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Great trip to Myanmar, Bangkok and Hong Kong

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Feb 14th, 2014, 09:06 AM
  #1
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Great trip to Myanmar, Bangkok and Hong Kong

Thanks all for the travel advice. We had a great trip!

Santa Maria made all our Myanmar travel arrangements. We did the standard trip, Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake. We flew in and out of Bangkok and ended the trip in Hong Kong.

We should have packed lighter!
It gets cool and night and it was actually cold when we left Inle Lake early morning.
Even where credit cards were accepted, the machine/network was not reliably available.
We didn't want to script the trip too much, but it was hard to figure out what to do with the driver/guide when they wanted to take us somewhere else the next day.
I can see why people skip Mandalay.

Myanmar was amazing, Bagan was the highlight, but it was most interesting to see the local lifestyle and how rapidly things are changing.

More to follow as time permits.

Thanks again,
Carl
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Feb 14th, 2014, 09:17 AM
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I'll be interested to hear more about your trip. Favorite places?

Is this the first time you've used a private driver? I think there is a learning curve on how best to use a driver.
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Feb 14th, 2014, 11:47 AM
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Hi Kathie,

Our favorite place was Bagan. We stayed at the Tharabar Gate. The perfect location! We enjoyed walking into the old town and our favorite trail passed by several temples.

We also really enjoyed Indien. Your most helpful comment was "decide where you want to go before getting in a boat". We told him we wanted to go to Indien and the floating gardens.

There definitely is a learning curve. We started with a driver for a full day in Bagan, after a couple of stops, I started directing him to the main temples that were not withing walking distance. It was at the end of the day, when he wanted to know what we wanted to do tomorrow that we were unprepared to answer. Then a few days later, when we did want a driver for 1/2 day, we didn't have a way to contact him.

Carl
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Feb 14th, 2014, 01:28 PM
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Getting there.

It really is halfway around the world. On the old wall maps where America was centered, Burma was always on both edges. We left Christmas evening. 3 days later we arrived in Yangon. We had to go the long way around (through Brussels). It was the only way we could get Business class tickets, then a 24 hour recovery time at the Bangkok Airport Novotel. Lastly an early flight to Yangon.

Santa Maria had arranged a driver to pick us up. We quickly went through immigration, the officials opened up the domestic lines (most arriving were tourists). We changed $300 at the airport into kyat. Wah Wah from Santa Maria gave us our hotel vouchers and our airplane tickets. We stayed at the Parkroyal hotel, which was very nice.

We didn't plan to spend much time in Yangon so we went right over to the Shwedagon pagoda, after clearing that our shorts would be OK with the hotel staff. Yangon was hot.

The taxi dropped us at the entrance for foreigners. It was a little confusing, we actually walked in and out, passing right by the elevator. The pagoda is enormous and decorated in gold. One of the best things was just to sit down and take in the people walking around the complex. We took the elevator back down, missing the market stalls on the stairways.

We negotiated a taxi to take us back to the hotel. We ate lunch there. After lunch we walked over to Scott Market, now called Bogyoke Aung San market. We bought a suitcase there. We would be coming back to Yangon at the end of our Myanmar trip and wanted to leave a suitcase at the Parkroyal. Dinner at the hotel, then an early bedtime (this would be common for most of the trip). Our flight to Bagan was early (7:30) the next day.
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Feb 14th, 2014, 03:45 PM
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Thanks for more detail. It sounds like you had a great trip. There is definitely a learning curve to Burma. Glad to hear that my comments on Inle were helpful.

Did you use a horse cart at all in Bagan? It's my favorite way to visit the temples.
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Feb 14th, 2014, 11:21 PM
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Thanks for your report.....Please give us some more details about what you did in the other places.

We are working on a Burma trip from Bangkok for early next year, the typical tourist circuit into Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and out of Rangoon with a car and driver. We will be staying at Tharabar Gate also. Any other tips about Bagan? Any temples that are really stand outs?

Where is the elevator at Shwedagon pagoda...right by entrance for foreigners? I need all the help I can get!
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Feb 15th, 2014, 03:11 AM
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We didn't use the horse carts, it was really pleasant to just walk. And so easy from the Tharabar Gate. We'd walk into old Bagan and just the other way were several restaurants. Our favorite was Be Kind to Animals, the Moon.

