Guides in Myanmar

Guides in Myanmar

We would like to think that we are the definition of independent travelers; in fact we have often gone out of our way to be on our own.  We opted to cross the Thailand Laos border without assistance, which amounted to just one U.S. dollar in savings and rented a dirt bike to traverse Cambodia all by ourselves.  The latter could have been the worst idea we ever had, except that we come up with so many bad ideas  on a regular basis we could make a fortune by selling them for just five cents a piece (need a bad idea? Just send money).  I make this point because in the three short weeks that we were in Myanmar we hired three guides.  All three were so fantastic it might reverse our thinking on independent travel.

Our guiding bonanza began in Mandalay, one of the former capitals of Myanmar, where we hired Lin Lin.  More accurately two fellow travelers we had met on the bus found him at a local temple where he offered his guiding services.  We happily tagged along as Lin Lin took us via public transport from Mandalay to Amarapura and Sagaing and then back to Mandalay.  We requested to travel via local bus, so we paid for our bus tickets and he charged us only $2.50 (2,000 kyat) for the entire day.  He spoke excellent English and was extremely informative and open in sharing about life in Myanmar.

Our day included all the Lonely Planet highlights, but with a local flavor.  We saw the monks getting lunch at Maha Ganayon Kyaung Monastery, then enjoyed our own lunch at a local tea shop where Lin Lin filled us in on local politics and answered all our burning questions about how to pronounce this or why people do that.  After lunch we visited Sagaing and he was able to help us avoid the government permit fee.  He also identified food at street stalls along the way and even bought us a few local specialties to taste.  We ended the day with a stroll along the U Bein bridge and a ride home atop the roof of a share taxi, much to the delight of thinkCHUA.  It was a fantastic day that provided much more insight into Myanmar life than we would have ever gotten on our own.

Our second foray into Myanmar guiding services was in Bagan where we hired U Thang Lwin to walk us through the 37 nats (spirits) of Mt. Popa.  With so many nats to pay homage to we didn’t want to find ourselves praying to the nat of drunken gambling rather than the one for safe travels, both of which are housed at Mt. Popa. Most of the nats had met untimely deaths, which made for a fascinating and very confusing history, which certainly would have been lost on us without explanation.  We left the transport to U Thang’s wife, whom arranged for a pick-up truck to take us to the mountain.  We shared the tour with two fellow travelers that we had met on our way to Bagan and the entire day cost us about 13 U.S dollars per person.

We stopped at a local village where we observed how they traditionally made peanut oil and local toddy liquor that could make you drunk with just one whiff.  We also stopped for an education on petrified wood, more from our friend whom is a mineralogist by training then our guide, but he knew where to stop.  Then headed to to the main event where we climbed to the top of Mt. Popa trying to avoid the gangs of monkeys looking for food.  We met the nats in person, or at least their plastic replicas and learned each one’s story.  After Mt. Popa U Thang took us to a great local restaurant for a curry lunch before we headed back.  Once back in Bagan we enjoyed tea and snacks at U Thang’s home with his wife and daughters.

Having had such great experiences in Mandalay and Bagan we hired a guide with fellow travelers to take us around Inle Lake.  It was a family operation, two friends we had met in Bagan had set everything up with Meenge, whom arranged for her uncle to guide us around Inle Lake while she stayed back and cooked us a delicious 5 course meal that was ready for us at her home when we arrived back from our tour.  We spent the entire day on the lake stopping where we chose and taking in the scenery for just 5 U.S. dollars per person and that included dinner after the tour.

We visited all the highlights on the lake at our own pace, skipping things that didn’t interest us.  We made our way to the floating gardens, the tribal market, four different artisans, Inthein to see the crumbling stupas and stopped off at the jumping cat monastery on the way back.  We stayed out on the lake to watch the fishermen pull in their nets as the sun sank towards the horizon.  Then we made our way back to their home where we enjoyed the best meal we had in Myanmar.  Meenge made us Naphein fish, which are found in Inle Lake, along with vegetable soup, eggplant salad and cauliflower.  It was a wonderful home-cooked meal and an opportunity to chat with Meenge.  After dinner her uncle took us back to the jetty via boat and we could enjoy the stars and fireflies.  It was a magical end to a fantastic day.


The three guides that we enjoyed in Myanmar unfortunately don’t have an office and therefore are not necessarily easy to find, but they are worth the search.

LIN LIN:  Finding Lin Lin in Mandalay will be the toughest as he does not have an email or phone number.  He often hangs around at Setkyathiha Paya looking to meet tourists and offer them his services.  I wish I could offer you more specific instructions, but I’m afraid it is a little about luck when it comes to locating Lin Lin.  As I mentioned he charged 2000 kyat for his services and we took local transport, which we paid for ourselves.  The transport cost about another 2500 kyat.

U THANG: U Thang has an email address and he claims to check it every day.  In the interest of respecting his privacy please email me if you would like his email address.  He speaks excellent English, so you could easily arrange things via email before you arrive.  Once in Bagan you can find U Thang by asking for him by name at Shwe Taung Tarn hotel or at Memo restaurant, which is located right next to his home.  He charges 20,000 kyat for a full day tour, but that rate is the same regardless of how many people go on the tour.  As I mentioned his wife arranged transportation and it was 30,000 kyat, which was the cheapest we could find to take us the 90 kilometers round trip to Mt. Popa.

MEENGE:  Meenge also has an email address, which again to respect her privacy I would be happy to share if you email me.  Email is the best way to contact her as she lives a bit out of town.  She can arrange the boat tour for you and is happy to make a Myanmar meal for you if you pay for ingredients.  We had six people and the price was 15,000 kyat for the boat trip and then 1500 kyat per person for food.

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» Jeff Meierhofer :
Oct 7, 2012

I enjoyed your writings. I will be traveling to Myanmar in December with my wife and planned to find independent guides once we arrive. i would be interested in contacting U Thanng an Meenge by email to determine if they have time to go with us for a day or 3. Best regards, Jeff

LOCAVORista Reply:

Jeff, enjoy your trip to Myanmar in December, it’s still one of our favorite countries. I sent you an email with the details of both our guides in Bagan and Inle Lake. Please let me know if there are any other questions we can help you with.

» Tsvia :
Jun 28, 2013

will be in Myanmar this coming Sept and would love to contact your guide from Bagan.thanks

» :
Sep 12, 2014

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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.


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