Wednesday, July 30th 2014

Travel Report – Myanmar / Burma, November 2012

Please note that it is our experience and impressions, you or other people may have a better or worse experience. It really depends on people’s preference, level of hygiene they can handle, hotels they stay, services they use and places they visit.

 

ROUTE
Yangon – Kinpun – Hpa-an – Yangon – Bagan – Mandalay – Kalaw – Inle lake – Yangon


View Travel Photo Report – Myanmar/Burma, Nov 2012 in a larger map

 

Yangon was pretty dirty in the center  especially in the Indian quarter. Hectic, too many people, cars and dogs. Just a bit outside the center it seems cleaner and nicer. We like especially the area around the Kandawgyi lake. There is a walking bridge around the lake close to the shore. We have not really had any good food here, was just ok. Getting around – mostly taxi. Standard prices around the center – 1500 – 2000Ks.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon

Kinpun (close to Kyaikto) is a small village close to the Golden Rock, which is a holy pilgrimage site for locals and a tourist destination. The village is small, dirty and poor, has nothing much to do besides hiking to the Golden Rock, or getting there by a truck and then hiking for few hundred meters. By sunset the place is packed with tourists & locals. This religious site is overrated as a tourist destination in my opinion. The views around are nice, but I am sure you can have the same views from nearby peaks without spending time in crowds & paying 6USD for entrance. I would skip it.

The Golden Rock of Kyaikto

The Golden Rock of Kyaikto

Hpa-An is a filthy little town with not much to do or see in it. There are a number of sites to visit around, and this is what most come for. We visited the monastery on Zwegabin mountain & I visited Saddar Cave. We hiked to the monastery from 5.30 am to 8.00 am in strong heat, but it was worth it. Views at sunrise and sunset are really special. We spent a night at the monastery, also a very unique experience. One of the highlights of the trip. The country side is much better than the dirty town, but I haven’t been extremely impressed as it is similar to Thailand or Vietnam. Due to electricity blackouts most of shops and food shops were closed in the evenings, but the guest house had its own power generator. Food was nothing special or worth mentioning.

Sunset from Mt Zwegabin

Sunset from Mt Zwegabin

Saddan Cave

Saddan Cave

Bagan is really a nice place. Much cleaner and more polished probably due to higher amount of tourists. The temples are very interesting and really cool to explore the area by bike both during the day & at night. We did not have good weather (rain, cloudy) so no amazing sunsets or sunrises. Food was very good, much much better than anything else we ate in Myanmar.

Temples of Bagan

Temples of Bagan

Boat trip Bagan – Mandalay was long(over 12 hours), expensive(40USD/person, booked via an agency) and boring, no amazing landscapes or views. The sunrise was beautiful though, and the old city of Saraing (close to Mandalay) is a nice view. (Note: If I were going again, I would take a bus).

Sunrise on the river just outside Bagan

Sunrise on the river just outside Bagan

In Mandalay we spent only couple of hours in transit from the boat to the bus station. We took a motor-taxi. Probably the scooter drivers took us on the shortest way possible to our destination, hence we have seen some of the back alleys of Mandalay, and those were not on the pretty side, but more – smelly, stinky, dusty, noisy and ugly. I am sure that the old center looks beautiful, but it is possible that everything else in Mandalay is as horrible as we have experienced. The bus station is extremely filthy, dodgy, smoggy and hectic. Being hungry after our “amazing” 12 hours boat ride, I ate in the only place which looked less dodgy. Food was not really good. Luckily I did not get food poisoning.

Kalaw seems nicer than anything else we have seen, except Bagan. The village is clean with proper big-ish mountain houses. Mountain hilltops look really nice. We did not do the trek to Inle lake due to rains. I talked to a guide working for Ever Smile, he told me groups have up to 15 people, and when they trekked they saw a group in front of them, and one - behind them. It is getting quite crowded already.

Nyaung Shwe (Inle lake) is quite nice scenery around. We did not do a boat trip and decided to skip on the balloon festival. Instead we cycled around the lake and it was nice. Visited one of the vineyards in the area. It is a nice place to visit especially in the afternoon when the sun is setting. The wine was ok, overpriced (10 EUR/bottle) for what it is and where it is produced (in my opinion).

Around Inle Lake

Around Inle Lake

 

WHAT WE LIKED

  • Bagan is definitely a special place
  • Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is very well worth visiting
  • A night in the monastery on Mt Zwegabin, though the hike up was quite exhausting from 5.30am to 8am, and the monastery was not exactly the cleanest place. monks were nice to us, some were just indifferent.
  • Kalaw is a nice little village and the area around is great for hiking. Pity we did not go trekking due to rain, but If I do it, I (but not Mara) would do it without a guide.

 

WHAT WE WOULD NOT DO AGAIN

  • Spend more than 1 day in Yangon
  • Kinpun and overrated Golden Rock of Kyaikto is not worth the trouble
  • Hpa-An is dirty and quite unpleasant, though countryside around is better and there are some good sights
  • I would not take a boat Bagan-Mandalay, definitely waste of time and money
  • Inle lake makes sense only if you stay in a hotel above the lake water, Nyaung Shwe is a waste of time

 

TRAVEL AGENCY

  • We used help of EXOTIC MYANMAR travel agency to book hotels, boat and airplane tickets. Although the service was nice and efficient, we did not manage to get accommodation only in Mandalay, the agency overcharged us. Hotel prices were increased by 8USD/night on top of the agency price.
  • For example, the hotel in Bagan: we paid 43USD/night for a double, the agency price at the hotel was 35USD/night. The same was with all other hotels on the way. I am not sure how the commission from hotels to agencies works, but when we informed the manager about this difference, she either did not understand or pretended not to, and answered that the agency has not charged any commission. So it is still unclear what was that difference of 8USD in each hotel.
  • The flight seems to have cost us approximately the same as in other agencies we checked before.
  • The boat was advertised as fast one, but took over 12 hours to get from Bagan to Mandalay, and cost 40USD/person. I think we got overcharged, but not sure about that.

 

TRANSPORT

  • Yangon – Kinpun: bus with kind of air-con. 4 hours, 7000Ks/person. People at the Yangon bus station were quite nasty to us
  • Kinpun – Hpa-an: pick-up, 5 hours, 5000Ks/person
  • Hpa-An-Mt Zwegabin: moto taxi – 2000Ks/person, at 5am. pick-up to/from nearby villages – 500Ks
  • Hpa-an-Yangon: air-con bus, 8 hours, 5000Ks/person (surprise compared to the prices above)
  • Yangon-Bagan: Air mandalay flight, 114USD/person, very good service, good coffee & snack
  • Bagan: rented bikes for 1 500Ks/day; horse cart from hotel to jetty – 3000Ks at 5am.
  • Bagan-Mandalay: Boat, over 11 hours, 40USD/person (pre-booked via agency). think we were quite overcharged by the agency. the trip was too long and too boring. If were going again, i would definitely take a bus. Boat trip is a waste of time and money
  • Madnalay-Kalaw: air-con bus, 6 hours, 10 000Ks/person (now I know that we should have taken a bus Bagan-Kalaw, takes 7 hours)
  • Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake) – Yangon: air-con bus, 12 hours, 12 000-14 000Ks/person
  • Kalaw-Shwenyaung: local bus, 1,5 hours 2500Ks/person
  • Shwenyaung-Nyaung Shwe: shared minibus, 20mins, 1000Ks/person
  • Shared taxi to the Ballon festival: Nyaung Shwe-Tanggyi, 15 000Ks/ person

NOTE: Some bus companies have free transport from Yangon bus station to Sule area (city center). When buying a ticket ask to write a message to a driver to show you where to take this free transport on you ticket.
Night buses are ok, some of them not very comfortable. Roads are bad so speed is not high, and a ride is usually shaky ;-)

Traveling on a roof of a pick up in Hpa An

Traveling on a roof of a pick up in Hpa An

 

Boat Bagan - Mandalay

Boat Bagan – Mandalay

 

ACCOMODATION

Between November and February recommend to book several days in advance as many places are fully booked.

  • Yangon, Kaung Lay Inn, 30USD/night, air-con, bathroom, wi-fi (works more or less), TV, breakfast (quite ok)
  • Kinpun, Sea Sar Guest house, 25USD/night, fan, big room, bathroom, porch with a table/chairs, no internet, breakfast (ok)
  • Hpa-An, Soe Brothers guest house, 12-14USD/night, very basic room, fan, shared bathroom, complementary coffee/tea, very helpful staff
  • Monastery at Mr Zwegabin, close to Hpa-An, 10 000Ks – donation
  • Bagan, Golden Express hotel or Bagan Umbra hotel, 43USD/night (pre-booked via agency, actual price is 35USD), air-con, bathroom, good breakfast (in garden when good weather), swimming pool (not super clean, but good enough for some swimming)
  • Kalaw, Nature Land hotel, 33USD/night (pre booked via agency 1 night, booked 2 more night on the spot for 25USD/night), TV, bathroom, breakfast
  • Nyaung Shwe, Nanda Wunn, 33USD/night (pre booked via agency), bathroom(big), TV, fan. We wanted to change room as it was not really nice, they were full. Told us they sell such rooms now for 45USD (which is way too much).

