Myanmar. Where do I start with our trip there? I’ve always wanted to go. My Aunt went there about 10 years ago, the first year it opened up to Western tourism in a big way, and has always said amazing things about it, so I had to see for myself. C. and I spent 10 days there, and it was seriously amazing. Even though several of the days were cold and rainy, we loved everything about the country: the people, the food, the topography, you name it.
I’ve written individual posts about our experiences in Myanmar, which I’ve linked to as appropriate. The below is our itinerary, how we got around and general impressions of the country.
Getting to Myanmar
Since we were in Singapore prior to our trip, we flew from Singapore Changri to Yangon International, about a 2.5 hour flight. It seems most flights coming in and out of Yangon were either domestic, or from Asia and the Middle East, so if you’re coming from the US or Europe, you’ll more than likely have a layover somewhere. Yangon seemed the major airport for the country.
Day 6-8: Ngapali Beach at Jade Marina Resort and Spa via Air KBZ
Day 9-11: Hpa An via driver
Day 12: Yangon at the Palm Springs Resort (not reviewed, but a good hotel and very close to the airport!)
Overall I didn’t feel overly rushed in any of the places we stayed, so I think this itinerary works well if you don’t mind flying quite a lot (and you are patient with the fact that flights are often very delayed in Myanmar, which could possibly eat into your time at different places).
There are other things that you should know before going to Myanmar, and these observations apply pretty uniformally to every place I went.
1) most people get around by moped, which means if you’re driving (which in my opinion would be a terrible mistake, as the roads are CRAZY and the cars have a drivers seat on the right even though cars also drive on the right- think a British car on an American road- which could get confusing), you need to pay a LOT of attention to the small bikes weaving in and out around you. If you’re walking, you really need to pay the same kind of attention. And if you’re driving a moped, be careful of the big cars and tons of people walking around. I saw some really crazy wreckage on my drive to and from Hpa An, apparently highway accidents are very, very common because the roads are in pretty bad shape and speed limits seem to be subjective, as are general road laws.
2) The weather and darkness rule. What I mean by that is, even if people have electricity in most places, they don’t have it on every square inch of their house and yard, so when it gets dark, things really quiet down. Ditto for the weather. People don’t have cars, and I didn’t see many rain macs, so getting around in the rain seems to be a dash from one place to the next with very little lingering. People really let their routines be dictated by nature, which is interesting but can feel a little weird when coming from England, where we just strap lights to everything to get around in the dark and use waterproof jackets to resist climate, temperature and darkness. Since it gets dark around 6pm, that may damper some plans. As a result, the inside of most hotels and businesses I went to were also quite dark, which I heard some people complaining about. You get very few buildings where there is ambient overhead lighting.
3) The country is very poor. Very, very poor. I don’t think this will be news to most people who have the slightest clue about Myanmar, but an interesting fact is that the average salary here is between $1000-4000 per annum. I saw people living in grass huts, and pretty much every construction and agricultural project I saw was without some of the heavy duty equipment used in the US or Europe. Most people were, for instance, mixing concrete or plowing by hand. I was humbled by this.
4) People are very curious about tourists, but in a polite and friendly way. There aren’t a huge amount of tourists in Myanmar, not like in neighboring Thailand, so people are still very awed by the sight of foreigners. Don’t be shocked if people ask to take photos with you (the most common phrase I heard was “make camera”), or if people openly stare or even take photos of you (thinking they’re stealth, but not really getting away with it).
5) Sanitation is not great. From street markets to open sewers, Myanmar has a long way to go to reach European or US levels of sanitation. People also litter everywhere, all the time, so you’ll see trash all over the place. Most people burn the trash they can, but plastic and rubber can’t burn well, so they just end up in fields and strewn all over. You just kind of have to take it in stride and, in my opinion, eat vegetarian.
6) There IS Uber in Yangon, but be aware that the regulations are much more lax. For instance, almost none of the taxis and ubers we took had functioning seat belts.
7) If you want to go to a mall to see what a ghost town looks like, go to Junction City in Yangon. I was shocked to find a mall with brands like Fendi and L’Occitane just a few minutes’ walk from the street market where chickens were being beheaded on the sidewalk. This just shows how quickly the middle class is growing. However, it seems very few people can afford the products in the mall yet, so it is very, very empty.
8) Time is relative. Not only were flights delayed and customer service staff unavailable to answer questions such as, “When will my flight be here since its 2 hours late,” there were also moments like the one where we went to discuss our airport transfer with our hotel only to be informed that our plane departure time was pushed up three hours. I shudder to think what would have happened if we didn’t happen to go and ask the hotel about airport transfers. Plus, so many questions: how did the hotel know? Why didn’t the airline email or call us? Just…huh?
9) Maps.me is a godsend. We used this crowdsourced GPS map app to get around because we didn’t have 3G. We found it especially useful in Bagan as people leave reviews about the best temples, viewpoints and routes. We also found it helpful in Ngapali and Hpa An to find restaurants, and in a more general sense, it was helpful to orient us when we weren’t quite sure where we were.
I would highly recommend Myanmar to anyone who isn’t afraid to rough it a little bit, and get out of their comfort zone. You’ll learn a lot, see a lot, do a lot and come back with amazing memories.