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Trip Report Myanmar Report - 12 day trip

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My husband and I just returned from a 12 day trip to Myanmar. I am going to divide this report into topics instead of a daily report because I think this might be most helpful to those planning on visiting this wonderful country.

VISA:
We had our travel agent (Santa Maria - SM) get our visas for us. I was living in Hanoi and my husband was in the US. It would have been somewhat of a hassle to coordinate things, and the price Santa Maria quoted ($40 visa service + $30 for visa) to get the visa seemed reasonable. And---it was really fortunate that we did this because of a huge problem I encountered with my Vietnam "multi-entry" visa. More about that later.

SM sent us some cryptic paperwork several days before we departed Hanoi. I was concerned because I knew that Vietnam Airlines would want to see our Myanmar Visa's before they issued boarding passes. Well....the paperwork did cause much head scratching and walking our passports and the paperwork around from agent to agent at the check in counter. But finally they all agreed that things were in order and we were issued our boarding passes.

MAJOR THING TO REMEMBER! I had read Bob's posting several days earlier in the forum about not having the credit card he used when booking his tickets. So I made sure I had that card---and YES...thank you Bob! They asked for the card and once they checked it, we were good-to-go!

AIRLINE:
We are living in Hanoi right now and I was able to snag a GREAT online fare for a non-stop flight from Hanoi to Yangon. I paid $200 for each ticket and this included ALL taxes--including entry and exit fees from Myanmar. We had saved two crisp $10 bill for our exit fees but learned that it was included in our ticket price. I had been watching the fares from the US and they were running about $450 each on Travelocity and Expedia. So two tickets for $400--and non-stop was pretty amazing. I found the good price tickets on the Vietnam Airlines website. Once I registered, it was pretty easy to book and pay using a credit card. I wanted to pay using Vietnam Dong by going to their travel agency in Hanoi...but I called to check and learned that the fare was only valid if I book online and used a credit card. If you do this...remember to have that credit card with you when you check in.

The flight left on time...and was uneventful! They served dinner....and I usually recommend you pass on eating Vietnam Airlines food. But I was hungry and ate part of my beef noodle dish. Never...never...never take the dim sum dish! It is totally disgusting. We arrived on time and passed through immigration with no problems.

TRAVEL AGENCY: Santa Maria
We booked with Santa Maria because of the great reviews on this forum. We were very happy with their quick response to my inquires and also to my requests for changes in our schedule. Our contact person was Zaw and he met us at the airport when we arrived. We were the only people on our plane that picked up our visa at immigration. Immigration had everything ready--stuck our visas into the passports and we zipped through quickly.

Zaw met us and helped us with baggage. As we were waiting for the car, I mentioned to him that I had a HUGE problem that I needed his help to solve. What I discovered while filling our our arrival cards on our flight to Yangon was that my Vietnam visa was SINGLE ENTRY...not the multiple entry visa I had applied and paid for! I was pissed....and angry. Angry that the Vietnam Embassy in Washington D.C. screwed up and pissed that I had not noticed this earlier. So there I was.....leaving Vietnam with no visa for re-entry. I knew that the airline would not let me board our return flight without a valid visa. Oh sh*%. Needless to say, I was a bit upset. But I calmly explained this huge problem to Zaw. He listened....and was quiet. The car arrived and off we went to our hotel.

When we arrived at the hotel Zaw said that he would do some online checking to see what the Vietnam Consulate required for a single entry visa. He told me "not to worry". Yeah...right!

Well....the next morning Zaw called when we arrived at our hotel in Bagan. He said he had everything worked out. Since we had SM obtain our Myanmar visa, he had a scanned copy of my passport. He sent someone over to the consulate to complete the paperwork. So theoretically, my new single entry visa would be ready for pick up when we returned to Yangon in 10 days. And he was correct--but things were not that easy. The day we returned and were to pick up the visa was an Islamic holiday and the consulate was closed. But SM was able to arrange for them to open up for me. SM sent their business manager with me for the morning pickup. We arrived on time...hung around for about 30 minutes and when the lady arrived, learned that the man was not there to sign the visa. So we had to return. We left and did some sightseeing and returned about 3 hours later to pick up the visa. The business manager, driver and our guide were with us the whole time. Cost to me for this service--$15! So......we were very, very happy to have used Santa Maria for our tour. They really were great in helping us work out the details on how to get a new Vietnam visa for me.

SM Guides: some excellent...some not so good!
SM provided all pick ups at airports, drivers and guides for our entire trip. The pickup at all airports was perfect! We were totally pleased at how well they handled the logistics. The drivers were very good....the cars they used were mostly ok. The car we used in Bagan needed to have its shocks replaced so we really bounced around for the three days. Other vehicles were fine.

SM contracts with individual guides for services. Our first stop was Bagan and the guide we had was totally, totally amazing. Wow...we were so impressed with his love for this country. His knowledge about the area was excellent. His English was perfect and he walked, climbed and trekked with us everywhere. We give him an A+

Mandalay - We went from a great guide to a really, really lousy guide at our next stop. I have nothing good to say about this woman. She did not love her job like our previous guide. She was more interested in impressing her friends at our stops--than with helping us. She would not climb...walk or do anything that required effort. Basically she was lazy.... She shopped and ate at every stop we made. She told us to go off to see the pagoda while she sat and chatted with her friend at the market stall. One afternoon we were waiting for the sun to set so we could get some photos at the famous bridge near Mandalay and she had us sit in a silk shop for an hour waiting for the sun to set. I was pissed....and we had a little shouting match. She just sat down. I knew that this was our last day with her, so I just let it go........ but I thought of Dogster and his guide experiences. She was a real "case" and SM...if you are reading this--DO NOT use her again! She gets a D grade. She did take us places....but beyond that, nothing of value!

Inle Lake Area:
Again--a great guide! This fellow was with us for three days and did an excellent job. His English was good and he knew the area well. He helped us buy school supplies in the market to give to a rural school we would visit on a trek. He took us to a friends house in one of the floating villages. What a treat! He wanted us to leave early one morning so we could see the beautiful water lilies before they "closed up" for the day. He did small things that made our trip so enjoyable. One day I wanted to get pictures of the fisherman so he had our boat approach a group of guys who were fishing. I wanted to see what they had caught. We approached and talked to them...and saw their catch. He asked if we wanted to buy a fish for lunch!~ Wow...yes! We bought the biggest fish they had for 1500 Kyat and then dropped it off at a floating restaurant so they could cook it for lunch. It was our best meal in Myanmar. He also knew that we were not happy with the price of food in the more tourist oriented restaurants. So he took us to local places where our total meal was the price of one beer in the high end hotels. And the food was much, much better! Great curries...noodles...rice and vegetable dishes! The places were always very clean. He earned an A for his guide services

Yangon
Our guide was very, very nice! We really liked him...but were puzzled because his English was not good. He explained that he speaks fluent German, not English--so I wondered why SM hired him as our guide. But even though he struggled with language....he really did a good job. We were a bit tired from our constant travel...so quiet and no talking was somewhat welcomed at the end of our trip. He was able to communicate with us...but it wasn't fluent like our other guides. But what a likeable guy! So I give him a grade of B- as a guide.

So overall Santa Maria was a good agency. We did wire our deposit to Thailand before our trip and then paid the rest in cash upon arrival. They had all our paperwork, tickets and logistics worked out perfectly. Other than one major problem with one guide--they were really good and I would use them again.

So....stay tuned for next posting. Hotels - money - what not to forget to bring - food!

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    Great start to your report. It sounds like Santa Maria pulled a miracle with your VN visa!!

    I'm sorry that your guides weren't all as good as your guide in Bagan. I think getting guides through an agency is always potluck. I remember craig reported a fabulous guide and a guide that made both he and Jeane exasperated.

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    Yes, please post the names, especially the lady in Mandalay. I think you would be doing SM a service if you reported her lack of service to them. Thanks for posting. Looking forward to the next installment.

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    I don't even recall the name of the woman guide we had in Mandalay.

    The Excellent guide in Bagan was called Min MIn
    His full name is Aung Min Do and his email is:
    pyawvwethar1@gmail.com

    Our guide in Inle Lake was called Ko Ko Zaw and his email address is:
    kokoinleguide@gmail.com

    Both of these fellows were excellent and are independent guides who work for Santa Maria in addition to other companies. I think that you can email either of them if you want a good guide for several days.

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    PART II – MYANMAR HOTELS

    Our needs are pretty basic when traveling and we find that 3* hotels usually meet our needs and this is what I requested when I booked with Santa Maria. Below is a list of the hotels we stayed in and my comments about each hotel and a bit about each area.

    Yangon: Summit Park View Hotel 3* - Deluxe Room with Pagoda View
    We arrived on a late night flight from Hanoi and then left at 5am the next morning for Bagan. We originally were going to spend a couple of nights in Yangon at the beginning of our trip, but opted to leave it to the end of our stay. This worked well for us because we were able to get our last minute shopping done in the Yangon markets and not have to haul lots of stuff around during our trip.

    The Summit Park View is a pretty standard business class type of hotel. The rooms were clean and medium sized. The bathrooms were ok...nothing fancy--but all the essentials were there! Hot shower with plenty of water; shampoo....soap and everything we would need. Our room both nights overlooked Shwedagon Pagoda! We could lie in bed and see the beautiful Pagoda in the distance. The hotel was within walking distance of this marvelous place and one night we wanted to stay late so we ate dinner at a restaurant nearby, returned to the Pagoda and then walked back to the hotel.

    We had a "to go" box breakfast the first time we stayed here. It contained a few rolls and some fruit. It was ok--not memorable, but did give us enough food to survive until lunch. The large box of donuts on the airplane both helped to curb my hunger and also increase the size of my hips! The second time we stayed at this hotel we ate breakfast at their buffet which was included in the price of the room. It was pretty good--eggs, fruit and all the standard breakfast bar foods.

    They give you a free drink coupon for the bar when you arrive, so the first time we stayed, we went to the bar -- coupon was basically a fruit drink in a small wine glass. The bar was small and smoky. We didn't stay long and it wasn't worth the trip downstairs.

    I did use the internet twice while there. The speed was passable and I was able to send and receive email. I think it cost $1.50 for about 30 minutes.

    BAGAN: Bagan Thande Hotel (Riverside) 3*
    Wow...this was a wonderful hotel! The rooms are small bungalows that are very comfortable and quiet. I slept really, really well here. The rooms are large with an attached bathroom. The hotel has a large swimming pool that was really nice. I swam most afternoons. The dining area for the hotel is located right on the Ayeyarwady River. The view is spectacular both in the mornings and at sunset. The grounds of this hotel are beautiful! We stayed for three nights and it was the best "sleep" I had on the trip. Again, very, very quiet! The breakfasts were excellent. Eggs any way you want them; plenty of fruit and bakery items. Coffee also was pretty decent!

    We did not eat dinner or lunch at the hotel because we thought the prices were high. The hotel is located in Old Bagan....so outside the hotel--up the road about a kilometer or so were several good medium priced restaurants. We took a horse cart (1000 kyat each way) and usually the driver waited for us while we ate dinner and then took us home again. The restaurants are listed in the Lonely Planet guide. I used the internet one time and it was functional, but very slow. They did have wireless--but I could not get it to work on my iTouch....basically if you want internet in Bagan be patient and bring a book to read while things download.

    Mandalay: Mandalay Hill Resort: 4* Deluxe Hill View
    Both my husband and I felt a bit "out of place" at this hotel. It really was a beautiful hotel with gorgeous large rooms. The bathrooms were nice with lots of marble—but our sink leaked badly. Other than that minor complaint, we really liked the hotel. I mentioned that we felt a bit out of place. This was primarily because of dress of the other people staying there and the price of food. Many tour groups were using the hotel and they all seemed like they were outfitted for some glamour resort! All the women were wearing high heels, fancy dresses and lots of gold around their necks! I heard lots of Russian..so I think most of the people were from this part of the world. The scene around the fantastic pool made me --in my speedo bathing suit --seem a bit out of character. I guess it would have been worse if I wore a minimal two-piece swim suit like most of the women!!! That sight would have driven everyone out of the pool area! But....with that said, we enjoyed the beautiful hotel and its grounds.

    We did not enjoy the cost of food here. Prices seemed very, very high. Beer was $5-6 a bottle. Simple meals were not found on the restaurant menus and of course, we did not want to spend a great deal of money on food. One night we ate in the bar! Wow…what a beautiful area that is! We enjoyed a beer and an appetizer for our dinner which "only" cost $20! The next evening we had our guide drop us at a Ko's Kitchen - a Thai restaurant located 2-3 K from the hotel. The food there was very good...spicy! We took a "blue taxi" back to the hotel after dinner. Prices were much more reasonable and fit our budget.


    Dream Villa Hotel Kalaw, 2*
    Vietnam Airlines changed their schedule and cancelled their Sunday night flight from Yangon to Hanoi. So darn--! We had to add an extra day to our trip. : )
    We decided to add a night at Kalaw and include a day trek in our trip. I am glad we did this because the trek was pretty nice and we enjoyed tromping around the hills and visiting some of the minority villages in the area.
    Santa Maria gave us the choice of staying in town or at another hotel in the hills surrounding Kalaw. We decided that it would be nice to be in town....so we ended up at the Dream Villa Hotel. This is a very basic --but clean hotel in the city. In fact, I think it probably was one of the nicest hotels in the area. The room was small...and over looked a monastery. So we heard the morning call to prayers at 4am...but it was rather nice to wake to the bonging...and then slide back to sleep to the chanting of the monks. The bathroom was fine—a bit of mold, but nothing terrible. The shower was just a sprayer in the bathtub....but it worked fine. We returned from our trek absolutely filthy....it had rained and we were mud from the knees down! The hotel took our shoes--and cleaned them for us. I think they were trying to avoid having us track tons of red sticky mud throughout their clean hallways! But the water was HOT...and we both got cleaned up and then were picked up by our guide and driver and driven two blocks to a local restaurant. I laugh because our guide and driver were staying in town and so we felt like royalty because they parked outside the hotel, restaurant and internet cafe while we got cleaned up, ate and did email! These things were all within about a 4 block area...but I think they felt responsible for us and watched over us!
    A few words about Kalaw! This is basically a backpacker's town. The hotels are small and low cost. It is filled with many western type of restaurants and other backpacker type of amenities. It was not an upscale place at all....but we liked it! Our guide took us to a wonderful local restaurant where we tried all types of local food. Shan noodles....fish curries...great chicken dishes and lots of interesting vegetables.
    Kalaw is also home to a large training camp for Myanmar Army Generals. You see their fancy cars and military green vehicles all over town. One afternoon we walked into a local restaurant and saw a huge table of “the generals” eating lunch. Outside the restaurant were parked a huge number of “fancy” cars. I didn’t think much of this at the time, but it was evident that the restaurant staff was a bit nervous about all the military eating there. We were taken upstairs to a nicer section of the restaurant. Besides us, there was a large table of about 10 Myanmar women having what I thought was a party of some type. These women were dressed like business women from an average large Asian city. They wore classy outfits with nice purses, jewelry and other beautiful touches to their outfits. I thought…”Wow, how nice….women gathering for a nice business lunch. Several carried packages, so I thought maybe they were celebrating someone’s birthday. The restaurant staff was serving them large amounts of food. My husband and I sat…and sat…and sat. No food..no nothing. Our guide came upstairs to check on us and was surprised we had not eaten.
    Well…..interesting what we learned later on while in the mountains on our trek. The guide told us that these were “Fun wives” not local business women as I thought. Thus the restaurant staff was a bit stressed out at having so many important people eating there. We were minor players in this highly charged atmosphere. I looked at our guide and said “huh?” in response to his fun wife comment. He explained that the army generals spend six months in Kalaw at the military training camp. The women acted as wives for the generals while they were in town. I gave him a funny look…and he said that they were not prostitutes, but rather women who “took care” of the generals. They cooked, cleaned and …..um…well, took care of their needs while in camp. I laughed and said I needed a “fun husband”…which my husband didn’t think was too funny! I found it interesting that we were told this information in the wilderness – away from the many ears that seem to be around in Kalaw.
    Inle Lake: Paradise Inle Resort 3*-/Superior Room
    This was a really nice 3 star hotel. My husband and I snagged a bungalow in the prime location at the front entrance of the resort. We could sit on our porch, drink a beer that we brought with us….and watch the sun sink over the distant mountains. We loved the hotel. As others have mentioned on this forum, if you stay out on the lake, you are locked into eating at their restaurant. We knew this and knew things would be expensive. But, we bought beer and wine before we boarded the boat to the water-based hotel and thus were able to dodge some of the expensive prices.