 

PRICES

In Novermber 2012 the prices are quite high and many items/serices are overpriced (what you get versus what you pay) due to amount of tourists.
Accommodation is definitely overpriced. In Hpa An we saw a room in Golden Sky guest house very similar to Soe Brother’s just with a bathroom in for 35USD versus 12USD.

Flights are quite expensive, we paid a bit less for Yangon-Bagan(114USD/person) than for BKK-Yangon-BKK.

Buses and pick-ups seems inexpensive, but I believe we have been overcharged all the time, except the bus we took from Hpa-An to Yangon, as for the same conditions and time, or shorter ride we pay twice.

Boat booked via agency was overpriced in my opinion (40USD).

Food in simple street places is 1000-1500Ks/meal, but the meals look very unattractive, and we have not eaten much of them. Cleaner and nicer looking places are more expensive. A meal is 1 500 – 4 000Ks. Examples, fried rice with chicken – 1500-2000Ks, fried chicken with cashew nuts – 2500-3500Ks, rice – 300-500Ks, salad – 1000-1500Ks, grilled meat – 5000-6000Ks, fried eggs- 1000-2000Ks.

Beer: Chang beer 0,5L – 800-1000Ks in a shop, Myanmar beer 0,62L – 1600Ks/shop; 2000Ks/restaurant, Tiger 0,6L – 1600-1800Ks/shop, 2000Ks/restaurant.

Water: 200-500Ks for 1L

Burmese wine: 10 000-15 000Ks/0,75L bottle, the prices are slightly lower at the Red Mountain winery close to Nyaung Shwe

Soft drinks: Coca-Cola or Mirinda/Fanta – 500-800Ks, local drinks are cheaper.

Taxi in Yangon: Standard prices around the center – 1500 – 2000Ks. Airport – hotel – 7000 on first day. Hotel-Bus station – 5000 (many people pay 7000). Bus station-hotel – 3000. Hotel-airport-4000.

Transport: see above.

Bagan area fee: 10USD for 1 week/person
Inle lake: 5USD/person

Trekking Kalaw-Inle Lake: see below

 

FOOD

We have not eaten much good food. Street food in most cases looks un-inviting and like it stayed there for a week, so we have not really tried. I once ate in an eatery in Mandalay bus station – food was bad.
The only places where the food was good was Bagan and more or less good in Kalaw and Nyaung Shwe (more expensive than in Bagan). In Bagan we stayed in Golden Express between Old Bagan and Nyaung U, and close to the hotel there were several places where we ate fried chicken with cashew nuts, salads, fish/pork/beef curry.

 

TREKKING KALAW-INLE LAKE

You can do 2 days/1 night or 3 days/2 nights. Group can be up to 15 people. A lot of people were doing that. When a group is trekking one can spot other groups going parallel. Staying at locals’ houses and a monastery. SAM’s trekking company told me better stay in a house as there are too many people staying in the monastery.
Food is usually cooked by a guide or a cook who is trekking with a group. One guide told me he is carrying some food with him and cooks for a small group of 3-5 persons.
During the trek a group passes 6 different ethnic groups all of who speak different languages or dialects and have different traditions. Some of the guide speak ethnic languages, and some of the ethnic groups speak Burmese.

Prices:
- SAM’s trekking company: 10 000 Ks/person/day in a group of 5+ people; 3 000 Ks to send your backpack to a hotel in Inle Lake, and a boat trip on last day to reach Nyaung Shwe, 15 000 Ks for a boat shared with as many people trek.- other companies: 20 000 Ks/person/day if I trek alone, and 15 000 Ks/person/day if two people, plus backpack sending, plus the boat.

 

PEOPLE

Most of them are friendly and smiley especially in the countryside. People invited me inside when I was hiding from rain on their porch. Some boys on a gas station wanted to give me a bottle of water. Many times i was offered betel while traveling with locals on local transport. The best are the children, everywhere waving and smiling. We visited a school and kids were so excited shaking our hands, repeating English phrases after that.

