Teacher Trekker

Myanmar

After nearly a half a century of military rule, conflict and oppression a series of democratic reforms have helped Myanmar rise from its ashes and are quickly transforming the country into a major tourist destination in Southeast Asia. The mountainous terrain is covered in lush vegetation and peppered with centuries of temples and stupas. The country consists of many ethnic subgroups which will expose you to diverse cultures as you travel between different states. Myanmar has a great deal for nature and history lovers alike. Presently, prices are still very affordable and is considerably less commercialized than its neighboring countries. Get there before everyone spoils the good time!

Posing for our album cover on the top of a temple in Old Bagan

Summer 2015

During the summer of 2015 I returned to Southeast Asia for the third time in five years. If you are interested in reading about the first leg of my trip throughout central Vietnam make sure to check out my Summer 2015 Vietnam Itinerary.  After 10 days of solo travel I boarded a plane to meet a friend in Cambodia for the second leg of the trip where we spent just over two weeks exploring Khmer culture. Then I continued on by myself to Myanmar, but quickly connected with a friendly bunch of young British travelers who I spent more than a week with.

Boating through a hydroponic tomato field on Inle Lake

The Travel Route

Most travelers make a loop starting from Yangon and make their way to Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan before returning to their starting destination. Flight prices are generally higher, but it is also possible to start the loop in Mandalay. Whether you decide to travel in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction really depends on the availability of bus tickets, the weather and all those other unexpected travel obstacles that may come along. Rain in Bagan influenced my decision to first head to Inle Lake. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

There are two other options: the lighting bolt or the figure eight. If you plan on arriving in either Yangon or Mandalay and are departing from the other city it is best to complete the lighting bolt, which I will explain shortly. Now, if you’re flying in and out of the same city, but are looking to get off the main backpacker trail and find a much more rural experience then consider the figure eight route.

One of the many interesting designs made of colored glass mirrors atop Sutaungpyei Pagoda, Mandalay Hill, Mandalay

My figure eight route started in Yangon and took me northeast to Inle Lake. Then I cut across the country west and spent a few days in Bagan. From there I traveled to Mandalay. That is th completion of the lighting bolt, but I still needed to get back to Yangon.  The last part of my trip took me south to the cities of Magway and Pyay where I went hunting for 2 of the 3 UNESCO sites associated with the Ancient Pyu Cities. From Pyay I continued south to Mandalay. Below is the Myanmar portion of my 2015 itinerary:

  • Day – July 26 – Transportation Day – Flying to Myanmar; Local Dinner in Yangon
  • Day – July 27 – Yangon – Shwedagon Pagoda, Adventures in Betel Nut & Street Food
  • Day – July 28 – Yangon – Logistics & Transportation to Nyaung She
  • Day – July 29 – Nyaung Shwe – Attractions Around Inle Lake Bicycle/Driving Tour
  • Day – July 30 – Nyaung Shwe – Inle Lake Boat Tour (Top 10 Things to Do in Inle Lake)
  • Day – July 31 – Travel Day – Lazy Morning & Afternoon Transport to Bagan
  • Day – August 1 – Nyaung U – Bagan Golf Course & Mount Popa Half Day Tour
  • Day – August 2 – Nyaung U – Bagan Temple Tour with Private Driver
  • Day – August 3 – Mandalay – Royal Palace & Mandalay Hill & KTV Night
  • Day – August 4 – Mandalay – Sunset at U Bein Bridge
  • Day – August 5 – Mandalay – Mandalay Temple & Transport to Magway
  • Day – August 6 – Magway – UNESCO Adventures Pt. 1 & Night Bus to Pyay
  • Day – August 7 – Pyay – UNESCO Adventures Pt. 2 & Night Bus to Yangon
  • Day – August 8 – Travel Day – Depart Yangon, Myanmar for Singapore

At some point while I was on the road I became aware of the fact that a friend of mine was going to be in Vietnam a few days after I was leaving Myanmar. I was still going to be in the region so I decided to rearrange my flight plans so I could meet them. I had three days to kill and a mandatory layover out of Yangon to HCMC. Not only was Singapore the cheapest flight, but my time there was going to coincide with the SG:50 celebration (50th Year of Singaporean Independence), which was planned to be the largest celebration in the country’s history.  For more make sure to check out my travel & money saving tips for Singapore.

After trying my first betel nut in Yangon this was the face I made!

Conclusions

Although I was in Myanmar for only two weeks it felt like much longer. The pace of the country was much slower than its much more commercialized neighbors. Although there were a considerable number of tourists at the major attractions they were still beautiful and much less congested than practically everywhere else. I was also able to find relatively undiscovered country. I sat and chewed betel nut with total strangers who spoke no English, but somehow they got me to my destination. I knew I struck gold when the head archeologist of the Beikthano, Ancient Pyu Cities UNESCO Site came out to introduce himself to me. He told me I was the first westerner to visit since a Dutch researcher six weeks prior and toured me around the property with police escorts. It did not end there. Every local I met was willing to take the shirt of their back to help me in any capacity they could. Myanmar is an amazing country, but not nearly as special as the people who call it home. If you’re going to be in Southeast Asia make sure to book a ticket to Myanmar! Happy Trekking!

Beikthano, Pyu Ancient City with (from left to right): Taxi Driver, UNESCO Archeologist, Myself & 3 Police Escorts

Leave a Reply