A couple questions about Burma

Old Nov 13th, 2015, 08:42 AM
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A couple questions about Burma

After a recent posting I made, some of you suggested Burma as a possible destination. I started to look into it a bit and started reading the Rough Guide.

Season and climate--If I want cooler weather (and I know it is all relative) the best months are supposed to be Nov. Dec. Jan. and early Feb. Correct? welltraveledBrit says in a posting here that these months are absolutely jam-packed with package tourists. Is it really that bad? Having sweated to death last year in southern India mid Feb. to mid-March, we just are not willing to take a trip again where our planning ends up revolving around how to try to find a place that is not so hot.

Lodging costs and types--the Rough Guide says lodging costs are pretty sky high and a lot of lodging is in the stereotypical cement block complexes. We are moderate travelers who do not like bland, sterile hotels, and we are not fans of western 5* type hotels either. Our usual preference is for smaller, family-owned, lodging (a bit od charm is a plus too). What is the reality for people who don't want to pay at least $100+ every night in a developing country.

Food costs--Where did you typically eat, and what are food costs like?

I am trying to put some of these pieces together before I go much further in investigating this as a destination. Thanks.
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 09:32 AM
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1. November and late Feb/early March are best and if you are travelling independently,perhaps having booked hotels/flights through a local Agent, you can steer clear of the tourist coaches (mainly Bagan) Weather great.
2.{stereotypical cement block complex] Certainly not in Bagan and Inle!And there are some great small hotels In Yangon & Mandalay
3.Flash packers can get good rooms at $50-75+
4. Tourist hotels -dinner $12 Beer $4 Wine $20 Local restaurants Lunch $4,beer$2 Whisky (half bottle local $4!)
Loads of information here,and the forums of thorntree and tripadvisor for Myanmar are especially good,unlike for other Destinations.
Planning is fun...
SS
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 01:14 PM
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Season & Climate -- we were there January & February 2014. It was hot, but not unbearably so. Some places such as Bagan are very dusty which I found more annoying then the heat. We were there at the same time as WTB (we met up with them while traveling) & I agree that Myanmar is definitely not a secret destination. It attracts lots of package tours. While there were lots of tourists I never felt overwhelmed by them such as I did at say Angor Wat. In Bagan for example our guide took us to places/temples during off hours or to ones not highly touristed. We watched the sunset a little bit away from the famed spot, and it was only us there. Same with Inle lake, never felt crowded or touristy which may be related to following advice on how to visit places.

Lodging -- yes, I was rather surprised at how much prices had risen in just a couple years. I shudder to think what they may be now. We tend to also like smaller, family owned places & places that have charm. That was not to be in Myanmar which is not to say there aren't some around. I made an effort to avoid places that were owned by the military which adds anoother complexity to booking sometimes. I think I read some TRs where they stayed for less than $100. a TR by Satoric (sp?) may be one of the ones I'm thinking of.

Food -- we ate at hotels which is something we rarely do, & at restaurants of all kinds. Food was not expensive in 2014.
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 01:31 PM
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I wonder if it is too late to get decent accomodations for this winter. When we went 4 years ago, before it became the popular, new place to go, we started making hotel reservations in Sept. and still were not able to get all of our first choices. Now that the tour groups are going full blast, and the building boom has not yet caught up to demand, I think you should contact a ta in Burma to see if going this winter is feasible. If you decide to go, I think the stilt house hotel we stayed at on Inle Lake would fit the bill as a charming, mid range hotel. I can't remember the name of it, but it is in my trip report, if you are interested.
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 02:22 PM
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We used Santa Maria as our TA. As it got closer to winter, tour groups released rooms and some of our first choices became available. But I agree with shelley, good idea to check and see.
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 03:00 PM
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Thanks all. I too am wondering if this is not a good idea this winter and needs planning further out, and perhaps is a better Nov. or early Dec. destination. Nice to hear that there might be some more mid-range accommodation choices that may please us, even if there is no charm at all. Just also took a look at Central America airfares, and obviously they are much cheaper. I also have a bit of familiarity with the area and options there. So, that is a thought too for more of this last minute planning.
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 03:22 PM
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Yestravel, It was me, I did stay in a few places at under $100 per night.

Julie's, Garden Home B & B in Yangon is now $105, we'll be staying next week. It's cute with a lovely fish pond, a rustic wooden bar restaurant and a small art gallery.

