Myanmar

Myanmar – Yangon and Bagan

Finally, one tick off my bucket list of visiting Yangon and Bagan in this 4D3N trip. It was a rather impromptu trip with my JC friend Minz and we booked our air ticket, less than a month from the departure date.

Which airline to take

We took Myanmar Airways International and paid $300 each per pax (Comes with in-flight meal and 30kg check-in luggage). The aircraft model was old which looked like a budget carrier but with the duration of 2h 45 mins, I would say it was alright for short travels. My Burmese friend recommended Myanmar National Airline which should be better but of course, the price is higher too. We cleared immigration within few minutes after we alighted from our flight. There were more of their locals travelling than foreigners and we were so surprised by that.

What to get for Data SIM card and Currency Exchange

You can get a sim card from Ooredoo at the airport with no queue. We changed our SGD to Kyat at KBZ Bank at the airport which offers a better exchange rate as compared to that in Singapore. We exchanged 1SGD to 1,000 Myanmar Kyat. In addition, we brought around 300 USD to standby as well.

Rough Expenditure for 2 pax (Excluding air fares)

Entrance Fee  $          22.59
Food  $          37.35
Hotel  $        102.62
Misc  $        106.85
Necessity  $             1.19
Transport  $        114.24
Grand Total  $        384.85

How to get around Yangon and Bagan

To travel around Yangon, you can choose to walk (if they are really in short walking distance). If not, taking a taxi or Grab would be good enough. We tried walking from our hotel to Shwegadon Pagoda in the morning and we perspired ALOT. The heat felt like 12noon but it was only 8am.

To travel around Bagan, you definitely need a driver to take you for pagoda hopping. If not, you can choose e-Bike but you would need to be very familiar in where you going because you will literally melt under the hot sun. We searched online which I found a driver on this site: http://www.greatbigglobe.com/bagan-guide-service/ that other tourists had recommended – Nyunt Win. We booked him for his services for a day – From pick-up till sunset and drove us back to the bus station at USD $65. (Including a trip to Pakokku to see 2 glass temples)

Nyunt Win and his email: thirigm.unw@gmail.com

How to get to Bagan:

We booked via Joyous Journey JJ Express Bus in advance for overnight bus ride which is usually 9 hours. But I have to warn you my horrible experience from Bagan back to Yangon. I suffered 30 bed bug bites on my upper back thigh! So I would recommend to take other coaches instead. In addition, the way back from Bagan to Yangon, they only made 1 stopover for toilet breaks which was not the case when we went there from Yangon to Bagan (which we had 3 stopovers for toilet breaks).

Things to note:

You may want to avoid using their tap water to brush your teeth to avoid stomach upset. Prepare additional bottled water. You may want to avoid visiting the pagoda during 11am – 3pm as you would need to walk barefoot and the tiles will just burn your feet. Do bring along some medicine just in case.

Here’s a summary of our itinerary:

Day 1:

  • Touched down Yangon in the afternoon
  • Took a cab to Ang Mingular bus station to have dinner before boarding for our overnight express bus ride to Bagan.

Day 2:

  • Reached Bagan at 5am
  • Mr Win picked us up from the coach and drove us to SkyView Hotel to drop off our luggage and for us to wash up.
  • Caught sunrise at Bagan
  • Toured Bagan temples/stupa/pagodas
  • Rested in hotel
  • Made a trip to Pakokku
  • Rested in hotel
  • Caught sunset along Irrawady river at a pagoda
  • Took our express bus ride back to Yangon

Day 3:

  • Checked in at Merchant Arts Boutique Hotel
  • Had breakfast at Golden Taste Restaurant
  • Visited Shwe Dagon Pagoda
  • First Thai Spa and Yangon BakeHouse
  • Headed to bogyoke aung san market
  • Rangon Tea House

Day 4:

  • Headed off to Yangon airport for early flight

Some tips to note:

First of all, the weather in Myanmar is HOT. It is not your typical Singapore hot but it is intense heat being trapped within a glasshouse. The highest temperature we experienced there was 38 Degree Celsius. Certainly doesn’t help that we were there during their summer time. So sunblock is a must, along with a hat or umbrella.

