How do you manage to visit Myanmar in seven days with only a three-night stay in a hostel, more than 43 hours on a bus, and still have the time of your life ? The beautiful, friendly and still authentic untouched country of Myanmar is in its early years of becoming touristy, so it may be assumed that soon the pretty cheap prices will increase and your trip could be cheaper than India.
The whole trip to Myanmar was spontaneous, even though we had our eVisa ready. The plan made on the first day changed at least 10 times but ended up fun, local and adventurous.
Things you should be prepared for before visiting Myanmar
- Traveling around, it felt like more time on the bus than in each of the stops (approx. 43 hours) we visited because it’s a large country and the roads have only one lane in each direction. As a little side note, my ass hurt from sitting on the bus all the time!
- Had difficult time finding good food (a lot of rice and curry), as the quality and hygiene are questionable.
- Depends on where you go in Myanmar as for whether it’s touristy or not. It is the way the locals approach you or not.
- Watch out for a scam at the border called “Mr. Beauty”: a guy / travel agent will pretend to give you good advice what to do in Myanmar and organizes a shuttle to Hpa-an and then rips you off in price when you pay with Thai Baht (giving you money with the worst exchange rate). So, get the exchange rate for baht to KMM before coming to Myanmar. It’s quite a smart move because you don’t feel you are paying more because he gives an overview of the country, but I think in the end, it was more confusing than helpful. I couldn’t be mad at him because he is just too nice in a cute way. Haha #notgay.
- eVisa: watch out for the scam website. It’s 50 USD through the original government website Myanmar Visa vs. 129 USD through the third-party one: DON’T USE !
- Comfort is not the focus of the Burmese; they are a very practical / simple people.
- From wherever you go to Israel, there are different security checks at the airports than when traveling to other destinations. But that doesn’t need to make you feel unsafe; rather the opposite I would say – I would like that to be the standard. With regards to visa requirements in advance for your country I would suggest you to check on the website of your embassy.
Crossing the border to Myanmar from Thailand
The overnight bus journey from Bangkok to Mae Sot was easy and we arrived before 6:00am, so we still had to wait before crossing the border to Myanmar. We left Thailand and had to walk across a bridge to arrive at immigration in Myawaddy. The people there seemed relaxed and very easy going. The usual procedure is to check the passport and eVisa. Then, they somehow arranged for Mr. Beauty to arrive and do his part, as mentioned above.
THE BEST LOCAL HOTSPOTS IN MYANMAR
Hpa-an (nature, adventure, cave)
Visiting Hpa-an was very good after traveling from Bangkok and crossing the border and taking another long bus ride to Yangon. Without a plan as to what to do in Hpa-an, we ended up having the best time motor biking (ca. 4 USD) and discovering the area by ourselves. We visited Sadan Cave, jumping into a natural pool with some local kids, which was so much fun and got us some local experience. A beautiful sunset on the journey back. I would say have good motorbike riding skills because the driving in Myanmar can be crazy.
It was a short layover and lucky enough, we were able to stay at the Galaxy Motel, where they let us leave our luggage during our motorbike day trip and even take a shower before taking the night bus to Ka Law (15 hours) – a very nice gesture of the hosts.
Place to stay: Galaxy Motel
Other things to do: Zwekabin Pagoda climbing (Google it)
Inle Lake (nature, lake, sunset)
On the journey to Ka Law in the middle of the night, I woke up to a noise that sounded like repair work, and I went to see what had happened. Long story short, I ended up helping the three guys from the bus service by lighting the activities (change of tire suspension) underneath the bus with my phone torch for about 30 minutes – they really appreciated it and we became very good friends throughout the rest of the bus journey. Before approaching Ka Law, we realised that we could go straight to Inle Lake and so we did without having to pay extra. However, at the bus stop, before we arriving at Inle Lake, we had to pay the national park reserve entrance fee (ca. 10 USD).
The highlight of Inle Lake was taking a boat to watch the sunset and see all the fishermen doing their different artistic figures. I’ve been told that the hike from Ka Law to Inle Lake or vice versa is very touristy and full of groups, so I decided to skip it and focus on another one (see the end of the hotspots list).
That night, we had dinner at another Indian restaurant where a Nepalese guy behaved like he was Eminem, and this was pretty funny and quite unique.
