15 days in Myanmar

 

This is my itinerary for a 15 days solo trip in Myanmar (November 2014):

Yangon - Mandalay - Hsipaw - Bagan - Kalaw - Inle lake

Budget: 45 USD per day (including accommodation, food, transportation, entrance fees)

The purpose is to help future visitors to better plan their trip.

Disclaimer: my writing is terrible and all the pictures are taken with my iphone 4s.

January 29, 2015

15 days in Myanmar – Yangon (Day 1-2)

 

Day 1: YANGON – Bo Gyoke market

I was told that I could not leave Yangon without joining the locals for a morning coffee, so I chose a popular tea shop nearby my hostel, called Lucky Flower (on Bo Gyoke road crossroad of Pansodan Street, in front of the Ruby Mart). They sell the famous Mohinga (rice noodle fish soup, 500 kyats) a typical Burmese breakfast. People watching from the terrace is highly recommended as you’ll probably spot procession of monks or nuns during the morning alms (around 8AM).

myanmar_yangon_street-market-beans.jpg
myanmar_yangon_street-food.jpg

While the sun is still lazy, train your negotiation skills by heading off to the Bo Gyoke market. Get lost in the alleys of this shopping temple, you’ll find a broad selection of lacquerware, gems, longyi, antiques (fake or real) and all sorts of souvenirs.

For lunch I tried the Shan noodle (Chickpea flour noodles prepared in chilly sauce with fresh chives, sesame or peanut, 1,000 kyats) with ice coffee.

BoGyoke market

BoGyoke market

myanmar_yangon_street-market-veggies.jpg
Shan noodle, a simple dish from northern Shan state

Shan noodle, a simple dish from northern Shan state

STAY:

Myanmar Backpacker

256 Pansodan Street, Tower A, Level 9

Kyauktada Township

Yangon Downtown

+95 9421757685

The staff are very nice and helpful, individual pod-beds with shared bathrooms.

 

COST:

  • Taxi from airport to hostel: 7,000 kyats

  • breakfast+lunch+coffee+dinner: 2,500 kyats

  • Longi, saran: 12,000 kyats

  • Hostel: 15,000 kyats

Day 2: YANGON – Chinatown, city walk, Shwedagon, night bus to MANDALAY

Make sure you start the day early (8PM) before the weather gets too hot. Walk from Sule Pagoda all the way to Chinatown following the big Maha Bandula Road, the crowded street markets offer an incredible diversity of colors and smells.

After lunch wander around the colonial buildings nearby Sule pagoda: Yangon City Hall, The Strand Hotel, Custom House, General Post Office, Railways Headquarters, High Court Building, Rowe & Co Building, Maha Bandula Garden.

myanmar_yangon-city-walk.jpg
myanmar_yangon-city-walk-colorful-streets.jpg
myanmar_yangon_pigeons.jpg
myanmar_yangon_street-market-fruits.jpg

Around 4PM, in order to avoid the rush hour, hop on a taxi to Shwedagon, the most sacred buddhist pagoda in Myanmar. Frankly speaking I’m not a big fan of the multicolor LED lights used to light up the buddhas, but there is a genuine spirituality beneath the bling. You could felt it all over the place at dawn, and soon before you realize you’ll be slowly walking with the pilgrims contemplating the big golden stupa encircled by thousand candles.

myanmar_yangon_shwedagon-golden-stupa.jpg
myanmar_yangon_shwedagon-candles.jpg

COST:

  • Lunch+coffee+dinner: 5,500 kyats

  • Taxi to Shwedagon: 2,000 kyats

  • Shwedagon Entrance fee: 8,000 kyats

  • Taxi from hostel to Aung Min Galar bus station: 8,000 kyats

  • VIP night bus (JJ express Yangon-> Mandalay): 18,500 kyats

 

March 8, 2015

15 days in Myanmar – Mandalay (Day 3-4)

Day 3: MANDALAY (Mahamuni Pagoda,  U being bridge)

After the 10 hours night bus from Yangon to Mandalay, I arrived around 6AM at the hotel and felt too tired to do the travel homework, so I booked a 2 days motorbike tour with the taxi driver.

