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Trip Report Last Minute Burma, on a Budget

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My daughter just returned from two weeks in Burma, and I thought her notes might be useful to others. She is the same daughter who, a few years ago, made good use of her study abroad in Singapore, covering much of the region on weekend backpack trips, and later spent half a year traveling solo through Europe and Asia. I took her with me to India in June for a wedding, so I was rather miffed when she didn't invite me along on this trip.

;-) (only kidding...I think...

Her boyfriend was outside of Bangkok on a business trip, so she flew over to meet up with him in the middle of July. She had about 3 days to kick around Bangkok while he finished his work. She spent part of that time at Nira's hostel, and then they had a few days together at the Bangkok JW Marriott on his company's dime.

After his work was finished, they had two+ weeks to travel. They were hoping to go to Burma, but hadn't made any reservations as they were going to have to try for visas in person at the embassy in Bangkok.

One thing my daughter said was that anyone doing this should go online and check the latest rules before going to the embassy. They wanted a same day visa (as opposed to the regular 3-day process). To get this, they needed to have their air ticket to Burma purchased and in hand. They bought tickets to Yangon and back on Air Asia on Thursday afternoon, then went to the embassy early on Friday morning.

They arrived at the embassy at about 8 am. When it opened, they got their forms, then walked down the block to a copy shop that seems to exist soley for the Burmese visa crowd. They had sample forms with detailed instructions, and they can make the visa photos there. The staff know exactly what you need in the way of copies. They said the rules change every couple of months. Some of the changes involve things like which forms need the photos glued and which should be paper-clipped, so it saved them a lot of confusion!

After completing the packet, DD and BF went back to the embassy at about 9 am and waited in a short line to submit the passports and papers, along with the $30 fee for a same day visa. They were told to come back at 3:30 to pick them up.

She said the line was not long, and she didn't see anyone get turned away. It is low season in July, so this may not hold true at all times. She saw several men who looked to be agents. They had stacks of passports and the forms all ready.

They came back at their assigned time, waited a little while for their number to be called, and were given the passports with the visas. They flew to Yangon at 6 am the next morning on Air Asia.

When they arrived in Yangon, they were worried about having no air or hotel reservations, so went to "Good News Travel" an agency that was highly recommended in their Lonely Planet guide.

They were very impressed with this agency and the young man who seemed to be running it (William?) He helped them decide how to split their time between Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and and Inle Lake, and the order in which to fly to them without having to backtrack through Yangon. Apparently the planes fly the same circuit each day, so you want to go in that direction. They paid about $300 per person for the Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay- He Ho-Yangon flights.

They discussed hotels, but since these were all budget places, he gave them his phone and helped them call the hotels directly. (He said they'd get a better price that way). They were very happy with his service and recommendations. While there, they emailed Min Thu to see if he could be their guide in Bagan. Surprisingly he was available fro two days and his brother Jaw Shewe (SP?) for one day.

They tried to get a room at the Three Seasons, but it was full, so they stayed at the Ocean Pearl for their first night in Yangon. It was $25 per night, and "okay". They had a private room with a bath.

When they returned at the end of their two weeks, they stayed at Motherland 2. It was a bit far from the center of town, but had a good breakfast and free shuttle to the airport . They had a private room with a shred bath for $23.

In Bagan,They stayed at the Bagan Princess for $40/night. The room was "very comfy" and they had great breakfasts there.

Like others who have posted here, they loved Min Thu. He was very thoughtful, had lots of good info ("And now, I will tell you about..."), and drove his cart very carefully. At the end of each day, he'd give them little handwritten notes and sketches of the places they'd seen. On their last day, he took them to his village, and then to his parents home for tea. They just adored him.

His brother has a very nice car, so they used him to go to Mt Popa. This brother was more "tour guide" than sweet friend, but they also were very happy to go with him.

In Mandalay, they stayed at the Royal City Hotel for $25/night. It was simple, but nice in a good location with very good breakfasts.

From He Ho they went to Nuang Shwe (sp?) and stayed at the Mingalar Inn. They said the owner is really sweet, and they served wonderful breakfasts. The room nice and $23/night. There was no AC, but as it was not nearly so hot as the other cities, it wasn't an issue.

The Inn arranged a boat for their sightseeing. It cost 15,000 for the 7:30 am to 1 pm trip, but they actually were out till 4:30 and they weren't asked for any more money, though she said they tipped the guy extra.

They had a great time in all the places, and of course wished they had a lot more time to visit. The weather was very hot, and it would rain a bit each afternoon, but it was not miserable.

They liked the fact that they saw very few tourists at any of the temples, and the hotels all seemed happy for their business. They felt sure they could have easily just shown up with no reservations at any of the hotels and even at the airports, but for a first visit, they were happy to have taken care of that in Yangon.

They didn't buy alot. my daughter got a tee shirt from the Jumping cat monastery, a lotus fiber scarf, and a few other small items. BF bought his parents a nice piece of lacquerware.

Oh...Getting money is no longer a problem. All the money changers charge essentially the same amount now, 860-880 per to the dollar, and there are lots of them. The airport was slightly lower, as was the owner of a small shop in Mandalay (he said it was difficult for him to exchange dollars). Everyone still wants unblemished $100 bills.

Anyway, I hope this helps. Since I have been trying to get to Burma for years, I intend to use some of the info myself...soon!

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