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-   -   Help! Torn by Santa Maria travel itinerary and hotel bookings (https://www.fodors.com/community/asia/help-torn-by-santa-maria-travel-itinerary-and-hotel-bookings-941175/)

LvL Jul 1st, 2012 06:14 PM

Help! Torn by Santa Maria travel itinerary and hotel bookings
 
Well, I posted a while back to ask how long I should wait to get an itinerary confirmation. After 5 1/2 weeks Karene at Santa Maria finally confirmed hotels at Inle. It seems there is a one-legged boat festival the days we were to be there and all the hotels were booked.

But Santa Maria was able to get rooms at the Aureum Inle for 3 out of the 4 days we planned to be there. The other 2 days are booked at Kalaw (Honey Pine Hotel) and the suggestion is that we do some trekking and visiting a Church Compound to visit the Hill Tribe children.

Here is our suggested itinerary:
Yangon - 1 day
Bagan - 2 days
Monywa - 1 day (Amarapura, Inwa)
Manadalay - 3 days (Po-win-taung, Sagaing. Mingun, Pyin oo Lwin)
Kalaw - 2 days ( Pindaya Caves, 1/2 day trek, town)
Inle - 3 days
Yangon (Golden Rock, bago enroute)


A few issues here:

1. It has been suggested on many travel forums (including this one) to avoid the Aureum chain hotels as there seems to be close ties to the government. But apparently we are "very lucky" (SM quote) to get a place. I don't feel right about staying here, although someone wrote that staying in a large hotel like this (employing 100s of locals) is good for the people as well. Should I accept this hotel booking or not? If we don't we may have to totally revamp our tour and lose many other hotel bookings that apparently were hard to get (according to SM)

2. Instead of 3 nights in Kalaw (which they first added because we could not stay at Inle during the festival but we protested) , we have 2, and so they added a night and day trip to Pyin Oo Lwin. IS it really worth a day trip from Mandalay? It was not on our original itinerary wishlist.

3. The total price for the tour has gone up substantially. Can anyone give me a ball park figure of costs for a 2 week trip including transfers, flights, staying at mid-range hotels, and daily guides and entrance fees to sites. I thought 2 weeks in Myanmar was within our budget ($1500 pp) but this has gone waaaayyyy over.

I am an experienced traveller and organized a 4 month trip to China on our own a few years ago. I know how to work an itinerary and book hotels/transfers/tours, but this experience with Santa Maria travel has left me frustrated. While I had read that it is better to book hotels, flights etc through a Myanmar travel agency, I wonder if I should have booked accommodation on my own.

Any insight would be great! I have to make a decision about our final itinerary asap.
Thanks all!

dogster Jul 1st, 2012 06:46 PM

You might find this article instructive:
http://ttgasia.com/article.php?article_id=3576

and this:
http://www.mysinchew.com/node/74288
and this:
http://www.property-report.com/myanm...the-roof-22900

There are many, many similar articles. Use Google and click on 'news'.

This is not the time to get picky.

Kathie Jul 1st, 2012 08:10 PM

Traveling to Burma is different from traveling to any place else. WHen I booked my first trip to Burma (after struggling for months to do it all on my own, I learned that travel agents are a necessity in Burma. You can't use credit cards to secure a hotel, you can't book flights, Burma exists in another time zone - by many decades.

You are simply a victim of how popular Burma has become as a destination. I'm afraid you are deluding yourself if you think you could have gotten hotel bookings on your own. Hotel prices have doubled and tripled, and everything is still full. Your only chance of getting hotels is to book through an agent that has long-term relationships with the hotels.

How much of your wished-for itinerary were you able to get?

You do have a choice: you can take the bookings they were able to make for you or you can choose not to go to Burma. Up to you.

520 Jul 1st, 2012 09:27 PM

I don't remember when your trip begins, but we're going to be in Burma from 11/24--12/17 and we started working w/Santa Maria in January, finally confirmed everything in mid-March--at which time we found out the Governor's Residence was booked for the dates we wanted--we're staying at The Strand, which sounds great, but the Inle Lake hotel we'd planned on was booked for all of November--and through Feb. '13; etc. etc.

Sounds like SM did a good job of getting you places in a terribly tight market.

One could wait a few years to go by which time Burma may have caught up with the tourism explosion.

After reading Dogster's articles, it sounds as if it's going to be a very different experience than we would have had a year ago....

Hanuman Jul 1st, 2012 09:33 PM

I would go for it. Big increase in tourist arrivals with most coming from China followed by Thailand. These tourist tend to prefer 3 or 4 star accomodation so I would expect less availabiltiy and higher prices in all classes of hotels.

shelleyk Jul 1st, 2012 11:16 PM

If I had to make this decision I would try to figure out if I would be happy with the itinerary that SM is proposing. Getting to and from Burma takes considerable time and money and if the itinerary would be a disappointment, I would put it off until 2014 and start planning for it now.

To me the choice of hotels are secondary to the itinerary. If you read my TR you will see that I was underwelmed by Kalaw and Pindaya Caves, but other parts of your itinerary seem good to me. For what it's worth, from what I have read, many travelers do like Monywa.

LvL Jul 2nd, 2012 01:11 AM

Thank you all for your thoughts! Its just what I needed! I guess I just assumed (wrongly!) that if I could plan/book/execute a successful trip elsewhere, Myanmar would be no different. I am now approaching this trip from a different perspective.

Dogster, really appreciate the links...I knew there were issues with tourist infrastructure and these articles were enlightening. You are right about not being picky...

Kathie thanks for pointing out that travel to Myanmar is like no other place, for making me realize that SM did their best in a tight market and that it is our choice to accept it as it is or not. SM has continuously apologized for delays and changes and thanked me for having patience while they figured it all out. We were able to get 85% of our original itinerary and it seems from all comments that it is a good percentage.

520--it is good to know that others have dealt with SM and have had similar experiences. Hope your trip is successful!

And ShelleyK and Hanuman..thanks for your thoughts. ShelleyK--will be rereading your trip report!

520 Jul 3rd, 2012 12:53 PM

If you haven't confirmed all flights and hotels, another possibility that you may want to consider is booking the Princess Garden Hotel in Nyaungshwe/Lake Inle. You can't book them through SM, however. You have to book directly; there are 106 reviews on TA, of which I think 96 or 98 are five stars--it is NOT a five star hotel, but a bed and breakfast/small hotel. A couple of Fodorites have stayed there and have also given it the highest praise.

They respond quickly to inquiries.


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