Southern Myanmar Itinerary – Exploring Myanmar Off the Beaten Track
Palm trees, empty beaches, uninhabited tropical islands, golden stupas and the friendliest people ever – our southern Myanmar itinerary will help you discover a little-known part of the country which few foreigners get to experience. So, if you’re looking to experience Myanmar off the beaten track, follow our southern Myanmar itinerary and prepare to be enthralled!
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Where is Southern Myanmar?
Southern Myanmar is a long, narrow area right at the south of Myanmar, bordering Thailand on one side and the blue Andaman sea on the other. Our southern Myanmar itinerary below, will take you right across the length of southern Myanmar to experience the best attractions!
Southern Myanmar was off-limits to tourists, even to Burmese from other states for many years, and has only recently opened up to a trickle of tourism. Because of this isolation, this area of Myanmar, has retained a very laid-back orientation when compared to other parts of Myanmar, and so, presents a unique opportunity for experiencing Myanmar off the beaten track.
The gorgeous remote islands of the Mergui archipelago and the beaches of the Dawei Peninsula are probably the highlight of any southern Myanmar itinerary, although the casual and friendly towns of Myeik, Dawei and Mawlamyine have a lot to offer. We found the people of Southern Myanmar to be as gentle as they are hospitable, and it is easy to understand why the few foreigners who visit this part of the world, fall in love with it like we did.
How to get to Southern Myanmar
There are different ways of getting to southern Myanmar to start off your southern Myanmar itinerary and experience Myanmar off the beaten track.
If you plan to travel across the length of southern Myanmar, we recommend that you start off from the very tip, in Kawthaung and make your way up to Yangon. Kawthaung can easily be reached from Ranong, Thailand, which in turn, is only an affordable flight away from Bangkok. Check the latest flights here.
The water border crossing from Ranong to Kawthaung is very easy, and can totally be done independently. You first need to stamp out of Thailand at a designated exit desk in Ranong Jetty, and then get into one of the many boats making the crossing.
The boat will stop at a little police station on a tiny island just before reaching mainland Myanmar, where passports are collected and checked. Once you get to Kawthaung, your visa/e-visa approval letter (if any) is checked and the fee (if any) is paid there and then. Apply for your visa hassle-free at IVisa.
If you’re already in Yangon, Myanmar, you can consider planning your southern Myanmar itinerary by travelling from Yangon to Kawthaung via land transport (or a combination of land and air transport), and then crossing over to Thailand. Alternatively, you can fly from Yangon to either Dawei, Myeik or Kawthaung.
Although air transport is available to many towns in southern Myanmar, using public transport in the form of buses and mini buses all the way from Kawthaung to Yangon, proved to be the most convenient and cost-effective option to experience Myanmar off the beaten track. The road condition was far better than what we expected, and to what we had just experienced in NorthEast India.
Information for routes, timings and booking options for buses and minivans running between towns in southern Myanmar can rarely be found online, and what we included in our southern Myanmar itinerary are timings and prices based on our experience at the time of travel.
Timings and prices are subject to change and should always be confirmed with your hotel or guesthouse. Most accommodation options can book your onward transportation too, so it’s actually all really easy to organize!
Follow our southern Myanmar itinerary below!
Southern Myanmar Itinerary
Traveling across southern Myanmar using buses and mini vans is really easy and affordable, with daily departures to many destinations available, so you can totally plan your southern Myanmar itinerary to include town to town travel, with short or long stops depending on your preference and time constraints.
Stops at the following towns are convenient, since the length of southern Myanmar is larger than it looks, and we do recommend that a journey across it is broken up over several days.
As mentioned previously, we thought that the best way of getting to southern Myanmar was to cross the border from Ranong to Kawthaung. When you’re in Ranong, be sure to visit Koh Phayam for a day or more! It’s a rather cute Thai island! You can read all about Koh Phayam as well as where to stay in Koh Phayam and Ranong, in this post about the best Koh Phayam Beaches and how to get to Koh Phayam.
Once you’re in Kawthaung, you can choose to start making your way up southern Myanmar, or take a multi-day trip around the Mergui Archipelago, one of the best boating experiences we’ve been on.
Whilst the Mergui Archipelago is absolutely stunning and a fantastic destination for anyone wanting to experience Myanmar off the beaten track, the vibe in Kawthaung is actually very similar to that in Ranong, Thailand, and we advise you to not spend a whole lot of time there.
After boating around the Mergui Archipelago, we spent one night in Kawthaung and set off on our southern Myanmar itinerary the next day. If you would like to spend some time in Kawthaung, you might want to visit the Pyi Daw Aye Pagoda, for a good vista across town and the Maliwan Waterfall, which is located about 40km away.
