We are back from 3 weeks traveling in the fascinating country of Myanmar. Formerly known as Burma, the country has opened up its borders again for tourists after years of military regime. For those wanting to travel to Myanmar, here are our first impressions and Myanmar itinerary. At the end of the post you will find links to all our Myanmar stories!
Over 2,000 pictures covering in total 6 places, 7 hotels, 4 local bus trips and 1 domestic flight…we have a lot of stories to tell! The coming weeks you will be reading more about Myanmar, where this post is just an introduction. It shows you our itinerary and if you intend to travel to Myanmar and want to know more details, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or send me an email.
Many friends and colleagues are curious. “How was Myanmar? Can you compare it to Thailand or Cambodia?” Questions that I intend to answer in the upcoming posts. But I can already tell you that our trip was an intense one.
No, you don’t have 7-11 shops like in Thailand, you don’t have Starbucks or McDonalds. What you do have are old and crappy hotel rooms against (ridiculously) high prices. An unappealing choice of food. Pro-activity in hotel service still has to be invented in many places. Burmese men’s teeth are stained red because of the continous betel nut chewing. The soaring heat of the dusty Bagan plains are tough. Downtown Yangon’s dirty vegetable and meat markets are not to be advised after a heavy rain shower when streets turn into a muddy sewer.
A crazy place to travel to? Or characteristics of an unpolished gem?
In my posts I am not going to hide the difficult things that we encountered. But of course the focus will be on the magical places that we have visited. Because Myanmar has many of them: the U-Bein bridge in Mandaly, the Thanboddhay pagoda in Monywa with over 500,000 buddha images, the fishermen of Inle Lake, the cigar-smoking ladies at the local markets, the Buddhist monks (we have never seen so many of them!) that invited us in to attend meditation and chant sessions, and of course the really magical plains of Bagan with its thousands of pagodas and temples…
Our Myanmar itinerary: start in Mandalay
Via Dubai and Bangkok we arrived in Mandalay, our first stop in Myanmar. Mandalay is all about the beautiful Mandalay Hill (great sunset views!) and the U-Bein bridge, a 1.2 km or 0.7-mile bridge where locals cross the lake and which is famous for (again) its sunset views.
In Mandalay we realised how excited local people were to see our kids (white skin, white hair). I am not exaggerating when I tell you that during our 3-week trip at least 100 people wanted to take a picture with them!
After Mandalay we traveled to the lesser visited town of Monywa, with its flamboyant Thanboddhay Pagoda, the 116-metre (424ft) high standing Buddha and hundreds of stone Buddha statues in a forest. The Monywa post is going to be a surreal one…
We spent two days in Monywa. More than anywhere else I liked the street life. It’s a small city with friendly people and we saw only 2 more tourists… The picture below is one of my favorites as it shows all that is happening on the streets in one shot.
From Monywa we traveled south to the highlight of our trip: Bagan! They call it the Bagan Archeological Zone; an area of 50 sq km (26 sq miles) where 2,200 temples and pagodas are waiting for you to discover. We rented the popular e-bikes (it’s too hot to cycle!!) and enjoyed ourselves to the fullest for 4 days.
After the heat of Bagan we so much welcomed the cool climate of the mountain village of Kalaw. From here many travelers go for 2-3 days trekking, but we decided to stay and hang around in this charming little village. During 2 days we enjoyed local markets, hill tribes and lots of monks in the local monastery.
Two hours from Kalaw you will find the Inle Lake. The government will ask 10 USD entry fee to enter the city but it’s definitely worth it. The post about Inle Lake will show you the beautiful floating gardens and fishermen mastering the one legged rowing technique. We had a fabulous 4 days here.
Our hotel at Inle lake was pretty challenging. Situated next to the main river that feeds the lake, at 4.30am the first boats passed by with a tremendous noise (all boats run on these old diesel engines): locals on their way to the market and tourists wanting to see the sunrise. Good morning Myanmar!
Is there even more? Yes! Our last destination in Myanmar was the former capital city of Yangon. Highlight in Yangon is the Shwedagon pagoda, one of the most important Buddhist sites in the country. Never seen so much devotion… We actually spent 4 hours exploring the pagoda grounds.
When I go through all my pictures I quickly forget the tough and uncomfortable moments. Myanmar is a pure and genuine country where its people need to find their own ways after years of mismanagement by a repressive military junta. They have a long way to go but for the less-demanding travelers Myanmar is ripe for exploration!
The pictures in this post are just a small selection, but you can enjoy much more by checking out the following posts on my blog:
3. Ode to Bagan
4. Inle Lake (“No Jumping Cats at Inle Lake…say what??”)