I have booked a place in Mandalay at $50 per night, could be dire, I can let you know after next weekend.

I also tend to book travel within a month or two of departure, and have had no problems finding accomodation.

The food was pretty inexpensive at most places, about $5 for a complete meal.

I was last there in March 2014, it was hot but not unbearable for me.
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Old Nov 13th, 2015, 09:33 PM
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My experience is too long ago to be useful. There were certainly smaller places to stay and eat when I was there in 2005, but some of them weren't especially comfortable. I was using a driver/guide who had been "adopted" by someone I had met on a previous SEA trip, and he found the accommodation. These days I would probably use a TA, at least for Yangon, Bagan and Inle, although that is not my usual practice. I was there at the very beginning of January, and did not find the weather too hot and humid, and I hate heat and humidity.
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 07:26 AM
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Interesting to hear that so many of you recommend a TA for this particular country. I guess I hadn't stopped to consider the idea that perhaps a country like Burma isn't in the usual category of just find-it-yourself and book-it-yourself on the internet .
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 08:12 AM
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I directly mailed some places and never heard back. I tried booking thru booking.com and like sites and was not successful. Internet is iffy I found when we traveled there so its understandable for that reason alone responses may be sporadic. It's been close to 2 years so things may be better now. I'm sure its doable to find places when you arrive, but I wouldn't want to waste time doing that so was happy to work with Santa Maria &have the trip sorted out before we left. There are several other TAs recommended also. Myanmar really didnt have much of a tourist infrastructure though it was definitely rapidly trying to develop one.
Kathy who is very helpfu on this board is traveling there now and perhaps she'll chime in as to the current status.
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 08:19 AM
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When I went it was extremely difficult to book anything over the internet, as service was frequently blocked in-country. Friends of mine were there in 2008 and 2009 and found accommodation as they traveled, some of it was definitely sub-standard but they were visiting some out of the way places. However, the problem now seems to be that there are not enough beds to go round in the popular places.
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 10:05 AM
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About the weather, those month are perfect apart from the very far north and mountains. Last time I was there was in January, it could be a bit chilly in the evenings, but not all that bad. I motorbike to Pyin Oo Lwin, but as it is up in the mountains the ride got really cold, and one I arrive I couldn't really enjoy it because of the cold. Mandalay is still okay though. Yangon pretty hot.

The food is around a dollar if you eat very local, sometimes a bit more, sometimes a bit less. I remember some salads being very inexpensive.

I disagree that the season in question would be too crowded with tourists. Perhaps the most popular attractions like Inle and Bagan, but the country is huge.

I paid maximum $20 for my lodging, not so much more and you'd be able to get something very comfortable. Beware that prices in Yangon for lodging are quite high, many people told me that also the 5-star hotels were not up to standard.

Have a good trip.
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 01:28 PM
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I found it easy to book accomodation over the Internet, Agoda seems to have more choice than booking.com. Also consider Airbnb.

The one thing you might need a TA for is flights, the airlines websites are not so good.

I used UA tours in Yangon, they have a young woman there with excellent English who was very responsive by email.
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 02:22 PM
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Hi Julies, I didn't notice this thread until now and I think others have explained it much better than I could. Yestravel's description matches our experience and we were there at the same time. We spent three weeks in Burma so I can't speak definitely but my sense at the time was that the high season is very busy with packages. However it depends where you go, for example we didn't see any package tourists at Maurk U when we were there.
Silverswimmer knows much more about Burma than I do and I think if we went back we'd try November, or even the end of October.

In terms of cost I found accommodation in Burma less of a value/more expensive than other places in SEA and India, again because of the demand but lots of places were being built and perhaps that has changed things. Quite a number of places are bookable on Agoda etc but we found the agent helpful. Again it was all about where the package tourists were because I the hotel in Mrauk U was cheap while Mandalay, Bagan and Ngapali were more expensive. Having said that there are places at many price points and we had friends who backpacked around Burma last year with not difficulties and they would definitely be paying less than $100 per night!

Hope this helps!

Food however was cheap, ridiculously so when we ate on the street but even the tourist places weren't expensive. I don't remember exact numbers but food didn't seem to have the same premium that accommodation did, with the exception of some insanely expensive hotels in Yangon.
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Old Nov 14th, 2015, 09:33 PM
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My son and I traveled to Burma in March of 2013. At that time, it was virtually impossible for individuals to reserve hotels and flights. My son contacted both Shalom Travel, and Santa Maria Travel, and he found Shalom travel to be more responsive and did a great job for us. Santa Maria was slow in responding, and didn't want to make the effort for us, although other posters here have had positive experiences with them.

