Why I Went There?
After half a year in very developed countries (Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Macau), I was looking for a more adventurous and exotic location. Also, pictures of its many pagodas and temples had always sparked my interest in Myanmar.
Where Did I Go?
After flying into Yangon, Jenni and I traveled by bus to Kalaw, from where we started a 3-day hike to Inle Lake. After exploring Inle Lake and after a crazy night bus, we arrived at Hsipaw, where we tried to board the train to Pyin Oo Lwin. But the train service was suspended for many days, so we finally took the bus there. Next up was Mandalay with a day trip to Inwa and Amarapura. After a boat ride, we arrived at our last destination: amazing Bagan, before heading back to Yangon for a flight to Bangkok.
My Other Blog Posts on Myanmar
Yangon, And First Impressions of Myanmar
Kalaw, In The Shan State of Myanmar
Hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Inle Lake and Indein Village
Hsipaw, And a Failed Train Ride
Pyin Oo Lwin, And Another Failed Train Ride
Mandalay, Inwa, and Amarapura
Exploring The Wonders of Bagan
Traveling with someone meant that we could share accommodation and taxi rides, making them cheaper per person than traveling alone. Most private double rooms were cheaper than two separate single dorm beds.
Total Days: 23
Total Expenses for 2 People: 700 USD (350 USD/person)
Average for 2 People: 52 USD/day (26 USD/person)
This includes the 50 USD each for the e-visa.
The exchange rate when I visited was 1 USD = 1250 kyats.
Accommodation was the highest expense. While not expensive by international standards, it is very expensive in relation to food and transportation costs in the country. A double room at a nice hotel cost between 20 to 30 USD per night, but a meal at non-touristy places can be had for 2 USD or less. Regular 10-hour overnight buses cost around 12 USD, while the more comfortable VIP buses cost only 4 USD more. A 1-hour taxi ride from Yangon airport to the city center was around 6 USD.
How Is It Like to Backpack in Myanmar?
Much easier than I expected. Especially if you stick to the usual places that backpackers visit on a one month visa, like in the itinerary I listed above.
Most merchants speak basic English. They can at the minimum tell you the prices in English. Most hotels are of good quality with good facilities, and with staff members that can help you book boat and bus tickets. There are comfortable buses if you are willing to pay a little more. Except for the Mandalay to Yangon highway, road quality is bad, so expect bumpy rides.
ATMs are available in all the major cities, and my US-based debit card worked on most of them. No need to bring in US dollars anymore.
Wifi connections were painfully slow at all the places we stayed in. Connection also kept dropping all the time. The slow speeds reminded me of the good old days of using a modem and a phone line in the early mid 90s.
Best of all, you don’t get bombarded with people trying to sell you things at touristy places. It feels very laid back and relaxing, which I was told is very different from other South East Asian countries. The people seem happy and are very polite, and we found the customer service in hotels and restaurants to be excellent.
Favorite Place: Bagan and its thousands of pagodas and temples.
Favorite Moment: Exploring remote and deserted temples in Bagan.
Favorite Foods: Tea leaf salad, and sticky Shan noodles.
Other Things I Liked: Friendly people, friendly dogs everywhere, and not being hassled as a tourist.
Myanmar strikes the perfect balance between ease of travel, lack of large amount of tourists, friendly people, and spectacular sights. I hope to return soon, and I hope it doesn’t change for the worse for a long time.