    The hotel bungalows were very large and beautiful. The bathrooms were huge with a big tub, solar water heater providing plenty of hot water. But as we found in other hotels in Myanmar….it takes a long time for the hot water to get to the shower head!

    The room had many chairs and a seating area. It also had a wonderful balcony outside where we would sit in the evenings and watch the local fisherman dance by on their boats. Our location was a bit noisy in the mornings because of boats coming and going. But since there is nothing to do in the evenings, we would be asleep by 9pm and typically up by 5:30am so the boats didn’t bother us.

    If we were to do this trip again, I think we might stay on the lake for several nights and then move into town for our last night. It would have been nice to be able to walk around and get a bit of diversity in food selections.

    The hotel did provide a very nice breakfast. The dinners were pretty expensive but we avoided the high prices by ordering a big dish of noodles, a grilled fish and a vegetable. Food was good and we were happy. The crazy thing about food prices was that some of the dishes were reasonable. But they charged 2000 kyat for a simple serving of rice. So for two people, they wanted 4000 kyat or about $5 just for rice. That is crazy since most other locations were asking 500 kyat for a serving of rice. If you add two major dishes, a vegetable and tack on a few beers, your simple dinner for two will run about $50. So as I said in my previous post—be sure to take enough money! We are living in Vietnam and I think we assumed that the food prices would be similar in Myanmar. How wrong we were!

    After Inle Lake we flew back to Yangon for our final two days of the trip. We enjoyed all the locations we visited but if limited on time, we thought that Mandalay could easily be bypassed in favor of other locations. It is a big city and has some interesting sights—but we really love the countryside and more rural areas. Add the bad tour guide we had to this mix and we really were not taken by Mandalay.

    Next installment: Airlines and airports; Must take items; barefoot temples!

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    Our guide in Bagan was provided by Santa Maria--and he was excellent. I have listed his name above in another post. I wanted to use the horsecart and driver suggested on this forum, but because we contracted for a package deal with SM, we had to use their guide...which was fine because his skill in English and knowledge of the area was wonderful.

    Our guide at Inle was in addition to the boatman. He also was contracted through SM and like the Bagan guide, excellent! The boatman did not speak English and so it was nice to have someone to show us around. We did two full days on the Lake and then a third day going to the far south side of the lake as was suggested on this forum. The last day was wonderful....we thought the boat ride there--through the narrow-grass filled byways of the river --through the several villages, etc...was the best part of that day!

    SM did not provide a guide the last day because we were required to hire a Pao guide. But our SM guide was a bit worried that the Pao guide might not speak English well. So he arranged for his friends 18 year old daughter to go with us. She has completed her tourist courses - but not yet taken the exam to be fully licensed. She came at no cost because she needed "practice". She was a real delight and between her, the Pao guide and the two boatman, we had a fun-filled day!

