5 things to do in Myanmar

Last June, I decided to go on an adventure to Myanmar. Prior to this trip, I had no idea of what to expect. The only people I knew, who had been were Burmese nationals studying at my university. To me, it felt like a new frontier and I was ready. Before my departure, there was the Rohingya refugee crisis and my parents weren’t too keen about my travel plans so whilst obtaining my visa at the embassy, I made some inquires about travel safety and did plenty of research beforehand – mainly to give my parents (and myself) a piece of mind. I am really glad that I stuck with my initial plans because from what I’ve heard, things are changing quickly. Two weeks after I left, a KFC restaurant opened up in Yangon – if that doesn’t mean change, I don’t know what does.

It is such a beautiful country and I would recommend to anyone. These are a couple of things I reckon everyone should do, see or experience whilst in the country. There are of course plenty of other things I wished I had done, but hey I need an excuse to go back, right?

Take the Circle Train

If you’ve got a few hours to kill, hop on the Circle Train in Yangon and get out of the hustle and bustle of the city and explore the Burmese countryside. It’s breathtaking. To travel the entire line, it’ll take about 3 hours. It was probably one of the more memorable days I’ve spent in the former capital. Sitting on the train, watching people go about their lives, hawkers walking up and down the carriages with massive baskets of produce and titbits balanced on their heads, life-stock getting transported between towns and just an overall slower pace of life.
I urge you to get off at a random stop and go for a walkabout. Jana, Ross and I decided to get off at the furthest point of the journey, where a massive market could be seen from the train. We walked around taking in the sights, sounds and smell. Oh yes, that smell, I won’t soon forget. As we were with a really tall westerner, the locals stopped us so they could take photos with him. He achieved celebrity-status really. What was great about the two people I was with were that they didn’t hesitate to get out of their comfort zone. Ross was feeling peckish and found a little roadside pop up eatery and with barely any communication; we received an array of dishes, some of which confused us.Just a heads up, there is a price difference between what the locals and foreigners pay. We picked up on this and managed to pay the local price (which was about US$1 or 1000 Kyat for the 3 of us).

Do a trek between Kalaw and Inle Lake

The trek we opted for was approximately 60kms lasting 3D2N. What sold my friends and I on the tour we took was the opportunity to spend a night in a monastery (the other night was spent in a local longhouse in someone’s backyard). It was also slightly cheaper than the one we were recommended. At approximately 30USD/per day, vegetarian food, 2 nights accommodation, transportation across Inle Lake, two guides and a cook were included.
During the hike, we had the opportunity to walk through several villages and a school, which we disrupted a lesson to say hello to the students. We were under the impression that we would be able to have more opportunity to chat with the locals instead of just walking through most villages. There were a few occasions where we sat down in a little shelter and had tea with a few locals and on another occasion, we stopped at a rail station and played Frisbee, jump rope and other games with the kids – such a great laugh.If you sneak more than just cities, I would suggest doing this as you get to see the Burmese countryside and trek though the mountains and forests. Having a bunch of fantastic characters to hike with is just an added bonus – I had 7 other solo travellers and a Dutch couple to share this experience with (who I meant along my travels). Hi guys!

Talk to the locals

Mingalabar!

Something you will hear throughout your journey, it is simply a Burmese greeting. The locals are a friendly bunch and ever since the recent reopening of Myanmar’s borders, I’ve found that they are extremely welcoming to foreigners and travellers alike. They have a burning curiosity and love to share their culture and history. The further out of Yangon you get, you’ll come across kids that will wave and cautiously approach you, hiding behind one another, echoing mingalabar. While venturing around pagodas and public areas, don’t be surprised if someone approaches you and they strike up a conversation. Don’t be fooled! They have a good command of the English language.

So next time you go to Myanmar, join someone for some Burmese tea (so much tasty goodness!) and listen to what they have to tell you.

Don’t skip Bagan

If I’m honest, I don’t know anyone who goes to Myanmar and doesn’t visit Bagan. There are over 2000 stupas and pagodas throughout the land to marvel at. Being one of the world’s most famous archaeological sites, there is a fee to enter the city, which can be paid in either USD or Myanmar Kyats.There are a few methods to explore the temples.
1. Hire your own driver to take you around.
2. Walk – it’ll take ages if I’m honest.
3. Rent an electric bike as scooters and motorbikes are illegal for foreigners to hire.As you can see from the photo below, we chose #3. Make sure your e-bikes are fully charged before taking off. One day, Tim ran out of battery juice and another day I almost ran out because I kept using my turbo. Whoops, rookie.Β Something that we did in Bagan was to go on a river/’alternative’ temple tour. We had the opportunity to be guided to three temples, which weren’t commonly visited by travellers and had a sunset cruise before heading home.
How could I forget?! You SHOULD definitely try dining at Weather’s Spoon. They served possibly one of the best meals I’ve had in Myanmar. It’s a little diner with literally writings on the wall from people around the world. Take me back!

