Myanmar was the third leg of our Indochina trip last June, 2017.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is my ultimate Southeast Asian country bucket list, primarily because of my interest with Aung San Suu Kyi and Bagan’s hot air balloons (unfortunately there was none during out visit).
We flew from Bangkok to Yangon via Nok Air, a low cost airline from Thailand. We scored the return tickets for ₱2,016 only! Too cheap that you must set your expectations really low as to their service. Although they have free snacks on board,
(1) the noise of the aircraft was bothering,
(2) the aisle seat on the row beside us did not have a cushion! Haha.
(3) The crew were unfriendly.
DAY 1: YANGON – BAGAN
MONEY EXCHANGE and GETTING LOST IN THE CITY
We arrived in Yangon shortly before lunch. Immigration was smooth. But we got stuck in the airport because of money exchange! We knew already from our research that it’s quite difficult to find a money exchange in Yangon that accepts Philippine Peso.
So we had our Peso exchanged to USD in Bangkok…airport. How brilliant, right? Costly! But that’s because we had no choice because hello, connecting flight. No chance of exchanging moneys outside (Don Muang) airport.
The exchange rates in Yangon airport were absurd! So we had our USD exchanged to Myanmar Kyat just enough to bring us out from the airport to the city center of Sule, which is only less than 30 mins from the airport. Taxi rates in Yangon are cheap, at least compared with other airports in other countries.Our cab ride was 12000 kyat, a little less than ₱400.
We were dropped of at Shangrila Hotel. From there, we looked for money exchange and walked through 31st street, surrounded with interestingly colorful tenements, which made me feel like I was in India (as how I imagined India’s streets look like)… Until we finally found one along Anarwhata road, Unity Money Changer.
We then had lunch at KFC, 2 blocks away from Shangrila Hotel. DO YOU KNOW that KFC is the first fast-food chain in Myanmar which opened just last June, 2015? It was just their anniversary when we were there!
We then explored the city center by foot until we reached Sule Pagoda. From there, we rode a cab to Yangon’s most famous tourist spot, Shwedagon Pagoda via cab for ₱110. Entrance fee’s at 10,000 kyat for foreigners (that’s around ₱400).
Traveling in Myanmar is incomplete without a visit to the 2,500 years old Shwedagon Pagoda, which enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics. It is the most sacred and impressive Buddhist site for the people of the Union of Myanmar
Note: Be keen in associating with strangers inside the complex. There’s this one chatty monk who interviewed me while I was sitting in one corner, gaping over the majestic pagodas around me. When Jayvee was fetching me from his photo walk, the monk asked if I have any Philippine money with me. Instinctively, I showed him the ₱20 because I have a feeling he’ll ask for it. Indeed, he asked for it. Other blogs would attest to this, not even in Yangon but also in Bagan.
It unfortunately rained late afternoon prompting us to head early to Aung Mingalar Bus Station for our sleeper night bus going to Bagan.
Our cab driver going to the bus station was really nice to favor my request to drop by Aung San Suu Kyi’s house along University Avenue. He even also showed us General Aung San’s property, Daw Aung San Sui Kyu’s father, near Inya Lake, the lake surrounded by historical Burmese events.
We paid 8,000 kyat (₱300) from Shwedagon to the bus station plus an additional 2,000 kyat (₱75) for ‘parking fee.’
SLEEPER BUS FROM YANGON TO BAGAN
We booked our sleeper bus at Bagan Minthar VIP Bus return tickets a month prior to our trip at https://myanmarbusticket.com/ for ₱2,230. Booking ahead is highly advisable because a friend experienced riding the regular bus as the VIP was all fully booked when they purchased their ticket only there and then.
We left at 9:00 PM and arrived in Bagan Shwe Pyi high Way Bus Terminal at 5:30 AM. Passengers all seemed to be foreigners.
Don’t expect too much with the “VIP” bus. Though the bus offers free bottled water, snacks, blanket, reclining seats, and restroom, I wasn’t comfortable with the smell of the blankets and curtains. But tolerable enough to have a good night sleep.
DAY 2: BAGAN
BAGAN: EXPENSES AND TIPS
A number of men were waiting at the doorstep of the bus, offering cabs and tours. Note: Please research as to how much is the average price of cabs from the bus terminal to Old or New Bagan, wherever you’re staying at, to have an idea whether the locals’ offers are reasonable or not.
We were asked 25,000 kyat (₱1000) from the terminal to our hotel. Absurd!
Then I noticed one Japanese lady who was also looking for a cab. I approached and asked her if she wanted to share a ride with us (travel tipid tip hack!), to which she agreed.
So we divided the fare to the three of us. And just when we were about to get in the cab, another solo foreigner approached us if he can hitch in our ride. And so the fare was divided into 4!
On the way to our hotel, we stopped in a small cottage along the highway to pay “environmental fee” amounting to 25,000 kyat (₱1,000)!!! We were not prepared with this. I hope this will serve as a helpful reference for you guys!
