Myanmar has been my favourite country in Asia so far, as every place has been simply amazing! The food is delicious (and cheap), the people kind and helpful, and the temples are simply astounding.
Myanmar is not on many travellers radar but it should be! From fields of temples to balancing fisherman it should be on your travel bucketlist for 2018!
Unlike a lot of other South East Asia countries you do need to apply for an e-visa before arriving. You can easily do this online and it will take between 2 hours to 3 days to process. Make sure you do this through the official Government website to save yourself over 30$ (a tourist visa should cost 50$), and DO print out the form they send you, it won’t do to just show it to them on your phone.
Due to the recent opening of Myanmar borders the tourism infrastructures are not too developed yet. If you plan to budget travel around Myanmar you can get the bus however you will need to take into consideration a few factors:
- They are VERY slow.
- You need to book them AT LEAST a day in advance as they are not frequent (usually only one a day)
- A few of the buses coming in and out of Ngapali seem to drive recklessly fast around the winding mountain roads and you will literally be bouncing out of your seat whilst the surrounding passengers vomit (I had one good and one bad experience).
I often use 12goasia.com to book my bus travel around Asia and this will work for the main destinations in Myanmar. You can also book travel through most hotels and guesthouses.
Alternatively you can fly as each main site has an airport:
- Ngapali = Thandwe Airport
- Inle Lake = Heho Airport
- Bagan = Nyaung U Airport
- Yangon Airport
- Mandalay Airport
The only problem with internal flights is the extra cost, but it depends on your budget and timeframe of visiting the country.
WHAT TO PACK
Myanmar is a lot more conservative than neighbouring country Thailand, tourists of both genders will be expected to cover their knees and shoulders when visiting temples. So gentlemen make sure you bring some trousers.
I was there in January and although the days were pleasantly warm (around 30 degrees), the evenings were incredibly cold! So if you’re visiting over their winter period make sure you pack a jumper (“sweater” for you Americans) or 2.
I was happy to find that all of the popular tourist locations have ATMs, so no worries for withdrawing cash whilst in Myanmar. Most locals also accept US Dollars as payment, as long as they are in MINT condition.
In terms of budgeting Myanmar was actually more expensive than I imagined. A double room was always at least 20$ a night. All in all we averaged 35$ a day there. If you’re interested in learning more about my spendings for my 7 month trip, check out my blog “How to Travel on a Budget in Asia“.
1) Schwedagon Pagoda
Walking around the Schwedagon Pagoda at sunrise whilst the young monks sang their prayers was just the most breath taking and spiritual experience. The way the light danced off the many golden pagodas could only be described as magic!
They open from 04:00 – 22:00 hrs and the entrance fee is 10000 Kyat (so 8$). I would recommend going at sunrise or sunset.
2) Rangoon tea house
When you’re finished exploring the many tiny street markets head down to the Rangoon Tea House. Seriously good food and drink await you in a stylishly designed café. The local food they serve here is more expensive then local restaurants but it is super tasty and food quality and definitely worth it (plus you can pay by card).
Make sure you check out their happy hour from 16h!
3) Go inside a pagoda
Having visited countless temples around Asia I was under the assumption that it was not possible to enter a pagoda. Luckily for me I was mistaken! It is possible to marvel at the intricately engraved Botahtaung Pagoda from the inside! The outside is not as glamorous but the golden inner chambers are spectacular.
4) Walk around Lake Kandwgyi
Walk around the broken boardwalks of lake Kandawgyi. From here you’ll be able to catch site of the Schwedagon pagoda and another impressive golden floating temple!
Something I didn’t do but wish I had is to visit the abandoned theme park here! Check out my friends blog for more info.
5) Chill by the beach
Ngapali (pronounced Nah-pa-lee) is a beautiful long beach bordered by palm trees and hotel resorts. A must visit if you want a few days to chill at the beach. If you don’t have money for flights and aren’t ready to brave the bus through the mountains then you might want to give it a miss.
To enter the “Bagan Archeological Zone” you will need to pay a 25,000 Kyat entrance fee, this will give you access to the area for 5 days. We had to pay this fee on entering the zone by taxi to our hotel – so make sure you have enough cash on you when you arrive!
