The Ancient Burma Road Tour from Mandalay to Dali

A 13 day trip to China & Myanmar (Burma) 
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Epic and enigmatic, the ancient Silk Route weaves through the jungle-clad mountains of Myanmar and Southern China to connect a remote world of hill tribe villages, revered ancient capitals, and inspiring heritage. Cobbled back together in the 1930s as the Burma Road, it connects Mandalay to old Dali. By 1942, the trek was off bounds to foreigners but now recently reopened to visitors in the last three years to create a journey of authenticity and true cultural immersion. 

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General Information

Detailed Itinerary

Places Visited 

Mandalay, Mahamuni Pagoda, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Shwenandaw Monastery, Irrawaddy River, Saigang, Ava, Amarapura, U Bein Bridge, Pwin Oo Lwin, National Botanic Gardens, Hsipaw, Gokteik Viaduct, Hsipaw Candlelight Market, Dokehtawaddy River, Shan State, Lashio, 2,500 Pagodas, Muse, Jiegao, One Tree Forest, Moli, Ruili, Jiele Golden Pagoda, Nong'an, Jiedong, Hanshan Temple, Tengchong, Yingjiang, Heshun, Sino Burmese Anti Japanese War Museum, Black Fish River, Sea of Heat, Gaoligong Natural Reserve, Nuodeng, Reclining Buddha Temple, Changshou Temple, Dali, Confucius Temple, Yunnan Province, Chongsheng Temple

Departure Dates 

Dates are flexible and customizable for private departures.

Detailed Itinerary 

Day 1: Mandalay – Ancient Treasures of Mandalay

Oh the road to Mandalay, where the “dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!” And the “the mist is on the rice fields and the wind is in the palm trees.” It was Kipling's poem that introduced the West to Myanmar's trading capital, his verses of green landscapes as relevant now as they were a century ago. Touch down at the airport and the tropical colors seem to surround at every turn, especially as you stand upon Mandalay Hill and gaze across the city towards the mountains of the Silk Route. Be greeted at the airport and transferred to your hotel, where there's time to rest before you start your tour on Mandalay Hill, a serene place to take your bearings and admire the essence of old-world poetry.

A tour of the city connects the eras and introduces you to Myanmar and its people. Gold leaf glistens at Mahamuni Pagoda as local pilgrims pray beneath the bloated golden stomach of a Buddha statue. At Kuthodaw Pagoda, find 728 marble stone slabs, ancient Buddhist scriptures fill the world's biggest book. Next, it's the Shwenandaw Monastery, a brilliant 19th-century teak carving takes your eyes on a merry dance. For all of the Buddhist beauty, let's not forget that Mandalay is a traditional trading town. Workshops continue to produce unique items like wood carvings, gold leaf, and kalaga tapestries. Whole factories create intricate Buddha statues from wood, marble, gold, and more. Throughout history, the city has had much to trade with its neighbors. End the tour back at Mandalay Hill for a beautiful sunset over the green mountains.

What's Included: accommodation, airport transfer, tour, breakfast

Day 2: Mandalay – Myanmar's Enchanting Old Capitals

Relics of history line the Irrawaddy River, Myanmar's ancient capitals were left in a wonderful state of semi-ruin. Today, visit three of them, each a glance at the old-world and their innovation. First, it's Saigang, where 600 pagodas shimmer white in the morning sun, their facades contrast with the red robes of monks. Wander into serene meditation centers and discover a market that's packed with local pottery and silver. While this capital has lost its political importance, it remains the sacred heart of Myanmar. Continue south to Ava, protected by towering walls of stone, yet crumpled beneath the damage of an earthquake. A clocktower leans as locals meet in a monastery without a roof, and village life continues amongst the ruined grandeur. Tour Ava in a horse and carriage, another elegant connection with the old world.

Now the City of Immortality, the capital connects with the world's longest teak bridge, almost a mile of wood that spans across a lake. Wonderfully photogenic, the faded teak posts stretches out above rice paddies and local fishermen. Stop at a silk weaving workshop then enter the atmospheric Mahagandayon Monastery. Thousands of monks reside here; their barefooted tranquility always leaves an impression. A nearby cafe provides the iconic Myanmar photo as the sun sets behind U Bein Bridge as silhouetted locals wander along the teak. These three capitals are all within 30 minutes of Mandalay, meaning that only limited travel time is required to explore these beautiful relics.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 3: Pyin Oo Lwin – Horse and Carriage Through a Colonial Hill Station