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    LAST ENTRY: Airlines and airports; Must take items; barefoot temples!

    Yangon Airlines: Santa Maria booked all our flights on Yangon Airlines. We were totally amazed that all our flights were on time with no problems! I expected delays but none! We found Yangon Airport modern and really clean and nice. The immigration people are a bit stern when you enter the country and reminded me of the TSA people in the US. I suggest you don’t fool around, make jokes or do anything that might raise their interest in you. You will go through security several times for each airport—but both my husband and I thought the security check was somewhat of a joke in most places.

    All the airplanes we took were standard propeller style planes. You will either walk or be bussed to the airplane and climb up the small steps to the cabin. One thing that really urked us was that people were taking their large carry-on baggage onto the plane instead of checking them. I understand why people do this…..but the airplanes are TINY and the carry on storage space is even smaller. Regular carry on suitcases won’t fit in the overhead bins. So if you take on your suitcase, you will block up the aisles….cause things to be delayed and in the end they will take your bag anyway and put it in the luggage area. So---just check it. We didn’t have any problems with lost luggage. And most of the time you will be able to see the luggage most of the time anyway.

    The airports at Bagan and HeHo were small, old and a bit “worn” around the edges. The bathrooms were pretty clean and if you are “lucky”, ladies will hand you toilet paper when you enter and put soap on your hands and wipe them dry when you are ready to leave. Of course they would like a small tip for doing this and I tried to have some small (200 Kyat) bills available to use. These people are so very poor that it did not bother me to tip this way.

    Food at the airports was basic. Freeze dried noodles and instant coffee. I suggest you eat beforehand or bring something from your hotel. NOTE! HeHo airport had honest-to goodness real coffee! They ground the beans…and could make a very passable latte, or Americano coffee. I think they wanted 3000 for a cup…..but worth it. Forget the other instant “stuff”…not worth the effort unless you really, really need caffeine! This coffee bar was located in the passenger seating area where the flights were boarding.

    One other thing you need to be aware of when you fly. They will stick a colored sticker on you when you check in. We found those stickers very helpful because you could easily tell when your flight was boarding. Typically someone will walk into the crowded passenger area and walk around with a sign and yell something. Most of the time you won’t be able to understand what they are saying. But we would identify people with the same color and style sticker as us and watch them. In Mandalay we almost missed our flight because it boarded early and we were not paying attention. I saw people getting onto the bus with green stickers on and yelled at my husband that we needed to go! So be sure to stay alert!!

    We were fed donuts or a snack on most flights that were 40 minutes or longer. At the minimum—you will be served a quick drink. All planes have bathrooms, but I did not try them out!!!

    All in all—flying in Myanmar was very easy, convenient and pretty comfortable.

    MUST TAKE ITEMS:
    I wished I took a hat with a stiff brim! The boats at Inle zoom along at great speeds and my regular sunhat brim would be pasted across my eyes or on my forehead. The sun is intense and you do need a good hat with a string to keep it on. One day our boatman had a straw ladies hat on with a shoe string tied around it and his chin…he looked ridiculous, but it worked better than my “fancy, expensive” hat!

    Sunscreen and light long sleeve shirt for the boats at Inle. It was hot and very sunny. I took a very small tube of sun screen and we used it on our faces and arms/hands while in Inle. I was glad we had it and did not see any for sale while in Myanmar.

    SANDALS that are easy on-and-off.
    Every temple you visit will require that you take off your shoes and socks and walk barefoot. In Bagan one fellow had socks on and our guide approached him and asked if they were there without a guide. When they said yes, he “gently”
    explained that this was not only a historical site but also an active religious site to his people…so as a matter of respect everyone was asked to remove their socks and shoes. The tourist was very understanding and removed his socks. So—be courteous and take off your socks!!!

    My husband wore his standard running shoes and socks the first day…..big mistake. We both switched to our Keen sandals for the rest of the trip. Easy off and easy on is important – otherwise you are going to be spending lots of time fiddling with your shoes. Of course your feet get black and dirty…but so what! At the end of the day we washed them and I gave my sandals a quick wipe with a wet wipe thingie.

