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Trip Report Travel Report for Myanmar

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Hi,
here you find my Travel Report for my last trip to Myanmar (4 weeks in February 2015).
I have also added a detailed budget part (http://grandescapades.net/grand-escapades-budget-guide-to-myanmar/ ) and a short selection of pictures (my 63 best pictures - http://grandescapades.net/myanmar-a-selection-of-63-pictures/ )
I hope it helps - Do not hesitate if you have specific questions.
You can also find more information on my Blog: http://grandescapades.net/travel-guide-to-myanmar/
Cheers
Gilles


Myanmar: No Longer A Well Kept Secret - But With So Much To Offer!

Itinerary And Time Of The Visit
I used every single one of the 28 days the eVisa was allowing me to stay in Myanmar in February 2015 and visited first the Southeast of the country (Golden Rock, Hpa An & Mawlamyine), before heading to the Northeast (Pyin Oo Lwin, train over the Gokteik Viaduct, Hsipaw) and finally discovered during the last two weeks the more popular and touristic part of the country (Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake & last but not least Yangon).

Why Travel To Myanmar?
There is a great diversity of highlights to discover in Myanmar:
• Bagan and its 4.000 temples are simply unique, one of the most fascinating places I have visited in Asia (and maybe in the world),
• Inle Lake still remains a photographer’s dream, both for the fishermen on the lake itself and for the surrounding markets,
• Mandalay offers a great diversity of cultural highlights, in and out of the city,
• And Yangon is definitely worth a few day if you want to scratch bellow the surface of this booming city…
• If you have more than two weeks at hand, especially Hpa An & Mawlamyine are worth the long bus ride (skip the Golden Rock, completely overrated), and the train ride from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw, crossing the Gokteil Viaduct is a touristy yet dizzy and cool experience…
• Last but not least, there is surely much more to experience in Myanmar, more Off The Beaten Track, but with max. 28 days at hand (the longest eVisa available), you have to focus on specific parts. Or you have to plan a multiple trip to this country…
But maybe the other highlight is that Myanmar still offers a somewhat genuine experience in Asia, far away from the masses that you find in neighboring countries, if you make the effort to move a little bit further afield. Do not be mistaken, though: the times when Myanmar was a well kept secret completely Off The Beaten Track are now gone… Myanmar is indeed changing at a very high pace. Tourism has doubled every year in the past 5 years, and more than one million visitors were expected in 2015!

Challenges Organizing The Trip - What Would I Have Wished To Know?
The country changes so fast that many things I read from the previous year was already outdated, especially as far as logistics and organization were concerned! Myanmar is now a country quite easy to travel:
• eVisas can be obtained Online and extremely easy to get (50 USD, payable with credit card);
• ATMs are widely available throughout the country (5 USD charge per withdrawal, with a limit per withdrawal of approx. 300 USD) - Nonetheless, if you want to change money, you still need absolutely pristine US Dollar bills;
• Internet is frustratingly slow (this might have changed), but also widely available, as are local SIM-cards (1.5 USD, slightly more for a nano-SIM)
• A touristic infrastructure now exits everywhere, with reasonable accommodation & transportations throughout the country (at least places where visitors go).
Myanmar is an expensive country for Asia, much more than India, Thailand or Vietnam, … So plan your budget accordingly, especially if you are not ready for the hardcore backpacking experience.
For transport, really consider flying one or two legs if you have limited time at hand, you will save a lot of time and energy (keep in mind that bus stations are frustratingly far away from the center, so calculate an adequate amount of time just to reach them or leave them) and is not that expensive (see below: Getting Around in Myanmar).
With only 2 weeks, focus on the “highlights” of Myanmar. Yes, they are more touristy but really worth it! With a full month, you can add other parts, which are far less touristy and (still) void of tour groups…

Highlights Of The Trip
• Floating Over Bagan
Yes, the Hot Air Balloon ride costs 350 USD and must be booked weeks in advance. But is there a better place to enjoy such a ride? These 45 minutes were simply magic! And security standards are world class…
Rent also an eBike and go discovering the more stunning of the 4.000 temples spread in a relatively compact area. True, only a few dozens are really worth a visit, but this forest of Stupas creates a unique atmosphere, especially at dawn and dusk (go to more remote temples for both sunrise and sunset to avoid the crowd of tour groups, for instance at Paya Pyathada, in my opinion the most stunning temple in Bagan).
• Inle Lake
This is probably the area of the country that will most dramatically change in the next few years. But yes, the atmosphere is special on Inle Lake at sunrise, with the dark grey, mirror-like surface of the water merging with the misty horizon, and the elusive shapes of fishermen rowing their boats with one leg… Surreal!
• Crossing the Gokteik Viaduct
No, you will not be the only tourist on this bumpy ride! But yes, this is quite a dizzying experience!
• The Caves near Hpa An & the Colonial City of Mawlamyine
Hpa An & Mawlamyine are places where even independent travelers are rare but highlights diverse and abundant…
• Mandalay
Mandalay is neither an attractive nor a pleasant city at first sight: a hot, modern, bustling grid of endless streets lined up with dull concrete blocks. Nevertheless, Mandalay abounds with amazing sites, and you will need at least 3 days if you want to visit those!
• The Circle Line in Yangon
Have you ever taken a 3 hour train ride arriving precisely where you started off? Being twirled around like laundry during the spin cycle? If not, take the Circle Line in Yangon and do the whole loop…
• Surprising Yangon
Yangon is a fascinating crossroad between Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. And if you scratch below the surface and take the time to dive into this surprising city, it has a lot to offer! 3 days are just right, especially since you might want to find some retreat during the hot hours of the day…
• Funky Hairdos
This is no joke! It won’t take long until young Burmese men with funky hairdos draw your attention. Obviously the thing to do: a very, very creative part of local fashion! Young men proudly adorn themselves with the strangest haircuts. You think it’s a small number of extravagant people? Oh no! It is a very widespread trend…

How To Go Off The Beaten Track?
THat's a challenging question... For more information, check my blog: www.GrandEscapades.net

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