Singapore | Myanmar | Malaysia

Myanmar

General

Since the peaceful protests of the monks and the population have been cracked down violently by the Myanmar military regime the country is well-known. Unfortunately the regime is still in power. Nevertheless a trip to Myanmar is a great experience and it helps the local people to stay in touch with the rest of the world. But be careful you might become addicted to Myanmar. Time seems to stand still in this country for several decades now. Along with golden pagodas on top of nearly every hill you will also found cultural treasures, untouched nature and the most friendly people in the world. Every foreigner I met in Myanmar was fascinated by this country and its people. However bring along a lot of time and patience, especially if you are travelling individually. This will be rewarded with experiences that you will never forget.
If you travel to Myanmar you should ensure that the military regime does not profit too much from your visit. So try and avoid domestic flights, (semi)governmental travel agencies and (semi)governmental hotels (most of the 4 and 5-star hotels belong to people and companies which are closely related to the government). By doing this most of the money you spend in Myanmar goes to the local population. And they need every cent as Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the world.

Transportation

Bus Busses are the most common way of transport in Myanmar. Normally a bus drives to a big city once a day. However you should note that considerable parts of Myanmar are still off-limits for tourists. Most of the time busses are older than 30 years and the roads are in a terrible condition. For the 600 kilometres from Yangon to Mandalay busses need about 15 hours, in the more rural parts busses are even slowlier. Bus rides are very exhaustive as they go during the night and due to the bad quality of seats and roads you will hardly catch any sleep. Punctures and other technical problems are very common, so far I never had a bus ride without one. Depending on the quality of the busses and the distance a bus ticket will cost you between 1 and 8 €, it is recommended to do a reservation one day in advance.
Railway Myanmar has a quite dense railway network which has been built in big parts during the colonial days. Since then not much has changed, tracks and cars are in about the same state as the busses. However delays remain within an acceptable limit. I personally prefer travelling by train, as it is more relaxing and comfortable than travelling by bus. In addition you have close contact with the local population (especially if you travel ordinary class). Basically you can choose between ordinary class and upper class, on the line from Yangon to Mandalay and further up to Myitkyina there are also sleeping cars. You can purchase tickets in every train station, they have to be paid in US-Dollar. Tourists are being charged with prices way above those charged to locals. Tickets for ordinary class wil cost between 1 and 15 US$ (depending on the distance), upper class tickets normally cost two to three times the price of an ordinary class ticket. Most of the time the officers want to sell upper class tickets, however if you persist in a friendly but determined way on an ordinary class ticket you will get it. Be prepared to have your passport along with you if you want to buy a ticket.
Boat There are a lot of rivers in Myanmar and therefore you can also travel long sistances with boats. On some connections speed boats are available whereas public boats are available on nearly every bigger river. Speed boats connect bigger cities along the coast line and are therefore practical to cover long distances. However you will not see much of the landscape and contact to locals is not so close. Public boats chug up and down the rivers, they stop at nearly every village. It's a great experience as nearly everything is transported on the boats, you have a lot of contact to the local people and enough time to enjoy the landscape as it passes by. Tickets are available at ports or agencies. A ticket for a speed boat will cost you between 20 and 40 US$, a trip on a public boat will cost you about one dollar for a day trip. If you want to travel on a public boat for several days you can rent a cabin on the boat. However these cabins are very shabby and they will cost you at least 50 US$.
Flugzeug More than 15 cities are connected by domestic flights which mostly start and end in Yangon. It is not recommended to travel with the governmental airline Myanma Airways due to safety reasons. Private airlines like Yangon Airways, Air Mandalay and Air Bagan are operating with quite modern propeller planes and pilots which have been trained abroad. But you should not forget that these private airlines (especially Air Bagan) have very close connections to the government or they are owned by members of the regime. Tickets are available in travel agencies and will cost between 50 and 100 US$. Most of the time the tickets are hand-written. In general flights have always to be reconfirmed three days before departure.
Shared taxi Experiences travellers to Asia will be familiar to shared taxis and enjoy their convenience. They drive along fixed routes and pick up and drop everyone waiting along the route. In Myanmar shared taxis are most commonly Pick-Ups but there are also shared busses. In Myanmar shared taxis are often only available on the main roads as secondary roads are often in a state where even Pick-Ups with four-wheel-drive are not able to drive. Longer rides can be quite uncomfortable but in the more rural areas shared taxis are often the only available means of transport. You have to pay directly to the driver or his assistant. Depending on the distance prices will range between a few cents and about 3 €
Motorbikes If you plan to do a half day or day excursion from a city it is best to rent a motorbike with a driver. It is recommended to take a driver as he is familiar to the road conditions and he knows where to go. By taking a motorbike you can also access places which are not accessible by Pick-Ups. Ask the driver to provide you with a helmet. Most of the time the drivers will not have enough money to cover the gas costs, therefore you have to pay the gas which the driver will get most of the time from the black market. A driver should not cost you more than 10 € per day. Drivers are available at guesthouses, markets or bus stations.
Taxi/Rental car Taxis are only available in the big cities, prices always need to bargained in advance. A taxi from Yangon airport to downtown will cost you 4-5€. Along with taxis you can also rent a car with a driver. It is impossible to rent a car without a driver as foreigners are not allowed to drive a car if they don't posess a local drivers license. The drivers also offer round trips up to several weeks. Depending on distance and type of a car this will cost you between 70 and 100US$ per day.
Trishaw Trishaws (also referred as rikschas) are availabe nearly everywhere. However they should only be taken for short distances, for example to get from the bus station to the guesthouse. The seats are not designed for the size of westerners. Depending on distance and luggage prices range between a few cents and one euro.