Today begins your ascent down a road of switchbacks that rise towards the cool hill station of Pyin Oo Lwin. A revered hangout during the British Raj and its history is reflected in the beautiful colonial mansions that line the streets. After the two-hour road journey, tour the town by horse and carriage and clip-clop past the charming brick and timber houses. Explore the National Botanic Gardens at leisure, where tulips and other exotic flowers flourish beside indigenous sweeps of wild bamboo. Pyin Oo Lwin also has a local side, and you'll find various ethnic tribes at the market, their vibrant clothes juxtaposed with lavish piles of fresh fruit. Most of the afternoon and evening is at your leisure; there's a beautiful lakeside restaurant recommended for dinner.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, horse and carriage tour, breakfast

Day 4: Hsipaw – One of Asia's Most Spectacular Train Journeys

A single gauge railway track winds further into the mountains as you cross spectacular valleys as it rumbles towards the Chinese border. The train was colonial Britain's update to the old Silk Route, a scenic route with fierce strategic importance. The train moves slowly as it intimately passes through the delights of rural Myanmar; tiny villages of palm frond huts, ox carts plow rice paddies, children play among thick bamboo plantations, tribal women wait to trade at remote train stations. Just sit back and savor the view, especially as the train cruises slowly across Gokteik, the world's highest railway viaduct. You'll be traveling in first class, but note that this passenger train hasn't been updated since the 1930’s, so while it's comfortable, it's not luxurious! Still, part of the experience is your interaction with the locals on the six-hour journey. Your guide will collect a packed lunch to be enjoyed on the train.

What's Included: accommodation, first-class train tickets, breakfast, lunch

Day 5: Hsipaw – Candlelight Market and Hill Tribe Villages

Hsipaw honors its trading history as the market is packed with life far before dawn. Tribal traders arrive with wares and produce to swap and barter at stalls illuminated by candle light. It's delightfully ambient at 4:30 am, especially when you're eating a breakfast bowl of Shan noodles at a small stall. There's hardly another tourist in sight, and you'll interact with various Shan and Palaung hill tribes. There will be time to go back to bed after the market, before the day's villages tour.

Tiny villages speckle the jungle-clad mountains around Hsipaw; the larger ones have just 200 inhabitants. Share fresh tea with the locals as you're invited into traditional wooden homes. Children ride buffalo along the lanes as smiles greet you at every turn, and everyone is eager to share stories. This region provides a chance to meet the locals, and you will be as fascinating to them as they are to you. With a local Palaung guide, you can visit a series of different villages to hear tales that haven't been documented in the West. These are proud and remote people, who have spent the last six decades fighting for their survival under the Myanmar military's rule.

What's Included: accommodation, tours, breakfast

Day 6: Lashio – Tribal Groups of Shan State

Lashio has always been a crossroads, a meeting point for tribal groups and an intersection of the Southern Silk Route. Evidence of diversity dominates the city, from a Chinese temple to the elegance of the 2,500 pagodas that stand high above the city. Buddhist history is evoked in Pyu Lon Chan Thar and the Mansu Pagoda, while the market is packed with goods from across the continent. Bustling and beguiling, Lashio is perhaps the one destination on the old Burma Road that continues to flourish from trade. Find people from Myanmar, Thailand, China and Laos, all harmoniously coming together beneath a backdrop of wooden houses and modern development.

What's Included: accommodation, guided transfers, tour, breakfast

Day 7: Jiegao to Moli to Ruili – Crossing Into Remote China

For hundreds of years, there was an ancient route between China's Yunnan Province and Myanmar. Back in the 1930’s, the road was revitalized, predominantly as a supply line for the war that was ravaging Asia, and particularly what was then known as Burma. Very few foreigners have ever traveled on it; it was closed due to Japanese occupation in 1942 and then kept closed by Myanmar's military government. So much of this route is doused in history, both culturally and naturally, as the remote road winds through the lavish jungle, mountains of exquisite grandeur, and staggering scenic diversity.

