Myanmar: Getting there, going around, tips, and other amusing discoveries


A Bagan wonder.  One of the many nameless temples in Bagan, Mandalaya, Myanmar.

I remember Googling--as fast as my hands and internet connection would let me--routes from Philippines to Myanmar the moment I saw the headlines "Philippines, Myanmar to sign VISA-free agreement" back in 2013.  Coincidentally, a good friend of mine has had her eyes set on the Golden Land for quite a while too.  Hence the start of a year-long planning for a trip to a place Lonely Planet calls "a living edition of the National Geographic, circa 1910".

However, compared to other tourist destinations in Asia such as Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and even Cambodia, going to Myanmar is a bit trickier. 

"Tourism in Burma (Myanmar) is a slowly developing sector. Although Burma possesses great tourist potential and attractions in many fields, much of the industry remains to be developed. Also, the number of visitors to Burma is comparatively small compared to her neighbours - even outpaced by Laos. This is primarily due to its current political situation. However, after the junta transferred power to the civilian government, the tourism sector saw an increase in tourism arrivals and in 2012, tourist arrivals surpassed the one million mark for the first time."*

Nonetheless, my companions and I had fun figuring out how to get there and go around the country.  And since I've been gushing non-stop about this trip, here's our itinerary and some tips which, hopefully, will be helpful to travelers also Googling ways on how to get to this land still enveloped by the traditional ways of an ancient culture.


When to go
So far, all the articles I've read prior to the trip said that the best time to go is anytime between November to February because it's when the weather is at its coolest with the least rain.  And it proved to be true.  When we were there, it was just fairly warm during the day and surprisingly cold at night.

We've been told that it can get unbearably hot in the country during the months of March and April.

What to wear
When inside the temple:  No sleeveless tops, no plunging necklines, no midriffs, no shorts.  The length of the pants should go below the knees.

Comfort is key so I advise loose-fitting and airy clothes. If you prefer to wear shorts outside the temples, just make sure you bring something to wrap over it before you enter.  Or better yet, buy their tranditional skirt, the longyi, for the ultimate local experience.

Do bring sweaters or jackets as it can get pretty cold at night.


TIP
Make sure you ask if the longyi you're buying is for men or for women.  The boyfriend mistakenly bought one for women and got curious looks from everybody.  It made for a good conversation piece and several hearty laughs though :p


How to get there
There are several gateways going to Myanmar.  Since we were coming from Manila, we chose the route most practical for us:

MANILA (via plane) > SINGAPORE (via plane) > YANGON (via overnight bus) > BAGAN

 *Tourists coming from Manila can also opt to pass through Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur.

Money
Kyat is the local currency.  And in Myanmar, cash is king.  Only a few large hotels and restaurants accept credit cards.  ATM's are also scarce.

It's advisable to change your dollars at the airport where the rate is surprisingly fair (Just make sure you count your bills before leaving; One of our companions and I were suspiciously missing a couple of bills) or at the banks.
 
Myanmar in a week
We all had a limited time off from work.  While it would have been nice to have seen more places, we decided to limit our destinations so we wouldn't be too tired and would have enough time to absorb all the colors, sights, and sounds of each place we go to.

DAY 1

5:40am   -  Departure from Manila (via Cebu Pacific)
9:05am   -  Arrival in Singapore
5:20pm   - Departure from Singapore (via Jetstar)
6:50pm   - Arrival in Yangon

*There is a one and a half-hour time difference between Singapore and Myanmar. 

8:00pm   -  Check in at the Humble Footprints Hostel
9:00pm   -  Shwedagon Pagoda

*The Shwedagon Pagoda closes at 10:00pm.  So make sure you are able to go there at least an hour before so you'll have time to go around and snap some photos.

The Shwedagon Pagoda at night.

ENTRANCE FEE
K8,000 (USD7.77) / person

*As of posting date, USD1 = K1,030

DAY 2
9:00am   -  Breakfast
10:00am -  Tour around the city
  • Bogyoke Market.  This is were you can buy local trinkets and souvenirs.
  • Shwedagon Pagoda.  We went to the Shwedagon Pagoda twice because we wanted to see how it looked like at night and during the day.
4:00pm   -  Head back to the hotel; Freshen up, pick-up luggage
5:00pm   -  Head to bus station
7:00pm   -  Arrival at bus station
7:30pm   -  Departure for Bagan

Prior to the trip, we asked our local contact to book tickets for us which turned out to be a wise move.  The trips were fully-booked and the queues at the ticket office were long.  We took the Mandalar Minn Express which was surprisingly comfortable.  They even provided neck pillows, blankets, water, and toothbrushes for the passengers.