    Laundry supplies: We found that laundry is pretty expensive to have washed in the hotels. I took my travel laundry line that does not require clothes pins and we used it and a small bottle off liquid laundry soap to hand wash our clothes. You really don’t need much! 3 sets of underware, easy wash and dry pants, and easy camp type wash and wear shirts and you should be good to go. Any days when you have two nights in a hotel –wash your dirty clothes! We traveled with a small carryon each.

    Warm clothing for Inle and a raincoat. Our guide in Inle had us purchase a long heavy plastic raincoat in the market at Kalow. It cost about 4500 Kyat and was worth every penny. It rained on our trek and these were perfect. And if you are unlucky and get caught in the rain on Inle lake, you don’t want a light weight rain jacket. You will be soaked. You want a long plastic raincoat that you slide over your head and has a hood—no zippers or opening in the front! You just tuck your legs and feet under this thing and you will stay dry. The fancy raincoats people usually take are probably not going to work because you are flying across the lake at great speeds. I also used this raincoat as a windbreak coat one early morning on the lake. It kept me very warm.

    I did not take any warm clothing for Inle. Rather, I layered things. Tshirt, long sleeve light cotton shirt and a light cotton sweater……I put the raincoat over this –pulled down the rain hood and was toasty! My husband did take a polartec jacket and vest. He always is cold and was happy to have this---I am in that “warm stage” of life so I am always hot. We both were comfortable with our choices.

    MONEY: Take more than you think you will need!
    I have commented throughout this report about costs being higher than we expected. We are not poor—nor do we lack in having money to travel. But as I mentioned previously, we are living in Vietnam right now (although we do head back to USA on Thursday evening) and are accustomed to paying less for food and lodging. We were told 7000 to 8000 Kyat per meal – per person. That is what we used to calculate our expenses. What we forgot to include in our costs was tips for guides and drivers (we typically tipped $10 and $5/day for each) and money for shopping—(duh, how did I miss this important expense?). Anyway, we took about $500 for a 12 day trip. In the end—after we returned and did some calculations, we spent about $600 or so. We did not eat “fancy”. We shared main dishes and shared a beer each day. We did some shopping, but nothing major. We did tip pretty well… and of course we were extremely lucky to meet someone who loaned us several hundred dollars to see us through our trip! (Thank you Sharon!).

    So my last message is to take about double what you think you will need and just be happy when you return with extra money. We spent lots of energy the first several days trying to calculate our expenses and it just was not worth it. We kicked ourselves every day because we had the money but just didn’t bring it along. And of course---no ATMs. And if you do use a credit card—be prepared to pay a hefty surcharge (20% at one place when we asked) if you do use it.

    I think the issue that really bothered us was the high prices for tourists here ---yet the very, very poor economic circumstances of the ordinary Myanmar people. They were so, so lovely, warm and welcoming to us! Yet they work very, very hard and are so poor. Many of the workers we met and talked with make less than 2000 Kyat a day. One fisherman told us his all night fishing would bring in about 3000 Kyat. He was so very happy when we paid 1500 for a huge (at least 2 kilo) fish. When we went to Mt. Popa the steps up the mountain were covered with monkey and bird “poop”. People are stationed all the way up the steps and they clean the steps. They get no formal pay….but do this as their form of income. I cashed in several 1000 Kyat notes and gave each and every one of them 100 Kyat. This wasn’t a lot, but it did provide them with a little income. Same with the shoe keepers at some of the temples and pagodas. I felt good about trying to help the local people.

    The local restaurants we ate at were wonderful and excellent! The food was fairly priced. We were happy and the owners and staff were happy for our business. The tourist and hotel restaurants we felt were overpriced with food that didn’t match the cost of the meal. We discussed some of this with our guides and were pleased that they were able to steer us toward locally owned places for both food, shopping and other items. I know some people will not agree with these comments….but they are just that—my feelings and reaction to a wonderful country with a very repressive government.