Today, pass the iconic banyan trees of One Tree Forest, a tropical rainforest that defies the imagination with some 1,500 plant species. Wander to a waterfall where Buddha once trained wild elephants, then towards Ruili, where the enchantment of trade continues in full swing. Stroll past market stalls on palm-tree-lined streets, admire the twinkles of jade, and take a guided rickshaw tour that elucidates some of Ruili's unsavory trading past; this has often been a lawless crossroads for all kinds of trafficking. Things have changed over recent decades and the colorful night market offers culinary fragrances that stretch from Pakistan to Burma to Thailand.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, breakfast

Day 8: Longchuan to Tengchong – Following the Traditions of the Silk Route

The Jiele Golden Pagoda has been destroyed and rebuilt on countless occasions, an indication of how this land has changed hands over the centuries. Such tales of occupation contradict the ambiance found in the villages of Jiexiang and Nongdao, which overflow with small markets, bamboo temples, and stupas. Continue north and wind up a tropical path through landscapes that blur banyan trees with bamboo, palm trees with rubber plantations and rice steppes. Next, move on to Luanghe, filled with beautiful wooden houses to explore. Travel over 300kms today and stop at half a dozen villages on route, along with a series of hilltop temples and pagodas, before you spend the night in Tengchong, one of the most important stops on the Southern Silk Route.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, breakfast

Day 9: Tengchong – Volcanoes and Hot Springs

Old-world China cascades across the jungle, the village of Heshun delightfully frozen in time. Unlike many old villages in China, this area has not been aggressively redeveloped which makes for gorgeous lanes of wooden houses and fruit stalls. Explore the richest library in rural China; some 60,000 ancient volumes are filled with dust as they line the walls. Volcanoes dominate the landscape, and a short ascent provides views of ravenous craters and redolent lava fields. A sea of heat rises to spurt jets of steam and craft clear waters that swarm with black fish. Bizarre and baffling, so much of this route has hardly been documented since the times of Marco Polo, so every corner brings a sublime surprise. All of today's attractions are within reach of Tengchong, but you will loop back to the city by late afternoon for your night’s stay.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, breakfast

Day 10: Gaoligong to Nuodeng – Into the High Mountains of Yunnan

Now the mountains rise and a spine of peaks provide the backdrop as you stop at Gaoligong Natural Reserve. Various walking trails are alive with the tweets of birds; some 300 rare species flourish in the alpine air. Drive north to stop at a coffee plantation perched above the confluence of the Nujiang, and mythical Mekong rivers. Next, see a six-meter Buddha statue sculpted from white jade before arriving in Nuodeng by mid afternoon. You will then explore as you wander historical lanes that are too narrow for motorized traffic. Nuodeng has a wonderful heritage and is completely untouched by modernization, so much so that there are no luxury hotels. Instead, you'll sleep in a traditional village homestay, which is basic but comfortable and provides an evening of inspiring cultural immersion. Enjoy the typical local dishes for dinner, a ham that's cured with Nuodeng's great salt.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, breakfast

Day 11: Dali – Into the Inspiring Dali Kingdom

Nuodeng is delightful in the morning light as it calls back to China's complex history that winds across the village. A sacred stone wall is hidden in a remote temple, murals of Communist Revolution heroes line another wall, while the Confucius Temple elaborately presents the 12 Chinese zodiac signs. Elders meet and chat at the Salt Tax office, still the focal point of the village after many centuries. After lunch, complete your journey on the old Burma Road to arrive in Bali, the ancient capital of the Dali Kingdom. The city retains its charm from the 8th and 9th-centuries, the tribal people wander past wooden houses in their resplendent white robes. Your accommodation offers contemporary luxury in an inspiring old-world setting, with antique furniture and an excellent location in Old Dali.

What's Included: accommodation, transfers, breakfast

Day 12: Dali – Exploring the Ancient Town

Stroll through the old town, along whitewashed walls to vibrant murals of mountains and flowers. Carved archways lead you into traditional houses, their ornate curves famous across the whole of China. A Catholic church blends Bai design with European influence as the mystical temple dates to the 9th-century. An iconic mountain backdrop guides you in and out of the town and stands over the capital of the Dali Kingdom, a place that flourished up to the mid 13th-century. Be guided around the important landmarks in the morning, before the afternoon is at your leisure. Dali is a wonderful place to explore without a map; enchanting finds cover every sinew of a city that feels like a generous ode to the Silk Route's rich past.

What's Included: accommodation, tour, breakfast

Day 13: Dali – Departure

Dali's new airport provides good connections for your return journey. From here, fly across China and connect with an international departure from one of the country's major cities. You will be transferred to the airport to complete your tour.

What's Included: airport transfer, breakfast


Starting Price 

This trip is customizable for your private travel.

What's Included 

  • Accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Some or all guided tours and activities (dependent on season)
  • Expert trip planning
  • 24x7 support during your trip
The starting price is based on travel during the low season for a minimum of two travelers staying in shared 3-star accommodations. Please inquire for a custom trip quote based on your travel preferences and travel dates.