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First timer trying to prepare for trip of a lifetime: BURMA

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Feb 27th, 2014, 03:44 PM
  #1
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First timer trying to prepare for trip of a lifetime: BURMA

Thank everyone in advance for suggestions and facts that will help my journey.

Traveling to Myanmar has always been on my bucket list and place I've dreamed of visiting. I love photographing. From architecture to still life, to portraits and practically anything that grabs my eye. Enjoy hiking, and meeting new people. I've been to India and the Middle East, Vietnam and Cambodia and Laos.

My plan is to fly to Rangoon, spend two weeks and then to Thailand for another two weeks. All beginning at the end of October through end of November.

Trying to find out all I can so I can best prepare for my adventure to Myanmar.

The only guide book I found was Lonely Planet and that was published 2011. So I hear the prices of hotels are no longer relevant.

I've had a difficult time finding current information regarding places to stay, prices, and if credit cards are used in many hotels. I hear prices are very expensive, and that you have to reserve far in advance. Which saddens me as don't like to schedule my travels. Love to stay as long as I like, and head to the next place... on my own schedule. I also hear there are more ATM around, but changing dollars to local currency can be challenging. I read that you have to travel with all your cash and it has to be perfect condition.

And how to get from city to city? Flying? Train? or Bus?

As you can tell, I have many questions and hope I haven't taken up too much of your time.

Looking forward to hearing from you and thanking you for your kind response, Thank you!
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Feb 27th, 2014, 03:53 PM
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It's more complicated planning a Burma trip as you've gathered and there are several here who will advise you. I'll begin by saying that it's not impossible to find places to stay as you go, I did in part, but you may have to take potluck as most of the best book up solid many months in advance. It may be best to reserve as much as possible, then fill in any spaces as you go. None in my experience a year ago took credit cards but I'm sure it's changing.

I found websites and emails and communicated directly with hotels and some smaller accommodations. Many use travel agents but I did fine on my own with a bit of patience. Ask the credit card question when you make inquiries.
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Feb 27th, 2014, 04:02 PM
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What kind of traveler are you? Do you like high end accommodations or basic? Lonely Planet website, Thorn Tree forums has a ton of current info. But to begin with some information, If you only have two weeks for the country you can better utilize your time by flying from city to city. You can find the airlines and some information like routes online. I doubt if hotel prices are available yet for that time period since so much is changing so rapidly.

Even if the Lonely Planet pub in 2011 is not up to date re some things, it will at least acquaint you with the attractions so you can better plan where you want to spend your time. I trust you have read the trip reports here. Some recent ones have been posted and some very good detailed ones are here. Come back with more specific questions and I'm sure you will get lots of information.

It was the trip of a lifetime for me...no where else I've been even remotely compares to Burma.
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Feb 27th, 2014, 06:07 PM
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I have two trip reports here on my travels to Burma, 2009 and 2011. The info on the money situation has changed, but the places to go, the things to see are the same. You will want to contact a local travel agent in Yangon to at leafs book your flights, but probably some hotels as well. Some hotels do now accept credit cards, but at a premium of 5-7%. You can use ATMs that dispense kyats, but you'll pay a 5000 kyat fee (about US$5) each time you use an ATM in Burma. You may want to take cash as people have done for decades.

The two accessible "wow" places are Bagan and Lake Inle. Spend a little time in Yangon to see Shwedegon. Mandalay can be skipped with the limited time you have.

Photos at www.marlandc.com
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Feb 27th, 2014, 06:44 PM
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Hi Artyguy

I am currently in Mandalay after 5 nights in Yangon. I also like to travel on the fly, but it is certainly not easy in Myanmar. You can book hotels online, but will have a much reduced choice if only a few days from your stay.

I tried all 3 ATMs at Mandalay airport this morning with no luck. The porter at this hotel told me that they don't open until 9.00 am - strange I didn't think machines care what the time is.

The wifi has been surprisingly good.

