Go Back  Fodor's Travel Talk Forums > Destinations > Asia
Reload this Page >

Myanmar - A Visit to a Country in Transition

Myanmar - A Visit to a Country in Transition

Old Mar 9th, 2014, 10:14 AM
  #1  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 11,652
Likes: 0
Received 7 Likes on 1 Post
Myanmar - A Visit to a Country in Transition

Gottravel and I spent 18 days of our 6 week SEASia trip in Myanmar. We were in Myanmar from late January into February. As always I want to thank the wonderful posters on the Asia Board who give their time and expertise so generously. I read thru numerous TRs which also helped in deciding where to go and where to eliminate. I thank all of you who took the time to answer a question or write a TR for us to use as a blueprint for our trip.

The necessary planning and planning and planning seemed to take forever.
I started in the spring working with Santa Maria Travels, http://www.myanmartravels.net/index.htm. Santa Maria had been recommended on this board and on TA. I was happy with their services. In the planning stages they were efficient and responsive answering my emails the next day. All arrangements went smoothly and they were easy to contact the couple times we needed to during our time in Myanmar. The major frustration was that prices for airfare and hotels don’t get set until closer in and I was having a difficult time getting an idea of what the trip might cost and what we might add or would need to delete due to costs. This, of course, is not the fault of SM. Since prices had escalated these last couple years, I couldn’t even go by what others had spent a year or two ago. It was early fall by the time I got estimates for rates and airfare. Planning and traveling in Myanmar may take patience, be prepared. I normally don’t use TA’s, so I am certainly not an expert on rating them, but I would rate Santa Maria 5* and highly recommend them.

In the end the itinerary we worked out was pretty much the typical tourist circuit which follows: (Note: full reviews of hotels are on TA under dl. Also our general preference is to stay in small BnB’s or real boutique hotels so these hotels were very different than our usual digs when we travel).

Flew roundtrip on Air Asia from BKK to Yangon. I booked these flights. We had to stop at Yangon first on the way to Mandalay to pay Santa Maria. We then went from Yangon International airport to the Domestic airport to fly Mandalay that same day. I had asked about getting the vouchers in Mandalay & paying, but they said it had to be done in Yangon. That’s something I would certainly check on if you don’t want Yangon to be your first stop.

3 nights in Mandalay @ the Rupar Mandalar Resort which we loved. This was a smallish place, but they were building a rather large addition near the pool area - 5*
http://www.ruparmandalar.com

1 night in Pyin OO Lwin @ Hotel Pyin OO Lyin which was a new hotel that was barely okay, our room was dark & COLD. Maybe a room that got sun would have made a difference - 3*
http://hotelpyinoolwin.com/index.php

3 nights in Hsipaw @ Mr. Charles Guest House, which is a basic guest house and it was fine for what it was – 3*
http://www.mrcharleshotel.com

1 night back in Mandalay @Rupar Mandalar

Boat to Bagan - 10-11 hours, but to my surprise I enjoyed all of them

4 nights in Bagan The Hotel @ Tharber Gate in Old Bagan which has a perfect location. Hotel could do with some sprucing up. It was fine - 4*
http://www.tharabargate.com
Flew to Heho and drove to Inle Lake where we spent 4 nights @ Pristine Lotus Spa Resort which is a lovely property with some lake views - 5* (http://www.pristinelotus.com)

Flew from HeHo to Yangon where we spent 2 nights at Traders Hotel. Big business hotel with typical hotel comforts and was being refurbished. At long last we had great Internet connectivity & it gets extra for that - 4*.
http://www.shangri-la.com/yangon/traders/

Santa Maria made all hotel reservations and flight reservations with the exception of the roundtrip to and from Myanmar that I booked online. All flights were on Yangon Air and were fine. I did research to try and avoid patronizing properties currently directly connected to the corrupt regime & its cronies. Severl hotels Santa Maria suggested we did not stay at due to the regime connections, but I realize it’s hard to know who owns a stake in what and where the money really goes.

We took pristine US$, but we did find ATMs available and had no trouble using them. We had one ATM that was out of order’ and someone directed us right around the corner to a working ATM. Our bank reimburses any fees so we didn’t need to worry about ATM fees. The fees were about $5. Hotels had signs that they accepted credit cards with varying fees attached ranging from 3% - 5%.

Myanmar grew on me – it was not love at first sight by any stretch perhaps because we started in Mandalay, a very hard place to love let alone like. I found the people open, curious & friendly. Food was generally good with some very good dishes thrown in. Some of the sites are jaw dropping. I’m very glad I went, learned a lot and understand a bit more about a country with a very tragic, turbulent history.

