Burma is wonderful!

Old Jan 30th, 2011, 10:57 AM
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We had a private little boat for our trip to Mrauk U. It was comfortable enough. Lounge chairs undercover & a bathroom. The trip took 5hours.

When we were leaving from Sittwe one of the crew came & told us we could take photos of anything but to please not take a photo of the Naval boat or base. He then pointed out the Naval boat to us. Had to smile at this. It was something out of Mchale’s navy. Laundry hanging out to dry on the deck!

The ride up to Mrauk U was interesting. The river gets narrower & narrower so you get to see life going on on the shore. Small huts dot the riverside where farmers live. There are always pagodas to be seen in the distance. Initially the riverbank is flat & stretches a long way before you see hills but the closer you get to Mrauk U the closer the hills are to you & the denser the trees. This felt the most jungle like of anywhere we visited.

Arriving in Mrauk U felt a bit like stepping back in time. The place has a very laid back feeling. We were met at the dock by a very tall young man as arranged by Santa Maria. His vehicle was an old (?Willey) jeep. He was very proud of it & especailly proud to tell us it had a new Toyota engine! We drove through town to our hotel which was like Sittwe was called the Shwe Thazin. It is owned by the same family. This place had only been open since April. It is set up like a cluster of huts which was nice. The staff were lovely. It is a nice place but not 4 star if that is what you are looking for.
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Old Jan 30th, 2011, 11:04 AM
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Oh, I've been waiting for this part of your trip report!
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Old Jan 30th, 2011, 11:05 AM
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When we had checked in the man who had driven us from the dock said that he would come back at 230pm & drive us around the town if we liked that he was available to us for the rest of the day. Decided to take him up on the offer so we could get our bearings. It was also very hot so it we thought it would be good to be driven from spot to spot. We chose to not go to the temples as that was our plan for the next day. So we headed out to some places on the edge of town to see the old city wall & the palace site & ended up with a hill top temple for sunset. There are some lakes that were created 1000 yrs ago to supply water to the town. The feel of Mrauk U is so different as I said. It is much more treed & tropical than anywhere else we went. The village is laid out so you wander through the lanes with houses local shops etc. As always we found ourselves with troup of kids joining us most places. Mrauk U only gets about 3000 visitors a year so you really feel like you are the only ones there most of the time.

The next day we just wanted to walk & discover some temples. We ended up spending most of our time in the northern group. First thing in the morning we walked to this place from our hotel. Ther is a whole cluster of temples & payas here. They are definitely different to Bagan. You tend not to climb up to see views of temples like you do in Bagan but rather go in & experience the inside of the temples. There are passageways that take you deep into the center of a pyramid style temple. Dark & musty (need a torch/flashlight) there are rows of Buddha’s leading the way. In one you climb up at the center to what is the center of the temple. It is facinating as you really explore the depths of the temples. From the main temple area we took a dirt road & just walked. Came across a small cluster of village homes & then some more temples in total ruin amongst the jungle . Found ourselves at a monastery as we energed into a clearing on one of the dirt trails. Of course there are payas atop every hill. By noon it was getting very hot so we decided to wander back to the hotel to cool down a little. Headed out again about 230pm & ended up going back to the same area we had been in the morning as we still felt we had more to see there. Spent the entire afternoon & hiked up a hill to watch the sun set over the hills & temples.
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Old Jan 30th, 2011, 11:11 AM
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One day we planned to take a trip upriver to the Chin villages. When we got up that morning we saw something we had not seen on our entire trip in Burma….rain! You have to have a Chin guide to go to the villages. Our guide met us at the hotel along with our jeep & driver who would take us to the river & the boat. This is a different place to where you arrive from Sittwe & is about a 30 minute drive. We commented on the rain & the Chin guide said there was a storm in the Bay of Bengal. We headed off. The jeep had a cover however it was just fabric as it is intended primarily as a sunshade! Within about 5 minutes we were getting pretty wet! We had on our rain jackets & even umbrellas up inside the jeep!! We pushed on but after a little while with the rain getting heavier & heavier we decided we did not want to go to the villages if this was the way the weather was going. Three or four hours in a boat to get there & not being able to see much as we went was not sounding appealing. By then we were only five minutes from the boat so we kept going so we could tell the boat man we would not be going. Have no doubt he was happy about that! So then the drive back to the hotel. The rain by now was a true tropical downpour but with no signs of letting up. As we pulled into the hotel it seemed all of the hotel staff were standing under the front porch area as if waiting for us! We were totally soaked to the skin except for the rain jacket had done its job! We climbed out of the jeep & the staff were all immediately around us with big umbrellas & looking so worried for us! We were fine just wet! They ushered us back to our room where a hot shower & hot tea was very welcome! The rain poured for hours!

