Date visited Myanmar (Burma): 05 July 2017
Duration: 1 Week
When we booked in our trip to Myanmar, being honest with you I knew very little about the place formally known as Burma. I had seen photos of hot air balloons rising over a vast landscape of old temples. I knew its rough geography. I knew very little else. Which is why it interested me so much to visit, like an explorer heading off to find the unknown.
So here is some Myanmar (Burma) factoids to get us all up to speed!
- Burma colonised by the British 1880s, and became another province of British India.
- A military uprising resulted in the name change from Burma to Myanmar way back in 1989!
- Buddhism is the main religion in the country.
- Government has been encouraging tourism since 1992.
- Internet is not censored, although is slow.
Myanmar has been accessible for quite some time now, yet there remains that feeling of discovering an untouched ancient world. Positively the people have not yet lost their manors for the tourist dollar, there is far less hassle than many other Asian countries. We had many locals helping us along our journey simply from the good in their hearts.
Myanmar ended up being a lovely country with ancient history and religion painted all over. I would love to explore more of this country and would urge adventurous travellers reading this, to get off the beaten track. Explore deeper, head to the southwest coastline. Myanmar has treasures waiting to be found, still hidden in undeveloped villages just waiting to be discovered.
Mandalay Airport to Bagan
MMK 14,000 ($10.33 USD) each
As soon as we arrived in Mandalay airport, we didn’t muck around. We headed straight to the tourist information centre and bought tickets from the airport to the bus station, then changed to a larger bus to Bagan. The cost of both the tickets to get to Bagan was MMK 14,000 each. The journey took around 6 and half hours door to door, which we didn’t think was to bad. We heard a lot of negative comments on how terrible the roads in Myanmar were but they weren’t that bad!
Bagan to Inle Lake
MMK 18,500 ($13.65 USD) each
Our first night bus in Myanmar! To make sure we were purchasing the correct tickets at the right price, we went to the bus station 5km out of town. We browsed the different bus companies, until we found the cheapest/reliable bus – Bagan Prince Express. The bus left at 8.30pm and arrived in Inle Lake around 5am. This was a VIP bus with extra legroom, blanket, pillow and water also provided. The tickets cost us MMK 18,500 each. We have never been great fans of night-buses, as we can never really sleep on them. The seats went back 65 degrees and we both couldn’t stretch out our legs. We think paying for the extra VIP section isn’t really worth it. If you don’t sleep regardless, why pay the extra
Tip – There is a checkpoint before entering Inle Lake and each tourist needs to pay MMK 12,000 each to enter.
Inle Lake to Yangon
MMK 15,000 ($11 USD) each
We bought tickets at the bus station with Blue Mountain Bus Company. We originally purchased normal seat tickets but when we hopped onto the bus, realised we had been upgraded to VIP. VIP for Blue Mountain was a lot better than our VIP from Bagan. We had more room, no armrest between us (so we could cuddle) and they served a snacks and drinks. We were really pleased with the upgrade, as this bus was 13 hours long – it was very important to be comfortable. The journey was very long, bumpy and windy; we left Inle Lake at 6pm and didn’t arrive at Yangon bus station until 7am in the morning, lucky both Brett and I got some sleep, surprisingly!
Once we arrived at the bus station, we had to sort out how to get to the city centre, as we were still 17KM out.
We exited the bus station and found a line of small mini vans lined up waiting outside. For MMK 1,000 per person you can get dropped off at the Sule Pagoda, which is located in the city centre. This mode of transport takes an hour in rush hour traffic; otherwise you can get a taxi for MMK 50,000!!!
Standard Double room (shared bathroom) – MMK 20,300 ($15 USD) p/n
Superior Double room – MMK 23,000 ($17 USD) p/n
The hotels in Myanmar have been surprisingly great! For what you pay for, we got above and beyond every time.
