Travel Report for Myanmar

Reply

Dec 16th, 2015, 08:58 AM
  #1
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 89
Travel Report for Myanmar

Hi,
here you find my Travel Report for my last trip to Myanmar (4 weeks in February 2015).
I have also added a detailed budget part (http://grandescapades.net/grand-esca...de-to-myanmar/ ) and a short selection of pictures (my 63 best pictures - http://grandescapades.net/myanmar-a-...f-63-pictures/ )
I hope it helps - Do not hesitate if you have specific questions.
You can also find more information on my Blog: http://grandescapades.net/travel-guide-to-myanmar/
Cheers
Gilles


Myanmar: No Longer A Well Kept Secret - But With So Much To Offer!

Itinerary And Time Of The Visit
I used every single one of the 28 days the eVisa was allowing me to stay in Myanmar in February 2015 and visited first the Southeast of the country (Golden Rock, Hpa An & Mawlamyine), before heading to the Northeast (Pyin Oo Lwin, train over the Gokteik Viaduct, Hsipaw) and finally discovered during the last two weeks the more popular and touristic part of the country (Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake & last but not least Yangon).

Why Travel To Myanmar?
There is a great diversity of highlights to discover in Myanmar:
• Bagan and its 4.000 temples are simply unique, one of the most fascinating places I have visited in Asia (and maybe in the world),
• Inle Lake still remains a photographer’s dream, both for the fishermen on the lake itself and for the surrounding markets,
• Mandalay offers a great diversity of cultural highlights, in and out of the city,
• And Yangon is definitely worth a few day if you want to scratch bellow the surface of this booming city…
• If you have more than two weeks at hand, especially Hpa An & Mawlamyine are worth the long bus ride (skip the Golden Rock, completely overrated), and the train ride from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw, crossing the Gokteil Viaduct is a touristy yet dizzy and cool experience…
• Last but not least, there is surely much more to experience in Myanmar, more Off The Beaten Track, but with max. 28 days at hand (the longest eVisa available), you have to focus on specific parts. Or you have to plan a multiple trip to this country…
But maybe the other highlight is that Myanmar still offers a somewhat genuine experience in Asia, far away from the masses that you find in neighboring countries, if you make the effort to move a little bit further afield. Do not be mistaken, though: the times when Myanmar was a well kept secret completely Off The Beaten Track are now gone… Myanmar is indeed changing at a very high pace. Tourism has doubled every year in the past 5 years, and more than one million visitors were expected in 2015!

Challenges Organizing The Trip - What Would I Have Wished To Know?
The country changes so fast that many things I read from the previous year was already outdated, especially as far as logistics and organization were concerned! Myanmar is now a country quite easy to travel:
• eVisas can be obtained Online and extremely easy to get (50 USD, payable with credit card);
• ATMs are widely available throughout the country (5 USD charge per withdrawal, with a limit per withdrawal of approx. 300 USD) - Nonetheless, if you want to change money, you still need absolutely pristine US Dollar bills;
• Internet is frustratingly slow (this might have changed), but also widely available, as are local SIM-cards (1.5 USD, slightly more for a nano-SIM)
• A touristic infrastructure now exits everywhere, with reasonable accommodation & transportations throughout the country (at least places where visitors go).
Myanmar is an expensive country for Asia, much more than India, Thailand or Vietnam, … So plan your budget accordingly, especially if you are not ready for the hardcore backpacking experience.
For transport, really consider flying one or two legs if you have limited time at hand, you will save a lot of time and energy (keep in mind that bus stations are frustratingly far away from the center, so calculate an adequate amount of time just to reach them or leave them) and is not that expensive (see below: Getting Around in Myanmar).
With only 2 weeks, focus on the “highlights” of Myanmar. Yes, they are more touristy but really worth it! With a full month, you can add other parts, which are far less touristy and (still) void of tour groups…