6) Watch the sunrise
My favourite sunrise in Myanmar (and there were plenty) was over Bagan. Just after sunrise a load of hot air balloons drift over the thousands of temples scattered around Bagan and it is such a magical site!
The hot air balloons only run from October to March so make sure you plan when you want to visit.
7) Explore the thousands of temples
Bagan is an ancient city in Myanmar, it was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom from the 9th to 13th centuries. During the kingdom’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed on the Bagan plains, of which you’ll find the remains of over 2,200 today! So plenty enough to explore to your hearts content!
Find out more by checking out my everything you need to know about Bagan blog!
Similar to Bagan you will need to pay an entrance fee of 13,500 Kyat to visit the Inle Lake area, this ticket will be valid for 5 days.
The most popular place to stay in Inle Lake is Nyaung Shwe which is to the north of the lake. From here you can get boats to the lake or hire bikes to cycle around.
8) Take a boat tour
The best and only way to experience the lake is by boat. The lake itself is surrounded by sugar cane and grass and so you can’t actually see anything from the road.
A day trip from 08h00 to 16h00 will cost around 20000 kyat. The guide will know where to take you so it’s a pretty relaxing trip.
I visited a silver smith workshop (where you can buy jewellery), a market (food and jewellery that’s even cheaper!), the long neck Padaung women, Schwe Indein Pagodas (bit of a walk there but so worth it!), scarf making workshop, floating gardens and the “jumping cat temple” – there were a lot of cats to cuddle but none were jumping…
These were all free to visit however we did tip the Padaung women and the scarf making workshop as we did not purchase anything from their shop. You also need to pay a small fee if you wish to take photos of the Schwe Indein pagodas.
9) See the traditional fisherman
One of the most popular and main reasons for tourists coming to Inle lake is to see the “traditional” fisherman in action.
Their balancing acts are extremely impressive but I was disappointed to find out that they no longer fish like that and it’s just a way to make money off of tourists.
You will need to hire a boat in order to see them, or you could work this into your day tour. I went out in a boat at sunset in order to have fun with the orange light, they are also active around sunrise if you want to wake up early. But for me sunset was perfect and there weren’t many other boats out either (maybe 2 others).
If you are into trekking you should definitely consider hiking from Kalaw to Inle lake. Find out more here.
A much more developed city than Yangon, Mandalay has plenty to do within and around it’s proximity.
10) Walk across U-Bein bridge
At over 1.2km in length U-Bein bridge is the longest and oldest teak bridge in the world. It’s immense length and unique look make it a top site in Mandalay.
Head there for sunrise and enjoy the bridge to yourself whilst watching the locals go about their daily lives.
But make sure you visit again at sunset. Do this from a boat for the best view as if you aren’t on the bridge your view will be blocked by boats and if you’re on the bridge you won’t get the silhouette of the bridge in front of the sun…
U-Bein bridge is quite a way out of the city so I would recommend getting a taxi here (hire one for the day for the best rates).
11) Hsinbyume Myatheintan pagoda
About an hour and half drive out of Mandalay is the beautiful Hsinbyume Myatheintan pagoda. The pagoda is painted white and is modeled on the physical description of the Buddhist mythological mountain, Mount Meru. The outer walls looks like huge waves!
Although it may cost you a bit to drive round to Mingun, entrance to the temple is free! You can also tie this trip into watching the sunset at U Bein bridge as it’s on the way back to Mandalay.
12) Walk barefoot up Mandalay Hill
Take in the views of Mandalay from the top of Mandalay hill. There are pedestrian steps going up from temple to temple starting near Yadanabon San Kyaung. Similar to when entering buddhist temples you will need to do this walk barefoot.
The sparkly Su Taung Pyae Pagoda at the top of Mandalay hill is definitely worth the climb. As well as panaromic views over Mandalay.
13) Kuthodaw Temple – the worlds largest book
The last king of Myanmar ordered the building of this temple in order to house large marble slabs engraved with buddhist teachings, so that the writing on old paper would not be lost. The 729 marble slabs took 8 years to complete and are housed in shrines, making this temple the world’s largest book!
I hope you have an amazing time in this beautiful country!
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