Feedback on 3 weeks in Myanmar
Replies: 16 - Last Post: Nov 24, 2012 2:50 PM Last Post By: jeepster30
Nov 17, 2012 3:27 AM
Feedback on 3 weeks in MyanmarMy girlfriend and I have just completed a fantastic 3 weeks trip to Myanmar and we wanted to share some of our experiences and tips with other travellers.
First some background, we are both two well travelled professional types in our mid 30's. Following all the recent change in Burma we wanted to explore it first hand before things got too popular. We bought the lonely planet and we researched agencies. Previously we have both travelled independently but we had read that Myanmar's limited infrastructure and red tape makes it difficult to travel on the fly and so we decided to book the whole trip upfront and then vary things when we got there. We went in the oct/November and it was both hot, dry and busy and so we would recommend doing the upfront approach. We used the Santa Maria agency who were very helpful in developing our itinerary and booking but were less responsive when we tried to change plans once on the trip. Overall I would however recommend them highly.
As it was our first trip together we had decided to treat ourselves to some luxury hotels and we were both amazed at how much you got for your money. Our intinerary is summarised below and cost us $3500 per person plus $1000 per person spending money and flights. We thought we had more than enough spending money however most got eaten up by meals and drinks in some of the hotels and you can survive on a lot less. We ate locally for about 60% of our meals mostly for about $7 a head. We travelled between destinations by plane which was great and reasonably priced. The roads and trains in Myanmar are almost all horrific and therefore it takes ages and is very draining to use them.
1. London - Bangkok - Yagon. Thai airways all really good. Sightseeing in Yagon with guide and jet lag. Visited the main religious sights and had dinner. 1 night in the Park Royal hotel - great hotel but like any other city 5 star hotel in the world.
2. Flight to Mandalay by KBZ Air (all internal flights were with either Bagan or KBZ, nothing between them) we wanted to use private not government airlines. Met guide and driver and drove to Hsipaw, a small town 5 hours west of mandalay. Stayed at Mr Charles Guesthouse,for two nights highly recommended. Hsipaw was great, really traditional and buzzing with life. We took a boat down to a remote monetary and then a tribal village. This was a highlight and worth the long drive.
3. Took a train part way to Manderlay including the section over the famous viaduct. 3 hours on the train was a bit too long as it was like being on a washing machine on rails. Drove rest of the way to Manderlay, and stayed in the Rupar Mandalar hotel for 3 nights. 2 days of sightseeing around Manderlay. Lots of pagodas and visits to shops who made local products.
4. Flew to Bagan and stayed at the Tharabar Gate hotel for 3 nights. One day of biking around the temples (much more fun than having a guided tour), a dawn balloon ride (the best experience of the trip), we were supposed to go on a trip to Mt Popa but by then we had got templed out and we decided to relax for a day instead.
5. Flew from Bagan to Heho and then drove from Heho to Kalaw via the Pindaya cave. The cave was good but the rest of Pindaya was forgettable. Stayed a the Hill Station resort and then trekked for 3 days to Inle Lake, ignore what the book says you cover a lot of hilly ground quickly and it is hard work. We had two fantastic nights staying in family homes, this was extremely no frills but a wonderful experience and you really saw the rural way of life in Myanmar.
6. Arriving at Inle we stayed two nights in the Pristine Lotus, the best hotel we stayed at but we later found it had government links and I we would not recommmend it for that reason. One day crusing around the lake which was great.
7. Tranferred to Nyaung Shwe which felt a bit like a backpacker town but also had a nice buzz about it. Stayed a nigt at the Amazing Nyaung Shwe hotel. We were supposed to go to Kakku to see the temples but by then we had got lost all interest in more temples and decided instead to go wine tasting and to explore the town. We were also put off by the 2 hour return drive to Kakku.
8. Next stop Nagapali Beach - wow what a place, incredible. We stayed at the Amazing Ngapali hotel for 3 nights and it really lived up to it's name. We did a boat trip on one day and just relaxed on the beach the other full day. We tried to stay longer but we found it difficult changing our flights to Yagon and getting another hotel room. You can now scuba dive there. We didn't do it due to a lack of cash so no idea if it is any good or not.
9. Final stop was back in Yangon for 3 nights (back in the Park Royal). We visited the war cemetery just outside Yangon and wondered around the various markets, hotels and ex pat hang outs.