The issue of going now or waiting is vexing to me. Myanmar is not ready or equipped for the number of tourists it is experiencing. I have read articles on this and talked with locals about it. In a few years it will have a better tourist infrastructure that might make it easier or more pleasurable to visit. Myanmar is past what it was say even 2-3 years ago, but it is definitely not what it will be in 3- 5 years. Myanmar is in transition from the old to whatever it will become. I know there are way more tourists now than a couple years ago, but with a very few exceptions I never felt the presence of too many tourists like one may experience at Ankor Wat or other places I have visited.

Details of what we did will follow…eventually.
yestravel is offline  
Old Mar 9th, 2014, 11:11 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,288
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
I've been awaiting your report! Great start.

You made me think about how I might have felt starting in Mandalay rather than Yangon... Our first trip we skipped Mandalay all together and that was a good decision. On our second trip, we stayed there (glad you liked Rupar Mandalar) and found it so different from the rest of the country. I think it would have been hard for me to start in Mandalay. I will take this into consideration as I offer info and advice to others.
Kathie is offline  
Old Mar 9th, 2014, 11:21 AM
  #3  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 11,652
Likes: 0
Received 7 Likes on 1 Post
Kathie, your TR's were what got me going on getting to Myanmar sooner than later. Thank you again for all the help you provided.
On the one hand, it can only go up from Mandalay and from some TR's it seems some people like Mandalay. I knew I wouldn't like it, just wasn't prepared for how much I didn't like it. Plus the driver we had spoke minimal English and then the guide we had for the one day wasn't the greatest. I think a good guide can really make a huge difference on my impression of a place. But yes, Rupar Madalar is so nice, so that helped to be able to escape to its serenity.
yestravel is offline  
Old Mar 9th, 2014, 11:35 AM
  #4  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,854
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Yestravel,

Wonderful start, but I knew it would be! I've also been looking forward to reading your TR, especially your impressions of Myanmar. It's one of several places I'm considering for the next Asian trip, and, having already followed in your footsteps on my recent trip, I'm especially intrigued to read your thoughts about Myanmar.

Looking forward to more..

Paule
progol is offline  
Old Mar 9th, 2014, 11:58 AM
  #5  
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Posts: 510
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Yestravel, I've been waiting patiently for your TR. I share your frustration about the pricing. We're going in November, have our itinerary booked (I hope), but until we know the pricing and pay our deposit, I still feel in limbo. After some missteps (and a change of agent to Zaw) we are using Santa Maria, and have also lined up Minthu for Bagan.
internetwiz is offline  
Old Mar 9th, 2014, 12:14 PM
  #6  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 11,652
Likes: 0
Received 7 Likes on 1 Post
@progol - doubt we'll get thru our writing up our 18 days as quickly as you did you TR. I was impressed with how quickly you got your TR posted. Well done!

@internetwiz (BTW are you an internet wiz?) where did you end up reserving? I remember your posts about Bagan and Inle Lake that I read as we were traveling. Beautiful weekend in DC, huh?
yestravel is offline  
Old Mar 9th, 2014, 12:45 PM
  #7  
 
Join Date: Apr 2005
Posts: 4,466
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Also interested, I went 4 years ago for a short trip with my friend now considering going next autumn with you partner and he is worried we may have left it " too late" .......
My friend went 2 years ago and said it had really changed since we went in 2010!
Smeagol is offline  
Old Mar 9th, 2014, 01:33 PM
  #8  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 3,408
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Glad to see you've started your report! Very much looking forward to reading it, though you've already answered so many of my planning questions in other posts (thanks!!).

Regarding going now, or waiting, or if it's even "too late", I say go when you can, to just about anywhere.

I would never tell anyone not to go to Cambodia for example, though it has changed dramatically since I was first there in 2002, then 2007, then 2010. I am going back this summer and expect more change. It would be like telling someone it was too late to see the Pyramids in Egypt or Machu Picchu. Some things must be seen at least once. Am I glad I saw Angkor Wat in 2002? Of course. But I still think it's worth the trip today, and I hope Burma will be the same.
Kristina is offline  
Old Mar 9th, 2014, 09:46 PM
  #9  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,288
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
i absolutely agree with you, Kristina. I think Burma is a "go as soon as you can" but I would never say it is too late. I'd add Bagan to your list of must-sees.
Kathie is offline  
Old Mar 10th, 2014, 09:19 AM
  #10  
 
Join Date: Apr 2011
Posts: 162
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
At the Yangon Airport:

