Harry and I have now finished our trip in Myanmar, and we can honestly say we loved it. We spent 21 days here and kind of wish we stayed a few more, but we did the best we could in the time we had. I have a lot to talk about and a ton of photos, so I’m going to split my blog post into three parts.
Part 1: Yangon – Kyaiktiyo – Hpa-An – Mandalay
Part 2: Pyin Oo Lwin – Hsipaw – Bagan
Part 3: Inle Lake – Naypidaw – Ngapali beach – Yangon
So here we go, Part 2.
Once again a reminder of the currency- $1 CAD = 1000 kyat (chat)
From Mandalay, we were debating on taking the train or a shared taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin, because the train is dirt-cheap. We ended up going for the shared taxi because it saves you two hours in travel time and it wasn’t that much more expensive (1200 kyat vs 1500). It was still a long and very windy road, I think it took us about 2 hours, maybe a little longer due to some very dusty construction.
Anyway, we entered Pyin Oo Lwin with almost no expectations. We didn’t really know what was there, we went because a friend of mine told us to go. We found the Bravo hotel with a clean, AC room for 20,000 with breakfast included, and decided to settle there for the night. This place had poor reviews online but we actually found it to be really nice for the price.
The next morning we rented a motorbike from Grace hotel, who had the cheapest deal of 8,000 kyat for the day. We drove around in search of some waterfalls we had heard of (Anisakan and Dat Taw Gyaint), found the dusty parking lot right next to a very golden pagoda, and had to pay 500 for the parking. They said it was too dangerous to drive all of the way down, and once we started walking, we could see why. The road is mostly paved but it’s very steep and windy with many potholes and other obstacles. A little exercise never hurt anyone though, so we hiked for about half hour to get to the bottom. On the way there were some mini waterfalls and a stream to keep us cool.
When we finally reached the bottom (it seemed like forever since the path is so boring), we were welcomed with a spectacular sight. The falls were very impressive, and we got so excited that we pulled out the drone and shot for maybe forty-five minutes straight. Myanmar hadn’t impressed us that much with it’s beauty yet, but now we were certainly impressed.
After we were done shooting we jumped into the cool water. It was the perfect temperature, a little cold at first, but afterwards it was such a nice relief to the hot day. We swam up to the waterfall and even under it to reach the alcove behind. A few locals joined us, and aside from them there weren’t many other people around. When we arrived we saw two tourists leaving, and that was it.
After our delightful swim, we ate some noodles for 1500 kyat at the noodle stand that happened to be down there. They were soup-type noodles, not fried, and they were delicious. We then packed everything up and began to hike back up, but on a different path.
Along the way, we came across some more waterfalls that were the feeder falls to the ones we had just swam in. I’m not sure which falls were which in terms of names, but I’d recommend checking out both if you can. These ones were also beautiful, and they were more peaceful because there was only two men fishing in the water and that was it.
Continuing on, we were walking on a small path through bushes and forest, once in a while questioning if we were going the correct direction. Maps.me was our guide and it worked perfectly, the path was very accurate. After half an hour, we were back at the top.
Before we left, we decided to check out the particularly golden pagoda. I couldn’t go inside because I was wearing a strappy top and shorts, but the outside was more beautiful than the inside anyway (I figured). Some nice monks were there to greet us and welcomed us to take as many drone shots as we wanted, which was quite odd as most people are telling us it’s against all rules to fly around religious sites.
When we were done, we hopped back on the motorbike and drove to some other waterfalls. These ones were on the opposite side of the city, so it took a small while to get there. When we arrived, we had to pay a 500 kyat entrance fee. When we began walking around, we figured out why. This place was more like a park with fancy bridges, statues, and toys for kids. Regardless, it was still a beautiful place to be for sunset and the water was nice. The waterfalls were very small and not at all impressive, just peaceful. That being said, there were very busy parts of this park that had many locals playing in the water and floating around on tubes.
After this we went back to the hotel. It had been a long day in the sun, but a very good one. Just from these places we highly recommend checking out Pyin Oo Lwin if you’re ever in Myanmar, it was worth it.
Our next destination was Hsipaw. We did take the train this time, it was 2750 kyat for first class or 1200 for second, and since for us the difference is so little we went for first. Our butts thanked us big time; we would be sitting on cushy seats instead of wooden or plastic benches for the next seven hours.
We went over the “famous” (sort of) Gokehteik bridge and took pictures out the window of other people taking pictures out the window (damn tourists). The ride was quite beautiful at parts, including the bridge of course, and had some nice canyon views at times. Worth it to do once, but maybe not twice because it’s so slow and really not THAT beautiful.
