Duration: 20 Days
Cost overview for two Adults in Myanmar for 20 nights
Budget: US$1,500 Spent: US$950 Average Hotel per night: US$22
Yangon -> Nyaung U (Bagan) -> Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake) ->
Pyin Oo Lwin -> Hsipaw -> Mandalay
This was our first ever trip to Myanmar and when we boarded the plane in Bangkok it was with nervous anticipation. My parents had visited us in Thailand and bought with them one thousand dollars’ worth of perfect notes from the UK, we had heard all sorts of stories and were concerned that we wouldn’t have enough money or it wouldn’t be accepted. In the end our worries were unfounded. In fact the extra $500 dollars we changed in Bangkok would remain untouched!
I had no idea what to expect from Myanmar. Would it be easy to get around? How developed is the country? Can the people really be that friendly? It turned out that Myanmar is now one of my favourite places to visit in South East Asia. In fact we are already planning our return. Yes it is easy to get around, the roads are bumpy but where in the world doesn’t have bumpy roads?! The country seems to have gotten on quite alright without the UK and the US over the last few years thanks to China, India and Thailand. Most people have a phone better than ours! And yes the people are friendly and helpful and want nothing more in return than a photograph and a smile. (blog: Myanmar to go or not to go)
This is an overview of where we went what we did and how much we paid. There are links to blogs that go into more detail about some of the places we stayed.
Yangon (4 nights)
We were picked up from the airport but the Mother Land Inn Hotel. Would definitely recommend booking a hotel that will collect you, makes life much easier. Changed dollars at the airport with no trouble at all. So far so good. Visited a number of temples over the 4 days. Botataung Pagoda (US$2) near the river in the early evening and took a walk down to the waterfront afterwards to watch the world go by. Remember if you are visiting temples (especially women, sometimes men are let off) to cover shoulders and knees. Shewdagon (the big one) is very impressive. It is massive and worth the US$5 entrance fee. Take dollars with you or you’ll have to pay in kyats and in most places the rate is US1 = 1,000Ks instead of a more realistic 850Ks. Walked to the National Museum one day but it really wasn’t worth the sweat. From here we carried on to Kandawgyi Lake which is nice to walk around and then up to Chaukhtatgyi Paya and Ngahtatgyi Paya (US$2) which was maybe a walk too far but definitely worth a visit. The reclining Buddha in Chaukhtagyi is actually quite beautiful and at Ngahtatgyi there is a seated Buddha (and they’ll give you a bottle of water!) A taxi back to the train station from here cost 2,000Ks. In the evening try to catch the Sule Paya all lit up, prettiest roundabout ever.
Hotel: Mother Land Inn II - $30 (incl bfast & airport pickup); Mayfair Inn - $24
Eating: New Delhi Indian – excellent mutton curry 2,500Ks; Great street snacks 100 – 200Ks
Transport: O/night bus to Bagan – 18,000Ks; Taxi to bus station – 7,000Ks (lookout for someone to share with)
Nyaung U (Bagan) (4 nights)
We arrived at 4:30am and were collected by horse and cart and taken to Inn Wa. By 6:30am we were booked in and asleep in our room. Bagan is all about the temples and the best way to explore them is by bicycle (1,500Ks per day.) That way you can dodge the tour buses and horse and carts and find your very own private temple. There are thousands of them so enough to go around. Shwezigon in Nyaung U (near all the cheaper guest houses) is very nice at sunset. Remeber for a decent sunset picture you do not need to climb up the ancient ruins with a hundred other tourists, just find yourself a field and enjoy exactly the same view in peaceful surroundings. Ananda Pahto is very nice as are Htilominio and Upali Thein, we did these together on one day, the next day we cycled down through Old Bagan and beyond to Gawdawpalin Pahto and Thatbyinnyu Pahto. On the third day we decided to north and found fewer temples, no tourists but some great views. The key to Bagan is to pace yourself or you’ll get templed out on day one and not appreciate what is around you.
Hotel: Inn Wa Guest House - $18 (incl bfast and pick up on arrival)
Eating: Weatherspoons – excellent Myanmar curries 2,000 – 3,000Ks and western food; Shwe Moe great selection of curries, with excellent vegetable dishes 2, 000 – 3,000Ks
Transport: Bus to Nyaungshwe (incl transfer at Shwenyaung junction) – 10,000Ks
Nyaungshwe – Inle Lake (2 nights)
We decided against a trek from Kalaw to Inle (blog: Trekking to Inle Lake) as we wanted to get up north to Hsipaw so we took the quicker option of the bus. Nyaungshwe was definitely the busiest place as far as tourists are concerned. We didn’t realise that we had arrived in time for the Phaung Daw Oo Paya Festival, where a golden Buddha is transported by boat across one temple to the next. As Inle is all about the lake we organised a day trip which is easy enough to do just walk towards the canal you’ll soon get asked. (blog: Slouching Kittens Hidden Jumping Cats.) We had met some people on the bus and ended up with 7 of us on a boat for the day, splitting the 25,000Ks cost between us. To get to see the festival was great, hundreds of men on boats rowing with their feet. Then next stop was the Nampan market, a huge market not just for tourists, it’s full of people from surrounding villages as well. Great fun. The rest of the tour took us to a few workshops and souvenir shops which aren’t as crowded as I expected (compared to a Mekong trip in Vietnam) and if you don’t want to get out of the boat you don’t have to. It seems that cats at the Jumping Cat Monastery have gone on strike as they were all asleep when we got there and we later heard that it was too much of a distraction for the monks and so they have stopped the jumping altogether! The second day was meant to be a cycle ride to the vineyard but my stomach got the better of me so it was people watching by the canal which isn’t a bad way to spend the day.