At Shwedagon, right past the security checkpoint is the elevator, there is another security check on the other side of it, this is what we went through and had to be re-checked again.
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Feb 15th, 2014, 07:21 AM
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We used Min Thu, who has been recommended on this board as a guide. We went with him one day in a horse cart and really let him lead the way. He stayed out of the usual tourist track, so we never were with any crowds. We went with him by car to Mt. popa the second day. The third day his brother drove us. He is not a guide, but did give us a lot of info on each temple. He did not accompany us into the temples. Again he seemed to avoid the crowds.

Also near Tharbar Gate and behind Be kind to Animals is Star Beam restaurant. It was very good. We ate at the vegetarian restaurant across from the one mentioned above (not the one in LP guide.) It was very good and even less expensive then the one in the LP Guide. A couple we met in Pyin OO Lwin told us about it.

I agree in Mandalay-hard to like it.

We were in Bagan about two weeks ago for four nights and found it not so pleasant to walk around. It is extremely dusty and real sidewalks or shoulders to walk on do not exist. Perhaps in the day it wouldn't be so bad, but at night, it was not great.
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Feb 15th, 2014, 10:45 AM
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Thanks for the comments. I have added the Bagan restaurants to my trip notes. I have asthma and mobility issues so we will be using a car with A/C to see the temples. Is either the market or workshops worth seeing in Bagan area?. Know we will be limited by my walking issues, but even a little bit is better than staying home!

Any temples that are really stand outs? I will not be able to walk through more than one of two, probably, but would like some guidance from those of you who have been, on ones really worth the effort.

Tell me something about the Inle Lake boat ride. How is it climbing in and out of the boats? I know they will help me at the hotel so we will get out on the lake but am not sure about other places. Are there things to see if we just stay in the boat?

Carl170 and Yestravel, thanks for sharing you trips.

The help that generous Fodors posters provided us last year, made for a spectacular trip to India. We love photography so are really looking forward to this trip.
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Feb 15th, 2014, 10:51 AM
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cwn, you might want to take a look at our Burma photos (2 sets, 2009 and 2011) of Bagan, as the temple names are listed. www.marlandc.com

There is a lot to see at Inle, just staying in the boat, but I expect you will find people willing to help you in and out at every stop. Many places you might want to stop require a lot of walking, like InDien.
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Feb 15th, 2014, 08:55 PM
  #11
cwn
 
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Thanks Kathie for the heads up! After reading both your reports and looking at the pictures several times, I completely missed the labels on the pictures! However I did get some good ideas about what we would like to do.

Will study them again and pick a few temples we want to see. DH will want to climb one for sure for some pictures...hope we can find one where I can get a birds eye view also.
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Feb 17th, 2014, 08:40 AM
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On to Bagan

We left early in the morning for a 7am flight. The domestic terminal in Yangon was something different. Very chaotic, someone took our bags over to a counter. We checked in with paper tickets and got little stickers to wear. These we color coded for our airline a flight, so we tried to hang around people with the same stickers. Security was old fashioned, we could take our water bottles with us! We waited long enough to figure out the boarding process. We left on time and were on to Nuang U.

At Nuaung U, our baggage was brought out individually. We paid the archeological zone ticket and met our driver. Our first stop was Nuang U market. We didn't really want to go shopping, but we walked around and ended up buying long-his to wear in the temples. Our first temple was Shwezigon. We saw the nats, also a Korean tour group from our flight was there praying. It looked to us like a smaller version of Shwedagon in Yangon. Next temple was Wetkyi-in Gubyaukgi, where there were some old frescoes, some had been stolen. Next was Lawkahteikpan Pahto. This was memorable because there was a caretaker here who had a flashlight and described some of the scenes from the life of Buddha. He also let us keep our socks on!