    We loved Myanmar and we do hope to return at some point. If we do, we will probably have a travel agency book our internal flights and transfers. We will use guides some and DIY other times. We will steer clear of Mandalay and try to hit some of the other more remote locations. We loved Bagan, Inle, Kalaw and even Yangon. It was a wonderful trip for us and we hope that others enjoy it as much as we did.

    ……and finally….if anyone is hanging out at Incheon Airport in South Korea on Friday morning, how about a mini get-together!

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    Gail, thanks so much for your report. I second your comments about taking enough money. Two years ago we were saved by our Balloons over Bagan flight being cancelled, so Santa Maria met us at our hotel in Yangon and refunded our money. That gave us enough to finish our trip using cash. Otherwise, we would have needed to use a credit card to pay for our two nights at the Strand. At that time, the Strand only charged a 5% premium if you were using the credit card to pay for your charges there. If you wanted to get cash, of course, the premium was much more.

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    Thank you for your very detailed and informative report Gail. When you say you spent $600 for twelve days is that each?
    And I assume you mean not including hotels and flights and just money on the ground so to speak, meals, tips, shopping and entrance fees. After we pay Santa Maria for hotels, flights, transfers and tours we will have $1000 cash each for 17 days and hoping to have money left over.

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    My husband and I spent $600 for BOTH of us. This was only for food, tips and a bit of shopping. As I mentioned in my postings above, we are pretty frugal with our money and we ate mostly at local restaurants and not in the hotels. Since we are living in Asia right now and have traveled in many areas, we did not do much shopping. We did buy a beautiful big wooden Buddha sculpture in Mandalay which is going to be a challenge to get home. One other thing about Santa Maria. When we arrived in HeHo for our 4 day trip to Inle and a short trek, the SM agent offered to keep our purchases for us so we didn't have to haul them around for several days. Wow...Great service! She was at the airport when we left and graciously handed over our precious Buddha.

    So....back to your comment above. Yes, I would think that $2000 should be plenty for 17 days for 2 people.

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    Good to know Gail thanks. I am not a 5 star resteraunt goer, casual beer now and then, and vegetarian so tough to know what to budget for food. I am not doing a lot of shopping either, although it is soooo hard not to go crazy when all those gorgeous textiles and items are so inexpensive. But I am trying to be more non material and just buy one or two really spectacular things in each country. So your expense report is really encouraging. Thank you. I dont mind having USD left over at the end cos we are going to Thailand for a week and sure to spend it there!

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    Hi Gail
    Just wondering as well if you gave any gifts/supplies to any of the schools there? If so what you brought or maybe what you wished you had brought. I dont give gifts to people at random anymore, just as a thank you to guides etc but do like to give pencils and supplies to schools if they are in need.
    Your thoughts on this? Thanks. Debbe.

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    Debbe,
    The school was located in a rural village that we visited while on a trek. Our guide contacted the school for us and asked if we could stop by and also the number of students at the school. The guide suggested exercise books and I also wanted to give pencils or pens. We bought these items at the local market. I think we bought four dozen books and pencils. It was perfect! The kids were happy to receive the supplies and I was happy giving them.

    Our guide talked to us about the problems that giving candy, gifts or other things to kids has created. The kids in highly visited areas expect these "gifts" and end up being real pests when you are hiking or visiting some of the villages. He said that giving school supplies directly to the school or teachers was the best thing to do. They will distribute them to the neediest kids or as happened in our case.....allowed us to visit and give the supplies directly to the kids. I think it would be fine to stop in a school and give school supplies to the teachers.

    We wrote a short post in our blog about giving gifts of this type. My husband is Buddhist and he said this was a lesson in the fruits of generosity. We got to experience the happiness of giving. And we got to witness the joy of the children receiving these simple gifts. Happiness all around.

    Our blog post with photos is at: http://geoasian.blogspot.com/2011/11/fruits-of-generosity.html

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