Hello fellow travelers,
My boyfriend and I will be in SE Asia for several months this fall and making a trip to Burma around Oct. 4/5/6 for about 25 days. At this point we are planning on leaving things largely unplanned because we're not entirely sure about what will shake out in the preceding months. I am getting the sense that this is quite fine, if not a good idea in Burma. However, there are some comments about getting a few rooms booked and or bus/boats booked in advance just for ease.
We'll fly into Yangoon and then hope to work it out from there.
My question is, how easy is it to just show up and wing it if we want to get rooms in Mandalay and Yangoon, a bus from Yangoon to Mandalay (maybe not direct) and then perhaps a boat from Mandalay to Bagan?
I read that that boat is not daily and it sounds lovely enough to perhaps plan out a bit further.
Finally, what are your "absolute must" recommendations? We're pretty much open to anything and wanting to just absorb the pace of Burma rather than just pack in a bunch of sights.
Has anyone seen one of the full moon festivals? I know there are a few in October and November in different regions in the country and this is the primary reason we're getting there before the Oct.12 full moon.
Many thanks in advance for your comments and suggestions!
#1 heddenswest has been a member since 7/1/2011. Posts: 32
I don't think you'll have a problem finding a place in Yangon without a reservation at that time of the year. But if you can make one somewhere it will save you the hassle of running around looking for a place on your first day there. Same goes for Mandalay.
I thought the boat to Bagan from Mandalay was daily. Anyway, even if it's not, it's no problem to show up on the day you want to leave and walk the plank onto the boat after getting a ticket. When I went there were two boats. One was clearly for tourists and wealthy Burmese. The other was for the average Joe-Burma type and left about 30 minutes after the first one. The trip takes around 10 relaxing hours, but one poster on here found out the hard way that the river can be very shallow and trips can end up taking a lot longer than expected (this is almost a universal truth when it comes to transport over there.)
Festivals ... I went to one in Bagan ... the Ananda Festival. It was amazing! Only thing is, it happens on and around the first full moon of January. It really was something to see and experience. I had no idea that it was on and just kind of stumbled on it. Thousands of pilgrims were camped out around the Ananda Pagoda with their ox and carts for the better part of a week, or more. It's almost biblical. On the day of the full moon, an offering of food is laid-out on dozens and dozens of tables that are all lined up. It really is a "you've got to see it" kind of thing. Then, of course, you get the full moon rising over that huge cluster of temples ... fantastic!
I've also been to the Kayin New Year festival just outside of Hpa-an, not far from Mawlamyaing. Again, didn't know it was happening, but it was a huge event. Spent a fantastic evening out at the grounds where there were candlelit market areas, a hand-powered ferris wheel, lots and lots of singing and dancing by hilltribes who had come by the hundreds for the event and, of course, karaoke. There were also a couple of extremely intoxicated young soldiers with ancient rifles making people very nervous. Being the only foreigners there, my friend and I were made guests of honour at the dance competition, and were given special seats, water, and cheroots. Brilliant live music, dancing, singing and all done in spectacular clothing.
An unforgettable experience.
Do try to make one of the festivals there, even if it means going a couple of months later (when the weather is better).
Some of my must-sees, aside from the festivals, include Mawlamyaing, Mahamuni, Schwedagon (at sunrise and sunset), U Bein's Bridge at sunset from the water, the ferry from Mawlamyaing to Hpa-an, most definitely the walk up the mountain to the Golden Rock from Kinpun in time for sunset, Bagan and the boat trip there, Indein (near Inle), and the train ride from Yangon to Mawlamyaing. Those are just some of them. There are more, and you'll probably get lots more ideas from a couple of folks on this forum.
If you can, and if you've got the time, you may want to extend your trip there. I believe you can add 2 weeks to your visa for a fee. It would be worth it. The country is so full of incredible things to see and do that 4 weeks just doesn't cut it.
The most important thing is bring enough US$ cash with you. Because of the poor banking facilities. No ATM, No Travellers' Cheque, No credit card at all. All the notes should be crisp. Otherwise nobody will accept it. Of course, there is a different rate for old notes.
The most famous special event is Phaung Daw Oo pagoda festival in Inle Lake. It'll be held from Sept 28 to Oct 15. If you intend to go there in that time, recommend to book the hotel in advance. There is not so many good hotels in Nyaung Shwe. All the hotels in the lake are luxurious and expensive.
Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay : As far as you are going to stay at the budget hotels, you don't need to worry about it.
The public boat from Mandlay to Bagan leaves only on Wed & Sunday. But, Malikha Express, the express boat will start operating in Oct with fixed departure dates. Please check updates.
Generally you can book your next guesthouse from the previous one. Guesthouses will call ahead and book a room for you at the next place, often for free.
Agree with kkym about the necessity of booking a room in Inle in advance (preferably right now) if you're going to be there during the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda festival. They do boat races with many paddlers (the famous Inle style paddling) and have ceremonial barge processions during this time. I asked about it when I was looking at the ceremonial barges last December and was told accommodation around Inle was VERY full at that time of year. Google and you should be able to find the exact dates of the different events of this year's festival schedule.
Another popular festival (especially with locals) is the balloon festival in Taunggyi
Very crowded as you can see! I doubt if you'd be able to book a hotel room in Taunggyi during the balloon festival even if you tried to book now but you'll probably be able to get transport from Nyaungshwe easily enough if you're based there. There are both daytime and night time balloon competitions.
There are plenty of decent GHs in Nyaungshwe even if they aren't 5* luxury hotels. I can recommend the one I stayed in last time...nice rooms all with hot water bathroom a private balcony and quite central. There were a range of rooms and prices but I paid about $10 including breakfast for one of the cheaper rooms round the back. Might be more during the festival mind you. Very decent spacious room with hot water bathroom and a nicely furnished balcony, even had a TV with some foreign channels and a fridge if I remember right. Anyway, it was a place I'd definitely stay at again. If you'd like the contact details you can PM me.
One of the highlights of my last trip was the boat ride from Mawlamyaing to Hpa An. Beautiful scenery and interesting stops at villages along the route too. In December the schedule was twice a week leaving Mawlamyaing at 12.30pm on Mondays and Fridays and arriving in Hpa An just after sunset. Very civilized time of the day to travel unlike quite a lot of the transport in Myanmar. (You often seem to have to get up very early, well before dawn in Myanmar to catch transport).
Hpa An is not a particularly "pretty" town and it has far fewer tourist facilities than places like Bagan or Inle but the surrounding countryside is a mix of beautiful karst scenery and rice paddies and I just loved it there. There are some pictures of the boat trip, Hpa An and the surrounding area in my Flickr account if you want to take a look.
Like Tilapia says, don't cut it... take as much time as you can to see in Myanmar. So many places to see and the distances, combined with slow and unreliable transport, make it exhausting if you try and fit too much in in too short a time. Go slow, take your time, and you'll enjoy it far more. Unlike the outside world, everything is slow and unhurried in Myanmar, that's one of its charms!
Other things that I didn't do on this last trip but which are worth penciling in are the (slow) train journey from Pyin u Lwin to Hsipaw via the famous Gotleik viaduct. You may or may not be able to take a picture when crossing the viaduct. It's very spectacular but in theory it's forbidden to take photos of it, depends who's watching you. ;-) It's a nice train journey anyway ...looking at the scenery going by and the buying and selling that goes on at every stop if you're in 3rd class....it's a bit like being on an ambulant market.
I didn't like the vibe in Pyin u Lwin although it does have an air of Wells Fargo with all the stage coaches serving as taxis there. The reason I didn't like the town much was probably at least partly due to the fact that it was absolutely heaving with military at the time (graduation ceremony at the military academy or something). It was quite hard to find somewhere to stay too...all the LP listed GHs were full of army blokes! Also experienced rip offs and attempted rip offs in Pyin u Lwin...just didn't like the place much. Another poster who'd been there not long ago said the opposite though so maybe I was just there at a bad time.
I liked Hsipaw though....was a good place for day treks, you sometimes cross paths with hill tribe ladies in full traditional dress on their way to market carrying huge bundles of stuff on their backs. Not just dressing up for tourists, like in some SE Asian countries. There were only two places to stay in Hsipaw when I was there. Everyone seemed to be staying at Mr Charles place because of the LP write up but I stayed at the other GH and didn't regret it at all. Very friendly people even if the place was a little run down... probably due to lack of customers because of LPs out of date, inaccurate review. eg my brand new LP guide (hot off the press) said that a clock tower right next to the GH would keep you awake all night because it chimed every 15 or 30 minutes. That clock hadn't worked for about 10 years. And it wasn't the only very misleading review either. Tip. Don't stay at the Golden Lily in Kalaw....the LP researcher who wrote my guidebook obviously hadn't!
