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Loved Myanmar, but it will be a while before I want to see another golden pagoda

Loved Myanmar, but it will be a while before I want to see another golden pagoda

Dec 13th, 2018, 05:43 AM
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Loved Myanmar, but it will be a while before I want to see another golden pagoda

First, a thanks to those who have previously posted on Myanmar before. Although I didnít start my own thread relating to my trip I trawled through other posts and trip reports which gave me the basis for planning my own trip so Iím now returning the favour.

For those who want to see if this TR covers area of interest to them I went to Yangon, Kalaw, Inle Lake, Pindaya, Bagan and then Bagan to Mandalay by boat.

I spent 15 nights in Myanmar in October, 8 days travelling on my own and then a 7 day river cruise with Pandaw. I used One Stop Travel Agency in Yangon who organised all my hotels, transfers, guides and internal flights and I was extremely happy with them. They were very quick to respond to my queries, all their arrangements were seamless and the price was excellent. There was a flight delay on one of my internal flights and they were absolutely fabulous when I contacted them. The river cruise I booked directly with Pandaw and they were also very good in responding to my queries and helping me determine which cruise I wanted to take. Unlike some of the bigger international cruise lines eg APT, Scenic etc., Pandaw offered a variety of different cruises and also of different lengths of time so there were a number of things to factor in.

Iím a 60+ woman who was travelling on her own and, at no time, did I feel worried or unsafe Ė not that I had been concerned, but I know some other single woman might be.

I flew into Yangon from Australia via Singapore. Silk Air from Singapore to Yangon was really very good Ė no complaints whatsoever. Immigration was quick and painless (had done an e-visa before arrival which took me about 5 minuteson-line) but did have to wait a while for my suitcase.

Yangon is large and busy and there isnít a huge amount to see there for most tourists. Consequently, I only allowed 1 Ĺ days. Obviously you could do more but I felt that I had covered the major sites.

I stayed 2 nights at the Lotte Hotel which is a 5 star hotel, fairly new and beside Lake Inya. It was a lovely hotel, had a nice area beside the swimming pool for evening drinks/dinner and my room looked over the lake to Schwedagon Pagoda in the distance which was lit up at night. Iím not sure if there is much within walking distance of the hotel because I simply was driven in and out the two times from the main road. There wasnít much to see from the way we drove in but perhaps from a back road or along the lake shore there are restaurants/shops you can walk to. The breakfast buffet was excellent and I had my first try of Mohinga soup which is a staple for Burmese breakfasts. It was absolutely delicious and I subsequently had it everywhere I could. Itís rather like mumís chicken soup in that every family obviously has their own version, but every one I tried was great. Make sure you give it a go.

I found it interesting that each time I entered the hotel I had to put all my belongings through a scanning machine ( ŗ la the airport). I donít know whether this is the general rule in Yangon or just the hotel I stayed at. I didnít encounter it anywhere else.

I used a local guide and driver for my one day whistle stop tour of Yangon and Iím glad I did. Normally I tend to book somewhere fairly central and just walk to the various sights or use public transport but with only one full day I opted for the extra convenience, especially as it was fairly hot and humid. Getting back into the AC car was lovely.

The traffic is very, very heavy and isnít probably helped by the fact that the virtually all of the cars are right hand drive but they are also driving on the right hand side of the road. Thus turning left was sometimes difficult without a clear view. Apparently, during the junta period one of the generals (due to an astrologerís recommendation) simply announced that all the traffic will swap sides of the road overnight. Out in the countryside on the winding mountain roads, all the trucks had to have two people, one to drive and the other to let him know what was coming.

In Yangon I visited the local food market (quite enjoyed, lots of hustle and bustle and it was good to have my guide to explain some of the more exotic foods), a general market (lots of shops selling gold and jewellery but I didnít indulge), the national museum (interesting but not a must see), the general city sights and of course Shwedagon Pagoda which is quite amazing and IMHO is the only must see.

