Help with planning Burma itinerary

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Jun 9th, 2014, 08:36 AM
  #1
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Help with planning Burma itinerary

Currently in the initial stages of planning a long trip around parts of Asia en route from the UK to Australia for a couple of weeks to visit family. We start our trip in Oct or November. Hard enough to plan being in the right place at the right time weatherwise in Asia but after reading lots of posts here and elsewhere, I realise that if we want to include Myanmar it gets VERY busy during the "high season" of Nov-Feb. To add to this, it seems that it is necessary/ advisable to book air ticket and accommodation through an agency, which normally I try to avoid, preferring to book as we go along.

As we will be travelling for an extended period I am looking to keep costs low. We aim to use public transport wherever possible, stay in "budget" accommodation (private double rooms as opposed to dorms). Not averse to roughing it, nor do we stint when the occasion warrants and will splash out once in a while.
In additition to visiting the key tourist sites, we do enjoy just chilling out and getting a off the beaten track ( using homestays etc.) we enjoy, hiking, food, markets etc.

A rough draft itinerary I, or rather someone else, came up with is;

Rangoon

Mandalay

Monywa

Bagan

Kalaw (for village hiking)

Inle Lake

A few questions

1. Is this a reasonable itinerary for 2-3 weeks?

2. Any major omissions suggestions for a better/ different route?

3. Do I really need to use an agency? If so, which ones ( preferably NOT linked to the government )?

4. Within certain constraints we could fit this in to anywhere in our trip. Any suggestions as to what time of year? Currently thinking of avoiding the "high" season on the basis of crowds, expense and shortage of accomodation etc. Maybe June - August?

5. The probability is that we will fly into the country from KL or BKK, but does anyone have any experience of entering overland from Thailand?

6. Payment for hotels etc. is it usual to pay an agency in advance for hotels, transport etc. If so, how?

7. I know that pristine US $ bills are the preferred mode of payment. Is there anyway I can get these in BKK or KL without getting ripped off with forex charges? (Don't really want to carry too much cash around Asia for several months!

Apologies for the number of questions. Any suggestions, guidance or opinions would be very much appreciated.
crellston is offline  
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Jun 9th, 2014, 08:59 AM
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Go via KL!
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Jun 9th, 2014, 09:20 AM
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Things are changing rapidly, as you know. In general, forget going overland from Thailand. The borders open and close - but mostly close, Fly in on Air Asia from either Bangkok or KL.

The problem with accommodation is that the country just doesn't have the infrastructure. In the last couple of years there has been a building boom, so you may find accommodations are not as difficult to get as they have been . And if you go June - August, you can very likely manage without advance reservations.

Be aware that overland travel within the country is slow. Buses are more comfortable and faster than the train.

I'd say that if you want to wing it, get your air tickets in and out and your first night accommodation.

You can book accommodations on internet sites like agoda now, also booking.com and others so take a look.

I'd recommend Kengtung over Kalaw just because fewer people visit, but the rain might be more of a problem in Kengtung. We were not charmed by Mandalay. And I'm not sure your agenda for going to Monywa.

As far as cash is concerned, you will need some cash, but there are now ATMs in Burma that take foreign cards (but at a 5000 kyat charge). I didn't think I'd see that in my lifetime. You can also get US dollars from an airside ATM in Bangkok - I don't know about KL.

Budget accommodations are unlikely to accept credit cards, but there are hotels that do accept them, and you can reserve and pay on sites like agoda via credit card.

I'd aim for three weeks in country of you can.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 12:01 PM
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Good advice from Kathie above.
There are also direct flights from Singapore to Yangon. Jetstar Asia is another budget airline that flies to Yangon.

Check airbnb for lodgings too.

ATMs are plentiful, and even budget hotels take credit cards, maybe not home stays.

I found that Agoda.com had more choices than booking.com. You can also check oway.com for in country flights.

I enjoyed my time in the rainy season, that was last August, makes for pretty scenery.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 12:10 PM
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sartoric - airbnb? Have the laws about allowing foreigners to stay in a private residence changed? Homestays have long been illegal in Burma with the exception of organized trekking to villages.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 12:22 PM
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Yep, airbnb. My first couple of nights in Yangon were booked on the site. The owner of the house also ran his business from there, and sublet rooms to a travel agency business too. It was a spartan place, but did have an ensuite wet room.