We found Shwe Nadi guesthouse on Agoda and read very good reviews, so we booked in for 3 nights here. Everything was perfect; our room had aircon, a private bathroom with a hot shower, large COMFORTABLE double bed and a fridge. The hotel also offered a great variety of food for breakfast and because most tourists are up for sunrise, breakfast is available from 6am-10am. The staff was always so helpful and friendly, we rented e-bikes from them for sunrise and sunset for around MMK 6,000 per day. The location is wonderful as it is only a 5-minute walk to the main strip of town. We totally recommend staying here if visiting Bagan.
Standard Double room – MMK 17,600 ($13 USD) p/n
We caught the night bus from Bagan to Inle Lake, our bus arrived promptly at 5am in the morning. We walked 5 minutes from the bus station to Sin Yaw Guesthouse. Of course no one was up at this ridiculous time, but after ringing the bell, the owner came out and let us in. She was very kind enough to allow us to check in early, absolutely stoked, as both Brett and I didn’t get any sleep on the bus.
Once we rested for a few hours we booked a boat tour with them for 12 noon so we could catch the sunset on the lake later that day. It was a lot of fun! The hotel is walking distance to the boat jetty and 5 minutes from the town centre so it was easy to walk around everywhere. Breakfast was also included. We only spent one night here but really enjoyed it, our beds were once again comfy, and room was clean and tidy so we were very happy guests!
Deluxe Room Without Balcony – MMK 69,000 ($51 USD) p/n
Deluxe Room With Balcony – MMK 81,200 ($60 USD) p/n
King Bay Suite – MMK 245,000 ($181 USD) p/n
June Bay Suite – MMK 290,000 ($214 USD) p/n
Ever dreamed of living like the rich and famous, even if just for a short time. Glamour, luxury and super yachts? Is Titanic still your favourite movie, and part of you wants the thrill of running away and falling in love on a luxury yacht, just like Jack and Rose?
Vintage Luxury Yacht Hotel is a Super-yacht permanently moored dockside. Inside are over 100 rooms, multiple decks, restaurants & bars, entertainment rooms and a theatre, meaning once inside this glamorous yacht you will never want to leave. It’s permanent dockside mooring means you don’t have to worry about the captain hitting any pesky icebergs! And the flat bottom prevents any seasickness inducing rocking.
The décor inside is nothing short of exemplary. Vintage ornaments and cabinetry create a real atmosphere in the rooms. One that makes you feel like a captain of this very important ship. The fireplace, feather pen’s and barrel mini bar give an authenticity to that feeling.
The best thing about Vintage Luxury Yacht Hotel is that it won’t cost you your life saving’s and a lucky roll of the dice, like it did Jack. Extremely affordable rates make this luxury destination hard to shy away from!
- Tea Leaf Salad – a popular dish in Myanmar. Tea leaves mixed by hand with shredded cabbage, sliced tomatoes, nuts and peas. This dish is great as an appetizer, snack or coupled with a plate of rice.
- Shan Style Rice – Among the most typical food in Myanmar. It is rice that has been cooked in turmeric and topped with flakes of freshwater fish and garlic oil. I can be served with leek roots, raw garlic and deep-fried pork grinds.
- Shan Style Tofu Noodles – This doesn’t actually include tofu instead something similar made from chickpea flour. It is served with rice noodles, marinated chicken and pork, topped with chili oil and pickled veges. Absolutely delicious!
- Nangyi Thoke – This is a dry noodles dish, thick, round rice noodles served with chicken, thin slices of fish cake, bean sprouts and slices of hard boiled egg.
- Mohinga Soup – Another popular dish is the Mohinga (fish) soup. Round rice noodles served in a hearty, herbal broth. It is commonly eaten at breakfast or as a snack.
- Buthi Kyaw (gourd fritter) – Rice flour flavoured with chilli, garlic, and ginger and combined with water to make a batter. Each finger-size gourd is coated in batter and deep-fried. This can also be made with onion or potato.
- Mandalay Mee Shay (rice noodles with pork) – Rice noodles with meat sauce. A very popular dish in Mandalay and must try when you are there.
