Myanmar Tours, South Region Travel Guide

Sail the Merqui Archipelago, Explore Deserted Islands



About Myanmar

Ancient Bagan

Considered one of the last frontiers in Southeast Asian tourism trail, Myanmar is a land of untold treasures that are slowly being unearthed. Since the country relaxed its border restrictions in recent years, travelers have been making their way to Southern Myanmar, lured by the tales of golden temples, unspoilt beaches, and a genuine vibe untouched by mass tourism.

The most famous icon in southern Myanmar may be the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon yet travelers to this region will quickly realize that there are a world of natural, cultural, and spiritual experiences waiting to be had.

Most visitors will start their journey in Southern Myanmar from Yangon and the city acts as the perfect introduction to this beautiful region. The economic and cultural hub of Myanmar, Yangon was the capital until 2005 and today one of the most culturally diverse and best preserved cities in Southeast Asia. 

Temples and Stuppa's of Bagan dating back about 1000 years

Myanmar Beaches in the Mergui Archipelago

Travelers in need of some beach time and island life should head far south to the Myeik (Mergui) Achipelago which has some of the best diving in Asia and hundreds of remote islands, or explore the 60-kilometer stretch of beaches which adorn the Dawei peninsula.

With about 800 islands of remote islands off the southernmost tip of Myanmar, the Mergui Archipelago is becoming one of the premier island destinations in Southeast Asia. The area is popular for amazing tropical sailing, kayaking, scuba diving and fishing. Visitors can get to Mergui Archipelago with plane from Kawthaung or by boat from Ranong or Phuket in Thailand.

clear clean natural waters of the Mergui Archipelago

Trails, Lakes, Hiking, Trekking

In southern Shan State ,Inle lake has captivating cultural surprises and old traditions including present day farming methods and skills more akin to practices that were common in the pre industrial revolution era and certainly, not seen commonly around the world today.

1. Samkar (southern parth of lake Inle)

2. Capital town Taunggyi (famous with hot air balloon festival)

3. kakku (over 2478 stupa's close to each other)

4. The pagoda festival in March

4. Pindaya cave famous for its lime stone cave and over 8000 buddha images inside from the the 17 century.

5. Kalaw town famous for its pleasant weather, built by British and now a happening starting point for trekking from kalaw to Inle lake

There are many cottage industries around Inle Lake. Here you can buy fresh handmade Burmese cigarettes or tiny cigars which hint of anise. Even non smokers enjoy the the taste. Boat making, blacksmiths, silversmiths, weaving looms and cottage industries are located in floating villages or houses on the lake.

One of the most fascinating human endeavors on Inle Lake are the creation and use of amazing man made floating islands which are using for growing fresh vegetables. See the Daytrips Tab or more details and images of these unique farming methods.

Inle Lake is fed by various streams and small rivers which offer interesting opportunities to explore the weekly markets which roam from one village to the next. You can visit the Dain Pagoda, a complex of 1054 Stupas dating back about 200 years.

The Pindaya Cave is about a one hour drive from the Heho Airport. The cave has about 8,000 Buddha images inside. Handmade paper, handmade umbrellas and a new cottage wine industry all flourish in the villages around Inle Lake.

Inle Lake, a region teeming with old ways of life and a highlight of Myanmar

Yangon and going West to Golden Rock

The former British colonial capital has an impressive colonial heritage as well as strong Indian, Chinese and of course Burmese influence; the cultural blend is evident in the streets, which are lined with Victorian architecture interspersed with Chinese and Buddhist temples and historic landmarks.

West of Yangon, on the other side of the Gulf of Mottama, the Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo Pagoda) continues to be an important pilgrimage for Buddhists from all over the world. The trek up to the rock is tricky but in fact not as hard as the guidebooks make out. After the journey, soak up the atmosphere in Mawlymaing, Myanmar's fourth largest city or visit the world's largest reclining Buddha in Mudon near Mawlynaing.

Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo Pagoda) continues to be an important pilgrimage for Buddhists


Southern Myanmar

Garden City of the East

Southern Myanmar is one of the most diverse travel destinations in Asia offering something to suit everyone's taste. Here travelers can immerse themselves in Theravada Buddhism with pilgrimages to the world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda or the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda, the latter precariously perched on a gilded golden rock. Just south of Mawlimaine, a 180 meter-long reclining Buddha statue – the largest of its kind in the world – is unique that its hollowed interiors are open to visitors.

Yangon

The bustling city of Yangon offer the perfect eclectic mix of past and present; the leafy “Garden City of the East”, as it was known during colonial times, showcase the region's history through architecture. The city also boasts a bustling Chinatown neighborhood, where locals congregate over sumptuous food and visitors stroll to pick up souvenirs.

The city is an mix of British, Burmese, Chinese and Indian influences. Some colonial architecture remains but decay is rampant, however, remnants 19th-century British colonial capital can be seen. Yangon continues to be a city of the past with betel nut chewing and spitting male pedestrians everywhere. People are genuinely friendly and willing to help strangers.

The Shwedagon Pagoda with its gold covered bell dome dominates the city's skyline

Mergui Archipelago

At the southernmost tip of Myanmar awaits the Mergui Archipelago, a collection of more than 800 pristine and uninhabited islands where travelers can explore unspoiled areas and see virgin coral reefs. The Mergui Archipelago, can also be reached directly from Phuket by driving 4 hours north to Ranong and crossing the river into Myanmar.

The Moken people are the indigenous minority group of the islands. The islands are not developed, your foot prints in the sand may be the only foot prints you will see. The Andaman Sea here is known for its clear warm waters, great for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and sailing.

Sailing in the Mergui

Sailing and Scuba Diving

The Mergui Archipelago is quietly becoming a haven for outstanding sailing cruises and liveaboard scuba diving adventrures. Deep Andaman Queen, a yacht with join in tours departs from Phuket, Thailand. Operating out of Kawthaung, Myanmar are a fleet of large luxury sailing yachts doing 3, 4, 5 and 6 day cruises around the pristine islands. The luxury yachts range in size from 75 ft to 105 ft in length are available for whole boat charter or for booking a cabin on a join in basis. Kawthaung, Myanmar is just a short hop across the Pakchan River from Ranong, Thailand

For more laid back beach life, the entire southern west coast of the country offers one sleepy beach resort after the other and travelers can explore quaint fishing villages, verdant rice paddies, and rubber plantations.

The SY Sunshine, 103 ft yacht available for charter

Temples of Bagan

During the 11th to 13th centuries, about 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed in the plains of Bagan. Made of stone and sand, about 2200 temples and pagodas still survive to this day. The Shwe Zi Gone from the 11th century is famous beautiful golden Stupa or the Htee Lo Min Lo Temple, known for plaster carvings and fine brick work or the Damayangy Temple from 1200 AD is perhaps the biggest in the Bagan area and the Ananda Temple from 1100 AD is known for its beautiful architecture.

A soon to be sunset view from the Shwe San Daw Stupa


Places, Tours and People

Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon

Spend a morning in awe of the impressive Shwedagon Pagoda, the spiritual center of Myanmar and a pilgrimage destination for Buddhists from all over the world. Afterwards, spend the afternoon trailing the many cultural influences in downtown Yangon including the historic Strand Hotel, the former High Court, The Secretariat, the City Hall, and the Customs House.

The famous Karaweik, a concrete replica of a Burmese royal barge built in 1972 now a restaurant is a an attractive setting for a walk around, or stop by for lunch or dinner on Kandawgyi Lake, one of two lakes in Yangon.

Hamsa-bird-shaped” floating barge on Kandawgyi (Royal) Lake

Bago

Less than two hours' drive north of Yangon is Bago, a perfect day trip destination from Yangon, with attractions including the Shwethalyaung Reclining Buddha Image, once the largest reclining image of the Buddha in Myanmar, and Shwemawdaw Pagoda, the second largest in the country after the Shwedagon Pagoda. Travelers also shouldn't miss the Kambawza Thardi Palace, a reconstruction of the grand palace built by 16th century King Bayinnaung.