If you post your rough budget for hotel nights, I may be able to make some recommendations.
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Feb 27th, 2014, 07:22 PM
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We were in Myanmar for 18 days in late janaury/early FEbruary. Perhaps we were lucky but we used ATM 3 times and hd no trouble with them. We did change dollars for Kyat and had no trouble - as recommended we took pristine, new bills. All our hotels had signs that they did take credit crds, but added a 3-5% depending upon the hotel.
We had Lonely Planet and it was good mostly for what to see, but as noted much of it is outdated, esp prices.
We used Santa Maria for a Travel agent and they booked our hotels for us.

@sartoric - glad to hear you are having surprisingly good wifi. Other than at the Traders Hotel in Yangon, we had very unreliable wifi. Worked best in early am, but even then it was sporadic.
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Feb 28th, 2014, 07:21 AM
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sartoric, I remember running into the ATMs don't open until the banks do issue - but that was many, many years ago and somewhere far away from Burma!
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Feb 28th, 2014, 08:28 AM
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Funny Kathie, and yes, I jinxed myself with that "surprisingly good wifi" comment. It was okay until about 4.00 pm, and has only returned now at 11.00 pm.
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Feb 28th, 2014, 11:28 AM
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I wondered - the wi-fi I encounter ranged from just fine to glacial.
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Feb 28th, 2014, 08:05 PM
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I would not skip Mandalay. While different from the others, it has its sights. A real highlight to me was to see them making gold leaf. I enjoyed the other crafts etc. and also U Bien. And I did go there in 10 days which is less time than you have. From a photography standpoint, I think you will find much of interest in Mandalay. It kinda depends on whether you fly from city to city or go a slower way.

I did not do it this way, but if I go back I will try the ferry from Mandalay to Bagan. And I will have to check out the new 'capital city' if it is not too difficult to get to. I temple out quickly and would spend only 2-3 days in Bagan.
Thorn Tree on Lonely Planet site has a lot of info on bus and train trips within Myanmar.
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Mar 1st, 2014, 06:12 AM
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Flying is obviously the quickest way to get around. We flew from Bagan to Heho for Inle Lake. We also flew from HeHo to Yangon. The flights were fine. We took the ferry from Mandalay to Bagan and enjoyed it. It's a good ten hour trip, so a leisurely way to go. In the other direction it's even longer. I would look into it if you enjoy slow travel and watching life go by on the banks of the river. When we were in Hsipaw most of the backpackers were taking the bus either back to Mandalay or onwards. The people we spoke with said the bus rides could be long but were generally ok. I looked into taking the train from Pyin OO Lwin to Hsipaw but in the end went with a driver because I worried the train ride would be very jarring & potentially very uncomfortable. I spoke with a couple who did it and said they were fine and enjoyed the trip. The train goes across a viaduct which is supposed to be quite spectacular. It was probably a wise decision on my part to skip the train, but I did have regret hearing about the trip form those who did it.
We took one day in Bagan and went out to Mt. Popa. The ride itself was interesting.
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Mar 2nd, 2014, 05:17 PM
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Hi Artguy.

Was in Burma in December. Had no problems.

- I also carried the Lonely Planet from 2011. You're right -- prices are much higher now
- I had no problem with ATMs. Found a money changer in the little town of New Bagan
- I booked hotels through Agoda. Paid for most in advance with a credit card. The Agoda prices were less than offered by tour operators. I did book my hotels months in advance
- I booked flights in advance on Oway. They weren't expensive. Flew within the country twice and the experience was uneventful, easy
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Mar 2nd, 2014, 07:43 PM
  #13
 
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Burma is a destination that rewards good preparation. I don't just mean hotels and flights I mean research.

http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...-bookshelf.cfm
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Mar 3rd, 2014, 05:39 PM
  #14
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WOW thank you everyone for your generous and kind responses. Well I booked my flight and arrive midnight on October 29th. I'd love to have a hotel meet me and bring me back to the hotel and check in. Will be exhausted from traveling. I'm hoping to spend $6- - $80 per night. Is that reasonable? Location and clean and friendly is all I ever look for. Making friends and sharing good stories is what makes traveling priceless. Thanks for your suggestions everyone!
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Mar 3rd, 2014, 08:33 PM
  #15
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So I also wanted to mention that after I tour Myanmar will then go to Thailand and end up on one of the islands to chill before heading back home. I have really no time limit other then money. Originally thought two weeks. But maybe more or less? Since you all have been to Myanmar, possibly you can advise me how much time I should give to exploring the country highlights without rushing through it all. Any suggestions or thoughts? Many thanks
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Mar 3rd, 2014, 10:23 PM
  #16
 