It may not sound it from reading the above but we both felt it was the best trip we ever had. Not because of the hotels. Temples etc but because of the country itself. We spent a lot of time just absorbing how the local population lived and really enjoyed finding out how they lived their lives. The people of Myanmar are the most welcoming, helpful and happy people either of us have ever met and this and the pace of change in the country (you could almost see it changing in front of you) is what makes Myanmar unique.
So the highlights for us:
Meeting Fern Donald in Hsipaw. When the guide was written her house was closed off. It's now open and every afternoon you can pop round to chat to her about her and her husband's trials, tribulations and incredible experiences. This was our biggest highlight. If you go please take her a book or two as she loves reading and there's not much western literature in that part of Myanmar (she's keen to catch up of the end of the Harry Potter series).
Visiting the old folks home in Mingun (access by boat from manderlay) Take any spare drugs you have as the one nurse who looks after around a 100 people single handedly. She will chat to you about her 25 years in the job and you'll leave feeling humbled and proud of her selfless dedication.
The first night sleeping on the floor of a farm house in the trek to Inle. Eating dinner in the single room on the first floor, in a village of 11 families, with no electricity. Seeing rural life and farming where they have no machinery at all and everyone works together on the fields, all of which our ploughed by oxen.
If we had our time again we would make changes. Firstly for us 2 weeks in Myanmar and a week somewhere else would have been better. Partly this was due to the way we travelled (by air) and partly because we got Temple fatigue and to be honest for us that seemed to be most of what there was to see.
Given our time again we would have taken one less day in each of Manderlay, Bagan, on the Trek and in Inle lake and two less nights in Yangon. It wouldn't change the overall experience of Myanmar but you would get more adventure for your time away.
Firstly the French and Germans seem to have been coming here for years. One thing that surprised us was the lack of backpackers and people under the age of 55. The majority of the people we saw in the hotels and at the sights were in their 50's and 60's and they mainly seemed to be on organised tours. I think this was made worse by the fact that we were staying in luxury hotels and visiting the temples and traditional craft shops. For us this meant limited socialising with other travellers.
Eat early. Everything really does start to close up around 8.30 pm and everything seemed to be shut by 10.00. Nightlife everywhere is virtually non existent, it's not that kind of place. We enjoyed chilling out though and it made the early starts easier.
Heath and saftety. Selt belts are ornaments and are never used and most taxis don't have them. 4 family members on a motorbike is normal and you drive using you horn as a form of permenant none specific communication to other road users, mainly to say get out of the way or I'm overtaking you and heading for a head on collision with an on coming bus. The chaos is perfect and it all seems to work fine. Good luck crossing the roads, we took to tail gating locals.
Hygiene. There is no word for this in Myanmar and nor is one needed. There is none. We survived fairly well but if you are squeamish about that sort of then then don't come as you won't like it. Food is generally unfridgerated, handled, cooked and selected by hand. It all tasted good though and if you want your curry spiced up they are happy to oblige.
Money. We spotted the first MasterCard cash machine on the Strand Road in Yangon, newly installed and in use. That's the only one for now though. Bring plenty of dollars as excursions and hotel beers eat in to your funds. We often would wonder outside of the hotels to buy beers, water and snacks from the locals and then use the hotel minibar to chill them. Saves you a fortune and supports local businesses. Try the local markets (not the tourist ones) they are amazing and you can barter your way to some bargains.
Mosquitos and other biting things. Bring loads of spray you'll need it!
Aung San Suu Kyi - a very popular lady for good reason and you'll see lots of t-shirts and posters with her face on, mostly being sold to tourists. An hour after we had landed in Yangon our driver stopped right outside her house and said feel free to get out and take some pictures. Obviously things are changing quickly as 6 months ago he would have been stopped by the authorities.
Politics. Interestingly Myanmar seemed less of a police/military state than we expected and to be honest we hardly saw a solider on the streets until they started prepping for Obama's visit. The people of Myanmar on the whole seemed too preoccupied with getting on with their lives and didn't appear that interested in politics and the outside world, with the exception of the country's complete preoccupation with the English Premier League. We talked to some people about the NLD and the military but few seemed that energised on the subject. You can see why when you discover the role religion has on people's lives and how everyone is busy making ends meet and looking after each other.
Guides, we had a variety and to be honest they were all very different in their approach. Our advice would be to brief you agency on how you want to travel and what level of sightseeing and independence you want. Also take time to let your guide know what you want to see as otherwise you will be taken to all the usual place including lunch at restaurants aimed at tourists where they get commission and craft shops where they get kick backs.
Pagodas, you marvel at the first 5 unless you are really interested in the detailed history of buddism and the individual Pagodas after a while they all look the same.
