Photo: Temple outside Monywa.

Burma forum

Burma trip report

Posted by somtam2000 on 3/12/2013 at 03:05 admin

Here's a quick wrap on my just about to be completed Burma trip. I'll be writing a bunch of blogs and features related to the trip in the coming weeks, but given I've got an hour to kill at Yangon airport, here's a summary :-)

Itinerary
Yangon
2 nights
Accommodation: Hninn Si Budget inn ($27 per night aircon, share bathroom)
Bus to Taungoo, 7 hours

Taungoo
2 nights
Accommodation: Myanmar Beauty Hotel ($25 & $15 bungalow thing with private bathroom)
Bus to Meiktila about 9 hours

Meiktila
1 night
Accommodation: Honey Hotel ($25)
Pickup to Kalaw about 5 hours

Kalaw
1 night
Accommodation: Honey Pine Hotel ($25)

3 day 2 night trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake with Golden Lily

Nyaung Shwe and the Fire Balloon Festival
2 nights
Accommodation: 3 sisters ($45 for a triple room with hot water bathroom)
Train to Thazi (all freakin day)

Thazi
1 night
Accommodation: Moon Light Guesthouse ($10)
Train to Mandalay (3 hours)

Mandalay
1 night
Accommodation: AD1 Hotel $15 (single)
Bus to Monywa (3 hours)

Monywa
1 night
Accommodation: Golden Arrow $15
Boat to Kalewa (13-14 hours)

Kalewa
1 night
Accommodation: Chit Ko Ko Guesthouse 18,000 kyat for a very mediocre double with shared bathroom
Boat to Mawlaik

Mawlaik
2 nights
Accommodation: AZK guesthouse 5,000 kyat single room share bathroom

Boat to Monywa arrived at 5am took double room at Golden Arrow ($25) for a few hours then bus to Mandalay

Mandalay
1 night
Accommodation: AD1 Hotel $25 (double)
Afternoon bus to Hsipaw (6 hours)

Hsipaw
2 nights
Accommodation: Nam Khae Mao Guesthouse $6 (single share bathroom)
Bus to Kyaukme (1 hour)

Kyaukme
2 nights
Accommodation: A Yone Oo Hotel $12 (single share bathroom)
1 day trek
Train to Pyin Oo Lwin (around 6 hours)

Pyin Oo Lwin
1 night
Accommodation: Bravo Hotel $20 (single private bathroom)
Hired a car to Mandalay (1.5 hours) for early morning bus to Yangon (9 hours)

Yangon
1 night
Accommodation: Hninn Si Budget inn ($27 per night aircon, share bathroom)

Some thoughts
Accommodation
I've written previously about the need to book accommodation in Burma in advance. On this trip I only booked my accommodation in Yangon, Taungoo and Mandalay in advance - so I had no problems there. I didn't book in advance for Nyaung Shwe (for Inle lake) and that was a bad error -- I had to check 10 hotels before finally getting a room at the 11th only by sharing a triple room with two Austrian women I had trekked with. I'd definitely recommend booking in advance for there. Hsipaw was also close to capacity -- if you want to stay at Lily's (recommended -- it is great) or Mr Charles (meh), booking in advance is strongly recommended. I was told there are 5 new hotels under construction in Hsipaw, so this will become less of an issue in 2014 I guess.

For the other towns I had no major problems just showing up and getting a room, though I saw people turned away at Thazi and I had to share a room with a friend I travelled with at both Mandalay and Kalewa as there was only one room left at each hotel.

Overall the accommodation in any of the major centres is overpriced for the standard -- not surprisingly as many (though not all) hotels double price for foreigners. You're generally paying above Thailand prices for below Laos standards. Some of the rooms I stayed in were truly dire.

Highlights
The biggest highlight of all are the people -- the locals are just awesome.

