A 2017 backpacker´s guide to Myanmar

 

Myanmar is one of the most exotic countries in the world where you can explore archeological and natural sites, innumerous pagodas and a rich culture diversity. But most of all, the country has the most gracious, genuine and hospitable people.

Years of isolation have kept Myanmar an unspoiled gem, where tourism is a slowly developing sector. Although it possesses great tourist potential and attractions in many fields, much of the industry remains to be developed. While in 2012 just a million visited Myanmar, the number has increased to almost 3 million tourist in 2016.

Some people told me Myanmar was very expensive but I managed to spend about 20€ per day. While accommodation still a bit more pricey than the rest of Southeast Asian countries, the transportation and food are ridiculously cheap. Trekking prices are as little as 10$ per day including guide, food and accommodation.

 

Myanmar in 28 days itinerary:

Hpa An – 2 days

Yangon – 3 days

Bagan – 3 days

Kalaw to Inle – 3 days trek

Inle – 4 days

Hsipaw – 7 days

Mandalay – 6 days

 

Hpa An

How to get there: we crossed the border by land near the Thai city of Mae Sot. On the Burmese side there are plenty of business where you can arrange further transportation, we paid about 6€ each for the 3 hours drive to Hpa An in a shared taxi.

Where to stay: Golden Sky Guesthouse costs 8$ per person on a double room. It is really old and basic but the view from the terrace where they serve breakfast is worth the hassle.

Where to eat: the night market set by Kan Thar Yar lake is worth a visit.

How to move around: the best option is to rent a motorbike as the main attractions are outside of town.

What to visit:

Kan Thar Yar lake is a great place for sunset, it features a tekka bridge.

Saddan cave is an absolute must. Its entrance has dozens of buddha statues, a pagoda and wall carvings. At the cave´s far side there is a lake with plenty of boats that crosses a hidden cave and takes you through a river surrounded by rice fields.

Not far from the cave there is Mt Zwegabin, where there is a monastery that allows visitors to spend the night for 5$. The whole experience is worth the 2 hours hike: the monks are really friendly and the sunset and sunrise views are magnificent.

Tip: Wifi in Myanmar is hard to get, I would recommend to buy a local simcard. We got one with Telenor for 11€ and had enough data for the whole month.

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Yangon

How to get there: there are tourist buses from Hpa An that take you to the station a bit outside of town. There are shared taxis for about 3€ each to reach the city centre.

Where to stay: Four Rivers hostel has 6 bedroom dorms for 7€ per night including breakfast, it´s clean and has modern facilities.

Where to eat:

New Delhi restaurant is great for curry lovers. Be aware this is not the most hygienic place.

Nepali & Indian Food Only Vegetarian is a cheap, delicious and clean restaurant located 10 minutes walk from Sule Pagoda . The owner is a super friendly Nepali family.

999 is a great place to try the famous Shan noodles soup. It is very clean.

Tomo Sushi has basic sushi at cheap prices. The set menus are great value. Super clean and friendly staff.

How to move around: motorbikes are not allowed in Yangon so the only options are taxis, train or local buses.

What to visit: Shwedagon Pagoda. This 100 meters tall and 2500 years old pagoda is the most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar. The Shwedagon Pagoda contains strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics and consists hundreds colorful temples, stupas, and statues. You can purchase the ticket on arrival and rent a longhi if wearing shorts. The best time to go is close to the sunset to admire the golden reflections of the pagoda.

Tip: beware there are fake monks that scam tourists at the pagoda by asking donations.

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Bagan

How to get there: you can either take an 10 hours bus or a 12 hours train from Yangon.

Where to stay: We stayed at Pan Cherry Guest house but I wouldn´t recommend it as the beds were very uncomfortable and they had a water cuts constantly.

Where to eat: Wonderful tasty restaurant is a good value for money with a mix of western and Asian popular dishes. Portions are very generous.

Weather Spoon´s is pricey but tasty with delicious burgers.

How to move around: you can rent a bike for as little as 70 cents of euro or rent an electric bike for 4 euro a day.

What to visit: Bagan archaeological site is the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world, most of them dating from the 11th and 12th centuries.

Tip: If you are interested on a hot air balloon ride is necessary to book it in advance. There are 3 companies and the prices start from 315 to 390 dollars per ride, depending of the number of people going in the balloon.

Oriental ballooning http://www.orientalballooning.com/flights-over-bagan/

Bagan balloon https://bagan-balloon.com/

Hot air baloon Bagan https://www.hotairballoonbagan.com

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Inle

How to get there: we walked the 70km that separate Kalaw and Inle. There are night buses that cost about 8€ and reach both Kalaw and Inle from Bagan.

Where to stay: Good Will Hotel in Nyaungshwe, a town north of the lake. It is clean and great value for money, 12€ per night for a double room.

Where to eat: Lin Htett has amazing food, the curries are superb and the avocado salad is a must try. You can taste here the typical tea leaf salad, my favorite Burmese dish.

Live Dim Sum House is great for noodles, soups and dim sum.

How to move around: renting a bike is a great option to explore the town and lake surroundings. The boat tours are a must do and easy to arrange at any of the local tourist agencies for about 15€-20€ per day and fit up to 5 people.

What to visit: The lake with the floating villages and fisherman. There is a cat monastery that is worth a visit and the Nyaung Ohak pagodas in Indein Village are a must.

Tip: take warm clothes for the boat and if you are not interested on buying souvenirs tell your boatman to don´t bring you to any of the shops as you will waste a long time there. Also there are local fisherman wearing typical clothing and posing for pictures at the lake with the expectation of a tip.

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Hsipaw

How to get there: there are tourist minivan going from Inle for 6€, due to the precarious stage of the road the 320km journey takes up to 10 hours.

Where to stay: Red Dragon has spacious and clean private rooms for 12€ including a generous breakfast served on the rooftop.

Where to eat: Mrs Popcorn´s garden offers delicious organic food and really cheap milkshakes, the place is near Little Bagan and is totally worth a visit.

Mr Shake has really tasty salads and wontons, as well as fruit shakes.

How to move around: renting a bike or a motorbike is a good option to explore the town surroundings.

What to visit: Maha Nanda Kantha Monastery and Little Bagan are quite charming places, even though I found the second one a bit disappointing.

Five Buddha Hill or Nine Buddha Hill are great spots to see the sunset but can be a bit crowded.

Tip: Mr Charles arrange 2, 3 o 4 day treks from Hsipaw for as little as 10$ per day.

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Mandalay

Where to stay: Rich Queen Guest House has private rooms for 12€ including breakfast. Don´t confuse it with Rich Queen 59 Guest house, which is double the price.

Where to eat: street food restaurants. Unfortunately the ones I went to don´t appear in google maps or any travel guide.

How to move around: shared tuk tuks are a good choice as the traffic is quite mad in the city. You can rent a motorbike if you feel confident to drive around.

What to visit in Mandalay:

U-bein bridge is the largest tekka bridge in the world and great sunset spot.

Shwenandaw Monastery is a truly piece of art with well preserved teak carvings of Buddhist myths covered in golden paper.

Mandalay Hill offers superb views of the city and beautiful pagodas, stupas and Buddha sculptures. It is great sunset spot and a great place to get to blend with the locals as it is full of monks seeking for tourist to practice their English skills.

Tip: allow enough time in Mandalay to visit 3 sites nearby

Mingun is reachable by boat from Mandalay and has an impressive white pagoda called Mya Thein Tan.

Sagaing contains more than 500 stupas and enjoy a good sunset view from Sagaing Hill.

Inwa has the magnificent Bagaya Kyaung monastery that still active.

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