We arrived in Hsipaw and stayed at the Red Dragon hotel, which if I remember correctly was 27000 kyat with breakfast. This was the first time we had fans instead of AC, but it was alright there because it wasn’t as blistering hot. We also had a bathroom outside and downstairs, but prices in Hsipaw were so expensive everywhere that we didn’t care.
In Hsipaw we honestly didn’t find much interesting to do. We visited some ok waterfalls that had a pool a 5 minute walk below them that was beautiful with the cherry blossom petals floating in it. That pool was nice to cool down in, but very small and when a local family came to join us, it became overcrowded with the six of them.
We also visited a “hot” spring (more like a lukewarm spring) that was less than impressive and not worth the bike ride there, but at least is gave us something more to do. We were going to visit another waterfall nearby that one, but as we were biking to it, we had to park our bikes in the horrendously stinky junk yard/landfill as well as walk at least an hour one way in the beating sun with no protection. Not to mention we couldn’t see any waterfall for miles, even though the land was flat and clear and we could see the hill it would be coming from easily. We had heard that outside of rainy season, it might not be active, so we opted out and biked back.
Our final stop was Mini Bagan. This was alright, the tree growing out of the pagoda was pretty cool. All of the vines and plants growing on the pagodas gave it a nice touch. Was it anything special? If you’ve been or are going to Bagan, no. But again, it was another thing to do and I’m glad we did it.
Overall, we felt Hsipaw was just a giant, overpriced, tourist trap. We don’t regret going exactly, but we could have certainly better spent our time elsewhere with the limited time we were given on our visas. So, after a night, off we went to the next city- real Bagan.
We took an overnight bus from Hsipaw to Bagan and arrived very early, around 4am. There is this tourist tax you’re supposed to pay of 25,000 kyat, but we had heard it’s a pretty BS fee and doesn’t go to conserving anything like it’s supposed to, so we opted to find a way to skip it. After negotiating with some taxi drivers, we found a guy who would take us into town for 6000 kyat. We had to fight though; those taxi drivers were pretty ruthless and trying to charge us prices upwards of 15,000. They said they would take the “other road” so we didn’t have to pay the fee (it’s a common thing), and after we heard their prices and started walking away one of them threated to call the police on us if we walked and didn’t hire one of them.
Our guy was nice though, I think he heard everything from a distance and came to help us a bit. He not only charged us a fair fee (we were only going 3km), but he also hid us from having to pay the tourist fee. He brought us to our hostel, a place we had heard doesn’t check for the entrance tickets, and we thanked hi for being so nice to us.
We stayed at the Lux Pillow II hostel. It was a bit pricier than normal, I think 30,000, and the breakfast was dry bread with ant-filled jam. They did have these doughnut stick things and veg samosas as well, but deep-fried isn’t my favourite morning food.
Right after we were checked in, we rented some e-bikes for 1,000 each per hour, and went for an hour to see sunrise. We checked it out at one of the nameless temples we had found online. You need to check online every time you visit to see which temples are open for climbing, because they rotate them for maintenance purposes- or so they say. We were a little late unfortunately, the sun had already risen by the time we were there, so I did not get my perfect sunrise photos. Also, the hot air balloons were not out, I suppose not the season for them.
We went back to the hostel and snoozed for a bit after our horrible nights sleep on the bus. When we were ready, we walked around a bit and grabbed some lunch and checked out the market. We had some typical noodles and I bought some dragon fruit later, it was delightful. We then booked out bus for Inle lake at a tour agency and rented one e-bike for the two of us to go check out sunset.
Two hours before sunset, we went out and explored more temples. There are so many to be seen- it’s impossible to see them all in one go. We chose the best ones we found online and just drove around from one to the next. We also had a chance to check out the riverfront, which was a nice break on the eyes after so many temples.
We eventually found a sunset point where there were a few other tourists and some locals trying to sell post cards and whatnot. One lady came up to me and showed me some books she had; I ended up buying Burmese Days by George Orwell from her for 4000 kyat. A good deal, I’d certainly say, because it’s hard to find books for cheaper than $10 in Canada, let alone cheaper than $5. She was really sweet too and a good saleswoman, so how could I resist?
Back we went to our hostel and readied ourselves for the bus ride the next morning. A nice cool shower was exactly what we needed, and at 8am the next morning, our transport picked us up to take us to the bus.
Stay tuned for part 3!