South East Asia

Travel Myanmar: must-knows including hotels and routes

By , May 23, 2016

Before Travelling

Visas: Singaporeans require a tourist visa (28-day validity) which costs S$35 and must be obtained through online application and collected in person at the Myanmar Embassy, Singapore. Detailed information can be found on the Myanmar Embassy, Singapore website here.


Flights:
※ The best route and airline to take from Singapore to Myanmar is flying to Yangon with SilkAir (13 flights weekly at approx. 3 hours).
※ If you prefer flying with our national airliner, note that there’re only 7 weekly flights so you have to book well in advance to ensure seats.
※ Another route is to fly to Mandalay for which you’ll need to fly SilkAir (3 flights weekly at approx. 7.5 hours).
※ Our suggested route below takes wanderers through the less travelled Mandalay Region and Shan State. For those planning to visit the popular southern Yangon Region, not to worry we’ve got you covered too.
※ The cheapest route and airline is via Bangkok with AirAsia (you save approx. S$400 compared to other routes). The downside is the average layover time is 6-7 hours.
Hotels: Booking good hotels in Myanmar will be a little more complicated than what you’re used to. The sooner you realise this, the easier and more stress free it’ll be for you as you’ll appreciate that it’s a time investment and that your planning will go a long way…
How many days annual leave should I budget for Myanmar?: As you’ll need two full weeks in Myanmar at the very least, ask your boss for 10 days off (if you plan smart you’ll have at least three weekends to enjoy too).
➄ When are the best months to travel? October to February (outside of monsoon season).

Suggested Route

➀ Fly into Mandalay.
➁ From Mandalay to Bagan.
➂ From Bagan to Kalaw.
➃ From Kalaw to Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe).
➄ From Inle Lake back to Mandalay.
➅ Fly out of Mandalay.

Google map view.

If you want to go to Yangon however we’ve got you covered ☞.

General Tips

① Now is the time to see Myanmar before it gets too developed.
② Wear a Longyi (traditional Burmese sarong) to blend in with the locals and beat the heat.
③ The annual average temperature is hotter and rainier, though less humid, in Myanmar than in Singapore so you’ll want to pack light with good waterproof gear.
④ Watch a Chinlone match (cane ball); traditional Burmese sport and a favourite national pastime.
⑤ Put on some Thanaka paste (sunscreen and beautifying paste).
⑥ Watch the sunrise; it is as beautiful as watching the sunset and you won’t have to share your outlook point with as many other tourists.
⑦ Stay at a hotel that’s near monuments and other spots you want to visit as you’ll want to return to the hotel throughout the day to rest.
⑧ Bicycling is a bit dangerous because of the roads but beautiful.
⑨ Foreigners aren’t allowed to ride motorbikes.
⑩ The roads are poorly built (not even built in some places) so if you plan to travel Myanmar by car (pickups are popular) don’t eat too much beforehand or you may get sick.
⑪ You’ll see monks everywhere (every Burmese has to live in a monastery for a few weeks once in his life).

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Photo by Alex Schwab.

➀ Mandalay

The Road to Mandalay…

If you’re an adventure-seeking, real-life Agatha Christie character, the name Mandalay should evoke strong feelings of old-world nostalgia and fervent excitement. Make full use of that energy by exploring everything this golden city has to offer.

Mandalay International Airport is around one hour south of Mandalay’s city centre. Expect to pay roughly S$17. You can whittle that down to S$7 if you share a taxi.

Visit the Mahamuni Pagoda at 4:30am and watch the daily washing of the Mahamuni Buddha’s face – note that only men are allowed to approach the Mahamuni Buddha. As that’s particularly early for someone on holiday, we recommend staying nearby at one of these hotels (each within a 15 minute walk from the pagoda).

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Photo courtesy of Paul Arps.

If you’re looking for traditional Burmese fare, recommended restaurants are Green Elephant (a Myanmar-wide chain) and Aye Myit Tar (close to the Mahamuni Pagoda).

Travel to Bagan by bus. While you can buy tickets at bus stations, to ensure you get to where you’re going in time, book tickets ahead of time (tourist high season is from November to April).

➁ Bagan

We bet you already have an impression of Bagan that looks something like an out-of-this-word, Terry Gilliam drawn, landscape of hot air balloons cascading over protruding pagodas. Did we get that right?

 

You’ll want to spend at least 2 days here to see the temples and ride a hot air balloon.

The best way to navigate Bagan is to think about the city as the following three main areas: Nyaung-U, Old Bagan, and New Bagan. A good idea to save time and energy is to rent an electric bike from your hotel for around 5000 kyats (approx. S$6) or a regular bike for 2500 kyats (approx. S$3) a day (Bagan is flat so cycling is considerably easy), particularly if you want to visit a number of temples in one day.

