Along the Old Burma Road, overland journey to Myanmar
From the Tibetan Highlands of Yunnan to the Golden Land of MyanmarMap
Myanmar through "the back door": The old Burma Road - the historical facts
A historically as well as scenically and above all culturally fascinating overland journey between subtropical plains, rice fields and remote mountain villages to the ancient cultures and peoples of the Himalayan foothills of Southeast Asia. Travel in the footsteps of General Joseph Stilwell and "his" legendary Burma Road and learn more about the region's eventful past.
What we know as Burma Road nowadays has always been an important trade route for goods between China and Myanmar. In particular, the green jade from Myanmar that was most sought after in China was traded along this route.
When the Japanese conquered the east coast of China as well as a large part of Indo-China during the Second World War, another new role was taken on by this old trade route. The Burma Road between China and Myanmar (Burma) was for a short time the only channel of supply for supplies of the Allies and the Kuomintang troops of Chiang Kai Shek in China.
In 1937-38, the Chinese part of the old Burma Road from Lashio to Kunming was expanded at express speed and with enormous effort. Up to 200,000 Chinese workers were engaged in the construction of the Burma Road through the mountainous landscape of the Yunnan province.
All supplies came by ship to the harbor of Yangon (Rangoon), the capital of Burma. From there, the goods were transported by the Burma railway in a 30-hour train ride to Lashio, the final destination of the railroad line. At the railway station of Lashio, all supplies were loaded on trucks and transported via the newly expanded Burma Road through the mountainous Shan State of Burma to Muse. In Muse, or more precisely in Wanding, all supplies were then transported across the border to China and from there on to Kunming and Chongqing. During the years of war, the city of Chongqing was the capital of China for a short time.
With the occupation of Burma and the harbor of Yangon by the Japanese in 1942, the supply of arms and ammunitions to China via the Burma Road was interrupted. The allies found a way out of this situation by flying all supplies for the Chinese Government using an airlift from Assam in India to China across the Himalayas. Due to insufficient navigation devices, unpredictable weather as well as the restricted load capacity of the aircrafts, these freight transports were a dangerous and costly undertaking.
This flight route over the southern foothills of the Himalayas range was usually called “the hump” by the pilots.
After the defeat in the battles around Kohima and Imphal, the Japanese decided to retreat from India back to Burma. At the same time, the allied forces launched the attack for the reconquering of Burma under the command of General Slim. During the reconquest of northern Burma, General Joseph Stilwell had a road built from Ledo in India to Mong Yu (now Myanmar) through the jungle of northern Burma, where the road met the original Burma road to Wanding and Kunming.
Consequently, the Chinese section of the Burma Road in the Yunnan Province was again opened up to supply from India. Until the end of the war in August 1945, the Ledo Road (Stilwell Road) was only in operation for just another 6 months and then fell in oblivion, also due to the lengthy isolation of Myanmar from the rest of the world.
Travel the Burma Road from the Tibetan highlands in Zhongdian into the golden temples of Myanmar
Your journey on the Burma Road begins in Kunming, the capital city of the Yunnan province in the southwest of China. From Kunming, you fly out to the Tibetan plateau towards Zhongdian at 3,300 meters. The prayer flags, prayer mills and the prominent monasteries are a clear sign that you are now on Tibetan soil.
The journey takes you south along the legendary Tea and Horse Road through the breathtaking landscape of the Tiger Leaping Gorge to the old town of Lijiang. The old town of Lijiang, located in the shadow of the Jade Dragon Mountain, inspires by a maze of alleys and canals, which crosses the entire old town. The nearby, year-round snow-covered Jade Dragon Mountain gives the old town of Lijiang something like an Alpine flair.
From the picturesque historic city of Lijiang, you continue your journey to Dali. The former royal city of Dali is at the lakeside of Erhai Lake in the shadow of the Cang Mountains. The lovely historic town of Dali with the relaxed atmosphere, the numerous bars, and pubs, as well as the nearby Erhai Lake, invites you to an extended stay.
Burma Road: Meeting with the ethnic groups of the Yunnan province
From Dali, the journey continues along the old Burma Road through the largely undiscovered western part of the Yunnan Province into the secluded Shan State in the north-east of Burma. This area is rarely visited by western tourists.
Throughout the whole journey, you will encounter with the ethnic minorities of the Tibetans, Bai and Naxi in Yunnan and the Shan, Palaung, Pa-O, Intha and Lahu in Burma.
