Myanmar travel guide and trip review

October 6-16, 2014

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Suggested travel itinerary in Myanmar

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Myanmar is a country of Southeast Asia, best known for hosting temples and monasteries among the most beautiful and interesting of all Buddhist countries, spread over an area almost 3 times more that of UK. The age of these buildings starts prior to the tenth century AD, but in most cases they were restored several times over the centuries, as Myanmar has been frequently struck by powerful earthquakes. In any case the beautiful architecture, which often sees colossal domes and large Buddha statues fully laminated in gold, creates an extremely relaxing and picturesque setting, ideal for photographers who can try to capture the most beautiful moments, or for people wishing to learn more about different cultures. But Myanmar is not only temples and pagodas: the art of inlaid wood, lacquer objects built with natural products only, or artworks composed with pearls are just some of the ancient works that can be seen by visiting shops and small family-run business, while the area of Bagan and Inle Lake region, to name just a few examples, offer fabulous landscapes waiting to be discovered. Finally, while this possibility is still present in a few organized tours, Myanmar offers excellent opportunities for genuine ethnic tours, in small remote villages where customs and traditions are even more rooted than in rural areas of the rest of the country. For those of you who wish to combine a cultural holiday with some relax on a beach, the Myeik archipelago offers a paradise still unknown to mass tourism.


Myanmar is a destination that may be particularly suited for independent travel, just get a good travel guide (such as Lonely Planet's), making sure to avoid too "compressed" itineraries, to allow extra time in case of delays. If you are looking for a customized travel package to Myanmar instead, there are a number of agencies (including local and unrelated to major international circuits) that can take care of booking driver&guide in your language, all domestic flights and accommodations required throughout the trip (accommodation can be usually customized during the booking process and you can also opt for small structures which are relatively cheap). A tour booked in this way can be fully customized on your wishes and is guaranteed to depart even with a single participant, although the costs increase as these are not split over multiple participants. If instead you're just looking for a group tour to Myanmar with a fixed itinerary, there are many agencies and tour operators that offer this option (but always pay attention to the minimum number of participants required, especially if you decide to go in low season). The tour presented in this report travel in Myanmar was booked through Asia Tour Advisor as customized itinerary for one passenger only.


In Myanmar there are different types of accommodation ranging from simple guest house (however rare), up to 4 and 5 star hotels. The family-run facilities and the opportunity to be hosted by families are not to be considered as a real option, as the government apparently prohibits this type of solution, presumably to limit cultural exchange between tourists and residents. During my trip in Myanmar I have always chosen small 2-star hotels, the cost of which is higher than the similar class structures of the other countries of Southeast Asia, but the quality is decent and they are usually clean. All hotels have WiFi, even if the connection is often slow and unreliable. Myanmar is not particularly known for food: local dishes are mainly different types of curry and some soups, particularly good is the lentil soup. Tourists will find almost everywhere at least a minimum of international cuisine, including Chinese and Thai dishes (more rarely European dishes).


By browsing the catalogs of travel agencies or wandering through the websites, you have probably stumbled across some disambiguation, finding the name of the country referred to as Myanmar and Burma. Therefore, you might be wondering what is the right name to use: Burma or Myanmar? The correct name to use is Myanmar, as Burma identifies only the territory belonging to Burman (or Bremen) ethnic group, while Myanmar includes the whole country and therefore all ethnic groups.


Well, you've just decided to book a trip to to this beautiful country, but now you are wondering what is the best season to visit Myanmar. Climatically speaking, the best time to travel to Myanmar is roughly from November to February, when the temperature is cooler and rainfall is very low or virtually absent. These months, however, are also the ones most chosen by tourists from around the world and, in particular, avoiding to travel during the Chinese New Year is a smart idea, because this holiday usually sees hordes of tourists from China ("Western" Christmas and New Year holidays should be avoided as well, because of so many tourists from Europe). In March, both temperature and rainfall begin to increase gradually (April may be very hot), to stabilize around May and start to decrease around September. A good compromise between relatively stable weather, temperature not too hot and quiet environment without too many tourists around, could be October. But remember that this is a predominantly cultural trip, therefore some rain is not a big problem: you can just get in some temple waiting for the rain to stop. The only places really not advised to travel during rainy season, are probably the Golden Rock and Inle Lake, as the uncooperative weather could make excursions unpleasant (in both cases you need to travel long distances on vehicles not covered).


If you can't spend too long time for your holiday in Myanmar, then the ideal way to move around, even for relatively short distances is by plane. Internal links are provided by several local airlines that operates mainly ATR-72 aircraft, capable to cover the distance between Yangon and Mandalay in about 90 minutes, or between Mandalay and Inle Lake in just 20 (the same trip by car, with the current state of the roads, requires 6-8 hours for both trips). In 2014, the e-ticket in Myanmar is not yet available but they are working on, so booking flights should be done by a local agency that will give you an handwritten ticket. Alternatively, if you have time available, the train could be an interesting experience, as it also allows you to enjoy beautiful scenery along the railway: but be prepared to travel in carriages quite dated, while travel time between Yangon and Mandalay is about 12 hours. The bus may be a good alternative, although the conditions of the roads are still very poor and not able to guarantee reasonable travel times (interesting however the possibility of being able to travel at night, thus saving the cost of an overnight stay). For short journeys, fastest and safest way is probably by renting a car with guide and driver, alternatively you can rent a taxi for the number of hours you want: the prices are very low in both cases.