Boating up the Chindwin River (feature upcoming), was great. Very local, very photogenic and the village of Mawleik was really great. If you're into river travel, this is a good one, and is just about totally untouristed. We did run into a tour group in Mawleik, but saw not a single independent traveller the entire time. We had severe time constraints on it and due to there not being flights when we needed (we wanted to go downriver from Homalin) we had to go upriver which made for very slow going. If you're into boat travel I'd highly recommend it -- start at either Homalin or Khamti. There is an excellent trip report on this river by Polish traveller Dagmara on Thorntree

The 3-day 2-night trek from Kalaw to Inle was excellent and I highly recommend it to anyone considering it. Golden Lily is an excellent operator -- have a feature coming up on this. Our guide was great.

The 1 day trek from Kyaukme was also interesting and I was very happy with the guide. Again, feature in pipeline for this.

I love Yangon, but as I spent a week there last trip, I really just skipped through it this trip. Mandalay I was less taken with and the trip to U Bein Bridge was quite disappointing. With more time perhaps I'd have enjoyed it more, but as another author is covering it I skipped doing much there.

Both the Kyaukme to Pyin Oo Lwin train and the Nyaung Shwe to Thazi train are very beautiful and if you're into trains try and and do at least one -- if I had to choose, go for the latter. The Goktiek Viaduct is impressive, but the scenery, especially the switchbacks going down the mountains on the train to Thazi wins in my opinion.

Other thoughts
In Hsipaw if you're planning on doing anything other then the bog standard one night two day walk it can be difficult to rustle up numbers -- so allow a few days for this if you can.

Obviously the above was a very rushed trip - I was trying to cover a lot of ground just to get a look at places. With more time I would have liked to spend an extra two nights in Kalaw, Kyuakme and Hsipaw. I really didn't like Nyaung Shwe at all -- the lake is pretty, but the town is heaving with tour groups and I found it quite offputting -- to the lady who took my photo eating at a street stall without asking, may your batteries forever be flat when you need them.

Transport connections don't always go as planned -- my stays in Meiktila, Thazi and Pyin Oo Lwin were because of missed connections -- allow a few hours for late running services -- especially for the train.

Costs
For the standard, accommodation in Burma is overpriced. It's still an affordable destination, but particularly midrange accommodation in the "big four" (Yangon, Inle Lake, Bagan and Mandalay) is poor value. The stupid double pricing only amplifies this.

On the upside, food is very cheap. I ate local pretty much the whole time. Figure on 300-800 kyat for mohinga or shan noodles with a coffee or two for breakfast, 2,000 for lunch and 3,500-4,500 for dinner. (obviously you could do all three meals at below 1,000 if you wished, but I liked to mix it up a bit). Beer is everywhere, cheap and very cold.

Transport is generally affordable -- even when double priced. Many of the ferries and the trains are double (in some cases triple) priced. Some buses I paid the same as locals, others I was charged double.

Crisp new US$ notes are essential -- look after them carefully. You'll get the best exchange rates at the airport.

All up I was in Burma for 25 days and spent somewhere between US$800 and $900 not including flights from Bangkok/Bali -- if you travelled less or didn't plan in depth research on the differences between Mandalay and Myanmar Beers and BBQ in Yangon you could spend significantly less. The most expensive room was $27 per night and the cheapest $5.

So all in all Burma is an affordable and quite enjoyable destination.

This is just a quick wrap -- more to come soon :-)

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,577
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Posted by SBE on 3/12/2013 at 05:01

Hsipaw was also close to capacity -- if you want to stay at Lily's (recommended -- it is great) or Mr Charles (meh), booking in advance is strongly recommended

I don't understand the above statement. I thought the Golden Lily was in Kalaw not Hsipaw?? Is there a place called Lily's in Hsipaw as well now?

Stayed at Golden Lily in Kalaw about 8 years ago and IMO it was by far the worst GH that whole trip. It was recommended in LP and the rooms looked reasonable at a cursory glance if a bit grubby. You only found what was really wrong with the place when you stayed there!

eg.

- The curtains were so thin they became totally transparent when the light was on at night (not good when there's a common balcony and people have to walk past your room to get to theirs),

- The walls were so thin you could hear people farting 6 doors down.

- Room security was non existent. All the keys were the same and fitted all the doors.