- Curry meal – you can order this at any local restaurant; the curry can be cooked with pork, fish, shrimp or beef. For usually MMK 5000 – 6000, you will receive rice, salad, small dish of fried vegetables, bowl of soup and a large tray of fresh vegetables.
- Snacks – Burmese people love their deep-fried food, you can find a lot of street food snack shops all along the road. Most popular quick snacks will be samosas, spring rolls, savoury fritters, breads and noodles topped with crispy garnishes.
- Sweets – the sweets here are not packed with sugar, they usually get their sweet fix from ingredients such as grated coconut, coconut milk, rice flour, cooked sticky rice, tapioca and fruit.
- Beer – We only had time to taste two beers in Myanmar and they were both pretty damn tasty. As the food can be quite oily it’s great to wash down with a cold glass of Mandalay or Dragon beer.
- Mgo Pyae San Restaurant – recommended to us by our hotel. This is a cheap local restaurant but known to many tourists around the world serving authentic Myanmar food. If you are looking for a cheap and tasty eat, this is your place.
- No-name restaurant – A few doors down from our hotel on the left is the restaurant that we couldn’t read the name of, as the local writing was too difficult to read. This was another good local find and we came back a few times as it was so cheap and delicious.
- Weatherspoons – We laughed at the name of this restaurant and anyone from the UK would also. We heard this place did big, tasty burgers and I was so excited to try this myself. As I am a very tough judge on burgers, I have to say these were above average. If you are looking for some western food I would recommend going to Weatherspoons, although it can be a bit pricey.
- Red Star – a few minutes walk from our hotel is Red Star restaurant, they serve anything avocado here – avocado pancakes, salad and juice. Bianca’s favourite so she really enjoyed this place.
- Sin Yaw restaurant – While exploring Mingalar market, there are many cheap/local restaurants surrounding the outside of the market. This is how we found Sin Yaw, it was a great spot to rest our feet and dig into some traditional Myanmar food. I recommend getting a dragon fruit, mango and banana smoothie from here, so delicious and only $2!
- Monsoon restaurant – serves not only Myanmar food but also a variety of Asian cuisines. You can also find Thai, Cambodian, Laos and Vietnamese food. The service here was great and the food is very tasty!
- Rangoon Tea House – Tea is very popular here, not only do they drink it but also eat it (Tea Leaf salad). Teahouses are common to find at every corner; plastic chairs and tables that fill the sidewalk, it’s a great place to sip on a cup of tea or enjoy a meal.
- Feel Good Myanmar Food – Buffet style restaurant that is popular between both locals and tourists. Perfect location to fill up the hungry belly!
Must see & do
Bagan was a big highlight for me while visiting Myanmar. It is such a unique place in the world, with over 2,200 pagodas (temples) that you are allowed to climb and watch stunning sunsets and sunrises. We have heard many rumours that within the next few years they will stop tourists from climbing the temples, so you better visit quick!
The main reason tourists go to Bagan is to see these temples and watch sunrise with the hot air balloons rising in the background. Unfortunately for us this only happens in the high season (December to March), so plan your trip accordingly – although in the low season there are fewer tourists that you have to fight with over the best spots for sunset.
Before entering Bagan you will have to pay for a tourist fee to enter the archaeological site of MMK 25,000. Keep this ticket on you when exploring the site as guards can check your tickets at any time.
We totally recommend hiring an E-bike for a few days, grabbing a free map and exploring as many Pagodas as you can find, scooping out the best ones during the day, then return for sunset and sunrise. But we think the best are the ones that are unnamed which you can have all to yourself. We haven’t written about unnamed pagodas… you will need to explore yourself J.
Here is a list of some of our favourite named Pagodas:
- Lowka Oushang
- Law Ka Shaung
- Shwe San Daw
- South Guni
- Thisa Wida
- Kheminga (Old Bagan)
- Bring long lens camera, for zooming closer into distant temples.