Since the opening of the borders, the legendary "Old Burma Road" is also open again for western travelers and is once again developing into an emerging trade route between the Burma and the Yunnan Province in the southwest of China, which has been closed during a long period.
The last overnight stay within China is at the border town of Ruili, the southwestern-most city of the Yunnan Province.
Journey on the Burma Road from Ruili to Mandalay
After working your way through the passport control in the border town of Ruili, the journey continues on the Burma Road to Lashio.
The city of Lashio is until today the final destination of the railroad line of Yangon. During the Second World War, all of the supplies for China were reloaded on trucks at the railway station of Lashio and transported to China over the Burma Road.
By train, your journey continues parallel to the Burma Road via the more than 100-year-old Gotheik railway viaduct as far away as Pyin-Oo-Lwin, the former summer capital of the British colonial rule.
Pyin-Oo-Lwin impresses visitors with a range of well-preserved colonial buildings, a beautiful market, as well as the wonderful botanical garden.
You can choose to stay in one of the remaining, over 100-years old colonial style hotels in Pyin-Oo-Lwin.
The city of Mandalay
The former royal city of Mandalay is located in the center of Myanmar on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. The city of Mandalay was founded in 1857 by the then King Mindon and was for a short time the capital of the Burmese kingdom. With the invasion of the British colonial power in 1885, King Mindon’s son and successor Thibaw and his wife Supayalat were sent into exile to Ratnagiri in India by the British and Mandalay was annexed to the British Indian Empire.
During the Second World War, the city of Mandalay was greatly affected. Many of the old teak wood temples and monasteries were destroyed at that time.
Mandalay offers numerous attractions that one should not miss. Worthwhile is a visit to the crafting district so that you can watch the production of gold plates or the stone masons in the processing of Buddha statues.
A popular excursion destination in Mandalay is the Mandalay Hill, from where you can enjoy a beautiful sunset over Mandalay. Not far from Mandalay Hill is the wonderful monastery Shwenandaw Kyung. The Shwenandaw Monastery, built completely of teak wood, used to be located in the royal palace. After the death of King Mindon, his successor removed the monastery and rebuilt it outside the palace, which saved it from being destroyed. The Shwenandaw Monastery inspires the visitor with its fine wood carvings.
On your journey along the Burma Road, you also visit the ancient capitals Ava and Amarapura, of which only impressive ruins remained of its former glamor. From Mandalay, you continue your journey by plane to the fascinating temple town Bagan.
Journey on the Burma Road: Bagan, the ancient temple town.
The visit of Bagan is without a doubt one of the highlights of this journey along the Burma Road. The impressive temple town Bagan is located in the center of Myanmar on the banks the Irrawaddy River, ca. 650 km north of the former capital, Yangon.
With over 2,000 ancient temples and Pagodas, Bagan is one of the most unique archaeological sites in the world. The history of Bagan can be traced back to the second century. The rise of Bagan came with the takeover of King Anawrahta in the year 1044. King Anawrahta unified the country, made Bagan to the capital of the first Burmese kingdom, and at the same time instituted the Theravada Buddhism as the state religion.
The Theravada Buddhism was undoubtedly the driving force behind the development of Bagan. Many of the most impressive buildings of Bagan were built during this time. The fall of the first Burmese kingdom happened about 250 years later with the invasion of the Mongols in 1287.
The temple town Bagan can be easily explored by bicycle or horse-drawn carriage. In recent times there have been more and more tourists, which explore Bagan on modern electric scooters.
If you are in for a very special experience, you can enjoy a sunrise over the temple town of Bagan from a hot air balloon. From Bagan, you continue to travel by plane to the former capital, Yangon.
Journey on the Burma Road: The city of Yangon
Your journey along the Burma Road will be concluded in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar.
Even if the capital in 2005 was relocated to Naypyidaw in the center of the country, Yangon still remains the economic center of Myanmar.
Yangon is a multi-faceted city, with golden pagodas, beautiful colonial buildings from the British colonial era, lovely parks as well as many local bars and restaurants, where you can enjoy the nightlife together with the locals.
Recommended in Yangon is a ride on the Circular Train, a kind of ring road that runs around the whole city of Yangon. The full round with the train takes ca. 3 hours. Those who do not want to ride the whole round simply get off at any station and wait for the next train into the opposite direction.
