My trip to Myanmar
Going to Myanmar is like going back in time. You’ll see boys and girls playing in streams, buffaloes pulling wooden carts, and farmers wearing straw hats in the fields. It’s a simple, good life and the Burmese also believe in being simple and good. They were sometimes shy, but everyone I came across was very kind and lovely to me.
Myanmar is a country on the cusp of very big change. The Internet, along with a now constant stream of Westerners, is exposing the people of Myanmar to new ideas and cultures. If this is beneficial or harmful to Myanmar’s own culture remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: go now.
The military rule has ended, but there are still areas of Myanmar that are unsafe for tourists and that the government will not allow you to visit. I heard of a girl attempting to go to some of these areas, but she was told they were closed. Stick to well-trodden areas like Bagan, Kalaw, Mandalay, Yangon, Hsipaw and Inle Lake and you’ll be fine. If going elsewhere, research it heavily, so you know the situation.
I flew into Mandalay Airport and from there started my journey to Yangon. Many others do the opposite, while some start in Yangon, travel up, and then come back again to Yangon.
I took the 8 hour ferry down the Ayarwaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan and I recommend this way of travel because we were going downstream (so it was quicker than going upstream) and I wasn’t trapped in a bus for hours. I was able to sleep in a lounge chair on the deck and mill around the boat; watching Burmese life pass by. We were also provided with two meals, coffee, and tea. At $42, this is not as cheap as a bus, but it’s a worthwhile experience. I’ll be real, though. 8 hours on any kind of transportation can drive you crazy…
From Bagan, I took a JJ Express Bus to Kalaw for around $18. This is the VIP bus and IT’S THE BEST BUS EVER. We had personal movie screens! I watched some X-Men and my all-time favorite, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The time flew. I was disappointed though because my ticket said we would get lunch boxes and green tea, but we only stopped on the side of the road for tasteless fried rice that I had to pay for! WTF. Also, another girl and I had to band together against the driver to stop the damn bus because we had been driving over 2 hours without a bathroom break and we were about to piss ourselves. As you can see, no transport in Myanmar is perfect. Also, I don’t get carsick easily, but some LA boys on the bus were dying from the bumpy, windy roads. Vomit bags may be needed ?
I trekked from Kalaw to Inle Lake (blog coming soon on that whole adventure!) and this can take one to two nights, depending on which trek you choose. It’s an amazing way to see the countryside and it’s a deal. I paid $33 for one night’s rest, two days of food, and transport. Plus $10 to enter Inle Lake, which you must pay even if you come by bus or train.
I flew from Inle Lake to Yangon, which in a country that is still developing its air industry, worried me. I didn’t need to worry too much. I felt safe, even though there were security risks all up in that airport (our baggage was checked-in and then left in a pile in the check-in lobby with no one watching it….) and the flight was nice. Only one hour and we were given a sub-par meal and some coffee/tea. It cost me $120. Not cheap, but saved me valuable time.