- For sunrise and sunset get a graduated neutral density filter.
- Shoot HDR to get more image data from the sky and shadows.
- Don’t forget your tripod.
When arriving into Inle Lake you will have to pay another tourist ticket of MMK 12,000.
- Boat trip – One of the main things to do while visiting Inle Lake is to go on a boat tour to visit the lake. We booked this through our hotel (Sin Yaw Guesthouse) and can totally recommend it. It cost MMK 18,000 for the boat and the max it can take is 4 passengers. We organised with our captain to leave at 12 noon so we could catch the sunset at the end of the trip. It was a great day exploring the villages on Inle and their different businesses. You will also see how they fish with amazing balance! This is excursion is a fun day out on the water.
- Mingalar Market – Perfect place to buy local and cheap produce. Stock up here for the freshest fruit, you will also find souvenirs at good prices.
- Red Mountain Estate Winery – Up in the mountains, this is the perfect place to watch the sunset, overlooking the lake. If you don’t want to spend too much money here, you can opt for a wine tasting for MMK 2,000 and a cheese platter for MMK 4,000.
- Shewedagon Pagoda – One of the most stunning Pagodas in Myanmar and worth going to see. It can be very crowded here, so we recommend entering at the East gate and leaving your shoes outside.
- Sule Pagoda – located in the heart of downtown, with an importance in Burmese politics, ideology and geography.
- Set free birds outside Sule Pagoda – you can buy a few doves trapped in cages, that are waiting to be liberated. A Buddhist practise earning merit by setting free captive birds.
- Bogyoke Market – A very diverse market, where you can find all kinds of spices, produce, fish and bold fabrics.
- Strand Hotel – Beautiful piece of colonial architecture that holds a lot of history inside it. Grab a seat and order a glass of pimms or beer and soak it in.
Tips & Advice
- The currency is the Burmese Kyat
- Organise your Myanmar tourist visa before arrival. You can do this online at evisa.moip.gov.mm
- While visiting you can call the country both Myanmar and Burma. The military renamed the country Myanmar in 1989, but some countries and the co-ruling party still call it Burma. Although you will find many locals call it Myanmar.
- Beware of the no-go zones. There are conflicts between different armed ethnic groups in northern Shan, Kachin and Rakhine states, so some parts are out of bounds for tourists.
- Plugs used in Myanmar are the three round pins (Type D) in a triangle pattern or 2 pin connections (Type C). They operate on a 230V supply voltage and 50 Hz.
- We heard that the sim cards are very cheap and more reliable than the hotel WIFI. We were only here for a week so we didn’t think we needed one. WIFI is quite slow here.
- High season is from December until February, this is when it rains less and it is not too hot.
- Low season is from May to October, this is Myanmar’s monsoon season, which can get quite wet especially in the south.
- Now in 2017 there are over 1,000 ATM machines in Myanmar. At all the tourists areas you will be able to get money, bear in mind it costs 5000 MMK every time and has a maximum withdrawal limit of 300,000.
- Do not drink the tap water; try refill your water bottles hostels/hotels instead.
- We did not feel at risk here, but as always just be travel smart wherever you go!
- We did not have any trouble with language barriers, we felt that most people could speak if not understand English with lots of pointing.
- Public transport is readily available; we used the buses instead of the trains as we thought they were more convenient. The roads are not the best here so be prepared for a windy and bumpy journey.
- When visiting temples make sure you take your shoes and socks off, even if they are outdoors.
Helpful words and phrases
The main language is Burmese in Myanmar:
Hello Mingalar par
Goodbye Thwa: bi
Thank you Kyei: zu: tin ba de
You’re welcome Kyo zo ba de:
Pardon me Thi: khan ba
Do you speak English? Aagliut lo pyawwtaat parlarr
* Updated to 2017 prices; Please let us know if there has been any changes to prices or if you have any tips to add.
* This guide is written in our own personal opinion and all recommendations are our own