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Shwedagon Pagoda

Honestly, go there. I almost made the mistake of skipping Shwedagon Pagoda because I had visited Sule Pagoda a couple of days prior and didn’t want to get “templed out” so early on in my trip. I’ve seen my fair share of religious sites and this pagoda definitely tops my list. It is grand and magnificent. It’s indescribable. After visiting this site, you will begin to understand why Myanmar is known as the Land of Golden Pagodas. Even if religious sites aren’t your cup of tea, I strongly suggest making a trip to check this place out.The flooring surrounding the Pagoda is tiled so during peak of the afternoon sun, you will need to take care not to burn your feet – there is rubber mats laid out along the circumference of the pagoda. When visiting ANY religious sites in Myanmar, always ensure you’re dressed respectfully. Cover your shoulders and knees for both genders and shoes are removed prior to entering the premises. I’m not going to school you on being culturally respectful but good luck trying to enter these sites otherwise. If you forget to dress this way, don’t worry, you can either buy or rent a longyi (Burmese version of a sarong).

Well, that wraps up my top 5 suggestions while in Myanmar! It is honestly such a beautiful country and quite different to the other South East Asian countries I’ve travelled to. It’s hard to describe it in one world or phrase. I guess you’ll just have to go and experience it for yourself!

Peace, love and good vibes.

 

21 Comment

  1. I have heard Myanmar is changing quickly. I would love to know what the locals made of KFC lol. Glad you checked the safety aspects before heading blindly off as many people do!

    1. It is! I’m returning to Yangon at the end of the year so I’m interested to see how much it would have changed… Although, I have heard word going around that another meat is used in their KFC – not sure how true this is though!

      The crisis was pretty bad leading up to my trip, would’ve been a little silly of me if i didn’t check safety (also my parents wouldn’t be too happy about that). πŸ™‚

  2. This trip looks amazing! I’ve always wondered what exactly there is to do in Myanmar. It’s so great you found these trips that were a bit like tours but with a really local spin. Weather’s Spoon is on my bucket list now.

    1. Thanks for giving this a read Melinda!
      I didn’t really know what there was to do in Myanmar before going so I’m glad this helps! Oh man, I would do anything to go back to Weather’s Spoon!

  3. Truly a beautiful country! I grew up in South East Asia (Philippines), and it makes me curious to see how different it would feel in Myanmar πŸ™‚ Hope to get to visit this place soon!

    1. It definitely is! All the SEA countries are vastly different from each other and it still amazes me… Aw Philippines is such a beauty – i need to go back and visit more places!

  4. Nice article. The landscape in Myanmar is breathtaking… Why are the electric bikes illegal for foreigners??

    1. Thanks πŸ™‚
      E-bikes are legal for rental to foreigners but motorbikes aren’t throughout Myanmar. I’m not entirely sure why but when I asked the locals in Bagan, they said it was for the security and safety of foreigners. That said – motorbikes are illegal in Yangon as well (except to government officials) for some odd reason too!

  5. This is the first blog I’ve read on Burma. Absolutely fascinating. Love the gold!

    1. Hello other Caroline!

      Oh wow, that’s great to hear πŸ™‚ There’s so much gold at the Shwedagon Pagoda, it’s a little overwhelming hahah.

  6. Wow, Myanmar looks pretty impressive. That trek sounds really interesting, especially since you spent a night at a monastery. I have visited monasteries before but never thought of staying there, what a unique experience.

    1. It was a great place to visit, for sure. The trek was little unexpected (we decided last min to do it) and definitely recommended! It was interesting to see how the monks lived and stay with them for a night. The food was really tasty too!

  7. Biking around those ancient temples must have been amazing. I would love to do that, but I am such a nerd I would want to get a helmet. Haha Looks like a beautiful place to visit though. Hopefully I make it one day.

    1. Hi Stephanie!

      It was definitely an experience. The e-bikes don’t go quick at all so you’ll be fine without a helmet but always good to have for safety! I’m sure you’ll be able to hire one when you do go πŸ™‚

  8. I plan to add Myanmar to my list when I do South East Asia in early 2017. My friends raved about this country and how it was their favourite one. I must go!

    1. You should! I really enjoyed Myanmar and Laos. They were the highlights of my travels around SEA.

  9. Amazing! You tried to Myanmar sounds fantastic and I love all of your suggestions. I would love to visit Bagan the most, it sounds so beautiful. Also all the Pagodas – just stunning. I am saving this for my next trip!

  10. I’d love to visit Myanmar and each of these activities are right up my alley. I wouldn’t have thought of taking the circle train, but based on your description, I think it would be a beautiful way of seeing local Burmese life. And Bagan is one of my top Bucket List must-dos!

  11. Wow I wouldn’t be able to decide what mode of transportation to take to see this beautiful place! Looks like you just have to try them all πŸ™‚

  12. Great list. And a 3N2D trek..I have never done such a long trek. I would love to do this one though. Looks quiet exciting as per your account.

  13. This is pretty much the exact itinerary I plan to follow when I visit Myanmar in March! I wish we have more time so we could do the hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake, but I think we will only have enough time to go see Inle Lake for a day and move on. Pinned this so I can come back and re-read it before my trip. πŸ™‚

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