7 day trip ideas for getting out of Yangon

Need a break from the daily grind? Here’s a short guide to weekend and day trips outside the commercial capital. 

DOMINIC HORNER | FRONTIER

A COMMON complaint in Yangon is that there’s not enough adventure close to home ­– that there’s nothing to do unless you’re prepared to hop on flights or overnight buses.

But it’s not true. There are destinations close to Yangon aside from Dala, Thanlyin, Twante and Hlawga – they just aren’t advertised much to foreign tourists. Of course, that’s all part of the fun.

Each of the seven trips listed here offers something a bit different and is doable either as a day trip or a weekend. These are the lesser known days out, and I my hope is they’ll lead you to discover some more of this beautiful country. Safe travels!

The writer relaxes by the water in Seikgyikanaungto – one of Yangon’s least-explored areas. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

The writer relaxes by the water in Seikgyikanaungto – one of Yangon’s least-explored areas. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Seikgyikanaungto

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Day trip, bicycle

Seikgyikanaungto is one of the least-visited townships in Yangon and it’s not because of its unpronounceable name. A cursory glance at a map will show you why: there are no bridges linking it to downtown Yangon. The only road from Seikgyikanaungto to the rest of the city runs from Hlaing Tharyar Township through to Twante. The township’s isolation though is the very reason why you should visit. Seikgyikanaungto is the destination for those who find Dala a bit too touristy and metropolitan. Much like Dala, it offers the chance to dive into rural Myanmar without ever really leaving Yangon.

If you want something to do when you get there I can recommend a couple of circuits. At the harbour take the first turn on the left towards the southern side of the island. From here it’s a scenic straight line (follow the road left at the big lily pond) to the western end of the island, enjoying the sweeping views of the river. You can either loop round to the harbour or make your way to the bridge and cross over into Kanaungto. If you thought there was nothing in Seikgyi wait till you see the nothing in Kanaungto. From here onwards there’s not much more than rice paddies, huts and ducks.

Getting there: From Maw Tin Harbour/Wardan Jetty a boat should cost between K2000 and K8000, all depending on how many passengers there are, if you have a bicycle and, of course, how robust your haggling skills are.

Accessibility: *****
Food and Drink: *
Wow Factor: ****
Cost: $

The water at Ale-ywa Beach is brown but seems clean enough. The real attraction, though, is the fresh seafood. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

The water at Ale-ywa Beach is brown but seems clean enough. The real attraction, though, is the fresh seafood. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Ale-ywa Beach

Day trip, taxi or motorbike

If you fancy some beach action with tasty seafood for lunch then Ale-ywa’s got your name on it. True, no one’s going to confuse Ale-ywa for Nagpali but then you can’t drive to Ngapali in less than two hours and for under K50,000. The beach isn’t big but it is pretty and the brown water seems to be clean; if you’ve come all this way you’ll probably want to go for a dip. The real draw though is the seafood.

Seafood in Ale-ywa is some of the best I’ve had in the whole of Myanmar. At the risk of overselling, I would say it’s worth the trip just to have lunch. Everything is locally caught which means it’s invariably fresh and delicious. The crab curry is excellent but the real mind-blowers are the prawns and fish. The prawns are huge. Remember the prawns in dystopian sci-fi-thriller “District 9”? That big! Better yet is the local fish dish called ngar oh mhout (which roughly translates as fish jumps out the pot), which is off the charts tasty. You’re spoiled for choice in terms of restaurants as there are round half a dozen restaurants but my personal fave is Nan Myo Thu.

There’s no formal accommodation in the area now that Orchid hotel has shuttered but if you ask nicely someone will probably put you up in the village.

Getting there: Take the ferry from Pansodan Jetty to Dala and then rent a taxi (K40,000-50,000) or motorbike (K15,000-20,000) to Ale-ywa.