Next Ė Kalaw
shandy is offline  
Dec 13th, 2018, 08:02 AM
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Following along.
Marija is online now  
Dec 13th, 2018, 09:09 AM
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I look forward t reading about your experiences!
Kathie is offline  
Dec 13th, 2018, 09:56 AM
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Also traveling along and following your trip.
HappyTrvlr is offline  
Dec 13th, 2018, 08:14 PM
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We had the same thing re the scanner at our hotel in Yangon.
yestravel is offline  
Dec 14th, 2018, 02:04 AM
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Kathie, I'm feeling quite honoured to have you reading. I've always loved your reports and advice. It's been several years since I was really last active on the board (it fell by the wayside once my husband became seriously ill) but hope to start taking a more active interes tagain.
shandy is offline  
Dec 14th, 2018, 02:13 AM
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From Yangon I flew into Heho airport which was a short flight. I was met at the airport by my next guide and driver and we headed off to Kalaw. Kalaw is the hill country where in British colonial days they retreated to, to escape the heat and humidity of Mandalay.

Trekking through the countryside is very popular and there are a number of different walks ranging from half day to full day and the 3-4 night walk between Kalaw and Inle Lake is very popular. I only did a half day walk and we passed through some lovely countryside. For quite a while we steadily went up hill but, even at my advanced age and arthritic knees, I was able to cope perfectly well. The temperature was quite a bit cooler and, more importantly, there wasnít the humidity factor so it was quite pleasant weather wise Ė at least until it started raining. It was very peaceful, meeting few people, passing through some lovely scenery and lots of farms.. The soil was obviously very fertile and the assorted crops were plentiful Ė ginger, avocados, corn, green tea, coffee, pumpkins, potatoes to name a few that I saw.

For the last 90 mins or so it rained off and on and the rain itself wasnít a problem but it did make the track very muddy and slippery and rather than looking at the views I found I was spending most of my time watching where I was going to place my next step. Regardless, I thoroughly enjoyed it and for those who are up for it, Iím sure a multi-day trek would be very rewarding. I only wore my open sandals and felt that for such a short trek hiking boots were quite unnecessary. My guide only wore flip flops!

There was not a great deal to see in Kalaw, itís really about the walking. I visited a cave with quite a lot of Buddha images and another temple but that seemed to be about it.

I stayed at the Kalaw Heritage Hotel which was built in 1903 by the British. Itís set within nice gardens and my room was within the original building. It was very large and nicely furnished but the bathroom could do with being modernised. Downstairs there was a very nice bar for drinks and nibbles with lovely wood work. There werenít many people staying there and when I looked in the restaurant there wasnít a single person having dinner so I decided to forgo dinner there as I wasnít particularly hungry after my very late lunch following the walk (it seemed a bit sad being the only person) and made do with some snacks I happened to have with me. There were restaurants within easy walking distance but I simply couldnít be bothered. At 5.30am I could hear the bells ringing at the local monastery which I found delightful. I donít think that they would have been loud enough to wake someone asleep but I was already awake after my early night.

I didnít come across any other actual tour groups, just individuals or a few people travelling together. I was surprised that the two main foreign languages I heard spoken were French and German and not much English. When I queried my guide he said that would be right Ė most of the trekkers were French or German.

After Kalaw it was off to Inle Lake by car. First though, I headed off to the Green Hill Elephant Retirement camp. They only have 8 elephants ranging in ages from 50 to about 67 and one youngster of 10 years who was found by one of the vets after its mother died.

This is an ethical project designed to look after elephants once they have finished their working lives Ė definitely no rides or tricks etc. To visit you need to have made a pre-booking and not just turn up as the numbers each day are strictly controlled and are quite small. There you get to hear a bit about the elephants, help feed them and you can help wash one in the river. Lunch is provided and you can also participate in tree planting in the afternoon if you wish. I found it fascinating to learn about the elephants and washing one in the river was fun. Even for that, forget using brooms or large sponges as I have seen pictures of elsewhere. It has to be kept as natural as possible and you use pieces of paper bark like the elephants would rub themselves up against in the wild. Fortunately, the camp provides pants to wear whilst in the water because yours would be soaked. After 3.30pm the elephants are left to roam through the forest on their own and generally they return each night of their own accord although, occasionally, they have to go and hunt for them.

It was quite a long drive to Inle Lake. Once again, some lovely countryside and lots of narrow hilly windy roads, most of which were in a state of disrepair. There was a lot of road work being done to upgrade them. However, few bulldozers and other mechanical equipment, just a lot of back breaking work by men Ė and plenty of women Ė using pick axes and just their bare hands. The bitumen was being made in 44 gallons drums along the sides of the roads and the smell was terrible. Likewise the dust. Even inside our car with the windows up I was coughing on occasions. How the workers coped with the dust and smell is beyond me.

