Why Myanmar is our new favourite Asian destination
Thousands of temples and pagodas, hipster coffee and tea, friendly locals and art-deco an neo-classical inspired streets. There is plenty to see and do in Myanmar. I would definitely check the current political situation before you decide to go, but when your ticket is booked, feel free to read my highlights, tips, gentle warnings and reflections here below. Minglaba!
Get lost in Bagan
Rent an e-bike and get lost in Bagan. There are so many temples and pagodas to choose from, it will drive you nuts! Don't leave without a good map, take several ones if possible. There are many posts online regarding finding secret or off-map temples. By the time you read a post the temple is not so secret anymore ;-) So, get lost in Bagan and find your own. Here is a visual indication on how to get to our favorite 'less easy to find' temple in Bagan. I read a few blogs online but got completely lost in understanding the explanations, so the best thing I can do is show you is a map. This temple is good for sunrise and sunset because it sits in the middle of the Bagan archeological site.
Head to the Sulamani temple
Find a small dirt road across from it, it's a bit steep and rough.
The small pond (might not look like one if it's not filled with water) should be on your left-side
Look for an archway and enter the temple on the left side.
The stairs are on the left
Be prepared from some barefoot climbing!
And in case you want to ask a local for directions, the temple is called Ta Wet Hpaya.
Here you can easily spot the pond, the arch and the Sulamani temple in the back.
Oh yeah, and get a bungalow or hotel with a swimming pool, it's too hot to visit the temples between 12pm and 4pm! You can thank me later ;)
Burgers at Weatherspoon's Bagan
There comes a moment during your travels in Asia that you suddenly feel the urge to splurge on a tasty burger right? You can only hope you have this urge when you reach Bagan. The burgers at Weather Spoons Bagan are to die for. And so is their delicious ice coffee and lime juice. This restaurant is located on the main street in Bagan. Enjoy!
See Indein Village from the hills
Indein village is a small village west of Inle Lake and famous for its beautiful ancient stupas. It's one of the stops most boatmen will take you and you will reach it by passing a small canal. After passing a local market, the stupas are on you left. Some have been restored and other are in a crumbling state and this crazy mix of preservation makes this visit even more interesting. What's even more exciting is to view the Village from the hills. When you are almost at the top of the village, try to exit the stupas at your left side (right side if you are going back down). There is a small dirt road that goes up the hills. There are a few small paths on your left side that will lead to a small seating area where you can spot the colorful village from a far.
Chinlone, also known as caneball, is the traditional, national sport of Myanmar, with typically six people playing together as one team. The ball used is normally made from handwoven rattan. Caneball is played by individuals passing the ball between each other within a circle, without using their hands. However, in chinlone, the players are walking while passing the ball, with one player in the center of the circle. The point of the game is to keep the ball from hitting the ground, all the while passing it back and forth as creatively as possible. We were really impressed by the foot skills of the locals playing caneball! Amazing!
The yellow circles, squares and lines seen on cheeks, noses and foreheads is a Burmese tradition called thanaka, a yellow-white cosmetic paste produced by grinding the bark of the thanaka tree on a flat, smooth stone with water. The liquid dries quickly when it is applied to the skin. It has a cooling sensation and protects against sunburn, so it's not only used for the cosmetic aspect.
Only 20km away from Mandalay, Inwa can be reached by taxi, bus or motorbike taxi. We approached a driver of a motorbike the day before (we found him just down the street) and set a price for a day-trip to the Mahagandayon Monastery in Amarapura, Inwa, Ubein Bridge and Sagaing. We paid about K15000.
Our favorite ancient city was definitely Inwa which served as the Burmese capital for nearly four centuries. You need a horse-cart to get around (walking is way too time-consuming), which might not seem like the ideal means of transport but in a weird way it adds a little bit of magic to the experience.
Hipster coffee in Mandalay
Mandalay is a great location to start your vacation in Myanmar, it's a perfect base to visit the surrounding former royal capitals nearby. After a whole day of visiting old cities you might want go back to your hotel for a refreshing shower and to enjoy some free wifi and a good ice coffee a few minutes later. Our favorite coffee bar was definitely NOVA coffee. While sending some messages to the home front, you can enjoy a green tea frappe or a more classic cappuccino.
Be respectful at the Mahagandayon Monastery
I definitely put the Mahagandayon Monastery high on my wish list but I had mixed feelings about it while I was there. It was really impressive to see the monks waiting for lunch, but I was really embarrassed by tourists shoving a camera under their noses and giving really weird gifts. I can only say to not skip this during your travels in Myanmar, but to please act respectfully to make it a nice experience for everyone.
U-bein Bridge during the day is nice but not amazing
Of course you will not skip this bridge if you are visiting the Mandalay area, but if you are not there during sunset or sunrise, it is not as spectacular as you might expected. Don't get me wrong: seeing the world's longest teak bridge while a mix of locals, tourists and monks are crossing over, is a delightful and fun sight. See it a nice stop on your back to Mandalay but it's not an afternoon filling activity if you are traveling on a tight schedule...
Renting a bike at Inle Lake and hanging with the locals
Even though we enjoyed being on the lake, our favorite activity was renting a bike from our guest house and driving around the lake. We made a stop at a winery for some wine tasting (which is fun, but the wine is not that great) and then walked over the wooden bridge at Maing Thouk Village. It was Saturday or Sunday afternoon and there were a lot of youngsters hanging around. We enjoyed being part of the local life and having a delicious ice coffee on the way back.
Don't be upset by the Fishermen at Inle Lake
Chances are big you might not see a real fisherman at all... There are a lot of fake fishermen at Inle Lake that look like the opening picture of your tourist guide but are actually frauds asking for money and holding dead fish. Sad! We did stumble on a few real fishermen whom impressed us with their rowing skills but were wearing their Real Madrid T-shirts...
Sin Yaw Restaurant in Nyaungshwe
If you are looking for a place to eat in Nyaungshwe, Sin Yaw is definitely the place to be. The service is so attentive and friendly it is incomparable. Must try: Shan-style tofu curry. This curry is unique to this area. The reason it’s unique is because they use a special kind of tofu that is only made there. Instead of making tofu with soybeans, they use chickpeas or other yellow beans. This gives the tofu a unique texture and flavor much different than regular tofu. We also enjoyed the mixed vegetable tempura with tamarind sauce as a starter.
Pomelo for Myanmar shop in Yangon
Pomelo for Myanmar is a Fair Trade gift shop offering beautiful handmade pro
ducts. We ended up here on a rainy afternoon and it was perfect for some last-minute souvenir shopping. "Pomelo connects design and impact: every purchase made contributes to social and economic change in some of Myanmar's most marginalized communities and helps to support unique skills and craftsmanship."
We bought a pretty set of postcards and a passport protector. Check it out here.
Hate and love Yangon at the same time
So much to see and do in Yangon, it's crazy! Highlights for me were of course the Schwedagonpagoda, and the enormous wooden buddha at the Ngat Htat Gyi pagoda and the reclining buddha Chauk-htat-gyi just outside the city center. I also loved having breakfast at Rangoon Tea House (and having cocktails on the first floor later in the evening), the art deco inspired buildings and the young entrepreneurs opening modern restaurants and coffee bars. What I didn't like were the badly maintained buildings affected by humidity, the very very dirty streets full of garbage, and having to jump over rats in your flip-flops. The big momma kinda rats... One minute you are sipping tea in a posh hotel, the next you are trying not to end up in the gutter. Tired of running around avoiding rats? Well, here is a little insight info: taking a taxi is not expensive at all!!