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Parting thoughts on Myanmar

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After two weeks in Myanmar, here are some of my thoughs:


1. The weather in winter is perfect in the shade and in the highlands.
2. Watching day turn into night at Shwedagon Pagoda.
3. Small rural towns and cycling through the countryside.
4. Cruising Inle Lake.


1. It isn’t a value destination. Accommodation is expensive. Eating is also expensive compared to richer SE Asian countries (eg. USD0.80 for a bowl of noodles, USD2.50 for an Indian roti).
2. Accommodation is scarce and is often fully-booked when one tries to ring ahead.
3. Sights can get monotonous after a short time; they’re largely related to Buddhism.
4. There is always a worry that one could run out of USD and be forever stuck in Myanmar; there are international ATMs now but it is virtually useless as with a transaction limit is around USD20 and USD5 fee!
5. Depending on where one ends up staying, I found it hard to meet other travellers for the more urban parts of the journey.


1. Yangon is now very modern since my previous visit some 15 years ago.
2. There is quite a noticeable uptake of smartphones.
3. A lot of visitors are oldies in large groups.
4. Most visitors to this "Golden Land" are in their "golden years" on group tours.
5. All but one bed (dorm) were double-sheeted, unlike in many neighbouring countries where you’re up against blankets used by everyone before you.

Top Tips

Decide where you want to visit and book your accommodation in advance. Reconfirm along the way. When I'm sitting in hotel receptions, it’s shocking how many people get turned away each time or have to change hotels in the same city as they can’t get all then nights they want.


My total spend in Myanmar over two weeks was USD728, of which USD379 was for accommodation nearly (nearly entirely in twin/double rooms by myself) and USD349 for general expenses. If I had travelled with a companion twinshare, the accommodation would have been USD194, making the total USD573.

On top of that, I spent USD331 for three expensive domestic flights and USD75 for the visa through an agency. Both of these were well worth it; the former because of my hip and back issues lately. And the latter saved me having to stay several days in KL or Bangkok to wait for a visa.

At the end, I only had USD84 left over. I could have been easily stranded with no money if I had been unlucky with accommodation in a couple of places, eg. having to accept a more expensive place. Like I said, hotels are very full and prices have doubled since the last version of the guidebook ... and quadrupled since the version before!


There are other places I want to explore (or revisit) before I’d consider another visit to Myanmar. Firstly, the attractions aren’t varied enough for me. Secondly, it isn’t a fun-and-value country like say Vietnam, where one can experience the culture and yet have hedonistic moments for very little money (eg. food, drink, massage, shopping).

Don’t get me wrong, travel isn’t all meant to be hedonistic. It’s about experiencing as much of the world as possible and that I’ve done in Myanmar.

But I didn’t like the fact that pricing seems so wrong for a poor country. I somehow enjoy myself better in countries like Indonesia, Pakistan and China.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Back to Yangon

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I had to wake early for the 0900 flight to Yangon [Yangon-travel-guide-1320501] as the airport is over in Heho, some 50 minutes away.

The ride was very picturesque with Intha fishermen working in the mist. Then there were lots of monks collecting their alms; with not just their begging bowl … this time they a bamboo pole carried by two monks which had a frame hanging off it that had the various side dishes that have been given. Pity the camera wasn’t handy.

My flight to Yangon operated through Ngapali Beach (Thandwe), taking a total of 2 hours plus a little bit more for some serious headwind.

Ngapali Beach was prettier than I expected. The water was blue-green and the sand golden. Somehow, being on the Bay of Bengal, I expected wetlands and swamps like the Sundarbans.

School was just out as I taxied from the airport into Yangon central. The traffic was shocking; I had never seen it like this on my previous days.

I whiled the day away updating my blogs and relaxing. I even had a nap; I really felt like I needed it which is most unusual. It could have been the decongestant I bought locally.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Cruising Inle Lake

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large_5550_13590272025615.jpgIntha fishermen at work.
I had enquired several times about excursions to Inle Lake [Inle-Lake-travel-guide-1314553] and the standard itinerary was about USD 17. What they don’t tell you is that the price is for the whole boat, which seat five. When divided by five, it becomes a really cheap daytrip. Finally, something cheap in Myanmar … because there is a freemarket supply-and-demand for a change.

I managed to gather a group comprising of a German couple and Dutch couple, all of whom I had kept running into in Nyaung U and here in Nyaung Shwe. We had all ended up at the Gold Star Hotel but thye had to move due to the hotel not being able to take them beyond the first night.

We met at 0830 at my hotel and walked down to the jetty with the boatman. The boat was set up with five seats each with a blanket and a lifevest.large_5550_13590272023449.jpgIntha fishermen at work; they row with one leg keeing their hands free for attending to their nets.

