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 1.
We arrived in Yangon with not many expectations aside from it was going to be a hot, humid, and expensive country (in comparison to the rest of SE Asia, India, and Nepal). A lot of people have told me Myanmar was their favourite country because the people are really kind and not yet sick of tourists, and also it has such a great variety of landscapes. I did have fairly high hopes for the country and was excited to go out and explore.
We took a cab to our couchsurfing host’s house (Namit) in the morning from the airport. Luckily for us, Namit waited to let us in before heading in to work a little late, and left us with the keys to his wonderful, air-conditioned apartment. We relaxed a bit, got our things together, and figured out what to do in this city.
Walking around, we found a breakfast place to fill our empty stomachs. The place was called Craft and was full of white people on their MacBooks. We checked the menu: $3.50CAD for a tea, $2.80 for a croissant, $1.80 for two pieces of toast with jam. We knew it would be expensive, but not western prices. Might as well have went to a Starbucks in an airport. We were hungry though and had just done an ATM run so didn’t mind spending the money this time.
Back at the apartment, we decided to leave a bunch of stuff behind that we didn’t need over the next three weeks (souvenirs, trekking clothes, etc) because we’d be back in Yangon for our flight to Malaysia. Namit had given us an empty cupboard to fill with our things and had no problem with our plan, and our backs were loving him after that.
That night, we walked around a night market and through streets of street food. Not only did we find out how expensive Myanmar can be, but we also found out how cheap. We got some fruit shakes for 1000 kyat and sushi rolls for the same.
[Quick conversion- $1 CAD = 1000 kyat, pronounced CHAT, like “we should have a chat, son”]
We found a vintage camera (a Kodak Brownie) for 10,000 kyat, which took a type of film that is too expensive and hard to find, otherwise I would have bought it. There were all of the typical fake watches, shoes, and random trinkets you’d find at any night market in Asia. We were pretty tired after looking around so we began the walk home to see what our host was up to. After 20 minutes we arrived home, spent some time chatting with our host, and just ended up going to bed fairly early from exhaustion.
The next morning we decided to make a fruit salad for breakfast, so we went out and bought some dragon fruit, mango, papaya, orange, and bananas. While we’re in Asia we want to eat as much fresh fruit as possible since it’s served right from the tree/bush RIPE, instead of picked under-ripe, cooled, and shipped off to our cold countries. Man, does it ever make a difference in the taste. The fruit here is so sweet; it’s a dessert in its own. I’d much rather eat dragon fruit than chocolate cake.
We spent the day organizing our schedule as much as we could while we had wifi because we heard the wifi was really bad throughout the country. Indeed it wasn’t the greatest, but not as bad as some people made it out to be in the tourist hot-spots.
That night we all hung out together at one of the local bars with all of the Tuesday nightlife scene, which was actually bigger than I expected. We had some live acoustic guitar music (open mic night) mostly by people who couldn’t sing, but also with some really spectacular voices. It was really relaxed and a nice welcome to the hot and humid city.
The next day we took a public bus to the bus station. The public buses (the ones that come from downtown at least) are really nice and air conditioned, so it was a lot nicer than the expected sweaty, hour-long ride from downtown. We arrived and hopped on the cheapest bus we could find to Kyiaktiyo, the village of the famous Golden Rock pagoda. We found an AC bus for 7000 kyat each, so we booked that one.
The AC bus, although it had AC to start with, quickly turned into an open window bus when we started moving so for any travellers going this route, be aware of that. We had heard that all of the AC buses were super cold and so we packed our sweaters and long pants. It wasn’t needed at all for this ride. Actually we only took one bus that was considered “too cold” on the whole trip, which was a nice change from most of SE Asia where they blast their AC to the max needlessly.
Anyway, we arrived about four hours later, if I’m not mistaken, just as the sun was setting. We looked around for a guesthouse and checked out maybe five places, and settled with a place called Family Guest House, which was a nice, modern room with AC for 23,000 kyat. They claimed they didn’t have wifi, but Harry sneakily “hacked” in to their wifi by checking the password on the router. We weren’t sure why they didn’t want to share it with us, but they said they would have wifi next year. Strange.
The next day, we did what the tourists there do and we went to check out the Golden Rock which is this sacred rock that someone painted gold and it sits awkwardly without falling on the edge of a cliff. We took a strange vehicle up to the rock, like a giant jeep that sat maybe 50 people at once, and revved our way up the steep hills. We arrived and had to pay an entrance fee as foreigners and wear a badge that made us stick out like sore thumbs (as if we didn’t already). We were the only tourists there and the “fame” that we experienced in India had followed us here- many locals wanted pictures with us. But they weren’t as aggressive as the Indians were and asked politely, so we let them snap one or two photos.
