Myanmar Journey Log

Myanmar, 2016

Disclaimer – this post is a bit long, as it sums up my views (as a traveller) and some tips all mixed up.
You will read about Bagan, Yangon, Mandalay and Inle lake – each place with its own unique style and atmosphere.
For each place I will write my likes and some dislikes along with an overview of the place.
**Our trip was somewhat arranged – we took a guide and the transportation (cars planes boats) was pre arranged – take that into consideration when planning the trip (If you would like info on an awesome guide, continue reading).


 

A good friend of mine told me he’s heading to Myanmar for a trip and asked me if I want to join. How could I refuse?
So on Saturday morning I took a flight from Beijing to Yangon, the former Myanmar capital (which now is “Naypyidaw”, a young city founded in 2005), with a small connection in the amazing Kunming (where I met my friend).

We arrived to our hotel and were really nicely greeted, the Burmese people are super kind and warm.
The hotel is called Taw Win Garden and it is really nice, clean and comfy.

A bit about Myanmar, formally known as Burma (56.3 million in population)
Myanmar went through many changes. At first a lot of small settlements with no real connection one to the other, and then it had 3 kingdoms. The first one was Pyu which were in power until the 9th century.
Then ruled the Pyu along with Man (Chinese) and the last one was Konbuang.
Kublai Han ruled there as well, as he invaded Burma in 1277, and stayed for 50 years (not himself of course, but his army spread the joy around).
The British took over in 1885 and in 1947 gave the Burmese back their independence.
Then Burma went through army turnovers, failed democracy and army takeovers again.
Now they have a proper president who won the election back in the 90s with 91% of the votes! She was then imprisoned by the army until 2010, when she went into power again.
The problem is, many people here are not educated in a democratic way, they are not fully aware of what democracy means and how state politics should actually work.
I hope they will find their way!

Now to the beautiful Myanmar!


Day 1
After leaving the hotel we went to the Chinese area, which is a beautiful busy market, full of many kinds of food, jewelry, clothes and other things you might like.
You will find 2 kinds of shops, one in the building, and one on the street.

The Chinese area - pretty busy but nice non the less

The Chinese area – pretty busy but nice non the less

They have similar things but the one on the street is substantially cheaper.

From the Chinese quarter we went off to the city center, which has a church, mosque and a synagogue.
There is also a beautiful courthouse. Very old and impressive.

Once we finished there we decided to call it for the day and went to have dinner. It was our first meal of the day in a restaurant called ‘Feel’. Really excellent local food, a must try in my opinion!
They have traditional Myanmar food – noodles (salad or hot), many fried vegetables, curry dishes (thanks to the Indian influence) and many more! You can find more details here.


Day 2
On day 2 we went to the big synagogue in Yangon. It was was closed (Sunday), but we found a peculiar 
thing, the guy guarding the synagogue was a Muslim;) here is a paradox for you.

Education from a young age?

Education from a young age?

From the city center we took the round train to a place called ‘Payala Insien’, a nice country side if you want to escape the busy city.
The train ride is nice, you can see outskirts of Yangon and more importantly you can see the locals at their prime;) a good photo opportunity for the amateur photographers out there.
Later on we went on to a vegetables market called Husi market, nothing special really besides some photos opportunities, you can go though, to experience the market as the locals do (check with a guide what is the best time to go).

There are many temples in Myanmar so I will not write too much about them. I will just write a brief impression of the place.
We went to one pagoda called ‘reclining Buddha’, It has a huge statue of Buddha laying down, it’s 70 meters long and quite impressive.

The pagoda

Shwedagon pagoda

Then we went on to a small pagoda called ‘Botataung Pagoda’, which I think can be considered a stuppa (stuppa is a name for a small temple). Nothing special, lots of gold and supposedly 2 hairs of Buddha himself🤔.
The nice thing about it is that we got to see a kind of prayer outside of the temple with music and dancing. Pretty unique.

From ‘Botataung Pagoda’ we headed towards a big pagoda (Pagoda is how they refer to a bigger kind of temple), it’s called ‘Shwedagon Pagoda‘ and it’s worth to visit. It’s an ancient pagoda (according to the legend it was built over 2500 years ago), it holds many small temples inside and the main one goes up to 99 meters.
Go there to see the sunset – you’ll have a great view and a great breeze (which you’ll appreciate if you came in the hot season, trust me).

After we finished there we headed back towards the hotel and went to grab a dinner in the same restaurant as the day before.It was really a great one.

For Yangon I would recommend on 1 full day at the beginning of the trip and maybe another day before you finish (when you fly back).


Day 3
Day 3 started off very early as we had a flight to catch – off to Bagan.