Highlights Of The Trip
• Floating Over Bagan
Yes, the Hot Air Balloon ride costs 350 USD and must be booked weeks in advance. But is there a better place to enjoy such a ride? These 45 minutes were simply magic! And security standards are world class…
Rent also an eBike and go discovering the more stunning of the 4.000 temples spread in a relatively compact area. True, only a few dozens are really worth a visit, but this forest of Stupas creates a unique atmosphere, especially at dawn and dusk (go to more remote temples for both sunrise and sunset to avoid the crowd of tour groups, for instance at Paya Pyathada, in my opinion the most stunning temple in Bagan).
• Inle Lake
This is probably the area of the country that will most dramatically change in the next few years. But yes, the atmosphere is special on Inle Lake at sunrise, with the dark grey, mirror-like surface of the water merging with the misty horizon, and the elusive shapes of fishermen rowing their boats with one leg… Surreal!
• Crossing the Gokteik Viaduct
No, you will not be the only tourist on this bumpy ride! But yes, this is quite a dizzying experience!
• The Caves near Hpa An & the Colonial City of Mawlamyine
Hpa An & Mawlamyine are places where even independent travelers are rare but highlights diverse and abundant…
• Mandalay
Mandalay is neither an attractive nor a pleasant city at first sight: a hot, modern, bustling grid of endless streets lined up with dull concrete blocks. Nevertheless, Mandalay abounds with amazing sites, and you will need at least 3 days if you want to visit those!
• The Circle Line in Yangon
Have you ever taken a 3 hour train ride arriving precisely where you started off? Being twirled around like laundry during the spin cycle? If not, take the Circle Line in Yangon and do the whole loop…
• Surprising Yangon
Yangon is a fascinating crossroad between Southeast Asia and the Indian Subcontinent. And if you scratch below the surface and take the time to dive into this surprising city, it has a lot to offer! 3 days are just right, especially since you might want to find some retreat during the hot hours of the day…
• Funky Hairdos
This is no joke! It won’t take long until young Burmese men with funky hairdos draw your attention. Obviously the thing to do: a very, very creative part of local fashion! Young men proudly adorn themselves with the strangest haircuts. You think it’s a small number of extravagant people? Oh no! It is a very widespread trend…

How To Go Off The Beaten Track?
THat's a challenging question... For more information, check my blog: www.GrandEscapades.net
OneYearOff is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 16th, 2015, 09:39 AM
  #2
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 32,527
Thanks for posting your report. It sounds like you had a wonderful time in my favorite destination! And good for you - you saw some of the highlights as well as getting more off the track. I've recently returned from my third trip to this remarkable country... and I know we will go back.
Kathie is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 16th, 2015, 11:49 AM
  #3
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 89
Hi Kathie,
well, with 3 trips, you probably had the opportunity to discover the country more in depth and to discover other areas.
Yes, Myanmar was really, really nice!
Cheers, Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 17th, 2015, 12:25 PM
  #4
 
Join Date: Jul 2015
Posts: 26
Gilles, I would love to read more about Hpa An and Mawlamyine. We're working on a trip to Laos and Myanmar in Feb, won't have more than maybe 8 days in each country, so trying not to cover huge geographic areas. We're thinking of visiting both those places. I don't like caves (claustrophobic). What else did you like about those towns and surrounding areas? THANKS!
Lisa58 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 17th, 2015, 10:26 PM
  #5
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 89
Hi Lisa,
Well, Hpa An is basically about caves plus a relaxed small town... Mawlamyine is a somewhat decrepit colonial city with a great evening market on the river side.
Here is what I wrote about both towns: http://grandescapades.net/unexpected...uth-of-yangon/
Avoid at any cost the Breeze Hostel in Mawlamyine, a dirty hole with bedbugs and a very unpleasant staff.
Have you already visited Myanmar?
Cheers, Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 18th, 2015, 09:29 AM
  #6
 
Join Date: Jan 2003
Posts: 4,229
Gilles--

This is extremely helpful to people who are starting to consider visiting Myanmar. I'm super impressed with how organized your data is about costs, and I know it will be valuable to us even though we probably categorize ourselves a level above you in the moderate budget category. Quick question: did you have all of your rooms organized and reserved ahead of time? Or, did you do more planning as you went along?

Of your Asia destinations, we've been to only Vietnam and Rajasthan. Of the different countries you've visited in Asia which are your top favorites and why?

