A mix of India & Thailand-Upon arriving in Yangon, my friend and I both agreed that it felt much like a mix of Thailand and India. Many areas of Yangon are busy, hectic, hot, fast and crowded. It would be easy to assume that Yangon is the capital city, and while it is actually the largest city in Myanmar, Naypyidaw is the actual capital. To be honest, of the three cities we visited while touring Myanmar, Yangon was my least favorite. Aside from seeing some truly amazing temples, including the stunning Shwedagon & Sule Pagodas, and hanging out at night drinking beer and enjoying BBQ, I didn’t feel like there were that many things to do in Yangon. Speaking of the beer, I would say that Myanmar easily has the best local beer in all of SE Asia. And it’s so affordable- an ice cold mug of draft beer was about .50 USD, and a bottle was less than a dollar! It was perfect for washing down the freshly grilled meats and vegetables of the street side BBQ restaurants. To experience the BBQ restaurants with the best food and atmosphere, make sure to visit 19th street in the central part of town. When visiting the street side grills, you take a basket, fill it with your selections and leave the basket with the man working the grill as you grab a beer and find a table. Several minutes later, you’ll be served a hot plate full of your now cooked selections. Make sure to try the hot sauce found on every table- it’s delicious! I also received one of the best massages of my life while on this street, all for a cost of 5,000 kyat, or $4 USD. In my opinion, 2 days/1 night would be enough time in Yangon. You could take a night bus to your next destination to save a night’s accommodation.
The Temples of Bagan-Bagan is a truly magical city and unlike any other I’ve ever visited. The city is literally covered in temples- more than 2,200 of them. This makes Bagan’s scenery completely unique.
Inle Lake-Inle Lake was our last stop in Myanmar, and I think we managed to save the best for last. I had recently seen some amazing photos of fishermen on Inle Lake, and I wanted to capture this moment for myself. We negotiated a private half day tour for 15,000 kyat/$12 USD. The small boat launched, and we made ourselves comfortable and enjoyed the scenery as the boat’s captain expertly navigated the waterway and steered us toward the larger lake. All around us we saw vast fields tended to by hardworking local people who occasionally waved as we glided by. Many types of birds either flew along near the boat or lazed on the water close by. As soon as we exited the waterway and the lake opened up before us, I could immediately see the fishermen in the distance. We sat up and grabbed our cameras as the boat neared the fisherman and slowed for our photos. As it turns out, although they make for great photos, I don’t know how much fishing these guys actually do. As boats entered the lake, the fisherman would get into position, pose for photos, and then ask for tips afterwards. As our boat pulled away, the men went back to relaxing in their boats, waiting for the next group of tourists to arrive. I didn’t see any actual fish being caught. The photos are amazing though. The half day tour included stops at a silver shop, a fabric store, a weaving factory and several other places on the lake. After stopping at the first store, the silver shop, we quickly realized that it was more of a sales pitch than a course in local life or customs. If you’re interested in buying local hand-made goods that look suspiciously mass-produced and identical to the local hand-made goods seen in countries from Kenya to Cambodia, then these stores may interest you, but buyers beware. We chose to have our guide forego the following stops. On our second day at Inle Lake we decided to rent bikes and cycle the lake to find the hot springs spa that we had heard about. I suggest you skip both the cycling and the hot springs. The road to the “spa” is poorly maintained and has no views of the lake. You’re essentially riding through the woods along a mostly dirt road full of pot holes. After arriving at the spa and paying 13,500kyat/$10 each to enter, we found three dirty pools with bugs and leaves floating in them and a restaurant selling $6 cheeseburgers. We chose not to finish cycling the lake and instead returned to town. I was also excited to visit Inle Lake because I had heard there were two vineyards located just outside town. But, as much as I love wine, I’ve learned to keep my expectations low when in Southeast Asia. We returned the bikes early and, when we were quoted an exorbitant rate from several taxi stands, we decided to try hitchhiking– this would be only my second time hitchhiking ever. The vineyard was gorgeous, but as expected, the wine was decent at best. We shared a wine flight and struggled to find one that we could say was good, but both agreed that the Sauvignon Blanc was perhaps the best. If you do decide to visit the vineyard, go for the views and sunsets, but not necessarily for the wine.