Arriving to Began seems like a totally different place. The airport is very small and while flying above you can see nature all around (I saw a farmer plowing a field with a carriage and 2 bulls).

Bu Letti Pagoda, Bagan

Bu Letti Pagoda, Bagan

From the airport we went directly to a market called ‘Nyuang U’. It’s a beautiful and peaceful market, especially in the morning.
If you come early enough, you will see farmers bringing their fresh goods to the market, and the local people arranging it.


A nice pagoda worth visiting is ‘Shwe Zi Gong‘. Built in the 11th century, full of small temples and some vivid colors. Don’t miss out on ringing one of the big bells out there:)
From Shwe Zi Gong we continued to a small pagoda called ‘Gu Byau Kgyi‘, it’s got Buddha’s life story embedded into the marbles and wall paintings. An interesting fact is that some marbels (lower ones) were stolen by a German guy called Scott. Now they reside in a museum in Germany.

Later that day we went to a pagoda called ‘Bu Letti’. Actually there are a few pagodas bunched together – really nice and peaceful – a must!
You can climb on the highest one and get a panoramic view (and take some good pictures) – just watch your step, as its really steep and the stairs are pretty small.

Sunset over Bagan

Sunset over Bagab

Another pagoda worth mentioning is ‘Htilominlo‘ pagoda.
It’s not bad but full of tourist shops which I personally don’t like. The pagoda itself is nice and beautiful.

To watch the sunset we went to ‘Shwe Sandaw‘ pagoda – it’s a nice temple and it’s got beautiful sunset view – just make sure you get there early enough otherwise you won’t have a good spot.


Day 4
After a good breakfast we rented e-scooters and drove to an amazing countryside village called 
‘Yanaung’. Not touristic at all and really has amazing views and you can see local agriculture and how it’s done.

Bagan transportation

Bagan transportation

We saw how they plow the land with bulls, sow green onions and the entire process. It is on the river bank and has got some nice lakes – a treat!
** it requires a lot of sand walking, so make sure you wear sandals and not shoes, and you bring a good hat!

Then we got to a small tourist trap kinda village called ‘Min Thu’. I would avoid it – the only reason I mention it is that the surroundings are amazing and the drive there is very beautiful.
From Thu Htai we went to another pagoda called ‘Thid Sawaddy‘ – it’s nice and got a fantastic view for pics but beware the tourist traps!

Later that day we went to the famous ‘Ananda‘ temple, built in 1091 and holds 127 lion statues (look up to the rooftop), 1424 little buddha statues (all over) and 4 huge buddha statues (105. meters tall each) facing each entrance.
It’s quite beautiful but full of tourist shops (outside) and many beggars (although they might have been there due to a festival that took place while we were there).


Day 5
On day 5 I felt like  We are starching it, we took a long drive to mount Popa, in which, as the legend

A monk in Bagan, on the way to a temple

A monk in Bagan, on the way to a temple

says, live all the ‘Nuts’ (high spirits). There are 37 high nuts (which are gods and kings) and 37 lower nuts which are basically like saints.
The road to mount Popa is beautiful, we visited a local market in a village called ‘Tuang Zin’, beautiful, full of villagers and very authentic (no tourists, you can count on that).
Later on we saw a cool bull carriage convoy and then we saw down the road how they make peanut oil and some alcohol (the alcohol was so so, but don’t tell anyone I said so😜).

The mountain itself is nothing special (at least it was for me), just a mountain. Honestly I might have skipped it and just go to some villages on the way, much more interesting.
The mountain used to have lions, elephants, tigers, zebras rabbits, monkeys, snakes and wild boars.
Nowadays there are still some snakes (careful, some are poisonous) and some rabbits and wild boars, the rest migrated, unfortunately.

Fun fact about Bagan – there are only 2 stop lights in the area:)

For Bagan I would recommend on 2 full days, 3 if you want to take it easy.


Day 6
Day 6 started off with an early flight from Bagan to Mandalay.
From the airport we drove to ‘Mahagandayon’ monastery, this monastery holds over 1000 monks.

A young monk in line for food

A young monk in line for food

Everyday at 10:30am the monks line up and go get rice for breakfast from local people who donate it.
I felt strange taking their pictures but it’s an unusual and interesting sight.

Later we proceeded to the old palace, called ‘Mya Nan San Kyew’.
It’s not bad, but it was ruined during WW2 by the Japanese (the British used it as their command post) so the Myanmar people re built it. It feels different, although I haven’t been to the original one, you can feel this one is not royal;)

Then we went to a mountain called Mandalay hill, from which we got to see the city and the surroundings from up high.
It was foggy but still you can see the area and the view was nice.
There is an interesting story about an old demon who resided in the area and used to eat animals and people, until Buddha ‘arrived’. Then the demon called ‘Agras’ changed its appearance to a beautiful woman and sacrificed her tits (didn’t find another good word for it haha) to Buddha.
Then, as the story goes, Buddha said that 2500 years after Agras will found a new city, and 2500 years after indeed Mandalay was founded by a king who claimed to be Agras.

