December 2016 was the year Myanmar granted all Singaporeans visa free entry for 30 days. I’m an advocate of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi as a freedom fighter and I’m a fan of the U2 song they wrote about her. Thus, of course I made it a point to plan a trip across the almost untouched country. Silk air flies direct to Yangon and Mandalay. I chose to fly to Yangon and back from Mandalay.
The most important tip for a visit to Myanmar is, change your currency at the airport and bring only crisp new notes for exchange. They will not exchange any money that is torn, creased, dirty or pen marked. I learnt a very bad lesson as they refused to change my old notes for Kyat. You can also change at money changers all around town at slightly higher rates but they have the same rules.
I travelled to Myanmar earlier this year on my own and she didn’t disappoint. It was exactly what you read in the lonely planet guide books. It was a city where time stood still and people still live simply. Being an 88% buddhist country, you find monks walking freely on the streets and beautiful temples everywhere. This also means the people are peace loving, honest and very friendly. You can pretty much travel very safely on your own as a single female traveller and you will find many friendly locals and fellow tourists eager to strike up a conversation with you.
I visited Yangon, Inle lake, Bagan and Mandalay in that order. It is now possible to book domestic flights online instead of through travel agents. Taxis are still pretty affordable and the boats and buses were pretty easy to get tickets for and travel on as well. I recommend spending 8 – 10 days in each location and accommodation is pretty basic but affordable. Weather is best from November to March as its cooler and its dry season.
Yangon’s Shwedagon pagoda is a must see! Go in the evenings when its less hot. I recommend going at 5pm so you can see the change of light falling on the giant gold Stupa. You can easily get a English speaking guide once you pay your admission. they charge about $10 -$15 for an hour with you and they will even tell you which day you were born so you can pour water on the buddha corresponding to your birthdate for good luck, health and prosperity. In the day time, you can head to Chaukhtatgyi (Reclining buddha with amazing feet) and Ngahtatgyi Paya (the teak work on the roof is amazing).
Find a day and start your walk around the Sule Pagoda Square to see the many colonial
buildings all the way to Pansodan road where you will then turn right to see more beautiful buildings. Once you reach the River at Strand road, turn left, that’s where the beautiful and very expensive Strand Hotel is. I had a delightful morning tea there to escape the heat from all the walking. Then when you’re ready for some shopping, head to Bogyoke market before 5pm to get souvenirs or pretty much all the Burmese jade you can find! If you can find Lucky 7 on 49th Street, the Mohinga (fish broth noodles) is very good as are the local dishes.
Fly 90 minutes to Heho, a short taxi ride of 1 hour and you will reach Nyaung Shwe, the town for Inle lake, which is the highest lake (880m) in Myanmar, ticket will be about US$100. If you have time, you can take a bus, I’m warning you it can be pretty bumpy and 10 hours is pretty long but its only about US$20.
Inle lake is beautiful at sunrise and sunset. Its always foggy in the mornings so it feels magical. You must take the boat ride, you can hop on 1 for the whole day for about US$20. The boatmen will approach you once you step out of your hotel.
From Heho, fly to Nyaung-U, nearest airport to Bagan. Bagan almost made it to UNESCO but it didn’t. It houses 2200 temples and its a huge archeological zone. The best way to explore Bagan? On an E bike, available for rent for US$8 per day, you don’t need a license for this and its like riding a motorised scooter. I fell down twice but it was okay as you can’t go fast on it 🙂 its really fun too! Remember to wake up for the sunrise (5am or you won’t get a spot) at Shwesandaw pagoda and watch the sunset at Pya Tha Da. You must remember the entire tourist population will be doing these 2 things with you, so you have to be early to ‘chope’ a seat! So if you have a spare day, go to Ayeyarwady river to watch the sunset, or Shwegugyi, where its less crowded. After sunrise, get a map and visit all the other beautiful pagodas.
My picks :
- Dhammayangyi (Hauntingly beautiful. Google for its interesting history)
- Upali Thein
Plan your route as some are close to one another make sure you make time for Ananda temple, and eat at the vegetarian restaurant at the north gate called Khaing Shwe Wha. (you will see a green sign that says: Be a hero, be Meat zero outside) The salads and soups are amazing and its cheap and clean. If you are group of 2-4, you can take the more comfortable way of travelling around by taxi. Call Maung Maung @ 09253546970. he is the most resourceful and smart 27 year old (he looks 12) that can guide you around town in his taxi, get you the boat ticket to Bagan and airport transfers.
I took a slow boat to Mandalay from Bagan. It departs from the jetty at 530am and reaches Mandalay at around 4pm. its a sloe beautiful ride but sit on the left as the right side gets the afternoon sun and its unbearably hot. tickets are sold near the jetty for about US$35. You get the bonus sunrise at Pakkoku bridge.
Mr Myo (09797383716) took me around in his ‘Tuk Tuk’ for the Mandalay tour, 2 cities tour (Sagaing, Amarapura) and also from the jetty to my hotel. I also booked him the next day for my sunrise tour to Amarapura and Inwa after. You can squeeze 3 cities in 1 day and the main Mandalay city the next, if you only have 2 days in Mandalay. Mr Myo knows his food so he took me on a food tour and it didn’t disappoint.
In Mandalay, do visit the Mandalay Palace, Shwe In Bin Kyaung (Teak Monastery), Zeygyo Market, Eindawya Pagoda, Mahamuni temple, Jade market, Gold Pounders district and Mandalay hill for the sunset.
You should also catch the ferry to Mingun at 830am to see the Unfinished Stupa. In Inwa, remember to take the horsecart tour across the city. Wear a mask if you can as it can get dusty!
The marionettes puppet show was also a good way to end the trip.
Hotels I stayed at
Yangon: Merchant Art Residence. You can walk to Shwedagon from there, there is a night market around it and its view of the pagoda at the rooftop is pretty hard to beat)
Inle Lake: Paramount Inle Lake was really good but its on the lake so its inaccessible. I stayed in Inle Star Hotel in Nyaung Shwe, which was very basic for the other 2 nights.
Bagan: Northern Breeze Guest house was pretty convenient to eateries and quite clean.
Mandalay: Tiger One Hotel has a good breakfast, is a short walk to the night market, has a spa nearby and street food all around. Value for money!