At about 2pm it stopped/lightened up enough for us to get back into the rain coats roll our trouser legs up & go for a walk. We walked for a few hours & then found the only restaurant mentioned in Lonely Planet for Mrauk U. Moe Cherry. It is an incredibly crooked two story building where you feel like your table, chair & you are going to slide off the 2nd floor into the street below! Fried noodles were ok. We left there just in time because on the 15 min walk back to the hotel the rain started to really pour again.

It poured as only tropical rain can pour all night long. There was no wind so I told myself it was not a cyclone! The next morning we were due for a 530am start to get the boat back to Sittwe. At 530am it was still raining but not quite as heavy. One of the hotel staff told us that it was going to start to clear by late that day. Our jeep driver arrived but without his jeep. He had a truck. The three of us climbed into the cab & our bags were buried under plastic in the back! We got to the boat dock in the dark & climbed over wet planks to get onto our boat. Once on board we settled into our lounge chairs for the trip back to Sittwe. They were able to position our chairs so we did not get wet on the boat. Luckly as time went on the rain got less & less & within a couple of ours we were drying our raincoats & umbrellas in the sun! The trip back to Sittwe took about 5 hours & by the time we arrived the rain had stopped & it was hot & very steamy. Sittwe was a lot muddier than when we had been there a few days ago!

We had about an our to spare before we needed to be at the airport for our flight back to Yangon but we decided to just go to the airport as there was nothing else we thought we wanted to do. The airport is tiny. Across from the entrance there is a row of outdoor cafes. So we just sat there for a while. This was the only flight we had that was late by an hour or so.

We really enjoyed making this trip to Sittwe & Mrauk U. It felt so different to anywhere else we went. The temples are different to those in Bagan & being in a smaller area felt more accessable. It is a great complement to Bagan to see a different area that was once a great capital. It is a place to go to when you want to get off the beaten trak a little. I would not skip Bagan to go to Mrauk U.

So that is about it. From Sittwe we only had one night in Yangon & then it was our flight home. A fantastic trip without doubt.
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Old Jan 30th, 2011, 05:18 PM
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Jules, thank you for a wonderful report. We are considering a return trip to Burma for Nov/Dec. If we go, our main destination would be Mrauk U. Of course, we'd spend some time elsewhere as well.

How many days would you suggest allotting to Mrauk U? You know we are templed fanatics!
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Old Jan 30th, 2011, 07:43 PM
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Kathie I think you would want about 2 full days in Mrauk U & then another day if you want to go up to the Chin villages. You can get away with one full day especially if like us you arrive in Mrauk U before lunch so have the whole remainder of the day. But I don't think you would have too much trouble filling another day.
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Old Jan 31st, 2011, 07:52 AM
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Thanks!
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Old Jan 31st, 2011, 08:36 AM
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Jules- I really enjoyed reading your report. All of the little details will be so helpful in planning our trip to Burma. We have not decided when, but it is on our "to do" list. Thanks for taking the time to post.
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Old Jan 31st, 2011, 11:36 AM
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You are welcome Kathie.

Shelly, Thank you for reading!
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Old Feb 9th, 2011, 07:40 AM
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Jules, we just got back yesterday afternoon and I just read the last installments of your report. Loved the specifics. Also used some of your tips (thanks!) on our trip. Will post soon with our stories!
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Old Feb 10th, 2011, 08:31 AM
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Patty glad some info was useful to you. Looking forward to hearing about your trip!
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Old Feb 10th, 2011, 07:32 PM
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Loved your report Jules. Still on the top of my list. We were in India (Varanasi) the same time as you last year but never met. This year I did Laos instead of Burma as I want my husband to come with me and he couldnt get away this year.

