We weren’t always going to travel to Myanmar but the fact that it was relatively untouched by tourism and persuasion from fellow travellers really encouraged us to go. People who had been recently told us that Myanmar needed to be visited now before tourism took over like it has in a lot of Southeast Asia. We applied for our visas – E-visas which are a really simple process, but then disaster struck: “Myanmar destroyed by flooding” filled the news. Each daily update seemed to be more bad news for the country. At one stage we thought we weren’t going to be able to visit at all but luckily we could.
We caught the bus out of Cambodia and in to Thailand. Another land border crossing that was relatively hassle free. Once again though we were struck with what we now refer to as the “curse of Bangkok”… We flew safely out of Bangkok and into Myanmar with no hassle but I could feel sickness overcome me… I was feeling unwell at the end of my stay in Bangkok but it wasn’t until we checked into our hotel in Myanmar that the dreaded fever kicked in. Cold shakes and hot sweats is code red for a traveller in a malaria zone. So with Liv on nurse duty and checking my symptoms like clockwork we were desperately hoping for a recovery that meant we wouldn’t have to go to another hospital. (See my post on our first time in Bangkok for our previous hospital experience). Luckily, my fever passed after 24 hours but then Liv began to get sick. So with 2 days in bed and nothing more than crisp sandwiches in our body all we had seen of Myanmar was the 4 walls of our little box room.
Unfortunately sickness is just something you have to accept will happen to you at some point when on any extended travel trip. It kind of comes as part of the deal. Finally, on our third day in Yangon, Myanmar, we were both bright enough to go out and visit Yangon’s treasure the Shwedagon pagoda.
And yes, it’s as insane and as beautiful as everyone says. We were unfortunate in that we only got to visit by day (not for sunset when the pagoda shines in all its glory) but even then it was incredible. We spent hours wandering round it in awe.
That evening we caught a bus to our next destination, Bagan. The bus station was over an hour out of the centre of Yangon so we had a long taxi ride to the station before a long night bus. The bus had 3 rows of single seats that reclined part way, we didn’t exactly sleep well but it wasn’t too bad. We arrived in Bagan at 4.30 am, in pitch black, a fair distance from our hotel. This is a new change; the buses used to pull up near the main backpacker area in Nyaung-U, but in order to maximise jobs for the locals the bus now pulls up in a new station where no accommodation is walking distance. This was our first introduction to the development of tourism. We ended up on the back of a horse and carriage – yet another new surreal experience. As novel as it was the journey was slow and difficult – the poor horse was carrying 4 people and luggage.
We checked in to our hotel early (for an added fee, on top of already expensive accommodation) to catch up on some much needed sleep before we explored the area of Nyaung-U, Bagan, where we were staying. The area is catered to tourism with a number of restaurants along a long stretch but the atmosphere was completely chilled and there was hardly anyone around.
We ventured to the nearby shwezigon pagoda where we experienced a very frustrating tourism trap. (You can read all about it in my next post.) However, the pagoda itself was extremely beautiful.
We went to an Indian restaurant for dinner. Myanmar cuisine is heavily influenced by China and India due to its location in Southeast Asia. Unfortunately, despite a wonderful array of complimentary chutneys and lovely staff, the curries themselves were lacking in any real flavour…
On a more positive foody note, breakfast at our hotel was great; they served toast, watermelon, and your choice of either eggs, a pancake or fried rice or noodles. Throughout our stay we tried them all but the pancakes were the best! The honey that they serve with the pancakes is like a sweet pineappley syrup – it’s delicious.
We spent one day visiting lots of different temples on an electric bike. They don’t rent motorbikes to foreigners here – only e-bikes that are capped at certain speeds. We rented a bike for roughly £5 and we used it from 9-4 before it needed to be recharged.
We tried out a vegetarian restaurant where we had 2 great curries, much better than in the Indian place the night before and we also went to a whetherspoons inspired restaurant where Liv tucked into a western veggie burger with homemade chips! Overall it was a good day for food!
We spent our last full day visiting Mt Popa, a little outside of Bagan. This is a mountain filled with monkeys and topped with an extremely tacky temple! The walk up and the temple itself were covered in neon lights and tacky decor and it was full of souvenir shops and people asking for donations. However, the view from the top was pretty cool and we stayed to watch the sun set.
The following day we travelled by minibus to Mandalay. We were dropped directly to our hotel. It’s worth noting that accommodation in Myanmar is considerably more than in other parts of Southeast Asia and Liv discovered that since 2007 hotel prices have tripled.
Restaurants were pretty sparse (at least where we were staying) and we spent a good while trying to search for a vegetarian restaurant that no longer exists but we ended up eating at Shan Ma Ma, a restaurant that I really recommend. Shan is an ethnic identity in a few southeast Asian countries and Shan food is served in a number of restaurants in Myanmar. At this restaurant, and many others, you select food from a buffet of dishes including curries and fried vegetables and then sides and rice are brought to your table.
Traditional side dishes are hot and sour soup, and cabbage and cucumber with a tomato dip. The food is great and the pumpkin curry was delicious. We loved this place so much we ended up eating here every day! We shared pumpkin curry, a hearty plate of vegetable curry, as much rice as you can eat, all the sides and 2 beers for a total of $5!
The next day we hired a taxi tour guide to take us to a number of the sites around the centre. In Mandalay you have to pay a 10,000 kyat (roughy $8) entrance fee to the archaeological zone which gives you access to the main sites.
We saw the Golden Palace Monastery that was moved out of the palace before the war and then rebuilt. It’s exterior is decorated with beautiful wooden carvings. The palace itself was destroyed in WW2, it has been reconstructed but unlike the monastery not much of its original features remain.
We ended the day by climbing Mandalay hill which gives you a good view over the city.
On our last full day in Mandalay we went to U-bein bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. We walked across the bridge and into the next town. There were loads of locals wading in the water below who were fishing.
Mandalay itself is big city and a huge contrast from the quiet, serene, Bagan but the neighbouring ancient cities, including where the U-bein bridge is, are very beautiful and definitely worth exploring.
We end our 10 stint in Myanmar with a flight back to the cursed Bangkok before heading on to Indonesia.