Need help with Myanmar itinerary

Old Sep 22nd, 2014, 07:30 PM
  #1  
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Need help with Myanmar itinerary

My husband and I are going to Myanmar, Laos and Vietnam in early 2015. For now, I am concentrating on planning the first leg of our trip to Myanmar. We will be gone 8-10 weeks in all, so we would like to spend a month, give or take a week, in Myanmar. We prefer to stay in places for at least 3 days. We prefer a mix of overnight bus rides, flights and boats.
We definitely want to go to Mrauk U, Bagan, and Inle Lake. Possibly some places around Mandalay. We would like to get off the beaten track and do some trekking. I have been looking at trip reports that include Hsipaw and Kengtung. We are interested in landscape and culture, but have mixed feelings about taking trips specifically to see different ethnic groups. I did some trekking in northern Thailand years ago and felt okay about visiting villages where people went about there daily lives without feeling that they had to entertain the tourists. In some villages, I felt uneasy.
Can you recommend a route to include the places I have mentioned?
Do you recommend Hsipaw or Kengtung?
is 4 or 5 weeks enough time?
I plan on contacting Santa Maria to help with reservations. How do they charge for their services? What arrangements or reservations should I make on my own?

Thank you in advance. I am impressed with the amount of time and effort many of you invest in helping others with their travel plans.
pitter is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 02:21 AM
  #2  
 
Join Date: Sep 2014
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I think routing will be the difficult part. Travelling North & South through the centre of Myanmar is easy by bus or aircraft, it is side trips to Sittwe for Mrauk U that takes serious planning.
The only flights there are from Yangon and although there are flights to Thandwe (for Ngapali Beach) from Bagan and Heho they are may not connect to the Yangon/Thandwe/Sittwe flight as, on many days, they are direct and bypass Thandwe.
The only other alternative is a 14h bus ride from Mandalay via Magwe,here is a link
http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTop...ine_State.html

Moving on. If you were not to chose the bus I would plan this routing.
Yangon/Sittwe for Mrauk U and the Chin villages. Back to Yangon and then fly Mandalay for surroundings including the train over Gokteik Viaduct.
http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowTop...t-Myanmar.html

Day boat to Bagan and then moving by road to Kalaw or Pindaya for some off the beaten track trekking to Inle Lake.
Return to Yangon either by air from Heho or by bus and then either fly direct to Vietnam (no direct flights to Laos) or work South via Kyaikto (Golden Rock) to Mawlamyine and cross into Thailand at Mae Sot - Myawaddy and then on to Laos
"Do you recommend Hsipaw or Kengtung?" There are some good threads on TA & TT, perhaps use the search features for links.

A couple of other thoughts. Your Visa is only for 28 days and whilst you can get away with a few days overstay ($3pd fine) any longer could be problematic
And Agents-many ask for 30% balance in crisp $'s on arrival, some even all cash on arrival. Santa Maria are one of the agents that gets good ratings but I always recommend getting a few quotes. Ones that I have used and can recommend are
http://tourmandalay.travel/ and http://www.onestop-myanmar.com/
Onestop have booked my flights and hotels for my next visit at good savings compared to booking direct or through Agoda/Asiarooms etc.
I am sure you have loads more questions.Some I may be able to help you with and I am sure more posters here, with better specific experiences , will contribute to help you on your way.
SS
Silverswimmer is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 07:09 AM
  #3  
 
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Yes, as SS says, the trip to Mrauk U takes planning. Do talk with your travel agent about the specifics. You'll need a flight from Yangon to Sittwe, then a boat to Mrauk U. I think it isn't possible to take toe public boat same day to mrauk U, requiring an overnight in Sittwe. But it is possible to hire a private boat (or join in with other travelers to hire a boat) to get you to Mrauk U same day.

(SS, do you recommend a visit to the Chin Villages? We avoided them as others we met reported a "human zoo" experience.)

I found Mandalay itself "hard to love" but we loved Sagaing. Do visit the Mahamuni Buddha in Mandalay - it originally came from the Mrauk U area and was taken to Mandalay as spoils of war. There are also Angkorian bronzes at the Mahamuni temple as well.

Both Bagan and Inle are just magical.

I have two trip reporters here, 2009 and 2011. Click on my name to find them. Photos are are at www.marlandc.com

We used Santa Maria for our trips, but there are many excellent agents in Yangon.
Kathie is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 07:17 AM
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Note that in my trip reports, the issues around money have changed as there are now ATMs available and more places accept credit cards.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 08:57 AM
  #5  
 
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We used Santa Maria for our trip this past winter. I found them very easy to deal with. The one downside was that we had to meet them in Yangon upon arrival in Myanmar to pay them. For us that meant a stop in Yangon and then a flight onto Mandalay.

We enjoyed our couple days in Hsipaw and the drive there was rather enjoyable. Some people take a train from Pyin OO Lwin to Hspiaw. supposed to be quite the train ride. We did not do extenisve trekking in Hsipaw, but we did meet a British couple who were doing that and said it was great. Lots of choices to choose form once you arrive in Hsipaw.

The boat trip from Mandalay to Bagan was very nice. It was a relaxing, all day journey with some interesting scenery along the way.

