touring | myanmar - experience the majesty of this hidden country
'myanmar, a country still hidden from the tourist masses'
Myanmar has been for me a must place to visit for the last few years after missing out on the opportunity two years ago i was very excited to be visiting this relatively unexplored country in south east asia. although there has been huge news coverage showing the country in a negative light in the past year i can honestly say that this was one of the safest & friendliest countries that i have ever visited. if you visit here i believe that you will come to the same conclusion as me that this is one of the best countries that you have ever visited, i am even going to go a step further & say this is the best country i have ever visited.
formally known & sometimes still referred to as rangoon. yangon is commonly thought of as the capital but this is no longer the case as the previous military government changed this in 2006 to naypyitaw.
i arrived early in the morning to the buzzing streets of of this beautifully decaying city but it was strange as i felt something was missing that i see all over asia, the motorcycle.
they were banned in the city many years ago & even though the traffic is bad the noise is considerably less in the downtown area.
while in the city i stayed in the baobabed hostel its perfectly located on 19th street near all the street food vendors & evening bars but just far enough away that you don't hear the noise all night.
yangon is a special city especially the old colonial parts where you can see mother nature taking back the building with moss & trees growing from the cracks formed over the years. at the start i wondered why the occupants didn't just clean it up but then i started to see why they didn't, there is a beauty to the building that have the moss & trees a type of urban decay that i have not seen before & as i explored more it grew on me. you can find these buildings all over the city but they are more concentrated in the downtown areas.
while there are many things to do in this city i heard about a special local train ride that captivated almost all the the big publications i follow like nat geo & lonely planet. its commonly referred to as the circle train & it travels around the city in a huge loop as the name suggests. this is truly a train for locals to travel on doing their daily routine. it takes around 3 hours from start to finish as it chugs along at a leisurely pace most of the time but you can get off when you wish too.
it costs (200 mmk / $0.12) yes you read that right for a 3 hour ride its crazy. this is not a tourist ride its a place where tourists & meet and interact with locals. on the journey i met a myriad of people from cigar sellers to local women getting to the market but my favourite has to be this little boy i took a shot of through the window (see photo). i captured what i believe to be the true essence of myanmar. the innocence of the people here, they don't bother you but are always interested in you especially if you have light hair. the thanaka on his face is used for protection from the sun..
the food of yangon especially the street food was super interesting to me for the first few days when i arrived in yangon as most of the locals where eating at these small street stalls i just had no idea what to order so i decided to take a tour with sa ba street food tours. i arrived in the early evening for the tour & was met by the fabulously enthusiastic khattar she greeted me so warmly like many people i met here.
we stared the tour at the official night street food market located at maha bandula park. i think a lot of people do not to try street food due to hygiene reasons but on this tour its all taken into consideration & we only visited the places that had a good track record of cleanliness.
we started with mohinga the national dish of myanmar the textures were amazing. we then moved on taking a walk to try green tea & lemon salad, lassi, shan noodles then finally arriving on 19th street for the bar scene where we tried a deliciously seasoned barbecue fish washed down with a local ice cold beer. it was a great tour, highly recommended to give you the opportunity to try local cuisine.
a few other great places that i tried has to be the most famous restaurant in the city rangoon tea house it would not be out of place in london or new york the decor, service & food has been taken to the next level. most dishes are a take on traditional burmese food & as the name suggests tea. the have so many different styles of tea to try. the best dish i had was the chai cheese cake it was exquisite i even went back the nest morning for another. main, dessert & drink (15k mmk / $10). i also have to give a token mention to 999 shan noodle, make sure to visit the original place & you will get a slice of true local cuisine with a drink all for less than (6000mmk / $4).
this is the place why most people come to myanmar. this ancient city with over 2,000 buddhist
temples & monuments is a place of jaw dropping beauty on such a vast scale it hard to believe the ingenuity that was needed to execute something on the scale over a thousand years ago.
i arrived here on the night bus jj express this was by far the best bus service with high quality busses, meals & movies. you will pay less than ($20) for all of the journeys they offer. do keep in mind that during holidays all the buses are full but with jj express you can book online before you arrive in the country. while i was in yangon i nearly got caught out as all the busses had been booked but i was lucky that someone cancelled. a few people i met had to stay an extra four days in the city to wait for the next bus..
arriving in the early morning i once again stayed at the fabulous boababed bagan hostel. this place really blurs the lines with hotels offering two bars including one on the rooftop, restaurant, rooftop pool, private & dorms rooms, pool table with live sports playing in the background.