The absolute highlight of a journey to Yangon is the visit of the widely visible Shwedagon Pagoda a little to the north of the city center. The Stupa, decorated with genuine gold plates, soars almost 100 meters into the sky over Yangon.
The origin of the Shwedagon Pagoda is estimated to be the sixth century, for the first time the pagoda was mentioned in 1485. Due to earthquakes and other influences, the Shwedagon Pagoda was rebuilt and renewed several times; the current structure dates back to the year 1769. A very special experience is visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda in the early evening when the artificial light of the spotlights replaces the one of the setting sun and the golden pagoda begins to stand out contrastingly from the dark night sky over Yangon.
The Burma Road - a journey of contrasts: The modern mega-city Kunming, which is also called “City of the eternal spring” because of the pleasant climate, the impressive rock formations of the Stone Forest at Kunming, ancient Tibetan monastic culture in Zhongdian, the fascinating landscape of the Tiger Leaping Gorge on the Yangtze River and the historical towns of Lijiang and Dali.
Then Burma awaits you with its traditional lifestyle: Villages of Palaung, the Gotheik-Viaduct, the former colonial town of Maymyo (Pyin-Oo-Lwin), the old royal city of Mandalay with its monasteries and pagodas and finally, the more than 2,000 temples and pagodas in the seemingly endless plains of Bagan. The worthy conclusion of this unique journey from China to Myanmar is the visit of the golden shining, majestic Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon for seeing the sunset!
"....we were able to see some very undiscovered parts of Western China and Myanmar..."
"....Myanmar was truly an incredible experience....!
Kamal, Great Britain
"...we have traveled a lot, but I think this was one of our best tours ever...."
"...an absolute highlight was the drive through the remote hills of the northern Shan State..."
Day 1: KUNMING ARRIVAL
Arrival in Kunming and transfer to your hotel. Depending on the arrival time, we make a stroll through the bird and flower market and visit the East and West Pagodas from the 9 century and dating back to a time when Kunming was part of the once powerful Nanzhao Kingdom. Dinner at a local restaurant.
Day 2: KUNMING - GREEN LAKE PARK - STONE FOREST
Take a stroll through the idyllic Green Lake Park, a popular gathering point for the local population, to see the locals engaged in their morning workouts, practice Tai Chi, show off their birds and enjoy social dancing.
Continue to the Stone Forest of Lunan, the most popular tourist attraction in Yunnan which is located about 80km east of Kunming.
Years of rain and erosion left behind a bizarre and impressive landscape of limestone pillars which, with a little imagination, indeed resembles a forest.
You have a walk through the maze of paths and walkways leading through this natural wonderland and learn more about the Sani people, an ethnic minority populating the area.
Drive back to Kunming for your overnight accommodation.
Day 3: KUNMING - FLIGHT TO ZHONGDIAN / SHANGRI LA
Early morning flight to Zhongdian, which recently changed its name and is now called "Shangri-La". Zhongdian is situated amongst a stunning landscape on the eastern Tibetan plateau at about 3200 meters above sea level.
Upon arrival you drive to a view point from where you enjoy a breathtaking view over the scenic Napa Lake and the surroundings.
Continue to the idyllic "Dabao" Monastery which is located about 12km outside of Zhongdian. Dabao Si is the oldest remaining Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monastery in the area.
In the afternoon visit Ganden Sumtseling Gompa, a 300 year old impressive Tibetan Monastery. From a historical point of view the Ganden Sumtseling Gompa is very significant to the region because it was inaugurated personally in the 17th century by the 5th Dalai Lama.
After that, visit picturesque old town of Zhongdian. Time at leisure to explore the picturesque old town of Zhongdian on your own.
Day 4: ZHONGDIAN - TIGER LEAPING GORGE - LIJIANG
Drive through impressive landscape towards Lijiang.
Half way you take a left turn into the impressive “Tiger Leaping Gorge” (Hu Tiao Xia), where the Yangtze waters are squeezed through a narrow, at some places only 20 meter wide gorge.
The Tiger Leaping Gorge is the most impressive during the summer months, when water levels of the Yangtze River are the highest.
Continue to Shigu village, to see the famous "First Bend", where the Yangtze River is making an abrupt 180 degree turn and flows for several kilometers, parallel to itself towards the north again.
From a historical point of view Shigu is important as it was here that part of Mao Zedong’s troops crossed the Yangtze River during the Long March. Take a walking tour through the village before you continue your journey to Lijiang.