You can also visit the island of Palautonetone, conveniently joined to the mainland by a bridge, although none of these attractions inspired us to spend an extra day in Kawthaung.
Where to stay in Kawthaung
Penguin Hotel – this is where we stayed and totally recommend the hotel to budget travelers. We paid 43,000 kyat (about €26.50) for a double room with private bathroom and the lovely staff helped us book our onward journey to Myeik after we came back from our trip on the Mergui Archipelago. Book Penguin Hotel or check the latest prices here.
Victoria Cliff Hotel & Resort – this affordable 4-star hotel featuring a pool and a sun terrace is a favourite option with those looking for a more comfortable option. Book Victoria Cliff Hotel & Resort or check the latest prices here.
Great Andaman Hotel – this luxury option is actually set on its own little island just off Kawthaung and includes all that you could need for a luxury retreat! Book Great Andaman Hotel or check the latest prices here.
The Mergui Archipelago
If you’re looking for remote tropical islands on which to experience Myanmar off the beaten path, the Mergui Archipelago has over 800 of them! Many of these islands are uninhabited, and can only be visited on a boating trip with one of the operators running such tours, from either Kawthaung and Dawei.
A trip would normally include visits to totally deserted islands for a full-on Robinson Crusoe experience, as well as swimming and snorkeling in crystal clear waters, and also visiting the Moken people (sometimes known as sea nomads or sea gypsies).
Such experiences don’t come cheap, but we were lucky enough to experience the Mergui archipelago with one of the most affordable, yet super comfortable options. To read all about discovering one of the most beautiful destinations on our southern Myanmar itinerary, read our post about exploring the Mergui Archipelago here!
You may also book alternative cruising trips across the Mergui Archipelago here.
After exploring the lovely islands, you will likely spend a night in Kawthaung (unless you decide to immediately travel to the next destination on your southern Myanmar itinerary).
Getting from Kawthaung to Myeik was the longest and most uncomfortable part of our southern Myanmar itinerary. In fact, we searched for a town on the route where we could break up the 10-hour commute, but there were none which seemed appealing enough to stop in for a night.
The minibus commute from Kawethaung to Myeik cost 25,000 kyat (about €15.50) each, with the bus supposedly leaving at midday. In fact, we were picked up on time, but left Kawthaung at 13.30. By the time we arrived in Myeik and checked into our hotel (which was absolutely great), every food outlet in town had closed, and we resorted to eating cup noodles in our room and exploring Myeik the following day.
Myeik is charming in a way that is difficult to put into words, and stopping here is a great way to experience Myanmar off the beaten track. There’s nothing particularly exciting about it, but walking along its waterfront, and the coconut tree-lined paths along the inner town, seeing its fish markets set up in front of old colonial houses, and observing the local people at work, was enough to instill a sense of contentment and peace.
We highly recommend sunset viewing from the, a tall temple overlooking the town and harbor, where locals seem to congregate at dusk.
You can also choose to take a day trip to Harris Island which is located about two hours speedboat ride away from Myeik. The white powdery beach and clear waters present a good opportunity to those looking for a relaxing beach and a snorkeling spot, as an alternative to Myeik’s fishing community vibes. Trips to Harris Island can be booked around town in Myeik.
It is also possible to take single day or multiday trip to the Mergui archipelago starting in Myeik. Check the latest options and prices here.
Where to stay in Myeik
Seasons Island Hostel – we loved our large room at this very comfortable hotel on the riverfront. We had to pay extra for using the ac (which we needed), but in total we paid $25 (about €22.75)/night for a large room with a private bathroom, which we thought was perfectly acceptable! Book Seasons Island Guesthouse or check the latest prices here.
Regent Hotel – this more upmarket hotel featuring a pool and private balconies is perfect for those looking for a comfortable stay in Myeik! Book Regent Hotel or check the latest prices here.
If you’re a beach lover, be sure to put the Dawei Peninsula on the southern Myanmar itinerary! The Dawei Peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful and isolated beaches in Myanmar and is definitely worthy of a longer stop if you have the time for it.
We booked two spots on a minivan from Myeik to Dawei which set us back 12,000 kyat (about €7.50) each. Buses also run between Myeik and Dwei in the evenings, but we preferred taking the morning minivan option at 7am.
We spent a couple of exciting days touring the Dawei Peninsula by scooter and stopping at all the best beaches in Dawei. We’ve compiled all you need to know to do the same in this post here! We really recommend hiring a decent bike to explore and discover a lovely region of the country which few people get to see, except for those wanting to experience Myanmar off the beaten track!
Dawei itself is a cute little town, home to couple of decent hotels and restaurants. If you’re not planning on going to the Mergui Archipelago, we recommend that you take a day tour to the nearby Moscos Islands which can be booked online, or via a handful of agents in Dawei itself.