Later we went to see the night market (on street 84), it was quite nice, and you’ll find many street food and such in the area.
Best to go between 18:00 – 20:00.


Day 7
In the morning we went to a small local vegetables market. We saw the monks and nuns doing their food gathering, and we saw how the fresh goods from Yangon are being unloaded and organized – really cool to see the local people doing their thing.

From the market we took a 1 hour jetty to ‘Mingun’ village. It’s a really beautiful area, full of nature and old pagodas, and most importantly – good milk tea;)

This is the lower part of the unfinished pagoda

This is the lower part of the unfinished pagoda

We saw the biggest unfinished pagoda called ‘Pahtodawgyi‘, it’s almost 200ft high and it looks like an Egyptian pyramid (at least to me). Then we continued to walk around and saw the biggest ringing bell in the world (there are bigger ones but they don’t ring).

From the village we went on to see the ‘U Bein’ bridge. It’s a beautiful 1.2 km long bridge, built over the spectacular ‘Tuangthaman lake’.
It’s a great place to take some good pictures (especially on sunset).

For Mandalay I would suggest 1.5 days, or 1 full day.


Day 8
Took a morning flight from Mandalay to Inle lake. From the airport we went to ‘Pindaya‘ cave, which 
holds over 8000 Buddha statues, since the 11th century (go if you have time).

On the road to Inle lake

On the road to Inle lake

On the way you’ll see many pagodas, which the villagers built.
Interesting fact is that they actually collect the money themselves – you’ll see people on the road side asking for money – once they have enough (around 5000$, which is around 7 million ks for a small one) they call the architects and builders from Yangon or Bagan to build it.


Day 9
Amazing! Inle lake is a beautiful place.
It’s a huge lake (two lakes actually, which are connected via a stream). Almost all the houses are built on the water, and there are over 100(!!!) villages on this lake.

A fisherman in Inle

A fisherman in Inle

While going around with the boat you’ll see many villages and it’s amazing to see – it’s just like any street, but with water.
It’s very different than Venice, for example, as here it’s built naturally, as in ‘the old days’.
After roaming around the lake and saw some fishermen and driving through some beautiful villages, we went to see a monastery called ‘Nga Phe Kyuang’.
It’s a wooden monastery which has a nice visual explanation about Buddhas life.
After the monastery we stopped for tea by the market (which was closed, tomorrow we’ll see it), and we walked around the villages in the area by foot.

Making a cigar

Making a cigar

Then we went to see cigar making. Felt very touristic but we joked around with the girls there so it wasn’t too bad (plus I bought a beautiful box with small cigars for 5000 ks, less than 4$, and managed to bring it back to China;)).

Later we went to see another temple – but if you have been to other places in Myanmar before coming to Inle, you have seen your share of them.
In Inle, my suggestion – just take a boat and go around, see local villages, see farmers and kick back a bit in your hotel.
Outside of the lake there are cheap (I guess, didn’t check) guesthouses – but the hotels on the lake are really nice and if you came all the way, spend a bit more and fully experience it. That’s my opinion.

Our hotel was really cool and the room was on the water..! See more details here.


Day 10
Rainy morning, but beautiful colorful sky.
We went out a little early to do some fisherman hunting, trying to capture them in our lenses.

Where did I park my canoo?

Where did I park my canoo?

After a somewhat dull session we headed towards ‘Nam Pan’ market.
It’s one of the most beautiful markets I’ve ever seen, very colorful and very useful both for local and tourists.
The market has it all – vegetables, meat, functional things for home (from cooking to farming) and many souvenirs.
This market is going on every 5 days (like most markets in Myanmar), but I highly suggest you check if it’s on during the time you’re in Inle, and if it is – save all your shopping for this market.
The prices are the best compared to other markets I’ve visited.

From the market we went to Indein village to see ‘Shwe Indaing’ pagoda, it’s quite nice as its in a very beautiful and natural area.
The way to Indein is beautiful – you’ll go through small villages and you’ll see small dams on the way. They built those to make the water level higher, so their fields will have more water.

