Out of the six countries I was visiting on this trip, Myanmar was the one I was the most excited and intrigued about. It only opened its borders to tourism a few years ago and before I left I personally did not know anybody that had ever been there.
Myanmar is huge and unfortunately, I only had 10 nights to do a whirlwind tour through it. I decided to just hit the main four spots to visit including Yangon, Inle Lake, Bagan and Mandalay.
I flew into Yangon and I originally planned on three nights there, two at Inle, three in Bagan and two in Mandalay. It actually turned out to be: two nights in Yangon, one overnight bus (to Inle), two at Nyaung Shwe (closest town to Inle Lake), four in Bagan and one in Mandalay.
I wish I had more time in Mandalay and to explore other places too, but I was pretty happy overall with my final itinerary with the little time I had.
I was really exhausted at the end of it though, with so much time spent on bumpy buses and trying to pack in as much of each place as I could, including getting up for many a sunrise.
Here is what I got up to in an action-packed 10 days:
I flew into the largest city in Myanmar from Luang Prabang, Laos, via Bangkok and arrived at 10:30 PM at night. I was also in a new time zone; half an hour behind which I thought was pretty funny.
I had organised an online E-Visa a few days before and the immigration process was very quick and easy. I was through the gate with my bags in no time and instantly greeted by a young friendly guy who asked if I needed a taxi. I said yes but I needed to get some cash out first as I didn’t have any local currency (called Kyats). He not only pointed the direction where the ATMs were, he showed me himself. (This was the first of many times where people were happy to show me for nothing in return).
The taxi driver was an older man who called me ‘sister’ and was very chatty and interested in me. My first thoughts of the Burmese were that just like I had been told – they were incredibly friendly! It really warmed my heart.
Along the way he pointed out the most famous temple (the reason I went to Yangon actually), the Shwedagon Pagoda – a huge golden landmark, brilliantly lit up at night. I wish I had time to snap a photo! It was so dazzling.
I had booked my own room at a hostel in a central location and it was up several flights of stairs. The host was kind enough to carry my suitcase up for me. I didn’t have a window in my room but from the balcony in the main lobby area looking down over the streets was so interesting. I had never been in a place like this before. The streets looked like how I imagined India would look like. It was around midnight when I got to my room and I couldn’t wait to explore the next day.
I was intending to see the famous pagoda but it was pouring with rain in the morning.
I instead ventured out with an umbrella to explore the surrounding streets. I loooved the buildings! There were so many different styles and influences from all around the world.
|The buildings opposite my hostel|
I noticed a street side open shop with ‘4G’ and thought it would be a good idea to get a Sim card here. I knew wifi was poor and scarce and I had a lot of long bus rides to look forward to. The two guys in the shop barely spoke English and it took an entire hour to get it sorted (registering the Sim card was painful), but they were so patient and really friendly.
To get 5 GB of data cost me 9000 KYT or $8 AUD.
One of the guys smiled at me and his teeth were red. This was my introduction to, I don’t even know what it’s called. Okay, I looked it up and it’s called Paan which is a betel vine leaf. Many of the men chew on this red stuff and then spit it all over the ground.
Everywhere you go you see red spit. And they not only spit – they hoik. That sound reeeally irks me and in ten days I probably heard it 1000 times. The worst was while I was on the night bus from Yangon to Inle Lake and there was a man sitting across the aisle from me who would hoik all throughout the night and spit into a plastic bag. Deee-scusting.
Anyway – after I got my Sim card it had stopped raining and I went to one of the top recommended places for lunch. It was called 999 and it is famous for Shan noodles.
I got a classic pork sticky noodle soup and it was delicious! That and a coke cost $2.50 AUD.
In the afternoon I enjoyed exploring the city centre some more for a few hours. A lot of men wear long skirts and many people, mostly ladies have gold painted on their faces. I later found out this is called Thanaka and it is a paste that comes from ground bark. It is used as a sun cream, to cool and as a cosmetic.
Walking around I was stared at quite a bit and many would walk past me and then look back to get another look. Quite a few people even said hello and for the first time they didn’t want anything, it was just to say hi.
|Yangon City Hall on the right, Sule Pagoda ahead|
|Maha Pandula Park|
The next day I got lucky and it wasn’t raining (until the afternoon). I hopped into a taxi to the Shwedagon Pagoda and hired a guide, as two Isreali girls I had met staying at the hostel recommended it. The guide was very good and I enjoyed learning all about the history and customs of this amazing temple.
It is the largest pagoda which sits at an impressive 360 feet high and is encrusted with 4531 diamonds; the largest of which is a 72-carat diamond. Many pilgrims from all over the world come to visit it.