Sammy at Shalom Travel booked all our hotels. He had difficulty finding hotels, so we were at the mercy of availability. I found the hotels to be about double in price than other SE Asia countries, and the service and construction were not up to par. You can forget about charming--you will typically find cheap construction with those showers that spray all over the bathroom. Make sure you insist on a room with a window, it is not a given in Burma. My son contacted drivers and guides directly, but Sammy can arrange those as well for you.

On our first day in Yangon, we went to a market where we saw chicken pieces for sale surrounded by flies, and it was about 95 degrees out. My son then decided that were going to eat only cooked vegetables. Fortunately, most restaurants serve roasted peanuts for free, and keep refilling the bowl. I also brought almonds and protein bars. Most meals cost us just a few dollars.

We found the weather to be hot but not humid in March. It didn't bother us, but we are Los Angeles natives, so it was business as usual.

If you are going to go ahead with this trip, try to go to places other than the "Big Four (Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay)", which are infested with annoying tour groups. Mrauk U was closed at the time of our visit due to political instability, but I would like to have visited there. We enjoyed our time in Keng Tung the best, as we did day hikes to villages and met wonderful people.
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Old Nov 15th, 2015, 02:06 AM
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Burma ia a place where utilizing an agent is extremely helpful. While things are changing, traditionally, travel agents were allocated a certain number of rooms at popular hotels and at a lower than market price. So an agent can often get you a better price at a hotel - especially if you travel mid-range or higher - and may well be able to get you a room at a place that is otherwise listed as sold out. For instance, we like the Rupar Mandalar in Mandalay, and Santa Maria got us a room there (actually a named suite) for less than the internet price, and online, they were listed as sold out. We planned this trip at the beginning of August, and things were filling up. But I wrote to Santa Maria as soon as I got the confirmed booking on the Pandaw and told them what I wanted and they got back to me immediately. When I got up the next morning, I had an email from them, saying I was all booked!

Internet remains spotty and very slow, which is why you may not get timely responses from hotels or travel agencies.

We love Burma - this is our third trip. I highly recommend it. Do try to get off the tourist track and visit Mrauk U - an absolutely amazing place. Click on my name for my two previous Burma trip reports.
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Old Nov 15th, 2015, 08:07 AM
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A feature of nearly every trip we take is that we do get off the tourist track (sometimes way off), so that wouldn't be an issue.

CaliforniaLady--I had to chuckle about the flies on the chicken in the market and deciding to go veg. Most of our time in India we pretty much go veg only for similar rreasons.

Haven't made a decision yet but am starting to think that this trip may not happen this year. I'm thinking there are just too many things that don't align right now for us to pull this off on short notice and be able to end up with a well-thought-out trip where we are able to stay in "decent" places.

I do understand that things in Burma are rapidly changing, and, although everyone says go now, we might actually have a better experience if we waited a year since there is new accommodation being constructed all the time.

Thailand sounds pretty easy, so that is in the possible mix. Tamil Nadu, some other places we've missed in southern India on our other trips, and Sri Lanka are also possibilities, and this would be relatively easy for me since I already am quite familiar with India and how to operate there. Central America is pretty easy for me to plan too, and I already know something about it. Since the dollar is so strong against the euro right now, I've also thought about Crete or Madeira tied to some mainland locales. It wouldn't be hot like SEA, but for someone from the cold and crummy northern part of the US, it would be pleasant.

We are all lucky we are able to make these choices and enjoy the opportunity to travel throughout the world.

Thanks all.
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Old Nov 15th, 2015, 08:18 AM
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"I do understand that things in Burma are rapidly changing, and, although everyone says go now, we might actually have a better experience if we waited a year since there is new accommodation being constructed all the time."

Right. The crowds are only going to get worse, but the facilities to cope with them should get better. You're already too late to see the major sites before they become tourist meccas, but the off-the-beaten-path places should still be largely unaffected.

Did you say you weren't interested in Laos? Because I am not a fan of Thailand, but I loved Laos and Cambodia.

I did enjoy mainland Greece and Crete, but it was pretty chilly up north even end of March-beginning of April.
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