We cruised on the river and wetlands past the “Birds Preservation Area” (sic, taxidermist at work) before entering the lake.

We slowed down to see the Intha fishermen at work. They row with one leg wrapped around the oar leaving both hands free to tend to their fishing nets. They must have amazing balance.

We proceeded to Hpaung Daw U to see the markets, ceremonial barges and the temple.

From there on, the day was largely a shopping trip. While I'm not a shopper, I enjoyed learning about the traditional crafts and the cottage industries that have become of them. We saw:

1. Lotus stem fibres were spun into thread and woven into fabrics.
2. A blacksmith made knives, scissors, betelnut cutters etc, where everything was beaten by hand. A young boy sat on top of the furnace pumping the bellows by hand.large_5550_13590272023808.jpgIntha fishermen at work; they row with one leg keeing their hands free for attending to their nets.
3. Local cigars were rolled by hand. Some were flavoured with star-anise and others with pineapple.
4. Silversmiths made intricate jewellery.
5. Bark was hand-beaten into a mash before being made into handmade paper and then umbrellas. They had some longneck Padaung women here on display; I don’t like using people as an “attraction” like a petting zoo.

The shopping (window-shopping for me) experience was broken by lunch. We then cruised around what seemed like a neighbourhood of bamboo homes with water for roads. A floating village or water village, if you like.

Around sunset, we dropped into the Nga Pe Kyaung (better known as the cat monastery). While there are plenty of cats there, their gym master has passed on and the remaining monks don’t have too much interest in pussy-calisthenics. So the cats don’t jump through hoops for nobody no more.

We cruised the Floating Gardens where vegetables (largely tomatoes) are grown on trellises in the shallow water.

It was nearly dark when we got back at 1830 into Nyaung Shwe. The group reconvened for dinner by chance for a local Myanmar-style dinner at the Lin Htet restaurant.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

Cycling through the countryside

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large_5550_13590130636944.jpgAt the markets in Nyaung Shwe.
I had a leisurely day (or half-day) on the bike today. I read about the hot spring about 40 minutes away by bike. It seemed like a good way to while the day away.

The road there was a mix of sealed and unsealed. I had a nicer bike than the one in Bagan [Bagan-travel-guide-1314554] and it was equipped with gears. This was my first experience cycling on terrain, make that rough terrain. I bounced off the seat a few times going downhill over the stony surface. And I learnt that bike gears are numbered opposite to car gears; choose a small number to go up hill!

It was USD5 to enter the men’s swimming pool and USD8 for the co-ed small pools. I chose the former as I wanted to save money and I was the only customer anyway. The water was warm, not hot. I only stayed about 30 minutes and then cycled back.

I wasn’t disappointed as I hadn’t expected something like one of those amazing Korean (or Hungarian) spas. And it was a good way to kill half-a-day, which is what I wanted. I enjoyed cycling through the countryside more than the actual hot springs.

With the short winter daylight hours, there wasn’t much left to the day after a late lunch.

Over dinner I met this Italian guy who had become a Buddhist. I had a very interesting chat with him and had a quick revision on the differences between the Mahayana and Hinayana (Theravada) forms of Buddhism.


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Heho Heho, away we go

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large_5550_1359012842932.jpgSightseeing boats on the river at Nyaung Shwe.
I woke at 05:30. As I left the hotel the monks were on their rounds collecting their food. The ride to Bagan Airport took about 15 minutes and the place was very quiet when I first arrived. It didn’t take long before busloads of older western tourists arrived.

There were heaps of flights coming and going about the same time. Our flight was delayed by about 30 minutes due to weather at Heho Airport (the gateway to Inle Lake).

It was great knowing that the 30 minute flight was instead of about 10 hours on a bus. Upon arrival, I shared a taxi to Nyaung Shwe [Nyaung-Shwe-travel-guide-1326677] with the retired Dutch couple whom I met on the boat from Mandalay [Mandalay-travel-guide-551987] to Bagan a few days back. That saved me a fair bit as it was a long ride (nearly an hour) and cost about USD30.

I had booked by phone a room at the Gold Star Hotel for the first night; they couldn’t take me on the second but could take me on the third. With a stroke of luck, they told me that they’ve had a cancellation and I can now stay for all three nights. Packing and moving is a real hassle when one wants to be out and about sightseeing.

Nyaung Shwe turned out to be a rather nice laid back town by the river (which feeds into Inle Lake). I spent the day chilling and enquiring about boat trips to the lake. I was advised not to go tomorrow but the day after when the markets are better; different villages have their market days rotating on a 5-day cycle.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Myanmar Comments (0)

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