By Burma specialist Rebecca
Burma isn’t your typical honeymoon destination, but that’s what makes it so enticing. If you’re looking for exclusive pool villas and intimate dinners on the beach then read no further.
While there are beaches, and in fact pool villas in some places, Burma is a honeymoon getaway in the truest sense.
Who would it suit? I’d recommend it for any more intrepid couple looking to travel around, and experience a country with the characteristic welcoming warmth of Southeast Asia, framed with the natural beauty of a largely unspoiled landscape.
Burma is still a fledgling when it comes to tourism. But after a long period of inaccessibility, it’s opened up for exploration, revealing an untouched and undiscovered part of the world, where western civilization has yet to leave its footprint.
My recommended experiences for a honeymoon in Burma
The U-Bein’s Bridge at sunset
Mandalay and U-Bein’s Bridge at sunset
Mandalay is the second-largest city in and the last royal capital of Burma, situated on the east bank of the lazy Ayeyarwady River. Here, it’s worth visiting the country’s ancient capitals such as Amarapura and Sagaing, which now form part of the Mandalay region.
One of the most popular sights is the U-Bein’s Bridge, a huge teak construction crossing the Taungthaman Lake near Amarapura, and made with wood from the former royal palace at Inwa.
I’d always recommend a long-tail boat trip on the lake at dusk, as the finale to a day discovering the ancient capitals. On a clear evening, the sky and river turn a rich gold in the sunset and it’s a wonderful place to photograph the monks and other traffic crossing the bridge above you.
There’s also the more industrious side of Mandalay to look around, from the puppet makers and wood carvers, to the gold-leaf workshops and jade markets.
A number of our honeymooners have purchased the precious stones and had them set into jewellery when they returned home as a reminder of their trip. You can barter in the markets, but if you’re with a guide they’re quite au fait at finding a fair price.
The Ayeyarwady River
River cruise along the Ayeyarwady to the temples of Bagan
Bagan, also known as ‘the city of four million pagodas’, is just down the Ayeyarwady River from Mandalay.
As the river starts to narrow you see the rolling Shan Hills, the fishermen working on the water, and the first of Bagan’s 4,000 pagodas appearing through the vegetation. Until you see the 9th century capital city coming into view you can’t quite grasp the scale of it, and the river approach is as impressive an entrance to Bagan as it gets.
One of the most comfortable ways to travel between Mandalay and Bagan is to take a boat along the Ayeyarwady. Any river trip gives a real insight into riverside life and otherwise inaccessible temples. And, it gives you the luxury of travelling around without having to uproot from your hotel all the time.
There are several options for building a river cruise into your honeymoon, and the boat I like to recommend is the Sanctuary Ananda, which has all the luxury details including a pool and ultra-modern interiors.
As well as offering three and four-night journeys between these two cities, there are longer seven or even 11-night itineraries, taking you to more remote and hard-to-reach places.
The boat has only 20 cabins across three decks, so it’s petite compared with a lot of vessels, which equips it to navigate into the more rural areas along the river.
A long-tail boat travelling down the Ayeyarwady River
Alternative ways to reach Bagan
Flights from Mandalay to Bagan take just 30 minutes, but I prefer to travel between the two using a combination of road and boat.
Driving from Mandalay, you can explore the villages and riverside market towns such as Yandabo or Monywa along the way.
Yandabo is very remote and the exponent of a type of pottery that can be seen across the country. Monywa’s pièce de résistance is its monastery built out of teak, which is open to visitors.
Driving to Yandabo or Monywa takes just over two hours and you can stop and spend the night before continuing to a place called Pakokku, which has fantastic local food markets filled with fruit that you’ll only find in Burma.
From Pakokku, jump on your own private long-tail boat and go down the Ayeyarwady and enter Bagan.
Balloons over Bagan at sunrise
Exploring Bagan by balloon or bicycle
Once there, Bagan is an enchanting ancient city that wears its history in its architecture.
Exploring Bagan by hot air balloon at dawn can be a romantic way to gain a different perspective on the scale of the temples here. And it allows you to see it in the cooler, calmer part of the day.
But if you embrace a little adventure I’d also suggest travelling around the temples and historic sites by bicycle. You’re free to go wherever you like so can easily escape any other visitors.
Electric bicycles are also very popular here and most hotels will be able to recommend the nearest place where you can rent them.
I’d recommend taking a local guide with you for at least the first day of your trip in Bagan. A knowledgeable guide will give a cultural back story to the temples and show you the less explored pagodas.
Some of the pagodas are 1,000 years old, and at the end of the day few things beat climbing one of them to watch the sun go down, or crossing the river to see the glowing orange and red hues light up the pagodas as the day draws to a close.
A fisherman on Inle Lake
The floating villages on Inle Lake
I’d always plan in some time on Inle Lake to any honeymoon in Burma. The lake’s stilted communities have overwater houses and ‘roads’ with boats pottering along them. Each community is known for something different, be it silversmithing, weaving or farming.
The weaving communities are quite incredible, taking the stems of lotus flowers and painstakingly removing the inner threads and drying them to become twine, which is then made into scarves and longyis (Burmese sarongs). It was fascinating to watch, and the end garments are understandably dear to buy.
