My trip to Myanmar – two weeks of ‘back to basics’ in Asia
Myanmar, Burma or Birma – these names all refer to the same Asian country, located between Thailand, China, Lao, India and Bangladesh. To me, the former military dictatorship was simply a blank spot on the map of the world. But when I started researching the country, its culture and history, I knew Myanmar just had to be on the itinerary for my one-year long trip around the world. So read here about my trip to Myanmar …
DON’T PANIC ABOUT TRAVELLING TO MYANMAR – SIMPLY IGNORE YOUR TRAVEL GUIDE
Everyone thinking about travelling to Myanmar is initially put off by all the ‘tips’ in guidebooks: You still need dollars to enter the country. And not just any notes but crisp, new bills. And Kyat, well, that’s more of a pretend currency. I can reassure you, none of this true – those tips are outdated. I came to Myanmar with crisp new dollars and simply took them back with me, looking slightly less new. I withdrew money from an ATM, just like in any other country, and that worked fine.
What you definitely need in order to get into the country is a visa. There are different ways in which you can obtain a visa: the easiest and most convenient is the E-visa for which you can apply online (takes a maximum of two days). A different and much cheaper way is to apply for the visa directly at an Embassy of Myanmar (this can take a bit longer, for example up to six weeks in Germany). I applied for my visa in Chiang Mai, Thailand and it was in my passport after three days. The cost? Only 800 Bhat, so approximately 20 Euro.
MY TRIP TO MYANMAR –THROUGH YANGON WITH CHICKEN ON THE CIRCLE-TRAIN
My first stop in Myanmar was the former capital Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon). To be honest, Yangon isn’t exactly my kind of city but there’s a lot to see and since it’s not very touristy yet there’s a lot to discover. For a first overview of the city a loop on the circle-train is ideal. Stopping at 37 stops, the train takes you around the city in 3 hours and you’ll things beyond pagodas, temples and parks. It’s not only the view that makes this an interesting ride, your fellow passengers make the experience complete. Locals use the train to transport baskets full of fruit, vegetables or the occasional chicken. If you have enough time, get off at the massive food market and get lost among the different stalls before you catch the next train. Visiting this market is a feast for the senses. And the round trip on the circle train only sets you back 300 Kyat.
trip to Myanmar: SHWEDAGON PAGODA
If you’re in Yangon, you have to visit the Shwedagon-Pagoda. The enormous temple area is home to the biggest and most precious stupa in the world, covered in gold from top to bottom. Just like in any other temple in Myanmar, you have to dress appropriately when visiting Shwedagon Pagoda: long skirts or trousers are a must and shoulders should be covered at all times. I simply kept a sarong in my bag to cover up. And don’t forget to take off your shoes! I’ve seldomly been barefoot in cities as often as in Myanmar. Afterwards, carry on to the Bogyoke-Market (Scott Market) with its numerous stalls that offer everything you could possibly need: fruit, vegetables, longyis, thanaka paste and much much more.
A TRIP TO MYANMAR IS INCREDIBLE, MAGICAL, BEAUTIFUL – THE TEMPLES OF BAGAN
After two days of exploring the streets of Yangon I took the night bus North to Bagan. After arriving at my hostel, an e-scooter took me to an old convent for sunrise at 5am. I was surrounded by hundreds of small and large temples, covered in golden sunlight as the sun fought its way through the clouds. And to round it off, hot air balloons were rising into the air as the sun came up. I sat on top of a century-old convent in a country that was virtually closed to tourists just a couple of years ago and watched this incredible sunrise. There’s only one word for that: magic!
The next morning I ascended into the air in one of those hot air balloons. That was the cherry on top. It’s not exactly cheap but it was a once in a lifetime experience. My tip: definitely ask the providers early enough, the flights are often booked months in advance!
Bagan was magical, almost unbelievable. I spent days exploring the empty temples on my own. Some in excellent condition, some almost ruins but getting up close to these works of art is only possible in Myanmar.
MY TRIP TO MYANMAR: SIGHTSEEING MARATHON IN MANDALAY
The next stop on my itinerary was two days in Mandalay. My little sightseeing marathon started off with a visit to the Mingun bell, one of the heaviest free hanging bells in the world, then on to the food ceremony of 1000 monks who live at Mahaganddhayon convent, up the Mandalay hill to see the pagodas and admire the city view, and finally on to the small island Inwa. The island is easy to reach via passenger ferry. Once you land on the island, horse drawn carriages pick you up and take you on a tour. Inwa is full of temple ruins, Buddha statues that are several metres high and untouched nature. Back in the city, I spent the remainder of the day watching the sunset with a beer at the beautiful U-Bein-Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world.
Beautiful nature on my trip to Myanmar
I took the night bus from Mandalay to Nyaungshwe at Lake Inle. The lake, 22 kilometres long and 10 kilometres wide, is the second largest lake in Myanmar and was, aside from Bagan, the absolute highlight of my trip. I got on a fisherman’s longtail boat that takes tourists across the lake. An amazing experience! We passed numerous fishermen practicing the unique one-leg fishing technique, which involves rowing a boat with one leg and leaving both hands free to fish. We also passed countless traders who sell their goods off their boat. After a short stop to meet a group of long-necked women, we continued on to the 160-year-old Nga Phe Kyaung convent and the surrounding floating gardens. After the busy lake, it was like an oasis for me.
MY TRIP TO MYANMAR: THE LAKE AS A LIFE-GIVING FORCE AND BATHTUB
The entire shore of Lake Inle is inhabited, as residents live in villages made up of stilt houses. The lake experience showed me a completely different world and made me reflect on the kind of lifestyle and comfort I’m accustomed to. The stilt houses with their walls of simple bamboo mats barely offer protection against the weather and there are no Western-style toilets. The lake provides everything the people need and also takes it back. The gardens provide fruit, vegetables and flowers, and the lake provides fish and water for drinking, cleaning, washing and acts as a big bathtub for everyone.
DON’T WAIT TOO LONG WITH YOUR TRIP TO MYANMAR – MYANMAR IS CHANING RAPIDLY
Myanmar is impressive, with its stunning landscapes and I highly recommend a visit. The last few years have seen rapid changes and the country is welcoming more and more tourists every year, which makes travelling a lot more comfortable but also takes away the uniqueness of present day Myanmar!
PIN IT FOR LATER “trip to Myanmar”:
MORE PHOTOS of my trip to Myanmar:
A dream: the temple site of Bagan
An unforgettable experience: A hot air balloon flight over thousands of pagodas
It takes a bird’s view to appreciate the full size of the temple site
Stilt houses on Lake Inle
View from Nga Phe Kyaung convent
A long-necked woman weaving
Curious eyes survey the tourists
Crossing Inle Lake on a longtail boat
Floating gardens everywhere
Traditional one-leg fishing on the lake
Temple on Inwa Island
Early morning, monks wander through Mandalay to collect for their ceremony
Over 1,000 monks live at Mahaganddhayon Convent
Young novices are dressed in white
Impressive Shwedagon pagoda
The pagoda is one of Myanmar’s landmarks
Burmese locals unload their goods off the circle train
Students on the streets of Yangon
Yangon is full of beautiful colonial buildings
THE GUEST BLOGGER
PR manager Laura quit her job mid-2015 to fulfill her lifelong dream: a trip around the world. She has been travelling since November 2015 and writes about her stops and experiences on her blog: www.goseekhappy.wordpress.com. She plans to be on the road for a year – with the option of extending her travels!