-They were also extraordinarily stingy compared to all the other GHs we stayed at. Every morning the same old "fruit" plate got wheeled out at breakfast. It consisted of a few wizened carrots and a mouldy turnip which nobody ever touched of course so they never had to replenish it. Like everywhere in Myanmar, breakfast is included in the room price but when I was there guests who were leaving on a long bus rides got told 8am was too early for breakfast or even a cup of 3-in-1 coffee.

I find it incredible that you seem to be recommending Golden Lily in Kalaw as a good place to stay (unless there's a place called Lily's in Hsipaw now?) Did you actually spend a night at the GH or just do a trek with them? I just checked what reviews on TA say and they are overwhelmingly negative about the GH as well. The Golden Lily treks get favourable reviews but the GH does not!

#2 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,021
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Posted by somtam2000 on 3/12/2013 at 10:51 admin

Short answer: yes there is a place in Hsipaw called Lily's - she's actually mr Charles sister apparently. It is great.

Comment re lily Kalaw relates to the trek - it was excellent.

#3 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,577
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Posted by mattocmd on 3/12/2013 at 15:44

Interesting you didn't care for Nyaung Shwe. Inle Lake was the highlight of my trip...but I went in slow season and there was hardly anyone there. The hotels and guesthouses all had plenty of rooms.. Now I know that if I go back, I'm going during slow season!

#4 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 365

Posted by SBE on 3/12/2013 at 20:15

Ah, OK. There were only two places to stay in Hsipaw when I was there and neither of them was called Lily so I mistakenly spluttered over my chang when I read that, sorry! :-)

I think I must have stayed in the same place as you did in Hsipaw, can't recall the name now but it was next to the (silent) clock tower. Rooms were a bit run down but the staff were very friendly and we did a very interesting day trek with that GH I remember. Nobody else was staying there ... all the other tourists had made a bee line straight to the LP recommended Mr Charles but by then we were taking all the recommendations in LP with a very large pinch of salt. I don't usually throw away brand new guidebooks but that one was so off the mark it was utterly useless and I've never bought another LP guide since.

Last time I was in Inle (a mere 3 years ago, in December, peak season) guest houses were vying for customers and it was very easy to find great value accommodation there. I liked Inle too. How quickly things things seem to be changing in Myanmar...

#5 SBE has been a member since 14/4/2008. Location: Global Village. Posts: 2,021
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Posted by somtam2000 on 8/12/2013 at 17:47 admin

Yes, we stayed at the same place in Hsipaw - probably more busy than you remember it now - five new hotels being built there at the moment... Inle was a madhouse.

#6 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,577
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Posted by 66manoj44 on 29/12/2013 at 13:23

Thanks for sharing this info.
I am eagerly waiting for more and please do share best as well as worst aspects of each place you came across.

#7 66manoj44 has been a member since 12/12/2013. Posts: 10
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Posted by MikeTV on 29/12/2013 at 14:19

Thank you Somtam! My brother and I are very excited to travel to Burma. We arrive in Yangon, via Bangkok (see Protests/Where to stay on the Thailand forum) on Jan 6th. I've made a few reservations due to high season worries. So far I have 3 nights at Motherland Inn in Yangon, a flight to Bagan , 2 nights at the Oasis, and two nights at a guesthouse in Inle Lake. I'm also looking into the Ballons over Bagan thing.

We've got 24 days in total and a lot of space to fill. Any recommendations? Did you make it to the Ngapoli beach? I've looked at your itinerary and wait patiently for more trip reports and articles.

Also...I do video work (https://vimeo.com/75623911) and would like any wisdom regarding this in Burma as well.

Thanks!

Mike

#8 MikeTV has been a member since 6/12/2011. Posts: 10

Posted by somtam2000 on 29/12/2013 at 22:16 admin

Hi Mike,

I've not made it to Ngapali yet - I hear it is quite pricey for the standard.

Something I really enjoyed was the Kalaw to Inle 3-day trek -- we'll be running it as a feature next Monday (I think) so right around when you arrive, so I'd consider fitting that in -- or perhaps a trip up to Hsipaw or Kyauk Me (for more trekking). While I've not been there myself, Mawlamyine and Hpa-an in the south also get very good reports.

