Myanmar: a hidden gem in South East Asia
January 1, 1970
Where you meet one tourist every hour
Upon arriving in Myanmar it was clear that this wasn’t a country like any other in South East Asia. Where as in Thailand it’s sometimes impossible to find an authentic Thai restaurant, in Myanmar it will seem impossible to even find a restaurant. Coming out of the airport our first mission was to find a taxi to take us to the center. That’s where we met our good friend, mister Sai. If you’re staying in Yangon for a few days, I can only recommend finding a good driver and hold on to him throughout your stay here. A good way to explore the city and it’s surroundings is to take the Yangon circle line train. But do keep in mind to not take this train if you are in a hurry, you can never rely on the scheduled time.
Outside of the station we found people lining up. Must be something worth visiting! As we came closer, people all around us were smiling and laughing out loud. Reason for all this laughter was the opening of the very first ”Kentucky fried chicken” restaurant in the country. And as if it was on purpose, they placed it right next to a pagoda.
Another great thing to visit while in Yangon is ofcourse the Golden Rock Pagoda, and that’s where your driver will come in handy! Leave on time as it will be a 4 hour drive to one of Myanmar’s most famous pagodas. However, the way to get there is as exciting as the rock itself, if not even more!
People are placed in load trucks of what seems like an army jeep. Where there is room for 6 people on a bench, the Burmese will squeeze in 8. Make sure to wear your rain jacket and while going up, close your eyes for a few seconds and you will feel like being on one of those breathtaking, mind dazzling attractions in your favorite theme park. Do not worry, as you can read on the sign at the entrance, you have a life insurance included in the price of your ticket.
Before saying goodbye to your driver make sure to visit the Nagar Glass Factory. Located just outside the center of Yangon, but destroyed by a cyclone in 2008, this place is a must see for everyone visiting the city. While the factory was completely destroyed, the business is still up and running. Find your way through broken glass and dense forest, collecting unique pieces of Burmese
Long sleeves and a mosquito spray will be your best friend during this visit. After collecting your favorite pieces, hand them over to one of the owners of the factory. They will make them as new, ready to use. One of our most memorable souvenirs from this beautiful country.
Where you meet one tourist every two hours
Exchange the heat and bustle of the city for the peace and quite of Inle lake. A 12 hour bus ride will take you from Yangon to Nyaungshwe. I can truly recommend JJ express, tickets will cost you around 20$ but definitely worth the expense, as it was one of the most luxurious bus rides we ever experienced in Asia. After arriving at the lake make sure to put these activities on your list:
- hike to the winery
- boat tour on the lake
- Geocaching in town
The hike to the winery is ideal for those who are at the beginner’s level. In which I included myself. A local guide will take you into the hills, visiting a local school, a temple hidden in a cave and stopping for lunch in a local village, where the most tasteful noodle soup is prepared just for you. Continuing after the lunch the hike will end at a winery, where ofcourse, the most important activity is to taste the different wines the area has to offer.
For a boat tour on the lake you will have different possibilities. Best one is to walk towards the mooring, where you can find your own private boat and discuss about the price. The boat will take you through a floating village, where you can visit craftsmen.
Make sure to check the dates of the market, as the market moves around the lake from one floating village to another. The one leg fishermen are a must see as well, in contrast to the jumping cat monastery, where you will find lots of different things, except for jumping cats. For those of you spending more than enough time around the lake, a second day on the water visiting In Dein is a good idea as well.
Last but not least, for those of you into Geocaching, this one is a must do! For those of you who aren’t into Geocaching, this one is still a must do! Go to the website http://www.geocaching.com/ and enter the following code: GC3FNCK. It’s called a ”social cache” for a reason. It will take you through various rice fields until you reach the Ywa Thit Monastery. Knock on the door, the rest is for you to discover.
City of 1001 temples
Next memorable stop in this beautiful country is Bagan. When entering the area you will be pulled over to pay some sort of entrance fee. This is not a scam and please do bear in mind they only accept brand new notes!
Best way to explore the temple site is by e-bike, but empty batteries will be your worst enemy. Luckily the rental companies hand out their phone numbers and Burmese people will gladly help you out when necessary, although sometimes you will have to pay a visit to their family business in return.
Don’t leave Bagan without climbing on to the famous Bulethi temple. But make sure you arrive on time, because the stunning sunset will be on everyone’s list.
Just for a day…
Our last stop before heading to Laos was Mandalay. The city itself not being too attractive, but a visit to the Mahagandayon Monastery was definitely worth the detour. Watching the monks line up for lunch was an unforgettable experience. As they only eat twice a day, it’s a very important moment for them. Food will be served at 10 am sharp. It’s best to arrive around 9.30 am to make sure you get a good view.
A visit to the monastery combined with a visit to the famous U-bein Bridge, will make the capital a perfect place to spend no more than a day or two. Best way to explore Myanmar is to fly to Yangon or Mandalay and leave the country from the other airport. As the journeys between cities are quite long and I wouldn’t recommend flying with a national carrier, this will make your visit as smooth as possible. Don’t postpone it though as it is a booming destination for many backpackers.