Continue to Lijiang. Check-in at your accommodation in Lijiang.
Day 5: LIJIANG
In the morning take a stroll through the apparently countless narrow lanes and canals crisscrossing the picturesque old town. You also learn more about the secrets of the mystic Naxi culture.
Lijiang was listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage site in 1992.
Visit the wonderful "Black Dragon Pool" Park, from where, weather permitting, one has a spectacular view of the "Jade Dragon Snow Mountain". Visit the Dongba Museum and drive to Baisha.
The Baisha village used to be the capital of the once powerful Naxi Kingdom. We visit the Liuli temple with beautiful wall paintings from the late Ming Dynasty, which, miraculously, survived the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.
In the evening visit a traditional Dongba-Music concert. (optional)
Day 6: LIJIANG - DALI
In the morning drive to Dali. Dali is situated on the eastern shores of the stunning Erhai Lake on the foot of the 4000m high Cang Shan mountain range.
During the 9th century Dali served as capital of the once powerful Nanzhao and later the Dali Kingdoms, before the town was overrun by the Mongols about 400 years later.
Along the way you stop at Xizhou which is famous for its well preserved Bai architecture.
In Dali you visit the recently renovated 3 Pagodas of the San Ta Si Monastery from the 9th century.
Time at your own disposal for the exploration of the picturesque old town of Dali.
Day 7: DALI - BAOSHAN
You leave Dali and follow the infamous "Burma Road" through a stunning countryside towards Baoshan.
When advancing Japanese troops cut of the American supply lines in southern Myanmar (Burma) during WW 2, the American General Joseph Stilwell took on the enormous task to build a road from Ledo in India via northern Burma into China to Kunming.
You cross the Mekong River and drive along the original remaining parts of this legendary road.
Before arriving in Baoshan you pay a visit an idyllic, rarely visited temple with a magnificent reclining Jade-Buddha. The Buddha was a gift from the Burmese Foreign Minister U Nu who visited the area in the 1960s.
Overnight accommodation is at Baoshan.
Day 8: BAOSHAN - TENGCHONG
Today we follow in the footsteps of General Stilwell and “his” Burma Road.
The Burma Road leads through stunning landscape into the Nujiang Valley before winding its way through the impressive Gaolingong Mountain Range towards Tengchong.
Three hundred thousand labourers and coolies equipped in most cases with only the most primitive of tools, slaved in inhospitable, sub-tropical conditions to connect this stretch of the Burma Road, with an existing link between Xiaguan and Kunming.
On the last stretch to Tengchong you cross the Longjiang bridge, one of the longest suspension bridges in China. This architectural marvel opened to traffic in 2016.
Located on the Fault lines of the Indian Subcontinent and Asian Continent at an altitude of 1’650 meters, Tengchong’s surroundings are dotted with countless ancient volcanoes and numerous natural hot springs.
Tengchong played an important role in the defense against the Japanese invaders by the allied forces during WW2.
Overnight accommodation in Tengchong.
Day 9: FROM TENGCHONG TRAVEL TO THE BORDER TOWN OF RUILI
In Tengchong you pay a visit to the museum with an interesting exhibit about the significance of the Burma Road and the Burma-India-China theater during WW2 .
Continue to the Tengchong hotspring where you take a stroll through the many bubbling and steaming pools.
Drive to the rustic Heshun village on the outskirts of Tengchong. Take a walk around Heshun village before continuing you journey towards Ruili.
Ruili is located in southwest Yunnan on the banks of the Ruili River, which marks the border between China and Myanmar. Check-in at your hotel.
For those who have energy left can visit the Ruili Night Market.
Overnight accommodation is in the border town of Ruili.
Day 10: RUILI BORDER CROSSING - LASHIO
Transfer to the border check-point with Burma. After the border formalities are completed you make a small tour of the town of Muse and start driving along the Burma Road towards Lashio.
The town of Lashio still serves as rail head of the Burma Railway and used to be the starting point of the Burma Road until the Japanese invasion in 1941.
It was in Lashio where all supplies were loaded from the trains onto trucks and transported via the Burma Road through the mountainous Shan State of Burma to China.
You visit the Quan Yin San Temple, possibly the biggest Chinese style temple within Myanmar. We continue to Susana Pagoda and enjoy the nice view over Lashio and the surroundings.
After that we drive to the Their Mingle Man Kiang Monastery. Of one of the monks in this monastery it is said that he is able to predict ones future quite accurately.
