18 Days in Myanmar
Posted: Dec 2012

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18 Days of Myanmar - a travellers report

By Suzanna Clarke, December 2012

Foreword: We appreciate all of the posts we get from grateful travellers that have picked up information from us, but when we get something this good... well.... it just has to be shared in the form that it was sent to us. Many thanks Suzanna.
Elli xx

My itinerary:
Mandalay 2 nights
Bagan         3 nights
Kalaw 1 night
Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake  2 nights
Inle Lake 3 nights
Bago 1.5 nights
Hpa-An 3 nights
Yangon 2 nights

General information about hotels/guest houses:
All prices listed below are for a single room with ensuite bathroom (apart from Hpa-An which had a shared bathroom), although I never actually stayed in a room with just a single bed – it was always a double or twin beds.

I always booked in advance, apart from Bago.  

For Mandalay and Bagan, I booked well in advance as I knew the dates that I was going to be there.  Apart from that I just phoned a few days ahead when I knew where I was going to be.  I always got a room in my first or second choice hotel, apart from Yangon.  

For Yangon, I phoned 4 or 5 hotels the day before I arrived, and they were all full.  So in the end I booked online via Agoda.

General information about buses:
I booked buses either through my hotel or a local agent a few days in advance.  Sometimes when I booked through an agent (rather than at my hotel) they give me a plan of the bus so I could choose my seat.  
The buses were usually quite comfortable but sometimes the air conditioning was very cold.  They were not overcrowded; I think there were people sitting in the aisle on only one bus journey.  Usually a bottle of water was provided.

The buses make regular toilet stops, approximately every 3 hours or so.  On journeys that take the whole day, the bus would usually stop for half an hour for lunch.  

Mandalay:
Hotel
Royal Guest House, $15 per night (including breakfast).  
Fairly small but nice room, good value for money.

General information
I hired a motorbike taxi for the day (for 17,000 kyat) to go round the ancient cities (Sagaing, Inwa and Amarapura).  I would recommend this as a nice day out.

Onward transport
Speed boat from Mandalay to Bagan, $43.  Booked via Royal Guest House.  The boat left daily at the time I was there (early December 2012).  The boat left at 07.00 and arrived at around 18.30.   It was a spacious boat, with bench seating with cushions.  The seating areas were all open but it wasn’t too cold with a jacket.  Lunch was a choice of fried rice or fired noodles and cost 3,000 kyat.  Water/soft drinks/beer were available to buy on the boat.

Bagan/Nyaung U:
Hotel 
Thante Hotel, Nyaung U, $36 per night (including breakfast), booked in advance online via Agoda.  
This was my favourite hotel that I stayed at in Myanmar.  Very spacious bungalow style room, with a bath in the bathroom (as well as a shower).  Excellent buffet breakfast.  Free wi-fi in reception, and the wi-fi occasionally worked in my room.  There is a small swimming pool.

General information
To hire a horse & cart for a full day to go round the temples cost 18,000 kyat.

Onward transport
I booked a bus from Nyaung U to Kalaw via the hotel.  The bus picked me up outside the hotel at 07.30 and I think it arrived in Kalaw at around 14.30.  It cost 11,000 kyat.

Kalaw:
Hotel
Eastern Paradise Motel, $30 per night (including breakfast). I thought this was overpriced, even by Myanmar standards.  The room was tatty and many of the electrics did not work.  However the hot water shower was good and the breakfast was excellent.

Restaurant 
Thu Maung restaurant – I would recommended this restaurant for Myanmar food.

Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake:
When I arrived in Kalaw, one of the Singh brothers from Golden Lilly Guest House met the bus to tout for 
business for treks.  I arranged a 3 day, 2 night trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake to start the next day.  The cost (for one person) was $61, including the guide, accommodation, all food (but not drinks), transporting my main backpack to Inle Lake, and the boat trip on Inle Lake at the end of the trek to Nyaungshwe, I was grouped together with 5 other people.  The trek was very good and the guide (James) was fantastic.  A cook was provided and the food was delicious, definitely some of the best food I had in Myanmar.  

The Singh brothers asked about dietary requirements when I signed up to the trek, and I told them that my diet is vegetarian and gluten free, however they did not tell the guide about this.  But James the guide went out of his way to make sure that I was well catered for.

The trek was more challenging than I was expecting (last year I trekked to Everest Base Camp, so I thought this trek would be nice and easy in comparison!).  I think this was mainly due to the distance and the pace.  We walked about 12 miles on day 1, about 15 miles on day 2, and about 9 miles on day 3 (we stopped trekking before lunch on day 3).  Altitude was not a problem as it wasn’t much higher than around 1,000 meters, and it was mostly flat, with a few ups and downs.  The scenery was nice, but not stunning.
The first night we stayed in a village (no electricity or running water) and the second night we stayed in a monastery.  Both nights all 6 of us slept in the same space, on mattresses lined up on the floor with no space in between them!  The first night in the village was very chilly, maybe about 10 degrees, so I’m glad I had my walking boots and fleece.

