Today I would like to take you with me to Myanmar. The land of thousands of Pagodas, of friendly and helpful people, of simplicity and beauty and of smiling Monks integrated in the buzzling street commotion of Yangon and Mandalay.
One of my closest friends and an over-the-years-proved travel compagnon, Magda joined me during my long term stay in South East Asia and we decided to ‘conquer’ Myanmar together. It was an adventure. Not much planing. Decision taking on the go. Going with the flow. Some things didn’t work out but we had a lot of magic moments and a lot of fun. We used all of the possible means of transport. Train, bus, taxi, ebike, bicycle, boat, ferry and our own feet of course!
The initial idea was to cross Myanmar by train but we realised that’s going to be rather difficult if we only have 10 days. We knew we want to take the train at some point and we knew we should take the boat between Mandalay and Bagan. For the rest of the journey we decided to switch to the overnight bus – to gain time.
Obviously, Myanmar has much more to offer but here is what we did – as an inspiration for you guys. You might find nice tips for yourself in our journey. For simplicity I am writing it down in a bullet point format.
Bea’s and Magda’s little Myanmar adventure – the Outline
– Flight IN to Yangon – 2 days there
– Overnight bus to Kalaw (be aware, you will arrive at 4am NOT as the agency says at 7-8am, which means that your hotel/hostel might be closed!) – 1 night there
– Train to Inle Lake (train station is called ‘Shwe Nyaung’) – a MUST! Book ‘ordinary class’ – it’s an adventure! – 2 days there
– Overnight bus to Bagan (same as above on the arriving times, be prepared) – 2 nights there
– Boat to Mandalay (another MUST! Beautiful landscapes, Sunrise AND Sunise on the water !) – 2 nights there
– Flight OUT from Bagan
What we didn’t manage timewise is (as additional note/ for my next time and for you guys):
– The famous Gokteik Viaduct ! (north of Mandalay)
– Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo) Pagoda (north-east from Yangon)
– Untouched beaches in the South
The destinations on our Myanmar Tour
Yangon (stay downtown and walk around the street markets)
– We stayed at The Vibe Inn in Downtown Yangon. Ok, central, friendly staff.
– Had a lovely lunch at Shan Yoe Yar – traditional burmese cuisine (not cheap but worth it! Try: the clams, the fish and the papaya salad)
– Wandered around the buzzling little streets & street markets around downtown. Have your camera ready! Every eyeglimps in this lovely chaos is a photo motive!
– I-tea for snacks, lunch or bubble (try the mushroom ‘chips’ and the ‘Kim Pot’): chilled, cosy atmosphere, nice design
– Coffee time at Chinatown 125 Café (19th street)
– Monks in the streets – everywhere, impossible to miss it !
– Evening: sit down in one of the countless bars on the buzzling 19th street, enjoy a cold ‘Myanmar’ (local beer) and take in the colourful scenery. Be part of the (crazy) street life.
– Sunset at Shwedagon Pagoda !
Kalaw (dress properly! It’s cold up there!)
– Stayed at Richard’s Inn Hostel – basic, nice people, good location
– Sprouting Seeds Cafe and Bakery! – healthy food, yoga, nice garden, lovely people, organising cooking lessons and tours (vegan cafe meets yoga studio & local youth training center)
– Kalaw Viewpoint / Thein Taung Monastery (walk up there for sunset !!!)
Inle Lake (book a boat day tour on the lake!)
– Stayed in Nyaung Shwe (cute little village), at Grand Inle Hotel
(with free bicycles). Good service, nice breakfast, small pool
– Had an amazing dinner at Immana Live Dim Sum House !!!! Delicious, fresh, not expensive, friendly people, good wine (not easy to find in Asia at an affordable price)
– Also great: Sin Yaw Restaurant – delicious burmese food
– Fancy sushi? Nozomi Sushi Bar – fresh and yummy
– Absolute MUST: Boat trip to floating villages – ‘Full day Tour Inle Lake’ bookable in the hotel (18.000ks per Boat – max 5 pax. -> cheaper if you share the boat. At 4.000ks more you also get to stay during sunset on the lake! Awesome!). Amazing day on the water! Including the morning fishing of the Intha-Fishermen (famous for balancing on one leg!), floating gardens, villages, pagodas, monasteries. There are also stops at silver/silk/pottery/crafts etc. factories (Nan Pan Market). It’s a bit touristy but also fun (the locals are not pushy to sell). Have a fresh fish for lunch at one of the floating restaurants. Very emblematic scenery!
– We spent one day on bicycles, cycling along the lake (tip: drink enought fresh coconut along the way). Had yummy fresh fish for lunch on one of the pittoresque restaurants on Maing Thouk Wooden Bridge ! (lovely bridge with restaurants and bars)
– Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery – for sunset !