Cheers

Stuart

#9 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,577
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Posted by smartlyndy on 8/1/2014 at 07:50

Hi Somtam,

Do you know if the need to book ahead is the same in low season? We are going in June / July.

Thanks,
Lyndall

#10 smartlyndy has been a member since 7/5/2009. Posts: 33

Posted by somtam2000 on 8/1/2014 at 18:41 admin

Hi Lyndall,

No I wouldn't bother booking at that time of year -- unless you have a very specific hotel you want to stay at, then may as well book it.

I would pack an umbrella though!

Cheers

#11 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,577
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Posted by smartlyndy on 9/1/2014 at 19:23

Haha! Good news re accommodation - hope the weather is not too terrible though!
We usually love SEA in the wet season; are the conditions similar in Burma or is it wetter?

Thanks again

#12 smartlyndy has been a member since 7/5/2009. Posts: 33

Posted by caseyprich on 10/1/2014 at 01:37

Somtam,

I've read that high season extends into February, to your knowledge is it still very peak then? My friend and I are just getting our travel arrangements put together (fly to BKK on January 24th) and we really have no idea how many days we will take to get from BKK to the border and then how long we want to stay in locations . . . so booking ahead doesn't sound very plausible right now.

Casey

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Posted by MikeTV on 10/1/2014 at 03:31

Hey Stuart,

Greetings from Bagan ! I love Burma so far. Yangon was amazing. Beautiful city, super cool people. I can't wait for your Kalaw to Inle trek feature. I'm likely to be doing it within the week. Any thoughts? Also...trying to figure out the best itinerary to get to Kalaw. Direct from Bagan seems like a pain. Maybe Mandalay first? Or Meiktila halfway for the night?

Anyways...Bangkok was calm despite protests. We has to look for it rather than avoid it. Khao San Rd. flooded as usual. After the 13th it's anyone's guess.

Peace!

MikeTV

#14 MikeTV has been a member since 6/12/2011. Posts: 10

Posted by smartlyndy on 11/1/2014 at 03:58

mattocmd
Hi,

I noticed you said you were in Burma in the low season. What time of year were you there?
We are planning a trip in June / July and wondering how wet it will be and whether the weather at that time will affect transport within the country.
Any thoughts about travel in Burma at this time would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks,
Lyndall

#15 smartlyndy has been a member since 7/5/2009. Posts: 33

Posted by mattocmd on 12/1/2014 at 18:11

Hi Lyndall,

I went to Burma last June and July. Expect a lot of rain in Yangon and its surroundings. I also went to Pathein, Chaung Tha and Ngwe Saung. While it may rain heavy and often, it certainly doesn't rain all day. I still had time to explore and swim at the beaches.

I also went up north to Kalaw , Inle Lake and Bagan . The weather is much different up there. Due to the geographic location of Kalaw and Nyaung Shwe, the weather was much cooler and it almost never rained. Bagan was very very hot. If you plan to go to Bagan, splurge and get a room with an A/C and a pool.

Also, unless things change drastically this year, you won't need to book any of your rooms in advance (except Yangon).

#16 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 365

Posted by smartlyndy on 15/1/2014 at 21:42

Hi Matt,

Thanks so much. That all sounds great!

Lyndall

#17 smartlyndy has been a member since 7/5/2009. Posts: 33

Posted by LeonardCohen1 on 16/1/2014 at 09:42

1-2 nights everywhere looks really rushed.

#18 LeonardCohen1 has been a member since 24/7/2012. Posts: 2,148

Posted by somtam2000 on 16/1/2014 at 18:05 admin

@Leonard - yup, as I said up top, it was - work not play.

#19 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,577
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Posted by mattocmd on 26/1/2014 at 21:11

Does anyone have an idea when 'busy season' ends? I am in the early phases of planning a second trip and am willing to delay it if, say, late March is still busy season. I want to be able to travel the country without having to book rooms in advance (Yangon being the exception of course)

Thanks!

#20 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 365


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