After looking around on the internet for as much information about Myanmar as I could, I found myself coming up short, at least out-dated!
Nothing really seems to be out there that is that relevant to the Myanmar of 2016, which is a world ahead of the Myanmar of 2 or 3 years ago.
In my opinion, Myanmar is both the most under-rated and beautiful country in Asia. And it is with great intensity that I urge anyone reading this to book a ticket and visit this country before the floodgates open and it becomes another Vietnam or Thailand.
The reason why Myanmar is exploding in popularity is because tourists may now enter freely after acquiring a visa online and picking it up on arrival. In 2012, only 1 million tourists visited in Myanmar, but a projected 4.1 million are expected to visit in 2015. That’s a 400% increase!
Please comment on this post if you have more advice to share about Myanmar, or if you’re looking to meet up with fellow travellers!!
There is an extremely wide variety of accommodation options in Myanmar, from your $500 a night rooms at the Shangri-La’s or Bagan Lodge’s of the world all the way down to some pretty nifty $15 hostel options.
I recommend you book your hotel in advance just to be sure you get the best available room in this country which is still trying to cater for the massive increase in tourism of late.
To find the best rates for hotels in Yangon, click here.
For hotels in Bagan, click here.
For Mandalay, click here.
For Inle Lake, click here.
- Taxi’s are cheap as chips – most rides around a city will cost USD$3-4.
- Traffic is quite busy – typical asian passive aggressive approach to transport
- It is ALWAYS warm – don’t bother with anything more than a shirt and shorts, but do remember your sunscreen!
- Wifi is hit and miss – in your nicer hotels, the wifi is outstanding, but anywhere else you will struggle for consistent connection
- The food is cheaper than ever – street dishes are insanely tasty and will cost you anywhere from USD$1-3. Even the nice restaurants max out at USD$7-8.
- The people are extremely friendly – I wouldn’t worry for a second about the security of your belongings. This is a buddhist nation.
- ATMs are everywhere – contrary to the 2012 blog posts out there
- The local currency is called Kyat (pronounced: chat), and is worth about USD1 for every 1000kyat
- You need an eVisa to get in. It will cost USD$50 and is available here. It came back to me in 24hrs
- The red stuff all the guys are chewing that makes their teeth rot is called betel nut. It’s like tobacco and is horrendous for you. Luckily for them, the girls still dig it even with only 3 teeth left.
- You need CRISP, new USD bills to exchange for Kyat – no exceptions!
– YANGON –
The best things to do in Yangon (formally Rangoon) are steeped in this growing city’s ancient, rich past.
When you arrive in Yangon, you’ll quite instantly notice a city operating on three different levels.
Firstly, you’ll notice the neglected relics of its British colonial past. From the wide streets and deep red curbs to the dilapidated colonial hotels and warehouses, or the never-maintained rail system, you’ll see them to be more like scars on this beautiful nation than improvements to their infrastructure.
Second, you’ll notice a population living in relative poverty, but with a hustle and aspiration to make it big in the near future.
With renewed belief in their reformed political system, and signs of nation building about the place, one wouldn’t be surprised if Yangon is the next Chang Mai within a decade.
Lastly, but most importantly, you’ll begin to see through the British scars and local poverty, and notice the true historic beauty of this once uber-wealthy kingdom.
And it is within these sites that I believe you will find:
The best things to do in Yangon
Go pagoda hunting!
The city is dwarfed by 4 enormous pagodas strategically placed around the city.
However, none are more impressive or sacred than Shwedagon Pagoda.
If you haven’t heard of it, or seen it, before, don’t worry. Not many people have!
But this beacon for Buddhism is the centerpiece and icon of Myanmar.
Relax on the lake
If you’ve ever seen anything cooler than a gold-plated duck-swan than I’d like to hear it!
The locals come to this vast and sprawling lake to cool off in the shade away from the heat and hustle of the streets, and it’s a great place for tourists to come and do the same.
