Myanmar is a hidden treasure in the middle of all the South-East Asian action. Squeezed between Thailand and India, it is a forgotten destination due to the rumours that it is expensive and hard to move around. Well, I'm here to prove you wrong!
It is by far the most beautiful country I've ever visited, though, the contact with locals is rather difficult. The locals are afraid to take you into their homes due to a weird law that forbids visitors to be in a private home after 10pm. Therefore, there is no such thing like CouchSurfing and some roads are closed for foreigners.
Yes, accommodation will cost you more than elsewhere, but this can be compensated with incredibly cheap food. Due to the lack of hostels, you’ll probably end up in a private room, which is not that expensive if you’re a couple. Since I was travelling alone, I mostly ended up paying about 20 Euro per night, but the double bed was all mine. 🙂 It is a country in full expansion, so the infrastructure is not really there yet. The rooms are good, but I could settle for less.
Tip: Get a local sim-card (I got MPT) with internet and install the Agoda app. Book your stay shortly before you arrive to get the best deals. In the end, hotels want to have an optimal occupancy, so it is not rare that you’ll end up in a way too fancy hotel for about 20 Euro per night.
Have a look at the map on the bottom of this page to see in which hotels I’ve stayed.
Moreover, if you really want to go cheap, you can stay in monasteries for free. I’ve heard you can just enter a monastery and ask for accommodation. I was lucky enough to be invited by a monk on the train. He took me in, fed me and showed me around. We enjoyed deep conversations by candle light and had the most amazing exchange of ideas.
Rumour goes that the train is unreliable and uncomfortable. Locals will only take the train as their very last resort because they truly hate it. Why? I have no clue. After a couple of awful experiences on the bus. I decided to give the train a shot. And, oh boy, am I glad! It was cheaper, more comfortable and most of all the scenery was absolutely stunning!
Tip: Book upper class. The seats are super comfortable and they are only a couple of Euros more. I’ve taken lower class for shorter distances up to 3 hours. Totally worth the experience, but take in consideration that you’ll be sitting on a wooden bench for a long time. You can always sit on your sleeping bag of course, but I’d lost mine on a bus.
Note: I was lucky enough to never have a delay, but I’ve heard from other travellers that their trains were stuck for hours or even cancelled. If you need to get a flight, make sure you take your train at least one day before your flight.
Read ‘A magic word’ for information about food on the rails.
From Bagan I took a bus to Yangon with JJ Tours for 8,90 Euro. It was pure luxury, so get this company to pick you up from the hotel and drop you off the airport in case you want to spoil yourself. For this ridiculous price, you get a very comfortable private seat, your own DVD screen with entertainment and free snacks and water.
WHAT TO DO.
I’m not a beach person, but if you’re into them, definitely check out Maungmagan. It is a beautiful deserted beach in a sleepy fishers town where I had the most beautiful walk during sunrise. Everyone greeted me in the morning and the raw beauty stunned me like no other.
The caves in Hpa-An are really worth the visit. You can book a tour from your hotel for 3,30 Euro. After a couple of caves, it starts to get a bit boring, but it is worth to stay seated until the last one: Sadan cave. You’ll end with this grand finale taking you on a boat trip through the most peaceful landscape you’ve ever seen.
You can also rent a motorbike and do the tour by yourself, but I was not really comfortable cruising around alone.
Tip: Watch out for the dogs! I got bitten by one with rabies and needed to rush to the hospital to get a shot.
Inle Lake (Schaungschwe)
I rushed over to Inle Lake to see the light balloon festival. Since it was so busy in the area, loads of hotels were overbooked, including mine. Even though I had a booking, I needed to sleep in the hallway on the floor. The management of Win Nyunt Inn gave me private room for the price of a dorm for the rest of my stay. I highly recommend this place, since it is a cosy family run hostel outside the busy city center.
You can rent bikes about everywhere for the reasonable price of 3,30 Euro per day. It is a great way to enjoy Inle’s beautiful nature. For the one day tour, you’ll need to cross the lake at a certain point otherwise you’re gone for a couple of days.
Don’t cross in the conventional ‘port’, but get lost in the villages and ask around. In this way, you can load your bikes on the boat, help a local out and not get ripped off. Awesome experience included: we were dancing away the waiting time and shared a boat with a very drunk lady.
There is a winery (Red Mountain Estate Vineyard) where you can enjoy a beautiful sunset over a local glass of wine. The wine is horrible, especially if you are used to French wine, but the view makes it all up.
Hiking around the lake is also a very good idea. Although, it is not possible to hike in the country alone. The trails are not indicated at all and once in a while, you’ll bump into some armed civilians (see Hsipaw). Even though I personally prefer to hike alone and at my own pace, I really enjoyed a small guided day walk.
Boat tours on the lake are on offer in the port. They will take you to the floating gardens and show you around the villages. I got this trip for free from two amazing Dutch people I’d met on the train, so I don’t know the price. Just know that this is very touristy and you’ll be taken to loads of places where they explain the local crafts and try to sell you souvenirs all day long.
Since there had been a terror attack (November 2016) at the Myamarian/Chinese border, tourists could only go as high north as Hsipaw. This was very unfortunate, since I LOVE hiking, but Hsipaw wasn’t bad neither.
I’ve shared a room with a fellow traveller for about 19 Euro and we booked a guided tour in the city. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the price, but for an all included two day guided trip, it was definitely reasonable.
The country has a lot of potential to expand its hiking trails, so I hope this will be on the agenda in the future. As mentioned before, I don’t like to hike in a group, but no trail indications and armed civilians and soldiers make this obligatory.
I seriously underestimated Bagan. I almost didn’t go because my visa was running out and I was too stubborn to take a plane. Luckily, my friend persuaded me to tag along.
You can rent scooters for 3,30 Euro per day and cruise around the temples at your own pace. Four days in Bagan is just perfect: time to visit, time to relax and time to get lost.
Watching the sunrise and sunset is one of the main attractions in this enchanting place. However, the temples with the best views are incredibly crowded and you’ll see more digital screens than there are hot air balloons floating around.
To get the directions to a nice a quiet temple, privacy with nature assured, please send me an e-mail and i’ll give you the coordinates.
On following map you can see my itinerary (from south to north) with more information about accommodation, transport, prices and travel times.