Maybe we still cannot show this beautiful country on the maps. Before writing down my Myanmar Travel Guide and bring you to this journey, I would like you to see the country on the map. Now, you can see that it is not that far from the countries we know. Well, then why don’t we hear more about Myanmar? The first and main reason is it was ruled by military junta until 2012. Or there is still civil war in some placess… Yes, after 50 years junta, this mysterious country just opened his doors to tourists 8 years ago. So, probably Myanmar (also known Burma) doesn’t sound familiar at all.
That’s why this undiscovered, ‘virgin’ Southeast Asia County is so attractive. Myanmar… The country that made me say ‘Well, I’m in a different place now’ when I first stepped into the street. The smell of it, the cultural make-up, traditions… Then, now you can leave yourself to me as I did to Myanmar, and enjoy your ride. But don’t forget to fasten your seatbelts!
And Journey to the Unknown Begins! Gonca’s Myanmar Travel Guide
Everything is unique in Burma. My 11th month on my way and it’s the 6th destination in Asia. So I am tired and don’t know what to do. The only thing I know is I am yearning for seeing Bagan. Also, it is the only thing I know about Myanmar, the ancient city which is surrounded by thousands of pagodas… Somehow, Myanmar sounds a bit freaking in the first place. It is like a place that I cannot go on my own. Maybe it’s because the doors were opened to tourists in 2010 after military junta, or it is still occupied by civil war… But Bagan… Bagan is ‘once in a lifetime’ thing.
Another thing I’m yearning for is Vipassana Meditation Course that I searched for available space for so long. Actually I had an intention to take it in Thailand on September. However, since during the course there is complete silence, no phones, no notebooks and no body language even, I cannot communicate with my brother who expects his son’s delivery within those days. So it is gonna happen in Myanmar. But, I don’t know at that time that Burma is the heart of Vipassana, it is just an incredible coincidence. Yet, whatever I do to catch the delivery, it happened again when I was taking the course:)
Well because of those reasons, my time here to explore shortens. In my case, I have just 8 days before the course and I will come back to Yangon, where I start my journey. Again if you open the map you’ll see it’s a long long way!
Well it’s a big surprise that before I just expect to see Bagan, in 8 days, I spend 3 nights and 1 daytime at the buses and I reach not only Bagan, also Mandalay and Inle Lake and come back to the place I start. After this trip, I have no regrets. Now let’s check one by one Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake travel guides:
Yangon; the first and the last stop
Yangon is the place that I stay more but explore less. Cause it’s a city, and I don’t like cities at all. Traffic jam, dirty streets and it’s rainy all the time! But I pick this place as a center to take my flights and take my vipassana course. There are street food, western style cafes and pubs even. This place is where expats live. So it’s developed. A Turkish friend says ‘You should have seen this city 5 years ago; no electricity at nights, like a horror movie. Now, it’s almost like Paris.’. But no, don’t expect a city like Paris.
There is a pagoda in the city center that make you fascinated. It attracts you to itself. Shwedagon… The place I stay, facing here, I’m amazed! Because it was a very hard and crazy trip from Sri Lanka to Myanmar for me (night flight to Kuala Lumpur+ 12 hours in Kuala Lumpur to explore, barely sleeping+ taking another flight to Yangon), I can get up at almost 4 pm and go out. The idea is eating only. But it’s raining cats and dogs. Monsoon is not something you can underestimate. Then Shwedagon attracts me and I am going there somehow. And I pay 8000 Kyats, borrow an umbrella (it’s a kind of tradition in Myanmar) and get lost inside. I don’t know how many pagodas here.
Yangon is a developing city. So Uber works here. For a normal taxi drive, they charge a lot, so bargain hard! The streets of Chinatown is fun, walking around Kandawgyi Lake is great. But according to me, there is no need to spend much time here. After staying 2 day-1 night here, I take the night bus to Bagan (the tickets are 13-17K Kyats, and when you reach Bagan don’t pay 10K Kyats for taxi, it takes just 6-8 Kyats). VIP buses are so comfortable here. But they are extremely cold, so be prepared.
If you want to know more about Yangon, check the link.
Bagan, the heart of Myanmar!
Bagan, oh Bagan!!!
After visiting Yangon, Bagan makes me fall in love with its magical atmosphere. Here is a little history of the city. Bagan, formerly known as Pagan, is a city that has 2200 pagodas left from more than 10 thousand which were built during 9th-13th centuries by Pagan Kingdom. It splits into two as Old and New Pagan. Everyone can find a decent place to stay according to their budget. I stay at Ostello Bello Hostel in New Pagan. It is a hostel chain throughout the county. However, the hostel prices are a bit expensive in Myanmar. It starts from 10USD at night.