Where to stay in Dawei
Shwe Moung Than Hotel – great budget hotel and very centrally located, at which we paid €14 for a very clean room with private bathroom and breakfast! Book Shwe Moung Than Hotel or check the latest prices here.
Royal Dawei Hotel – this mid-range option features clean rooms or bungalows located within very well-maintained grounds. Book Royal Dawei Hotel or check the latest prices here.
Where to stay in the Dawei Peninsula
Sin Htauk Beach Bungalows – we absolutely loved our little cabin on the beach, and only wished we had time to stay there for at least a week! Be sure to book any accommodation on the Dawei Peninsula beforehand! Our Type B Bungalow cost 50,000 Kyat (about €30.50). Book Sin Htauk Beach Bungalows or check the latest prices here.
Paradise Beach Bungalows – located on an isolated beach bearing the same name, this accommodation option is very similar to that on Sin Htauk above, both in price and in amenities, with cabins ranging from range from 45,000 Kyat (about 27.50) to 65,000 Kyat (about €40) for 2-persons, with different rates for 1 person or 3 persons. Book Paradise Beach Bungalows or check the latest prices here.
Mawlamyine and Bilu Island
Getting to Mawlamyine from Dawei is simple, with buses running from one town to the other three times a day (5am, 10am and 5pm). A ticket cost 12,000 kyat (about €7.50) for a 7-hour journey which was pretty comfortable throughout.
Easy-going, charming Mawlamyine and Bilu Island, showcase the friendliness and casual vibe of southern Myanmar. Although you might not think so at first, there are quite a few things to do in Mawlamyine, which we highlighted in our post dedicated to the town and nearby Bilu Island.
We strongly recommend that you spend some time walking around the colourful and sometimes surprising markets, as well as making time to visit to the splendid Kyaikthanlan Pagoda!
Where to stay in Mawlamyine
K.S. Hotel – easily one of the best budget hotels that we ever stayed at, K.S. Hotel staff were friendly and courteous. Our room with private bathroom cost $25 (about €22.50)/a night. Book K.S. Hotel or check the latest prices here.
Hotel Suggati Mawlamyaing – a modern, comfortable hotel with individual balconies and friendly staff. Book Hotel Suggati or check the latest prices here.
Onwards towards Yangon
Our last stop was in Myanmar’s capital Yangon, an easy enough drive from Mawlamyine. A very comfortable bus ride (which set off at 9am and took 7 hours, a slightly slower option to taking the minivan) set us back 7,000 kyat (about €4.50) each.
We had already explored Yangon on a previous visit a few years back, so we are not really interested in taking a look around all the attractions once again, but we did most definitely want to revisit the spectacular Shwedagon Pagoda and marvel at all the gold once again! Entry cost 10000 kyat (about €7.50). Dress code is super strict and I had to borrow a skirt against a deposit of 3000 kyat since I was wearing leggings which was not allowed.
The 2,500-year old Shwedagon Pagoda was as beautiful and as golden as we remembered it. Late afternoon is a great time to visit and we do advise you to stay until it gets dark, because the golden buildings are beautifully lit up and surrounded by soft candles during the later hours.
If you are staying on for longer in Yangong, there are plenty of other sights in the capital. Sule Pagoda, Nga Gyi Pagoda and Chaukhtatgyi Pagoda are all worth a visit, whilst Bogyoke Park and Kandawgyi Park offer a quiet oasis away from the bustling city.
Consider booking a private trip around Yangon if you don’t want to tour around independently. You can find a number of guided tours here.
Where to stay in Yangon
Crystal Palace Hotel– located very close to the Shwedagon Pagoda, Crystal Palace Hotel is clean, with spacious rooms (including kettle to my delight) and a great breakfast. Our room with private bathroom cost $25 (about €22.50)/a night. Book Crystal Palace Hotel or check the latest prices here.
The Loft Hotel Downtown Yangon – this boutique, contemporary hotel is situated very close to the center and is one of the best options in the area! Book The Loft Hotel Downtown Yangon or check the latest prices here.
Belmond Governor’s Residence – this elegant, colonial-style luxury hotel with an outdoor swimming pool is located in a beautiful setting and feels like a world away from the more bustling city vibe. Book Belmond Governor’s Residence or check the latest prices here.
Other Places in Southern Myanmar
The towns mentioned on our southern Myanmar itinerary probably reflect the minimum number of overnight stops you should make on your southern Myanmar itinerary. There are however, a number of other places which you can include on your route if you have more time, to experience some more of Myanmar off the beaten track
Ye is located between Dawei and Mawlamyine, so it can be included as an additional stop on your southern Myanmar itinerary when traveling between the two towns. It should be noted that some places around Ye are off-limits to foreign tourist, and the latest travel advice should be sought if you are planning on stopping in Ye.
