Useful tips when travelling in Myanmar

Once a pariah state ruled by the military for a long time, Burma, also known as Myanmar, is now more open, with tourism arrivals growing steadily. With the tourism influx, some people fear that it will evolve into a more Western society rapidly, with people giving up their traditional longyi for denims. While this may hopefully take a while, going there now than later assures you of a more authentic local experience. So talk up your travel buddy (or better yet, buddies!), book that flight and marvel at what this country has to offer.

How Long to Stay

A good itinerary would be at least for five days and four nights. The Yangon-Bagan-Inle route is already possible and recommended; simply because this combination gives you a peek into what the country has to offer. Then you can perhaps return to spend more time in either of them or in similar places that you liked of the three. While for others, this might look like a hurried journey, the country is in fact so laid back it balances the urgency. Try it out.

Choose to Travel with Someone (or more!)

While travelling alone has its perks, travelling with people you already know would serve you well in Myanmar. You will not be the only one doing the research, using logic and instincts, and reading up on the culture (as outlined in 6 Tips on How to Travel Alone). You can take turns drinking responsibly and you will never be lonely. When eating at a local restaurant where food is not too familiar, you will have more choices of viands to share, increasing the chances that you will eat something you will actually like. You can split costs of rooms and transportation rentals. There is safety, more knowledge, choices and savings in numbers.

City Life at Yangon

In this itinerary you arrive in Yangon International Airport, formerly known as Rangoon, on your first day. The former capital of Myanmar, Yangon is still the largest city and main economic hub of Myanmar. The day is dedicated to visiting seeing Shwedagon Pagoda and its surrounds.

There are free maps in doing your own downtown walking tours that lasts approximately two hours. But if the weather is bad, make sure not to miss the gorgeous Shwedagon, which is visible from almost anywhere in Yangon. Also known as the Golden Pagoda, it is the most sacred Buddhist temple in the country and one of the most sacred sites for Buddhism worldwide.

From Yangon, catch the night bus (18,500 kyats) from Aung Mingalar Bus station to Bagan. Pre-book your tickets through Joyous Journey Express.

Temple Complex at Bagan

Bagan is home to the largest collection of Buddhist pagodas, temples, and stupas in the world. There is an entrance fee (USD10 per person). Remember to bring this ticket with you all the time as there are temples where you will be asked to show it. Bagan is somehow similar to the Angkors of Siem Reap, Cambodia, but with certain distinctions. Most noticeable is the general shade of red-orange for those in Bagan and stone greys in Siem Reap.

If you would want to recover, you would spend the first couple of hours in Bagan checking in (try Aung Mingalar which is right infront of Shwe Zigon Temple, a golden pagoda that was the first and prototype monument for the iconic Shwedagon Pagoda of Yangon), having breakfast, resting, and freshening up. Once ready, you can choose to do some exploring either through a bike or a horse-drawn cart. When travelling as a group, you get to do both as you can rent one carriage and take turns. Obviously, the horse-cart driver is local so you automatically have a guide. Ask him to take you to their favourite temples that are not too known to tourists. Before the sundown, head out to Shwesandaw Temple. It is where locals and tourists alike gather for the spectacular Bagan sunset, hence, its moniker of “sunset temple.”

On your second day in Bagan, chip in and rent a van to take you to the temples that are quite far and tiresome for bicycles. Most likely, this tour will take you to the popular ones. This day, too, gives you another chance to explore and take photos of the sites you liked just in case the you had bad weather on your first day in Bagan. At night, take the night bus to Inle (11,000 kyats).

Lakeside Living at Inle

The bus stops for everyone to pay an Inle Zone Entrance Fee (US 10/Euro 10 per person) which is valid from the date of issue. Keep this ticket while in the Inle Zone. The must-do in Inle is to experience its most iconic destination, the Inle Lake. You will marvel at the grace of the Inle fishermen as they row flat-ended canoes with one leg while using both hands to fish. You will be amazed of the floating gardens and wooden homes on stilts built above the water in villages that have generations-old cottage industries like jewellery-making and lotus fabric weaving.

This tour can take most of your day in Inle, depending on how many stops you would want to make and how long each stop is. But generally, this lasts a maximum of eight hours, so you will still have some to spare to explore a little on land such as a walk around the market.

If you are following this itinerary, you would need to find a hotel that offers discounted rates for day use of their room. You can ask a local to bring you to one. Bargain the room with the tour and they would probably give you a good deal (anything better than 7,900 kyats per head). And in the evening, you can then catch the bus back to Yangon (18,500 kyats).

By Yahoo News.

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