Golden Rock

A highly recognizable icon of Southern Myanmar, the Kyaiktiyo Pagoda is built on a large granite boulder, which is covered in gold leaves by devotees. According to legend, the pagoda balances on a strand of Buddha's hair and it is said that one look at the precariously balancing rock is enough to convert anyone towards Buddhism.

Mergui Archipelago

While it is definitely not just a one day trip, more commonly 5 or 6 days, the 800 Mergui Islands in the south of Myanmar are becoming one of the premier island destinations in Southeast Asia. The area is popular for amazing tropical sailing, kayaking, scuba diving and fishing. Visitors can get to Mergui Archipelago with plane from Kawthaung or by boat from Ranong or Phuket in Thailand.

Sailing west of the islands, the continental shelf drops off into the deep sea, a range of underwater mountains called the Burma Banks make for a thrilling dive area for the experienced diver.

If you love fishing you can cast for tuna, barracuda, mahi mahi, giant trevally, Spanish mackerel or snapper while sailing or when close to shore. Most of the local fishing boats in the area catch squid and cuttlefish and. Marling or sailfish can be found in this area as well.

Beach combing, hiking, trekking, trail blazing, swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing, relaxing, star gazing, bird watching, bartering and trading with the Moken peoples.

A serene setting amongst 800 uninhabited islands of the Mergui Archipelago

Hpa-an

The capital of Kayin State is home to caves, lakes, and numerous hiking options for the active traveler. One of the main attractions here is the 800 meter-long Saddan Cave which houses a reclining Buddha statue. Nearby Kyauk Kalap – a pagoda perched atop a sheer rock finger in the middle of a lake – is also worth a visit.

The Moken, People of the Mergui

The Indigenous traditional people of the Mergui Archipelago are the Moken, a people who live off, and on, the sea. Often referred to as "sea-gypsies", the Moken are an ethnic minority group leading a traditional, semi-nomadic lifestyle, dominated by diving for sea cucumbers, fishing and bartering. Until the recent changes in the Myanmar government, the relationship between the Moken and the Myanmar government were tense. Recently, things have  improved and the Moken are now less elusive. You will visit Moken villages where you will be able to enjoy Moken food, buy fresh cuttlefish, and watch men building dugout canoes the way they have been made for a millennia  Myanmar is home to more than 100 ethnicities from the Sino-Tibetan, Tai, and Austroasiatic ethnolinguistic groups and you will see an array of starkly differing features amongst the people you’ll meet.

The Moken, also known as sea gypsies, semi nomadic

Floating Man Made Islands of Inle Lake

The floating man made islands of Inle lake are such an interesting and ingenious occurrence that they deserve special mention. The islands take years to build and they generally last for about 25 years once constructed. Local people harvest the tall grass from the bottom of the lake and weave it together in long strands on the calm lake. Supplemented by twigs and branches and over time with sediment from the bottom is layered on top of the grass. The process is repeated and repeated until a stable islet or island is born. Young islands are not suitable for walking. Farmers tend to their fields by boat.

Floating man made islands of Inle Lake

Harvest Season on Inle Lake

The farmers plant seeds in the fertile sediment which is layered on on top of the long grass which is woven together in long strands. Its not long before natural grass grows. Long sticks are planted vertically to hold the islands steady in about 3 meters of water.

Cucumbers and tomato's are the most common productive crops. These plants never need watering. The roots simply find the fresh lake water below the floating islands.

The food in the many small restaurants around Inle Lake is very fresh and tasty. Very large avacodos, cucumbers, tomatos and onions are often served in local dishes and salads.

A crop of cucumbers are ready for harvest on Inle Lake


Getting in and out of Southern Myanmar

Getting Around

Transportation in Southern Myanmar revolves around Yangon. Most people arrive here by plane and either travel on to other destinations by plane or use the country's extensive train network. Buses also leave Yangon throughout the day to popular destinations such as Bagan, Kyaiktiyo and Bago.

