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Trip Report Observations from March trip to Myanmar

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A friend and I (two women) visited Myanmar from March 1-15, 2013.We made the usual tourist loop -- Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake, Yangon – so this will be less a detailed trip report than a recap of observations made during our visit. These are in no special order, just things we wrote down in our journals.
•Exchange rates varied at airports and hotels quite widely: a high of 900 to a low of 750 at the Mandalay Hill Resort.
•There were lots of new cars in both Yangon and especially in Mandalay – Toyota seems to have taken over the country but we also saw many large SUVs and luxury cars such as Land Rovers, BMWs, Mercedes, etc. We assumed these were owned by well-connected folks and were especially interested to see that the parking lot at Café City in Mandalay was chock full of such vehicles.
•We had flat screen TVs with all the standard international channels at every hotel: The Strand, Mandalay Hill Resort, Villa Inle Resort and Hotel @ Tharabar Gate. The hotels in Yangon and Mandalay also offered first-run movies on the TVs. We watched “Flight” one night.
•We had good Internet connections in Yangon and Bagan but almost none in Mandalay hotel or airport.
•We did the long and rutty drive to Kakku from the airport and wish we had not. Neither of us liked seeing all the (in some cases badly) restored stupas, though visiting with some of the local Pa O women there was interesting. We much preferred the more authentic and “ruined” state of Indein which we found picturesque and quite beautiful with its crumbling stupas and gnarly trees.
•We visited most of the markets on Inle Lake and enjoyed them all. At Nam Pan they had everything – including a dental tent – and a large fish market with the fish still gasping of course. That was a bit tough to see…..
•Unfortunately there were many youngsters at many of the temples and other tourist sights trying to sell postcards (some handmade) and other things – some of them quite insistent and verging on unpleasant. We were told that was the case because it was summer vacation and that they were not around during the school year. Anyone know if that is true?
•We went to see the sunset at Shwesandaw in Bagan and it was a total zoo! There were many big buses and cars (and horsecarts) in the large parking lot + a slew of vendors and touts. All in all it was anything but the spiritual experience some have raved about. I guess the best strategy is to get there very early and stake out a place high on the walls?
•We had our own boat to go to Mingun which worked out well. We spent about 1.5 hours there which was plenty. Would not have liked to have had to wait for the scheduled ferry at mid-day.
We saw many ATMs (with Cirrus, Visa, MC, etc) in both Mandalay and Yangon. We never tried one but they certainly seemed plentiful.
•Our planes were old but never felt decrepit or dangerous. The attendants were lovely young people who were rushed, given short flights usually, but quite friendly. We noticed on KBZ (which we flew twice) that there were large ads plastered on the overhead bins urging us to get money at the KBZ Bank Visa ATMs…..newly put up it seemed.
•We heard all the warnings about the weather in March and they were all true! Temps ranged from a steady 98-100 and up to about 105 a couple of days in Bagan.
•Mandalay especially seemed very hazy and the pollution in the air seemed more serious than elsewhere.
•Mostly the food was just OK, though in some cases it was downright awful (Villa Inle Resort) or actually surprisingly good (Be Kind to Animals and Star Beam in Bagan, Monsoon in Yangon).
•Guides seemed quite open to talking about the political situation and hopeful about the future. They pointed out electrical poles that had not been there a year before or in one case a small crowd by the road that would not have gathered in the years earlier when such things were forbidden. Three of the four vehicles we took had photos of Aung San and/or ASSK.
•Two of our guides opined on the situation with the Rohinga by saying some version of
They don’t respect our culture/traditions.” In one case (an older woman who seemed to have a rather “Stalinist” view of things (if such a thing makes sense) but in another a young and seemingly open young man at Inle Lake which surprised us.
•Myanmar beer is very good and usually served quite cold, which was wonderful given the weather. The local wine is drinkable but not much beyond that.
•All in all we enjoyed our trip despite the heat…though I am not sure either of us will return any time soon. I know that will be heresy for some on this site…. 

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