This was one of our very last minute picks. And our best decision all trip. While looking for a place to break journey between Myawaddy and Yangon, I read about the small town of Hpa-An that most claimed had an easy, countryside charm that was difficult to articulate. Having spent just two days there, we came away with an uneasy feeling that though this was our first stop, it couldn't be topped. We couldn't have been more right. Hpa-An is a tiny town in Southern Myanmar that hardly wishes to compete with the big four in tourism in the country -- Bagan, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Yangon -- in that it has no particular spectacle that is its showpiece. What it lacks in a showstopper it more than makes up for in its vibe however. As soon as you step out of the town, the surrounding countryside is awash in refreshing paddy hues and some truly amazing caves, pagodas and water bodies. And the complete lack of tourists make sure you have all the time in the world to just stand there and take it all in without the slightest hint of urgency.
Start your Myanmar expedition in its largest city, as well as the most important commercial centre – Yangon. What immediately strikes you is the omnipresence of buildings from the colonial-era. The entire city seems to have been planned around the 2,000-year-old Sule Pagoda, which acts as the commercial core. There is a big Indian influence visible throughout because the city was a major business hub during the British rule in India. If somebody there told me that it is still circa 1947, I wouldn't mind believing it because Myanmar doesn't seem to have developed much since. The ironic part is, Yangon is still the most happening place to be in Myanmar.Things to do in YangonSince you will spend a lot of your first day in Yangon trying to understand the mannerisms of a new country, it's important that you spend at least two days here. Here are some of the best things to do in and around Yangon during this time:1. Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda – The most sacred Buddhist Pagoda in Myanmar. Believed to contain relics of four previous Buddhas, including strands of hair from Gautama Buddha's head.2. Visit the Sule Pagoda – More than a religious symbol, it is an iconic structure for Yangon and Burmese political changes over the years.3. Visit the Kandawgyi Lake – Literally meaning the "great royal lake", it's a 150-acre large fresh water lake surrounded by the Kandawgyi National Park. This acts as a nice picnic spot for families in the evenings.4. Visit the pristine white beaches in Ngwesaung. It is a 15-km long beach resort located at a 5-hour drive away from Yangon. You can even spend the night here if you wish.In order to be better prepared to explore Yangon you can read this detailed piece on Yangon. You can even book hotels in advance to prevent the last-minute rush.Day 3 & 4
You can rent e-bikes through most hotels or from several shops in Nyaung U, one of the three areas of Bagan. They cost around 5,000 kyat or $5 (£3.20 GBP) per day or for around the eight hours battery life. They are a slower, quieter, electric version of a motorbike. It's illegal for foreigners to rent or drive motorcycles in Bagan so an e-bike is the next best thing.
We decided to ride all the way out to New Bagan, the area of Bagan that was furthest from where we were staying. There were brief stops at another couple of pagodas on the way filled with more buddhas and weathered murals. Mainly though we just enjoyed spotting them from the road, making a mental note of which ones might be good to explore later.
Day 4: Bagan Breakfast at hotel. Bagan is the main historical site in Myanmar. We will visit the great Shwezigon Pagoda, which was donated by King Anawrahta; Ananda Pahto, which is 170 feet high, with its shimmering gold, and a symmetrical masterpiece of Mon architectural style and considered to be the most beautiful among all the temples of Bagan; Ananda Ok Kyaung: Ananda brick monastery, one of the few surviving monastery buildings from the early Bagan era. The interior of the building is lined with well-preserved murals with everyday scenes from the Bagan period; Thatbyinnyu Pahto, a famous temple built in the mid-12th century, covered in white stucco, and located at the corner of the old city wall. Then we will enjoy the stunning sunset from one of the temples. Overnight in Bagan Day 5: Bagan – Mt Popa – Bagan Breakfast at hotel. In the morning, visit the Nyaung U market and you can explore the countryside around Bagan. Then, 2 hours drive to Mt. Popa, where you will walk up the huge volcanic rock on a staircase to see shrines for nats (celestial spirits of Burmese mythology) and small temples for Lord Buddha. It will take about 20 minutes to reach the top of Mount Popa and you will pass by many small food stalls and small stalls selling herbal medicine. Return to Bagan. Just in time for another spectacular sunset. Overnight in Bagan. More photos here: - The Temples of Bagan: http://www.myanmartravelessentials.com/religious-sites-and-temples/the-temples-of-bagan/ - Sunset at The Temples of Bagan: http://www.myanmartravelessentials.com/religious-sites-and-temples/sunset-at-the-temples-of-bagan-myanmar/ - Balloons Over Bagan: http://www.myanmartravelessentials.com/religious-sites-and-temples/ballooning-over-bagan-ancient-temples-from-the-sky/
My introduction to the electric bikes ( e-bikes) in Bagan didn't get off to a great start. I twisted the accelerator too fast and shot across the road, up the wrong side towards the oncoming traffic. I'd never ridden any two wheeler faster than a push-bike before. Not a confident driver at the best of times, I wasn't convinced e-biking around Bagan was the best idea. I kept having flashbacks to desert quad-biking on my hen-do in Egypt. Much to the guides frustration and my friends amusement I crawled along at a snails pace behind the other girls. Bagan Transport
The most touristy town in Myanmar and the gateway to the beautiful Inle Lake. Surrounded by floating villages and monasteries, the memories of floating on this mountain lake will always be special.
