you’ll also discover local Burmese traditions such as ancestor worship, Nat worship, astrology and even the lottery!
While walking through this lively section of town we’ll also stumble upon local markets selling everything from fresh produce to temple offerings to traditional medicine.
Transfer back to your hotel in the late afternoon. Overnight in Yangon.
Yangon - Heho - Kalaw (B/D)
After breakfast at your hotel, transfer to the Nanthida Jetty to board a ferry to cross the Yangon River to Dhala. The jetty is often buzzing with activity as a mini-street market is there to sell snacks and other items to the ferry passengers. The boat ride to Dhala takes 15 minutes and offers great views of the waterways as well as a fun chance to interact with the curious locals as they make their way across the river.
Upon reaching Dhala, travel by local trishaw through the town. The scenic town is remarkably different from nearby Yangon, with many trees, local neighborhoods and quiet side streets filling the area. While in Dhala you’ll visit the market and have plenty of opportunities to stop and interact with the friendly locals.
After visiting the village and market, proceed to the monastery to learn about monastic life in Myanmar. The monastery also serves as a community centre and is an important part of rural Burmese life.
Return by boat to Yangon, observing life along the river and reflecting back on your excursion to Dhala. Upon returning to the Yangon jetty, you will be transferred back to your hotel to check out.
You’ll be catching an afternoon flight to Heho, in the heart of the Shan State, so a stop will be made for lunch before heading to the airport. Upon arrival in Heho embark on the scenic drive to Kalaw, a former British hill station. The drive takes around 1 - 1.5 hours and upon arriving you will have time to take a short stroll through town before the sun sets.
Enjoy dinner at your hotel this evening. Overnight in Kalaw.
Kalaw - Elephant Camp - Nyaung Shwe (B/L)
This morning you will transfer by car to the trekking start point between Pine Ne Bin and Taung Ny. Spend the morning trekking through the Shan Hills, passing through farms, forests and villages inhabited by the Pa-O and Palaung people. A picnic lunch will be served en route and there will be plenty of opportunities to stop for photos or rest breaks.
Continuing on foot in the afternoon you will soon reach the Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp. In the woods or river you will have your first encounter with these gentle animals. If you wish you may help to bathe the elephants or feed them a snack.
Then climb on top of the elephant for a ride through the forest toward the main camp. The ride will take approximately 15 - 30 minutes and along the way you will likely see wild orchids, butterflies and other indigenous flora and fauna.
Relax at the main camp with a refreshing drink and enjoy the spectacular views before heading back to Kalaw and on to Nyaung Shwe.
You’ll reach Nyaung Shwe before sunset and check in to your hotel. Overnight in Nyaung Shwe.
Note: Due to weather and the nature of elephants this program may need to be altered and vary from the original proposal.
Nyaung Shwe - Inle Lake - Nyaung Shwe (B/L)
This morning starts with a walking tour of Nyaung Shwe. Start near the canal where you will see boats coming and going from the lake’s farms to drop off fresh produce that is then distributed up country. Continue to the local market for a wander through the small, but charming, stalls and continue looping around to the ‘tomato house’. This warehouse is the main depot for transport of Inle Lake’s produce and us a fascinating visit for tourists.
Then walk on to the boat jetty. Upon reaching the edges of Inle Lake, board a private motorboat to head out to Inle Lake, one of Myanmar’s most spectacular sights. Pass villages built on stilts over the lake, inhabited by the local Intha people. Observe the leg-rowing fishermen and see their floating gardens built up from strips of water hyacinth and mud and anchored to the bottom with bamboo poles. Visit Nga Hpe Chaung Monastery, which houses dozens of Shan Buddha Images. Continue to Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, the lake’s main sanctuary, which contains five sacred Buddha images covered in gold leaf.
After that, proceed to a traditional Inthar House at Tharlay village where you will spend time preparing the dishes with the family. It’s a unique chance to spend time with the locals and learn about their cuisine and culture. Together you’ll prepare local delights including Inle Style Tomato Salad and other Inthar dishes. Then your lunch will be served on a low table and enjoy your lunch sitting on the floor the local way.
Explore the local crafts of Inle Lake with a stop at the weaving village of Inpawkhone and a cheroot factory, where the typical Burmese cigars are made by hand.
Return to Nyaung Shwe in the late afternoon and transfer to Red Mountain Wine Estate for a sunset wine tasting. The delicious wine is the result of a collaboration between a French winemaker and the local Pa-Oh people. Overnight in Nyaung Shwe.
Nyaung Shwe - Sagar - Nyaung Shwe (B/L)
Set off this morning for your lakeside hotel for Sagar, the far southern region of Inle Lake. Very few tourists make the trip down to this region yet it is one of the most beautiful places in the Shan State with the mountains forming a backdrop for the small villages and fishermen on the water. The area was only recently opened to tourists in 2003.
The boat journey takes 2.5 - 3 hours but is full of fabulous views and home to many unique species of birds, both indigenous and migratory. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride!
Upon arriving in Sagar area there are several stops that will be made (the order will depend on the time, other tourist boats and activity in the villages). The main highlight for many travelers are the ‘sunken’ stupas of Sagar- 108 stupas from the 16 - 17th centuries that are partially underwater for a few months a year. There is also a local monastery and village that can be visited here.