Hotel: Big Drum – US£18 (incl bfast)
Eating: Bit of a disappointment for us. Try the street food around the market or the noodle soup at a Myanmar beer station.
Transport: O/night bus to Mandalay 11,000Ks (incl transfer to Shwenyaung); Shared taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin 5,000Ks per person
Pyin Oo Lwin (3 nights)
We headed straight to Pyin Oo Lwin from Mandalay bus station after we arrived at 05:0am. First stop was the Golden Dream Hotel, although the sign on the stairs was more apt ‘Olden Dream’. Ironically this was the only place that turned down one of our crisp dollar notes and it was the worst place we stayed. We promptly moved to the Bravo hotel the next day which turned out to be one of the best places we stayed. The National Kandawgyi Gardens (US$5) are the main attraction here and there are very well and very well maintained. We even spotted a gibbon up the tree – our first glimpse of wildlife! Pyin OO Lwin is a nice little town to walk around, lots of old colonial buildings and big wide lanes to wander around. Once again we were in time for a festival and saw a procession of lanterns in the evening and watched the local men comparing sizes of fireworks. Two nights of constant bangers and rockets though was more than enough. Time for Hsipaw.
Hotel: Golden Dream - US$20; Bravo Hotel – US$25 (incl bfast, TV, fridge, complimentary toiletries)
Eating: Excellent market food
Transport: Train to Hsipaw – US$5
Hsipaw (2 nights)
Part of the draw of Hsipaw is the journey there on the train. We travel over the Gokteik Viaduct an old creaking bridge with some great views. The train stops at the station before so you can hop off and get some pictures. Keep an eye out for the monks sat by the train line, watching you watching them. There other draw of Hsipaw is some great walks and overnight treks, which is one of the reasons we went there. But guess what we’ve found – a festival! This time the streets are full of bikes and trucks covered in offerings for the monks, from towels and plates to fridges and satellite TV; you name it it’s on a vehicle along the main street in Hsipaw. Alongside the makeshift floats are groups of dancers, some in traditional dress performing Burmese dances, others with black eyeliner and mohicans dancing to rock music and knocking back whiskey. The procession takes all day to reach the temple so we take a break and head to ‘Little Bagan’ which is basically a group of small crumbling pagodas. Not really like Bagan at all. Hsipaw is another small little town that is nice to walk around and has some very tasty street snacks available. We don’t make it trekking but the lady at Mr Kid has maps to share and can arrange lunch en route if you do find yourself without a festival to watch.
Hotel: Mr Kid – 12,000Ks; There are lots of newly opened hotels in Hsipaw
Eating: Mr Food – Good Chinese food, veg dishes 1,000Ks and meat 1,500Ks. 500Ks for a draught beer – cheapest in Myanmar!
Transport: Bus to Mandalay – 3,500Ks; Taxi from bus station in Mandalay to hotel – 1,000Ks
Mandalay (2 nights)
Our final stop is Mandalay. Air Asia have just started flying from here to Bangkok and you no longer need to leave from the same place you entered so it fits into our plan perfectly. We don’t have long, just a day and a half but we are both certain by now that we will be back again – and soon. We have heard good things about the sites outside of Mandalay but we don’t really have the time. We take a walk around the outside of the Palace to the ‘World’s Biggest Book’ which is actually two temples that hold 729 and 1774 small stupas each containing a marble tablet with the inscription of the entire series of Tripitaka and its commentaries. It is quite a stunning site. Kyauktawgyi Paya is nearby and worth a visit of you don’t want to pay the US$10 fee that some of the others require. Around the book temples is a market and in the early afternoon into evening the food stalls start up and you can feast on street snacks for pennies. For sunset we take a walk up to the top of Mandalay Hill. In all honesty the view from the top is not all that. Better that you stop just after the big Buddha where you get a much clearer view of Mandalay.
Hotel: ET Hotel – US$27 (incl bfast)
Eating: Excellent street snack. All Smile 81 Café (Pyi Taw Win) has good BBQ food from 100Ks
Transport: Taxi to airport – 20,000Ks in a minivan split between 6 people.