Myanmar was on top of my travel list and in January 2017 I finally managed to visit this beautiful country. I traveled with my brother and two other friends and we started our trip in Mandalay. The country is huge and there are a lot of places to explore, we focused on the main places in these 3 weeks. In this blog I want to give you an overview of our trip through Myanmar and in separate Blogs (in the links below) you can find more detailed descriptions about specific places and activities. At the end I will give a cost breakdown.
We skipped going to the beaches because we wanted to focus on the cultural sights and the country side and to be honest we had enough time on beaches before and after Myanmar (Yup luxury problems of long term travelers ;))
Note: In Myanmar two currencies are used: the USD & Burmese Kyat (MMK). The exchange rate in January 2017 was 1.400 MMK for 1 USD, but in shops and hotels they often give you an exchange rate of 1.000. So depending on the exchange rate they are giving you, it’s better to pay in USD or MMK. This is why you will find the prices in USD or MMK in my Blogs.
From the airport it took us around 1 hour to go to the city (fix prices for taxis, 4 USD each). As we only spent one day there we didn’t have enough time to see all the temples and sights. We got free bicycles from our hostel to go around the city. First we drove along the Irrawaddy River where the area seemed a bit poorer than the rest of Mandalay. We drove through narrow streets, passing small houses, stores and coffee shops, where people sit outside on small tables to have pastries and a coffee or tea together. There is a lot of life on the street, it seemed like people are doing everything outside their houses. All the locals started smiling and greeting us friendly as we came closer to them. Children ran behind our bikes, smiling, waving their hands and shouting a welcoming “Hello” at us. Then we drove more into the city center where we also passed the Grand Palace. Luckily we were there on a Saturday, because there is a weekend market. The market is very vibrant and loud and beside the fresh fruits and vegetables there is a lot of street food to buy. My brother bought a Longyi (Burmese traditional cloth) for 3 USD and the locals were delighted to show us how to wear it.
The air was dry and dusty and the city not that beautiful but the area around it is supposed to be very nice. My friends rented a scooter to drive around the rural side and to the Dee Doke Waterfall and enjoyed it a lot. A scooter (with fuel) for 24 hours is 10 USD.
Bagan - the city of Temples
We took a boat along the Irrawaddy River to get from Mandalay to Bagan. The boat took 15 hours and we passed villages, pagodas and different landscape sceneries along the river. In some parts the landscape was green and in other parts it was very dry, kind of a desert. The houses of the villages were mostly very basic and made of wood. As we took the cheapest boat, that locals are also using, we saw them transporting every kind of things and in the small ports their relatives where picking them up, helping them carrying their things to the village. Children were playing on the shore, excited about the boat and waving at us.
In Bagan we rented a e-scooter to get around and we could find everywhere these ancient temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins. Driving around made me feel like being in another time, discovering unexplored places. One of the top things to do in Bagan is watching amazing sunrises and sunsets. Early in the morning we went to a temple next to the Dhamma Ya Zi Ka Pagoda and were lucky to watch a wonderful sunrise with hot-air balloons flying in the sky.
The Shwe San Daw Pagoda is one of the few temples that you can climb up and we had a stunning view over Bagan from there. Being surrounded by all these beautiful historic buildings was a truly magical moment.
Mount Popa is an extinct volcano, around 50 km outside of Bagan. There is a stairway leading to the top of the mountain from where you have a great view over the surrounding green and mountainy area. We made a half-day trip to Mount Popa, as it is not far from Bagan.
Trekking from Kalaw to Inle lake
We made a trekking tour for 2 days from Kalaw to the Inle Lake to see the countryside of Myanmar. The hike was very beautiful and interesting because we passed villages, farms and friendly locals pursuing their daily life activities. And our tour guide explained a lot about the Burmese culture, costumes, nature and people. We stayed at a Monastery over night and on the next day we hiked from the early morning until noon and then took a boat over the Inle Lake to the town Nyaung Shwe.
Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake)
The Inle Lake is very large and there are many villages around it. Nyaung Shwe is the most famous one for tourists and it’s already more touristy then other places in Myanmar. The atmosphere is very laid-back and there are a couple of nice restaurants and bars to hang out. There is a market where you can buy warm food, fruits, vegetables, traditional cloths like the Longyi and beautiful souvenirs. We made a boat trip on the lake to see the local fishermenwith their famous uniqueone-leg rowing style and really enjoyed it. The boat drove through floating villages and stopped at a temple, a monastery and manufacturers of hand-made (sweet) cigars, lotus and cotton silk and silver jewelry.
Our next but quick stop was Bago, were we visited some monuments and pagodas but there was nothing impressive so we continue to the next town. The city was noisy, dirty and dusty and has nothing inviting or charming. We hired a Tuk Tuk driver which took us around the city and stopped at the main tourist attractions.
We took a train from Bago to Yangon, which gave us the chance to see the countryside and the poor and dirty area around the former capital. Yangon was our last stop and the first place where I had the feeling that the western lifestyle is slowly arriving. There are a lot of old, abandoned but charming buildings that let me daydream of how these buildings must have looked like when they were full of live in the past. There are lots of bustling markets, street kitchen and vendors selling books, betel nuts, fruits, vegetables and old souvenirs directly on the street. And it’s the first city where we found nightlife – the 19th street is the place to go for a couple of drinks.
The most famous sight in Yangon is the Shwedagon Pagoda, it’s huge and impressive and at sundown the golden colors look even more beautiful.
prices per person if not especially mentioned
Visa for 30 days: 50 USD Accommodation: around 10 USD per night (for a bed in a dorm or bed in double room) Food: 0,70 to 3 USD for a meal Alcohol: Beer 1,5 – 2,5 USD / 1-liter bottle of rum: 2 USD Entrance fee Bagan: 20 USD (no fees at temples!) Entrance fee Inle Province: 15 USD Trekking Kalaw – Inle: 35.000 MMK (2 days, 1 night)
Transportation: Boat Mandalay – Bagan: 18 USD Day Trip Bagan – Mt. Popa: 30.000 MMK for whole taxi Bus Bagan – Kalaw: 15 USD Bus Inle – Bago: 21 USD Train Bago – Yangon: 1 USD Rent for Scooters: around 8.000 MMK for 1 day
Myanmar is an amazingly beautiful country and has a lot of interesting places, ancient buildings and monuments to explore. The country gets more and more interesting for tourists, so if you want to go there do it soon before tourism and the western influence is rolling over the country. If you would like to learn more interesting things about Myanmar or get prepared for a trip to this beautiful country, read my blog What I learned on my Trip through Myanmar.