If you get in early enough, you can even book a dinner and traditional show at the dining hall inside the duck-swan.
Could it get better than that?
Haggle in the markets
Bogoyke markets and surrounds are the place to go if you want to get your haggle on.
Everything from jade and ruby jewelry to elaborate lacquerware, fabrics, and teak carvings are on offer here.
The place is a bit of a maze, but I assure you its worth the run around.
Take the circular train
The circular train is one of the few relics from the colonial past I actually appreciate.
Slow and dilapidated as it is, hopping on the post-war carriage will give you a nice 3-hour ‘red bus’ experience Yangon-style.
Go back in time to the 1920s on Yangon River
One of the most enjoyable nights I had was actually spent pretending I was Jack from Titanic on the 1920s-themed Vintage Luxury Yacht, which sits permanently moored on the banks of the Yangon River down in the shipping district.
Down to the finest detail, this 2014 Norwegian-built floating hotel oozes pure 1920s luxury, and a night or dinner aboard this brilliant piece of engineering is well worth it.
If you can stay over and get up for sunrise you’ll be treated to the reddest sun I’ve seen in years peaking above the misty Yangon River.
Pack your bags and head north
If you’re in Yangon to start your holiday, get a few days in then get yourself on a flight (or train) up to Bagan to really see what Myanmar is all about.
All in all, from it’s Shwedagon Pagoda, which easily stands up against the Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty in it’s prowess, to Inya and Karaweik Lakes, which act as refuges for the local people looking for a peaceful afternoon away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the natural beauty of this city endures and is well-worth a stopover.
As you fly in from the south, the highlight of the view quickly changes from the meandering Ayerwaddy River to the scattering of brick temples across the breadth of the green, wooded landscape.
Upon touching down, I received the quickest baggage handling service in world history – literally straight off the plane and into your hands.
So in saving the usual 30 minutes waiting for my stuff, I was straight out to the front hall where you’ll be asked to pay a one-time Archeological Zone Fee of USD20.
From there, it’s straight into a taxi, which should cost you somewhere between 3,000-5,000 Kyat to get to your accommodation.
Hire A Tour Guide
Bagan is a pretty big place, with its 2000 temples and all. So it can be easy to get overwhelmed and give up half way down the road on your e-bike.
Because of this, I highly recommend hiring a tour guide for the day.
You’ll find that, although you can order one from your hotel, most of the tour guides will actually spruik their wares to you from the front passenger seat of the taxi you pick from the airport.
Although this might sound confronting at first, they are very kind, non-pushy and simply offer themselves up as a package deal with the taxi driver you just used after giving you a bit of a free taster along the way.
The going rate for a tour guide for the day is 30,000 kyat (USD$25) plus 35,000 kyat for your taxi driver. This will give you and your companions (up to 3 of you in the back seat) exclusive access to them from 8am all the way to after sunrise.
Good deal, huh?!
Not only does your tour guide know the best temples to go to away from the Chinese tour buses, he’ll also take you through the markets, show you through a real lacquerware factory, point out the safe lunch spots, and get you backstage access to the monasteries where you can see the children training.
Top Things To Do In Bagan
Hot Air Balloon Ride
For the luxury traveller, or someone who wants to tick this off their bucket list, a balloon ride at sunrise over the temples of Bagan takes the cake.
Eastern Safaris, who operate hot air balloon tours across the world, run Balloons over Bagan, which is your number one option for a tour like this here in Bagan.
For USD$360 per person, you’ll be picked up from your hotel at 5am, and taken to the launch site in the centre of the temple hotspot, where you can enjoy champagne breakfast and the best view in Myanmar.
E-bike around town
For a bit of fun, and an economical and fun way to get around, you have the option of hopping on an e-bike.
They’re everywhere here in Bagan.
Essentially, they’re a fully-electric moped running on batteries, which helps to keep the town nice and quiet.