Also, you may want to wear a pair of shoes that you don’t intend to bring back as you will need to be barefoot to enter the temples and pagodas. I brought wet wipes but I did not use it because there’s no point wiping it only to get dirty again the next pagoda visit. For toilet usage, do bring lots of tissues with you!

Bring along mosquito repellent spray if you are susceptible to mozzie bites. Generally, wear t-shirt or sleeved top with maxi skirts and you should be fine. I would not recommend spaghetti top but if you are not wearing maxi skirts, some pagodas will rent you longyi (long wrap-around skirt) before you enter.

As soon as we touched down at around 320pm, we took a taxi to Ang Mingular Bus Station to ensure that we will be there early. The taxi driver quoted us 10,000 Kyat = SGD 10, which is considered a reasonable cost. He recommended us to try a local store named Nilar Briyani for dinner as he mentioned the local food by the street would not be suitable for us.

After dinner, we spent boarded the bus which they usually start to announce half an hour before departure time. From Yangon to Bagan during this 9-hour journey, we had 3 stopvers for toilet breaks and the toilets were relatively clean.

We then reached Bagan at 5am (just nice and on time for sunrise) and our driver Mr Win was already there, holding a board with our names written on it. He then advised us to drop off our luggages and had 15 minutes to wash up as sunrise typically happen around 605am. He drove us to a mount area whereby quite a number of tourists were already stationed there with their DSLR. We waited 10 minutes but still no sign of hot air balloons, which was delayed. The view was average but could not capture the view that I wanted.

Do note that you would need to pay archaeological entrance fee of 25,000 Kyat (SGD25), which allows visitors entry into both Old and New Bagan for five days from the date of issue.

So I requested Mr Win to drive us to Aureum Palace Hotel to access their observation tower (Nan Myint Tower). We paid USD 5 each to go up and we enjoyed a beautiful panoramic view of Bagan! It was really unforgettable.

Nan Myint Tower is the ideal one stop view point for visitors to Bagan to see the wonders of over 2000 ancient temples and monuments.

Thereafter, Mr Win took us to a local eatery situated in Thante Hotel for breakfast before pagoda/temple hopping in Bagan. Their local fare cost ranges SGD 6-8. Their Burmese black tea was similar to Lipton tea and Burmese loves everything sweet. They offer pastries and cakes for breakfast and we witnessed their locals buying 1kg cake often.

Here’s the places we covered in Bagan after we regained some energy from food.

  • Shwesandaw Pagoda
  • Shwegugyi Temple
  • Dhammayangyi Temple
  • Thatbyinnyu Temple
  • Ananda Temple

Shwesandaw Pagoda – a Buddhist pagoda located in Bagan, Burma. The pagoda contains a series of five terraces, topped with a cylindrical stupa.

When you see IG posts of selfies on top of pagodas, you would assume you are going to get similar shots. Well you will be disappointed because no one is allowed to climb up the temples/pagodas. This was due to the Bagan earthquake in 2016, to prevent further damaging the pagodas and also for the safety of tourists.

Shwegugyi Temple – a Buddhist temple in Bagan, an ancient city located in the Mandalay Region of Myanmar

We were wondering what were the differences between Stupa, Temples, Pagodas when Mr Win enlighted us briefly. There are essentially three kinds of Buddhist structures: 1) stupas, bell-shaped structures but you can’t walk in 2) temples, place of worship for visitors to walk in and worship; and 3) pagoda is sometimes used to collectively describe stupas and temples. For more details: http://factsanddetails.com/world/cat55/sub355/item1325.html

Thatbyinnyu Temple- known as “the Omniscient”, is the tallest structure in Bagan.

Dhammayangyi Temple – the largest monument on the plains of Bagan

Ananda Temple – also known as the finest, largest, best preserved and most revered temples of Bagan.

Apparently, Mr Win said you can see different expressions of this buddha at different angles.

We can feel our energy level dropping with each visit and had to head back to Skyview Hotel to rest. Though we did not plan to stay overnight, we were so glad we booked this hotel just for resting purpose to rejuvenate ourselves. I remembered I was KO-ed after lying there for 5 seconds. LOL.