Continue to the village of Thaya Gone, home to Pa-Oh, Shan and Inthar people and known for its production of local rice wine. Watch the process of distillation and then sample some of the local brew if you wish. In Thaya Gone there is also the chance to climb to the top of a small hill which there are great views of the lake and surrounding villages.
Another stop will be made in Sae Khaung Pottery Village to see the crafting of oil and water pots as well as the natural, underground kilns used by the villagers. On the western shores of the Sagar area is Tar Kaung, a series of more than 200 stupas which also make a fabulous photo stop. Lunch will be arranged along the way (either picnic lunch or local lunch at a small restaurant).
Around 2.30 the boat will begin its journey back to the main section of Inle Lake. Traveling back in the afternoon the light has shifted and the route looks much different on the return, with different activities occurring on the water and in the villages. Rice noodles can be seen drying in the sun, spun cotton is hung out to dry and kids are returning from school at this time of day. You’ll reach your hotel early this evening in time to freshen up and watch the sunset. Overnight in Nyaung Shwe.
Nyaung Shwe - Heho - Bagan (B)
This morning is at your leisure in Nyaung Shwe. If you wish a short 2 - 3 hour trek to a Pa-Oh village can be arranged.
After lunch transfer to the Heho airport for the domestic flight to Bagan. From the 11th to 13th centuries, when Bagan was the capital of Myanmar, the rulers constructed thousands of huge stupas and temples many of which are still standing today on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. As your plane descends to the Nyaung U airport you will have an aerial view of the temples and monuments.
You’ll be greeted by a car at the airport and transferred to a village area where a horsecart is waiting to take you on an introductory ride through the temples. Enjoy the views as you make your way pass various monuments and scenes of local life. Stop and enjoy an unforgettable sunset over the plains from the upper terrace of one of the temples. Then head to your hotel for check in. Overnight in Bagan.
This program includes a range of sites, providing a great overview of Bagan’s history, culture and local lifestyles. The journey begins with a visit to an elevated temple with spectacular views over the surrounding plains. This is the perfect introduction to the grandeur and scope of Bagan’s architecture. Next continue to Ananda Temple, one of the most revered temples in Bagan and which is quiet in the morning, before all the tour buses arrive.
Afterwards we will go to Myinkaba Village and visit Gubyaukgyi Temple which is noted for its beautiful mural paintings on its inner walls and well-preserved plaster carvings on its exterior. Nearby is Manuha Temple and Nan Paya Temple, two smaller temples with nice Buddha statues and stone work.
Travel to a local village where a fabulous lunch is set up for you. Get a taste for rural lifestyles as you dine on delicious food and interact with the village residents. Return to your hotel afterwards for a break from the heat.
Board a private river boat and set off upriver toward Kyauk Gu U Min. Throughout your Irrawaddy river cruise you will be treated to fabulous scenes of life on the water: fishermen, local ferry boats, riverside villages and views of the Bagan temples. You’ll stop at Sae Lan village and go ashore for a short walk. Sae Lan is typical of the riverside villages along the Irrawaddy. The friendly people work as farmers and fishermen, living a simple but happy life.
Continue by boat to Kyauk Gu U Min on the eastern side of the river where a five to ten minute walk takes us to the temple. This beautiful temple has exquisite stone carvings depicting religious figures and flowers on the door. The temple itself is built against the side of cliff, so behind the main hall of the temple you can enter a cave. Inside the cave there are several small niches where individuals can practice meditation. Legend states that the cave was built during the 13th century for the locals to hide from the invading Mongols.
After your exploration of Kyauk Gu U Min, you’ll return to the boat for a relaxing cruise back to Bagan (around 1 hour). Transfer back to your hotel upon reaching Bagan. Overnight in Bagan.
Bagan - Yangon (B)
After breakfast at your hotel, your Exotissimo guide and driver will pick you up to start your Bagan day trip. You’ll first visit the Nyaung U market, a busy morning market where locals gather from surrounding villages to buy and sell produce, crafts, spices and other goods. Stop for a cup of tea in a local teahouse, a key part of daily life in Myanmar and a great place from which to observe the busy morning activities.
Then continue to the neighboring villages where you will learn about their traditional livelihood. Learn the interesting process of creating pone yay gyi (pea powder paste) and see how local plum jam is madeand packed. In addition, visit workshops of two of the region’s best known products: handmade lacquer ware and wooden handicrafts. In addition, you will visit the villages and observe about how Cartwrights make a traditional bullock carts, still used by farmers and locals throughout the country. The craftsmen love to share their techniques with visitors and the curious kids from the village are usually happy to come and meet you.
Finally, visit a local monastery where you will receive a blessing from the resident monks. This spiritual ceremony is a special way to experience local culture and immerse yourself in the Buddhist spirit that is so integral to the daily lives of the Burmese. Return to your hotel to check out. There is free time to continue exploring with your guide and driver before taking the evening flight to Yangon.
Upon reaching Yangon, drop off your bags at the hotel and head out for a final night dinner in Myanmar. Yangon has something to offer for everyone, we recommend heading down to Chinatown for beers and barbeque if you want one last dose of local culture or head to one of the many international restaurants for a great dinner. Overnight in Yangon.
Yangon - Departure (B)
Transfer this morning to the Yangon airport for the international flight.