The crime rate in Myanmar is, at the writing of this report in 2014, far less than most western countries and it is very unlikely that anyone will run away after taking your camera or passport. Violent crime is virtually absent, while the people are very nice and most of the problems are solved with a smile. However, as it happens with most developing countries, it is a good idea to pay attention along the boundary lines with other states, in addition, since the political situation in Myanmar can be rather delicate, it's best to avoid any public assembling. For the latest information, please refer to the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of your home country.


Below you will find more Myanmar travel tips, good to know before going to Myanmar and to better enjoy this beautiful country:

  • Bring a pair of light sandals: access to pagodas, temples, monasteries is allowed only barefoot (and without socks), therefore it will not be easy to take off and put on socks and shoes many times per day, every once you enter the courtyard of some sacred place. A pair of simple sandals, to be removed and worn quickly, will resolve the problem (you may wish to bring refreshing towels to clean your feet from time to time).
  • Access to places of worship is allowed only with dress code that includes completely covered shoulders and long skirts past the knee (it's still good to use that clothing always, even when hiking in the city).
  • The banking system of Burma is still underdeveloped and the majority of transactions are done with cash . Dollars are accepted more readily than the euro, but the bills have to be new, issued after 2006 and must be in excellent conditions. At airports you can change to local currency at good rates and low fees.
  • Do not choose particularly luxurious hotels, which are generally owned by the government and not allow the money to reach those who really need it.
  • Drink only bottled water, even in the hotel, always checking the integrity of the cap seal. All hotels provide in the room free of charge bottles of water.
  • Some places of worship are forbidden to women, who can not get closer than a certain "borderline" (this happens anyway quite rarely)
  • In tourist areas such as Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan there is no danger of malaria: in any case it's advised to prevent bites, using repellents and dressing properly.

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Bagan temples Travel to Bagan among thousands of ancient temples <<-- GO
Bagan in central Myanmar, is known for a wide valley home to over 4000 ancient temples, of which about 2,200 are still in good condition. The city is famous for the production of lacquer ware using only natural products, as well as for other handicrafts and arts, that can be discovered exploring shops and small family-run business.
Pagoda in Mandalay Trip to Mandalay exploring temples and monasteries <<-- GO
Mandalay is a city in central Myanmar reached by pilgrims from all corners of Burma, because of some of the country's most important Buddhist temples and pagodas. The Mahamuni Pagoda houses a statue of Buddha covered with gold and studded with precious stones, while the monastery of Shwenandaw is made entirely of inlaid teak wood, just to say only a few examples.
Pahtodawgyi temple Excursion to Mingun and voyage inside Myanmar handicrafts <<-- GO
Mingun is located less than an hour by boat from Mandalay along the mighty river Irrawaddi and hosts the unfinished pagoda (subsequently damaged by an earthquake too) of Pahtodawgyi. More tours in Mandalay allowed me to discover the ancient crafts, such as the manufacture of sheets of gold (golden leaf) and the long process of making paintings with pearls.
Buddha caves Tour to Pindaya Buddha caves among thousands of Buddha statues <<-- GO
Pindaya is located not far from Inle Lake and Heho airport, along the mountains of central Myanmar. The fertile soil sees fields of cabbage, ginger, sunflower and potatoes that cover the hills, while agricultural products are sold and packed to be sent in all Myanmar, in busy general markets. But Pindaya is best known for a cave that houses nearly ten thousand Buddha statues...
Festival on Inle lake Trip exploring Inle lake and the Phaung Daw Oo festival <<-- GO
The festival of Inle lake, which final day is held during the first moon of October, sees the golden Karaweik boat carrying the image of the Buddha to the final destination of Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, while teams of rowers compete in speed races on their long canoes. A tour of the village on Inle Lake will show a kind of "Waterworld", where people have to negotiate the absence of a real soil.
Shwe Indein temple Excursion to Shwe Indein and Nyaung Shwe around lake Inle <<-- GO
The Inle Lake provides opportunities for interesting day trips and short treks to explore remote villages and ancient temples. The pagoda of Shwe Indein has hundreds of stupas dating back to various periods, set in a "postcard" landscape, while the fishermen of Inle Lake are working with their networks Just before arriving at the airport in Heho, I visit the Nyaung Shwe monastery.
Kyaiktiyo pagoda Day tour to Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo) and Bago (Pago) <<-- GO
Bago and Golden Rock can be visited with a two-day tour by car, bus or train from Yangoon. Bago is known for hosting the highest stupa of all of Myanmar and the beautiful statue of reclining Buddha. Instead, the Golden Rock is a place of pilgrimage for many Buddhists, praying and attaching gold leaf over a sacred granite boulder teetering on the edge of a precipice.
Shwedagon Pagoda Day tour in Yangoon discovering the many attractions <<-- GO
Yangon is the most populous city in Myanmar, that hosts one of the most beautiful temple all over Myanmar: Shwedagon Pagoda, with its magnificent golden-laminated visible from all corners of the city. Yangon is also interesting for the colonial center, for the lake home to the palace Karaweik, and for many other attractions.

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