Myanmar, previously known as Burma, is a vibrant country with lazy rivers, golden pagodas, stupas, teak bridges and lakes. The locals are gentle souls that lead simple lives. We think the best time to visit Myanmar is during the dry season, from October to May. That said, there are still plenty of activities (with far fewer tourists) during the wet season.
Bagan is breathtaking and can be explored by carts drawn by bullocks or horses, trishaws or even hot air balloons. Drift down the Irrawaddy River, known as ‘the river that brings blessings to people, in an old houseboat, steamer or luxury cruiser. You’ll understand why the river inspired many world-class writers such as Kipling and Orwell.
Explore minority villages where children share the same haircuts. Or, visit the dwindling long-neck tribes in the little villages dotted around Inle Lake. Watch as they weave lotus fibres for fabric that is more revered than the finest silk.
Get up early and walk in the footsteps of hundreds of monks politely queuing for alms in Mandalay. Drink tea and hang out with cheroot-smoking grannies. You’ll soon notice men wearing the sarong-style longyi and chewing blood-red betel nut and the women adorning their faces with the traditional chalky sunblock, thanakha.
When is the best time to visit Myanmar?
Asian countries tend to have two seasons – wet and dry. The wet season in Myanmar is typically from June to the beginning of October, while the dry season is from October to May. Tourism has been increasing steadily over the past decade. Thousands of tourists visit Myanmar from China, Thailand, Japan, India, and more!
Myanmar has two cultural UNESCO heritage sites. Bagan is the world-famed sacred landscape close to Mandalay’s former royal capital and the ancient Pyu cities of Beikthano, Halin, and Sri Kestra. There should be more. U-Bien bridge is the longest teak bridge in the world. Wander or boat below this spectacular bridge as monks go about their business and families cross to visit local markets. If you want to fly a hot air balloon over the Bagan plains and its thousands of Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries, you should visit during the dry season from early October to late May. Watery adventures along the Irrawaddy and beach-centric holidays are also best during the dry season. If you want to avoid the madding crowds, visit during monsoon season.
Winter in Myanmar – December, January and February
If you are escaping the Christmas traditions of the West, December is the perfect time to visit Myanmar. You might come across an occasional and oddly placed Christmas tree, but as most of the population practices Theravada Buddhism, it’s a rare sight. The average daytime temperature is a pleasant 27-degrees Celcius, with little rain and low humidity. Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are official public holidays, but the Myanmarese tend to wait patiently to celebrate Burmese Independence Day on 4 January. Families celebrate with parades, much flag-waving and merriment, and a presidential address. February will see a slight rise in daytime temperature, reaching just over 30-degrees Celcius.
Myanmar happily boasts two thousand kilometres of coastline, much of which is soft white sand. The best beaches are on the shores of the Andaman Sea and the glorious Bay of Bengal, the northeastern part of the Indian Ocean. These endless shores firmly put the country at the top of Asia’s best beach destinations. The winter is also a good time for Irrawaddy cruising with moderate temperatures and a lack of rain. The river flows from north to south and meanders spiritually through Mandalay, Amapura, Inle and Bagan.
Keen eyes can spot the eponymous Irrawaddy dolphins. Historically tigers and the saltwater crocodile would live amongst the dwindling forests of mangroves. They are thought to be exceptionally rare or have disappeared altogether.
Spring in Myanmar – March, April and May
Things start hotting up in Myanmar from March, with temperatures soaring to almost 40-degrees Celcius. It’s notoriously known for the agricultural fires that blaze out of control, leaving the country plagued with hazy horizons and poor air quality. Mercifully the temperatures begin to drop in April and May. Many visitors choose this time of year to head to the cooler Shan highlands. Why not stay in George Orwell’s colourful colonial town of Pyin Oo Lwin or travel a couple of hours north-east to Hsipaw. Candlelight vigils and processions mark the Buddhist celebration of Magha Puja, and carnivals, puppets and games are all part of the mesmerising Shwedagon Pagoda Festival in Yangon.
Burmese New Year is very similar to Songkran in Thailand; families douse each other freely with cooling water between 13 and 16 April. Expect the country to come to a standstill; the locals are too busy celebrating.