A funny thing happened, a Burmese girl asked to take a photo with me and then another person saw and wanted one too. Before I knew it, a line of people was forming! There were even selfies. I didn’t really know what was going on but of course I didn’t mind, I found it all hilarious. I am guessing the blonde hair was the reason, as I didn’t see anyone else around with it. The closest I’ll ever get to a superstar moment!
|Nuns here dress in pink|
I loved visiting the pagoda, it’s definitely worth going to Yangon just to see that. I decided to cancel my third night there and take an overnight bus to Inle Lake. It takes 12 hours to get there so I didn’t really want to waste an entire day. It so happened that the Isreali girls were taking the same bus so we shared a taxi to the bus stop and had a beer beforehand.
We were getting water from a shop for the bus ride and a random heavy downpour started. The streets started flooding so we just stood there to wait it out. The lady that owned the shop didn’t speak English but she kindly brought us little chairs to sit on which was so nice!
The bus was comfortable, we paid extra for a ‘VIP’ which means it was air conditioned, the seats reclined and we got a blanket and small pillow. However, I still didn’t get a wink of sleep and it actually took 14 hours in the end.
At 5 AM I arrived rather stiff at Nyaung Shwe, the nearest town to Inle Lake. I had booked in at Ostello Bello which was a favourite in the area and they catered for people arriving at all hours.
There were beds available in a shared room if I wanted to sleep until my room was ready and there was free coffee and juice to help yourself.
There was a group of four of us in the boat and we were taken through the main centre of the lake first, past the many fishermen. They are famous for their unique style and rowing the boat with their feet.
We passed through many floating villages which I find so interesting and our first stop took a whole hour to get there – that’s how huge the lake is!
The first stop was a silver and jewellery making shop, which I wasn’t that interested in to be honest. The second was a lotus silk weaving place which was pretty cool to see. They made some amazing scarves and clothes and worked really hard for it.
|View of rice fields from the window|
We stopped for a nice local lunch before exploring some more. We had a brief stop at a Karen long-neck Hilltribe and asked to skip the next cigar-making stop. We were all really interested in the temple stop which had hundreds of temple ruins.
|Delicious lunch feast|
We initially had an hour there but once that ran out we asked for another. Our boat driver was very accommodating. We had a great time exploring the area and there was so much to see! It was an incredible place.
We didn’t head back until 3 PM, an hour late and we enjoyed a cold beer on the way back. Even though I was wearing a hat and put sunblock on twice I still managed to get very burnt. Woops.
I had a glorious shower, rested and then sat downstairs in the common area working on my Cambodia Photo Diary. There was a movie night going on at the rooftop but as I hadn’t slept I was too tired and was keen for an early night.
I had more delicious Shan noodles for lunch which was even better than the first in Yangon (I was now in the Shan state after all). I had a chill afternoon checking out the rooftop and catching up on work.
|Ostello Bello rooftop|
|The view from the rooftop|
The next morning I was up at the crack of dawn to catch the sunrise on Inle Lake. I was told this is the time to see the fishermen and I especially wanted to get the classic shot of the ones with cages.
However, I’m guessing because it was a Sunday all the fishermen were still in bed!
There were only two out on the water (and they didn’t have cages). There wasn’t much of a sunrise either as it was too cloudy. Dang rainy season.
Nevermind! I was next off at 8 AM to the place I was the most looking forward to – the ancient city of Bagan.
|This is a painting at the hostel of the ‘classic shot’ I was hoping to get|
The mini van ride was rather horrid, the roads were extremely bumpy and windy. I couldn’t even read my phone because my hand was flailing around too much. And there was no air conditioning! Absolute torture sitting in your own sweat for 8 hours.
I did see so many interesting sights out of the window though. Home-made ox carts made out of branches, massive goat herds that blocked the whole road, women carrying really big and heavy loads on their heads.
|Loading up the top of the van during a break|
I decided to stay again at Ostello Bello as I enjoyed the last place so much. As I was so hot from the van ride I went on a failed mission to find ice cream, but I couldn’t find any shops that sold any. I settled for a beer.
I signed up for a sunrise temple tour by e-bike for the next morning and chilled for the rest of the day. Bagan has over 2,200 ancient temples and is considered a holy site in Myanmar. I was so keen to explore!
That evening I joined in on a free Burmese lesson the hostel was hosting. I learned how to say a bunch of basic sayings and phrases which was really handy and how to write my name. I met some lovely Italians who were working there for a month, one of which was the cousin of Ostello Bello.
|Bummer the clouds were in the way!|
That evening I jumped in on the sunset bike tour, because why not? This time we rode about 30 minutes away to a very large temple which had a great view. We didn’t see the sun but it was a brilliant pink sky afterward which was so amazing!
For dinner, a big group of us went down the road to a restaurant called ‘Unforgettable.’ Most of us ordered curries and it came with so many extra dishes for us all to share.
