Myanmar also known as Burma is home to thousands of temples, pagodas and stupas. Although the country is faced with political and safety issues like civil wars that make other people doubt to set foot here, I must say that I never felt in danger during my nine days stay. One thing that I love about this country is that it is not very touristic compared to other neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. This off the beaten path destination attracts many backpackers and travelers looking for adventure. The locals are so friendly and helpful to visitors. They look so happy and stress-free even in big cities. I never felt being ripped off whenever I’m buying some goods or paying for services. Truly my nine days stay here is one of the best experiences I ever had.
THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE GOING TO MYANMAR:
*Myanmar’s currency is Kyat/ Ks but US dollar is widely accepted in hostels, souvenir shops and travel agencies.
*Bring new crispy US dollar currency. I had this problem when the banks in the airport would not accept one of my $100 bill because of a tiny ant-size ink stain. When I went to a money changer downtown they told me that the value of my bill is lower than the usual exchange rate because of the stain on it.
* Schwedagon Pagoda has strict conservative dress code even leggings and skinny jeans which I thought as decent enough are a big no no. But that’s okay, because they can lend you some sarong that you can use to cover up you just pay Ks 3,000 for deposit. When you return the sarong you get your money back.
*Night buses are popular here especially with long rides. Most of the night trips leave at 9pm. It is good when you want to save on accommodation. The air conditioned buses are comfortable as well with warm clean blankets and free drinks.
*Prepare lots of sunscreen and brace yourself because Burma heat is no joke. When I was there in June I was told that May to August is the cooler season because of the rainy weather in but it still burning hot for me.
*Don’t be surprised when you see some people having yellow sand-ish on their face. They call it “thanaka”, Burmese sunscreen. It is a must try experience.
*Sandals and flip flops will save you time and energy in entering and leaving the temples. They implement strict dress code and being barefoot in entering “all” the temples and pagodas.
The first city I touched down. It usually serves as the jumpstart of Myanmar journey if you are flying in via Malaysia lay over or entering via Miso border from Thailand. It has quite a reputation of having heavy traffic so it will be convenient if you stay in Downtown Yangon or visiting sites. There are a lot of things to do here but the highlight of my stay are Sule Pagoda, Bogyoke Aung San Market, Kandawgyi Lake, the ever famous Schwedagon Pagoda, and Botahtaung Harbour. My most favorite experience is riding the Yangon Circular Train. The 3-hour train slow phase ride gave me a great experience about Burmese life. It gave me a glimpse of different sights of Yangon as the train runs and stops in different stations. The journey opened my eyes about the simple Burmese way of living and how happy the people are living their life despite their everyday struggles. It also taught me to appreciate and be grateful with what I have because what I am complaining as a struggle could be a decent life to others. If you want an authentic experience, I strongly recommend this trip. I skip some of the pagodas here such as Chauk Htat Kyi Pagoda and Botahtaung Pagoda because I know I’ll be having more of them in Bagan. But if you are staying longer in Yangon I suggest you to pay a visit. I explored the city on foot armed with GPS but if I’m too tired to walk then I book a grab taxi since they are everywhere. If you can drive a motorbike then I would advise to rent one. It would be cheaper and more convenient in going around.
MyTel sim card (2-8 GB data for 1 month): Ks 3,500- Ks6,000 (₱120-205, $2.3-4)
Grab Taxi fare :Ks 2,500-11,000 (₱ 86- 376, $ 1.7- 7.4)
Yangon Circular Train: Ks 200 (₱ 7, $ 0.13)
Accommodation per night (Shared dorm room): Ks 5,500- 15,000 (PHP 187-509, $ 3.7-10)
Sule Pagoda Entrance Fee: Ks 4,000 (₱ 136, $ 2.7)
Schwedagon Pagoda Entrance Fee: Ks 10,000 (₱ 340, $7)
Karaweik Garden Entrance Fee: Ks 300 (₱ 11, $ 0.20) Camera Fee: Ks 500 (₱ 17, $ 0.33)
Food (Average cost per meal): Ks 1,000- 6,000 (₱ 34-204, $ 0.66- $4)