Place to stay: Ostello Bello (quite expensive ca. 15 USD for a 4-6 dorm room)
Place to eat: Everlight
Other things to do: Ywangan Blue Lake (Google it)
Bagan (sunrise, balloons, temples)
In the morning, we spontaneously hopped on the bus from Inle Lake to Bagan (ca. 10 USD) and arrived 8 hours later where we also had to pay another entrance park fee (20 USD). The minivan journey was a disaster as we had the last row seats and there was absolutely no leg space, especially for my giant friend, Akhi. We made it just in time to rent an e-bike (ca. 2 USD) that looked like a scooter and headed to a temple (pagoda) to watch the sunset. It was really nice there because it wasn’t touristy at all, and we were really lucky to have asked a local guy on the way.
I would call it the secret hotspots to watch the sunrise or sunset in Bagan, here the coordinates: 21°09’45.1″N 94°51’36.6″E
The next morning, we had to get up early again to watch the sunrise and headed to the same spot, which was incredible – seeing all the balloons in the sky with the sun rising. We almost didn’t find it as everything looked the same and yet was different when it started turning daylight. A balloon ride costs 350 USD / person; in my opinion it is too expensive since you can do a similar thing in Egypt for only 25 USD.
Place to stay: Ostello Bello (quite expensive ca. 15 USD for a 4-6 bed dorm room)
Mandalay (city, more developed, hill)
The bus from Bagan to Mandalay (ca. 8 USD) took about 5 hours. The idea was to have a quick stopover and then make our way to do some hiking in the region of Kyaukme and Hsipaw. We arrived and found out that either of those two places was too far to visit in the remaining travel time. My first impression of Mandalay: a modern and very developed, quite a big city compared to all the places (listed above) we had visited prior. An alternative solution arose after talking to a local tour agent at the hostel. I randomly found out about a waterfall and asked if I could get there by renting a motorbike – not possible. However, for the sunset, we took a motorbike taxi to Mandalay Hill. This was okay, but the more important outcome was that we met the most incredible riders, Fatty and Gypsy, who I asked to take us to the waterfall the next day.
Dee Doke Waterfalls & Sunset at Mandalay U Bein Bridge (nature, waterfall, sunset)
Within 1,5 hours from Mandalay, sitting on the back of a motorbike, we arrived at the three-tiered waterfall. After about 25-30 minutes, reached the top with an amazing view over the greenery of Myanmar and then jumped into the waterfall, which was so refreshing. We chilled there for at least 3 hours; and to my surprise no one else arrived, so it was just our moto-taxi driver and us, which was so peaceful and beautiful.
The time spent there seemed like a dream in the perfect place with the hope that this place would never disappear. The next stop was the Mandalay U Bein Bridge to watch the sunset where Fatty and Gypsy showed us their ultimate local hotspot, with no tourists, but the most amazing view.
As I promised Fatty and Gypsy, I list their contact details for you to reach them to have a good time. We took them to lunch, and they told us how tough it is to find customers because, for instance, the people from the tour agency order them to take hostel customers to places for only 20% of the money – that really shocked me.
Yangon (biggest city, airport)
The overnight bus journey from Mandalay to the capital, Yangon, was perhaps one of the most beautiful times in my life – honestly. They had everything you can imagine such as little screens showing entertainment for everyone (like on airplanes), bottles of water and a welcome package. The highlight was the bus stewardess in the beginning of the journey walking around with fresh-brewed coffee, asking everyone to have one. Yangon seemed more developed than Mandalay, but we didn’t see much because we had to head straight to the airport to catch a flight back to Thailand.
Next time: Kyaukme / Hsipaw Trekking (nature, hiking, not touristy)
On this trip I didn’t have time to do trekking, so I left it for the next time, but I don’t want to keep it a secret from you. The feedback from people I’ve met told me that it is really amazing and untouched, because many people don’t get lost in that area in comparison to the hike at Inle Lake. You have to get a private guide for ca. 50 USD / day including food and accommodations.
I TRAVEL FOREVER’s VIEW & RECOMMENDATION
The seven days visiting Myanmar definitely covered the main attractions of the country. In my opinion, the visit was too short and within 2 weeks it would be easy to see the main ones in a less stressful way, with 3 weeks to travel to the coastal beach area that is supposed to be very beautiful and untouched. My favorite place was the very untouched turquoise-colored waterfall, Dee Doke, where we were undisturbed with our crazy and funny motorbike taxi driver in the beautiful landscape of Myanmar. The best recommendation I can give is to travel there soon before it turns touristy like Thailand and is in the spotlight of globetrotters within the next 5-7 years.