The farming communities are floating gardens that are rooted into the lake with bamboo sticks. It’s like going through an allotment on the lake, where you see women and children in boats picking tomatoes and courgettes and beans, all organic.
Minethauk Village on Inle Lake
Travelling to Inle Lake
I’d choose to make the journey to Inle Lake in to an experience, so from Bagan, I’d suggest driving through the rolling hills of the Shan State.
The roads are bumpy, although much better than they used to be, and there are lots of places to go and people to see along the way: women carrying firewood on their heads and babies on their backs, and men driving their ox carts.
As you travel, the landscape undulates and changes from flat plains into hills, and it becomes very green, especially as you reach some of the former British colonial hill stations, such as Kalaw, where it’s a little cooler than other parts of the country.
Private Lake Chalet, Inle Princess Resort
Where to stay on Inle Lake
The Inle Princess Resort, much like many of the villages, sits on the lake itself. It’s got a wealth of charm and character, and feels typically Burmese. The Thai-influenced food served there really stands out and, unusually for Burma, includes a dessert, in my case chocolate mousses served in quail’s eggs.
When you arrive on a motorboat they cut the engine and row you into the entrance of the hotel with the help of a traditional Inle Lake leg rower, so the only sounds are from the people and the lapping water.
The white sands of Ngapali beach
Most honeymooners crave a little beach time. While Burma isn’t your standard beach holiday destination, Ngapali has all the credentials of white sand and clear-blue waters from its position on the Bay of Bengal in the south west. Furthermore, it’s kept its unspoiled charm, reminiscent of Thailand as it was 20 years ago.
However, it’s still a working beach where you get that sense of culture and community that echoes so strongly throughout Burma. There's a bustling market and cliff-top pagodas, and you’ll see fishermen preparing their nets in the first light of morning, and women taking produce to market in ox carts.
Where to stay in Ngapali
The Sandoway Resort is one of my favourite places to stay in Ngapali and wonderfully suited to honeymooners. It’s a hidden beach escape where you can have your own beachfront bungalow with a quaint loft bedroom or upgrade to a huge private villa. It’s peaceful, private and romantic.
If you need to switch off for two or three nights on your honeymoon, the Sandoway would be my place to do it.
Alternatively, you could choose to stay at the Ngapali Bay Villa & Spa. This resort has 32 spacious villas, some of which have their own private plunge pool.
Each is comfortably furnished with air-conditioning and modern amenities. Floor-to-ceiling windows give a panoramic view of the sweep of the bay.
The deluxe beach front and suite villas have their own pavilions with reclining chairs and are located right by the beach.
The resort has a swimming pool, well-equipped spa facilities and a beach-side bar and restaurant serving freshly caught seafood and tropical cocktails, which you can enjoy as you watch the sunset.
The Mergui Archipelago
Adventure island cruise
On a slightly more intrepid note, the Mergui Archipelago is a new area of Burma that’s opened up to travellers.
In the very south of the country, it offers completely untouched beaches and enchanting seascapes.
The best way to explore the area is aboard a luxury yacht with four to six cabins, on a five-night cruise. Sailing around the islands allows you to discover these largely untapped coves, barely touched by human feet, and do some of the most incredible snorkeling and diving.
If you’re lucky you might even see one of the nomadic sea gypsy villages and its shy inhabitants, which not many people get to witness.
There are various options for chartering a boat and crew to cruise these waters, but most people opt to book a cabin on-board a scheduled departure to share the unique experience with other like-minded travellers.
On my most recent trip to Burma, in the ‘Deep South’ of the country, I discovered a hotel that’s probably my favourite to date - a four-hour drive from Yangon.
Completely off the beaten track and at the foot of Mount Zwekabin, the Hpa-an Lodge is run by a French couple and is a complete breath of fresh air.
The French/Burmese fusion food is outstanding, and the design is eco-friendly with floor-to-ceiling windows in the bedrooms. The infinity pool is flanked by manicured gardens on one side and the mountain on the other.
Meanwhile, the surrounding scenery in Hpa An is dramatic, with massive limestone cliffs and mountains, and Buddha shrines engraved into nearby caves.
A little note on getting around
Travelling in Burma by plane, boat, train or car is wholly different to travelling in Europe. The planes run a bit like buses and allow for a quick transfer from one area to the next.
But, if you’ve more time, then getting around by boat, train and car gives you access to the smaller communities and undiscovered corners of rivers and lakes, and a chance to mingle with locals, either at a roadside café, on a busy riverside jetty or across the aisle of a train carriage.
One final option which will get you even closer to the culture and its people, is a walking or trekking holiday in Burma.
When to honeymoon in Burma
The best time to honeymoon in Burma is November through until March when temperatures are likely to be in the mid to high twenties and the weather is warm and dry.
In February, the water levels start to drop, so if you’re planning to travel around by boat it’s worth keeping that in mind.
In April, the temperatures are stifling, and from May to October it’s the green season, which is hot but with the odd rain shower. Honeymooning during the green season is a little quieter and presents better value for money. The vegetation is lush thanks to the rainfall and the water is high for those boat journeys.
I’d avoid July and August, which tend to be the wettest months. But, whatever time of year you visit, taking warm clothes is advisable, especially if you’re staying on Inle Lake, or in the hill stations, where the temperature drops at night.