Myanmar Overview

We visited Myanmar in late February of 2017.  Our trip started by a flight into Mandalay from Bangkok. We then explored north to Hsipaw before heading back down to Bagan and Yangon. Then east to Hpa-an and south to the beaches near Dawei. We left over-the-border to Thailand from Dawei.

Our itinerary:

We had heard the usual stuff about Myanmar.  “It’s amazing,”  “get there soon, its changing,” “the people are the nicest…”

What we found was not quite what we expected.  Is it ever?

When to go

Obviously the time of year you choose to go definitely affects your trip.  October to February is known as the busiest time with the nicest weather.  March is when they do a lot of burning in the fields.    Smoke haze clouded the skies during most of the trip until we made it to Yangon.

View from Sagaing Hill Mandalay Myanmar Burma
View from Sagaing Hill, Mandalay

We hoped there would be less tourists towards March but we were definitely far from the only tourists.  That said, it wasn’t too bad.  Only Bagan felt really full of tourists.  We also noticed a lot of domestic tourists, especially down in the Hpa-an area.

COSTS and BUDGET

When we travel we like to keep a detailed list of our purchases in a little notebook that we carry with us.  On most of my blog posts I list our expenses for the day at the end of each post.  Our average was $58.00 a day for two people. That includes the hotel and transportation.

Yangon paratha at street side table
Lena keeps our expense book up to date in Yangon

Food

The food wasn’t as amazing as I hoped but we managed to eat some great food.  The typical Burmese lunch was a bowl of soup, rice, a meat curry and a bunch of side dishes…usually a pickled vegetable or two and some little fried fish.  This food is not made to order and is cooked earlier, therefore never really hot.  You must enjoy the taste of fish to really be down with this food as even the vegetables are fishy.

A typical Burmese Lunch
A typical Burmese Lunch with lots of side dishes
Our food highlights

We found some great Shan noodle dishes, the highlight being a garden restaurant in Pwin Oo Lwin.

Shan Noodle in Pyin Oo Lwin Myanmar
Shan Noodle in Pyin Oo Lwin Myanmar

We indulged in a few good Indian meals (there are Indian restaurants in many of the towns).  One of my favorite meals was a hot-pot place we stumbled upon in Mandalay.  Its next to a guidebook-recommended Thai restaurant near the canal.    We also enjoyed the “beer stations” where you pick  your skewers and they BBQ them for you.  We would usually end up at one of these each night and have a couple of beers.  Yangon definitely was the foodiest place we found.  Lots of street food.  We had Parathas cooked on the street, spicy crab at a riverside vendor, an avacado smoothie…

Hot Pot in Yangon Night Market, Myanmar Burma
Hot Pot in Yangon Night Market
A nice Shan Noodle restaurant in Pyin Oo Lwin

We also hunted out the juice and ice cream cafes.  Helps with the hot weather. Papaya milkshake was nice for an upset stomach.

Papaya Milkshakes
Papaya Milkshakes at our favorite Hsipaw spot
Ice Cream in Dawei
Ice Cream in Dawei

Hotel breakfast

Breakfast is complimentary at most of the hotels.  Its common to eat on the roof of the bulding, which can be nice.  At about half the places we stayed breakfast was buffet style, with fried noodles, eggs, egg rolls, toast, coffee, juice (tang).  Sometimes they would include Mohinga, the Burmese fish stew.  If no buffet was offered, then we would usually get a plate of fried noodles and an egg with toast.

Stuffed Bun in Pyin Oo Lwin Coffee House
Stuffed Bun in Pyin Oo Lwin Coffee House

Its easy to get in the habit of never having a breakfast outside of the hotel.  We fell into this habit but managed to break it once we arrived in Yangon.   Much to the hotels confusion, we would tell them we would not be having breakfast there and would walk to the Lucky 7 down the street.  We had really awesome Indian-style breakfasts with the best masala chai.

 

Hotels in Myanmar

The hotels are definitely overpriced.  But they try to make up for it: they were mostly clean, they almost always had an extremely nice staff. Breakfast is included, hot water and towels as well.  Many had electric water kettles in the room and instant coffee/tea. Sometimes we were offered “welcome drinks” when we arrived.

HOTEL HELP

The hotel staff is accustomed to helping tourists get to their next destination.  We found them knowledgeable and patient about all our questions and would always have them to book our bus tickets to the next town.

Hotel Room in Mandalay Burma
Hotel Room in Mandalay
Booking ahead

We don’t like to book accommodation ahead when we travel. From our research it is advised and so did for much of this trip.  I used the Agoda app on my phone and checked reviews online before we booked.  I found that sometimes Agoda’s prices were lower then the quote we got by calling.

 

Avoiding the heat

It can get hot in Myanmar. Its a good idea to try to wake early to take advantage of the cool morning weather. We got in the habit of taking a siesta in the hotel during the hottest part of the day, (12 to 3).  This is when we would research the next town and book our hotels.   Then back out at evening when it cools down again.

We also got really good at choosing to walk on the shady side of the street to avoid the blistering sun.

Downtown Pyin Oo Lwin Myanmar
Downtown Pyin Oo Lwin Myanmar

Avoiding the noise

The same goes for walking and trying to avoid the annoyance of traffic. In towns like Mandalay the swarm of motorbikes is relentless and they like to honk to let you know they’re behind you, which can really wear you down.  We would frequently look for the smaller quieter streets to walk and avoid walking on the main ones.

Our Favorite of Myanmar

Our favorite area was definitely the south east.  Hpa-an was laid back and the surrounding countryside was very scenic.   Dawei was a fine town.  And the beach bungalows of Sinhtauk were a welcome relief after our wanderings.  

 

Random Myanmar Observations:

 

-Hotels all have personalized water bottles

-Bicycles have built-in locks and lights for night riding (that may not work)

-Lots of “help” at hotels: bellboys, doorman, etc…

-many hotels give you a “welcome drink” (Tang?)

-motorbikes everywhere (except Yangon)

-honking (and over-honking)

-steering wheels are on the right side of vehicle but you drive on right side of road

-similarities to India: the Lungi is popular,  burning trash piles, people throw trash out the window/off side of boat

-lots of dogs (didn’t see too much dog poo though…)

-lots of hair salons for Men