There were other rooms in private homes on the site but not available for my dates. Guess the laws have changed.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 01:13 PM
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Well, that is good to hear. For decades, even ex-pat family members returning to visit needed special government permission to have a "foreigner" in their homes. And guesthouses had to have a special license to allow foreigners to stay. That loosening of the laws can make a difference in accommodation availability. Thanks for the info, sartoric.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 02:09 PM
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I too went in August ( a few years ago) and it was a great time, it was less touristy, it did rain but really not enought to spoil the trip. The only thing we couldn't do was Balloons over Bagan!!

I even you your Crelleston, yet another amazing trip in the planning for you
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Jun 9th, 2014, 09:05 PM
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Did you leave out the beaches on purpose? I did not go to the beach because of time restraints but if I return, I will definitely include a few days at the beach. I checked agoda for the budget listings since in the past the budget accommodations did not show up on the internet booking sites. But Inle was pretty well covered now. But Lonely Planet thorn tree forums will get you the most current info re Burma for buses and accommodations. Of course the Lonely Planet book is out of date (as rapidly as Burma is changing!)

And given the luxury of time, I would definitely overnight in the NEW capital city (can't remember the name of it). I think it is doable from Yangon to Bagan and I would have to do it for curiosity sake...and who knows how important it will be in Burma's future.
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Jun 9th, 2014, 10:59 PM
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Airbnb listings in Myanmar...

https://www.airbnb.co.uk/s/Myanmar-Burma

And an interesting link on the government slant...

http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/nat...mar-homes.html
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Jun 9th, 2014, 11:28 PM
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If you're travelling by road to Inle, then Kalaw will make a welcome break on your journey. The road is hard going getting there from Bagan or Mandalay, but it's a relatively easy drive down to Heho and Inle.

It's a delightful place. We stopped there for 2 nights on our way to Inle, and one night on our return. We stayed at the Dream View Hotel, which was fine for us.

An excellent place to eat in Kalaw is Sam's Restaurant. Sam is a retired trekking guide, but he and his family still run a successful trekking company.

We hardly saw any westerners in Kalaw.
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Jun 10th, 2014, 12:37 AM
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Thank you all so much for the information, links etc. etc. Very much appreciated.

I recall from previous posts that Kathie used Santa Maria as an agency so will be emailing them amongst others, to price up an itinerary. If we do decide to go in the peak season I am inclined towards using an agency but if we go in the low season, say August, like Sartoric and smeagol, we may well take a more freestyle approach and just book our first and last nights, flights etc. Generally, we just turn up in a town and find somewhere to stay but still not sure how practicable this will be in Burma.

Sartoric and smeagol, did use use and agent or DIY?

God to know that Airbnb now operate in Burma. We used them in South America last year but only for stays of a week or two. All worked very well. Thanks for the link LancasterLad.

LL - do you happen to have any contact info for Sam in Kalaw?

Wintersp - no, I didn't leave out the beaches deliberately. Good point, we are planning on doing some diving on this trip and the Burma Banks is one place we wold love to go and had thought of doing it by liveaboard from Thailand. I will now investigate the possibility of doing this from Burma. Thanks!
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Jun 10th, 2014, 01:33 AM
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When I was there August 2013 we were on a Pandaw for 14 days, and self booked hotels either end, Yangon and Mandalay.

Recently, in Feb/Mar 2014 it was all on the fly, I booked three flights with local agents (walked in off the street) and all hotels via the internet a few days in advance. Perhaps I didn't always get the best hotels in my budget range, but they were good enough, and I was happy.

There's a trip report under my name, a different trip for sure, but includes some costs and transport options.

I remember reading about your thoughts on a long term Thailand stay, we're considering the same. Do you still harbour those thoughts, or was it all too hard ?

Happy to answer any specifics on Myanmar if I can help. You'll love this fabulous country....
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Jun 10th, 2014, 03:06 AM
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Crellston

I found an e-mail address in LP, [email protected]

If you Google 'Sam's Restuarant, Kalaw' quite a few links will appear. We only ate at the restaurant, so I can't comment on the quality of the trekking guides. I think the usual recommendation is not to go firm with a guide until you've had chance to talk to the person who will be doing the guiding, so you can get a feel for him.

All we'd arranged before arriving in Yangon was 4 nights accommodation. Our intention was to have a look at the buses and trains before working out a plan.