Just don’t run out of batteries half way home.
At USD$2-an-hour, it’s definitely within everyone’s budget.
Temple at sunrise
A sunrise temple experience is very unique; not many people get up to enjoy it.
Unlike sunset, it’s easy to find a temple with a good view (that isn’t the big shiny one), sit back, and sit in peace as the sun rises over the mountain ridge and the balloons float above you.
I recommend taking an e-bike to get where you want to go.
Remember, the sun rises in the east, so you want a to get to a nice east-facing vantage point on the west side of the temple zone.
Temple at sunset
Sunset is a different story.
Sunset offers a beautiful view of the moon to the east and orange hues across the Ayerwaddy River to the West.
Take your pick…
My biggest tip of advice here is to think of this like going to Manhattan: if you want the best view, don’t go to the Empire State Building. Instead, go to the Rockerfeller and take a photo of the Empire State instead.
You know what I mean…
Bagan, and it’s monasteries, play home to thousands of monks, which is a testament to the overwhelming Buddhist culture in the region.
For me, there is nothing more intriguing than observing such a lifestyle, and appreciating the discipline and sacrifice required.
As a part of my day tours with my guide, we went to a number of monasteries around town.
Some were schools, which gave me beautiful insights into the life of a young training monk. Some were relics of past times curated by just a handful of monks who called it called.
Regardless of the destination, I learned something new each time, and got to take some really beautiful photos.
The local markets in Bagan are a chaotic mess at the best of times. The streets are filled with horse-drawn carts, tractors posing as trucks, taxis, and locals on foot.
But it all seems to work.
In the canopied marketplace, you’ll find every local ingredient and cuisine imaginable, most of which sent my stomach south, and some I questioned wasn’t used to kill enemies.
You can also pick up your toy guns, stools, fabrics, hats, soaps stolen from hotels, and medication as you please.
Mount Popo is the first thing you see as you fly in from Yangon.
It’s the mountain ridge I’ve been referencing.
There’s a nice temple up there, and a bunch of monkeys.
But the view is what you’re after.
If you don’t get yourself in a hot air balloon, I recommend heading to the top of the mountain instead. Your guide can get you up there by taxi.
The Ayerwaddy is the lifeblood of the western side of Myanmar. It snakes from north to south and shapes Bagan as it goes.
With it’s creamy, brown sedimentary tinge, it’s no Plitvice Lakes. But it’s an important thoroughfare for Myanmar trade, and a major water source for it’s people.
Once you’ve gotten over the Egyptian pyramid-like amazement at how this ancient kingdom built so many of these temples as large and impressively as they did, you’ll start to appreciate the little things.
And one of the most impressive small things is the country’s lacquerware.
Made from bamboo, and then put through eight one-week lacquering treatments using local glues and oils, each cup or plate, bangle or desk, is a piece of individual art in itself.
I highly recommend heading to an authentic workshop for a behind-the-scenes look at the amazing skill and patience it takes to create these things.
BEST HOTEL CHOICE: If you’re looking for the number 1 place to stay in Bagan, look no further than Bagan Lodge, without a doubt the top choice in the region.
– INLE –
So you’ve been doing your research of places to visit in Myanmar and you’ve typed in ‘things to do in Inle’ because you notice this place looks pretty interesting, but you’re just not sure what it’s all about.
Don’t worry, when I was in your position, I felt the same way.
I mean, I’d heard of Yangon where we fly into, Bagan where all the fabled temples are, and the old kingdom of Mandalay.
But Inle? I needed more convincing.
However, given this is a travel site, and I had been approached by a couple of businesses in the area, I thought it would be remiss of me not to check the place out.
So when I arrived at this very under-publicised town, it was only natural that I felt what is becoming an exceedingly rare feeling these days: wondrous awe.
Oh how I had erred in even considering skipping Inle.
And before you read any further, I implore you to book your flight, train, or bus to get here.