Ye can be reached by bus from Dawei (the same buses that travel onwards to Mawlamyine and Yangon) whilst onward trael to both Mawlamyine and Dawei is possible on buses which run several times a day. Ye is a little town, characterized more by local life and less by grandiose temples, although the Shwemawdaw Pagoda and the more distant Banana Hill (a complex of shrines) are worth a visit.
Where to stay in Ye
Starlight Resort – easily the most popular place to stay in Ye, and the most recommended since the owners are incredibly helpful. The four star hotel is super affordable with a double room with private bathroom setting you back around €25/night! Book Starlight Resort or check the latest prices here.
Hpa-an is the capital of the Kayin state and is the base from where to explore the surrounding cliffs and caves. Hpa-an actually makes for a nice little easy trip from Mawlamyine, assuming you have the time to include it on your southern Myanmar itinerary.
Hpa-an is well-known among backpackers, given its proximity to the Thai border and its unique landscape. The town is surrounded by karst mountains containing large caves which can be explored. Buses run to Hpa-an from both Yangon and Mawlamyine, although taking the private river ferry from Mawlamyine is a popular alternative.
Where to stay in Hpa-an
Hpa An Boutique Inn – clean comfortable rooms with very friendly and accommodating staff. One of the best budget hotels around! Book Hpa An Boutique Inn or check the latest prices here.
Thiri Hpa An Hotel – this three star hotel features both a swimming pool and fitness centre and the property offers great value for money! An affordable place to relax! Book Thiri Hpa An Hotel or check the latest prices here.
Keinnara Hpa An – this four star hotel feature cottages providing great views of the surrounding mountains! The pool is a welcome feature in the tropical heat and with its stunning location, there is nothing else quite like this boutique hotel in Hpa An. Book Keinnara Hpa An or check the latest prices here.
We did not include Bago on our southern Myanmar itinerary this time around since we had already stopped to explore it on our previous visit. If you haven’t been there yet, we highly recommend that you stop (even for a few hours, there’s no need to stay long) to take in the several pagodas, and visit the Kanbawzathadi Golden Palace which is actually a reconstruction of the original Royal Palace.
There are daily buses running to Bago from Mawlamyine, Hpa-an or Yangon. During our previous visit, we hired a car for the day for a trip to the Golden Rock, and also convinced our driver to take us around the sights in Bago.
Where to stay in Bago
The Peru Lodge – this little guesthouse is situated in a quiet location but there are some restaurants in the area. All the tourist attractions are easily reached by tuktuk. A room with private bathroom cost €27 a night. Book The Peru Lodge or check the latest prices here.
Bulaeinn Villas – these gorgeous villas with a garden and a swimming pool are outside the centre of Bago but offer a fantastic countryside experience! Book Bulaeinn Villas or check the latest prices here.
Golden Rock at Mount Kyaiktiyo
The Golden Rock, at the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo (accessible from Kinpun), is one of the most popular attractions in the south and can easily be included on any southern Myanmar itinerary. To go to the Golden Rock, you actually need to go to the town of Kinpun, which is home to some hotels if you intend spending the night.
Buses from Yangon stop at Kinpun, but buses from Hpa-an or Mawlamyine often stop at Kyaikto, a stop which is further away from your starting point, and which is erroneously confused with similar sounding Mount Kyaiktiyo. There are pick up services from Kyaikto to Kinpun.
Once you are in Kinpun, you need to get on one of the many trucks going up the mountain… or walk! The trucks are packed with people and the upward journey is no fun at all, but still better than walking up the very steep hill which, if you decided to undertake, might take up to 5 hours!
So why all the fuss about the Golden Rock? The Golden Rock is actually a massive rock boulder covered in typical gold leaf which seems to be about to tumble down the mountainside… just that, it doesn’t. It is one of the most sacred sites in Myanmar with many devotees make the pilgrimage to the Golden Rock.
Where to stay in Mount Kyaiktiyo
Kyaik Hto Hotel – you can stay in a bungalow right at the top of the mountain close to the Golden Rock Pagoda if you want really close access and a good view! Book Kyaik Hto Hotel or check the latest prices here.
Where to stay in Kinpun
Golden Sunrise Hotel – A comfortable option with easy access to the truck station to the Golden Rock with quiet lush grounds. Book Golden Sunrise Hotel or check the latest prices here.
Pepper Garden Resort – a fabulous accommodation option, with a lovely pool, only a few minutes away from the truck stop to Golden Rock. Book Pepper Garden resort or check the latest prices here.