I made sure we set aside an entire month for this particular adventure!
Everything about Myanmar captivated me ever since the country officially opened it's doors to tourism back in 2012. The culture, the food, the off beaten traveler's path, the people's resiliency to the crazy military regime. The latter, of which the Myanmar people opposed quite candidly and openly everywhere we went. But they also happened to be the kindest and sweetest souls on this planet, and because of their generosity and kind-heartedness, coupled with some of the most wondrous sights I have ever seen on Earth - Myanmar is now one of my most favorite countries in the world.
// YANGON //
Our first introduction into Myanmar! And it's exactly what I had expected it to be, the typical Southeast Asian city full of nitty gritty charm and chaotic street vibes. It's amazing how certain aspects of Yangon, and I suspect most of Myanmar, is still kind of backwards. Like the rundown public transportation. The buses and trains look decades old! Many of the taxi drivers didn't use GPS, relying only on instinct and help from the locals. But the city's ancient landmarks, incredibly large night market and pleasantly guided food tour immediatly takes you on an exotic sensory journey, conveniently overlooking some of the country's lack of funds and slow update into the modern world.
>> STAY : Shwe Yo Vintage Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : Shwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda, Kandawgyi Lake, Governor's Residence, Yangon Circular Railroad Ride, Yangon Food Tours.
>> FOOD : Mohinga for breakfast, Laphet Thok, Nasi Briyani, Prata, Burmese Tea, Burmese desserts.
// INLE LAKE + NYAUNG SHWE //
I've never seen so many villages on one lake! Thus making it a very interesting place to explore. Make an early morning boatride to watch the sun slowly rise above the mountainous backdrop and see the famous Inle Lake fishermen pose for you, although there's a little caveat: these may not be the real Inle Lake fishermen, as tourism is more lucrative than their normal day jobs. Make a 2nd boatride to tour all over the lake. This can be done through a group boat tour or a private tour, which we ultimately chose because we wanted more time to explore on our own. These all day boat tours generally take you to the main attractions: Cat Village, Lotus Weaving Village, Floating Gardens, Long-necked Paduang women, etc. Now there are places on the lake to stay on, but we opted to stay at the nearby city of Nyaung Shwe solely because it's cheaper and there are more things to do during downtime. When we're not on the lake, we especially enjoyed biking to the winery, as well as around town. (I know, right? A winery in Myanmar of all places!)
>> STAY : Ostello Bello Nyaung Shwe Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : Sunrise Boat Ride, Inle Lake Boat Tour, Bike around Nyaung Shwe (if you choose to stay in that city), Red Mountain Estate Vineyards and Winery.
>> FOOD : Burmese pancakes, Shan noodles.
// BAGAN //
Ah! The creme de la creme of Myanmar! I've never seen anything like it. 2,000+ temples and pagodas, everywhere, dotting the vast countryside. To make things even more picturesque, a handful of hot air balloons journeys across the pagodas at sunrise. By sunset, it's an equally impressive sight to behold, as the setting sun gets curiously bigger before disappearing behind distant mountains. Me and the hubs stayed a week in Bagan, slowly savoring the magical Bagan vibes day by day. Each morning we'd wake up super early to watch the balloons. Yes, every morning. By mid morning, we were e-biking our way around, or so to say, temple hopping through the lands. Then comes evening time, out and about once again searching for a temple to watch sunset. Essentially, we had explored most of the temples near Nyaung U in an attempt to find an unknown temple that's not overrun by tourists during sunrise or sunset. Eventually we did find one and had gone to it every morning thereafter. But wow, this was my favorite part of Myanmar, and could easily spend another week e-biking around in search of more pagodas!
>> STAY : Zfreeti Hotel
>> RECOMMEND : Rent an e-bike to go temple hopping. Explore OLD BAGAN, NEW BAGAN, NYAUNG U. Go on a Hot Air Balloon ride. Taxi cab ride to Mount Popa. Avoid Shwesandaw Pagoda - full of tourists.
// MANDALAY + AMARAPURA //
By the time we made it to Mandalay, a whole month in Myanmar has gone by! We were utterly drained at this point! Needless to say we got really picky with the sightseeing. We rented bikes to get around town, although I'm still not sure if it was a good idea. Heavy street activity kind of made it difficult to navigate around. Though there is one sight that we had to see before leaving Myanmar and that's the U Bein Bridge! An hour long taxi drive will get you to the oldest and longest teakwood bridge in the world. A pleasant end to our Myanmar journey, I'd say!
>> STAY : Ostello Bello Mandalay Hostel
>> RECOMMEND : U Bein Bridge, Kuthadow Pagoda to read the world's largest book, Mandalay Hill, Mandalay Palace, Boat ride to Mrauk U if you have the time.
>> FOOD : Gold Leaf Rice, Mont Lin Ma Yar aka 'Husband and Wife snacks'.
When: March 2017
Temp: 80-95 F
Cities: Yangon, Inle Lake, Nyaung Shwe, Bagan, Mandalay, Amarapura
Transportation: Getting around Myanmar is notoriously slow and cumbersome. Be prepared to suffer a little bit. Boat rides will take all day and lack any luxury. Train rides are equally lengthy, if not more dirtier, bumpier, and unreliable. Bus rides are incredibly rough rides, but definitely faster than the previous options.
Stay: Refer to individual cities above.