Nyaungshwe:
Hotel
Goodwill Inn.  When I phoned to book in advance a few days prior to arrival, I was told that the cost would
 be $35 per night for a single room.  When I arrived they only had a triple room (a double bed and a single bed), but they let me have that room and they only charged $25 per night (including breakfast) - my guide from the trek must have negotiated this for me as he helped me check in.  

As per the comment on the Leaping Lemur website, the staff at the hotel spoke very little English.  The comment also states ‘a new and very comfortable hotel’ – I would disagree with this, I didn’t think it was that new, and it was comfortable enough but I wouldn’t describe it as very comfortable! 
Thanks - updated! Elli

General information
To hire a boat for a full day trip around Inle Lake cost 15,000 kyat.
I hired a bike and cycled out to the hot springs about 5.5 miles outside Nyaungshwe.  This was a lovely cycle ride, but very bumpy as half the journey was on an unsealed road.

Onward transport 
From Nyaungshwe, I booked a bus to Bago.  I think this cost around 15,000 kyat.  A pick up collected me from my hotel at around 13.30 to take us to the junction, which took around 1 hour.  Then the bus collected us from the junction at around 15:30.  The bus was due to arrive in Bago at 04.00, however in fact it arrived at 02:50.  

Bago:
Hotel
The bus stopped outside the Emperor Hotel, and a hotel employee got on the bus to ask the foreigners if they wanted to stay there.  I did, as it was an easy option at that time in the morning.  It was a bit of a dump, the room was quite small, and it was extremely noisy as it is on a very busy road.  However, it cost only $10 per night (not including breakfast), and they didn’t charge me for the first night when I arrived at 02.50.

General information
To hire a motorbike taxi for a half day to look round the sights cost 10,000 kyat.  The sights were mostly large Buddha images, which I quite liked, as well as a couple of monasteries - the snake monastery (with a 17ft snake) and Kha Khat Wain Kyaung (one of the largest monasteries in Myanmar).  
I don’t think Bago is worth going out of your way for, but it worked well for me to get off the bus at Bago on the way from Inle Lake to Hpa-An, which saved me going all the way into Yangon from Inle Lake then out again to Hpa-An.

Onward transport  
I booked a bus from Bago to Hpa-An from the guest house for 9,000 kyat, including a lift to the bus stop.  I think the journey was around 4 or 5 hours.  

Hpa-An:
Hotel
Soe Brothers Guest House.  I phoned up to book a few days before, and booked a room with an attached bathroom.  When I arrived there was only a single room available with shared bathroom so I took that.  It was $6 per night (no breakfast) for a very basic/small room with a fan. The communal bathrooms/toilets were kept very clean.  No hot water.  Electricity was intermittent. This guest house had a nice atmosphere to it and there were several communal areas/balconies. They gave guests free maps of Hpa-An and the surrounding countryside.  A very nice touch was an urn full of hot water and free tea/coffee sachets at certain times in the morning and the afternoon. This guest house was extremely popular/busy, whenever I went to reception there was always a queue! They let people sleep in the communal areas when they were full. 

General information
There was a list in the Soe Brothers Guest House reception for people to put their names down for a day tour of the surrounding areas in a tuk tuk.  The trip included visits to caves with Buddha images, a monastery, a couple of swimming places, a huge cave that you could walk through.  The cost of hiring the tuk tuk was 30,000 kyat, split between however many people were on the trip that day.  The journey in the tuk tuk was extremely bumpy!  Beautiful scenery of limestone hills and rice paddies.  A very good day out.

Restaurant
I ate at the San Ma Tau Myanmar restaurant.  This was my favourite restaurant of the whole trip.  There are maybe 20 or so big pots at the front of the restaurant, and you go up to have a look in the pots to choose what you want.  The staff were very good at explaining what was vegetarian, and pointed out the dishes that appeared vegetarian, but which actually had shrimp paste in them.  There were probably 5 or 6 vegetarian dishes to choose from, and there were different dishes every day (I went 3 evenings in a row!).  There were about 10 free side dishes/condiments on the table, of which 4 or 5 were vegetarian.  They also put jars of sweets on the table as a free desert.  Delicious!  

The cost was 500 kyat per dish (vegetarian), 500 kyat for rice, and 800 kyat for a small can of beer.

Onward transport
I got the bus from Hpa-An to Yangon at around 07.30 and I think it took around 5 or 6 hours.  It cost 5,000 kyat – I’m not sure why this bus journey was substantially cheaper than other bus journeys I went on.

Yangon:
Transport from the bus station
From the bus station in Yangon, myself and two other tourists from the bus negotiated a taxi into Yangon for 3,500 each.  When we got into the taxi, there were already two passengers in it, so there were four of us in the back seat!  

Hotel
MGM Hotel, $48 per night (including breakfast), booked on Agoda. This was the most expensive hotel I stayed at in Myanmar, but far from the best.  For example, the shower was a shower hose attached to the wall at shoulder height, the sheets felt like nylon, and the blanket was not big enough to cover me (and I’m not even tall!).  None of which I would usually moan about in a budget hotel, but not for this price!  The buffet breakfast was OK.  There was free wi-fi in the room.

My highlights:
Inle Lake
Hpa-An
The food on the trek and in Hpa-An
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