i stayed in a private room here (very reasonable prices) everything was set up & ready for me at 9am in the morning yes they let me check in that early. the staff are super friendly & will help with all your needs especially kai (the manager) who always makes an effort to help everyone he can he's a great guy. they offer a free sunset tour to the temples every day if there is enough people that want to go, its a must do trip.
bagan is a place that makes your jaw drop on a daily basis. i was here for four days & every morning at 4am i was awake & on my way to a different temple i can honestly say that i captured some of the best shots of my life here. the light & vistas are truly something special from sunset to sunrise you can take a million photos all would be spectacular.
one of the best things i did here was a day tour organised by a near by hostel that ran from 8m to 4pm for free just pay what you can in tips. you need your own bike but the places we visited & the knowledge of the guide was unsurpassed we found some super cool locations that we otherwise would not have had a clue about if it was not for our lovely guide.
it cost (25k mmk / $18) to enter the area for three days & if you stay a little longer they will charge you again if you get caught. i know some backpackers who avoided the charge but i believe it always good to pay as this money goes towards the preservation of the temples so for me i was happy to pay the fee.
at the bottom of this blog post you will find a map of some temples that you can climb and have the best views of the sunrise & sunsets. i would also recommend downloading the maps.me app as it has the most comprehensive temple list with detailed information about climbing the certain temples. most are unavailable to climb due to an earthquake a few years back.
the four nights i spent here could have easily turned into weeks. its a truly special place that sets your imagination alight. its a place that all travellers want to find while globe trotting. make sure to visit old bagan town for some good local food it has so many places to choose from.
the lake is situated in shan state located in the centre of the country, a night bus ride from bagan. arriving here i had one thing on my mind and that was to take a photo of the traditional fishermen that has been over all the travel publications in the last few years. to my surprise i found out that this is only for tourists to take photos so i was a little disappointed but the following days turned out to be some of the best shooting days of my life.
again arriving in the early morning, its a common theme in myanmar as the night bus is one of the most efficient ways of getting around this vast country. at seven in the morning i turned up to the wonderful song of travel hostel. on arrival i was greeted by name, yes name. they knew my face before i even arrived, this is 5* hotel territory. for early arrivals they have a day bed room where i got a few hours of sleep before i set off to explore the town of nyaungshwe.
this hostel has a total different felling to most others fiona & the team make you feel as if you are the only guest every staff member knows your name. they ask you about your day when you arrive back & make sure to be on hand for all the questions you may have. i really felt as if i was at my family home here its great as a single traveller to find a place like this as it reminds you so much of being with family at home as the staff here treat you as so. its truly a special place.
i was surprised to learn that the area is home to two vineyards producing a variety of different wines. some great, some not so much but the views from the terraces above the lake from the red mountain winery are defiantly worth the trip on the free bicycle provided by song of travel hostel. if you looking for the best coffee & especially iced coffee in town then the only choice is cafe ccm they are a european style cafe with some of the best coffee in the country.
the next morning i decided to take the boat tour that was offered by the hostel. with another 4am start i was a little groggy but i powered through & as we had breakfast of the boat as the sun was rising over the hills in the distance i felt it was going to be a special day. after breakfast we started our 12 hour trip around the lake visiting some of the most famous sites en route. throughout our journey we came across super interesting people & vistas that had to be seen to be believed. the people who live on the lake here are living in a way that has not changed in generations & they are some of the happiest people i have met in my life. one of our last stops was to a local families home on stilts where we were served delicious fish from the lake. i have to say that seeing the kids laughing & joking here without the need for a computer is very refreshing. it was like i stepped back in time to a majestic place filled with unbelievable views & happiness. i can honestly say in terms of taking photographs this one of the best days of my life, yes it was that special..
to sum up...
its hard to some up a country that restored my faith in travelling & humanity. i believed before i arrived that this would be a special place. it lived up to & exceeded all my expectations in every way. i really did not spend long enough in this vast country i will be definitely be returning in the near future to explore all the places i did not get the chance to see on this trip.
i would like to thank all the amazing people i met on this trip, as a landscape photographer i found my self actually taking more pictures of the locals as they were all so interesting & diverse. anyone thinking about coming here should do so asap as its going to change rapidly over the coming years..
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country travel tips
atm: any is fine all charge a fee just make sure not to select the on screen conversion.
sim card: ooredoo is the best date provider. 10GB is (10k mmk / $7) for 30 days
transport: use the public transport in cities and coaches for long distance.
taxi: grab taxi app is cheap | uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.