After catching up some sleep, we left in the afternoon to Mahamuni pagoda. Another pagoda! I told my guide I was bored of pagoda but he assured me that this temple was worthy and he was right! The Mahamuni temple is one the sacred pilgrimage site.

The entrance hall was surprisingly calm when I got there, few craftsmen were selling buddhist statues and figurines while working in their atelier.

Mahamuni temple sculptors

Mahamuni temple sculptors

Mahamuni temple bookworm?

Mahamuni temple bookworm?

I suggest to wake up early so you don’t miss the buddha face washing ritual. If you missed it, you could still watch one of the daily rituals which consists in applying gold leaves on the buddha image by male devotees only. Women are forbidden to stand too close to the representation….

Mahamuni devotees applying gold leaves on the buddha

Mahamuni devotees applying gold leaves on the buddha

more gold!

more gold!

myanmar_mandalay_maha-myat-muni-paya-buddha-week.jpg
myanmar_mandalay_maha-myat-muni-paya-pink-nuns (1).jpg
New and old generation…

New and old generation…

myanmar_mandalay_maha-myat-muni-paya-praying-monk.jpg

Next destination off to U Bein Bridge, the longest teakwood bridge in the world.

Walk slowly to the other end of the bridge, then head back facing the sun, it’s a fascinating 1.2km (x2) walk through local life.

Right before the sunset, you’ll notice some fishermen in the middle of the lake trying to get the last catch. The local fishing technique require them to spend hours in the water. Despite the hardwork, they will give you the most genuine smile while you cross their path on the bridge.

myanmar_mandalay_amarapura-shadows-fishermen.jpg
myanmar_mandalay_amarapura-lake-coffee.jpg
As monks cross your path respectfully keep your distance

As monks cross your path respectfully keep your distance

myanmar_mandalay_amarapura-sunset-bridge-view.jpg

COST

  • Camera fees Mahamuni pagoda: 1,000 kyats

  • Taxi from bus station to hotel: 8,000 kyats

  • Motorbike driver half day: 12,000 kyats

 

Day 4: MANDALAY (Mahagandayon monastery monk feeding ceremony, Inwa, Sagaing hill)

Around 9.30AM we arrive at the Mahagandayon monastery famous for serving lunch to around 2,000 monks. The area is expanding with new schools and dormitory. This place is quite popular and one of the highlight of many travelers, but I can’t help fighting mixed feelings when you see hordes of tourists in the middle of the streets trying to catch the best shot… To better manage the daily intrusion, one head monk will try to contain excited tourists and sometimes gently scold those who are still walking on the main procession street.

myanmar_mandalay_mahagandhayan-monastery-young-monk.jpg
The feeding process takes around an hour, volunteers help distributing the rice and vegetables

The feeding process takes around an hour, volunteers help distributing the rice and vegetables

myanmar_mandalay_mahagandhayan-monastery-monk-school.jpg

Next stop Inwa, the ancient capital. There is a popular route access via boats, or you could ask your motorbike driver to take the road instead.

myanmar_mandalay_inwa-boat-ride.jpg
myanmar_mandalay_inwa-temples.jpg

On the way back we went to Sagaing hill for the full panorama view of Mandalay outskirt.

myanmar_mandalay_sagaing-hill-panorama.jpg

COST

– Motorbike driver half day: 12,000 kyats

– Inwa entrance fees should cost 10,000 kyats (I didn’t pay because the motorbike driver took a different route)

 

March 9, 2015

15 days in Myanmar – Gokteik viaduct, Hsipaw (Day 5-6)

Day 5: MANDALAY – train to HSIPAW, Gokteik viaduct crossing


DO:

The “monster of silver geometry in all the ragged rock and jungle” that Paul Theroux mentioned in his travelogue The Great Railway Bazaar is a British colonial heritage. This 689 metres length viaduct was considered as a masterpiece when completed in 1900.

I had to cross that monster! which means waking up at 4AM to get the train ticket from Mandalay to Hsipaw. When I got to the train station my cab driver/ motorbike guide Ting Ting helped me to book an ordinary seat ticket. 2USD for almost 12 hours train journey, a cheap and rewarding experience!



