Just a 10 hour flight from Melbourne is the emerging destination of Myanmar (Burma). In 2012 the country tightly wedged between Thailand, China, India, Laos and Bangladesh attracted over 1 million international visitors. It is certainly a country that is extremely welcoming of visitors and is rapidly growing it’s offering with new accommodation and attractions, tours and experiences.
This visit was a fantastic 10 day adventure developed with a healthy balance of relaxation and exploring, my itinerary was as follows:
- 2 nights Yangon
- 3 nights Mandalay
- 3 nights Bagan
- 1 nights Yangon
To save time I chose to fly internally between my destinations. There are many low cost airlines that offer the short flights costing as little as $60AUD.
Arriving into Yangon International Airport via Bangkok on an early morning flight I jumped in a taxi for the 1 hour journey into the bustling downtown area. The cost of this in local currency 10 000 kyat approximately $10AUD.
I chose to stay in one of Yangon’s few boutique warehouse conversion hotels The Loft. The obliging staff swiftly arranged my room for check in providing a complimentary fruit platter and maps and directions for my stay.
My activity for day one was to ride the Yangon Circle Train at only 200 kyat (20 cents) for a round trip ticket it is by far the best 20 cents I have ever spent. The circle train is an old fashioned open air passenger train that runs in a continuous loop around Yangon’s outer suburbs. It takes about three hours to complete the circuit and you can get on and off as you like on the one ticket. The train has some simple rules – no littering, no smoking and no kissing! I stayed on for the three hours watching the spectacle of daily life on board and out the window. Vendors sell snacks and drinks along the way – deep fried crickets anyone? Bananas? Boiled quail eggs? People transport everything on the train from mattresses to bales of plastic, boxes of fruit and vegetables to fresh fish and laundry it seemed that there was room for everything… and anything!
After completing the loop I walked through the colonial precinct of downtown Yangon. Many of these old historic building were established during the period of British rule between 1824 -1948 the building appeared to have gone into disrepair many of them empty but slowly they are being restored and re-purposed for restaurants, shops and office space. The Strand Hotel is still operating as a luxury hotel and is a must for High Tea choose from a wide selection of teas accompanied by the English or Myanmar menu (or you could even try both).
Food in Myanmar is plentiful be it cheap eats on the street or local restaurants or something more upmarket a few boutique restaurants have started to pop up serving contemporary local food with a modern twist. I ate at Feel Myanmar Food which gave me the chance to order a selection of local dishes to try. Be warned any time you order traditional Myanmar cuisine you will end up with much more than you ordered – special sauces and side dishes are presented as a complimentary part of the meal.
Shwedagon Pagoda is the day 2 highlight entry is via the steep stairs at one of four entry ways north, south, east or west after passing through the security check foreigners pay 8000 kyat ($8AUD). This entry fee gives access to the entire precinct. Since 588BC the pagoda has been a religious site, visited by hundreds of thousands of people from across the world. There are multiple pagodas on site and plus many buddha statues and shrines. The central focus is the Shwedagon Pagoda itself towering 100 metres above the circular walkway, dripping with over 80 000 rare jewels. A few tips for visiting:
- Remember to dress modestly ensure your knees and shoulders are covered, no shoes or socks allowed to be worn inside (take a bag to carry your shoes just in case you don’t leave from the same gate)
- Sunset is stunning the colours reflecting off the gold pagoda are spectacular
- Sunrise is pretty and there are many monks, nuns and locals praying
- Try to avoid the middle of the day the tiles are HOT and you must be barefoot in the precinct i learned the hard way – ouch!
- Walk to the far corners between the east and south gate for a great photo opportunity looking back at the pagoda through other spires
- Hunt out the Bodhi Trees – trees of wisdom. They are lush and beautiful and provide a cool shady place to enjoy the view.
Two to three days in Yangon will give you a chance to explore the highlights and get a taste for the local culture and food before you explore other parts of the country.
Read more about my adventures in Myanmar in Part 2 – Mandalay and Part 3 – Bagan to be published next week.
Have you been to Myanmar? please share some of your highlights in the comments below.
Images of Yangon