For travellers heading to most countries in Southeast Asia, a week can go a long way. One could whiz through Laos taking in Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng and Vientiane, or go from Cambodia's Killing Fields to Angkor and probably still have time for Battambang. In the case of Burma, however, a week is not going to get you far.
If you only have a week in Burma then sticking to Yangon or Rangoon is your best bet. A mad rush around the country's major upcountry sites would be exhausting, expensive and be all about ticking sites off a list rather than appreciating them. So stick to the Yangon area and leave the rest for another time.
The city is often dirty and dusty, frequently smelly and pretty much hot and sticky all year. Bangkok or KL this is not, nor does it resemble HCMC or Phnom Penh. Yangon is in many respects what Southeast Asia used to be, which makes it a wonderful destination. Taking in the main sites such as temples, markets, museums can keep you busy for a couple of days. From there you can take a boat cruise on the Rangoon River, a train ride around the famous Circle Train, wander the streets of Chinatown, check out the old colonial period architecture and generally lap up the street-life.
You also have the option of some excellent short excursions from the city to nearby sites such as Bago and the Golden Rock, or Pathein and the Irrawaddy Delta. If you are still left with a spare couple of days, check out the Bay of Bengal at Ngwe Saung or Chaung Tha.
A suggested Yangon and surrounds itinerary:
Day 1: Don't plan anything and roam the streets to get a feel for the place. Check out downtown, Sule Pagoda, Chinatown and the old Strand Road and waterfront area. Several outfits offer Rangoon River sunset boat tours so head down to the jetty to sound them out. On Fridays, the historic Strand Hotel does an all-evening half-price happy hour. Sip on a G & T on the same bar stool that Somerset Maugham or George Orwell did. Dinner in a Chinatown pavement cafe at 19th Street is a good way to finish your day.
Day 2: A great way to see the rear views of downtown and chat to friendly locals is to take a ride on the Circle Train. The trains leave hourly from Central Station and take around three hours to do a round trip. If you are pressed for time, you can get out at the halfway point. Otherwise, a late morning train will take you up to lunch, after which you could stroll through the picturesque Kandawgyi Gardens . Around the corner is Shwedagon. Head there for dusk to soak in the view, then take a short taxi ride to the excellent Feel Restaurant.
Day 3: You still have the Scott Market, National Museum and countless pagodas to take in. Don't miss the first two and see where your temple inclinations lead you otherwise. A sundowner at one of the rooftop bars may be a good way to end the day. Try the upmarket Sakura Tower or head to Asia Plaza Hotel's top floor if you're not worried about decor or service but want a great and unobstructed view. For dinner or drinks, head down to 50th Street Bar to see how the expat community spend their evenings.
Now, a few options for getting out of the city.
Plan A: Head east
Day 4: Heading east takes you to Bago and the Golden Rock. Take the 08:00 train to Bago, where you could do worse than head to the Bago Star Hotel at Kyaikpun Pagoda Road and ask them to find you a bicycle to rent. From Bago, a southbound bus trip plus a short moto-taxi ride will take you to "base camp" at the foot of Kyaiktiyo or the Golden Rock. An overnight stay allows you to take in both sunset and dawn at the Rock, but make sure you book ahead as accommodation is limited.
Day 5: Spend a leisurely morning taking in the views, take a walk down the mountain, wander around the market at the foot of the hill for lunch then grab any Rangoon-bound bus. Allow four hours back to Rangoon.
Day 6: Catch up on any last minute shopping or visit any sites you missed earlier. If you're feeling energetic, take a local ferry from opposite the Strand to Dala Village.
Plan B: Head west
Day 4: Take the local bus to Pathein. It's a rough road so allow three to four hours to get there. Pathein is worth the journey as it's great, super friendly and untouristy. Check out the market, after which ensconce yourself in a waterfront cafe and watch the riverside hustle and bustle. Check our accommodation suggestions.
Day 5: Continue west for another hour or two and you'll hit the bay of Bengal Coast at either Ngwe Saung or Chaung Tha beach. It's a toss up between the two and your selection will depend upon budget and room availability.
Day 6: Depending upon departure time, you can either head back in the afternoon of day six or morning of day seven. While it may not look far on the map, the road is awful and bus connections may require a change in Pathein so check beforehand!
Where to go, how long to stay there, where to go next, east or west, north or south? How long have you got? How long do you need? Itinerary planning can be almost as maddening as it is fun and here are some outlines to help you get started. Remember, don't over plan!
Burma lends itself to a short fast trip with frequent flights thrown in or a longer, slower trip where you don't leave the ground. There isn't much of a middle ground. Ground transport remains relatively slow, so be wary about trying to fit too much in.
Roughly apple-shaped, you'd think Cambodia would be ideal for circular routes, but the road network isn't really laid out that way. This means you'll most likely find yourself through some towns more than once, so work them into your plans.
How long have you got? That's not long enough. Really. You'd need a few lifetimes to do this sprawling archipelago justice. Be wary of trying to cover too much ground - the going in Indonesia can be slow.
North or south or both? Laos is relatively small and transport is getting better and better. Those visiting multiple countries can pass through here a few times making for some interesting trips.
The peninsula is easy, with affordable buses, trains and planes and relatively short distances. Sabah and Sarawak are also relatively easy to get around.The vast majority of visitors stick to the peninsula but Borneo is well worth the time and money to reach.
So much to see, so much to do. Thailand boasts some of the better public transport in the region so getting around can be fast and affordable. If time is limited, stick to one part of the country.
Long and thin, Vietnam looks straightforward, but the going is slow and the distances getting from A to B can really bite into a tight trip plan. If you're not on an open-ended trip, plan carefully.
This is where itinerary planning really becomes fun. Be sure to check up on our visa, border crossing and visa sections to make sure you're not trying to do the impossible. Also, remember you're planning a holiday -- not a military expedition.