Bagan (rent an ebike and glide through the land of the thousands of pagodas)
– Stayed at Golden Rose Guest House in Nyaungu – north of Old Bagan. Basic but nice. Charming roof garden café, friendly people. There was even a place avilable to sleep when arrived to early in the night before our room was booked (see above – overnight bus). Just opposite was an ebike rental (convenient for a sunrise excursion at 4am)
– Sunrise on the hill (no name hill, but I have the location marked on the map, so feel free to ask me) – overlooking the rising air balloons! Great!
– San Thi Dar (between Old and New Bagan): Found this great and (super cheap) home made food place/ family business. We felt like eating with the family. Mum was cooking, dad and son were serving. The son is super cute, polite and has a great english. If you hear him saying ‘yes please’ every second sentence, you know you are at the right place;)
– E-bike rental – opposite of Golden Rose Hostel. Great experience (electric scooters not bicycles) !
– Nan Myint Tower – observation deck, nice for sunset but crowded (you can return on the same ticket during the whole day, therefore better to visit first during the day and then return for sunset)
– some restaurant ideas: Bibo Restaurant (Nyaung) – burgers, La Terrazza (Nyaung) – Italian, Weather Spoon’s (restaurant not UK pub ;)) – Nyaung: local and western cuisine, The Moon (Old Bagan): Vegetarian
– The main activity here is: Pagodas, Pagodas, Pagodas !!!!! (nice for sunset is the Bu Paya Pagoda – on the river)
*Note/ curiosity: Since many of the Temples are closed for public or you are not allowed to climb them to watch the sunset, there are a lot of locals offering to guide you (for money obviously) to a ‘special sunset place’. We didn’t take the deal, so not sure if it’s worth it or not. Just don’t be surprised if at around 5:30pm young men try to catch your attention. It’s the ‘sunset angels’.
Mandalay (nothing special, just walk around the city)
– Stayed at Grand Central Hotel – good standard and centrally located
– Sunset at Su Taung Pyae Pagoda on Mandalay Hill (ask the driver to bring you to the top BEFORE negotiating the price! It’s still a 30 min walk up from where our driver dropped us of and we missed the sunset by 5 min!)
– Worth visiting: Mahar Myat Muni Pagoda
– Good coffee at Nova Cafe. Chilled place, good to get connected. Digital nomads will feel a bit like at Starbucks.
– MingaLaBar: Burmese restaurant
– If you are tired of Asian food:
Bistro@82: European food. European prices. Very good quality food!
Central Park’s Pizza: Nice pasta, pizza & co.
General tips & tricks on Myanmar
– Great internet everywhere in the country. You can get a local SIM card straight after landing, at the airport there are stands with internet providers. You can’t miss it. A card for 2 weeks costs 3 USD!!!
– People are very friendly and helpful !
– It’s a safe country to travel, good for solo female travelers.
– Burmese curries are something between a Thai and an Indian Curry
– Don’t be afraid of the red teeth of the locals. Men and women love to chew betel nut. Result: Stained red teeth and mouth (‘vampire look’)
– The yellow paste on the faces of Burmese ladies and children is Thanka – a natural cosmetic (produced by grinding the bark of the thanaka tree on a flat, smooth stone with water), valued as a sunscreen and as a beauty product
– Overnight buses are comfortable but also exhausting (depending on your co-travelers you might not get much sleep). They drop you off at destination earlier as expected – in our case (twice!) in the middle of the night, were we struggled with not having our hotel room ready yet. Not optimal when you are tired and cold (in the mountains)!
– Train is FUN!
– Boats are FUN!
– You can buy train tickets at the train station. For the buses (and boat) we used one of the travel agencies on the streets in Yangon. Obviously they want to sell but they are not pushy. Our agent was very nice and VERY patient with us changing ideas and not liking his tea, his second tea, his coffee…(he was very determined to make us enjoy his hospitality LOL)
– Cash mainly! You can pay almost everywhere in Myanmar in USD. Be aware of the different exchange rates depending of the date of issue of the Dollar. Bring ‘new’ bills. It is also important to have bills in perfect condition: no folds, tears, stamps, stains or writing
– Be careful where you step! Streets are full of holes, cracks and dirt. Wires hanging loose or lying on the ground (if you see legs of a man sticking out of the ground, don’t get scared – road construction work is being done here)
To sum up:
As almost everywhere in South East Asia, the motto when traveling through Myanmar is: Be patient! Some things don’t work, don’t function or ‘no have’. Go with the flow, don’t get angry and be surprised by other things that do work unexpectedly. By the beauty of the sunsets and the friendliness of the people. Life in Myanmar is simple but people are happy and welcoming! Jump into your adventure and be happy yourself! Good travels! Enjoy my photo gallery below…
As always, I’m here for your questions.