Mingalaba. This is the greeting you’ll hear throughout Myanmar.
UPDATE: Read up on Myanmar and its history – past and present. We visited Myanmar in 2014 after it was believed that the nation was moving towards democracy. However, it has since become apparent that the government of Myanmar is conducting ethnic cleansing and is targeting the Rohingya (a Muslim minority).
We spent 10 days in Myanmar exploring Bagan, Inle Lake, and Yangon. This was part of our 3 month backpacking adventure that covered some of the African continent, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Indonesia.
Bagan (2 days)
Our Myanmar itinerary began in Bagan. We flew to Bagan immediately after arriving in Yangon, Myanmar. We had arrived in Yangon from Livingstone, Zambia via Doha, Qatar. It was a LOT of hours in transit. After catching up on some sleep, we spent just 2 full days in Bagan.
Entrance to this region required paying 15 USD for the Bagan Archaeological Zone entry ticket.
We spent the first day exploring the region via hired horse cart and driver. Then, we spent the second day exploring via rented bicycle. On both days we visited and gazed upon many temples, pagodas, and stupas.
TIP: Dinner at The Black Bamboo was our best meal in Myanmar. Try the green chicken curry.
Aung Mingalar Hotel Block No (5) Si Pin Thar Yar Road, Bagan, Nyaung-U, 09015, Myanmar
Inle Lake (4 days)
We flew from Bagan to Heho airport. The taxi journey from Heho airport to Inle Lake took about an hour. The scenery on the journey included mountains off in the distance whilst passing through rice paddies and small villages.
Entrance to this region required paying 10 USD for the Inle Zone entry ticket.
Inle Lake Activities
We spent 2 days lounging around the hotel pool and exploring the town of Nyaungshwe. In town, we ate banana pancakes, drank coffee, received head massages, and watched the monks procession to receive alms. Another 1/2 day we spent exploring the neighboring region via bicycle. We enjoyed a leisurely ride to Mine Thauk were we saw homes on stilts above the water as well as a gentleman using the famous one-legged rowing technique. We stopped at Red Mountain Winery on our return voyage – don’t expect too much from the wine.
The highlight of Inle Lake was the full day boat trip. We booked the boat trip at the docks during one of our excursions to town. The boat departed at 6:30AM to view the sunrise and then proceeded to cruise through villages observing the way of life on the water – washing, bathing, agriculture, building techniques, etc. We made a number of stops during the day:
- floating market – a misnomer because the market is on land; it ‘floats’ in that it moves locations
- silversmith workshop – silver is extracted from area mountains and made into jewelry
- lotus weaving factory – scarves and other items are fabricated from fibers of the lotus flower which costs 10 times more than silk!
- Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda – five Buddhas are located in the center; men have been applying gold leaf to the Buddhas for 800+ years so the Buddhas now resemble snowmen!
- cheroot makers – cigarettes are made from tobacco leaves, honey, tamarind, and a few other ingredients
- blacksmith workshop – iron is forged into tools and other items
- Shwe Inn Thein – spend time exploring this magical place of 1053 pagodas
- umbrella factory – mulberry trees are pounded into a parchment used for paper and umbrellas
- jumping cat monastery – the cats no longer jump but the monastery serves as a teaching and learning center
Inle Lake Accommodation
Yangon (3 days)
We flew from Heho airport (Inle Lake) to Yangon.
We spent one day in Yangon feeling ill and the other 2 days exploring the city. The city definitely arouses the senses – lots of people and strong odors. The highlight of day one was the Sule Pagoda complex. Sule Pagoda is the oldest pagoda and houses a strand of hair of the Buddha. The highlight of day two was the Shwedagon Pagoda complex. This is the most sacred pagoda and contains relics from the previous four Buddhas. Only foreigners pay to visit these temple complexes.
FUN FACT: Burmese astrology has eight planetary posts corresponding to a day of the week; Wednesday is broken into two posts (AM and PM). Each planetary post is represented by an animal and these eight animals surround many fountains and stupas. Burmese Buddhists pray to the animal that corresponds to the day of their birth. Since I was born on a Sunday I pray to a garuda. Since Michael was born on a Thursday he prays to a mouse.
FUN FACT: Neon lights surrounding the Buddhas represent their auras. Each color has a distinct meaning.
Mother Land Inn 2 No.433, Lower Pazundaung Road, Yangon, Myanmar, 800-491-6126
Myanmar Final Thoughts
Overall, the time we allotted for Myanmar – 10 days – seemed about right. We had downtime due to illness but, ultimately, we were not disappointed with our time.
As white foreigners we were a spectacle – which, as introverts, can become draining. We also didn’t find the people quite as friendly as in the rest of Southeast Asia. However, timid may be a more appropriate adjective than unfriendly.
Bagan was everything we imagined and wanted. Another day in Bagan would have allowed for further exploration and, in the tourist season, a hot-air balloon ride!
We could have reduced our time in Inle Lake but we enjoyed the down-time to relax by the pool. We also had a period of illness in Inle Lake and, thankfully, did not need forgo our boat trip because we had the extra time.
Yangon was definitely our least favorite city in Myanmar and we also had another spell of illness here. We probably should have started in Yangon (instead of flying directly to Bagan) for a better introduction to the culture and history.
Also, we did not visit Mandalay. In retrospect, we should have as it is unlikely that we’ll return to Myanmar anytime soon. We excluded it only due to the high cost of government-owned airline travel in Myanmar and concern over the amount of our money ending up in the hands of the Myanmar government.
TIP: We use World Nomads for travel insurance when we travel internationally long-term. We believe they offer the best coverage for the money and they are super easy to work with! You can get a quote using the widget on our Resources page.
March 17 – 27, 2014