Tips for trips:
Travel as the locals do, but remember to give back to them when you can: To make the same circuit I did, you need to take several long bus journeys. Make sure when you can to take the VIP bus instead of the van. It is a bit more expensive (by a few dollars) but worth it in the form of flowing air-con, more comfort and more rest stops. At the rest stops, do buy food or at least converse with the locals. The rest places are in-between the major stops and see less visitors, so a simple smile or ‘Mingalaba’ (hello) goes a long way.
Stay at guesthouses or hotels that give back to the community: This way, your money goes to families and communities instead of to the government. At Inle Lake, we stayed at Zawgii Inn: A beautifully run guesthouse with a garden feel and a delicious free breakfast of pancakes and toast, fruits, eggs and tea or coffee.
Local food: Yes, Street food: Check cleanliness: Local Myanmar food is super tasty and cheap! Make sure to head into one of the countless tea shops or a place that looks brimming with locals…they know good food! Another way to eat is to be culturally conscientious…perhaps go to a tea shop that is Muslim owned to support this minority group in Myanmar (it will say on the doorway and the food and tea I’ve had is delicious/similar to Indian cuisine).
Bagan: NOW is the time to get to Bagan. This ancient city with a landscape of over 2,000 9th-13th century temples welcomes you into its peaceful magic. As any blog may tell you, make sure to get to a temple that has at least 2 tiers (a lot of steps!) and 360-degree views to get that beautiful sunset or sunrise panoramic view. I agree! But an insider tip is to look for a temple with a few tourists that look like they have scaled the temple from the outside…lo and behold, they did not- the real deal is some temples have secret staircases from the inside that lead up and outside. Not only do you get a feel for how monks or royals may have used these staircases, you get a more private view for the sunrise of balloons over Bagan.
Inle Lake: Insider tip #1: Customize your Inle lake tour. Mostly everyone who comes here takes a boat tour on Inle Lake, as you should too! What not everyone does, and what you should do, is request your stops. You can request a visit to a local family’s floating home or visit a local market (which rotates throughout the week).
Insider tip #2: For a bit more luxury and convenience, you can stay at a resort on the lake!
Yangon: Insider tip #1: Walk around the city center and get to know the locals! They know the great places to eat and they want to practice their English with you.
Insider tip #2: Hire a tour guide for the Shewdagon Pagoda. According to Buddhist lore, the pagoda was built over 2,000 years ago and it houses 8 of Buddha’s hairs. Intriguing right? You will learn so much more and understand how to be most respectful at the pagoda with a local guide. Legend or not, this temple exists as the number one Buddhist religious site in all of Myanmar…worth the visit!
So, after a quick trip through this blog, I hope you feel inspired to add Myanmar to your travel list! Each of these three places really offers you a unique, cultural experience. Remember the best way to travel through Myanmar is to ask the locals questions, to eat the local food and to stay at guesthouses or hotels with community outreach programs. Local, local, local!!
See you out there!