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Practical Information:You must apply for and receive an approved visa before arrival in Myanmar. If you are in Thailand, you can visit the Burmese embassy, but most people choose to apply online. The process is easy, and I received my visa the same day I applied. You can apply online for your visa here. The fee for the visa is $50 USD. The currency of Myanmar is the kyat, which at the time of writing was about 1,200 kyat to $1 USD. Outdated information says that ATM’s are few and far between, but I did not find this to be the case. I was easily able to find ATMs in all three of the cities we visited, and paying by credit card was an option at some of the larger hotels. We were also warned of famously slow wifi throughout the country, and while we found this to be true, it also wasn’t as bad as expected. The larger hotels had decent wifi, and some of the nicer restaurants offered connectivity as well, but not like you’ll find in much of the rest of Southeast Asia, where every restaurant offers free high speed wifi. If you work online, finding wifi might prove challenging but is not impossible, at least in the larger cities. After landing at the airport in Yangon, I was able to get better rates for the taxi ride into town from the airport taxi stand with fixed prices rather than negotiating directly with the drivers outside. This is rare, since in most countries you’re almost always able to get a better price by haggling directly with the drivers. Entrance to the Shwedagon pagoda was 8,000 kyat/$6.56 USD, while entrance to the Sule pagoda was 3,000 kyat/$2.46. If your time or money only allows for one, the Schwedagon is by far the more impressive of the two. We used the company JJ Express for bus transportation between cities. Their buses are large, clean and comfortable. We had a charging station for our electronics and small television screens similar to those found on aircraft attached to the backs of the seats. An attendant working on each bus will help you get settled and even provide free bottled water. Online bookings can be made here, but I would recommend having your hotel or guest house handle the reservations for you. From Yangon to Bagan, we paid 22,000 kyat/$18 USD each, and from Bagan to Inle Lake, we paid 19,500/$16 USD, with this bus slightly less nice than the first. Leaving Inle Lake to return to Yangon to catch flights out, we took a night bus that cost 26,ooo kyat/$21 USD. We arrived ten minutes early to catch this bus only to find that it had already left. The employees of the ticket office had to call the bus driver, have him stop and deliver us to the bus on the backs of their motorbikes. I would suggest coming a half hour before your bus is scheduled to depart. If you’re pressed for time or your budget allows for flights, we spoke with several people who told us Air Bagan had competitive rates. Because of the cost to maintain and care for the temples, Bagan has an entrance fee of 25,000 kyat/$20 USD. Inle Lake imposes an entrance fee of 13,500/$11 USD, or they also accept $10 USD or 10 euros. For the best rates, bring American dollars, preferably a new and undamaged $10 bill for the entrance fee.
How to get to Myanmar?You can book your ground and sea transportation with Bookaway, so click here to book your tickets.
Travel writer and owner of the blog. My work has been featured on Fodors, Eater.com, International Living, and Great Escape Publishing, among many others. My story? Nearly six years ago, I left my job at an Oklahoma City law firm and embarked on a journey around the world. At the time, I thought I would only be gone for 6 months, but the more I traveled, the longer my bucket list became. Flashpacker describes how I travel. Rather than traveling as the normal world wise backpacker and staying in hostel dorms, I prefer a more comfortable experience, and typically stay in private rooms, take Ubers instead of taxis, and now use a suitcase instead of a backpack. Foodie, on the other hand, describes one of the key reasons why I travel. I love to pick a central “base camp” and then explore the surrounding area, really immersing myself in the culture and interacting with the people, and enjoying and exploring the food of an area is an essential part of this experience.