As we got closer to Nyaungshwe township, we passed dozens and dozens of small stalls collecting money for the local monasteries. Iím not sure if this happens all year round or because I was there during their major festival. The noise was deafening on occasions as they all seemed to compete with each other in how loud they could play their music.

The hotel I was staying at was on the lake itself so instead of driving the last half hour we got out and took one of the local long tail boats to get to the hotel. Our boat was just the boat man, my trusty guide and myself. The long tail boats are very narrow and all have very noisy engines but quite comfortable to sit in with proper backed seats. There is no cover so an umbrella is essential whether it be for rain or to protect yourself from the sun. Mine had large umbrellas provided. At first, I thought I would look a little silly holding up my umbrella in the sunshine but I realised over the next couple of days all the locals did Ė it was only the tourists that werenít!

There are floating reed beds all over the lake and as we got closer to the hotel we had my ďAfrican QueenĒ moment. Iíve always loved that movie and the iconic scene of Humphrey Bogart pulling the boat out from the reeds. Well, we got completely stuck in the reeds and the boat could no longer go forward any more (it had been possible the day before) and it took the poor boatman a good 20 mins of standing in the water to push and pull the boat back to clear water again so we could find another way in.

Next instalment Ė Lake Inle and festival
shandy is offline  
Dec 14th, 2018, 05:04 AM
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Shandy- Reading along with you-please keep going! We are leaving on Wednesday for Yangon, Bagan, Samkar Lake (Inle) and Loikaw-then off to Siem Reap after! There is not too much recent info on these boards so this is great though our planning is all done!
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Dec 14th, 2018, 03:24 PM
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Shandy, good to read about the elephant retirement camp. I can feel confident in recommending it to people after reading your report.

Where did you stay at Inle? We loved our time at Inle, we stayed at the edge of the lake, but I know there are places literally on the lake.

Odie, do I understand that you are going to Sankar/Sangar (or a dozen other spellings) and staying on that part of the lake rather than Inle? I remember a report a year or so ago from someone who reported on a small hotel located at Sankar. I'll be interested in your experience of it.
Kathie is offline  
Dec 14th, 2018, 04:27 PM
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Any photos?
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Dec 15th, 2018, 06:19 AM
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Originally Posted by Kathie View Post
Shandy, good to read about the elephant retirement camp. I can feel confident in recommending it to people after reading your report.

Where did you stay at Inle? We loved our time at Inle, we stayed at the edge of the lake, but I know there are places literally on the lake.

Odie, do I understand that you are going to Sankar/Sangar (or a dozen other spellings) and staying on that part of the lake rather than Inle? I remember a report a year or so ago from someone who reported on a small hotel located at Sankar. I'll be interested in your experience of it.
Hi Kathie-Yes we are staying at that part of the Lake at the Inle Lake Sanctauary for three nights and then on to Loikaw for another three nights. We are both excited and nervous. I always blog while we travel and then do a trip report here after because I always get so much good info from the Fodors forums. I am not too sure how easily I will be able to blog, especially to upload photos but I am going to try. Maybe I can keep a running trip report going on Fodors as well.
odie1 is offline  
Dec 15th, 2018, 08:51 AM
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Please do keep a running trip report here, odie. I look forward to hearing about your experience at the Inle Lake Sanctuary.

Reading people's reports always makes me want to return to Burma! We've been there three times, but I just can't get enough! I never tire of the temples.
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Dec 15th, 2018, 02:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Kathie View Post
Please do keep a running trip report here, odie. I look forward to hearing about your experience at the Inle Lake Sanctuary.

Reading people's reports always makes me want to return to Burma! We've been there three times, but I just can't get enough! I never tire of the temples.
Ok Kathie, I will try! Your reports were very helpful in my planning.
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Dec 16th, 2018, 01:30 AM
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At Inle Lake I stayed for four nights at the Sanctum Inle Hotel. This is an upmarket hotel on the shores of the lake and used to be a former monastery.

