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Trip Report Myanmar: Nov 8 - 24, 2013 Report

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We just returned from our stay in Myanmar (group of 6) and I would like to share our experience and observations. First and foremost, I can not speak highly enough for Myanmar Shalom for coordinating our trip. We could not get a response from any of the tour operators that were recommended on this forum so we forged out on our own with a co-worker recommendation. Myanmar Shalom has an office in NYC with a local contact. That made things super easy when trying to communicate with the Yangon representative. NOTE: Company name implies Jewish-oriented travel. This is not the case unless you want or need it. Sammy (NYC) and Tin (Yangon) were excellent in doing exactly what we asked for and worked hard to get us the experience we wanted. A side benefit is that you can pay for your trip with credit card in advance (plus a nominal fee). They use local guides which we loved so at each of our three primary destinations we were met at the airport by our local guide that was by our side for that portion of the trip. ( I have contact info for all of our guides if requested) Our goal was to experience each locale with an emphasis on a local experience.

We had two half days and one full day Yangon, which was plenty of us... we saw the city highlights and more and were ready to leave the city as we are not big city fans. We stayed at the Garden Inn B&B while in Yangon as we could not get any other accommodations. This is a modest (under $100/night) property just down the road from the Gen. Aung San Home/Museum (a must see). The rooms are very basic and modest, but it is the staff that makes this place shine. They are like all Myanmar people we encountered - super friendly and helpful and wanted to insure a great experience. The food in their restaurant is very good. I would stay there again.

We then flew to Heho for our Inle Lake experience. We stayed 5 nights and 4 full days at Myanmar Treasure Resort (Inle). LOVED this property. We had front row lakefront bungalows that are very well appointed and included an outdoor shower with a window to the lake. A key factor that made this property so appealing is that traffic in the lake is constant during the day. This property is set back from the main lake thoroughfare with a floating garden as a barrier. Your longboat pulls up to a hut where a bellman jumps in your boat and quietly paddles you into the disembarkment dock where you are met by a team to assist you. Food was excellent, staff incredible and personable, rooms huge. French wines are way over priced but local wines are not. Red Mountain Wines (we stopped there on way to resort) is the local wine. They are young and mostly blends. Whites are just ok, red blends also just ok but the Pinot Noir and Syrah were very good. So much so that we drank all the Pinot Noir they had.

We found most visitors only stayed 2 days at Inle.... YOU NEED MORE TIME. Skip Cat Jumping Monastery and ask for a local teaching monastery. Indein is a must do and if you have the time.... go to Sagar. Sagar is two and an half hours each way by boat to get to but the trip is as much a part of the experience as the sunken pagodas. One of the best meals we had was at a no name restaurant in the middle of the lake on the way back from Sagar. No electricity and no refrigeration so the choice that day was chicken cause that is what was best at the market that morning. We had it 6 different ways and was unbelievable. We would have liked another day on Inle Lake.... just saying!

We are souvenir shoppers and had the cash to handle it but we were delighted to find that the vendors we saw offered Visa/Mastercard for purchases over $100.00US. (This was true all over Myanmar.)

Next stop Bagan (by air) for 4 nights and 3 full days at Bagan Lodge. This is a new property that was open only 2 1/2 months and while beautiful, and showed great potential they were still suffering from opening a brand new hotel with consistency issues, quality control issues and well... just issues. When they get their act together this property will be all that it should be. Even so... no regrets.... they just have some significant polishing to do.

We had many mishaps while in Bagan, but we had the best local guide and he was amazing in helping us deal with all things as they cropped up. Mostly our doing except for one which I will mention now. We arranged horsecart rides through Old Bagan set for one afternoon. Only three of us chose to partake so we each had our own cart since they were pre-reserved. I am a large 6' tall person and found the cart very uncomfortable and had a hard time enjoying the experience because I was crammed in to the seat with the driver. I would not do this again. The second member of our group loved the experience. The third was concerned from the moment she boarded as her horse looked hot and tired. We were all driven thru Old Bagan and taken to a pagoda to meet our guide for a climb up top for the sunset. We were three quarters there when I heard a scream. My friend's horse collapsed and she and the driver were tossed from the cart. My friend was hurt but not seriously injured but the horse was in bad shape. It took several minuted to get the driver untangled from the rigging and the horse released. Once released the horse did not move and it took several more minutes to get him on his feet. We do not know what ultimately happened to this horse as my friend was transferred to one of our other carts. So I only mention this as a cautionary tale.... If you must have this experience...please take a good look at your horse and if it looks hot and/or tired.... ask for a different cart.

Sunset river cruise on the Irrawaddy was more of a putter out amongst a bunch of tourists boats and float back to the dock while the sun sets.

We were supposed to go ballooning while in Bagan but because of wind direction we could not go even tho we tried three days in a row. We are still waiting for our refund as of this posting. This is the only ballooning experience that we have tried that only had one launch zone so the odds of going are diminished since there are no other options. Very disappointed.

Given that we were at the end of our trip when we got to Bagan we were feeling a bit of "pagoda overload" and felt that we could have spent one less day in Bagan. Ananda Temple was a highlight as was the sunset atop one of the pagodas. But the greatest experience was the drive and afternoon at Mount Popa. This is a "must do". Brochures and pictures do not do the experience justice as it is one for all the senses. Again the drive there is as much part of the experience as the village itself. The walk up to the temple is less arduous than it looks and you have quite a feeling of accomplishment when at the top. Be careful as the monkeys in the village and on the way up and down are fearless and will steal your food (especially the bananas) and open drinks. Lunch at Mount Popa Resort was ok but the view from the deck is spectacular.

We headed back to Yangon for an overnight at the Garden Home B&B before leaving.

Final thoughts:

If you are thinking of going to Myanmar... go soon if you want a more untouched experience. You can see that it is changing fast as they adapt to the influx of tourists and their lack of capacity for these tourists. Number of tourists doubled to 1 million this year.

While credit cards are more common for shopping (min. $100 purchase) that we expected, most hotels still do not accept and they do not accept American Express anywhere.

All of our local guides were very good. Mr. Oo in Bagan was exceptional.

Wish we had done some trekking but glad that we decided to "go deep" in each locale versus 2 days here 2 days there which seems to be common with the group tours.

They say that 30% to 50% of travelers to Myanmar get a food born illness. That was true for our group of 6. Three of us got ill in Bagan. Me, most severely but I had antibiotics that knocked it out in a couple days. And yes we followed the "what to eat, what not to eat" guidelines.... to no avail.

Loved Myanmar and it should be added to your bucket list.

Next on my Myanmar wish list - a jungle safari in the north of Myanmar.

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