Friday, 5 April 2013

Sisterhood in Traveling Pants' 5-day Myanmar itinerary

Shewdagon Pagoda, the most revered Budhist temple in the world
Alas five days is not enough to explore this golden ancient country. But to us sisterhood in traveling pants, a trip out together especially to an unexplored destination is godsend.

To those who plan to visit, below is our itinerary which covers the 'big three of Myanmar' - Yangong, Bagan, and Lake Inle. Note that we were lucky to catch the tail end of the tourist season and hence, avoid the crowds and long queues. The downside though was the start of the hot and extremely humid season. Do book accommodations, transportation (flights, car, boats, horse carts) and tour guides way in advance. Hilda was able to get a good rate from a Bangkok travel agent on Air Mandalay and had our tickets delivered to our hotel.

Shwesandaw Paya for a 360-view of Bagan
First Day - Yangon or Rangoon, the former capital of Myanmar.  The city is 2,500 years old and is a mix of the bygone era with gigantic temples and colonial eddifices. Since we arrived in the afternoon from Singapore, the plan was to head straight to Bogyoke Aung San Market (formerly known as Scott's Market), to shop for curios such as jade jewelry, longyis (long skirts), thanaka (local suncream) lacquer and whatnots. Unfortunately, we indulged in the afternoon tea in our hotel and by the time we ventured to the  market, it was already closed. Warning: the market closes early at 5pm and is not open on Mondays.

Traders Hotel where we were billeted is a good first stop. It is located within walking distance to everything - the restaurants, Scott's Market and the exchange shop right across is open until late night. Do bring crisp dollar bills to change to Kyat because they are quite obsessive about the quality of your notes and will not accept bills that are marked, stamped, signed, scribbled on, creased and even folded.

a typical horse-buggy in Bagan
Second Day - Bagan, one of the most remarkable archaeological sights of Asia, is the world's largest temple city that flourished from the 11th through 13th century. The flight took an hour and a half from Yangon to Nyanung-U.

We were actually psyched to tour the city in a horse buggy (right photo) and even planned to bike around. However, due to hot climes at 37-38°C, we ended up renting an air conditioned van.

The van turned out to be fortuitous. We were able to see as many temples as we could considering there were about a thousand or so temples, stupas and pagodas. Our guide took us to Amanda Temple,  Shwe San Daool Pagoda, Sulamuni Temple, Dhamyangyi Temple, Anamanda Temple. We were able to go too as far as Myin Ka Par Village to visit one of the oldest family run lacquerware factory and be back in time for a sunset cruise along the Irawady River. For meals, our lunch was at "The Moon Vegetarian Restaurant Be Kind to Animals" near the main gate which serves the best grilled eggplant ever and dinner was at the  "The Black Bamboo" an open garden French fusion restaurant.

Lake Inle where fishermen use their leg to paddle
Third day - Inle Lake in the cool green highlands of Shan State which is famous for it's local fishermen who row their boats using their legs (left photo), the long-neck Kayan Lahwi women and it's ancient hydroponic farming system.

It is not easy to get to though. We flew out of Heho (40-min flight), then drove to NyaungShwe (45-min by car) and then one hour by boat to the hotel.  We stopped in between to visit the 125-year old Budhist monastery called the Shwe Yan Paye, in Heho and lunch at Green Chili on Hospital Road for the best pennywort salad in NgyaungShwe.

Our hotel, Paramount Inle Resort, was located deep inside the lake in Nga Phe Chaung Village. In the afternoon, we checked out the floating agricultural fields where tomato, gourd, cauliflower, rice, corn etc grow on floating platforms made out of lake weed. We then visited the silver factory and the lotus silk factory.
traditional hydroponics system in Lake Inle 

fishermen lifted us out of the bog
Fourth day - Sagar Village which was recently opened to tourists after decades of war between tribes. The place is dotted with 700 year old ruins. It is quite isolated with no electricity or running water. This is a good place to hike or to bird watch. Warning though to check the tide, the boat ride along the Biluu Chaung took two hours and on the way, we got stuck in the bog due to low tide. We were lucky that there were fishermen in the area who literally lifted our boat (right photo).

traveling pants  Hilda and Bettina
Fifth day  - back to the golden city of Yangon. The flight from Helo was an hour and ten minutes. Our first stop was the 2,500 year old Shewdagon Pagoda, the most revered Budhist temple in the whole of Myanmar and if not, the whole world. The stupa is 90 meters tall, gilded with gold leaf and is surrounded by 64 smaller stupas. Make sure to visit the exhibit where you'll see photos of the jewelry that's installed on top of the stupa. from  We went back in the evening to catch the sunset and the lighting of the candles ceremony.

During the day, we rented a van with tour guide and went around to check out the sights: the Martyr's Mausoleum which was built to honor Aung San and six cabinet members who were assassinated, Ang Suu Yi's home (outside the gate), the 65-meter long Chauk Htat Gyi Reclining Budha  Botatung Paya, and Sule Saya. Lunch was at the colonial Strands Hotel.

Well, good luck to those going to Myanmar. I don't mind going back. My next trip though will be longer during the cool months of November to February.

No comments: