Monday, December 15, 2014

Guide to Myanmar

Myanmar has been on my list of places to visit for years now. It was my godmother's photo at the golden Shwedagon pagoda that first triggered the fascination for me. Then, I got to see photos of Bagan and right then and there, I knew I just had to visit Myanmar.

But the political unrest in the country and the lack of cheap flights to the country has kept me from visiting it sooner. But finally, after years of wanting to go, I got the chance this year :) So here's the lowdown on my week-long visit to Golden Myanmar!

For now, there is no direct flight from Manila to Myanmar. But there are more airlines offering promo fares. We book a flight with Tiger Airlines with a stop over at Singapore. I won't lie, it was a long-ass trip. The flight themselves also took around 7 hours altogether but we spent a lot of time in the airport which extended our travel time to around 13 hours.

For us, it was simple. We wanted to go to Bagan. And Yangon was going happen simply because it was Yangon (the golden temples, yo!) It was great too because we timed our trip during their full moon festival, which is actually their new year so we were excited for all the lights! We stayed in Yangon for 3 days, then another 3 in Bagan. We had to travel in between because Bagan is far from Yangon (10 hours by bus, 1 hour by plane). We had no set itinerary, because we had so much time and we're actually spontaneous like that :P It wasn't very hard though. Finding transportation to take you to the temples was very easy. In Bagan, we spent two days going around the temples in a horse cart.

Bagan itself is very safe, more like a province for those who's used to city life. So everything is more laid back and less glamorous. But it doesn't mean it's not beautiful because it is! Like I said in my last post, there's something about the serenity of Myanmar that makes it ideal for meditating and self-discovery.
 Bagan is one of those places I won't mind going back to. Apart from the sad fact that I didn't get to ride the hot air balloon there, it's just one of those places I feel like I connected with. One of those places that you will never ever forget.

After a three-day stay in Bagan, we went back to Yangon via Golden Myanmar Airlines. Unfortunately for us, it rained the whole time we were there so we didn't get to go out much, save for the night of the light festival and of course, shopping day (hehe!)

I won't tell you where to go in Myanmar because it's so easy to google the tourist spots. Instead, let me give you a run down of things that you shouldn't miss out on (and those that other guides won't tell you):

1. Get your hands (or whatever body part) painted at select temples in old Bagan. We really enjoyed this one because it made us feel more connected with the place.

2. Drink Myanmar beer. I've started to get used to testing out local beer in the countries I go to. Myanmar beer is quite good. Not so bitter and has the right amount of alcohol. I can't say it's my favorite but it's definitely something you should try :)

3. Get your fortune told outside Sule Pagoda. This is one of the highlights of our trip. The whole trip itself was already very meditative for me. I got to reflect on my life and where I am at. Having my fortune told there kinda helped me plan out my next steps. Even if you don't completely believe in them, in a way it just completed the whole "self-discovery"; "enlightening" experience in Myanmar.

4. Buy metals and precious stones. I know, I know, this sounds so cliche but believe me, they are so worth it! The quality is amazing and they are so cheap! I gave them out as pasalubong and everyone loved them! No one would suspect how inexpensive they are because the gems were authentic! Loved shopping!

Before I end this post, I know there are some important things that you probably need guidance on and these are the ones that guides don't normally tell you:

People keep emphasizing how you should be very conservative in Myanmar and that was my biggest problem cause I don't own a lot of pants/long dresses. Well, turns out it's not so bad when you get there. The only restriction is if you want to go visit the temples because they really won't let you in if you wear shorts/sleeveless tops, etc. It's best to wear something long and to always bring a shawl just in case. I packed a lot of maxi dresses and jumpsuits to be on the safe side. Bagan is worse, but in Yangon you can get away with less conservative clothes if you just wanna go around the city.

Hotels in Myanmar are a bit expensive. We stayed in Family Treasure Inn in Yangon and for the same price, we could have easily stayed at a 4-star hotel in Vietnam. It was the same case in Bagan. We figured it was because Myanmar's tourism sector hasn't taken off yet so they weren't very tourist-friendly yet. Even the amount of tourists in the places we went to weren't as many as compared to other ASEAN countries. I do not recommend Family Treasure Inn because it wasn't very clean and I can be very picky with cleanliness that way :| Our hotel in Bagan was better though. We stayed at Bagan Nova hotel and it was a dainty hotel ran by really kind female locals. It was a nice place but weirdly, it was in an inside street (which was unpaved) so you won't really think it was a hotel at first.

Can I just say internet in Myanmar is very bad? Posting anything was almost impossible. The internet providers weren't dependable. There was even a time that there was no internet connection in the whole of Bagan. Yes, it was that bad.

We had the option to take the bus to Bagan from Yangon but it would lose us two days for the trip lasts for more than 10 hours. It was definitely cheaper though, just around 700php per way but we wanted there fast so we decided to take the plane. It cost us around 2,500php per way but it was definitely more convenient. The planes though are very small and kinda scary. But honestly, I was more scared of taking a bus for 10-hours :|

I can't emphasize enough how much I enjoyed my trip to Myanmar. It was really worth the wait. I'm just so glad I finally got to tick it off my bucket list :) Thank you Myanmar for the wonderful memories! As the line from Wicked goes, "I don't know if I've been changed for the better, but because I knew you, I have been changed for good." :)

Related post: Golden Myanmar

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