Your Myanmar Travel Guide! In no other country have I ever felt so welcome, or so much smiled at, as in Myanmar. Myanmar, or formerly known as Burma, is situated on the West of Thailand and only recently (2012) opened its borders to tourism. So while tourism, especially compared to close countries such as Thailand, is low, it is definitely on the rise. Hostels, hotels and more guesthouses are popping up in various locations and traveling around seems to be becoming easier by the day. With tourism rising or not, it was still one of the few destinations I found myself being the only foreigner on the bus, warmly welcomed by the locals with food and stories from a former tourist guide. Myanmar has a lot to offer, from beaches to beautiful fields filled with temples, visiting Myanmar was truly a dream come true. The country could easily be added to your travel itinerary of South East Asia, it is only a short flight from Bangkok, or could make a 2 to 3 week vacation on its own. Read some basic information, my favorite destinations and what to do in Myanmar down below…
Yangon – Yangon is Myanmar’s former capital and currently is still the most important and largest city of the country. Moreover, if you will travel to Myanmar it is unlikely you will not find yourself in this city as it also home to the largest international airport of the country. The budget travelers will most likely stay in China town, where most hostels of the city, and other backpackers can be found. Wander around town and you will find tons of colonial buildings timing back to when the British colonized Burma. Don’t be surprised to see men walking around in ‘skirts’ these are called longyi, a wrap around skirt, you will find more men wearing these then actual pants! Head down to 19th street in China town for some drinks (we found some nice mojito’s for less than a dollar at Ko San Bar) or delicious barbecue for dinner.
Bagan – When thinking about Myanmar, or googling Myanmar, this is often the first place that comes to people’s mind. Bagan, an ancient city filled with endless fields of temples, pagodas and stupas, a place that could probably leave you wandering for days, perhaps even weeks… Witnessing a sunset in Bagan had been on my bucket list for a while, and it was definitely one of my highlights of traveling through South East Asia. A must see when visiting Myanmar!
Inle Lake – Inle Lake is a 20km long lake, surrounded by beautiful hills, that can be found in the Western Shan State. The lake is known for the characteristic fishermen but also the floating villages, with some of these villages even having their own floating gardens and temples. This destination is a perfect getaway if you want to enjoy some nature. Stay in the nearby village of Nyaung Shwe where most of the buses will stop and the guesthouses can be found. Your guesthouse will most likely be able to arrange the option to rent a boat for a day to enjoy the lake, see the fishermen at work, or visit the small villages on the lake.
Mandalay – After Yangon, the second largest city of Myanmar, and can be found in the centre of Myanmar. Mandalay is in fact the last royal capital of the country; you can find the Mandalay Palace here, the last palace of the Burmese Monarchy. Nearby you will also find the U Bein Bridge, a bridge with a length of 1,2 km that is believed to be the longest and oldest teakwood bridge in the world. While the city of Mandalay might not have loads to offer, its surroundings are filled with beautiful hidden treasures!
Pyin Oo Lwin – Closely located to Mandalay, and often a forgotten destination, is the lovely town of Pyin Oo Lwin. While the town is not worth staying a week over, it is home to many colonial buildings, botanical gardens and the beautiful Anisakan Waterfalls. A recommended two night stay will keep you entertained and gives a perfect getaway from the busy city of Mandalay. Moreover, from Pyin Oo Lwin you can easily hop on the train to Hsipaw!
Hsipaw – Hsipaw, located 200km Northeast of Mandalay, is a small village that travelers use as a home base for trekking. It is recommended to take the train to Hsipaw, and well it might be slow, it is known as the most beautiful train ride in the world. Trust me, it is a day activity, but well worth it. And once you get to Hsipaw, you can opt for a one day or multiple day trekking. Do know however that Hsipaw is located close to a war zone, and while travelers will tell they felt safe, it is recommended to only go trekking with a guide in the area!
Hpa An – A town that is used as a gateway to Thailand for overland travelers. Hpa An is small, but the area is beautiful and gives the opportunity for some nice hikes to viewpoints or some beautiful nature. It is a destination where we almost saw no other backpackers, since most people are just passing through. If you do decide to go, I would recommend renting a motorbike to explore the caves and temples in the area; that will definitely keep you busy for a day.
Yangon – Little Yangon Hostel – Located close to many sights and delicious restaurants Little Yangon hostel offers a perfect location for a decent price. Comfortable beds are equipped with lights, sockets and a curtain for a good night sleep. Staff is helpful with booking bus tickets and giving advice about what to do and how to get there in town. With the free breakfast and a nice hangout area the hostel is a great place to meet new travelers at the beginning of your trip!