As well as soup and rice there were different bowls of vegetables like potato, aubergine, pumpkin, tofu and salads. It was an epic feast and it only cost $2.80 AUD each for everything.
I was up and ready at 8 AM for a full day Bagan city tour by e-bike. I hired another one for the day and followed the group to the first stop at a local village. They made cotton there and cigars. I got to try Thanaka (the gold paste) on my face which felt really nice and refreshing!
|This lady is 95!|
We went around visiting many of the most popular temples in Old Bagan. Our guide was really informative and told us a lot of the history.
|GoPro action shot|
|View from the top|
By the time we had lunch everyone was so tired. It was such a hot day and the roads were very dusty, my clothes were covered in it. Riding along even with sunglasses I had to squint my eyes because the dust clouds were so bad! When I got back I had to wash my clothes.
No rest for the wicked though because that night was a sunset boat trip! (The hostel organises all of these different daily group tours which I really liked).
The sunset was a bit non-existent and it was really rocky at the end but the group on board were really fun which made it worthwhile.
That evening was quiz night at the hostel and I joined a fab team with others from London, Sweden and Spain. We couldn’t think of a team name so I randomly came out with ‘Killer Kiwis’ even though I was the only Kiwi but they loved it and went with it.
It was such a fun night and our team rocked. For the first time ever my team won woohoo! We all got a free cocktail of our choice.
I decided to book an extra night here because I was enjoying Bagan too much and there was still so much more to see. I also couldn’t bear the thought of going on another long bus ride again…
|The Killer Kiwis!|
The next morning the Killer Kiwis met up and hired another round of e-bikes for the day. We were going off to explore more temples, a local market and make a day out of it.
|Random seeing a Friends Cafe!|
|Coffee? Curry puff? Trio of cigarettes?|
We stopped for lunch at one of the top places to eat – Weather Spoon’s Bagan. I had heard as well as local food they actually do very decent western food (hard to come by in Asia) so the Londoner and I just had to have a burger. It was a-maz-ing after eating mostly rice, noodles and curry for the last few weeks!
|The chips were parmesan crusted! HEAVEN|
We continued exploring until we were templed out and went back for a rest before meeting up for one last dinner and drinks. Four nights for me wasn’t even enough in Bagan, I didn’t have the time to visit Mount Popa which is another popular sight to see and there is so much more as well. Next time!
During my time in Bagan, I had the opportunity to work for Hostel World. I created an Insta-Story for them showcasing the city which will be live on their Instagram page next week. Keep an eye out on my Facebook and Instagram pages where I’ll share the links when it’s up!
In the morning the Londoner and I were on the same bus and going again to Ostello Bello in Mandalay (there are three in Myanmar so I thought I might as well stay at all of them).
I was a bit guttered I only had one night left there but I am glad I stayed in Bagan the extra night.
It was another bumpy bus ride north to my final stop which took 7 hours.
We checked in and went straight out for a late lunch, inviting along a random dude from Morocco we met at the hostel.
We went to Mingalabar (that’s hello in Burmese) Restaurant and had another delicious feast. There was so much food it was awesome. I had a noodle salad and it came with a bunch of different sides.
|The view from my room|
That evening the three of us went out to explore Mandalay by night. We went to a local night market and walked around for a couple of hours before having a final beer at the hostel’s rooftop hangout area before bed. We had one last early start the next day.
There was one thing I had to do in Mandalay and that was see a sunrise from the U-Bein Bridge. Of course, being rainy season, there was no famous orange glow, but it was still very pretty.
We were told it was less crowded in the mornings and more so for sunset and that was true. There were mostly only locals out and about that early.
|Caught the dab|
|Morning snack anyone?|
We were back by 7:30 AM and I wasn’t flying out until 5 PM. I still had pretty much a full day left to explore but you know what? I had seen enough temples and palaces.
I went back to bed until checkout time and then sat in the common area working until my airport transfer. Bad Krysti! But I literally couldn’t, I was done, diddly done.
I had such a fantastic time in Myanmar, the kindness of the people really blew me away.
I enjoyed so much learning about their culture and ways of life and next time, now that I have done the big four, I would love to venture out into the smaller and less touristy areas. As well as their majestic temples there are untouched beaches, islands and even primeval jungles to explore.
It’s a country to get to fast, as already the tourist demand is rapidly increasing. For now, it’s a place where there are few bars and party places with a widespread curfew of 11 PM.
There is also not a McDonalds or Starbucks in sight. It’s a place unlike any I’ve ever been to before and it makes me more excited to continue travelling and exploring more around the world.
|Pin it! 🙂|
Coming soon will be plenty of Myanmar travel guides and tips as well as more photos and stories from my Southeast Asia trip.