But our taxi driver (Golden Swallow Transport) from the airport to the hotel asked us what our intentions were. I told him they were still fluid, and he offered to take us out for a day to see the countryside around Yangon. And if we liked him, then we could consider hiring him for the next 2 weeks.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day out, and he took us back to his company office to work out an itinerary and costings. His e-mail address is: [email protected]. The company website is...

http://www.exotissimo.com/exotravel/contact_yangon

Our 13 nights on the road took us to...

- Taungoo. Mid-way between Rangoon and Bagan) - 1 night.
- Bagan. 2 nights.
- Mandalay. 2 nights.
- Pyin oo Lwin. 2 nights.
- Kalaw. 2 nights.
- Inle Lake. 2 nights.
- Kalaw. 1 night.
- Taungoo 1 night

We paid the grand total of US$800, which included the car, the driver, the driver's guiding skills and his wonderful knowledge of his country, his accommodation, his food, petrol and road tolls. He arranged accommodation for us to suit our budget.

The car was a beat-up right-hand drive Toyota Corolla, a/c was broke so we had the windows open full-time, suspension was knackered.

We started everyday freshly showered, and finished everyday with an orange face and orange hair! I suppose we could of upgraded the vehicle. But we had a fantastic time, most of the roads are either dust or or pot-holed. We went through countless villages and saw the Myanmar that most people who fly between points, and are shepherded around in groups wouldn't see.

No doubt the US£800 we paid will have risen considerably over the last 4 years.
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Jun 10th, 2014, 07:27 AM
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There is lots of info about Sam and what he offers in terms of trekking on Thorntree.

Note that if you opt to go in July/August the beach resorts are closed.

LL raises the option of hiring a car and driver for the whole trip. It will certainly be more than what he paid 4 years ago, but it might be worth inquiring about. No doubt it would be more expensive than flying, but you get a different experience. Of course, the roads are just terrible in many places, and only in poor condition in others.
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Jun 10th, 2014, 10:02 AM
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Sartoric, Thanks for pointing me to your trip report. loads of great info! - note to self - must make better use of the search facility here! having read your TR i am inclined towards booking the first few nights and maybe sort to the rest when there with perhaps a few flights in advance as well. As for Thailand longer term, that was plan A 3-6 month trip based in the north including some voluntary work and using that as a base to travel around northern Lao etc. The visa issue was a bit of a pain but we are now on to Plan B a longer trip covering some old favourites as well as some new places such as Indonesia and the Phillipines.

LL- thanks for the further info - $800!! if only! your description of finishing every day with an orange face reminds me of our time in Sierra Leone. the red earth there left everything a nice shade of orange especially as the normal form of transport was the motorbike and tarmac roads were a rarity.

Kathie - good point about the beaches in July/August!!

I need to email a few agents and hit a few hotel and airline websites..
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Jun 10th, 2014, 10:07 AM
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Crell, I used Sanata Maria, it was a few years ago and K had already had trouble getting her visa so I didn't want to jinx it by doing the bookings myself. SM were great to use, but just be mindful you do what you want to do. K used them again about 2 years ago and said they were still great. I do get the I impression they were overwhelmed for a while....

Oh now this post makes me want to return ( we have kind of pencilled it in for Nov 15)
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Jun 10th, 2014, 11:57 AM
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I'm going next month (July) and self booked everything (hotels mostly) except internal flights. For that I used Santa Maria. We were supposed to get e-tickets via Yangon airways but of course the airline has postponed issuing them that way until July 1st and I'll be surprised if that happens. So, SM is meeting us at the airport to deliver paper tickets (for a $15 fee). I suspect if we'd booked other stuff through them there would be no fee but I don't know for sure.

I suspect by the time you go next year there will be a lot more options if you want to do it yourself.
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Jun 10th, 2014, 12:41 PM
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Wow - they are going to start issuing e-tickets! When I was there in 2009 and 2011, tickets were hand-written on ticket stock with all the carbons, and at check-in they had a hand-written list of passengers, looked for your name and checked it off.
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Jun 10th, 2014, 01:59 PM
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@Kathie<<>>

Although it's possible to speed up the trip from Yangon to the north, on the fast. straight, almost traffic-free road, that passes by the haunting new capital of Myanmar...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5Lyzvzbg9Y
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