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Magical Myanmar With A Toddler In Tow

You have all heard me drone on about Myanmar being on my bucket list.  I have yet to pay a visit to this mysterious country but I was lucky enough to have a coffee with my friend Liz who recently took a trip there with her family.

Who
Liz & her husband, their daughter Naomi (2.5) and grandparents

Where
10 day trip to Myanmar

When
Last 2 weeks March 2014.  Weather lovely, hot but bearable and not humid

Trip Booking
We contacted approx. 10 agents to ask them for itineraries.  In the end, we got the best feeling from a local travel agent called Myanmar Delight.  In addition to all our accommodation and transport, they organised a different tour guide for each city we were visiting.

Myanmar Visa
This was organised at the embassy in Wanchai, Hong Kong.  Fairly easy to arrange – you must have a recent colour photo, complete the application form and take other documents with you e.g. hotel/flight arrangements

Getting To Myanmar
We flew with Thai Airways via Bangkok. There were so many people who are on the Thai Airways flight to Rangoon, they transferred us easily. There is a direct flight from Hong Kong to Yangon but doesn’t go every day.

The Trip!

YANGON-BAGAN

Our first night was spent in Yangon and the next morning we flew out to Bagan.  

We spent the next two nights in Bagan, although we probably could have done with one more night. We stayed at the Bagan Thande which was very nice and comfortable.  The hotel is located on the river and also has a good pool.

Sunset over Bagan

Sunset over Bagan

Things to do in Bagan

  • Bagan is similar to Siem Reap in that it’s a historically religious place with a lot of temples that are in various states of decay. Some you can climb into, some you can’t. Standards on how they make those decisions are random so go at your own peril and pace.
  • Be aware that it is a barefoot place, even more so than Thailand. In Myanmar if you are going in to a complex that was thought of as including holy, you took your shoes off before your main door.  You are walking around barefoot!  It took our two year old a while to get used to going barefoot all the time.
  • On the second day we went to Mount Popa (90 mins drive), which was very pretty. Most people climb up it to see pagoda.  We felt it was too much with elderly grandparents and a child in a hiking backpack.  Went to the Mount Popa Mountain retreat and had tea.
  • Ate one meal at the hotel in Bagan and we learnt that the government established one or two ‘western, safe restaurants’ in every location. We had a Lonely Planet but felt safest to follow the guide. 

BAGAN-MANDALAY

After two nights in Bagan, we flew to Mandalay (90 mins).  Be aware that flying in Myanmar is flying in a 3rd world country. We never had to show ID and In several of the airports the power went out.  The planes were fine (seemed to be old Alitalia planes).

We spent a day and half in Mandalay and went to see several beautiful pagodas. Of all the places we visited on our Myanmar trip, Mandalay was the least impressive.  It’s a city that’s at a crossroads between China and India and there’s lots of traffic and many people.

We went to the U Bein Teak bridge, essentially a wooden bridge structure that stretches a km out to the water.  There were loads of people strolling out and back on the beach and was an interesting sight. Be warned there are no railings and the water is pretty dirty. 

MANDALAY – PINDAYA

From Mandalay we flew to Heho but then drove to Pindaya (4 hrs). Hired a van with air con

We stayed in a thatched hut in Pindaya which was an awesome experience.

There isn’t a whole lot to do in Pindaya. There is a cave with 1000 golden buddhas inside, which is a very holy site. We were the only Westerners there. We also got to see how they make paper, umbrellas etc.

Pindaya

Pindaya

PINDAYA-INLE LAKE

After a night in Pindaya, we drove to Kalaw (an old British colonial town). Kalaw itself is not worth visiting. The only reason you go there is because it’s en route to Inle Lake. We stayed overnight in Kalaw (if you stay a little out of town, the hotels are nicer than the ones that are more centrally located).

We then drove to Inle Lake (2 hours) and spent two nights there.  Inle Lake is one of the most visually stunning places I have been. You feel as if you are in a totally different world.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake

Things to do in Inle Lake

  • In our minds we had imagine a lake surrounded by European promenades but it’s actually like a wetlands where people have built homes on stilts in the lake.  The only way to get around is by flat bottomed boat.
  • You can see the floating gardens which is how they grow their food. The lake is at the bottom of some mountains so as the silt from mountains comes down during rainy season they cut nutrition rich land and float it into water and use it to grow produce.
  • Go to a pagoda, go to a winery.

There is nice accommodation available at Inle Lake.  You need to be careful what time of year to visit as at certain times of year, malaria is present.  We didn’t take any anti-malarials.

Tip – If you visit Inle lake with a kid, go with an open mind.  This is not the place for energetic and rebellious toddlers who like to run away from you.  Everywhere you visit is suspended on water and you need to have a well behaved child who will sit in your lap on a boat.

INLE LAKE – YANGON

Yangon was our final destination.  We stayed for 2 nights and did lots of sightseeing.  There is always more to do.  Yangon is not the sort of city you can just walk around in, it was very helpful to have a driver.  Whilst investment is being made, there are still areas of decay where you can see the damage from WW2.

We visited the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Musmeah Yeshua synagogue. We had wanted to travel south of Yangon but there wasn’t enough time.

Liz’s Tips For Travelling In Myanmar

  • Bring your diapers, wipes, don’t assume you can buy anything there
  • Bring all your medicines
  • Brought boxed milk because felt couldn’t guarantee it would be available there
  • Avoid bringing a stroller and buy or borrow a hiking backpack
  • After 10 days, we were exhausted. We felt we had achieved all we had wanted to and were ready to come home.
  • Bring your own travel cot
  • More to see than you think there is.  Visiting Myanmar requires time.  Sure you could do Yangon for a weekend but you’re not seeing Myanmar that way.
  • Need an adaptable guide who can assess how mobile your family is and have the flexibility to change the itinerary according to your needs.
  • Check your travel agent to see that guide speaks English (historically they had spanish & french tourists and are getting more and more english speaking)
  • Internet connectivity is not universal around the country. Didn’t bring cell phones
  • Yangon has lots of choice on accommodation but once you leave Yangon the selection is more limiting as there is a smaller supply of hotels.
  • We felt totally safe at all times
  • For currency, talk to your bank to get the amount of small USD $ (in perfect condition). We saw two ATMs in the whole trip. Both in Yangon. Travel with enough money to tip your guide etc. Despite all this, felt safe.
  • People are so nice and because it’s not heavily touristy, you didn’t sense they were jaded and catering to tourists
  • Local custom is touching face of baby good luck so they would all descend on our two-year old. If that’s something that bothers you, Myanmar might not be the right place. Trained Naomi to say ‘no thank you’.
  • After viewing the hygiene conditions of the local markets, we decided to turn vegetarian for the duration of our stay.  Luckily the food was even more veggie friendly than Thailand.

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