A villager by the water well

A villager by the water well

When arriving to the pagoda, if you will look up you will see another small pagoda on the top – it’s actually a beautiful monastery and it’s usually not a place tourist go to – so you should definitely go! It’s beautiful and if you’ll climb all the way to the top – amazing view guaranteed! Unless it’s foggy;)

From the pagoda we took a detour and went to see a local small village called ‘Khay Paw Khon’, It’s super small and the walk there might be not easy if it rained (as it was for us, was very rainy), but it’s well worth the walk and even the mud.
In the village you’ll see how they make bamboo hats, traditional rice crackers and some farming in the outskirts of the village.
If you’ll be nice the locals will invite you for crackers and tea:)

For Inle Lake I would suggest 3 full days, and to sleep on the lake and not outside. It’s costlier, but you went all the way there, fully experience it.


To sum it up
Myanmar is beautiful, so peaceful and ‘real’.
This is the time to visit as soon all the traditional ways will be lost in favor of progress. Farmers won’t use bulls, won’t use wooden carts and I believe it will get more expensive soon.
Now is the line between old and new – don’t miss your opportunity to see this beautiful country before progress catches up.

If you have any question – feel free!

If you need help planning the trip and want some professional guidance – feel free to give a shout out to a very good tour guide who is also a good friend of mine – here is the email address (they speak English, Chinese and Hebrew).
They will set up your trip and make sure you see everything you want to see along with ease.


Useful information


Economy
Myanmar is not very expensive – I believe the expensive part will be the flights and hotels.
Flights are between 60 to 100 $ from what I know (for us it was arranged) and hotels are somewhere around 60-150$ (and north) per night.
– Guesthouses should be around 30$ and north, depends on the quality.
– Food wise – an average meal for 2 is 4$-12$, depends how much you eat and if you drink beer or tea (beer is between 1$ to 4$, tea is between 20 cents to 40 – the most expensive meal we had was 16$ for 2 people).
– Shopping is up to you – you can bargain a bit.
A tip for bargaining – give a low first counter, then go up a bit, don’t play around too much.. Get the feel of what is the value of things when you arrive and go with it.


Some general tips for Myanmar:
Bring sandals / flip flops – you can’t walk into any temple with shoes on, so if you go to a few of them everyday, it’ll be a drag to take them off and put them on again and again, plus – it’s breezier to wear sandals.
When you to temples – make sure you wear either long pants or buy a Burmese skirt (ask for a ‘paso’ if you’re a man and ‘htamain’ if you’re a woman).
Don’t plan on shopping here, it’s not the best of qualities (what you usually see in the street stands) and also, let’s be honest, it’s not the best fashion out there:)
Buy a phone card, don’t be stingy, it’ll cost about 4-7$ and you’ll have Internet (maps / navigation in case of emergency) and you’ll be able to call your friends / guide.
When you reach places in Myanmar (like a new city) – check if you need to buy a tour card It’s a kind of card which includes fees for all tourist attractions (some pagodas etc). For us the tour guide paid but you need to check if it’s necessary for the city / village you’re going to, better to do it in the airport as its organized rather than to do it in the city (I’m not even sure if it’s possible in the city). In Bagan for example it’s 20$ per person.
No need to take your passport out for domestic flights in Myanmar, just make sure you don’t have a lighter or water and you’re set – security check is slim to none:) **in Heho they do check do passport when arriving.
Below you can see how to eat waiter in Burmese – but actually there’s a sound, not a word, I won’t describe the sound, as it’ll sound sexual haha, but you put your lips together and pull air. Listen to it when you’re in a local restaurant.
When you first land in Myanmar, make sure you check the taxi price to your hotel with the airport staff (if there is no pick up), as the taxi drivers outside will ask you for at least twice the price..
Don’t expect much from the internet department in Myanmar, the internet is relatively slow (phone internet is decent).
– If you’re leaving hotel very early for a flight, make sure that you ask for a take away breakfast (if your hotel has breakfast included, of course:) )


Some useful words in Burmese:
Thank you – Kyay Su Be (Kyay sounds like Ge)
Good morning / hi – Mingalaba
I have one (for tourist traps, when they try to sell postcards or something) – We Bibi
No – Ma Law Qin Bu
Bonapetit – Sa Gan Base
Beautiful – La De for girl and Cho De for man
Check / bill – Shin Me
Water – Ye
Waiter – Sabuetu
Come – Laba
Tip – Mou Phu
I’m leaving – Tuabi
Bye bye – Tata
Relax / relaxed – Na Yuba
Ok – Yabi
Toilet – Eain Thar
Tired – Ayan

Here are some top pick pictures – take a look:)

Adam Disatnik

I have been living in China since early 2013 in the great Beijing. I try to travel as much as I can and try to understand the culture and the habits as much as possible. It's amazing how much can be learned about China, and about life, while living abroad in a totally different country than the one you grew up in. I love it! Catch up on my blog to try and understand along with me:) Adam.

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