Ok, so you’ve got your visa and you’re ready to go but you’ve only got ten days to explore the whole country. How do you do it?
Well that was my predicament. I spent a little too long in Chiang Mai and Pai in Thailand, and when I looked at the calendar I realised I could only be in Myanmar for ten days…
It’s definitely do-able, because I’ve done it. It should come as no surprise that you’ll have to leave some places out though, and you’ll pretty much have to have your journey figured out (not my ideal way to travel, as I like the ‘play it by ear’ method). But what’s stopping you from coming back and visiting again?
This was my trip:
Yangon: two nights
Overnight bus to Kalaw
Kalaw: one night
Overnight trek to Inle Lake
Inle Lake: two nights
Day bus to Bagan
Bagan: two nights
It’s true, you could just stay in each place one night, but I’m a firm believer in needing two nights in a place in order to properly get a feel of it. Plus I need time to get over nightbuses, otherwise I’m a crabby Ann.
So the journey into Yangon was stressful to say the least. There were two of us who had travelled from Chiang Mai the day before but got to Mae Sot when the border had closed, so we stayed there for one night (I recommend Sleep Nest Hostel if you’re going to do the same).
So we got to the border all bright-eyed and bushy tailed after a good nights rest. We got through Thai immigration, and walked over the friendship bridge into Myanmar’s Myawaddy border. We were immediately welcomed to the country by immigration officers and another guy with them, who told us a bus had just gone but another could take us. We thought ‘how lovely of him’, so he took us through. He took 500 baht in payment from each of us (seemed cheap for a ten hour ride) and we were put on a minibus. Not ideal, but there was only two of us, and it didn’t look like they were filling it to capacity anyway.
WRONG. We drive five minutes round the corner and in jump 13 more passengers…for a 9 seater van! So we shared our little back seat row with two Burmese gents and an entire van of non-English speakers, for not ten hours but thirteen! So whatever you do, buy your ticket beforehand or look for a coach! We also overpaid so the moral of this story is don’t go for the guy who looks like he works with immigration…
So Yangon. We arrived at 11pm, so I was desperate for sleep. The following day we walked around the city, bought a Telenor SIM card (highly advise as the wifi isn’t great) and then visited the Shwedagon Pagoda. Although I’m pretty much ‘templed out’ now, I was still amazed by this pagoda. The sheer size of it was impressive, and the detailing of the entire area was beautiful. It’s 8,000 kyat to enter and 3,000 to rent a sarong (so remember your own!) … I highly recommend checking it out. We went around sunset, so it was cool, less busy, and we could see it lit up.
Afterwards we headed to 19th street because we’d heard great things about the food there. The only thing I can compare it to is a less crazy and smaller version of Bangkok’s Khao San road/Rambuttri. There’s lots of restaurants and bars to choose from, and you can get a mojito for 900 kyat (just because they’re in Lonely Planet doesn’t mean they’re good though!)
The following day I actually just had one of those days you get when travelling where you literally don’t want to do a thing (ill-advised when you only have ten days in a country!) so I literally chilled until it was time to go to my nightbus.
I was recommended, and have heard good things, about the circle train though. If I could turn back time I would have got off my ass and done it. A couple from my trek have blogged about their experience, and it’s well worth a read. It made me want to go back and do it!
My hostel booked my nightbus to Kalaw, and I’m pretty sure all other hostels will do that too. But if not you can always book a ticket online, or take a trip to the bus station (not that I think that’s necessary). Be aware that traffic in Myanmar is crazy, so be sure to leave 2 hours before your bus is due to leave.
Unfortunately I can’t recommend too much in Kalaw, because as I mentioned in my previous post, everything was shut due to the full moon festival. But I do know that a lot of people stop over before their trek, even if it’s just to get a good nights rest. A couple of hardcore backpackers I met (who had even less time to do Myanmar) went straight from their nightbus to their trek, but I say no thank you to that.
This was my favourite place in Myanmar. I don’t know if it’s because I did the most here, or because I had blue cheese and red wine here, or just because I loved it in general. I’m going to go for the latter.
