Remember to factor in jetlag if traveling in long-haul. Personally I wouldn’t arrive and do heavy travelling day the next day, if I’d just flown from the US, Europe, or in my case New Zealand. Plan to spend at least the night before an international departure in your departure city.
The Big 4
Underrated, seen mainly as a gateway for many I really liked the town and did not consider 3 days too long. Although the city is large, the centre is compact, and walkable if it’s not too hot. Taxis are cheap and plentiful as are the eating options.
Although a childhood dream to go to Mandalay, I’d pick Yangon over it any day. It’s very spread out. Taxis are hard to find and you will invariably end up on motorbikes or (rare) tuktuks – which aren’t particularly cheap. Hotels are well spread out and there is no real centre which has a good range of restaurants – they are very spread out. I ended up having to note their location so we had somewhere to eat on our return! Unusual in Asia!
Shoot me now – but I was somewhat underwhelmed by Bagan. Given the choice I would go to Marauk U in preference just because it sees so many fewer visitors. (Off limits when I was there). For monumental Buddhist sites I’d recommend Angkor Wat (Cambodia) or Borobardur (Indonesia). You are dependent on horse cart or taxi to get around which gets expensive. Bikes are available for hire but we saw plenty of lost and hot tourists, the going is tough in the sandy tracks and the area is very poorly marked (in English). It would be a brilliant place to hire motorbikes but these weren’t allowed when we were there. Of the 3 towns: old Bagan, New Bagan, Nyaung U: we stayed in the later which at least feels like a real town. Old Bagan just has a number of very expensive hotels isolated amongst the ruins. New Bagan seemed to a few more local options but not many.
Is a bit of a one-hit wonder. We went primarily because we were both suffering in the extreme heat/humidity of the south. The climate is a delight. The boat trip is well worthwhile if just for the photo ops – yes you will get the current LP cover image of the fisherman – they pose near the lake entrance. The villages are genuine and the best I’ve seen. Ngaungshwe is very much a tourist town – a midrange tourist town. There appeared to be no cheaper places (except one near the docks not licensed for foreigners) All were very tidy midrange – charging $30 and up.
Flying – easy – easier than the west Prices aren’t low but they are stable – we paid $80 for a flight to Bagan 3 days in advance, the price would have been the same if we’d booked six months in advance. There appears to be plenty of flights and availability, even in peak season. At the airports it’s pretty quiet and there is little security nonsense. The only pain is that, at both Inle and Mandalay the airport is a good 3/4 hour’s drive from town!
Buses. The cheapest option if you are prepared to take overnight buses and save the hotel. We didn’t – if I don’t want to see the scenery I’d prefer to fly. The buses we did take were shorter hall and were generally on time. However they were also crowded, the seats small and the leg room non-existent. The roads are rough – so even a good bus won’t go fast (exception new Yangon-Mandalay road).
Trains. We were warned off these but their fares haven’t changed for many years while bus fares have gone up the trains the prices are stable. It’s easy to get tickets, but they only go on sale a few days in advance.
I have a lot more to say about travel in Myanmar – but I thought I should get a summary out for people travelling now.
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