4 tips to make your journey pleasurable:

  • Don’t laugh if you see your trip companions carrying heavy blanket or fleece jacket…you’ll need it onboard at 4am it’s freezing…

  • Don’t fall asleep too close to the windows or you’ll get sunflower slap!

  • Carry some hot tea and snacks.

  • A more comfortable option would be to take a shared taxi from Mandalay to Pyin U Lwin and then catch the train. (most backpackers prefer this way)

Enjoy the ride, it’s a 12 hours long journey that is worth every kyat!

at the Mandalay train station

at the Mandalay train station

myanmar_hsipaw_train-ride-catch-the-train.jpg
myanmar_hsipaw_xiaolongbao-takes-the-train (1).jpg
myanmar_hsipaw_train-ride-gokteik.jpg
myanmar_hsipaw_train-station (1).jpg
myanmar_hsipaw_train-ride-sellers-from-train.jpg
myanmar_hsipaw_lilythehome-shan-noodle.jpg
myanmar_hsipaw_lilythehome-terrace.jpg

STAY:

Lily the home

No.108, Aung Tha Phay Road, Hsipaw

Phone: +95 82 80 408

You could ask pick up service at the train station for free.

The guesthouse could help organizing hiking trips, bike rental, laundry, bus ticket.

Perfectly clean, delicious food, lovely people, panorama view of Hsipaw…what else?

 

COST:

– Train ticket (ordinary class): 1,700 kyats

– Single room Lwith balcony: 15,000 kyats

– lunch + dinner: 5,000 kyats

 

 

Day 6: HSIPAW Shan palace – night bus to BAGAN

DO:

Rent a bike and go explore Hsipaw…. there is not much to do frankly speaking. The little Bagan is just a marketing name for ruins that are left as it is, a dusty pile of stones….however on the way there you could stop at the Ms Popcorn for the most delicious freshly squeezed passion fruit juice.

myanmar_hsipaw_ms-popcorn.jpg
myanmar_hsipaw_shan-palace.jpg

On the way back to the guesthouse, you could visit the Shan Palace, a colonial house where the last Shan prince lived. His Australian wife, Inge Sargent, wrote her exotic and tragic memoirs in Twilight Over Burma: My Life as a Shan Princess. You could visit this historic building with the house keeper who is a relative of the royal family.

COST:

– Bike rental: 2,000 kyats

– Donation Shan palace: 2,000 kyats

– Lunch + fresh juice+ Shan black coffee at Ms Popcorn: 3,500 kyats

– Night bus to Bagan: 15,800 kyats

March 11, 2015

15 days in Myanmar – Bagan (Day 7-9)

Day 7 & 8: BAGAN

Stupas hoping and sun chasing in Bagan…

Despite its popularity as a touristic must-go destination, you’ll still be able to find serenity and quietness among one of the thousand temples. One day would be enough to visit the most famous pagodas, you could spend another day exploring off the beaten track temples. The beauty of Bagan lies mostly in the impressive panorama of 2,000 temples scattered across the bush.

myanmar_bagan_magical-light-sunset.jpg

DO:

8 Famous pagodas with distinctive character:

  • Ananda

  • Dhammayangyi

  • Gawdawpalin

  • Htilominlo

  • Shwesandaw (go there very early to avoid the crowd and get a spot for the sunrise. You’ll have to climb steep stairs, also don’t forget your archaeological entrance ticket. This is the only temple where guards will check it. I went there unfortunately for the sunset…mistake! you’ll see the parking in front of you.)

  • Shwezigon

  • Sulamani

  • Thatbyinnyu

myanmar_bagan_shwezigon-monk.jpg
myanmar_bagan_shwezigon-gold-stupa.jpg
myanmar_bagan_htilominlo.jpg

I’m convinced that meditation will get you high:

myanmar_bagan_high-buddha-11.jpg
myanmar_bagan_high-buddha-2.jpg
myanmar_bagan_high-buddha-3.jpg

Off the beaten track temples:

  • Oak Kyaung Gyi (climb on the top of this ruined temple to watch the sunset or just chill there during the day, you’ll feel like an explorer that just discovered Bagan)

  • Khaymingha temples.  Located in the middle of a field, the surrounding of this less-known pagoda is absolutely charming.