Temple #4 was Shwesandaw Paya, famous for sunset views, but it was still nice mid-morning. Now I started to tell our driver where to go next. Which was Upali Thein, damaged by an eathquake, but restored with metal supports holding up the structure. From there we went to Sulemani Paya, known as the crown jewel. It is one of the more recognizable temples in pictures. Dhammayagni Pahto was next, a huge structure filled in the middle. Lots of bats live inside. While we like and appreciated bats, maybe not so much in such a tight space. By now we asked for a much needed lunch break.
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Feb 17th, 2014, 09:09 AM
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Bagan

We ate lunch at Golden Myanmar, apparently a popular buffet spot. They brought us several plates of food, not all recognizable, but most were tasty. Some of the vegetables, we didn't dare try. After lunch we drove through Old Bagan (planning to walk there another day) and on to Abeyadana Pahto. The frescos here we also quite something, unfortunately our flashlight was packed so all we had was the iPhone LED light, we'd be more prepared later. Across fro that was Nagayon, where Buddha is sheltered by a large snake. Last stop was Gubyaukgi. Our driver said we had already been there, but this was a different one. 10 was enouht for one day though, so we went to the hotel.

The Tharabar Gate was very nice, all the rooms are arranged like separate bungalows. A small private deck was in back. We ate dinner at the hotel.

The next morning, we walked to Ananda Pahto, one of the largest temples, it was very active, but not too memorable. Just outside it however was the Ananda Ok Kuang, beautiful frescoes here. From there we walked through the gate and into Old Bagan proper. It's not very large, but we had a hard time identifying where exactly we were. Every temple had at least one or two vendors and even though they had limited English, they were familiar enough with Lonely Planet carrying tourists to tell us that we were at #21!

#21 in the guidebook was Nathlaung Kuang, the only remaining Hindu temple in Bagan. Now that we knew where we were, we continued walking to Thatbyinnyu Pahto and Shwegugyi. The first we couldn't climb, up, but the second we could, after queuing for a while. We found the Pitaka Taik library, but there wasn't much to see there. The trails were dusty, we went to lunch at The Moon and back to the hotel to rest for the afternoon.
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Feb 17th, 2014, 09:41 AM
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Lots of great info. Thanks.

I am intrigued by your statement
Some of the vegetables, we didn't dare try.

I've felt that way about various items that appear on a plate but I'm usually concerned about eating rats, cats, eyeballs etc. What about the vegetables frightened you?
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Feb 17th, 2014, 10:16 AM
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We were trying to avoid eating uncooked vegetables, some we couldn't tell if they were picked or raw. Nothing was scary, just trying to minimize chances of any health problems.

Carl
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Feb 17th, 2014, 10:56 AM
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While the Tharabar Gate hotel was nice, is was convenient enough to get out of the hotel and try some other places. Next door was the Sarabha II restaurant. We tried it and there was a puppet show with a recorded soundtrack. Not the best quality, but still fun.

The next day we went to the Archeological museum, I guess it gets mixed reviews, but we found it interesting. One room is full of all the Buddha images that have been collected from the temples. Also interesting were some of the wooden frames and artifacts that have survived. Other temples near there were Mimalaung Kuang, some restoration work going on here and Pahothanya, with some of the oldest frescoes in Bagan.

For the afternoon, we decided than we wanted a driver for a half day. We hadn't planned out the entire itinerary in advance, but Santa Maria was able to find us another driver from their agency to take us around. We probably could have arranged in ourselves, but this seemed the easiest.

Now we had to decide where to go. We asked to go to a spot to see the sunset, but we also wanted to see the Bagan viewing tower. We picked some temples on the South plain to start with. We started at Payathonzu, the murals there were quite impressive. It has an interesting 3 shrine design which is very different from the others. Next to it was Thambula Pahto, we didn't go inside, just around the outside. There are so many temples around, we drove over to another one that looked interesting but wasn't identified in the guidebook. Then we drove to Leimyethna Pahto and from there to the viewing tower. The Bagan viewing tower was a bit of a disappointment. You do get good views of the plain and it's a lot cheaper than the balloon ride, but we could have skipped it.

It was approaching sunset, so we headed to the "sunset pagoda". We drove up To it and there were many tour busses parked there and a large crowd on top. It was too late to go somewhere else, so we went on up. We interior staircase was lit by candles, then on top, we were just climbing the wall, no real stairs. So we were at Pyathada Paya. The good thing was that the top was a large flat area, so there was room for everyone. We got some good pictures, but left before sunset to avoid the crowd.

Dinner tonight was the New Years Eve gala at the Tharabar. There was a band, music, a huge spread of dinner. I actually dressed up in the long-yi. We never wore it at any of the temples. The funny thing was that after that all the hotel staff knew who I was.