The road network in Myanmar is fairly poor and travelers wanting to commute by car or bus should expect long travel hours and basic roads. That said, traveling overland is a great way to see the countryside and experience a country that seems like it has stood still for half a century or longer. Bus travel out of Yangon originates from one of the city's two bus stations, The Highway Bus Center (Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal) or the Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal. Tickets are sold at the bus stations or through larger hotels and guesthouses.

Trains depart from the impressive Yangon Central Railway Station located in downtown Yangon –   tickets are cheap but expect long travel hours and debatable quality trains. There are trains to major cities upcountry as well as other southern destinations such as Kyaiktiyo, Mawlymaing and Dawei, a journey of six, ten and 24 hours respectively.

For convenience' sake, most tourists choose to travel by plane; national airlines include Myanmar Airways International and Myanma Airways while the most well known private carriers include Asian Wings Airways, Air Bagan Air Mandalay, Yangon Airways and Golden Myanmar Airlines. Tickets are relatively cheap; few domestic flights cost more than US$100.

Travel Visa

There are Myanmar embassies in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hanoi, Vientiane, Singapore and Hong Kong and all of them issue 28 days visa for tourists. Some embassies are able to issue same-day visas for an additional fee if travelers bring adequate travel documentation, but in most cases expect one or two days for the visa to be issued. Visa-on-arrivals are also available for some nationalities. Please note that Myanmar does things differently. Modern administrative procedures do not really exist, as such for many or our tours, we require your passport details in advance so that we can get a head start on processing your visa application before you arrive. Or you can try arranging your visa online. All travelers should have an entry visa to Myanmar valid for the duration of their stay prior to their arrival and carry a passport which is valid for at least 6 months from the date of arrival in Myanmar. Passenger’s passport should have at least 2 blank pages on arrival to Myanmar. This new government website is a fast and convenient way to obtain your travel entry visa.

http://evisa.moip.gov.mm

Air

Most people travel to Myanmar by plane and flights are relatively limited. The main airport is the very basic Yangon International Airport and the only other international airports are Mandalay International Airport and Nay Pyi Taw International Airport, both in central Myanmar. The most common connections to Yangon are from Bangkok, Singapore or Kuala Lumpur; currently, flights to Mandalay are more limited but are expected to increase.

Several relatively new airlines in Myanmar are Air KBZ, Yangon Airways, Air Mandalay, Asia Wing, Golden Myanmar and Air Bagan.

Bus

As of August 2013, it is possible to enter Myanmar over land via four Thailand-Myanmar border crossings. These are Tachileik/Mae Sai, Myawaddy/Mae Sot, Htee Kee/Phu Nam Ron in Kanchanaburi province, and Kawthoung/Ranong in the Thai south. The road onwards from Tachileik is closed for foreigners apart from a smaller road to Kengtung three hours away so the only mode of transportation onwards from here is to take the flight from Tachileik to Mandalay and Heho in central Myanmar or from Kengtung airport to Heho.

Getting to the Mergui Archipelago

You can drive  from Thailand via Phuket International Airport, which is a convenient and well-connected place to fly to; this option involves a  scenic 4-hour car ride to the town of Ranong north of Phuket in Thaialnd, Ranong is the Thai border town just across the  Pakchan River from Kawthaung in Myanmar.  Cross the river and you are in Myanmar.

Flying to Ranong in Thailand is another excellent option. There are daily flights from Bangkok by Nok Air and Happy Air that go direct to Ranong.  The airport is well served by local taxi drivers. Once you are in Ranong, you take a longtail boat across the Pakchan River to Kawthaung on the Myanmar side, which takes only a few minutes. If you book our Mergui Sailing adventure, we will help you with the immigration procedures before boarding the yacht. 

If you are already in Myanmar, then  you can fly to Kawthaung, Myanmar directly to Kawthaung Airport, which is connected to various domestic airports with flights by Air Mandalay and Myanmar Airways.