  • Thisawadi for sunrise. Make sure you have a precise map and a torch because there is no indication for this temple. It’s also a bit hidden from the road, very painful to find but this is one of the few temples where you are allowed to climb up.

Khaymingha temples

Khaymingha temples

myanmar_bagan_farmers-and-cattle.jpg
devotees praying near Gubyaukgyi Temple

devotees praying near Gubyaukgyi Temple

myanmar_bagan_sunset.jpg
that picture… red ballons, stupa, sunrise

that picture… red ballons, stupa, sunrise

STAY

Mya Thida (New Bagan)

No.F-55,Coner of Nwe Ni Street & School Street Kyan Sitt Thar Township, New Bagan,

09-450066777

The archaeological zone is located between Nyaung U (in the North) and New Bagan (in the South).

The bus will stop in Nyaung U where new guesthouses are expanding fast. It’s also closer to the temples compared to New Bagan. However I already booked online in New Bagan and it was very convenient.

 

COST:

– Guesthouse 2 nights: 2 x 15,000 kyats

– Shared Taxi from bus station to New Bagan: 3,500 kyats

– Entrance fee to Bagan archaeology site: 15 USD

– E-bike rental (half day 2PM -8PM + full day 5AM – 8PM): 3,000 kyats + 5,000 kyats

 

Day 9: BAGAN – morning bus to KALAW

DO:

Book a trek to Inle lake

COST:

– 40,000 kyats (3 days, 2 nights)


March 18, 2015

Kalaw to Inle trek (Day 10-15)

Day 10/11/12: KALAW to INLE trekking 3 days 2 nights

The bus left Bagan around 7AM and arrive around noon at Kalaw. Make sure you ask the bus driver to call your name because there is no indication and if you miss the stop, well you’ll arrive straight to Inle, so don’t fall asleep! 

myanmar_kalaw_town-in-the-mist.jpg
lots of brainstorming to create a kite

lots of brainstorming to create a kite

STAY:

A clean accommodation to refuel your energy before the trek.

Winner Hotel

Pyi Taung Su Road, Kalaw

Tel: 95 81 50025 / 50279

Mail: winnerhotel.kalaw@gmail.com

Kalaw is a slow paced little town with not much to offer. Most travelers gather here for the popular trek to Inle lake. There are few travel agencies operating the trek, I went with Sam Family. They offer English lessons training and decent wages to their employees. Sam’s Family also runs a restaurant with a savoury selection of Burmese, Indian, Chinese or Western food. Try the vegetable curry with chapati.

SAM’S FAMILY RESTAURANT/ TREKKING SERVICE

Aung Cha Tha, Kalaw, Myanmar

3 days 2 nights trek

6 people max per group

Total = 40 USD (including luggage transfer to Inle hotel, food, accommodation, guide service, boat ride to Nyaung Shwe)

The owner helped us to book a hotel in Nyaung Shwe so we could get our bags in time once we arrive.

A guide and a cook stayed with us during the entire trek. Amazing fresh food, lots of different dishes and…. guacamole fresh off the tree!!

myanmar_kalaw_trek-guacamole (1).jpg
myanmar_kalaw-advocado-trees.jpg

Tips for the trek:

1- Carry a head flashlight, you’ll thank me when you’ll try to find the toilet in pitch dark coutryside….

2- Wet wipes or baby wipes for shower

3- A silk sleeping bag

One of the main income for the Palaung villages is chili farming

One of the main income for the Palaung villages is chili farming

myanmar_kalaw-landscape.jpg
myanmar_kalaw-trek-palaung-ethnic-minority.jpg
We were still very impressed by this kitchen that cooked meals for 8 people

We were still very impressed by this kitchen that cooked meals for 8 people

a Palaung mom with the traditional orange head wrap

a Palaung mom with the traditional orange head wrap

Flower business is a good business with decent margin compared to the vegetables

Flower business is a good business with decent margin compared to the vegetables

Her little hands were hesitant while cutting the tomatoes. Child labor? nah…she is just helping her mom

Her little hands were hesitant while cutting the tomatoes. Child labor? nah…she is just helping her mom

At the train station, you could get all the groceries you need without having to step out of the train

At the train station, you could get all the groceries you need without having to step out of the train

At the end of the trek you will take the boat and pass through the fascinating floating gardens.