I know it is hard to compare, but would you rate Burma as good or better than your trip to India?
Just curious.
My trip to Laos was great, but if I compared, India was much more memorable for me.
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Old Feb 21st, 2011, 12:22 PM
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Thanks live42day. Sorry it has taken me so long to get around to answering your question. As you infer it is really really hard to compare India & Burma. They are just so very different. Loved them both. India as you well know is so intense. It is in your face 24/7 full of noise, colour, chaos everything. But that is a main component in making India such an amazing place to visit.
Burma is definately quieter. There is just not the sheer volume of people & hence the intensity. As you know Varanasi is one of the peaks of Indian chaos.
We would go back to both places but they are very different experiences. We haven't been to Laos so I can't put that into the equation. By the way I enjoyed following you on your Laos trip.
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Old Feb 21st, 2011, 08:58 PM
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Thanks Jules. I let my husband pick our next destination as he could not come this year. He has chosen Russia and Turkey for Spring 2012 so will have to wait for Burma another year I guess. I really enjoyed your report and it will help with my planning when we do go.
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Old May 12th, 2011, 09:36 AM
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jules-Did you have Santa Maria arrange drivers and guides for you in Mandalay and vicinity, or did you hire taxis/drivers at the hotel?

Do you think it is worth spending an extra day in Kalaw to hike to some minority villages, or did you feel you saw enough minority villages during the rest of your stay at Inle Lake.

I know most people stay oin the lake, but I was wondering about staying in Nyang Shwe either instead of or in addition to staying on the lake, just to get some more walking into the trip. Since you saw Nyaung Shwe, could you tell me the pros and cons of staying in this village and doing boat trips on the lake.

Thanks
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Old May 12th, 2011, 11:51 AM
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Shelley We did have SM arrange a car & driver for the 2 full days we had in Mandalay. Initially we did not have them organise a guide but the office in Mandalay did send a guide. It actually turned out to be a good thing because he did a good job at keeping us far from the tourist "crowds" timing things really well.

I don't know if I would spend time in Kalaw to hike to a minority village. I find that I really enjoyed seeing the locals come to the markets from these villages & seeing them interact with each other on their own terms rather than waiting for the tourists to arrive in the village. But I did not do it so it could be a great thing to do.

Inle Lake. Went into Nyang Shwe & was glad we were not staying there. Dusty & noisy. I found were we stayed (Inle Lake View Resort) to be really good for us. It is very close to the lake so you are on the lake just a few minutes after taking off from the dock. You are back enough from the lake that you don't have the motor boats roaring by. You can drive there which means you can take walks from there.On a couple of occations we went walking passing schools with kids waving etc. From NS it is probably a good 30-40 mins to get to the lake by boat. However at NS you will probably find cheaper accom & will be able to go out & find different places to eat. If we were to go again I think we would choose somewhere like Inle Lake View Resort.

Hope that helps
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Old May 12th, 2011, 02:00 PM
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Jules, this is useful and timely information. I am continuing my research for our Nov-Dec trip. One of our stops is to be Mandalay for the ancient capitals outside the city. My plan was to ask SM just to arrange a car and driver. It sounds like you got a guide as well, without asking. Is this what you recommend or do you recommend requesting a guide as well? We are also considering a day trip to Pyin U Lwin (Maymo) while we are in the area.
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Old May 12th, 2011, 04:04 PM
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Kahtie I actually think the guide worked out well for the ancient cities area. On our first day there we just had a car & headed out to Unbien. But I do feel that when we went to some of the other places he timed things really well so that we avoided any groups. When we were out at Ava we were the only ones going across on the small boat & although we encountered a tour group leaving the only restaurant on the island as we got to the rest we had not seen them at all whilst we were there & they were done with the island just as we were. We had a late lunch before heading back across the river. Could we have done this without a guide quite probably. He was a great guide for us though & it was worth it. Out at U Bien you really do not need one & in fact we just left him with the car there & wandered off. Although saying that we did have him explain to the boat driver exactly what we wanted to do rather than just letting the boat driver take us & that worked out well.
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Old May 12th, 2011, 05:58 PM
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Thanks so much, Jules!
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Old May 14th, 2011, 07:34 AM
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While we had a guide there, we were on our own with the boat driver at U Bein and we found boat driver of # 38 to be excellent. He got us to the right places for photographs. We used him two nights in a row there.
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