May tends to be the start of the rainy season in Myanmar, so expect some rain. The rains don’t last too long, but you’ll soon notice the country greening up.
Summer in Myanmar – June, July, August and September
June, July, August and September form the rainy season in Myanmar, and you can expect rain most days. The temperatures fall to an average of 27-degrees Celcius but with higher humidity of around 85 per cent. The monsoon season brings respite to the country and rejuvenates the spectacular flora and fauna that carpets the countryside. It’s a good idea to do your sightseeing early in the morning, in general, it rains the most in the afternoon. It’s worth getting up before dawn so that you can experience the magical sunrises over the pagodas. Take a torch and find the best place to watch the valleys of Bagan glow gold as the day breaks.
Places to Visit in Summer
Stay on the central plains and explore the cities during the rainy months.
One of the most moving religious ceremonies is at the Mahagandhayon Monastic Institution in Mandalay. The monastery is bright and airy; courtyard houses line the narrow lane, which becomes the central promenade for the monks’ mid-morning lunch. Several hundred monks politely file the street in two rows. Barefooted and russet-robed, they patiently wait for their lunch to be served in the wooden bowls that they carry. During the high season, tourists mob this daily occurrence with cameras and disrespect; it’s much more peaceful and tranquil when there is a smattering of rain. Only the die-hard tourists venture out.
Whilst in Mandalay, visit the Hsinbyume Pagoda, which is also known as Mya Thein Tan Pagoda. Prince Bagyidaw, the son of King Bodawpaya, built the pagoda in 1816 to commemorate his late wife, Princess Hsinbyume, who sadly died during childbirth.
Onto Bagan. With tourists few and far between, you’ll have this spectacular archaeological site almost to yourself. The lazy Irrawaddy flows through verdant lands interspersed with ancient tamarind trees that bare sticky sweet and sour pods and alcohol-producing toddy palms. The backdrop is of the distant silver mountains of Popa. Hundreds of red temples and pagodas pepper the other-worldly landscape. Every which way you turn, the view will assault your senses in a good way. The wealthy Kings of Bagan built the beautiful pagodas between 1057 and 1287. Over 2000 of the buildings survived various earthquakes, and Kublai Khan and his invading Mongols.
Set Set Yo
Pop over to the little-known Set Set Yo. In this off-the-beaten-track village, all children have the same haircut that nods to the Myanmar tradition called Yaung Pay Suu for boys and San Yit Htone for girls. The haircut dates back to the Pagan Empire. The youngsters of Set Set Yo are the last remaining people to wear this unique topknot.
To the west in Shan State lies Lake Inle, the insanely picturesque lake famous for its floating villages and gardens. The lake is 22 km long and 10 km wide and is enveloped by two mountain ranges. Wooden houses are built on stilts and line the water garden ‘streets’. Little boats potter around the lake, making deliveries of fresh food. The fishermen skillfully steer their one-person boats in their distinctive rowing style, wrapping one leg around the oar or acrobatically balancing their oversized cone-shaped fishing nets.
Autumn in Myanmar – October and November
The weather starts to warm up, the humidity begins to drop, and the rains become infrequent. The shoulder months of October and November are witness to some of the best festivals. The three-day Thadingyut festival is during the full moon of Thadingyut in October, marking the end of Buddhist Lent. The festival of lights symbolises the return of Buddha from heaven while angels light the path of his descent to earth. Millions of candles light up the country, and people enjoy the festivities with markets and open-air performances. It’s a lovely time to see towns and cities at night.
Various robe weaving competitions are held throughout Myanmar on the eve of the full moon in November. The contest runs until dawn when the completed robes are offered to Buddha. 9,999 candles are lit at pagodas across the country during another festival on the full moon night. If you are around Yangon, head to the Shwedagon Zedi Daw Pagoda; the gold-gilded stupa has a beautiful display.
If you are feeling adventurous, it’s a lovely time of year to visit the Shwe Indein Pagoda and see hundreds of well-maintained jungle stupas. From Ywama village, take a boat and navigate the canal that weaves its way lazily through the jungle. Watch traditional village life unfurl as women wash clothes in the river and children laugh and play in the shallows.