There was an LP researcher about when I was there so maybe the next edition will be a bit more accurate but it's a better to ask fellow travellers for fresh info anyway. Things can change suddenly in Myanmar ... as well as new GHs or updated transport info, areas can be suddenly closed to foreigners, or previously forbidden areas opened up.
Hi, I also will be there at the same time as you, and am settling into our itinerary now. We are trying to be near Lake Inle for the festival, I am very interested in seeing the boat races. We are planning a trip to Hpa-An because once I saw photo's of all the caves, with the Buddhas, I felt for me it was a must see. We are doing about 20 days in Myanmar and then heading into Chiang Mai. Perhaps, we will cross paths. Planning this trip has been so much fun with all the information here on the internet! I learn something new, and want to do something different everytime I do a search. Happy travels to you! Jodie I love reading Tilapia's information here!
#5 virgingirl has been a member since 5/5/2011. Posts: 3
Thanks for the comp., Virgingirl.
Just so you know, I went to the cave temples, but I didn't go from Hpa-an. I went from Mawlamyaing.
When I was in Mawlamyaing I stayed at the Breeze Guest House, which is owned by a U Yin Maung (Mr. Maung). There was no info about the caves in my guide book, but he recommended that I go see them. He drove me to the pick-up station and told the driver to drop me off at the caves. I have to say that as impressive as the caves are, their location and the ambiance of the area is what really grabbed me. Awesome. There's nothing around them. They are in these karst outcrops with only farms surrounding them. I was very surprised and impressed by the area as a whole.
If you go to Mawlamyaing, do stay at the Breeze. It was the only place in town when I was there and even though there may be more places, I would still recommend this spot and have someone call ahead for you to book a room if you're coming from Yangon or Bago or somewhere like that. It is an old colonial mansion right on the water with some really big rooms (mine was MASSIVE and had a huge balcony looking out across the esplanade and the water where I'd have breakfast delivered every morning ... according to my diary it was $7 ... probably more now). He typically took new guests out for dinner (he'd pay) and give you a lesson in Burmese food, the area, history, etc. Super nice guy. Very highly recommended.
I'd be surprised if he didn't have competition now, but when I go back I'll be heading straight to his guest house again.
Just so you know, unless things have changed (and they may have), there is very little transport to and from the cave area. When I went I was invited into the hut of the resident monk who oversaw the cave temples with his acolytes and we had tea and chatted (in Thai) for a couple of hours. When I left it was sunset and I had to hitch back to Mawlamyaing. Again, no problem ... but just so you know ... I didn't get back until dark, but the guy driving the pick-up, with about 15 guys hanging off of it, took me to the front door of Breeze Guest House. Before I got the ride I was resigned to the fact that I had a huge walk in the dark ahead of me. Wasn't going to get lost, though, as there weren't many roads.
Finally, Breeze Guest House is just a couple hundred metres from the pier were the ferry to Hpa-An leaves from.
Hope you enjoy your time there.
Sorry for posting this twice, but I'm wondering if anyone has any contact information for the Queen Inn at Inle Lake. Not finding anything when I run google searches.
#7 heddenswest has been a member since 7/1/2011. Posts: 32
I'm still looking for some definitive information about getting a Burmese visa in Hanoi. I've found some info. online but wanting to know if anyone has recent first-hand experience. It sounds doable....
#8 heddenswest has been a member since 7/1/2011. Posts: 32
Thanks for all of your help. A few more questions!
Because we're trying to squeeze in some of the festivals in October, we're thinking of leaving Rangoon soon after landing and bussing to Taunggyi. Does anyone have details about how long that bus ride is and if we can catch a semi-direct bus from Rangoon?
Then from Taunggyi we'd like to bus back over to Inle Lake (we'd bus to Nyang Shwe, correct?) by the 12 or 13th of October. I know this sounds a bit fast and cramped but after those two festivals, we'll be back to a loose and general schedule.
Any comments on busses to Taungguyi from Rangoon and then to Inle?
Thanks a bunch!
#9 heddenswest has been a member since 7/1/2011. Posts: 32
One more question to throw out to everyone this morning: We're having problems calling Burma via Skype - calls just aren't going through. Wondering if anyone else has experienced this and/or if anyone has any comments about this?
#10 heddenswest has been a member since 7/1/2011. Posts: 32