Myanmar is one of the most spectacular countries in the world. It has a deep history, rich culture, beautiful sights, and the nicest people we have met anywhere. Having been closed and isolated for the past decades it sees substantially fewer tourists than it’s neighbors, but has more to offer. As the crossroads between India, China and Southeast Asia it was influenced by all, as evidenced by the ridiculously delicious foods that blend the flavors from across the region. It has sights that are mindboggling, from a plain of 2,000 temples as old as Angkor Wat to a temple made from over $2 billion in gold, to beautiful ceremonies. As Lonely Planet says, “Turn back the clock with a trip to this time-warped country where the adventure travel of old lives on. This is the authentic Asia with creaking buses, potholed roads, locals who greet you like long lost family and not a 7-Eleven in sight.”
DON’T MISS: Sunset at U-Bein Bridge in Amarapura, just outside Mandalay.
MUST SEE: Shwedegon Pagoda (Yangon), Inle Lake, the 4000 temples of Bagan, Myanmar Winery
MUST TASTE: Soups bearing influences from Indian, Southeast Asian and Chinese cuisine.
TRIP PLANNING: The major sights (Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan) are accessible via bus and air from Yangon in two weeks. Add a week at Inle Lake or the beaches to see a different side of Myanmar.
GETTING AROUND: Most cities are connected by bus, but some of the rides are among the worst bus rides we’ve experienced, anywhere. For comfort and speed, buy an Air Mandalay “pass” for $225 USD that allows you 4 flights. The rest you can do by bus.
OUR COST PER DAY (2 ppl): $43.64
COST OF A BEER: $1 or less for the best beer in all of Asia.
KEY MONEY-SAVING TIP: Don’t eat in the tourist restaurants. The food is generally awful (such as pizza made with ketchup instead of tomato sauce) and overpriced. Find the local restaurants and street vendors for sensational foods at dirt cheap prices.
YOU NEED TO KNOW: There are NO ATMS in the country. You must bring US Dollars in pristine condition, no tears, never been folded (even in a billfold) for exchange and payment. Bring mostly $100 bills as you get a better exchange rate. (See Myanmar Logistics)
IF WE KNEW WHAT WE KNOW NOW: We would have gone in a different season. We were there in May and temperatures soared into the mid-40’s C (104 F+).
HELPFUL LINKS TO LEARN MORE: Things you need to know to visit Myanmar; Lonely Planet (the only updated guide for Myanmar); 15 tips on Myanmar cultural travel. Please send us any sites you found useful and we’ll add them!
WE WERE THERE FOR: 4 weeks
OUR HIGHLIGHT: Temples of Bagan
WHERE WE WENT: Yangon, Mandalay, Amarapura, Sagaing, Monywa, Mt. Popa, Inle Lake, Bagan, Kinpun
WE REGRET MISSING: The beaches. Supposedly like Thai beaches, but with almost 100% less people.
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Yangon is a former capital of Myanmar and the capital of Yangon Region. Although the military government has officially relocated the capital to Naypyidaw since March 2006, Yangon, with a population of over four million, continues to be the country's largest city and the most important commercial centre. It also holds the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is one of the most important religious sites in the country. We enjoyed the busy streets and delicious food of this wonderful city.
Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Myanmar. Mandalay is the economic hub of Upper Myanmar and considered the centre of Burmese culture. A continuing influx of Chinese immigrants, mostly from Yunnan Province, in the past twenty years, has reshaped the city's ethnic makeup. The beautiful temples and the proximity to Sagaing, Mingun and Amarapura make this a popular stop for any trip to the country.
Both Amarapura, Pali for City of Immortality, and Sagaing were former capitals of Myanmar. Amarapura for three discrete periods during the Konbaung dynasty in the 18th and 19th centuries before finally supplanted by Mandalay. Sagaing was the capital of Sagaing Kingdom (1315–1364), one of the minor kingdoms that rose up after the fall of Pagan dynasty. The city briefly became the royal capital between 1760 and 1763 in the reign of King Naungdawgyi.
Bagan became a central powerbase in the mid 9th century under King Anawratha, who unified Myanmar under Theravada Buddhism. It is estimated that as many as 13,000 temples and stupas once stood on this 42 square km. plain in central Myanmar. Some stupas even date back to the 11th and 12th century.
Kinpun is the starting point for pilgrimages to Mount Kyaikto the home of the Golden Rock. The Golden Rock is a well-known Buddhist pilgrimage site in Mon State, Myanmar. It is a small pagoda 24 feet high built on the top of a granite boulder covered with gold leaves pasted on by devotees. According to legend, the Golden Rock itself is precariously perched on a strand of the Buddha's hair. We most enjoyed our train ride from Kinpun back to Yangon with wonderful views of rural Myanmar.