Our flight from Bangkok to Yangon was short and uneventful. We had hoped to start our Myanmar trip in Mandalay. However, Santa Maria Travel & Tours had insisted that we settle our bill and receive our vouchers by meeting a Santa Maria representative in the nice Yangon International Airport terminal. At any rate, we cleared immigration and customs without difficulty, quickly found the Santa Maria representative and were soon huddled together on a bench counting out crisp new $100 bills and comparing hotel vouchers against our itinerary. I also took advantage of a nearby moneychanger to convert $300 into kyat, the national currency. I watched with some amazement as she pushed back a small stack of 10,000 kyat notes in exchange for $300. The dollar to kyat exchange rate is approximately one dollar to a thousand kyat; this does have the advantage of making mental conversion of prices easy – just drop three zeroes. This was, as it turned out, the only time we were to exchange money during our travels in Myanmar; on every subsequent occasion, we used ATMs, which can now be found in larger towns, at least those on the tourist circuit.

After we’d received our vouchers, we headed to the domestic terminal. The responses to our question regarding directions seemed a tad on the vague side, a half-dismissive hand gesture indicating that the domestic terminal was to the left as we were facing the outside doors. As we soon found out, the domestic terminal was indeed to our left. However it was also outside the doors and in a separate building a quarter mile (400 meters) down a dilapidated sidewalk along a busy street. We made our way through a scrum of taxi drivers and started rolling (or carrying, in my case) our luggage down the uneven and oddly interrupted sidewalk. It was our first introduction to Yangon’s heat, infamous sidewalks and high curbs.

The domestic terminal turned out to be near-abandoned, down at the heels and almost completely devoid of anything resembling facilities. Check-in consisted of walking up to a stand, showing our names and being given a colored sticky to affix to our clothes. We sat on a tilted plastic bench, eyed an unattended and derelict-looking X-ray machine, and attempted to read our books. We had a three hour wait. I finally managed to buy a couple tiny bags of cashews and a bottle of warm water from a woman tending a small stand. Lunch was served! After some other passengers filtered in and milled around the X-ray machine, we approached and were told that we could enter the gate area. Our luggage was cranked through the X-ray machine, we received cursory scans and were then in the post-screening gate area. There was absolutely nothing there, just some rows of plastic seats and an immense old-fashioned scale that looked like it dated from the 1920s. The room slowly filled up with a mix of foreign travelers and folks from Myanmar. (I’m not sure what you call people from Myanmar – Myanmartians, perhaps?)

Then - a flight was announced! Some ancient speakers made scratchy noises incomprehensible in any language and a gentleman wearing a Yangon Air shirt and a longhi walked back and forth in front of the crowd with a small hand-held sign with the airline and flight number printed on it. Half the waiting crowd lined up and filtered out. Forty-five minutes later it was our turn; more scratchy noises heralded a gentleman with a sign that had our flight number and airline name. We grabbed our luggage and headed for the door to the runway. We were on our way to Mandalay!
gottravel is offline  
Old Mar 10th, 2014, 10:38 AM
  #11  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 33,288
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Ah, yes, the lovely domestic terminal!
Kathie is offline  
Old Mar 10th, 2014, 02:14 PM
  #12  
cwn
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 878
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
yestravel....WOW, Maybe I am glad we are staring in Mandalay....I think??! DH would have taken one look at the walk to the domestic terminal and dragged me back inside to book a return flight to Bangkok!

I went with Myanmar Shalom mainly because with Santa Maria we had to add at least that extra flight and possibly another night, so we could start in Mandalay....we are doing a short river cruise from Mandalay to Bagan first. Fortunately, we will be half way through our trip before he encounters a domestic terminal!

Please continue with your report, I am taking notes, thanks

Kristina, I totally agree with you.....just go.

Cambodia, in 2009, was full of tourist at the major sites, but I am so glad we went. At the time my husband thought I was crazy, but agrees he is glad we went. After I got him to India last spring, he loved it and wants to go back.
cwn is offline  
Old Mar 10th, 2014, 02:38 PM
  #13  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 11,652
Likes: 0
Received 7 Likes on 1 Post
Kristina, I also agree with you. everything changes so go when you can.

Either we got used to the domestic terminals or the one in Yangon really was very bad. After awhile I saw the terminals as quaint...a look back at a long time ago in air travel. In Thailand when we flew out of Nan all the lights were off in the terminal, and I use that word loosely, when we arrived there to take our flight. We had to knock on the door to get let in. That walk to the domestic terminal in Yangon was not a good start to our time in Myanmar. To top it off we had gotten up at 4am for our flight from BKK to Yangon so were pretty tired.