The entrance of Old Pagan is 25K Kyat, almost 18USD. But I count myself as lucky that I spend 2 days without a ticket:) Since I don’t prefer to visit popular pagodas, nobody asks me. So if you go there out season and don’t visit the popular pagodas, there is a possibility.
In Old Bagan, sunrise and sunset are major. I spend 2 days waking up early in the morning to catch the sunrise and then resting, then going out for sunset. I witness on my own to the show of sun at the little pagodas that the hostel guys recommend. That’s why Bagan, the place that I first try to ride a scooter (e-bike), is very special for me. This time, I don’t wanna depend on anybody else. And I go totally according to my feelings and the vibes of the city. I can say; this is the best thing I have ever had! Yes, in this city it is not allowed for tourists to ride scooters, so there are electric bikes and it can be rented for 5K Kyats per day.
So the time is to leave books and notebooks aside, finding a neat place to stay, renting an e-bike and enjoying Old Bagan!
I see sunrise at pagoda number 1185, for sunset I go to a viewpoint nearby Sulamani Pahto. She Leik Too is one of the bests, I think it’s good for both sunrise and sunset, since it has a 360 panoramic view. But here you can caught by the ticket agents. If you already buy a ticket, then enjoy the roof of Shwe Leik Too!
I have good recommendations for where to eat in New Bagan; Royal Cafewith Indian Cuisine, Indian Restaurant which has a crazy Eminem fan owner and cook is so good (reserve before going), Be Kind To Animals The Moon Cafe has good vegetarian options and very nice atmosphere.
Mandalay; city of cities
After Bagan, I take myself to Mandalay. It’s just 5 hours from Bagan to Mandalay by bus. I prefer one with door-to-door service (12K Kyats). And I rest at Downtown Mandalay. It is again a very nice hostel that I can recommend.
I don’t need to think of what to do here at all. After resting the first day, I arrange a tour with the help of hostel guys. Cause I need to leave the other day, I just have 1 full day here.
In brief, I merge a one day tour consisting 3 ancient cities and a half day tour to the city Mingun. It is gonna cost 40K Kyats by Moto-tour. Luckily, the next morning I meet a Taiwanese family of four and join them. Now it costs 16K Kyats:)
One of the 3 ancient cities is not that good, but Mingun is a must!
We start the tour watching the breakfast ceremony at Mahagandayon Monastery. It’s really impressive. The monks including kid ones, take their breakfast in order with silence. It’s very touching that while it’s a touristic attraction for us, it’s their dailt routine. When I capture cultural things like this, I always feel this way. And Pa Hto Taw Gyi is a temple that built on a giant rock, stunning! Worth to see. Oohmin Thoonesel Pagoda is also stuck in mind. But my favorite one ise Mya Thein Dan Pagoda at Mingun, with it’s magnificient, extremely white way. And yet there is another reason why I take the tour is capturing sunset on U-Bein Bridge. U-Bein bridge is the longest and the eldest wooden bridge with its 1.2 length. At this time of the year (in August) the sun is not setting aside of the bridge. Therefore, it’s not possible to see the view as in the postcards. But again, the result is amazing!
I am going to sleep early, as I achieve a lot in one day! The next day will pass on the night bus again. But before I leave Mandalay, I need to see 1-2 more spots. So what I do to see those spots? As a very experienced traveler, I don’t plan my day. Just letting go and chilling my day. Then I decide to take a moto-taxi to the bus station, but a couple of hourse before. So that, I can visit those spots. So I tell the driver to take me to the Shwenandaw Monastery, which was made of teakwood. There are more of course. But after seeing thousands of pagodas, I don’t wanna see more. Except Shwenandaw. I take the ticket from one of the members of the Taiwanese family, cause the ticket is 10K Kyats.
Does this ticket work? Nope! Cause it’s stamped already at that place. But I’m again lucky that my driver tells the agent and they let me go in:) After photo-bombing a Spanish groups photo, I want them to take my photo too. Then, for the sunset I head to Mandalay Hill. I’m not that lucky as the clouds are covering the horizon. There is no need to be sad, since I have witnessed many beautiful sunrises and sunsets during my 11 months trip already.
And again I’m in the night bus. I am with the non English speaker Burmese people including the host and the driver. But I know they will drop me off in the morning. With the excitement for Inle Lake, I am going to sleep on my seat.
