Traveling Burma | Myanmar
Traveling to Burma was one of the most amazing countries I have been to. It hasn’t seen many tourist yet and is a absolute must for photographers. You literally can get crazy with your camera.
The people there are genuinely friendly, honest and very helpful. I felt like being set back in time as hardly anyone owns a mobile phone, or better said, the government makes it hard for the inhabitants to get a bloody Sim-card. At the time I was there a regular Sim-card would have cost about $200. Also the people do their farming mostly with their bare hands or with support of animals. Cars or motorised transport is quite rare and the railway is simply a disaster.
I visited Mandalay for the water festival, travelled down to Bagan and hiked from Kalaw to lake Inle.
Travel to Mynamar / Burma
If you think about doing a travel to Myanmar Burma, or if you are in doubt if it is worth the effort, then I can highly recommend it. Burma is very beautiful, inexpensive and full of most friendly and helpful people. The country has little tourism compared to some of its SE Asia neighbors, the main tourist areas center around places like Inlay Lake, Yangon, Bagan (the valley of more than 3000 temples and stupas) and Kalaw (where the Hiking route Kalaw – Inlay Lake takes place). But as soon you move a bit away you’ll find yourself in the most remote places where children and locals come out of the houses to greet and welcome you. This happens in India too, but they normally finish their greetings with “I show you my shop”. Hence if you travel to Myanmar you are amongst the most genuine lovely and friendly people which help you in every situation – if it is a puncture on your bicycle or you have forgotten your camera at the temple, they fix it or run after you… The only annoying thing is that you have to take crisp and clean dollar notes (just make sure you get some dollars before you fly in) with you as there are hardly cash machines (more and more coming) and also some hotels or hostels take only dollars. More about budgeting money and costs click here
Our travel time in Myanmar
We arrived at Mandalay Airport the 15th April 2013 flying in from Bangkok with AirAsia. As we approached the landing strip we could already spot lots of golden stupas and temples sitting on the vast Mandalay plain. As we got out, our visa stamped, cash changed, we were hit by the cruel Burmese heat, about 38 degree C. The international Airport in Mandalay looks somewhat like a temple with a landing strip beside it. The airport is not busy at all, a few taxis (which you have to take), two coffee places and no AC. We soon realized we had to take a taxi to the town center which is around 30 kilometers away. We teamed up with some other travelers and got after some bargaining a shared taxi for 3000 Kyat each to Mandalay. Tip: go inside the airport and by a prepaid taxi ticket – it is cheaper. There is no bus either. We got in our taxi which was a minivan and drove off – the taxi driver refused to turn the AC on, probably to safe fuel. On the way to Mandalay we saw lots of scooter drivers with no helmets and sometimes up to five people on it – 95% of the people commute with motorcycles anyway… safety last – well, that’s Asia.
After checking in at our lovely AC room at E.T. Hotel we decided to explore a bit of Mandalay by bicycle. We realized very quickly that we hit the Myanmar New Year Water Festival (Thingyan) and they threw mercilessly water at us (yeah tourists!!!). After 3 days of Songran in Bangkok, we had almost had enough of being constantly wet. I would have loved to take my camera out, but it was a hopeless case, so much water you’d need a underwater camera. As we cycled along we found lots of lovely food stalls and little coffee places, the local food stalls are cheap and very good. Even if you don’t speak Burmese or they don’t speak English, there will be always someone who helps you ordering food or drinks. It is very nice to spend some days in Mandalay as there are lots of interesting sights in the city and the nearby areas, like the U-Peins bridge or temples and palaces. See Wikitravel. Tip: get a scooter after heavy bargaining and explore the town and its near surroundings.
Arranging your travel to the next destination is easily done in most places. From Mandalay we were traveling to Bagan, we bought our ticket at the Mandalay train station – it is a bit of a mission, bit confusing, book in advance as soon as possible – The journey itself was interesting….we were on our way to Bagan on the most grueling night train (youtube video coming soon).
I would say to take the train is an absolute unique experience, it is rocking and shaking so much that the bags fall out of the shelves and you jump up and down in your seat. Some websites even warn you from taking the train and say it is extremely dangerous. I say, go for it, it is hilarious and the train is so slow that even if it would have an an accident, nothing much would happen. Well, the railways are from the colonial times and are absolutely rotten and the government don’t seem to improve the situation at all. So, if you are scared, don’t take the train and go by bus! Buses are comfortable and air conditioned, although the streets are windy and you may consider taking travel sickness pills. The same definitely applies for the train. However if you like the to take the train click Seat61 for all information you need.
Arriving at Bagan (ancient city) – Bagan is the name of the archeological zone site of the temples, the option of towns that you will stay in are New Bagan or Nyaung U.
We took a taxi to our hotel My Kha Lar at Nyaung U (the cheapest village to stay) and had a good sleep after the rocking over night train. We soon were confronted with the fact that we couldn’t rent a scooter – not allowed for tourists, but they have plenty of bicycles you can rent for 1000 Kyat and Bagan area is not big. We also just went to the street and flagged scooters and pick-ups down which took us along thee main roads for free. Yes, for free, Burmese people are extremely happy to help you and are very happy to speak to you, if you can speak Burmese or not. You also can take horse cars (dead slow) or taxis to get around Bagan. Tip: you can enjoy freedom better with a bike and you can choose the stupa of your choice to watch the sunset / rise.