From Yangon I took ten-hour bus ride to Bagan, an ancient city and former capital of the country during Pagan Kingdom (9th to 13th century). The city has over 10,000 Buddhist temples constructed, unfortunately only 2,200 survived up to the present. One of the reasons the government prohibits visitors from climbing temples and pagodas is to preserve them for the next generation of Burmese. The city is a famous location for hot air balloon riding especially during the sunrise. Unfortunately when I was there in the month of June it was rainy season so the schedule for hot air balloon is not certain. I read from travel forums that the hot air balloon season runs from October to April. Anyway, there are still other things to enjoy in Bagan such as renting an e-bike and going around the temples in New Bagan and Old Bagan to chase the sunrise and the sunset. The most popular and most recommended temples for sunrise or sunset viewing are the Shwesandaw Pagoda, Thatbyinnyu Phaya, Ananda Temple, Htilominlo, Shwezigon Pagoda, Sulamani Temple and Thambula Temple. On my first day I ended up in Dhammayan Gyi Temple for sunset view. It is a large temple with a hill in front so you can be a bit elevated as you watch the orange sun setting and buried in the clouds. If you want a harbor view for sunset, head to Bu Phaya Sunset View. It has a temple by the river where locals pray and visitors to witness the sunset. There are local boatmen offering boat ride by the river for a closer glimpse of the sunset. Bagan Nan Myint Tower is the most popular for sunrise view with MMK 7,500 (₱ 250, $ 5) entrance fee. However, we spotted a lot of tourist buses so we opted to drive to different direction and went for the second place recommended by locals which is the Sulamuni Manmade Sunset Hill. It was later when we realized that it is for sunset and not for sunrise so we drove back to the main road which brought us closer to the sunrise view. Minnathu Village is another to visit place in Bagan. It is close to temples in New Bagan and gives you an up close and personal experience with Burmese cultural, traditional and village life. The best and cheapest way to go around Bagan is via e-bike. If you are amateur in riding or want to start learning, Bagan is perfet place for you. The roads are almost completely empty anytime of the day. There’s no such thing as traffic even during the rush hour and kudos to Burmese drivers for being so chill and not reckless on the road. Upon entering visitors are asked to pay Ks 25,000 (₱ 850, $ 17) for Archeological Entrance Fee for the maintenance of the temples in the city. The advantage is you don’t have to pay for any entrance fee in any temples or pagodas you are going to visit within the city. Upon paying it is suggested that you take a photo of your receipt just in case you lose it.
Bus to Bagan: Ks 16,000 (₱ 550, $ 11)
Taxi from bus station to hostel (fixed price): Ks 8,000- 12,000 (₱275-410, $6-8)
E-Bike Rental: Half day: Ks 3,000 (₱103, $2) Whole day: Ks 6,000 (₱206, $4)
Accommodation per night (Shared dorm room): Ks: 13,000-30,000 (₱450-1,000, $9-20)
Food (Average cost per meal): Ks 500-4000 (₱20-137, $0.33-2.7)
My original plan is to fly to Yangon then visit Bagan and go back to Yangon to fly back home however, a good friend of mine told me that Mandalay has an airport and it is close to Bagan. It is only 5-hour bus ride from Bagan, so I decided to add one more city on my list. It is the same as Yangon by nature, atmosphere and construction. It houses Mandalay Palace which is located in the heart of the city. It also has a very stunning sunrise and sunset view from Mandalay Hill and U-Bien Bridge. The thing I love about this city is that it has tons of day trips that you can take with 1-2-hour drive like Dee Doke Waterfalls, Dee Doke Elephant Camp and Anisakan Waterfalls which is close to each other. You can also do a temple day trip starting from Hsinbyume Pagoda to Mingun Bell and Mingun Temple. The same as Bagan when you visit Mandalay Palace you will be paying Archeological Admission Ticket but for only Ks 10,000 (₱350, $7). This ticket is valid for 5 days free entrance to all the temples within the city except Mandalay Hill.
Bus to Mandalay: Ks 8,000 (₱273, $5.4)
Motorbike rental: Manual: 10,000 ((₱350, $7) Automatic: Ks 15,000 (₱512, $10)
Diesel: 1 liter Ks 1,000(₱35, $0.66)
Share bus to the airport: Ks 5,000 (₱171, $3.4)
Accommodation per night (Shared dorm room): Ks 9,000- 25,000 (₱308- 854, $6-17)
Mandalay Hill Entrance Fee: Ks 1,000 (₱35, $0.66)
Mingun Archeological Admission Ticket: Ks 5,000 (₱171, $3.4)
Food (Average cost per meal): Ks 1,500-3000 (₱52-103, $1-2)
Overall Myanmar is a must visit country especially if you are looking for adventures or something unique and authentic off the beaten path backpacking experience. If you have a chance to visit Myanmar now, you visit it real quick. With the fast phase development that is going on in the country especially in big cities there might be a lot of changes and it might not be the same when you here five years from now.
Curious about my budget? Here is the breakdown:
Plane tickets via Airasia: ₱12,258
Accommodation (Share Dorm Room):
Yangon(3 nights): ₱558
Bagan (3 nights): ₱1,240
Mandalay (3 nights): ₱886
Pocket Money: ₱10,000