We recommend seeing the Ananda Temple, the Dhamma Yangyi Temple and the Thatbyinnyu Temple. Bagan’s holiest and most important temple, the Ananda Temple (pictured below) was built in 1091 and is located on the left side of the Bagan-Nyaung Oo Road. The story behind the Dhamma Yangyi Temple’s construction is among the most complex and to avoid spooking you out too much before you get a chance to visit, let’s just leave it at there was once a crazed king who needed to atone for his sins… And the Thatbyinnyu Temple is claimant to Bagan’s tallest pagoda (66 metres) and is located on the left after entering the Tharaba Gate of Old Bagan.

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© Photo by Manuel Delgado.

We recommend staying at the Tharabar Gate in Old Bagan. The hotel is reputed as the best value for price hotel in the “upmarket” Old Bagan section which is closest to Bagan’s must-see monuments including the Shwezigon Pagoda, the temples listed above, and the Nyaung U Market (Mani-Sithu Market). According to users, hotel staff are extremely professional and the service provided is among the best in Bagan.

Tharabar Gate

Photo courtesy of The Hotel @ Tharabar Gate.

If you still have energy and time, we recommend taking a short trip from Bagan to Mount Popa, reachable by car in a little over one hour.

Tavel to Kalaw by night bus. As you’ll arrive in Kalaw after dark, it’s highly recommended you book a hotel close to where the drop-off point of your bus is. We recommend the Golden Kalaw Inn, a 5 minute walk from the Kalaw Market drop-off point.

➂ Kalaw

The fact that the human eye can see more shades of green than any other colour means you’ll have a sensory field day with the vibrant natural colours of unspoiled fields in Kalaw.

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© Photo by Manuel Delgado.

We recommend staying at the The Hotel – Kalaw Hill Lodge. Situated on 30 acres of land, the hotel is a renovated farm house which is an ideal choice for travellers looking for a comfortable yet cultural experience. Hotel guests can opt to do anything from horseback riding to taking a day excursion, led by a local, to Inle Lake or Pindaya*.

Kalaw Hill Lodge 2

Photo courtesy of The Hotel – Kalaw Hill Lodge.

Another recommended excursion is to the Green Hill Valley elephant camp which cares for retired elephants and gives back to the local environment through a re-plantation program. Visitors are welcome to join the daily care programs for elephants and to plant a tree.

*Short trips from Kalaw include the Pindaya Caves, reachable in a little over one hour, and Inle Lake, which you can trek to in two nights (you can book a guided trek) or travel to by car in 2 hours

➃ Inle Lake (Nyaung Shwe)

Were you wondering about the tribal women with the neck rings and houses on stilts? They’re both located on and around Inle Lake.

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Photo by Thomas Schoch.

It’s a 20 minute car ride from the town of Nyaung Shwe (where you’ll likely pass through en route from Kalaw) to Inle Lake. We recommend staying at the lakeside Villa Inle Resort & Spa which features pristine views of the lake and its natural surroundings.

What’s there to do you ask? You’re on a lake… rent a canoe and explore! By the way, when you see your canoe rower using his legs to row his oar with instead of his hands don’t be startled, instead, see if he’ll teach you.

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© Photo by Manuel Delgado.

Hand-woven Longyi’s and scarves made out of lotus fabric are the prefect souvenirs as they’re something unique from Myanmar and the Inle Lake area in particular, and in buying them you’ll support the local Inn Paw Kohn community.

If you can, you’ll want to go further south of the lake via boat tour (most tours don’t venture out this far) in order to lose other boats and enjoy the serene rural villages and monasteries.

Travel back to Mandalay by air or land. Catch a domestic flight at Heho airport (an hour car ride from Inle Lake) if you’re pressed for time or if you’ve had enough land travel through Myanmar to last a lifetime. There are several flights daily with all local airlines. For a cheaper, albeit crammed, option, take a bus (approx. 8 hours).

➄ Yangon

This is a trip on its own…

The former capital, and largest city, Yangon is perfect for the traveller who enjoys chasing cities that haven’t yet succumb to too much development.

Stay at The Strand and wake up at the turn of the last century. You’ll be familiar with the sight of this grand colonial hotel from Singapore’s own Raffles, both founded by the Sarkies brothers. However, here you have the chance to stay as a guest rather than simply a tiffin regular. As chances are you’re not going to be in Yangon as often as you are Bangkok, and as eating-out, transportation, and entrance fee prices in Myanmar are cheap, we recommend splurging on accommodation.

Visit the Shwedagon Pagoda at daybreak so that you’ll see the 2500-year-old pagoda transform into a mesmerising, shimmering gold structure as the sun gradually illuminates the entire pagoda. We recommend staying nearby at one of these hotels (each within a half hour walk from the pagoda).

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Photo by Lee Wu.

If you’re looking for traditional Burmese fare, recommended restaurants are Shan Yoe Yar (upmarket Shan restaurant), Taing Yin Thar (pan-Myanmar and veggie friendly), Lucky Seven (high-end tea house), and Rangoon Tea House (also a high-end tea house that screens old Burmese films).

Also, check out Saveur’s great guide to street food in Yangon.

Did you follow our tips and stay at any of the recommended hotels? We want to hear from you!