Mingalaba Burma. Myanmar, which is one hour from Bangkok, is another Asia. It is less chaotic and glittering. In some respects, it is less touristy. We do not rely too much on information from tour guides. The only recommendation is that the bank notes must be new. If they are old you cannot change even on the black market.
Yangon is definitely an ideal first step in a journey of discovery of Burma. A starting step to start to acclimatize, to know the culture, to know the people. We arrive in Yangon at night. The airport is small and deserted. At the airport, I expected to find a crowd of taxi drivers willing to fight each other to grab a run. Instead, everything is calm. We take a taxi to the Indian neighborhood. Here we stay in a hotel costing 1200 rupees with double bed, private bath, the internet, and breakfast. We drink a local beer, their national pride, and plan our day.
Unlike any other Asian country visited, there are no scooters around the city. The desire for discovery is so strong that, I leave the backpack in the room, and head to the Shwedagon Paya. Needless to say, the main attraction of the city is the majestic Shwedagon Paya. many temples and pagodas almost in the city center. The legend says that within the Zedi (the main stupa) strands of Buddha's hair are conserved. The top of the spire is adorned with a large diamond. As in all Buddhist temples, you can enter barefoot in the Pagoda and turn clockwise around the Zedi.
Kipling described it as a golden mystery, a gleaming wonder that burns in the sun. I describe it as a magical place where time stands still. I sit and observe life around me of devout monks, prayers, rituals, and visitors. Someone approaches me driven by curiosity to inquire about my country of origin.
We stop to observe religious rites that are followed in several minor stupas. Here the devotees offer flowers to the sacred images and money to the monks.
We walk in the central area to visit local markets. I observe the life of a city that we did not know. I follow people on the streets, visit places that they frequent for everyday tasks, from shopping to relaxing. In a local bus, we reach the Bogyoke Zei market, the oldest of the city. We seek shelter among the food stalls, tissues, and trunks of Tanaka. This is a tree-like sandalwood powder from which we get the traditional moisturizer. The tailor's stitch the Longy, the typical skirt worn by men and women.
To move around the capital, the taxi is definitely the fastest and cheapest. Always ask the price before boarding the taxi because they do not have the meter. After two days around Yangon, you can already make a very good idea of the city and life in Burma.
The Yangon Circle, the circular train gives us an opportunity to see life in the suburbs. It allows us to get on and off at will at the different stations, using the same ticket (1 USD).
We leave by bus towards Golden Rock. The rock that defies the laws of gravity hover over a cliff of Mount Kyaiktiyo. Legend has it that it is held in balance by a Buddha's hair. To get there, from Kinpun, we climb into the back of one of the crowded trucks at a cost of 1,500 kyats per person. It was raining but the journey of about one hour was fun.
The rock is not accessible to women, who can stand by. Men pray along the golden leaves along the edges as a sign of devotion. The entrance fee is 300 rupees. After viewing the main town, it's time to head inside the country. We spend two days in Kinpun in a guesthouse, which cost us 500 rupees per night. The location near the forest gave us the opportunity to see the largest butterfly ever seen.
On the way to the Inle Lake, we stop at Bago for about six hours. Here, we visit the main religious sites of the reclining Shwethalyaung Buddha (54 meters long and 16 meters tall) and the Shwemawdaw Pagoda. In the Serpent Monastery lives a Python reincarnation of a century old monarch. There is also the Kha Khat Kyang Monastery, the second cultural center of Burma.
We also make a quick visit to the cigar factory, where women roll up cigarettes with skill. We have a long journey to Inle Lake. The buses are uncomfortable and show romantic films all night, where love always take a beating. Exciting!
We spend the night in the new capital Nay Pyi Taw. The city has 4-lane roads, mammoth hotels, huge city islands with the play of lights.
We arrive in Nyaungshwe around 4 am when women begin to heat the oil for frying the delicious pancakes. The entrance fee to the Inle Lake is 500 rupees.
Here everything revolves around tourism. Finding a boat to visit the lake is simple. We visit the gardens of floating tomatoes, market, church, and monasteries. There is the one with jumping cats trained by monks in winter to defeat boredom.
The Intha fishermen guide the boat in balance with on one leg. From the windows of the houseboats, women wait to be photographed in exchange for a few kyat. I cannot deny the charm and the call of an ancestral culture.
We spend the following days on land. We rent bicycles and we venture around in search of the hot springs of Kaung Daing. There are nothing more than two super chic Jacuzzis and a place for moneyed tourists. The tour gave us the opportunity to stop and eat the noodles with the most delicious peanuts in a simple kiosk on the street. A curious innkeeper taught us some of the recipes of authentic Burmese street food.
Inle Lake has everything and you will not have difficulties of any kind. We were in the off season so the guest house, rather than keeping the rooms vacant allow some discount. We sleep on the lake shore for 500 rupees per night with breakfast.
The guest house manager convinces us to head to the north, for the discovery of the tribal villages in Hsipaw. We take a bike to discover the wild nature. After a while, pagodas start looking alike. Here they create a psychedelic universe as they are coated with colored lights.
We do not take a tour guide but we do carry a super detailed map. With its help, we enter villages in Shan, through rice and corn fields. A tired and weary grandmother offers us delicious bananas! We reach the small spa of Karmspring Dam, waterfalls, and Little Bagan.
