Adventures in Myanmar

Our 2 weeks adventures in Myanmar was challenging. No longer as nimble as we once were, we’re glad we’ve made it through the obstacles and experienced beautiful Myanmar. With her doors just opened, we felt that it was a good time to visit before the throngs of tourists descend on the exotic country.

Our itinerary from 16 Nov – 30 Nov 2013: Yangon (2 days) Inle Lake (4 days)Mandalay (1 day) Bagan (5 days)Yangon (1.5 days), plus 2 days in transit between destinations.

In a nutshell, two pseudo-backpackers (no, we wouldn’t even consider ourselves of that. Pseudo-wannabe-flashpackers, maybe) had survived local train rides, boat cruise down the Ayeyarwaddy River, internal flight, and food poisoning episodes. And it was all worth it.

Yangon

Yangon is a bustling city, but without the tall skyscrapers. Rows of old shop houses nestled within some modernised buildings. Some of the common sights included Myanmese clad in their traditional longyi-s, men chewing on betel nuts, men spitting red betel nut juice onto the roads, the Myanmese ever-ready smile (teeth stained red from their years of betel nuts chewing), and lots of pigeons.

Lots of pigeons in Yangon. The Sule Pagada in the background.
Lots of pigeons in Yangon. The Sule Pagada in the background.
Shop houses in Yangon
Shop houses in Yangon

We did a self-walking tour around Yangon during our 2 days. Armed with the map taken from the airport and our handy guidebook from Insight Guides, it was pretty easy finding our way.

The shining stupa at the heart of the city’s centre, the Sule Pagoda, was the most distinctive landmark. It also serves as a round-about, in the centre of the city’s Victorian grid-plan system.

Nearby the Sule Pagoda, sit other landmarks such as the City Hall and High Court building. The architecture of these grand buildings demonstrated strong British influence during Myanmar’s time under British control.

The Sule Pagoda
The Sule Pagoda

The most famous market to do some shopping would be the Bogyoke Aung San Market. Stuff and service that were found at the market: jade, jewellery, longyis, cloth, shoes, bags, tailors and seamstresses, art galleries.

A trip to Yangon will not be complete without a visit to the Shwedagon Pagoda. The giant golden stupa was magnificent, and we stayed a couple of hours to wait for night to descend on the stupa.

The Shwedagon Pagoda
The Shwedagon Pagoda

Read more about our full Yangon 2 + 1 -days itinerary here.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake was definitely one of YM’s favourite places (can’t say the same for CL, especially since he came down with fever and food poisoning here). The tranquillity of the lake and the areas around it makes it the best place to de-stress and unwind.

From Yangon, we took a domestic flight with Air Mandalay to Heho. We stayed at Nyaung Shwe, one of the oldest and most accessible settlement around Inle Lake. There were plenty of guesthouses in Nyaung Shew, and finding a decent restaurant or local coffee shop was no problem.

The highlights of our stay in Inle Lake included the scenic bicycle route that brought us to the Hot Spring, across the lake, and to the Red Mountain Estate Vineyard and Winery where we witnessed an awesome sunset. Our day trip around the various villages in the lake, and spotting the famous leg-rowing fishermen and floating gardens were also beautiful and memorable. Just sitting in the long boat, and drifting gently through the streams leading to the lake was already more than satisfying.

Leg-rowing fisherman at Inle Lake
Leg-rowing fisherman at Inle Lake
Drifting slowly down a stream towards the lake, and passing by floating gardens, kyunpaw.
Drifting slowly down a stream towards the lake, and passing by floating gardens, kyunpaw.
IMG_9329
Sunset at the Red Mountain Estate Vineyard & Winery

Read more about our full Inle Lake 4-days itinerary here

Mandalay

From Inle Lake, we took a train (Shwe Nyaung station) to Mandalay, stopping at Thazi for a night. The ‘Slow Train from/to Thazi’ was quite an experience. The journey was so long (about 11 hours for the first leg, and another 4 hours for the second leg) and tedious (because it was YM’s turn to suffer from food poisoning). “Will the train derail?” was a constant thought during the very violent rockings of the carriages (we have not yet figured out whether it was due to the tracks or the train itself). Granted, there were awesome views of the mountains and crop fields during the first part of the journey, and interesting sights of the locals at the various stopovers in the mountain villages.

During our planning for the trip, we had only allocated 1 day for Mandalay. From our readings, the city did not appeal to us. Looking back, we probably should have at least stayed 2 days to explore Mandalay. In fact, we both agreed that we enjoyed Mandalay more than Yangon. Mandalay was definitely cleaner and more modernised than Yangon, with many Chinese entrepreneurs setting up businesses there.

In our short stay at Mandalay, we visited the Mandalay Hill and U Bein’s Bridge, both of which we highly recommend for the aerial view of Mandalay and its plains, and a magnificent sunset over the Taungthaman Lake respectively.

Spellbinding view of Mandalay from the top of Mandalay Hill
Spellbinding view of Mandalay from the top of Mandalay Hill
Sunset at U Bein's Bridge, across the Taungthaman Lake
Sunset at U Bein’s Bridge, across the Taungthaman Lake

Read more about our full Mandalay itinerary here.

Bagan

We took a 9 hour boat ride from Mandalay to Bagan. Since YM was still suffering from food poisoning, we deviated from our initial plan of taking the 14 hour public boat ride,  and chose to spend more on a tourist boat that was more comfortable.

The plains of Bagan or the Bagan Archaeological Zone is by far the most tourist populated place in Myanmar that we’ve visited. It is not difficult to understand why these 3000 over temple ruins set in the shadows of the mountains attract much attention.

In our first 2 days, we hired a car and driver to bring us around the various villages in the Bagan plain and also to do a side trip to Mount Popa. We then did a walking tour around Old Bagan, selecting interesting temple ruins to explore on our own. We spent our last day in Bagan doing a walking tour to Nyaung U, a busy little riverside town.

Discovering climbable ruins, scampering up the brick and stucco towers, and witnessing the most amazing sunrise and sunset were arguably the most memorable experience of the whole trip.

Sunset over Bagan
Sunset over Bagan
Climbable temple ruins of Bagan
Climbable temple ruins of Bagan
Sunrise over Bagan
Sunrise over Bagan

Read more about our full Bagan 5-days itinerary here.

We have also compiled some general tips for travelling in Myanmar. Read them here.

CL and YM.

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