In Myanmar, there are a select number of tourist hotspots, which offer some of the country’s best known features and sights. However, there are places that get overlooked for one reason or another. Here’s some inspiration to convince you to visit Taungoo and Nay Pyi Taw in Myanmar.
A typical highway town between Yangon and Mandalay, Taungoo serves as an introduction to small-town Myanmar, a world away from bustling, fast-modernising Yangon. With a bit more to offer than most places on the Yangon-Mandalay highway, Taungoo is frequently used as a transit point for long-haul truckers and weary travellers. Here’s why this dusty yet intriguing town is worth at least a day or so of your time.
What to See/Do in Taungoo:
The centre of Taungoo lies within the old city walls, which have mostly crumbled or been removed for construction purposes. However, what still remains are the city gates. Easy to spot are the two towering pillars with weapon-wielding guardians that lie on either side of the main road leading into the city.
Upon entering, look on your right for the impressive and well-kept Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, a very beautiful building erected by Christian missionaries in times gone by.
Continue wandering to find a small produce market, which is most active in the morning, as well as a few simple eateries and teahouses. An Indian Temple and a Chinese Temple are nearby, demonstrating the intermingling of cultures and religions that can often be witnessed in Myanmar.
Located in the centre of town, this glistening stupa is said to have been standing since 1597. Within the complex, notice a line of statues depicting the long succession of Taungoo kings (including a queen), as well as a reclining Buddha.
Just south of Shwesandaw lies a more modern stupa; a mural of past kings can be seen, as well as other mosaics. It’s worth stopping by to admire the ancient artwork.
A lake with the same name as another in Yangon, its perimeter is shaded by trees. Strolling along the water’s edge is a pleasant way to enjoy some peace, quiet and greenery, though don’t be surprised if you’re stopped by curious young locals for a selfie or two!
Than Daung Gyi and Naw Bu Baw Mountain
The peaceful village of Than Daung Gyi was once off-limits to foreigners and had a strong military presence due to conflict in the surrounding hill county. That has changed in recent years and the area is now opening up. Locals have moved away from wearing traditional tribal dress, unlike other villages.
The local people have also converted to Christianity and, thus, small churches have sprouted up in the village. These churches sit quietly, aging gracefully, and make travelling through the area a treasure hunt of sorts.
The main draw of Than Daung Gyi is, however, Naw Bu Baw Mountain, which lies on the edge of town. Not a mountain in the usual sense, Naw Bu Baw is a Christian pilgrimage site with beautiful panoramic views of the surrounding countryside.
Ascending 374 steps, passing small chapels along the way, eventually leads to a large crucifix on a raised platform. It’s possible to walk around the circumference of the summit and take in the views from all angles. Note that shoes are not permitted after the steps.
Directly opposite, climb a small hill with a flat peak that offers similar far-reaching views over vast countryside. Follow the dirt track to the right of the hill; from the top you can take the concrete steps that lead directly down to the carpark.
As an added bonus, we stopped at Pathi Chaung, a small creek lined with lush trees that’s popular with locals cum the weekend. Unfortunately, on our visit it was strewn with rubbish, evidently the result of a mass picnic that had been had. If you’d also like to visit, it’s 13km away from Taungoo, roughly halfway to Than Daung Gyi and Naw Bu Baw Mountain.
Where to Stay and Eat:
There are sleeping options in the old city but, despite having the advantage of being right where the action happens, are run-down and poor value. The best options are on the outskirts of town, roughly 4km from the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart along the dusty Old Yangon-Mandalay Highway; if staying out here we recommend you take a motorbike taxi or trishaw into town for 1,000-2,000ks.
We opted to stay at Myanmar Beauty Guesthouse 2. The original, much smaller Myanmar Beauty Guesthouse 1 is located within the city walls, a short walk from the centre. Despite the out-of-the-way location, number 2 offers peace and quiet, overlooking rice fields.
The buildings are built in the traditional design, all made of wood, with the better rooms on the second floor. The staff are very friendly, kind and helpful and the included breakfast is a real feast, brought to you fresh each morning in the open-air restaurant. Expect to pay $25/night for a double room with a private bathroom, WIFI included.
Myanmar Beauty Guesthouse 2 has a menu for lunch and dinner. Given the fact that we were a good walk from town, we had dinner there for the two nights we stayed; the food was reasonably priced and tasty!
Eating options in the old city and along the highway offer only very simple fare, such as rice and noodle dishes, with just a menu in the local language available. It is, therefore, advisable to eat at your chosen guesthouse, if the service can be provided.
Getting to/from Taungoo
There are private bus company offices scattered along the main highway, where it is possible to book tickets to your next destination. You can also ask your guesthouse to assist you in getting a seat booked.
