Myanmar, the country that is always criticised by media reports as ‘poor, dirty and disconnected’ surprised us totally. Instead, we were engulfed by the beauty of peace and friendliness of the people.
Just picture this.
Fisherman hauling fresh caughts using traditional methods.
Cattle herding in open fields
Misty pagodas that set the backdrop right, even in noon.
Untold stories waiting to be discovered, aged almost 900-1,200 years ago.
#1 THE PEOPLE
Genuine, friendly, innocent and warm. They might be city-dwellers but they are always curious with ‘Where are you from?’ Soon, they’ll become friends with no dividers and even chatted/introduced places with no intention to complete a deal at their shops.
They just smile and welcome tourists, especially.
#2 SETBACK ADVENTURE
Go back to years ago when you last sat on a non-aircon bus. Here in yangon, do something local and touristy – ride on the circular train that goes around the loop of 38 stations in 3hours. A ride costs just SGD$0.30 and take a glance at the local daily life which also includes occasional hawkers proudly echoing their sale items.
#3 Reflect and Reminisce
Take minutes to blindly stare at the scenery and feel the breeze gushing in. Surprisingly, the train is not too warm to sit in and quite well-ventilated. There’s so much to see on the slow rumbling rail – people, activities and also out of the window – a sleeper train to Mandalay.
#4 On off the track Market
A market that moves off the track on every arrival of train and then moves back is interesting to look at. It is somewhat similar to Bangkok but here in Yangon, you enjoy lesser crowd (lots of locals) and a cheap ride to the market on the circular train.
#5 GLIMMER GLIMMER
The most famous of all, Shwedagon pagoda is a treat to the eye in day and night. Casted in gold, it is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar and an iconic landmark proudly introduced by the locals. I will recommend a visit during the evening so that you can stay on for sunset and see the glamorous light-up at night.
#6 STAY CONNECTED
You might be curious if you can still stay connected in Myanmar. The answer is ‘yes, you still can have good access to internet‘ even though it might be weaker and slower in some areas. Data card is extremely cheap at just SGD$5 for 2.5GB data and local calls, yet reliable in most places and has quite good connectivity (uploads & chatting tools).
#7 Discover local hunts
Ride a bicycle along the rugged paths in Inle Lake and stumble onto local life. Gaze onto the sight of buffalos and cows strolling past and enjoy the rich agricultural lifestyle in the village.
#8 Inhale the scenery
Take a stop and look at the breathtaking scenery. Snap photos of villagers planting rice on the lush paddy while you hop on board a private boat across the freshwater lake.
#9 Meet Boat woman
Wave at boat woman peddling on gondola type boat and ferrying guests up and down the lake. Rent a boat cheaply (SGD$8/person) across the lake between a local village near the hot spring and winery port.
#10 Soak in a natural hot spring
Local Burmese are very proud of this natural hot spring in Inle lake. Ride a bicycle (about 45mins from central) or take a taxi and you’ll be swarmed with locals in a local market. Identify the lookout landmark and you know you’re close to the hot spring. Take a dip in the hot spring and let those muscles relax before you head further.
#11 Sunbath on a boat
While you’re taking a ride across the river, take moments to relax on the private boat. Lie flat and let the breeze brush across your cheeks. Admire the scenery and escape the city bustle.
#12 Feast on a floating restaurant
On the stilts, enjoy freshly caught seafood from the lake. Inle Palace Restaurant & Bar in Maing Thauk is an example dining choice that serves good authentic food like tea leaf salad at decent affordable prices. Experience traditional food while you sit on bamboo stilts right above the water.
#13 Tea Leaf Salad?
Lahpet thoke also known as ‘tea leaf salad’ outdoes any other salad that we ever tried. It is sweet-sour and extremely refreshing. Mixed with garlic, crunchy peanuts and dried shrimp, the lahpet thoke is served with slices of thosai.
#14 Sunflower lovers
Continue riding a bicycle and spot the unexpected – a land of sunflower glory.