We had initially planned to head to Mount Popa but our driver advised us otherwise as our feet will be burnt while climbing the hike up the HOT sun and he recommended to take us to this area named Pakokku, which was an hour drive away from Bagan. We drove past the longest bridge in Myanmar – Pakokku Bridge.

We arrived at a local eatery and we were shocked when they started to place many dishes in front of us and we realised it was an ala carte lunch buffet at only SGD 3 per pax! We loved the taste of their food and realised there’s influence of Indian and Chinese food. Not sure what is the name of this eatery as it’s in Burmese.

Shocked faces pose as requested by my travel buddy Minz haha. And a picture of Mr Win.

Next we headed to Pakokku, a city in Magway Region in Myanmar. We went to 2 beautiful pagodas – Thihoshin Pagoda and Shwe Ku Pagoda.

Thihoshin Pagoda – is the best-known pagoda in Pakokku, Magway Region, Myanmar

Love at first sight for this place and mesmerized by the mosaic tiled glass decorations.

Shwe Ku Pagoda – is famous for its wood carving and housing a Buddha image seated on a lotus throne. Also housed a famous teak carving.

We went to Irrawaddy River area at a Pagoda to view sunset.

Yangon

We reached Yangon at 6am and stayed at Merchant Arts Boutique Hotel. For breakfast, we went to Golden Taste Restaurant as recommended by our hotel, which was a 10-min walk away. We ordered Shan noodles with Burmese Tea, costing us SGD7 in total. Their Burmese tea tasted similar to our Teh Tarik version and the Shan noodles has its own unique flavour.

Shwegadon Pagoda

We then took a cab to Shwegadon Pagoda as the heat was getting really unbearable.

The hotel staff at Merchant Arts Boutique Hotel was really attentive and helpful. They recommended us to head for First Thai Spa for decent and good Thai massage. We then headed to Pearl condo for Thai massage. It’s legit and only cost SGD18 for 1 hour Thai massage.

Opposite First Thai Spa, we went to Yangon Bakehouse which is a cafe selling pastries and western coffee. The Yangon Bakehouse,  is a social enterprise dedicated to creating job opportunities, skills development and fair wages to disadvantaged women.

After getting our caffeine fix, we took Grab to Bogyoke Aung San Market. It is a major bazaar selling Burmese handicraft, jewelries, clothing and art pieces. On the second level, you can see the Burmese seamstresses working hard to complete the clothings before it’s being sold.

Next, we explored Junction City before heading to Rangoon Tea House Cafe. A lot of items were already sold out by the time we went there.

My thoughts..

Well, I would say Myanmar has definitely opened my eyes and learnt more about its culture during this short trip. During my walk to Shwegadon Pagoda, there were kids selling plastic bag for tourists to out their shoes in, before entering Shwegadon Pagoda. I remembered this little girl quoted me 1,000 kyat (SGD1) when I passed her 200 kyat as I was unaware how much a plastic bag would cost. I mean in Singapore it costs few cents right? But she actually showed me the 1,000 kyat dollar bill and peered into my wallet. At such a small age, they already knew the value of money. Another experience was a lady trying to sell us some souvenirs while following us throughout our visit at Shwesandaw Pagoda. She was very persistent and showed us the Pagoda throughout. Out of goodwill, we bought from her and another lady and they wanted USD or SGD when they see our wallets packed with other currencies, even as we gave her Kyat.

Also, I was surprised by their command of English – Mr Win, the ladies selling souvenirs etc. They are self-taught and practise everyday with tourists! It’s really impressive.

This trip was also another humbling experience for me. How? I realized how lucky we were that we had good and clean water. We heard that it may not be good to use their tap water and Minz had a minor case of stomach upset after she brushed her teeth with tap water. We would never know if it’s the tap water fault or the cold dish that came along with the breakfast set at Golden Taste. But I actually brushed my teeth with bottled water throughout the entire trip.

We had to walk and explore a lot barefoot and really tested our limit when we walked on road, dusty pathways and rocks. I promised that I’ll love my shoe collections even more. :p

Last but not least, I love the people there. I can only comment based on my short encounter during this trip. I would want to explore Mandalay if I have the chance.

Wanderlust,

Salseralove

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