COST:

– Lunch + Dinner: 3,200 kyats

– Kalaw hotel single room 1 night: 25 USD

– All included 3D 2N trek to Inle : 40 USD

– Nyaung Shwe hotel: 15,000 kyats

Day 13: INLE LAKE (Nyaung Shwe town) – Boat ride

Nyaung Shwe is a developing little town in the North East end of Inle lake, where you could find plenty of good value accomodation and food options.

STAY:

Richland Motel

No 13, Lanmadaw Main Road, Myo Lae Quarter

Nyaung Shwe, (Inle) Shan State

Mail: richlandinle@gmail.com

Tel: +9581 209249, +959 5148918

Sam’s family recommended this new motel and it was just what I needed after 3 days of napkin showers!

Clean, big room, laundry service, delicious breakfast, boat booking service.

DO:

Book a full day boat trip for 45,000 kyats per boat. You can share the fees with up to 6 people.

Itinerary recommended:

  • Nam Pan Market: This bustling local market is fascinating to watch in the morning. Have a seat at a local coffee shop near the pier and watch the shop owners unloading the boats. You could find all kind of souvenirs there…bargain hard, fancy some ox teeth hat? creepy!

  • Silk /Lotus fiber weaving: Very surprising technique to collect lotus fiber by cutting the stems.

  • In Dein pagoda: It’s actually the stunning boat ride to the In Dein pagoda that makes the trip worthy.

  • Ywarma floating market. Very popular stop where you could see the long neck on a show. A bit sad from a personal point of view.

  • Floating Gardens. An ingenious technique to farm using bamboo poles. Floating tomatoes, squash, cauliflower, fruits…my dream!

  • The pottery making village (Kyauk Daing) wasn’t entirely opened to the tourists when we visited. Frankly speaking nothing amazing. It’s far South of the lake, the locals will invite you for tea and teach you how to make pottery. Expect to buy some small souvenirs to thank your hosts.

myanmar_inle-lake-boat.jpg

Tips:

1- Jump on the boat early, around 5 AM, you’ll be surrounded by a surreal morning fog and leg rowing fishermen.

2- Take a heavy jumper/ blanket / portable heater if you would like to survive the icy cold wind before the sunrise.

3- On the way back, you could feed the seagulls from the boat by throwing bread in the air. The birds will then stay above your head….wear a plastic bag.

EAT:

Everest Nepali restaurant

Kuaung Taw Annow Street, Nyaung Shwe

Delicious Nepalese curry with fresh juice.

COST:

– Hotel: 15,000 kyats

– Shared Boat ride: 4,000 kyats (full day)

– Lunch+dinner+snacks: 5,000 kyats

 

Day 14: INLE – Red mountain estate, night bus to Yangon

DO:

Have you tried Burmese red wine? On the East side of the lake, 20 min bike ride from Nyaung Shwe you’ll find this Vineyard. Located at 1,000 meter above the sea level, the estate was chosen to produce high quality local wines thanks to the region micro-climate (cool nights, sunny days). Started in 2002, the project is supervised by French and Australian experts.

I recommend to order the tasting of 4 wines samples. The view is good and the experience is interesting but not thrilling. The wine is quite average but I’m French, so you’ll judge by yourself.

Red Mountain Estate

Taung Chay Village group

http://www.redmountain-estate.com

Apparently there is a monastery you could visit, not too far from the estate.

EAT :

Htoo Htoo Aung

At the crossroad just before the little alley to the Everest restaurant.

A little gem! Excellent service, delicious Burmese/ Shan food in a cozy family-like environment.

 

COST:

– Bike rental: 1,000 kyats

– Wine tasting: 2,000 kyats

– Night bus Inle to Yangon: 14,000 kyats

 

Mingalaba! Chei zu tin ba de!