Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar

Tripoto
6th Jan 2014

Myanmar has recently opened itself to tourism and the curiosity about this unexplored destination is very high. We backpacked across Myanmar starting from Bangkok and crossed the border by land. The trip will talk in detail about the places we visited and the experiences we had.

Traveler Tips on Myanmar:

1) People are very honest, there is no crime and virtually no theft. It's a welcome respite after the tourist scams of the other countries in South East Asia. The scope for negotiation of prices is limited, but do negotiate and you can save a few bucks.

2) Don't rely on good internet connectivity in Myanmar. It's really slow and almost unusable. Skype calls will not work.

3) No-one speaks English (Like most of of southeast Asia- just a bit worse). Sharpen your sign language and don't string long English sentences to confuse the locals. Use 1 or 2 word sentences. Maximum 3 words in a sentence.

4) Transportation options are limited. From one city to another there are usually 3-4 buses in a day. 2 in the morning and 2 in the evening. Take the evening bus to save time during overnight travel. Most of the buses drop you off at 3-4 am in the morning. And check out timing for most guest houses is 10 AM. So be prepared to rough it out. Train journeys are a fun adventure, but trains is too slow to use. Unless you have a lot of time don't use the trains. There are VIP buses that are a bit expensive, but a little bit more comfortable. Buses have really cold Aircon settings and play bad Burmese movies on full blast. So carry good headphones.

5) Don't spend too much time in Yangon. It's a rich cultural experience, but other than that there is nothing much to do there. Plan no more than 1 day in Yangon

6) Compared to other Indo-China countries Myanmar is expensive. Be prepared to pay around 15$ a night for a single room budget accommodation.

Best time to Visit:

November to February. Also the busiest - so budget rooms are full and it's harder to find cheap budget places to stay. The weather is perfect.

What to eat:

Burmese cuisine is varied depending on the part of Burma you visit. The vegetarian options in Myanmar are much better than the rest of South East Asia. Try out the Shan cuisine for sure on Inle Lake. Pork, rice and noodles is what is served in most places - Definitely a lot of Asian and Chinese influence. Given the Indian connection there is a lot of Indian cuisine too. (Indian, Burmese). Try out the Burmese Biryani in Yangon and roadside parents on the Indian street in Yangon. Do visit the Barbeque street at night in Yangon for some local food.

Myanmar beer is sold everywhere here and is worth a try. The local rice wine and Burmese cigar is a must try.

Shop:

I am not much of a shopper. Also, coming from India you always think that you can find better handcrafted stuff at much better prices in India. Few original things I found in Myanmar: Burmese Cigars, Myanmar beer, Lacqerware, junk jewelry made from watermelon seeds and some good local art.

Musings:

1) Local Internet cafes charge 8 USD from locals to make a Facebook account. Found it really amusing.

2) The confluence of Islam and Buddhism in Myanmar is fascinating. It's fascinating to find a Buddhist pagoda and a mosque coexisting peacefully (There were some riots in Myanmar earlier - but I would like that is an aberration)

3) Myanmar defeated the Britishers twice before they could gain an inroad into Myanmar in the third Anglo-Burmese war. That is definitely a break from the norms compared to other Asian countries. Also, despite being a British colony and part of the India for a long time - the knowledge of English is almost non existent. Signboards in English are rare.

4) The ushering of Democracy has brought an influx of tourists and definitely more prosperity (from what you hear). Although I did not hear lots of complaining against the junta (Military) rule from the locals. I did not find abject poverty in Burma compared to India - but that could also be because most of the places are restricted for tourists.

5) Monks and their life fascinated me. Quietly walking across the country, I wonder about the life they lead and the thoughts in their head. I did see one monk taking a selfie on his fancy Samsung Galaxy phone. Technology is making its impact in the un-likeliest of places.

Feel free to ping me through the trip inquiry button on Tripoto and will be happy to answer further questions if you are traveling to Myanmar.

Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 1/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Bagan - The land of 1000 temples
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 2/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 3/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Bargaya Monastery: Teak Wood Monastery - Mand
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 4/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Caves in Hpa-han, Myanmar
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 5/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Sukhothai historic town, Thailand
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 6/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Sukhothai historic town, Thailand
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 7/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Sunset from Hpa-an, Myanmar
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 8/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Tour in HPa-an, Myanmar - Inside a cave
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 9/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Tour in HPa-an, Myanmar - Inside a cave
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 10/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Arundhati clicking away in Mandalay
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 11/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Riding an unstable chinese motorbike in Manda
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 12/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Sunset from Amarpura Teak wood Bridge
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 13/19 by Anirudh Gupta
1.2 Km long teakwood bridge at Amarpura
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 14/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Trek from Kalay to Inle, Myanmar
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 15/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Market at Inle Lake, Myanmar
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 16/19 by Anirudh Gupta
One leg pedaling and fishing by locals
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 17/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Inden Villiage, Inle Lake
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 18/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Inden Villiage, Inle Lake
Photo of Backpacking & Roadtripping across Myanmar 19/19 by Anirudh Gupta
Night Market Yangon, Barbeque Street, 19th St
We started our journey from Bangkok and had half a day to spend here. What you can squeeze in is Arun Wat temple (It's gorgeous) and ferry ride across the Chao Phraya River. Don't miss out on the amazing street food in Bangkok while you are here.
The next day we took an early morning train from Bangkok to Phitsanulok. The train journey is comfortable and costs only 7$ per person. Book the early morning train. Ask for the cheapest available train at the station counter at Hualamphong Central Train Station. From Phitsanulok, take a bus directly to Sukhothai old city. The budget guesthouse in the Sukhothai old city is an Old City Guest house. It's the cheapest and the best. If it is full you can find cheap guest houses near by. If you start from Bangkok early morning, then you will reach Sukhothai in the evening.Next morning rent a bicycle and cycle around the Sukothai Historical ruins. Do catch the sunrise and sunset - it's beautiful. Once you enter the ruins you will feel as if you have been transported back in time. No amount of description will do justice to the beauty in Sukhothai - so I will let you explore it yourself :). Giant Buddha statues and Hindu and Buddhist temple construction from the 12th century AD will simply awe you. You can also cycle around the city and it's very beautiful.
Photo of Sukhothai Thailand by Anirudh Gupta
Flew from Yangon to Bangkok on a super cheap Air Asia flight. Be careful about the Don Muang Airport (The Air Asia flight lands here) if you are landing here on Transit. You will have to go out and come back into the airport - and so need a visa. (I am not sure if there is a workaround this so check with your airlines). On our transit in Bangkok we also managed to attend the local protests in Bangkok and ate every sort of street food. (Bangkok is a delight for street food). In the afternoon, we went to the snake farm and then spent the rest of the evening in Lumphini Park before heading back to the airport.
Photo of Bangkok Thailand by Anirudh Gupta
Next morning, we took a bus from Sukothai directly to the small border town of Mae Sot. It's a minivan and not very comfortable but the only option available. You can take a tuk tuk directly to the border crossing. Border crossing is smooth. There is no visa on arrival at the border crossing so make sure you have it beforehand. (if needed)
Once we crossed over to the border in Myanmar everything changed. The mess increased and the roads were suddenly filled with potholes. No one speaks English here so be prepared to talk in sign language. There is nothing to do in Myawaddy - so don't spend any time here. Take a shared taxi immediately and get out of this border town. However, the strange thing is that the road that connects the border town to rest of Myanmar is a one lane road across the mountains. It's barely a road and it runs in one direction for one day. So, you can enter the rest of Myanmar only on even dates. Plan your journey beforehand so that you hit the border town on an even date and you will be good to go. If you are stuck in Myawaddy on an odd day, then explore the markets and stay in the Myawaddy hotel which is a decent crash pad.