This is India's only neighbour on the list, and that automatically makes it the most "visit-able" since inclination towards the familiar is part of the rudimentary human psyche. Myanmar's capital is a criminally overlooked destination in our country, but it is just as good as any other South Asian city. Literally translating to 'the royal city of sun', Naypyidaw is famous for its grandness with eight-lane highways, ministry buildings, round-the-clock electricity, generals' residences, and a lot more. Even substandard hotels seem luxurious.Famous for: Temples and food.Things to do: Visit the Thatta Thattaha Maha Bawdi Pagoda. Stay at luxurious resorts, because they aren't that expensive.Weather in January: 27 degrees celsius. The night chill is similar to what you experience in India.Average budget per head for 5 days (excluding flights): Rs. 31,000For more details, read this.
A small valley town, surrounded by hills and tribe villages of Myanmar. Lovely, easy hikes to monasteries and surrounding villages.
This place was so beautiful. It's not on the tourist map and you will find only backpackers here. There is no wifi in the entire town which adds to the charm of this small little town. We arrived in Hpa-an in the evening and then stayed at the Soe Brothers Guest House. I really recommend this place to stay as you will meet a lot of backpackers and also they have an amazing tour across Hpa-an that I must recommend. The tour lasts an entire day and you can see some of the pictures from the tour in the main gallery. It will take you to many picturesque villages and caves. In the evening you can go to a nearby hill to watch the sunset. You have to take a small boat ride and can get the directions from your hotel.
How we got here: Took a day bus from Mandalay to Hsipaw. The bus left at around 9am and reached Hsipaw around 7pm. This time we took a normal bus (non-VIP) and shared the bus with tons of other locals. Every space in the bus was fully maximised to fit as many passengers as possible. Plastic chairs were placed in the middle in between the seats to accommodate more passengers! Where we stayed: Another backpacker recommended us Mr Charles Guesthouse and we decided to heed his advice. Rooms were cheap and the ambience was great! Very friendly staff, comfortable clean rooms. What we did: After much feedback from other travellers, we decided to go for the 3d 2n trek at Hsipaw. We initially wanted to do the much raved about trek from Kalaw to Inle lake, but we were told that the trek in Hsipaw was less touristy and more authentic. Boy were we glad that we did it. Definitely one of the highlights of our Myanmar travel! Our trekking guide was arranged from our guesthouse and we managed to find 6 other backpackers to join us for this trek. You need a minimum of 4 pax for this 3d 2n trek. How much we spent in total: Food – $18 Activities – $80 (3d2n Trek) - $10 (Tips for our awesome guide) Transport – $10 (Bus from Mandalay to Hsipaw) Accommodation – $28 (for 2 nights) Others – $3 (Medicine for food poisoning) Total expenditure for 2 pax - $149 Average expenditure/pax - $74.50
Miles and miles of white sand and azure sea. Enchanting fishing villages. Rent a bike and explore.
After Sagaing, We went to Inn-Wa which is very ancient town. A ferry has to be taken to go to island of Inn-Wa where Horse Carts have to be hired to roam around the place.
Being a country that has so recently opened its borders so recently, there can be a frustrating lack of information about the land border crossings. So when we did cross over into Myanmar from the Mae Sot-Myawaddy check post, we were feeling particularly triumphant about it all going through so smoothly. ... Until we found out that the single-lane highway that connects Myawaddy to the rest of the country runs in opposite directions on subsequent days: odd days East and even days West. Effectively reducing your chances of getting out on the same day by a dramatic 50%! It was something we hadn't even remotely conceived of, and we paid for our lack of creative imagination by having to be stuck in a dusty, sleepy border town with nothing to do for a whole day. Lesson learnt.