Cwn - By the time I realized we had to go first to Yangon to pay, I really didn't feel like redoing the trip. I tend to get planned out working on these long trips. What is the short river cruise between Mandalay and Bagan?
yestravel is offline  
Old Mar 10th, 2014, 04:56 PM
  #14  
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 6,160
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Enjoying your report Dona!
Hanuman is offline  
Old Mar 10th, 2014, 11:54 PM
  #15  
cwn
 
Join Date: Sep 2004
Posts: 878
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
It is a two night cruise on the 1947 Pandow..a restored traditional Burmese river boat that four Australia friends did and loved. It is right up my DH ally, really the reason that we are going to Myanmar while we are in SE Asia...I understand about planning for a long trip...we will be gone almost five months if all the parts will fit.
cwn is offline  
Old Mar 11th, 2014, 03:23 AM
  #16  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,476
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Hi Yestravel

Thanks for your report. It's great to get another's perspective on places, and I did use your previous report on Thailand and Laos with fantastic results (especially Morodoke in Chiang Rai).

I also stayed at Hotel Pyin oo Lwin, the room was light, and it being March, I was pleased it was cool. The place was pretty sterile though.

Funny at Heho airport this morning, I couldn't find anyone with my type of sticker, so just hung around at the back of the waiting area. Couldn't believe the check in lady came and found me ! The sticker was not visible, under a scarf.
There was not a single westerner on the flight. Plane full (except the seat next to me) with Chinese tourists. Guess that's why the check in lady remembered me.

To cwn, I've done a couple of Pandaw cruises, will post on your thread later.

Looking forward to more YT !
sartoric is offline  
Old Mar 11th, 2014, 04:16 AM
  #17  
 
Join Date: Mar 2014
Posts: 2,003
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Me and OH had 3 weeks in Myanmar in Feb/Mar 2010.

Apart from having our visas, plenty of pristine US$100 notes, and our first 3 nights in Yangon booked, I'd left the rest of our itinerary unplanned and fill it in as we go.

On our way from Yangon Airport to our hotel (Summit Parkside) the driver asked us how long we planned to be in the country, and how we intended getting around.

To cut a long story short we booked the taxi for a full day out in the countryside around Yangon, to assess the driver and vehicle. And if we liked the day, then we'd hire him for the next two weeks to show us his beautiful country.

We liked him, and at the end of our local countryside tour he took us to the taxi company office downtown. We worked out a rough itinerary and agreed a price.

Two weeks hire of the vehicle, all fuel, road tolls, drivers meals and his accommodation, plus his knowledge of Burma came to a staggeringly low US$800.

We had an awesome trip, drove up the spine of Burma to the Temples of Bagan, Mandalay, Pwin oo Lyin, Kalaw, Inle Lake, and back to Yangon.

Whenever we visit any county in SE Asia we refuse to even consider flying between points as there is so much to see on the ground, and Myanmar certainly didn't disappoint on that score.

Nearly all the roads are orange dust, and every morning we started off freshly showered, but by the end of the day we were an orange colour from head to toe!
LancasterLad is offline  
Old Mar 11th, 2014, 05:34 AM
  #18  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 11,652
Likes: 0
Received 7 Likes on 1 Post
Thanks, Hanuman

cwn - cruise sounds interesting. Wow! 5 months, now that's a lot of planning.

sartoric - sterile is a good description of Pyin OO Lwin Resort. Glad we were there for just 1 night. had we stayed longer I would have asked to be moved to a room that got the sun And yes, the coolness of the town was welcome after the heat in Mandalay.

LancasterLad - sounds like a great way to travel & certainly inexpensive. Agree that there was a lot to see on the ground. And you must have seen a lot. How long were your drives from place to place? The dust most of the places we went was unreal.
yestravel is offline  
Old Mar 11th, 2014, 06:33 AM
  #19  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 11,652
Likes: 0
Received 7 Likes on 1 Post
sartoric - we had dinner at Morodoke this trip also and it was just as good. for accuracy sakes, it's in Chiang Mai.
yestravel is offline  
Old Mar 11th, 2014, 07:26 AM
  #20  
 
Join Date: Jul 2013
Posts: 1,476
Likes: 0
Received 0 Likes on 0 Posts
Yestravel, of course, Chiang Mai is right.
I'm at the point of exhaustion I think, so tired that my attention to detail is flagging.
Will be going home on Thursday after six weeks in SE Asia, three of them travelling solo. Looking forward to getting home in a way, although not the 20 + hours in transit.

Thanks for the pick up, and I look forward to hearing the rest of your story.

Cheers
Caroline
sartoric is offline  

Thread Tools
Search this Thread

Contact Us - Manage Preferences - Archive - Advertising - Cookie Policy - Privacy Statement - Do Not Sell or Share My Personal Information -