Photo of Myawaddy, Kayin, Myanmar (Burma) by Anirudh Gupta
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.
Photo of Hpa-An, Kayin, Myanmar (Burma) by Anirudh Gupta
We went straight from Hpa-an to Yangon in a bus and then took a bus to Mandalay from there for around 10500 Kyat (10.5 USD). There are many touts at the bus station but surprisingly no scamming. You can save a few dollars by checking around in a few bus offices.
Photo of Yangon, Yangon Region, Myanmar (Burma) by Anirudh Gupta
Mandalay is one of the biggest cities with heavy Indian and Chinese influence. We reached Mandalay in the evening and scouted around for budget hotels. Found ET hotel - not the cheapest - to stay in as most of the guest houses were full. There is a nice Nepali food joint you can go to for dinner, which makes Burmese pancakes and Paranthas. Next morning we rented a motorbike and rode across Mandalay hill area. The bikes are Chinese made and unstable, with no rear view mirror. The traffic if pretty crazy, so is a bit careful. The teak monastery in Mandalay is a must visit. (this is in the Mandalay hill zone with a 10$ ticket you can't escape). There are plenty of other Monasteries to visit in this region. After that we headed to the Amarpura bridge by motorbike to watch the sunset. It's a beautiful 2 km bridge made entirely out of wood. The sunset is beautiful. The ride till the bridge is a bit crazy and dusty with bad roads. But its surely adventurous on a Chinese made motorbike. We left from Mandalay in the evening to Kalaw by bus.
Photo of Mandalay, Mandalay Region, Myanmar (Burma) by Anirudh Gupta
We reached Kalaw late at night and it was really chilly. Fortunately, we found a guesthouse next to the bus station with a hot shower and decent beds. We took a guide to help us for our 2-day trek to Inle Lake (You can also do the 3-day trek). At night you halt in a local village and it is definitely a good cultural experience. In November the landscape is a bit boring, but if you go there in February you will see green paddy everywhere. Nevertheless the trek was still beautiful (and not very hard). Our guide was a 19 year local Burmese boy who was excited to find out more about India and also tell us his love story :). The 2 day trek cost us 50$ per person, including food, stay and a long boat ride to cross Inle. You can ask the guest house at Kalaw to have your backpacks dropped directly at Inle. I think if you negotiate a bit harder and take a tour directly from the guide it is possible to do it in 35$ per person. The village stay was definitely the highlight of the trek for us along with the beautiful foggy morning that we witnessed on our trek.
Photo of Kalaw, Shan, Myanmar (Burma) by Anirudh Gupta
Inle Lake is the most touristy part of Myanmar. We arrived here in the afternoon, tired from our trek from Kalaw. Spent the evening relaxing around the town. Everything shuts down early. We took a boat ride next day from our hotel around Inle Lake. For me personally Inden village was the highlight. So definitely ask your boat rider to take you to Inden village. I loved the 1000 pagodas at Inden village - It feels like a mini version of Bagan. Next day, we rented a bicycle and went first to the Hot Springs. It's a good 7-8 Km bicycle ride. A bath in the hot waters is recommended - it's very refreshing. After that, we went a bit off-the-road and reached a village that seemed to be totally off the tourist chart. There were no tourists and the villagers were definitely very amused to find us there. So, when cycling around Inle don't be afraid to get lost - you will find these little villages around the lake that will totally charm you. After that stopover, we cycled across to the other side to the winery (another good 6-7 kms). The winery is beautiful and offers an amazing sunset view. Do try out the local wines at the winery. (I am not much of a connoisseur, but I did try the Blanc, Rose and the white wine)
Photo of Inle Lake, Taunggyi, Shan, Myanmar (Burma) by Anirudh Gupta
We took the overnight bus from Inle to reach Bagan around 2 AM. A local rickshaw took us to a hotel. Next morning, we rented a cycle to move around Bagan. The entire city is dotted with Pagodas and you can find some stunning views here. The city is rich with history. The Shezigon Pagoda is the most important pagoda and we spent a few hours here and caught the sunset. The city is dotted with 3000 pagodas in total.
Photo of Old Bagan, Mandalay Region, Myanmar (Burma) by Anirudh Gupta
We took the evening bus from Bagan to reach Yangon early morning. Finding a room proved to be difficult here. Finally, around 10 AM we were able to find a budget accommodation in the Garden Inn Hotel. Shewdagon Paya is the most important place to visit in the city. It's a hugs structure and the most important religious site in Myanmar. In the evening you can see monks in their burgundy robes climbing the Pagoda - it's a beautifully serene site. We tried local food in the evening visiting the Indian street to try Burmese-Indian food and also went to the barbecue street at night to have a beer and catch the locals watching soccer over beer and barbeque. Fascinating indeed.
Photo of Yangon, Yangon Region, Myanmar (Burma) by Anirudh Gupta
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