Since we know at least 4 people who should be arriving imminently, here are some tips for those looking to visit Myanmar:
- You can buy sim cards with data in the airport for less than $US 10 and considering how often the internet cut out on us during our time in Myanmar, having a 3G backup is well worth it.
- The area just northwest of Shwedagon Paya in Yangon is chock-full of narrow lanes, chaotic street life and raucous beer stations. Don’t miss it.
- If you have time the Circular Train is worth checking out, if for no other reason than it costs less than a roll of bargain toilet paper.
- The bike ride at Inle suggested in the Lonely Planet is actually pretty busy and a bit dangerous considering the size of the trucks and width of the road. But the views are still pretty good, you can turn it into a loop by hiring a boat to take you (and your bike) across the lake between Khaung Daing and Maing Thauk, and you can consider stopping at Bamboo Hut for a well-deserved lunch/break on the way back.
- Probably the best biking areas are actually on the small paths around Nyaungshwe, in particular heading south along the east side of river.
- Most boat trips leave between 8 and 9 am and make a couple stops on their way to Indein. We left our hotel at 8 am, were on the lake just before 8:30, convinced our driver to take us directly to Indein (passing up the tempting opportunity to stop at a silversmith shop in Ywama) and we had the ruins almost to ourselves for about half an hour before the crowds started storming in. I would suggest doing the same but going even half an hour earlier (or more) to experience some very atmospheric solitude among the stupas.
- We chose to skip all the shops on our boat trip (silversmith, weaving centres, cheroot factories). Maybe they are great, and some people probably enjoy them, but they weren’t something we were interested in so just know that you can tailor your trip however you choose. Just be sure to discuss it with your driver beforehand since they receive commissions I believe, so it may affect the price.
- We can’t say enough good things about our guide (Joe), who we booked through our hotel (Yar Pyae) for 35,000 mk ($US 25) for the day. It is probably possible to negotiate a slightly cheaper price but either way it seemed well worth it to us.
- In Bagan there is a $US 20 entrance fee that supposedly goes directly to the government and is not really used to for upkeep of the area itself (or so we’ve heard). We had read that they collect it upon arrival at the airport but we forgot all about it and even though we wandered around for a bit we never noticed anything. Then, as it turned out, we never ended up with tickets at all since in 4 days we didn’t actually see anywhere to buy them and were only asked for our ticket once, at Shwesandaw, the most popular sunset spot and a place we didn’t really care about anyway. It is possible they would also ask at the most popular temple of all, Ananda Pahto, but we went there at night when they seemed to be shutting down and almost nobody was around.
- I would highly recommend renting an e-bike for the convenience and freedom. A pedal bike would be nice and tranquil but the distances are long and the paths between stupas aren’t great. At most I would suggest doing that one day for the experience, but getting an e-bike the other days so you can get to all the best spots exactly when you want. We usually went out first thing in the morning, took a break over the hottest part of the day, then went back out later in the afternoon again and stayed out for sunset.
- The sunset boat trips are good value (6,000 pp / $US 4.50) but the beer nearby is pretty overpriced. If you are on a budget you might want to bring your own.
- Here is a tourist map of Bagan with all the climbable temples that we found circled. The checkmarks are the places we went for sunset. The one a couple hundred metres west of Sheswandaw was probably our favourite. Not entirely sure, but maybe Thein-mau? Get to any of them at about 4:30 to beat the rush. We only did one sunrise, at a small temple right beside Dhammayazika (SE near New Bagan), but I would suggest going another 100 metres farther (north, I believe) as that one doesn’t have any vendors and has slightly better views. It might be Ku-tha but, once again, don’t quote me on that.
- In our opinion, Mandalay was pretty grim. Either give yourself enough time to visit the surrounding villages (which we didn’t see but heard were nice) or just stay one night and check out U Bein Bridge and maybe the palace.
- Absolutely try the spicy Shan beef curry at Belu and the tea leaf salad at One Owl in Nyaungshwe, the Yunnan grilled fish in Nampan, roast pork at Star Beam in Nyaung U, and everything at 7 Sisters in New Bagan.
- Even though we only visited the most touristy spots in the country, Myanmar still felt very new and different and unusual. I can only imagine how great it must be in the less popular areas. Definitely check them out and let us know.
- Have a great time! And feel free to contact me if you have any other specific questions.