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14 Days in Myanmar over the Holidays

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Hi,
I am using my United miles to fly with my husband to Yangon on December 18 and depart Yangon late evening on January 3. We are New Yorkers, late 30s, and I happen to be a wine, food and travel writer (so I am quite accustomed to independent travel and building my own itineraries.)

This will be a personal trip and we are going during this time because of my husband's job. We are planning to book everything in advance (despite preferring flexibility on the ground) since I have gleaned from reading these message boards that the super-duper-crazy-silly time to visit Myanmar -- the period when we are going -- equates to high rates and few-to-none rooms.

So far, just about any property I could want is available. I won't lie and say I am not shocked by the prices, however (hundreds of dollars for 3-star places and forced NYE dinners for another several hundred on Agoda at the Ngapali Beach properties). I've seen a few people mention booking with a travel agent to get better rates. Shalom Myanmar, OneStop, Santa Maria have all been highlighted. Any others? And how much better are the rates? Do they book airfare and are the rates the same as booking direct with airlines?

As for the itinerary, I would appreciate insights on how to structure our stops, broken down by average recommended days in each and how to get from place to place. We can take VIP buses or planes; more worried about efficiency than cost unless the bus is good value for a particular route v. a really expensive flight. Not going to bother with a train, unless it comes highly recommended and is easy for a particular route.

I would also ideally like to figure out how to get on the water, but it looks like a short trip from Mandalay-Bagan might be the only choice. There are a few "luxury" boats that do 1-2 day trips, but they are fairly expensive (a couple thousand). Are there any lower-priced overnight trips? Maybe there are but those ships don't have a web presence? We were planning on leaving Mandalay out, but could include for the sake of using as an origin/endpoint for a short boat trip.

Here are our tentative stops. We like temples, though not days and days of them (I am a photog, so I have to get some shots of the prime sights), exploring local culture, adventurous eating (although getting sick in Myanmar seems to be a theme from the people I've spoke to who have gone), scenery, scenery, scenery, and beach. Thanks so much in advance!! Sorry if I've missed any other pertinent details. Getting late. Let me know what else I can provide.

Yangon (in and out of the country)
Inle Lake
Hsipaw (heard this was nice and a break from tourists. Not married to it)
Bagan
Ngapali Beach (would like to spend the last few days here before heading out on the 3rd, but flexible on where it fits into the itinerary)

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