Among others, we visit the Bamboo Buddha. It is preserved in a picturesque monastery complex of teak. We go up the hill and admire the sunset with the silent and solitary guardian monarch. We savor the magic of Burma as told in the books. We prolong the stay to attend an important religious festival. A parade of carnival floats every year amongst all tribes of the region. It is a unique opportunity to see the parade in traditional clothes.
We loved Hsipaw, which is less accustomed to tourists. This place has enabled us to establish sincere relationships.
We decided to reach Mandalay, the area of the Royal Palace and Mandalay Hill. Its pagoda passes through the Gokteik Viaduct. The Gokteik Viaduct is the iron bridge and is one of the world's largest trusses. It was built in 1900 and can be reached from Hsipaw with 4/5 hours of travel on an old world train.
The track is in a remote region but the scenery is stunning. In the almost 700 meters long stretch, you can admire the view from a privileged point of view. Mandalay is the last capital of the Kingdom of Burma and a metropolis of Buddhism.
We arrive at Maha Aungmye Bonzan monastery located near Inwa. It's a simple structure built of brick and stucco. I get struck by the sense of intimacy that immediately involves me in a light and shadow. I travel in the local transport buses, trains, and boats. This requires a little more time because the distances are long and the roads are not always paved. The encounters with the locals allow me to see glimpses of real life.
We interrupt the journey in Pyin U Lwin, a town on the hill with an English colony flavor. The hotels for tourists are few and the low-cost ones even less.
Pyin U Lwin is beautiful as the houses are built in a colonial style and are used to move with the buggy. We visit the large botanical park that houses inside the orchid garden. For those who appreciate the Golf Club seems to be particularly popular.
We take a pick up to reach the bus station and are again enchanted by the kindness of the people of Burma. With us, in the chest, a bunch of old people shared sweets and massage with Tiger Balm. Also in Mandalay, taxis are the most recommended. Taxis are very small, quaint old Japanese taxi-vans with two-stroke ramshackle engines.
We complete Mandalay in a hurry. I must be honest that now we really want to reach Bagan. We stop only for a few hours to visit the Mahamuni Pagoda, the gold leaf shops. We do a nice tour on foot getting lost among the chaotic crowd. We see Amapura and U Bein's Bridge. In the afternoon visit the bridge, without the charm of the sunset and monks. And the days available to us were finishing.
A cruise along the Ayeyarwady River start from Mandalay which is 650 km north of Yangon. To get to Mandalay the most practical way is by air (about $ 90 each way), the train is rather inconvenient, to say the least. I have noticed that many tourists fly from Yangon to Mandalay. Then they go by ship from Mandalay to Bagan ($ 16) and then get back from Bagan to Yangon (about $ 90 each way) through the air. The Bagan airport is called Nyaung U and is located about 6 km from the archaeological area.
The next morning we arrive in Bagan, the ultimate goal. The archaeological center of Bagan has more than 4000 temples, of all sizes from the temples to pagodas. It is definitely one of the places not to be missed when visiting Burma. We take the bike ride through the trails that connect the various temples. We get lost in the more than 40 square miles of temples. We go out of the tourist tracks and wait for the sunset from the tallest buildings.
From the top of Ananda temple, we admire the sunset. It is possible to fly over the site in a balloon, even though our stay in the very inclement weather has not allowed it. Here we get an intoxicating liquor made from the tree of Toddy, a grape which is a bit too alcoholic for my standards. At Bagan, we tasted the famous Spirulina beer prepared from the homonymous algae that seem to have an anti-aging effect.
And under pouring rains, we also visit the Mount Popa, an extinct volcano, which is now a national park. We reach by taking one of the many pick up vans departing from near the bus station. We climb on top by foot so as not to disturb the 37 spiritual guardians of good and evil.
Another place that exudes the same charm is located in the south-eastern Myanmar. The famous Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo offers the wonders of the landscape a little wrought by tourism. It is Gaung Se Kyun, the so-called Shampoo Island. This picturesque island located on the outskirts of Mawlamyine can be reached by the train passing through a rail network. The peaceful atmosphere of this place is such, I have not encountered anywhere else.
Myanmar also has beach resorts of respect from the landscape point of view. To conclude my trip, I chose to visit Ngapali Beach, located on the Bay of Bengal, north-west of Yangon. We reach from Yangon by air at a cost of about $ 65 each way. The airport is called Thandwe and is located about 4km from the beach.
The best time, from the climatic point of view to stay in Ngapali Beach is from October to March. A beautiful beach of more than 3 km, which offers a choice of five-star resort hotels plus some guest houses. Here too, the price of a room varies depending on the choice, but they range from 8 to 120 US dollars per night. As for me, I opted for a bungalow accommodation on the beach with all amenities spending 2500 rupees a night. A seafood dinner in a typical restaurant in Ngapali cost up to 300 rupees.
Ngapali offers us a period of rest after the inevitable travel fatigue. We end the holiday in Yangon. Gyzube Burma.
25 days is too short to be able to understand Myanmar. We will have to return.
The choice is very wide. Expect to pay from $ 15 per day for a small but clean hotel, up to $ 150 a day, five-star hotel.
Hotels are almost never filled. The influx of tourists is quite low. You can decide which hotel to stay overnight when you arrive in Yangon. A taxi from the airport to the center of the capital cost about four dollars. The journey time is about 25 minutes.
The city is quite extensive. In case it is not what you expect, you can go out on the street and head to another hotel that is more in line with your tastes and your budget.
You need an entry visa which can be obtained from the embassy in your country, or Bangkok at the Embassy of Burma.