#15 Sip at a local wineyard
Yes, hectares of wineyard right in Myanmar. One of the best and handful wineries only available in the country, take a pitstop at the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery. Try each flavourful wine – white grape, chocolate and vanilla red wine and rest your senses by the sunset.
#16 Go on a full-day boat tour
At inle lake, you can get a well-worth boat tour at just SGD $20 (depends on how hard you bargained). The boat tour covers places like indein, local market, silverware and silk factories and also temples.
Wake up early in the morning and catch fishermen doing touristy stunt of traditional fishing. One leg paddling on the extreme end (due to heavy algae) and sinking cone-shaped net contraption into the waters, observe this extraordinary art of fishing at Inle.
#17 Interact with fisherman
Talk to the fishermen. Observe how they catch fishes on their traditional teak boat with bamboo hand-made nets and take photos of them.
#18 Long Neck women photo opps
The long-neck women also known as Kayan tribe earns another well-worthy photo opportunities. Fitted with brass coils, learn about the history, witness silk making in old style and take a tour (shopping) of their products.
#19 Souvenirs home
Take a dive into the local market in Indein village. Ride on your boat and soon, you’lll be summoned to visit the local market at leisure. Remember to pack some memorable souvenirs home especially the Inle lake boat sculptures.
Here, you can observe some fine handicrafts and workmanship – drawings and paintings at very cheap prices. Pack some oil-painted postcards in your suitcase or post them at local post office.
#20 Ancient clusters of stupas
Stupas at Indein accounted to almost 100 of them. If you love ancient sightseeing, these stupas are definitely worth to stopby, right at the Indein Market.
What makes these stupas unique is that it is enshrined with buddha statue in almost each of them and it’s worth every climb to the peak up the slope.
#21 GOLD LEAF sticking
There’re just too many temples in Inle, but one of the grandest and recommended is the Hpaung Daw U Pagoda. You (only man) can try to apply gold leaf on these five small gilded images of Buddha statues.
#22 Find yourself in history wanderland
Here in bagan, be prepared to be lost in time. Soak in ‘Bagan Archaeological Zone’, an area scattered with pagodas, stupas, temples and ruins. This area is a direct rival to Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat and certified as one of the world’s greatest archeological sites. Just one thing to note – the area is not declared as UNESCO World heritage site yet and we struggled to find any group tours in the area, so you find yourself wander in peace and awe.
#23 Tallest Bagan temple
How about another view from the east? Spot the tallest temple in Bagan, the Thatbyinnyu Temple and be impressed by the castle-like structure dated from 12th century. There’re so many spots in Bagan to see the scattered temples and ruins, but it’s best viewed from the Dhammayazika Pagoda – which was our first stop in Bagan.
#24 The view
Wonder where we took a 360degrees of the surrounding pagodas? The Shwesandaw Pagoda just has to be on your checklist. Although you might have to exhaust to get to the middle with steep stairs, there’re 5 terraces for you to challenge hiking upwards and be rewarded with the spectacular views. Here, it’s recommended to visit during sunrise/sunset but if you prefer to shield from the crowd, then come visit at mid-day where there’s practically no tourist at all!
#25 Take a peep
Nearby the Thatbyinnyu Temple, climb up the stairs and get a view of the surrounding temple through a peephole! Along the way, there are many sellers chanting their items on sales and doing their introduction to the temple, in hopeful bid of purchases later on. ‘I wait for you downstairs!‘ but you can always decline their kind offer to escape off without any pester.
#26 The serenity
While in the temples, you will find statues after statues. Take a look outside and you may find something else – dwellers doing sand painting of murals by hand. What makes it enticing is that it takes alot of effort and detailed craftmanship to complete each one and these sand paintings are easy to find almost everywhere.
#27 The most gorgeous
Stepping into the Ananda Temple is like a tomb raider. It is complimented as the best temple in Bagan for well-preservation, like a disney world and probably one of the few places that allow female to stick gold leaf too. This temple has standing buddhas as tall as 9metres and is near the Tharabar gate, one of the surviving standing gates.
#28 Setback adventure
Get on a horse ride among the ruins and catch the sunset drowning behind some of these 2000 pagodas. For an hour ride, take a look at the locals’ living habitat and visit some of the hidden stupas known only to dwellers.