Bagan – Ostello Bello Bagan – One of the first hostels to open in Bagan that offered wifi, comfortable beds, a good location and a good atmosphere. While the price might be a bit high (equal to hotels in the area) it is a good option for the solo flash packers or backpacker willing to splurge a little bit. The facilities are great, the hostel staff is friendly and helpful and the location is perfect!
Inle Lake – Ostello Bello Nyaung Schwe – This hostel is the second hostel of the Ostello Bello hostel chain in Myanmar and just like Bagan, offers great service. The hostel is clean, has comfortable beds, free breakfast and a rooftop with beautiful view. Besides that, the travel desk makes it easy to book trips or your next bus and the staff is well informed about everything there is to do in the area.
Mandalay – Ostelle Bello Mandalay – When it comes to hostels and hotels in Mandalay, Ostello Bello must have the perfect location. The hostel is close to many restaurants, and the old Palace! The hostel offers a large range of dorms all equipped with good showers, own light and socket and a comfortable bed. The hangout area up and downstairs, and the free breakfast, makes it a great place to meet other travelers.
Pyin Oo Lwin – Royal Flower Guesthouse – A budget Guesthouse with the friendliest staff. From the moment we arrived we felt very welcomed. Rooms are basic but sufficient. Possibility to rent motorbike from the hotel to explore the area. Staff will give recommendations and draw maps, they also know the best food in town. So if you are looking for a budget option, Royal Flower Guesthouse is your place to be.
Hsipaw – Mr Charles Guesthouse – One of the places to be if you want to go trekking. Mr Charles Guesthouse is a massive guesthouse, home to private rooms and dorms, a restaurant and a travel agency. If you book in advance a truck will be ready to come and pick you up from the train. Once checked in you can sit down with the tour agency to discuss doing a one day or multiple day trekking. Solo traveler? No problem, you can join other groups of backpackers if there is still availability on the trekking! Accommodation is basic, but great for resources.
Go Trekking: Myanmar’s hills and mountains give a beautiful opportunity to go trekking through nature and see more of the rural side of Myanmar. The Kalaw to Inle Lake trekking, which can be done in 2 day or 3 days, is popular among tourist, and was one of my highlights of Myanmar. Another popular destination is Hsipaw, roughly 200km North East of Mandalay, however, armed conflicts happen regularly in the area so check before hand if it is safe to go there.
See the Schwedagon Pagoda: The Schwedagon Pagoda is situated on 99m hill in Yangon and can easily be spotted throughout the city as the sun reflects on its golden stupa, or when the lights reflect on it during the night. The golden dome is covered with approximately 7000 diamonds, rubies and other stones and is called “the crown of Burma”. You will find 8 shrines around the stupa with the days of the week on them, wednesday divided into morning and evening. Here, Burmese people pray, light candles, offer flowers and pour water over the Buddha statue in reverence and for good luck. While the entrance is free for the locals, foreigners are expected to pay an entrance fee of 8000 Kyat (8$), and are asked to be dressed modestly. Moreover, you are required to take your shoes off before entering, but be warned, if the tiles are wet it can definitely be slippery.
Scooter from Temple to Temple in Bagan: Well scooter, it is more an electric bike, or you can simply rent a bicycle. Anyhow, cycle from temple to temple, visit the many stupa’s and pagoda’s and enjoy the beautiful scenery of Bagan. Even after cycling around for a whole day you probably still have not covered all of it. Ask your hostel or guesthouse what the best place is to witness a sunset or sunrise to make the most out of your time here!
Watch the Sun Set from Mandalay Hill: While it was not the most magnificent sunset I had witnessed in South East Asia (too cloudy) it was definitely one of the most unique ones. The Sutaungpyai Pagoda is situated on the top of the hill and can be reached by walking up the roughly 1700 steps, or simply take a taxi to the top. From the top you will have a beautiful lookout over the city, and when the sun sets the light will reflect on the mosaic mirror like covered walls and pillars of the pagoda, making the whole place glow, shimmer and shine.
Cycle around Inle Lake: While the lake can be enjoyed by boat, it is definitely worth staying another day and cycle around the lake. While it would be quite a long way to cycle completely around the city there will be many people offering you to take you, your friends, and your bikes by boat to the other side of the lake where you can continue your journey. On the East side, close to the town of Nyuangshwe, you can even do a wine tasting at Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery and enjoy the nice view (recommended!).
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