We stayed at Hotel Yadanarbon in New Bagan. I highly recommend our hotel because:
(1) They have free buffet breakfast beside the pool!
(2) Their rates were unbelievably low, considering they offer free shuttle to the bus terminal for our return to Yangon,
(3) Hotel staff were really accommodating and hospitable,
(4) They allowed us to check in earlier than the check-in time,
(5) They have an ATM kiosk just beside their gate,
(6) They contact bike and motorbike rentals for us,
(7) They allowed us to stay in the hotel premises from check out time until 8pm, schedule for shuttle pick up going to the bus terminal, and a lot more.
New Bagan vs Old Bagan
We chose New Bagan for our accommodations because our friends recommended so. It has a handful of backpacker hostels and hotels.
Old Bagan, on the other hand, is where the hot air balloons fly and where most of the pagodas scatter.
Again, we did not see even one hot air balloon. Apparently, they don’t fly on the month of June. So make sure to research about the schedule if you intend to ride in it.
Each of us rented a bicycle for half day on our first day. Then in the afternoon, we rented a motorbike good until the next day. It all costed ₱960.
We searched for a restaurant while roaming with our bicycles, and stumbled upon Kyaw Kitchen. It was a cozy garden restaurant.
Then we biked around without any itinerary. We just randomly stop at any pagoda of our interest. One of them was Shwezigon Pagoda beside the Irrawaddy River.
Then we headed to the other side of New Bagan and found breathtaking neighboring pagodas.
Bulethi Pagoda. Bulethi is one of the well known tourist attractions of Bagan and is located almost around its center. It remains one of the favorite spots of trippers for photography since the surrounding pagodas and countryside provide great scenic view.
Late afternoon, we moved to Old Bagan in our motorbike. We hopped from one pagoda to another and searched for the best pagoda to catch the sunset.
DAY 3: BAGAN – YANGON
We woke up at 4am to catch the sunrise. We climbed to the top of Shwesandaw Pagoda, deemed as the best spot for sunrise in Old Bagan. We set up our cameras for time lapse and photos and just waited for sun to rise while marveling over God’s wonders. Piles of foreign travelers began to fill the place, so it pays to be early!
Temple of Reclining Budhha in front of Shwesandaw Pagoda
After the sunset we went back to hotel for breakfast. We spent the whole afternoon in Old Bagan and then went to Nyaung-U, which is Bagan’s town proper.
Khaymingha. Khayminga Temple is extraordinary with several holy stupas. The temples itself were built in the 11th century that emphasized the relationship between nature and the historical religious monuments.
Thatbyinnyu Temple. Towering above other monuments of Bagan, the magnificence in white which is the Thatbyinnyu takes its name from the Omniscience of the Buddha. Thatbyinnyutanyan in Myanmar language, omniscience is given further explanation in contemporary inscriptions as “knowing thoroughly and seeing widely.”
Ananda Temple. The Ananda temple is one of Bagan’s best known and most beautiful temples. It was one of the first great and well preserved temples built in Bagan. Local legend has it that towards the end of the 11th century, eight monks from India influenced King Kyanzittha to build the said temple.
Gawdawpalin Temple. Gawdawpalin is one of the largest shrines of Bagan. The temple is double-storeyed in the late style. In the ground storey, a vaulted corridor runs around a central block against whose four sides are placed images of the Buddha.
Sulamani Temple – This temple was known as “crowing jewel” and located in the village of Minnanthu, southwest of Bagan. This temple is a more sophisticated temple than the Htilominlo and Gawdawpalin.
Maha Zedi Pagoda – Maha Zedi has a series of receding terraces, surmounted by a bell-shaped dome which continues into a finial of concentric rings. The steps are very steep to climb. But once you reach the terraces, you can view the beautiful scenery of Bagan with the ancient monuments.
Shwegugyi Temple – Shwegugyi means “the Golden Cave” in Myanmar. It is located in front of the royal palace and therefore also known as the “Nandaw Oo Paya” meaning the “Pagoda in front of the palace”.
The rest of the afternoon was spent chilling beside our hotel pool and waited until early night for our shuttle to the bus station going back to Yangon. The shuttle was like an open air jeepney that rolled like a roller coaster! Haha.
Upon arriving at Aung Mingalar Bus Station in the morning, we headed straight to the airport to catch our Bangkok flight.
Note: Be wary of taxi drivers in the bus station as they offer ridiculous prices. HAGGLE!
DAY 1 : YANGON
Airport to city center
Money exchange and Lunch
City Tour (Shwedagon Pagoda)
Cab to Aung Mingalar Bus station
Sleeper Bus to Bagan: Good night!
DAY 2 : BAGAN
Good Morning Bagan!
Hotel Yadanarbon Check in
Bike Tour in New Bagan
Lunch near Irrawaddy river
Sunset viewing in Old Bagan
DAY 3 : YANGON
Sunrise viewing at 4am
Back to hotel for breakfast
Motorbike rent for temple hopping and shopping of souvenir at Old Bagan
Lunch at Nyuang-U
Hotel Check out
Sleeper Bus going back to Yangon