Money

Cash Cash is the only way to pay in Myanmar. The local currency Kyat can be used to pay food and transport except trains and planes. Train tickets and accomodation have to be paid in US$ as well as entrance fees to most of the temples. Some first class hotels are also beginning to accept euro, but you should not rely on this. US$ money bills have to be new and absolutely clean, otherwise they won't be accepted (a small bend is often too much), for euro the appearance of the bills doesn't matter. Be sure to have enough bills with small denomination as change can hardly be given. For money change (see below) you should have bills with large denomination.
Credit cards Due to the embargo of the US and the EU credit cards and travellers cheques are not accepted in Myanmar! Some luxury hotels might accept credit cards as the billing including a surcharge of at least 20% will be done via Thailand or Singapore.
ATMs ATMs are not available in Myanmar. The few banks will also not provide any cash in exchange to credit cards or travellers cheques. Therefore be sure to bring enough cash with you. Don't be afraid, Myanmar is one of the safest countries regarding theft of money from foreigners.
Money changer Money change is only possible in Myanmar. Banks offer to change money, however they only offer rates which are four times below the exchange rate available on the black market. Therefore change your money at the black market or at least in the hotels where they offer better rates than in the banks. When you walk through the streets of Yangon nearly every person on the street will ask you whether you want to change money. However you should prefer to change the money in a shop, for example at the Bogoyke Aung San Market in Yangon. Rates are slightly below those available in the streets, however they will not cheat you and you have enough time to count the several hundreds of Kyat bills.

My Favourites

Most of the tourists restrict their travelling in Myanmar to the top tourist spots Yangon, Lake Inle, Mandalay and Bagan. But apart from these spots there are ven more beautiful parts in Myanmar. Some of them are listed below:

Shewdagon-Pagoda Yangon Shewdagon-Pagoda in Yangon is one of the main attractions and the most important buddhist sanctuary in Myanmar. The pagode with a height of more than 100 metres covered with more than 20 tons of gold is simply breathtaking. The best time to visit the pagoda is the early morning between six and nine o'clock and in the evening between four and seven o'clock. It is worth to go there in the morning and the evening as the pagoda appears in complete different light.
Round trip West Coast (Taunggok - Sittwe - Mrauk U) This round trip offers you nearly everything. Untouched nature including huge mangrove forests, cultural treasures like the temple ruins of Mrauk U and a close view of the rural life in Myanmar. You will hardly meet any tourists during that trip. Plan at least seven days for the whole trip, 10 days are recommended.
Start your journey with a nightly bus trip from Yangon to Taunggok, a charming small cities with hundreds of old wooden houses surrounded by picturesque rice fields. Three times a week a speed boat departs towards Sittwe. Ask the captain to stay at the upper level, where normally only luggage is stored, by telling him that your seat on board can be resold. From the top you can enjoy the mangroves along the seven hour trip. There's not much to see in Sittwe so take the public boat up the river to Mrauk U. The pleasant journey with hundreds of people and animals on board is a great experience.
In Mrauk U you should spend two days exploring the temple ruins embedded in a beautiful landscape by renting a bike at the guesthouse. In addition you can take a trip to the Chin villages. A 10 km bike ride takes you to the shore of a river. Cross the river and rent a fisher boat in the village for a whole day. If you don't want to take the boat back from Sittwe to Taunggok you can go for a domestic flight from Sittwe to Yangon.
Sagaing Most tourists restrict their excursions around Mandalay to Mingun and Amarapura (U Bein Bridge). However they miss the most beautiful place. A few miles down the river Sagaing offers dozens of temples and monasteries dotted on several hills. Climb one of the hills and enjoy a view which is more beautiful then the one from Mandalay Hill.
Hsipaw If you are in Mandalay and you have some time left, then go on a several day trip to Hsipaw in the Shan mountains. The charming small city can be reached via train. The breathtaking journey takes you first up to the mountains on a zig-zag track and then over the spectacular Gokteik bridge. You will have the best view from the right when climbing up the mountains whereas the Gokteik bridge can be best seen from the left. Around Hsipaw you can do a lot of trekking. Don't miss the view of the sunset from sunset point in Hsipaw
Round trip in the South (Golden Rock - Hpa-An - Mawlamyaing) This round trip takes you off the beaten track, provides you with deep insights of the buddhist believe of Myanmar people, takes you to a landscape with bizarre rock formations and a city with a colonial charme. Plan at least seven days for the whole trip, 10 days are recommended.
Start off by taking a bus or the train to Kyaikhto and the Golden Rock. Especially during December you will thousands of pilgrims coming there every day from all over Myanmar. Don't miss the breathtaking sunset on top of the Golden Rock. From Kyaikhto take a shared taxi to Hpa-An where you should spend several days exploring the bizarre rock formations and caves as well as climbing up to one of the rocks (for example Zwegabin). Afterwards take the public boat or a bus to Mawlamyaing, a city where the colonial times still seem to be alive. Explore the temples and monasteries among which is the Queen Seindon monastery. This monastery gives you an impression how the glass palace in Mandalay must have looked like before it got destroyed. From Mawlamyaing take a bus or the train back to Yangon.
 
Valid HTML 4.0 Transitional    © 2007-08 by Florian Grupp    Deutsche Version