Thanks much.
julies is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 18th, 2015, 01:09 PM
  #7
 
Join Date: Jul 2015
Posts: 26
Thanks, Gilles, really interesting. It looks like Hpa An is in a beautiful landscape where we could walk or cycle (or take a boat through the rice paddies as you did) without going into the caves - correct me if I'm wrong. What is the landscape like around Mawlamyine? It seems like an interesting town to wander around and talk to people. Never been to Myanmar. We are New Yorkers, went to Vietnam in March and loved it. That was our first trip to SE Asia - now working on a trip to Myanmar and Laos in Feb. Maybe we're "flashpackers" also - in our fifties, happy with pretty basic lodging but we like our Western toilets.
Thinking about going only to Yangon, Mawlamyine and Hpa An in Myanmar, which is probably not the usual itinerary.
Lisa58 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 18th, 2015, 11:30 PM
  #8
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 89
Hi Julies,
Thank you!

There were 2 parts in my trip:
* I was traveling alone in the lesser known parts of the country and there I just improvised, and booked as I went, which is what I normally do.
* And the second part I was traveling with a friend on vacations, in the more "famous parts" (Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake). There I booked because I wanted to have some level of comfort for my friend. I think advance booking (hotels & internal flights if you want to fly, as well as Hot Air Balloon) is advisable in those places (Mandalay, Bagan, Inle) in the high season (December to February), not necessarily in the rest of the country.

As for other countries, it is extremely difficult to compare as countries are not comparable. Each trip had highlights of its own. You go to Cambodia for the stunning temples of Angkor (plan 10 days if you want to also see the remote ones, just for the temples), to Laos for the people and the landscapes, to China for the landscapes (Yunnan) and the cultural shock...

Cheers, Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 18th, 2015, 11:37 PM
  #9
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 89
Hi Lisa,
I met people in Myanmar in Hpa An who were focusing on the South (Hpa An & Mawlamyine).
Yes, very relaxed atmosphere, nice surroundings (Hpa An - walking is about long distances, rather bike or scooter I would say), possibilities to do excursions on the river (Mawlamyine). The landscape around Mawlamyine is one of a town on a river, more flat. And it's hot!
You have lots of accommodations for "Flashpackers" (that is what I am) in both cities. But avoid Breeze Guesthouse... Just a friendly advice ;-) Except if you like to share your bed with bedbugs...
These parts are much less visited than the "northern loop", much more relaxed. If you are in for something more quiet, you will love it. As you will love Laos!
This is what I wrote about Laos: http://grandescapades.net/travel-guide-to-laos/
Cheers, Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 19th, 2015, 05:58 AM
  #10
 
Join Date: May 2012
Posts: 300
How fast is that country changing?

We stood and watched the first ATM being installed in Rangoon in 2013, and I was the fourth person in the queue to conduct a transaction.

It was only local currency, but squill ions of kyat pad for some very nice paintings.
mareeS55 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Dec 19th, 2015, 09:44 AM
  #11
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 89
Hi Maree,
Well, it is difficult to say as I only have been there once, but before this trip I have read lots of blogs and discussed with quite a few people who were there before me.
Tourism has doubled every year in the last 5 years, with an expected 1 million visitors in 2015.
Now large tour groups are a common sight in Mandalay, Bagan & Inle
Inle is probably the area that will change the fastest, both because people move from traditional activities to tourism orientated activities and to the heavy toll on the lake: amongst others, the floating gardens are heavily polluting the lake and fishes are dying, with fishermen catching close to nothing.
ATMs are now common in major cities
SIM cards were extremely expensive and hard to get, now you can find one for just 1.5 USD within 5 minutes
And and and...
So on the one hand, it is now extremely easy to travel. But the country is surely far less genuine than it was a few years back...
Cheers, Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 13th, 2016, 11:07 PM
  #12
 
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 11
Thansk for sharing your travel trip to Myanmar. This is a nice travel article.
guptapriyagupta10 is offline  
Reply With Quote
Jan 13th, 2016, 11:20 PM
  #13
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Oct 2013
Posts: 89
Thank you!
Nice to read it helps ;-)
Cheers, Gilles
OneYearOff is offline  
Reply With Quote
 



Thread Tools
Search this Thread
Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Trackbacks are Off
Pingbacks are Off
Refbacks are On


FODOR'S VIDEO

All times are GMT -8. The time now is 01:39 PM.