As we learned not to take the train, we booked our bus to Kalaw as our next destination. A beautiful mountain village with much better (cooler) temperatures. As it is about 1300m above sea level it has 10 degree C less compared to Bagan or Mandalay. We checked in at Golden Lilly Guest House which has double rooms from $7. Here, we booked our 3 day hike to Inlay Lake with our most lovely hiking guide James. we spend $42 each for 3 days with food, accommodation, luggage transfer and guide. James the ex high school teacher was very informative and helpful at all times. You can certainly do this trek on your own as it is more of a leisurely walk, but you would definitely miss out on lots of information about local believes and natural knowledge. And the guide will manage to get you food and drinks on local mountain stores where you may fail to order even a coffee. Tip: get a guide and do the trek – it is the opportunity to meet local people, sleep in monasteries or have a lovely home-stay.There are lots of trekking guides to choose from. But be aware, if you stay in a guest house book better with them, they may be upset if you choose a different trekking guide. See tripadvisor or Lonely planet. We had a lovely stay at Golden Lilly and our guide was very very nice. he was called James – a very informative and wise man.
Arriving at Inle Lake
Lake Inle in Burma is quite a touristic place with accommodation from $15 and up. We stayed at the very beautiful Little Inn in Nyaungshwe which has garden bungalows with own bathrooms. Very romantic, clean and breakfast included. You can rent bicycles and go on boat trips for tourist attractions and also see the fisherman. We did first the rather disappointing Inle Lake tourist boat trip which is a bit commercial. The next day though I decided on a Sunrise Boat Trip which was very beautiful and a unique experience. The Inle Lake fisherman were posing for the photos and I was very happy to get my shot. The bars in this little Town are welcoming to hang out at night and have a beer with all the hikers arriving every day.
Visa – travel Myanmar Burma
It is fairly simple to get the Visa for Myanmar. The best way is going to Bangkok to the embassy of Myanmar and apply for the 1 day service or the 3 day cheaper service. Also most of your home countries do visa for Burma. For detailed information click here.
Flights – travel Myanmar Burma
Flying form Bangkok is the most common route by Air Asia. It’s cheap and easy to fly from Bangkok Airport Don Mueng to Mandalay or Yangon.
Budget and costs in Myanmar Burma.
The budget and costs are pretty low in Myanmar / Burma. Some Blogs say that it is expensive and pricy to stay in Burma – this is only true for pre-booked hotels, they can cost you up to 30$ or more per night, but soon you’ll find out that it is easy to get a cheaper room for about 7-15$. I have prepared a per day spending list to give you an idea what traveling in Myanmar actually can cost. Maybe it helps to budget your stay in Myanmar a bit better. This list is based on two people staying eleven days. We spend in total 470 US Dollar including accommodation, food and activities – no flights and no visa included. Also for your information: there are cash machines now available in most of the more busy places. I say this because I have often read there aren’t.
Day 1. 15 April 2013, Mandalay.
- Landing at Mandalay Airport – 38C no AC, sweating to death.
- 3000 Kyat each – getting a shared taxi to Mandalay.
- 30$ hotel (15$each) – double room with AC at E.T. Hotel with free WiFi and breakfast.
- 8000 Kyat for food with fizzy drinks (including lunch and dinner)
- 1000 Kyat for water and misc.
- 2200 for two rental bicycles.
- Total costs $50
Day 2. 16 April 2013, Mandalay
- 8000 Kyat rental motorcycle (150ccm)
- 3000 Kyat Lunch
- 2400 Kyat Dinner
- 20$ over night train tickets to Bagan. Hence saving the money for the hotel!!
- Total: 35$
Day 3. 17 April 2013, Bagan (Nyaung U)
- 4000 Kyat Lunch
- 4000 Kyat Dinner
- 2000 Kyat Horse car
- 1000 Kyat Map
- 2000 Kyat misc.
- 20$ Hotel (staying at Nyaung U at My kar Lar) double AC.
- 20$ Bagan tourist pass (10$ each)
- Total 55$
Day 4. 18 April 2013, Bagan Temples.
- 3000 Kyat, two renatl bicycles.
- 20000 Kyat bus tickets to Kalaw (trekking starting point).
- 3000 Kyat Lunch
- 13000 Dinner (first time fancy restaurant – food was the same but expensive)
- 2000 Kyat misc.
- 8$ two lime and soda at the Bagan view tower ( you save 5$ each entrance fee if you have a drink), the view is amazing.
- 20$ room (Nyaung U, My Kar Lar)
- Total: 75 dollar.
Day 5. 19 April 2013, Kalaw
- 7$ Room (Golden Lilly Guest House)
- 84$ hiking fee for two including guide, accommodation, 3 meals for 3 days and luggage transfer.
- 8000 lunch and dinner
- Total 100 $
Day 6,7,8. 20-22 April 2013, hiking Kalaw to Inlay Lake.
- as mentioned above hiking fee is paid, hence apart from some miscellaneous spending like liters of water and some fizzy drinks we spend nothing. It comes to probably $10.
- Arriving at Inlay lake, Nyaungshwe -we had to pay:
- 15$ Hotel (Little Inn, fan, double room, bathroom inside)
- 10000 Kyat food and beer.
- 5000 misc.
- 10$ Inlay lake tourist fee.
- Total: $41.
Day 9. 23 April 2013, Nyaungshwe.
- 6000 Kyat tourist boat lake trip.
- 8000 food with drinks.
- 2000 misc.
- 15$ hotel.
- Total $33.
Day 10, 24 April 2013, Nyaungshwe.
- 15$ Hotel
- 15700 Lunch, dinner and beer
- 2000 two rental bicycles.
- Total $35
Day 11, 25 April 2013, Nyaungshwe to Mandalay
- 24000 Kyat night bus to Mandalay.
- 6000 Kyat Lunch and fancy banana shakes.
- 3600 Kyat misc.
- 10000 Taxi to airport (5am, rip-off)
- FLYING BACK TO BANGKOK.
- Total $40
- 464 Dollar – for 2 people not bad…