Among other destinations, the most popular places to go from Taungoo are as follows:
Nay Pyi Taw: 3,000ks/person, 3 hours, frequent Mandalay: 7,500ks/person, 7-8 hours, early morning and early evening departures Yangon: 4,500ks/person, 4-6 hours, frequent
The train station is located in the centre of town and offers the following destinations:
Mandalay: 3,500/45,000ks (ordinary/upper class), 8 hours, 3am/12:20pm/2pm/11pm Nay Pyi Taw: 500/1,000ks (ordinary/upper class), 2 hours, 1pm/4pm/9pm Yangon: 3,000/4,000ks (ordinary/upper class), 6 hours, 5am/10:40pm/2pm/7pm
Getting around Taungoo
The area within Taungoo’s old city is eminently walkable, though motorbike taxis and trishaws are aplenty should you require one. Do take care if walking along the main highway though! Bicycles are available to rent from Myanmar Beauty Guesthouse 2 if you want to get around a bit quicker under your own steam at a cost of 2,000ks/bike/day.
In order to reach Than Daung Gyi and Naw Bu Baw Mountain, your own wheels are required as public transport to the village is unreliable. Hiring a motorcycle is possible and is the option we would usually take. However, as we visited Taungoo during the monsoon, we took the safer option of hiring a car and driver.
We arranged this through Myanmar Beauty, paying 60,000ks for a non-English speaking driver. He did, however, speak some English and was very attentive, punctual and friendly. If you’d like a fluent English speaking driver, expect to pay 80-100,000ks.
Note: If going by motorcycle, take great care; the roads up to Than Daung Gyi are steep and winding!
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Nay Pyi Taw
A vast, sprawling city, Nay Pyi Taw was built in the middle of rice paddies in 2005 at an untold expense when the government decided to relocate the country’s capital to a more strategic location. What better place than the centre of Myanmar?! Overlooked by the majority of travellers, most government offices, Myanmar’s parliament and mansions of high ranking military officials are located in the city.
Although Nay Pyi Taw has a few sights worth seeing, you should come here more for the surreal experience of traversing the almost deserted streets and seeing one of the world’s most bizarre capitals for yourself. The city is dived into zones, such as the hotel zone, which can be quite far apart, and with very few people or cars around, it is, at times, rather eerie!
What to See/Do in Nay Pyi Taw:
Two particularly famous sights in Nay Pyi Taw definitely fall into the ‘unusual’ category! One is an 18-lane-highway; with such little traffic, it’s practically deserted! We even managed to stop right in the middle of it and get a photo!
The other, a 20-lane highway, is enormous with 10 lanes in either direction; it runs alongside the parliament building depicted on 10,000ks notes! Unfortunately, for security reasons, vehicles aren’t allowed to stop as they drive past but the experience is quite something!
National Landmark Gardens
Entrance Fee: $10/$5 (Foreign Adult/Child) Opening Hours: 8am-5pm
An hour’s golf buggy ride (included in the admission ticket) takes you around 400-acres of beautifully maintained gardens to visit all of Myanmar’s famous sights in miniature models. We didn’t personally visit but have heard that it’s worthwhile if you have the time, even if it is somewhat overpriced for foreigners!
To give you an idea of the grand scale of the city, the National Landmark Gardens are 22 miles (roughly a 40-minute drive) from the hotel zone!
Entrance Fee: 5,000ks Opening Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30am-4:30pm
This gigantic building opened in 2015 after 5 years of construction. Wandering its bare, silent hallways, your footsteps echoing, feels bizarre given that a museum would usually be packed full of people!
The National Museum showcases all elements of Myanmar’s history from geography, traditional dress and music to pottery and other artifacts. Given the number of rooms and exhibits, you could very easily spend half a day in here if you wanted to look at and read everything in detail. We don’t normally do museums but easily managed to while away 2 hours in this one!
This 321ft pagoda is exactly one foot smaller than Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, designed as such so as not to outdo the country’s largest and most sacred! Shining bright in the sun in a shimmering golden colour, Uppatasanti is beautifully kept and maintained, a must-see when visiting the city. A warning though that you’ll need to have your shoulders and knees covered. Longyis (traditional Myanmar ‘skirts’ for men and women) are available to rent if required.
Top Tip: Uppatasanti looks even more magical after the sun has set; time your visit just so if you can!
Water Fountain Garden
Entrance Fee: 700ks/person, 500ks/vehicle Opening Hours: 8:30am-8:30pm
Constructed by the government practically in the centre of the city, the Water Fountain Garden is a 165-acre area of greenery with trees, plants, swinging bridges and of course, a large water fountain at its heart. At dusk, colourful lights are turned on to light up the cascading water, creating a spectacle that attracts many local visitors. The grounds are a pleasant place to wander with lots of shady places to relax.