#29 Lost in history
Escape from the usual path and go onto the untravelled. Find perfect angles to capture shots of these scattered ruins that are not really detailed on maps.
#30 Tomb Raider
Mind-boggling. The Sulamani Guphaya Temple is home to many buddha statues, with this in particular – sleeping statues.
It does smell a little in the temple but it is packed with many history and amazing stories to tell. Walk through the dark maze, climb the stairs within and find some amazing script writings on the wall.
#31 Grand city vibes
Land yourself in Mandalay and enter into the grand royal palace. What’s interesting about this place isn’t exactly the palace but the living environment of locals and army base in one. Before you reach the palace, you’ll enter into a fortified area guarded by the army installations and walk about 25mins from main gate to the palace. Note that you need to enter the palace with an archaeological pass (S$10 for 5days) so if you don’t hold one, it’s not recommended to enter.
You can also take a glance of Mandalay Hill from the grounds of royal palace and witness the grandeur of the area.
Kuthodaw Pagoda tops the chart of guidebooks. Owning the ‘World’s largest book‘, don’t be surprised if you don’t find the majestic book statue that you might have expected. 729 marble slabs inscribed with Buddhist teachings acclaimed that title that you can find each one in every shrine.
Thanaka is a popular cosmetic product used by locals and it’s so common that you can find everywhere, even at the local temple in Kuthodaw. Catch amazing shots and add them to your gallery!
#34 Hike up that hill
The Mandalay hill is one of the must-do when in Mandalay. If you’re feeling lazy to hike up the steep slopes, take the motorcycle ride for just US$3 from the city all the way to the peak. Visit the pagodas and temples right up at the hill and stay a little longer for the sunset shadowing the city.
#35 Escape with the sunset
If you love to enjoy the serene sunset without any crowd, Bagan just has to be that best bet. Choose to enjoy it on some of the pagodas that overlooked the mountains or you can just book a spot along the lake at the Sunset Garden Restaurant. Remember to get there early to enjoy a view like you’ve never seen before.
#36 Ice cold beer
Remember to couple that scenery with an icy cold Myanmar beer. Beer and wine in Myanmar is dirt cheap (at just US$1-2) so don’t be afraid to order more!
#37 Shan state for noodles
Don’t forget to try the Shan noodles, a popular local food that is incredibly affordable (US$1). It’s soaked in broth and drizzled with shredded chicken slices. One of the good restaurants to visit is 999 Shan Noodle House in Yangon and Pan Tha Khin Cafe in Mandalay. Both restaurants are top 10 restaurants on Tripadvisor.
#38 Catch the Alms
Almsgiving doesn’t just happen at Laos. Right here in Inle Lake, Myanmar, we spotted lines of monks strolled along the residence area and watched their pot filled. It’s quite a serene sight to catch but that means you’ve to sacrifice your sleep by waking up early for this (7am).
#39 Be a VIP
Skip that usual flight if that’s on your mind. Take a VIP bus for just a few dollars (US$18-25) that usually depart in the evening and reach the next morning.
On the VIP bus like BOSS or JJ Express (the most popular choices), you can enjoy superior services such as crew service, breakfast or meals, blanket, massage chair and even on board entertainment that will last you through. However, the road situation might be a little bad so definitely not a choice for those who are car-sick.
#40 Your $dollar works
Be happy – Singapore dollars is widely accepted at authorised big banks at the airport and city. I was a little paranoid for the notes condition (clean and crisp for USD and mine isn’t for SGD) but be assured that they’re not very skeptical about note conditions for Singapore dollars. Other accepted currencies are US Dollars and Euro Dollars. Thai Baht is also accepted at a few other banks.
#41 NO VISA
This has to be one of the best reasons if you’re still thinking to come or not. For Singaporeans, visa application has been withdrew for visits to Myanmar (since December 2016), each up to 30 days so there’s no more hassle procedures to do and you can keep that $80 application fee for a grand hotel in Myanmar.
It’s just time you should pack and see all for yourself!
Photos by RX100VI, packed with vibrant shots.