Our last full day in Bagan, we walked to some of the temples we missed. Bupaya, by the river, this was our first time seeing the river. It was neat to watch people come up and down from the river. We sat for awhile and bought postcards here (which still have never shown up!). Then to Gawdawpalin Pahto, more interesting from the outside. Spend the afternoon packing and resting up. We also did some souvenir shopping at Shwe War Thein handicrafts near our hotel.

About an hour before sunset we went back down one of the dirt paths. By this time we were familiar with the trail and got some really good pictures, even of Sulamani and Dhammayangi in the distance.

Our last Bagan dinner was back at Sarabha. We caught the last scene of the same puppet show.
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Feb 17th, 2014, 03:25 PM
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I remember our first sunset in Bagan. There is one pagoda everyone goes to, but we went to one nearby instead. We had a great view, got great photos and there was just one other couple there. We could hear the crowd from the other pagoda and were glad we weren't there!
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Feb 20th, 2014, 06:41 PM
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Aforementioned postcards arrived today! I thought they were lost.

On to Mandalay

When planning this trip, Mandalay seemed like a must see spot, the historic cities around it and all the literature about it. I later found out the famous Kipling poem was actually Moulmein, but it didn't sound as nice as Mandalay.

Other second thoughts, Bagan and Inle Lake are malarial areas, by going to Mandalay in between, we extended our time taking anti-malarials.

Anyway, there we went. The airport was just as chaotic as when we went from Yangon to Nuang U. Mandalay airport was quite modern. Empty, but modern. It is also a ways out of town. Santa Maria had arranged our pickup. There was a highway for awhile, but it soon became two lane roads. We didn't realize we had come into town when we got to our hotel.

We stayed at the Ayerwady River View hotel. Our room wasn't ready, it was early still, so we waited awhile. After we checked in, we decided to walk the Lonely Planet Bike tour, as that it ended near our hotel. We walked to the river docks, where we figured out the public boat to Mingun (planned for the next day). We proceeded to walk across a teak bridge over a small lake, a temple, and into town. Somewhere we made a wrong turn and left the bike tour and ended up in massive traffic in downtown. Downtown was not what we expected, bikes, motorbikes, cars, no sidewalks, and no taxis to take us back. We found our way to the Shan district of Mandalay, where we had a very good buffet lunch. The proprietors found a truck that would take us back to the hotel. Later we figured out that to go out of the hotel, we had to hire a taxi to take us there and wait to take us back.
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Feb 21st, 2014, 08:27 AM
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We took the public boat to Mingun. It was interesting to watch the people come down and load up the various boats. When it was time to board, there were a series of planks and other boats we had to cross to board. There were 2 boats because of the large number of tourists. We got the one without chairs. The giant Stupa in Mingun is quite something, it is strange because there is not much there. The large cracks running through it were quite memorable. We walked around the Stupa, we didn't climb it. Again, we would have had to go barefoot. We saw the Mingun bell, the Hsin-byu-me-Pagoda, and the ruined chinthe's that would have guarded the entrance. There wasn't much else to do here, we had lunch by the river and waited for the boat back. This time we were on the boat with chairs.

We had dinner at Spice Garden at the Hotel by the Red Canal. Dinner was good, and we could pay by credit card.

The next day we arranged for a driver through the hotel. We wanted to go to the Mahamuni Paya, not least to see the Angkorian Bronzes, Sagaing and Amarapura. The Mahamuni was interesting, we didn't queue up to apply gold to the Buddha, we mostly just wandered around. The bronzes had a large crowd around them. Next was Sagaing, we stopped at a temple and Buddhist school before going up the hill. The views on top were quite nice, it was a bit hazy though. We visited two temples at the top before going to Amarapura. There we went to the monastery and the U Pain bridge. The bridge was neat, but also very crowded. With no rails or anything, we only walked a short distance. We at lunch here watching people go back and forth, then went back to the hotel.

Our last night we went to happy hour on the roof of the hotel, and saw the sunset from the roof. Our last dinner was Ko's Kitchen (we had been here our first night too). It was right by the Mandalay Palace, so we at least saw the canal and the palace walls.

While the ancient cities were interesting, I'm not sure that the trip here was worth it. We may have been better off spending these 3 days elsewhere.
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Feb 21st, 2014, 10:02 AM
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I completely agree with you on Mandalay.
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