Hlae Khwin Taung Pagoda
An 18km-drive from Uppatasanti Paya, this small pagoda sits upon a hill that overlooks the Paunglaung Reservoir. Come here for the sweeping views over the surrounding countryside. As well as the long, winding road to the top, Hlae Khwin can also be accessed via a long flight of stairs.
Remember to remove your shoes before exploring the small complex. Friendly resident monks greeted us, grinning at the rare sight of foreign visitors. As is typical of Myanmar hospitality, they also offered us tea, biscuits and bananas!
Where to Stay and Eat:
Most, if not all, accommodation in Nay Pyi Taw can be found in the designated ‘hotel zone’. As we visited on a day trip, we can’t recommend any specific place to stay. All of the hotels we saw, however, looked very large and grand, frequently visited by diplomats and NGOs. Apparently, due to competition and low visitor numbers, rates are reasonable when compared to more touristy places. It is highly likely that wherever you stay, the service and facilities will be of a good standard!
Eating options are spread out to say the least! If you are at one of the bus stations, cheaper, more local dishes can be found at nearby day or night markets. Otherwise the majority of restaurants that boast Asian, Thai and international cuisine can be pricey but again with reasonable quality and service. We found a more upmarket-looking teahouse that was empty but looked like it could hold a lot of customers when required! The name escapes me but traditional food was reasonably priced and good quality.
If you are staying in Nay Pyi Taw, I’d recommend eating at your hotel restaurant. Given the sheer size of the city, it’s far less hassle and mileage to ‘eat at home’.
Getting to/from Nay Pi Taw
Given the fact that Nay Pyi Taw is the country’s capital and an important place for business, the city is well connected in several ways.
There is an international airport with daily domestic flights to Yangon, as well as international flights to Bangkok (Thailand) 6 times a week and to Kunming (China) twice a week. Flights within Myanmar are notoriously expensive.
This huge station has an old locomotive parked just inside the entrance. It has services to several locations across the country.
Mandalay: 1,850/3,700ks (ordinary/upper class), 6-7 hours, 1:50pm/3:15pm/11:20pm Kalaw: 1,350ks, 10 hours Bagan: 2,700ks, 10 hours, 5am Yangon: 2,800-5,600ks (ordinary/upper class), 9-10 hours, 11:50am/8pm/8:30pm/10:30pm
There are two main bus stations in the city. The one closest to the hotel zone and thus the one used by most visitors is Myomazay.
Frequent services run to the following destinations:
Yangon: 6,000ks, 5-6 hours Mandalay: 5,300ks, 4-5 hours
Less frequent services run to:
Bagan: 11,000ks, 6 hours, 7am and 8pm
Other services also run to:
Kalaw, Taunggyi and Pyay. Check locally for up-to-date information.
Getting around Nay Pyi Taw
At present (2019) there is no public bus service within the city. Given the vast size of Nay Pyi Taw and the fact that distances between places are very far indeed, walking simply isn’t possible!
The best course of action, if you intend to go sightseeing, is to hire a private car (10,000ks/hour or around 60,000ks for a whole day) or a taxi for A to B journeys. A taxi from the hotel zone to the bus station mentioned above costs roughly 7,000ks.
Motorbike taxis are cheaper at around 3,000ks/hour or 20,000ks for a whole day. It depends, of course, on how many people you are travelling with and how comfortable you want the long distances to be!
Seeing the Best of Nay Pi Taw:
Ordinarily, we champion total independent travel and sightseeing free from the tight schedules of organised tours. However on this occasion we relented, given the enormity of the task at hand and the fact that we only had a short time.
We made contact with a professional independent driver through a personal recommendation. Arranging everything through calls and WhatsApp, we arrived at the bus station from Taungoo at around 12pm. He pulled up immediately our bus arrived, greeting us with a friendly smile.
Before heading off to see Nay Pyi Taw, he assisted us with booking a bus back to Yangon; that day was a public holiday and, after frantically running around the bus booking offices, we thankfully got the last two seats going to Yangon at 10pm that night!
Once we had discussed an itinerary, he took us to all the major sights discussed above, providing extra information about the city as we drove from place to place. When the day came to an end, he took us directly to where our bus would depart, showed us to the night market (where we got a cheap dinner), and said if we needed anything to contact him.
If you’d like his details, please contact us and we’d be happy to oblige. He quoted us the reasonable price of 60,000ks; we felt the fantastic service he provided and the distances covered were worth what we paid.
I hope that you’ve now been inspired to visit two of Myanmar’s little-visited gems. If you do decide to go, please let us know your thoughts!
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