Inle lake is unimaginably large, and incomparably marvelous in the way it plays home to the thousands of residents who have, over centuries, cultivated a society that lives, farms, and trades directly on the lake.
Nowhere else in the world will you find a civilization like this.
So without further ado, these are the top things to do in Inle once you book that ticket:
Top things to do in Inle
Take a hot air balloon ride
Without a doubt, this is not only the best experience I had in Inle, but in Myanmar as a whole.
Myanmar is no stranger to hot air balloon tours. Balloons Over Bagan has been showing tourists the marvels of the ancient region since 1999.
But it’s only since November 2015 that balloons have been flying over the spectacular Inle region, and I mean SPECTACULAR!
A booking with these guys will not only give you a door-to-door service, but also a highly experienced British pilot as a host, and a skyline shared by no others.
Unlike in Bagan, you’ll have the whole region to yourself.
Maybe you could be the first person in the world to propose in a hot air balloon over Inle?
Get lost in the floating gardens
The floating gardens are the icon of Inle.
Somehow, some centuries ago, the local people decided the lake was too valuable to simply look at, and decided to not only build their homes on it, but also engineer vast crops, which literally float above the water all year round.
This has to be seen to be believed.
Visit the Silversmith
Myanmar was once one of the richest kingdoms in the world.
I’m talking Egyptian levels.
And it’s because of this, and the immaculate existence of it’s 2000-odd 2000 year old temples that it isn’t as well publicized.
Even up until 60 years ago, Myanmar was a powerhouse in Asia until poor governance oversaw its steep decline into poverty.
However, the jewels and riches that once made this land so powerful still exist. And it is silver, most prolifically, that is worked and fashioned in factories on Inle Lake.
The work done here is second-to-none.
Again, an undiscovered treasure.
See real-life longnecks at work
The Shan people are an ancient culture living in the east of Myanmar.
You may not have heard of them, but you’ve certainly seen one of their most iconic traditions.
The long-neck ladies are a dying breed, but there are still some that reside in Inle, and you can see them in person working on their latest woven design.
I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if they took off the gold? Would their neck be all floppy?
Learn how the locals make cigars
I’ve seen a cigar or two before. I’ve never purchased any, but I’ve always marveled at the display of those making them by hand.
Each culture has their own way of doing it with their own local ingredients.
Here in Inle, I found the way they make theirs to be quite unique.
Check out the monastery markets
The monastery is one of the only buildings that built partially on land.
Still out in the center of the lake, this home to the local monks opens it’s doors to a few dozen market vendors who will be happy to sell you anything from fabrics to wood carvings, jewelry to local cuisine.
See a real longboat builder
Did you know, for USD$2,500 you could have one of these babies for your very own?
Throw in another USD$500 and you’ll have a motor too.
I’ve always found boatbuilding to be a fascinating art, and these guys explain exactly how they do it, and why the tourist taxi longboats are so much sturdier than the local ones.
Visit Nyaung Shwe
Nyaung Shwe is the gateway town to Inle. It sits up against the lake and operates a semi-aquatic life amongst the many stone-retained canals that carve through it.
With its own vibrancy and culture, I definitely recommend not just skipping through here. At least take half a day to walk the streets and eat the local food.
Check out the pagodas
After all, this is Myanmar. And no town in Myanmar would be complete without some ridiculously elaborate golden pagodas acting as beacons and places of worship for it’s people.
I particularly liked these ones as they offered a brilliant mountainside view of the lake from their elevated locations.
Did I mention take a hot air balloon ride?
Seriously, don’t miss this!
To do all these things, I recommend finding yourself a guide.
However, in Inle your guide is pretty much your longboat driver.
Find one with a nice nature (easy) and good enough English skills (easy enough) and he will take you around the lake from 8am-7pm for just 23,000 kyat (USD$20) per boat.
For more information on where to stay in Inle or just how amazing the hot air balloon experience is, see below:
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