Accessibility: ****
Food and Drink: ****
Wow Factor: ****
Cost: $$

Moe Yun Gyi Wildlife Sanctuary is best done as a weekend trip. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Moe Yun Gyi Wildlife Sanctuary is best done as a weekend trip. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Moe Yun Gyi Wildlife Sanctuary

Weekend trip, taxi or bus

Moe Yun Gyi is a noted bird-watching site about three hours’ drive from Yangon on the old Mandalay highway. There’s not a massive amount to do there but it’s tranquil and the amenities are solid enough. You can stay in one of their “house boats” – rooms on the water that are shaped like boats – and for $20 there’s a boat trip that takes you around the lake. It’s very pleasant even for a non-“birder” like myself.

I’ve read a couple of very sniffy reviews of the hotel restaurant online but it’s really not that bad. Sure, it’s not Michelin-starred but it does the standard rice/noodle/salad dishes quite well. It also serves beer (believe me, you’ll need it) and the prices are reasonable. Overall Moe Yun Gyi gets a tentative thumbs up. It’s very quiet, the lake is pretty, they’ve got cold beer and the rooms are boat-like.

Getting there: A return taxi costs K60,000 to K70,000. Rooms are $50 and boat rides $20. The boat leaves at 7am and 4pm.

Accessibility: ***
Food and Drink: ***
Wow Factor: ***
Cost: $$$

The riverside beach of Nyaung Chaungtha is a great place to meet locals. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

The riverside beach of Nyaung Chaungtha is a great place to meet locals. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Nyaung Chaungtha

Day trip, taxi or bus

Just off the Pathein Highway on the banks of the Ayeyarwady River, Nyaung Chaungtha is a day trip with a difference – the difference being the crowds. The beach area is large but even when we arrived mid-week it was busy. It’s safe to assume that on public holidays and weekends the place packs out.

There also aren’t any restaurants as such. When you’re feeling hungry or thirsty you just flag someone down and they’ll bring you a beer or something to eat. But you don’t come here for fine dining; you’re here to share Myanmar with the locals and have a swim in the river.

A lot of people ask me, “What’s the water like?” The answer is that for most of the day it’s perfectly fine. It does get a bit gross later on as the water comes in and empty bottles and wrappers are washed up onto the beach. But hey, after a day spent drinking Myanmar Beer you probably won’t even notice. And, let’s face it: it’s much easier than going to the other Chaungtha.

Getting there: K40,000 to K50,000 for a return taxi, two hours each way.

Accessibility: ****
Food and Drink: ***
Wow Factor: ***
Cost: $$

There are several routes to explore Phu Gyi Reservoir, but either way visitors are a rarity. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

There are several routes to explore Phu Gyi Reservoir, but either way visitors are a rarity. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Phu Gyi Reservoir

Day trip, bicycle

Loads of people complain that the great outdoors isn’t accessible from Yangon. These people have never been to Phu Gyi. Located north of Hmawbi – a town on the highway to Pyay just after the Taukkyant junction – Phu Gyi pretty much guarantees you a hairs-on-chest adventure. There are two possible cycling routes around the lake.

The first is the Hmawbi/Pan Ta Pwint Taung Pagoda route. From Hmawbi you take the road leading directly to the lake, which takes you past monasteries, pagodas and villages. Pan Ta Pwint Taung Pagoda looks fantastic from a distance and gives you great views of your surroundings. From the pagoda you can peddle your way to and around the lake.

The other option is the Phu Gyi village route. You’ll need to start just before the village at the junction (see map). Unlike the Hmawbi route, all the roads here are concrete and in good condition though there are more climbs. From the junction head north and start exploring. You’ll definitely want to arm yourself with Google Maps to get the most out of this route.

Speaking of which, be sure to use your map in tandem with common sense. Phu Gyi is not Inle Lake. Visitors are not expected. While most locals will be tickled pink to see you riding through their village, others may be a bit wary. Be aware and respectful.

Getting there: A return taxi to Hmawbi should cost around K30,000 and about K40,000 for Phu Gyi village. It’s possible to hire a motorbike for the day in Hmawbi.