Overnight accommodation is at Lashio.
Day 11: LASHIO - GOTHEIK VIADUCT - MAYMYO
After a visit of Lashio's bustling and colorful morning market we board the train for the 5 hours ride towards Maymyo (Pyin Oo Lwin).
At walking speed the train crosses the famous Gotheik Viaduct* that was built by American engineers in 1899 and spans over a 300m deep gorge. A truly fascinating experience.
Maymyo, now officially called Pyin Oo Lwin, is located on a plateau about 1000m above sea level. Mainly due to its cool climate Maymyo served as summer capital during the British colonial era.
The many beautiful, colonial style buildings, the broad avenues and the lovely botanical garden are still testimonies of the British presence in the area.
You have dinner at the Kandawgyi Lodge, an over 100 years old colonial style hotel overlooking the Kandawgy Lake.
Day 12: TRAVEL FROM MAYMYO (PYIN-O-LWIN) IN THE SHAN HILLS TO THE PLAINS OF MANDALAY
After breakfast you pay as visit to Kandawgyi Park, a lovely botanical garden which plans where laid out by Sir Harcourt Butler, a former Governor of Burma in 1915/16. You take a stroll through this magnificent garden and enjoy the relaxed atmosphere.
Continue by horse cart for a visit to the big central market of Maymyo, passing many of the magnificent houses from the British colonial era.
Visit the local market.
After lunch drive through a magnificent landscape towards Mandalay.
Upon arrival in Mandalay check-in at your hotel. If time permits you take a first stroll through the former capital of Burma.
Overnight accommodation is in Mandalay
Day 13: MANDALAY - AMARAPURA - U BEIN BRIGDE - MANDALAY - FLIGHT TO BAGAN (B)
Founded by King Mindon in 1857, Mandalay served as Myanmar's capital until 1885 when, under British rule, the capital was moved to Yangon.
In the morning you drive to Amarapura. Visit the Mahagandayone Monastery, which is home to over 800 monks and one of the most prestigious monasteries in Myanmar.
Visit U-Bein Bridge. The 1.2km long U-Bein Bridge was originally built in 1851 and is entirely made of teak wood. It is considered to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world. By horse carriage you take a tour through the impressive ruins of Ava, which served as the capital of the Ava Kingdom from 1364 to 1527. In doing so you go past Nanmyint, the former city watchtower.
Continue to Shwe Nan Daw Kyaung, a magnificent wooden monastery dating back to 1879.
Transfer to the Airport and flight to Bagan.
Day 14: THE TEMPLES OF BAGAN
More than 2000 Temples and Pagodas can be found around Bagan, which makes it one of the most significant archaeological sites in south-east Asia.
Most of today’s magnificent brick-structures date back to the 11th and 12th centuries when Bagan served as capital for the powerful First Burmese Kingdom. It was under the reign of King Anawratha (1044-77) when Bagan started to flourish and became a major trade centre for the region. This is also the time when Theravada Buddhism became the state religion in Burma. The decline came when Bagan was sacked by the troops of Kublai Khan in 1287.
You visit some the most significant pagodas and temples of Bagan including Shwezigon Pagoda, built by King Anawrahta in the early 11th century as a religious shrine.
Visit Ku Byauk Gyi, a temple with superb murals of Jataka scenes and Htilominlo, the last Bamar style temple built in Bagan, with old murals and friezes.
Continue to the beautiful Ananda Temple with four standing Buddha images. Proceed to Bupaya Pagoda or Shwesandaw Pagoda to watch the sunset over the famous Ayeyarwaddy River.
Day 15: BAGAN - YANGON
Transfer to Nyaun U Airport and flight to Yangon. City tour of Yangon with its impressive colonial style buildings, the Chinatown area and the Indian quarter. You also pay a visit to the famous Scott Market (except Mondays when the Scott Market is closed).
In the evening you enjoy one of the highlights of this trip - the Shwedagon Pagoda. The golden Stupa of the Shwedagon Pagoda is the 'heart' of Buddhist Myanmar.
The Pagoda is believed to be 2,500 years old and the central stupa in surrounded by dozens of intricately decorated buildings and statues. There are always many Myanmar people praying and making offerings at Shwedagon, and it's a fascinating place to spend time watching the world go by.
Day 16: YANGON DEPARTURE
Transfer to the Yangon Airport or connecting program.