Inle Lake; Welcome to the country side
After a tiring trip in Mandalay, I’m in the night bus again. I am with the non English speaker Burmese people including the host and the driver. But I know they will drop me off in the morning. With the excitement for Inle Lake, I am going to sleep on my seat.
And I am woke up with a poke at 4.30am in the morning. I’m the only one getting off the bus there. While I am still not awake, don’t know where I am, I am surrounded by 7-8 Burmese guy asking me where I’m going. There is a circle around me by human beings. This time I know how much I need to pay so I bargain and take 11 km in a very dark and wooded road with a guy on top of a bike. It’s 3K Kyats for the ride and plus 12K Kyats for the national park entrance. As you see, there is no trouble taking a bus with the people no language in common and also in the middle of the night taking a Moto-taxi. The Burmese people are so reliable. And finally, I’m at Ostello Bello again! AS soon as I check-in, I write down my name for one of the tours on the board and go to rooftop to take some nap, cause they have clean beds for the early birds and for the ones who are waiting for the buses.
Inle Lake is more than beautiful. Even they take you to the more touristic spots with classical boat tour, it’s gorgeous. The tour takes 6 hours long. And the scenes are so unfamiliar. I don’t mind whether I’m tired or sleepy in this kind of circumstances.
So imagine a village cited on the lake. They take their showers in the lake, they hunt their main food; fish from the lake and they grow their vegetables the lands that they set up on the lake. The reality for the people who live there is to go to the shop by boats. We stop by at some workshops that they spin from lotus flowers, long-jee facturing, producing Burmese tobacco and cigar, producing hand-made Burmese umbreallas and so on… Everything aside, the floating market and Kayan Women seem attractive to me.
Kayan Women are from a Tibetan-Burma ethnic origin and also known as Giraffe Women. They start at the very young age to lengthen their neck with big rings which are increasing as they get older. The rings are extremely heavy. Together with the reason why they do this is not known, there are some rumours. Some says that it’s for protection from the wild animals, some says not seeming sexy… If you have a chance to talk one of them, please tell me. You can see the village in Kayah Region which is located close to Thailand border. And also there are some in Pai region, in Thailand. They are not happy to be captured, as you see. Though life…
And also there are fishermen of Inle Lake whom are very famous. With the unusual technique, while they paddle with one leg, they also handle the huge fishing nets in one hand. Nowadays, it seems like it’s just a tourist attraction. They only pose when a tour boat comes towards them.
So, besides these boat tours there are some little hike to Kalaw with one, 2 or 3 days options. Since I don’t have enough time, I spend just one and a half day here and go back to Yangon to take my course.
More about Myanmar
- Spending time in Pyin O Lwin in the nature after Mandalay
- Taking a trekking tour in Hsipaw
- Taking another trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake for 2-3 days
- At Kyaikto Golden Rock can be seen
In brief, Myanmar is a country worth to visit, see and get inspired of in so many ways. Yes the streets smell really bad beacuse of fish pastry, and yes they comfortably burp and fart in public places, and places smell mosty, and the guys chew betel nut all the time and their teeth look really bad… But, yeah despite everything, it’ AMAZING! It’s the country the budism wasn’t born but it exists. You can easily notice that 1/3 of people are either monk or nuns. Cause Burmese people have to experience being a monk or nun twice during their lifetime, one is before the age of 7, another one is after 20 years old.
And there is another weird thing in Myanmar that some of the wheels of the cars are on the right, some of them are on the left. And the traffic goes from the right. So it’s something very confusing.
I have seen many budist countries, but Myanmar is very unique. People are so pure and shy. They don’t care about physical appearances; they wear a powder on their faces from tanaka tree to protect from sun, even though they stay inside:) I hope their purity doesn’t change with the affect of tourism…
So I’m closing my post with some information below. If you wanna go Myanmar, you can always contact with me!
· Best Season: November to February.
· Curreny: Kyat (1000 Kyat= 0.73USD)
· Visa can be received via internet. Visa fee is 50USD. Within 2 days you receive the verification mail. If you apply from the embassy, the fee is just 35USD.
· There is no problem to draw cash, since there is enough ATM everywhere.
· Food is a bit spicy, but not bothering.
While I’m closing my Mynamar Travel Guide, I announce that my Vipassana Meditation Course experience post will be available soon.
With so much love!
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And to review another Myanmar post, check digitaltravelguru’s guide!