We made it to the rock itself eventually, and took sight of its infinite glory. I wasn’t allowed to touch it, you know, being an inferior woman and all, realistically my chain shouldn’t go beyond the kitchen. Obviously I’m half joking here, but in the Burmese culture (not the Buddhist religion, Buddha doesn’t discriminate) they do not allow women to go up to certain religious artefacts. Such a strange concept in this day and age, but discrimination is still very real in this world. But you can’t make a big scene about it in countries like this, you just kind of shrug your shoulders and go do something else.
We walked around a bit longer on the top of the hill, then took the bizarre jeep back down. We grabbed our bags from our hotel and already began looking for a way to our next destination, Hpa-An. We found a share-taxi (a pickup truck with benches and a cover in the back for 4,000 kyat each, and spend the next four hours with the wind in our hair.
We arrived in Hpa-An again in the evening, but already had a feeling of where we would stay. We went to the Soe Brothers II guest house because we had heard they had great day tours and spoke good English. When we arrived they told us the Soe Brothers I guest house had cheaper rooms with fans and outside bathrooms, but for something like 6,000 more kyat we opted for the AC ensuite rooms (26,000 kyat total). The rooms were again, quite modern with wifi, and the AC was great until it shut off in the middle of the night, along with all of the power. Without the AC it was pretty deadly hot and both of us woke up sweating. It was very stormy that night, so we knew the cause, and just hoped for the best. Eventually after a few hours, it did turn back on, but it wasn’t an easy night.
The next morning we were informed the Soe Brothers weren’t doing a tour due to the weather. It had been pouring all morning and even though at that point it was clear, they still didn’t want to go. So we took our chances and rented a scooter, hoping for decent weather from then on.
The places we visited were some of our favourites of the trip. Our first stop was the Yathaypyan cave. This was a very well decorated cave, full of Buddha statues and special carvings. You could walk quite deep into it and even into some little crevasses to a candle lit prayer area. Probably the best cave we did on the trip.
We also tried to go to Kawgun cave, but were turned off by the entrance fee. Maybe it’s a great one too, but after the crazy one we had just seen, we didn’t need to pay to see another. So we instead went to something marked as “Waterfall/swimming pool” on our favourite app, Maps.Me, and since it was already really hot out it was nice to refresh there between sights.
After that, we attempted to drive to the Saddan cave, but the road there was so poor from the rain that we decided to turn around. Most of the roads in Myanmar seem to be new and well paved, but this one was muddy and slippery. So we continued on to the Kaw Ka Taung cave, and that was nice too. More Buddhas and there was another swimming pool there.
After a full day of scooting around, we finally drove back to the Soe Brothers. Our stuff was already packed up and ready to go so we caught the evening sleeper bus to Mandalay for 15,000kyat. It had good air con but was constantly playing loud Burmese movies, although that seems to be standard in any bus. As with any night bus, we had a horrible sleep and arrived in Mandalay the next morning around 5AM.
When we arrived, we “shopped” around quite a bit for a good hotel. Thankfully even at that time there was someone at the reception everywhere, so we didn’t have any troubles. We settled for Moonlight hotel, which we were actually really happy with. For only 18,000, we had a super modern room, great AC, clean bathroom, buffet breakfast, and bicycles included. For Myanmar, that’s a good deal.
With our free bike rentals we spent the day biking around town. We saw the usual in Asia- lots of pagodas. One of them was particularly interesting; it was considered the largest book in the world. Every stupa on the premises contained a different book that was all part of one giant book. So yeah, it was pretty big. We walked up to another pagoda to see it from above and it was pretty crazy.
That evening we took a motor taxi to see the U Bein bridge for sunset, which is considered the longest teak (wooden) foot bridge in the world. The bridge is nice, nothing too crazy, but it is definitely long to the point where you don’t want to cross it all if you don’t have to. We arrived a little later than we had hoped for photos of sunset, but it was still nice to see and we got a cheap dinner in the area (noodles as usual).
The next day we took a ferry for an hour to see Mingun, which is across a very large river. We got to see more pagodas (because we just can’t get enough of them) as well as the largest pile of bricks in the world. And yes, that’s exactly how the Mingun Pahtodawgyi advertises itself. It is an unfinished stupa and because it’s unfinished, it’s, in a way, just a pile of bricks I suppose.
There was also a bell you could ring and a pagoda called Hsinbyume Paya, which is made of all white. Aside from walking from site to site, we also got to chill a bit in the shade and eat/drink a coconut for lunch. Afterwards, we took the ferry back and prepared to move on. We collected our stuff and took a shared taxi to Pyin Oo Lwin. A weird name for English speakers, yes, but it ended up being another one of our favourite places in Myanmar, so stay tuned for my next post!