But people working for bus or transport companies, hotels and some restaurants or trying to sell services or stuff to foreigners are very often smiley at the beginning, but lose smiles once they realize you don’t buy anything from them. Some bus drivers/staff were a bit nasty with “go-to-your-place-stupid-foreigner-and-wait” attitude. Hotel staff kept forgetting requests, nothing serious but a bit annoying.
Many people are high on betel and seem quite fucked up, though smiling. I did not really like this part. Of course, it is not as bad as alcohol, but half of the population is clearly spaced out, hence very smiley ;-))

Kids in Kalaw

Kids in Kalaw

 

Villager in Myanmar / Burma

Villager in Myanmar / Burma

 

COMMUNICATION

People speak and understand very very basic English with some exceptions, of course. Easy to buy or order stuff, negotiate prices, generally it is easy to communicate. Staff in most hotels spoke little but enough English.

 

VISITING TEMPLES, SHRINES, MONASTERIES & OTHER HOLY AREAS
Please note that you will be required to be barefoot not only inside temples but everywhere around temples, on monastery grounds and other holy places. It applies during any weather including during and after rain.
I visited Saddan Cave close to Hpa-an which is considered (I guess) holy as it has temples and a monastery around it, and they required people to walk barefoot in this cave (which is quite long and not easy to walk), where the floor was just wet slippery mud.

Shwezigon pagoda in Bagan

Shwezigon pagoda in Bagan

 

MONEY

It is better to exchange USD, and better big amount banknotes (100USD). The best rate we had was at Yangon airport and in banks in Yangon (1usd = 844 / 843Ks, Bagan hotel 1USD=820Ks/exchanged 100USD/), Kalaw hotels tried to exchange 10USD, offered rate was 1USD =780Ks. If you go to small places make sure you have cash with you.
Good to have small USD bills – 1, 5, 10 USD banknotes. We used to pay entrances to sights, accommodation, some food on markets.

Note: They do not accept banknotes that have been folded, damaged or having any marks or signs on them. They are very particular about this, so your $ should be almost new.

 

INTERNET

Generally it is slow and can be accessed just in few more touristic places. Some hotels had internet and in some places we used internet cafes. We managed to access Facebook, Gmail, Couchsurfing, our blog when we had internet, of course ;-)
Yangon, Kaung Lay Inn – wifi worked more or less fine.
Kinpun, no internet in our hotel, did not use internet cafe
Hpa-An, no internet in our hotel, asked in an internet cafe they answered: no internet
Bagan, internet wifi worked more or less early morning till 7-8am, then was very very slow
Kalaw, no internet in our hotel, used in an internet cafe, quite slow and drops from time to time
Nyaung Shwe, no internet in our hotel, extremely slow in internet cafes

 

HYGIENE & DISEASES

We used DEET spray and burning coils. Have been bitten by mosquitoes. We have not had any food poisoning or any other problem with health. Did not use any hand sanitizer.
In general the country is dirty and I would not eat in many street food places(we met several travelers who were dealing with food poisoning). Hotels were more or less clean, but could be cleaner for the money they charge at the moment.
As in many countries you can come across many filthy places especially in poor area, big cities are dirtier that villages.

 

SIM CARD

We did not buy a SIM CARD, but it can be very handy for ordering accommodation considering the current situation. As far as I have heard you will not be able to call abroad only around Burma, though you will be able to sent texts abroad.

 

SAFETY

The country feels pretty safe. We have not been to areas which are considered dangerous but I am not sure tourists can go there. Locals are not aggressive  I have not heard about people being robbed, stuff being stolen or any other criminal activities against tourists. I believe standard common sense precautions will be enough. Women travelling alone should be more careful as in many other countries.

Related Posts

8 Comments on “Travel Report – Myanmar / Burma, November 2012”

  1. Your pictures are absolutely AMAZING.
    - When is the best time to visit Myanmar?
    - I heard a lot about Burmese gemstones, did you ever see any store or market about it?

    1. Thank you, Soroush.
      The best time to go is between October and February, but it is also the most crowded time. and now the prices are quite high.
      we saw many shops and market of gems, but we did not really visit them

  2. hi, i am about to go in 2 weeks, this was really helpful, thank you! (im actually also from ukraine :)

    1. Thank you, Marina. Happy it is helpful. Esli est esche voprosy, napishi.

  3. [...] The boat took me through a cave(see the video below) to the other part of the lake where met a couple of fishermen. A father and a son. When we were floating out of the cave I caught on my camera the moment when the father was throwing his net into the water. We greeted each other, they were smiley as well. Betel or just being friendly? You never know in Burma. [...]

  4. Appreciate the honest take on Burma’s attractions – thanks! And for the information as well. Planning a visit this January.

    1. Thank you, Joanna. Enjoy your trip!

Leave a Reply