Our TR is here http://www.fodors.com/community/asia...transition.cfm
yestravel is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 10:06 AM
  #6  
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Thank you for your prompt and detailed answers to my questions. I am going to contact Santa Maria and the other two agencies recommended by SS. I am sure that I will have other questions in the near future. I am running out of time if we expect to leave the US in January.
pitter is offline  
Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 10:18 AM
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(SS, do you recommend a visit to the Chin Villages? We avoided them as others we met reported a "human zoo" experience.)
I would agree that organised tours can be a bit of a zoo experience but a DIY using a local boatman with visits to villages outside of the tour routes can be rewarding. With the dearth of tourists in the last 18 months, do expect a serious hard sell of handicrafts from the ladies in the villages!
SS
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Old Sep 23rd, 2014, 11:03 AM
  #8  
 
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Thanks for your perspective, SS.
Kathie is offline  
Old Sep 26th, 2014, 07:15 PM
  #9  
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What is a DIY?

Can either of you recommend lodgings in Mrauk U? How could we go about locating someone who could take us to some villages outside the tour routes?

In Hsipaw, do you recommend using Mr. Charlie to book treks, or will those treks lead to a "zoo experience?"

One more question for now. Does it make sense to go Inle Lake-Bagan- boat to Mandalay-Hsipaw-back to Mandalay to catch a flight to Laos?

Thanks!
Patricia
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Old Sep 26th, 2014, 08:09 PM
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Do It Yourself, ie no TA involved.

I haven't been to Mrauk U or Hsipaw, so can't comment, but do like the revised idea of boat trip from Bagan to Mandalay. The route makes sense to me, and we found the river very relaxing, and interesting. You might investigate a two or three night Pandaw cruise that would include stops along the way.

I doubt you'll get a direct flight to Laos from Mandalay, but likely transit via BKK. It's no big deal, distance and therefore flight times are relatively short.
sartoric is offline  
Old Sep 26th, 2014, 08:10 PM
  #11  
 
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DIY=Do It Yourself

Mr. Charles is a reputable tour org. Basically he has various guides that you can discuss your desires with. The ones we dealt with were knowledgeable and competent. We didn't book treks to tribual areas though.

Your itn makes sense to me.
yestravel is offline  
Old Sep 27th, 2014, 08:14 AM
  #12  
 
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Patricia, for me, the full day boat trip would feel like wasting time. Others have loved it. If you have the time, why not? But if your time is limited, think about the trade off you are making.

We stayed at the Mrauk U Princess which was really lovely. The individual cottages, built in the local style are charming. The lodge has great food, half board included in your room price. The Princess has its own dock (and has its own boats).

SS, who does use agents to make local arrangements, didn't mean don't use an agent to help plan your trip, but don't use a group tour to get to the Chin Villages. The people we met there did hire a private guide, but they still felt it was a "human zoo." No question that the group tours would be like that.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 09:06 AM
  #13  
 
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I agree that if you time is short or very limited the boat trip might not be worth it. But you are traveling 8-10 weeks total. I have found on trips of approximately the same lenght, downtime is essential and the boat trip provides just that. Whiel on 2-3 week trips we pretty much would go no stop, but on the extended trips that we now take, a day here or there where not much is planned is perfect. The boat trip provides that with some interesting sights along the way.
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Old Sep 27th, 2014, 09:43 AM
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We stayed at a small motel type place in Mrauk U which was recommeded by Santa Maria. From there we could bike or walk everyplace we wanted to go. They served dinner and breakfast at the motel dining room and it was fine. The motel was very basic, but it was clean and very well located. I can't remember the name of the motel, but is in my Burma TR if you are interested.
shelleyk is offline  
Old Oct 5th, 2014, 03:31 PM
  #15  
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Thanks for all of your previous advice. Now I have a new question. I had it in my mind to trek from Inle Lake to Kalaw, take the bus from Kalaw to Bagan and then on to Mandalay. I now realize that the treks are from Kalaw to Inle Lake and do not go both ways. Din, at Santa Maria, said that they could arrange for us to walk to Kalaw, but that it is a more strenuous walk going in that direction. Also, it is not as easy to get a bus from Kalaw to Bagan. Can any of you give me your opinion about this?

Thanks!

Patricia
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 04:26 PM
  #16  
 
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Din is right, of course. It is uphill to Kalaw from Inle Lake. What is it you want from your trek? There are other places to trek that might give you a better experience, as so many people trek from Kalaw to Inle.
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 04:27 PM
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Kalaw to Inle is easier to trek because it's downhill, simple as that.

We met a young Swiss bloke in Inle, and few days later we bumped into him in Kalaw. He'd just done the trek in the opposite direction on his own, and see me to have thoroughly enjoyed it.

I doubt that many buses run between Bagan or Mandalay to Kalaw. We had a car and it was hard going at times. Pleasant drive between Kalaw and Inle though.
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 07:59 PM
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If you want more off the beaten track trekking, Kengtung is the place to look.
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 08:05 PM
  #19  
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I am interested in going from Inle Lake to Bagan because we are going from Bagan to Mandalay to Hsipaw and then back to Mandalay for a flight to Bangkok. This route seems to make more sense than to go to Bagan first, then to Inle Lake, then to Mandalay and on from there. If this does not make sense to any of you, please let me know since you have been there and I have not.

So, Kathie, what I wanted from a trek between Inle Lake and Kalaw was a more pleasant way to reach Bagan than by taking the bus the entire way from Inle Lake to Kalaw. We will be in Hsipaw for 4 days, so we will be hiking there.

Thanks!
Patricia
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Old Oct 5th, 2014, 09:41 PM
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If you stay overnight in Kalaw, have a meal in Sam's Restaurant. A trekkers favourite, lots of information, and a lovely family atmosphere.
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