Mobile phone networks. They use 450 GSM and 800 CDMA in Myanmar no European phones currently use these frequencies and so you can not make calls.WiFi is readily available in the hotels but can be torturously slow.
Visas. We live in London and posted our application form to the Embassy. Took 2 weeks and back came the passports with a visa in, simple as that.
Before making this trip we did all the usual research everyone else does and we were really excited visiting Burma after the last few years of change. It Was different to what we expected but still exceeded all our expectations and that was all down to the people that live there. You'll come home enlightened and a better person for the experience.
Nov 17, 2012 9:04 AM
Nov 17, 2012 9:56 AM
Nov 17, 2012 10:08 AM
3I reiterate taht after 8times in Myanmar since 2000 last year Nov-Deccost jme $525 in Myanmar and that includes travel Hotels food tourist tat and 3 days overstay $9 flight ret was $80 airasia hotels from $5 -$8 B&B
I see it is expensive this year with B&B prices doubling but hey.
OK you tarvelled in style but at least you got an idea of why Burma remains special to all of us who have been there.
make sure you get to Inle for balloon fest stephstru
and check out FAQ73 and FAQ87 update
Nov 17, 2012 2:37 PM
Nov 18, 2012 4:06 AM
Nov 19, 2012 9:38 PM
6For 4 500USD per person for 3 weeks any country can be amazing as you will have very minimal contact with the real life.
When you travel for less you actually get closer to locals not travel like on a safari or in a zoo, watching people's life from luxury hotel, transfer minibuses and airplanes.
:-))))))) funny report
Nov 20, 2012 3:50 AM
Nov 20, 2012 10:09 AM
8I came back from Burma just 4 days ago, and I spent about $1900 in 12 days. Middle range hotels, 3 internal flights and one long taxi ride.Eating was mostly in simple local & backpacker style eateries. Not luxury but not stingy either. Different styles for different folks (and I was traveling with company money...).
Nov 22, 2012 11:59 AM
9Each to their own folks. Didn't realise you got more points for spending less money. Only trying to help others looking for a similar (albeit not necessary low cost) solution. Unfortunately some of this feedback has been the only negative element to my trip to Myanmar. Confirms why i enjoyed the company of the Burmese so much, they're not so small minded.
Happy travels whatever your budget :)
Sliver swimmer. Thanks for your message, I'll re-post there and look forward to some more abuse :)
Nov 22, 2012 1:05 PM
Thanks for your detailed write-up of your recent trip to Myanmar. This is most helpful as I will be travelling there with my hubby in 3 weeks time ; ) really really excited. Our budget for Myanmar is around USD1,600 person for 11 days (including the international air flights). Although it is more expensive than what I have originally imagined it to be, it is still cheaper than if we have taken package tours there (package tours cost about USD1,900 for 8D7N). We will be staying in different types of hotels (guest-houses, budget hotels and 1 mid-ranged hotel) and taking 3 internal flights.
Nov 23, 2012 5:52 AM
Nov 23, 2012 8:23 AM
12I agree Petrus, I've seen some disgusting sh***s travelling on all sides of the economic slide scale and spectrum and try and avoid to them if I can, or in some cases feel sorry for their limited and shallow outlook on life, that is often a by product of their ostentatious upbringing. As for Envy which is malicious in its intentions, as opposed to Jealousy, as it seeks the downfall of that one. I have learned that travelling on a low budget has many advantages when it comes to travel experiences including many more real life adventures as opposed to simply checking in and out of 5 star Hotels and being herded to the next stop on an agents itinary. As also with those who's business & company expenses allows them similar privileges within Myanmar ;-))
Nov 23, 2012 8:34 AM
13Montyman, I completely agree with you that you can have a great time travelling with a very small budget. I have backpacked round South America twice in recent years and my girlfriend has done the same across the world. I would hope that anyone reading my review does not take the view that you can't visit Burma on a shoestring as it's probably one of the easiest places to do it. We did choose to do this trip differently for a number of reasons and we are fortunate that we could afford to do so.
I'll definitely think twice about leaving further reviews as I had posted this one with only the intention of helping and not offending. I don't appreciate being judged by people who know nothing about me, my morals and the way I treat others. I wouldn't cast judgement on others and I expect to be treated the same.
Nov 23, 2012 8:37 AM
(3 star Hotel)
From US$53.06 per night
(4 star Hotel)
From US$185.20 per night
(3 star Hotel)
From US$36.36 per night