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Went there a couple of years ago and did the following:
1. Yangon – Kyaiktiyo (Taxi, Coach, Truck, Trek)
2. Kyaiktiyo – Yangon (Trek, Truck, Coach, Taxi)
3. Yangon – Mandalay (Train)
4. Mandalay – Bagan (Taxi, Plane)
5. Bagan – Heho (Plane)
6. Heho – Inle Lake via Nyaung Shwe (Taxi, Ferry)
7. Inle Lake – Heho via Nyaung Shwe (Taxi, Ferry)
8. Heho – Yangon (Plane)

Bagan and Inle Lake were definitely the highlights of my trip. I did Mandalay in half a day to see Mahamuni pagoda, the Royal Palace and U-Bein bridge. Worth at least that much. I saw Shwedagon Paya in the evening and it was gorgeous. I also took a trip to Kyaiktiyo which was pretty amazing. Stayed one night on the hill. You can read more here: http://asiaescapades.wordpress.com/2...burma-myanmar/

Cheers,
Johahn
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Mar 4th, 2014, 04:06 AM
  #17
 
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artguy, If time isn't an issue, give Burma at least two weeks or three, and be leisurely about how you go.

We were there last year, 2013, spent a week in Rangoon and 2 weeks on the Irrawaddy by boat, then a side trip to Inle Lake and a couple more days south of Rangoon with a person we knew who had family down there.

I'm working with a project related to conservation of European heritage architecture in Indo-China (We have done work in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore), and Rangoon was the obvious next place as tourism has taken off, to record what's there from colonial times and see how development impacts.

Last week we were in Georgetown, Penang, now a listed World Heritage Site, and I expect the Strand and the old colonial sector of Rangoon will be listed soon. It is quite a place to walk around, just to observe in its buildings the wealth and might of commerce that once existed as Burma's port to the world.

Of course, you should only walk around in daytime. Like almost every SEA city or town, the footpaths are atrocious, monnie drains have covers missing, stretches of paths are unrepaired, night lighting is poor. Rangoon and other towns in Burma are worse than most, except for Cambodia, which I think is worst of all for walking. Footpaths never improve in Asia, except outside shopping malls and high-end hotels.

We're returning to Burma later this year for a bit of work, and will be interested to see the changes. In the time we were there in 2013 ATMs were popping up around central Rangoon but not outside, credit cards were OK in hotels with 12hrs notice for the national bank, but cash was still king. We bought some nice art from a gallery with kyat from an ATM, obtained through MC, so it will be interesting to see what has changed.

Things happened very quickly in Vietnam between our first visit in 1998 and 2001. By 2011 it was a different country (and a wealthier, happier country.) Penang last week was also wealthy, happy, and with a public bus system that is the envy of the civilised world.

Disregard Lonely Planet, they are only good for maps and gay bars if that's your persuasion.

Road travel is awful in Burma, fly if you must (I hear the generals are upgrading the planes from 1970s stock), into and out of the country Thai, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia/Air Asia all have good services.

Burma is a beautiful country. Enjoy it (especially the architecture, food is ordinary).
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Mar 6th, 2014, 09:22 AM
  #18
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Thank you for your detailed kind reply. Much appreciated. Do you advise making my hotel and transport through a travel agent? Or something I could do when I arrive? To Rangoon? And if a travel agency have you to recommend? I originally thought I'd reserve a guest house upon arrival. Then feel my way through. Will it be tough finding a mid range guest house around $50 per night? I prefer guest houses as they are intimate and easier to meet people. And is there a part of Rangoon you suggest staying? So many questions... but that's how a trip begins.... Thank you!
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Mar 6th, 2014, 10:24 AM
  #19
 
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Since you are arriving in Burma just as high season starts, I'd suggest you make your reservations in advance. I wouldn't want to waste my precious Burma time hunting for a guesthouse. Shan Yoma is an agency that gets high marks for booking budget trips.
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Mar 8th, 2014, 10:31 AM
  #20
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Thanks, will certainly check out and good advice to know!
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