I had a Junior Suite overlooking the lake and it was huge. In fact, on a number of occasions, I attempted to leave the room only to find that I opened the door to the toilet as I still had to walk an extra 2-3 yards for the room door! I donít think there is a single thing I could complain about in the room, it was beautifully furnished, extremely comfortable bed, large TV if you wanted it, full size bath and a separate huge shower. There was a lovely sitting room area and outside, two lounges, overlooking the lake with a perfect view to watch the sunset each night. If you are interested in staying in one of these stand alone suites (well actually two side by side), I would certainly put in a request for one of these by the water rather than in the main building. Also, If you are staying as a family there was a connecting door between my suite and the next which could be handy.

The swimming pool at the resort is fabulous and cocktails (free hot and cold nibbles provided) on the balcony were good.

On my first night I ate at the restaurant but I was the only person, me and five people to serve me. In fact, the next night I opted for room service as there were still so few people but did go back to the restaurant for the final two nights when there were a few more people and, in one of those serendipity moments, one of the women I started chatting to was a friend of a friend.

This was such a lovely place and all the staff I interacted with were excellent, but there were so few people staying there it was a shame. Quite simply it had to be running at a loss for the few days I was there. It was only on my last day when a tour group arrived did there seem to be more than half a dozen guests. Everywhere I went in Myanmar I found that they had been a severe drop in tourist numbers due to the Rohingya situation. Without getting into the politics of it all, all the Burmese I met were lovely people and had no individual control over what the military are doing but their livelihoods are suffering as a result. The guide I had in Yangon told me that 3 years ago he was booked nearly every day in October, last year he only 10 bookings and this year I was one of only 3 confirmed bookings. He had been a criminal lawyer for 20 years before deciding to become a tourist guide and, after 10 years as a guide, he is now studying law again in order to support his family. Likewise, on the river boat, several months before we left we were informed that we would be on a smaller boat than originally planned because there werenít sufficient bookings. At least one of the big international river cruise companies had informed our guide on the boat that they would not be running trips next year.

I had organised my time at Lake Inle to be there for one of Myanmarís major festivals, the Phaung Daw U Pagoda festival. It is held over a period of 18 days where several small Buddha figures, completely unrecognisable as Buddhas because so much gold leaf has been attached to the figures, are taken on a trip around the lake visiting all the many villages. So, on my first morning we left at 6am to get a good spot in our long tail boat to see the procession go past. However, what was a good spot changed every 10 minutes as more and more boats arrived and they all jostled for good viewing spots. Most of the boats had Burmese people in them with a reasonable smattering of foreigners like myself.

The procession consisted of a number of very long, long tail boats with 100 rowers each which pulled the royal barges along. I donít know if this is done anywhere else but the rowers on the Lake are famous for rowing with their feet. This is because, when they are fishing, they use one leg to stand, the other leg for rowing and this leaves both hands free to use their nets. I saw quite a number of fishermen doing this over the next few days.

There was lots of noise and merriment as the various villages lined up their long boats in place in order to tow the royal barges. Each village had decorated their long boat and generally there were different colour schemes for each one, so plenty of colour. When the actual very elaborate royal barges went by, I said to my guide that I couldnít see any of the Buddhas but apparently they only range in size from 6 inches to 18 inches!

Next were the rowing races which were a hoot. As mentioned, each of the long boats from the village had 100 rowers, 50 each side standing up and, using their feet to row, competed against each other in races. There were 1,000ís of people lined up along the canals, in their own boats, sitting along the banks, crowded in rooms overlooking the canal etc.

I was so pleased that I was able to make the festival fit into my itinerary. As I had already booked my river trip before I knew about the festival it was plain luck that I was able to make it all work.
shandy is offline  
Dec 16th, 2018, 01:41 AM
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African Queen moment


Boat Races for Inle Lake festival


Royal Barge


Sunset view from room at Sanctum Inle


Local fisherman
shandy is offline  
Dec 16th, 2018, 01:41 AM
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As requested, some photos. I hope they work. Haven't tried this before.
shandy is offline  
Dec 16th, 2018, 04:12 AM
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I am so enjoying this! I will be curious to see if we encounter a similar experience of a lack of tourists over what is supposed to be the peak holiday season.
odie1 is offline  
Dec 16th, 2018, 10:59 AM
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Thank you Odie. I will be very interested to hear about your own experiences and whether you also see a lack of tourists.
shandy is offline  
Dec 16th, 2018, 11:00 AM
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Sorry for the photos ending up being huge. How should I have made them smaller?
shandy is offline  
Dec 16th, 2018, 11:04 AM
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How wonderful that you were there for the festival!
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