Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
We hope that you enjoyed the holiday season and would like to report back on our travels through Myanmar. There will be separate blog posts for Yangon, Inle Lake, Bagan and Mandalay and we want to give you as many details as possible, as there is still a lack of information about traveling through this beautiful country. We hope you’ll enjoy reading our travel stories of one of our best adventures yet!
23.12.2017 YANGON – Arrival, Check-in, Rooftop Views & Christmas carols
I arrived in Yangon in the early afternoon after a long journey from Shanghai via Kunming where I had to check in all over again within a very short time frame thanks to China Eastern Airlines. Thankfully, I made my connecting flight (and the last one to Yangon for the day) by two minutes. On arrival at the airport, it was easy to withdraw local currency (the daily withdrawal limit is 300,000 kyat) and to get a sim card for Telenor for only 9,000 kyat (~5.50€) for 2GB which was the best decision, as this meant we were able to search for sights, directions and restaurants on the go with 4G coverage.
We checked in at Hotel G, which is a modern and stylish new hotel. Unfortunately, they only serve Western food, which is a no-go for us on holiday in Asia, but we weren’t planning on eating in the hotel anyway.
In the evening, we went to the ‘Yangon Yangon‘ rooftop bar for a cocktail where we enjoyed great views, reasonable prices and a not too pretentious atmosphere like in other big cities’ rooftop bars.
On our way to dinner, we followed the Christmas lights and carols to see locals performing to Christmas songs and picked up street food to sample as aperitif. We went to local restaurant serving Burmese food, which seemed popular amongst Western travelers. The Burmese salads sure have a lot of onions in them!
24.12.2017 YANGON – Dala bike tour, puppet show & Christmas mass
Early start as we booked a half day biking tour through the small town Dala across the river of Yangon and an island. The cycling tour operator ‘Uncharted Horizons‘ enables tourists and local expats to explore more remote parts of Myanmar and as we were a small group, we were lucky to have our own private bike tour with two locals who made sure everyone was safe and explained the living conditions of the poor village people. We explored a local, colourful market and seeing the locals passionately cut fish and meat in the heat made me feel a little sickly. The guides showed us a family’s house and how they survive: they store water in big clay vases by collecting rain water and carrying water from the nearest lake, as often the lake is too dry and doesn’t have enough water. They have a small river next to their house where they can wash themselves, do the laundry and fish. The house is made of wood and has no doors or windows. They also have a cat, dog, chicken and goats or a cow and vegetables and rice fields nearby. Throughout the village, the children are working hard to sell goods, sweep floors and carry water home. Even though the village people looked poor I got the impression that they were happy.
After the four hour bike tour we really deserved a nap. In the early evening, we saw the traditional puppet show ‘Htwe Oo Myanmar‘ which won several prices in Asia and became the highlight of our trip. It was set in a small house and most of the puppet masters belonged to the same family. It was impressive to see with how much detail they could move the puppets (open umbrellas, move the eyebrows etc. by moving the strings). After the show, the performers explained that it takes 10 years to become a puppet master and that it’s their family tradition.
For Christmas eve, we went to St Mary’s Cathedral for the 23:00 mass and there was a surprising amount of people. Despite us getting there one hour early, we had to stand at behind the rear church benches. Fortunately for us, the mass was in English! Singing Christmas songs together with a big community of people really got us into the Christmas spirit and it was a truly unique experience celebrating with so many different ethnicities in a tropical country with decorated palm trees.
25.12.2017 YANGON – Reclining Buddha & Shwedagon Pagoda
Knackered after our super active day, we slowly started our Buddhist temples sightseeing program for the day. We commanced with the reclining buddha ‘Chaukhtatgyi Buddha‘, which is a massive Buddha statue set in a small temple in the middle of Yangon. I was happy to see that she wears pink nail polish!
Just a few metres away, we visited the ‘Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda‘ where we saw a sitting Buddha. We were slightly concerned about the amount of stray dogs around there, but throughout our stay got used to stray dogs everywhere across the city.
In search of a cool and peaceful place, we took a taxi to ‘Kandawgyi Park‘ and walked around the lake, from where we could already get a sneak preview of the Shwedagon Pagoda.
When we arrived at the Shwedagon Pagoda, we walked up a lot of stairs towards the entrance. The admission at this 2.500 years old pagoda is more serious as men are not allowed to wear shorts (which the other temples weren’t fussed about), they scan everyone’s bags and you have to pay an entry fee. Two tour guides tried really hard to make us pay for their guiding services, but as they were quite pushy and said that the tour would take an hour, we were really put off. The area around the pagoda is huge with something new to discover in every corner. We deliberately chose to come here around sunset time for the best light, as recommended in various guide books. As we were exhausted, we sat down as the sun was setting and took lots of photos, as the pagoda’s golden colours changed by the minute. The area was busy with tourists, pilgrims and monks, but there was a really peaceful, sacred atmosphere about it. Got talking to a group of Buddhist monks who were there to practice their English and asked me to take a photo with them. What an experience – in the end, we stayed there for three hours!
26.12.2017 LAST HALF DAY IN YANGON – Fabric Market
In the morning of our last day in Yangon, we walked to a fabric market near the hotel and bought beautiful longyis, the traditional skirts for men and women. We noticed that all the jewellery shops had Chinese signs and Chinese looking staff, so didn’t bother going into any of them.
On our way to the river, we ate at 999 Shan Noodle House which served the most delicious noodle dishes ever! At the riverside, the water taxi which offered an interesting tour would have taken 3 hours and unfortunately we were short of time. We were also really tempted to do the circular train ride, which shows you a slice of life of the local commuters, but as we would sit on the bus for the rest of the day and night to Inle Lake, decided against it. As we took a taxi to the express bus station, which is way out of town near the airport, we got into a traffic jam and just about made it for our bus to Inle Lake. We pre-booked our 12 hour journey bus tickets online at 12Go Asia with JJ Express and were hugely impressed. The staff took care of our luggage and served us drinks and food as we boarded the bus. The seats were very comfortable and spaceous and we made many stops on the way to Nyaung Shwe, our next destination at Inle Lake…