We arrived at about 3pm from our trek, where we (we being me and Johanna, who I’d met on the trek and happened to be staying at the same hostel) had arranged to meet up with four guys (also from the trek) at the Red Mountain Winery. So after checking in to our hostel (Song of Travel) and a quick shower, we hopped on a couple of bicycles and rode to meet them.
We realised about half way there that this was a terrible idea after just finishing a trek, and also probably not advisable after a few wines on the unlit roads of Myanmar. But live (hopefully) and learn, right?
I loved the winery; the sunset views were great, I had some tasty red wine, and I was incredibly excited to have blue cheese! However, be warned, it closes at 6pm and as soon as the sun goes down, the mosquitos come out in full force!
Me and Johanna booked a full-day boat tour with our hostel for the following day for 15,000 kyat each. It’s a little more than some boat tours, but prices were hiked up for full moon on those ones anyway. Plus we got a lot of bang for our buck. It included:
- Sunrise and breakfast (using that word loosely as you only get a moon cake)
- Full moon celebration plus dragon boat racing
- Five day market
- Visit to a blacksmith
- Cigar rolling workshop
- Visit to a lotus weaving shop
- Floating gardens
- Pagoda entry
- Floating villages
- Lunch with Intha family
Hopefully I haven’t forgotten anything! All in all it was well worth it and I had a great day out. They’re so easy to sort out too, just walk down to the jetty and hire one for yourself, or get a group together and make it cheaper!
We hired a day bus for our trip to Bagan, again through our hostel. This was another 13 seater, but this time there was only 13 people in it! And it was only 12,000 kyat. It was with a company called Rainbow: it was ok but nothing to write home about. But compared to my first journey, that was absolutely fine by me!
The final stop of my trip! My hostel was perfectly situated in New Bagan, but even if it wasn’t it doesn’t matter because you hire e-bikes to get around anyway! These are perfect for novice’s like myself, because they’re quiet and not very fast. There was a group of us that hired them for 3,000 kyat each for 24 hours so that we could explore the thousands of Pagoda fields!
For sunset we all chipped in for a boat trip along the river (25,000 kyat between 6 of us) and we got the best view!
For my last day in Bagan I spontaneously agreed to a cooking class at a nearby village, with a girl I’d spent the day before with (Allison). We met four ladies at a food market down the road from where we were staying: there was two ladies from the travel company Wonder Bagan, a lady from the West Pwa Saw Village (the one we were going to visit), and our guide for the day. First order of business was buying all the produce:
The guide told us all about the different fruits and vegetables, and told us that the people in Myanmar always eat food that benefits their health in some way. Unlike us westerners with our microwaveable junk food!
Then they drove us to the village where we were welcomed with open arms (and flowers and water!) and set to work in our cooking class. I was in charge of a fish curry, and Allison had the chicken curry.
After this we took a walk around the village and wandered into various lacquerware stalls, and bought some lacquerware! But not before seeing how much work goes into one piece! Wow.
We came back to the village for lunch, where we got to see the fruits of our labour. I have to say they were some damn good curries! But we can’t take credit for anything else: the people of Myanmar know how to put on a good spread! They’re the best hosts.
I can’t go without mentioning my beloved coconut spoon. When I arrived I saw the women using these big ladel-type spoons fashioned out of bamboo and half a coconut shel. I said how much I loved them, and after the meal the head lady gave me one as a gift! I was, and still am, absolutely made up!
If you have time I 100% recommend you do this. These women decided to come together in their spare time and form a ‘cooking team’ to teach tourists how to cook Myanmar style! Everyone was so lovely, and it was all free of charge! It was a perfect amount of time too as my nightbus to Yangon was at 6pm and this finished at 1:30pm.
So that was my ten day stint in the beautiful country of Myanmar. I wish I could have done more as I’m sure I missed out on a lot of incredible places, but this is definitely not the last time I visit!
I also hope this has given others who are thinking of visiting Myanmar the push they needed to get that visa application in!