TIP
Bring a jacket and thick socks!  The bus can get really cold during the 10-hour trip.

BUS FARE
One way = K15,300 (USD14.85)


DAY 3            
For our first day in Bagan, we opted to hire a taxi service so he can show us around and then help us with our itinerary for when we go biking around on our own the next day.

4:30am   -  Arrival in Bagan
5:00am   -  Leave bags at the Oasis Hotel; Head out to watch the sunset
5:30am   -  Sunrise at the Shwesan Daw Pagoda

Our first sunrise in Bagan.

ARCHEOLOGICAL FEE
K16,500 (USD16.01) / person

*One-time payment for the whole duration of your stay in Bagan


7:00am   - Breakfast; Tour around Bagan
  • Nyaung U Market
  • Shwezigon Pagoda
12:00pm  -  Check in at the Oasis Hotel; Rest, freshen up
3:00pm    -  Tour around Bagan
  • Iza Gawna Temple
  • Nandammanya Temple
  • Nandammanya Cave
  • Traditional Village
(See more detailed descriptions of the temples we went to here.)

DAY 4
For our second day in Bagan, we decided to be more adventurous.  Armed with our bikes, maps, and a whooooole lot of patience from the boys who were the designated navigators for the day, we went around on our own.

The result?  We only reached three notable temples hahaha.

  • Dhammayangyi Temple
  • Manuha Temple
  • Ananda Temple

If you want a less tiring experience, you can actually rent an e-bike.  The catch with an e-bike though is it can run out of battery in the middle of the day and you would have to go back to the hotel to have it recharged.

When in Bagan.

BIKE RENTALS
Manual bike = K1,500 (USD1.46)/day
E-Bike = K3,000 (USD2.91)/day 


DAY 5
Because we wanted to catch another sunrise, we decided to hire a taxi service again on our last day in Bagan. (No, it's not because our legs were tired nor because our bums were sore.  Really, it's not. I swear.  Hahaha.)

5:00am   -  Leave to watch the sunrise
5:30am   -  Sunrise at the Shwe Laik Tu Temple

This One Doesn't Need A Caption.

7:00am   -  Breakfast back at the hotel; Freshen up for the day
9:00am   -  Tour around Bagan
  • Thatbinnyu Temple
  • Shwegugyi Temple
  • Mahabodi Temple
  • Bu Paya Temple
  • Seven Sisters Temple
  • Ape-Yadana-Phaya Temple
  • Nanpaya Temple
3:00pm   -  Back at the hotel; Freshen up for the overnight bus trip
6:00pm   -  Head to bus terminal
7:30pm   -  Departure from Bagan

DAY 6
4:30am   -  Arrival in Yangon; Breakfast
8:00am   -  Head to the Yangon International Airport
9:00am   -  Check in
11:40am -  Departure for Singapore
4:20pm   -  Arrival in Singapore

*There is a one and a half-hour time difference between Singapore and Myanmar. 

DAY 7
Morning  - Around Singapore
6:25pm   - Departure from Singapore
10:25pm  - Touchdown Manila


Other tips and whatnots
  • When shopping, do not buy the first trinket or souvenir that you see.  You'll find that there are vendors in almost every temple and there are usually small markets nearby.  Look around and compare.
  • Before paying for an item, try to haggle for a lower price.  Some mark-ups are as high as 50%.  Of course you do not want to rob the locals of their profit but you can try to ask for at least a 30% markdown.
  • We were approached at least three times by locals who had a collection of different currencies.  One even had a thousand worth of Pesos (USD22.40) and asked if we can give our Kyat in exchange.  The bills seemed legit but we opted to decline.  Apparently, according to our guide, some vendors--for the sake of earning--agree to sell their products even if the payment is in foreign currency.

Taxi service
If guides were given stars as ratings, 5 being the highest, I would give ours a 10 :) Very friendly, genuinely helpful, patient, and his lovely wife even treated us with their local dessert hihi ;)


CONTACT INFORMATION
THANT ZAW AUNG
Email:  bibobagan@gmail.com
Phone:  09-402555241


(L-R) Arnie, Koryn, Leo, Abby, and Thant, our guide.


So yeah, a trip to Myanmar can be pretty tedious and tiring but the best time to go there is now while it hasn't exploded with tourism yet.  Because the fact that it's not easily accessible and remains shielded from the modern world is what makes this land really extraordinary :)



*http://bit.ly/1sPACZV

1 comment:

  1. Hi Koryn! How much did you pay to rent the taxi for a day? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete

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