Accessibility: **
Food and Drink: *
Wow Factor: ****
Cost: $$

A boat trip around Meinmahla Kyun in Bogale Township, Ayeyarwady Region is one of the top attractions in Myanmar. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

A boat trip around Meinmahla Kyun in Bogale Township, Ayeyarwady Region is one of the top attractions in Myanmar. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Meinmahla Kyun

Weekend trip

This trip requires more forward planning but is definitely worth it. The boat around the Bogale section of the delta is up there with the all-time great things to do in Myanmar. The six-hour ferry from Yangon is reason in itself to visit Bogale; the journey is just beautiful. But that’s not where the fun ends. After that you’ve got… well, more boat trips, of course, but also the chance to spot some crocodiles. We didn’t see a huge number of crocs but it really doesn’t matter. It’s nice to cruise around the delta, take in the scenery and experience a part Myanmar that is largely uninhabited and genuinely wild.

The family who manage the guesthouse at Freda Eco Lodge don’t offer a lot in the way of mod-cons but they are welcoming and do a good job of keeping you fed and watered.  Typically the boat will pick you up from Bogale at 1pm on Saturday and drop you off at the guesthouse around 5pm. You go croc spotting at about 8pm and again in the morning, and then it’s lunch at the guesthouse and back to Bogale to catch the afternoon bus home. In between all that you’re surrounded by some of the purest nature that Myanmar has to offer. Trust me, you won’t forget this one.

Getting there: Pre-book the ferry at Phone Gyi Jetty in advance. The boat leaves about 6am and arrives at noon. You can book the boat and guesthouse through Shwe Pyi Dan (045) 45578, 09-773548791. The cost depends on how many people in your group. On your own expect to pay K200,000.

Accessibility: ***
Food and Drink: ***
Wow Factor:  *****
Cost: $$$$

Sein Lae Tin / Saung Hlaing Gyi waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Sein Lae Tin / Saung Hlaing Gyi waterfall. (Dominic Horner | Frontier)

Sein Lae Tin / Saung Hlaing Gyi Waterfall

Weekend trip, bus or taxi

Pretty much everyone who goes to Kyaikto is there to see the Golden Rock. It’s not the only attraction in town though. For my money, Saung Hlaing Gyi Waterfall offers one of the best swimming experiences in Myanmar and can be added to the “worth the journey just for this” list. So I’m not later accused of false advertising, I should point out that it’s more of a wild river than a waterfall, and I’m using the word swimming loosely. The rapids and currents don’t mess about here so most of the time swimming involves floating around in rock pools or pulling yourself along with a rope. This isn’t the place to work on your butterfly but if you love soaking in sweet mother nature it will be paradise.

The Sein Lae Tin adventure park/zoo/hotel doesn’t have quite the same OMG factor as the Saung Hlaing Gyi but it’s still a good laugh. You’ve got zip lining, rock climbing, assault courses, bungee jumping and paintball as well as two swimming pools and a hotel, where rooms start at $40 a night. Most of the activities cost around K15,000 for foreigners so your bill can add up quickly if you’re not careful. The zoo’s got bears, tigers, orangutans, otters and elephants. It’s just a shame that they’re kept in such appallingly cramped conditions. Oh well.

Getting there: Expect to pay around K150,000 to K200,000 for a car and driver for the weekend. The journey takes three to 3.5 hours each way. There are plenty of places to stay in Kyaikto. Our personal pick is Pepper Garden Resort: it’s pretty, it’s close to the waterfall and it’s good value for money.

Accessibility: ***
Food and Drink: ***
Wow Factor: **** (Saung Hlaing Gyi)  ** (Sein Lae Tin Adventure Park)
Cost: $$$$

This article was first featured in the Discover Myanmar special edition of Frontier, published in October 2017. 

By Dominic Horner

By Dominic Horner

Born and raised in London, Dominic Horner is an English teacher at the British Council. His writing can be found at Myanmar Mix and Lonely Planet.
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