because, it was the only place we could all agree on
we had some time to kill in nov 12 and thought of going somewhere. laos came to mind but flying there wouldnt be cheap, plus it would require us to connect flights in bkk. the discussion dragged on as we threw in (and out) some suggestions. by the time we settled on myanmar, we had already trotted across half the globe and back, on whatsapp.
the main things going for myanmar were: (relatively) cheap tickets on SQ, direct flight and it was one of the few places none of us had ever been to before. i had to fight this somewhat irrational resistance to myanmar (thinking it was communist, but turned out it was militarist) and plunge into the planning. because that was less than 3 weeks before the trip.
there’s a heap of advice from well-meaning travellers. but navigating through those mumble jumble was quite painful because the information were littered all over and as you can expect, lots of interesting bits but always missing the mark. so, well, i will summarise some of them here:
- everyone needs a visa to enter myanmar (even asean members). singaporeans, you can get yours here (s$35);
- bring crisp, unfolded usd notes. old, tattered ones are often rejected by their money changers and establishments;
- sgd is also accepted in myanmar. (if we had known, we wouldnt have brought usd);
- change your money to kyats @ the airport. there’s a money changer at the conveyor belt and the rates are good. you can also change $ in town with those touts or at the black market but some may scam you (so why bother);
- tourism infrastructure is growing at the slower rate than tourists so it is good to book in advance as some popular places may be full;
- prices are climbing in myanmar – always bring some extra cash. i paid everything in cash (kyats or usd). always use kyat if you can;
- telephone numbers may change without notice (i found out when i tried to call a hotel in kalaw and could never get through);
- internet is unstable so dont panic if you do not hear from the agents for a while but myanmese are fast workers. however, if after a while you still did not hear from them, pick up the phone and give them a ring. country code is +95. area code for yangon is 1;
- brownouts are a daily occurrence (often when you are trying to enjoy a hot water bath). stay in a hotel that has its own power generator;
- if you are pressed for time, fly instead of taking bus because yangon is far from the major tourist sites like bagan or inle lake. this website gives you an idea of the travelling distance;
- if you need to book airtickets, it is more convenient to book it through an agency because the airlines never respond to emails. i booked mine through exotic myanmar travel & tour. they gave me the best rates among all the others i checked. i booked my bagan hotel through them as well (perhaps their rates might be cheaper than online rates). here’s a list of agencies.
here’s our itinerary. in the interest of time, we skipped mandalay and went for a trek in pindaya instead.
day 1 – reach yangon. overnight at ocean pearl inn (usd33/1 triple & hotel provides free pickup from airport); entrance fee to sule pagoda (usd 2/pax).
day 2 – yangon to bagan by air mandalay (usd 119/pax); overnight at kumudara hotel (usd 55/triple); taxi to yangon airport (6000 kyat); taxi from bagan airport (7000 kyat); half day horse cart tour (12,000 kyat); bagan entrance fee (usd 10/pax).
day 3 – tour bagan. bike rental (3000 kyat/bike/day).
day 4 – tour bagan. taxi to see sunrise (10,000 kyat); taxi to see ananda (14000 kyat return).
day 5 – bagan to kalaw to pindaya by bus/car. bus to kalaw (11,000 kyat/pax); car to pindaya (36,000 kyat); overnight at golden cave hotel (usd 40/night email: email@example.com); entrance fee to pindaya (usd 2/pax).
day 6 – trek to yatzakyi ( 25,000/pax). overnight at yatzakyi village.
day 7 – pindaya to inle by car (60,000 kyat). entrace fee to inle lake (usd 5); tuk tuk to winery (12,000 kyat return); overnight at mingalar inn (usd 70 1 triple email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
day 8 – inle boat trip (18,000 kyat /boat). entrance and camera fee to temple (500+500 kyat/pax).
day 9 – inle to yangon by air bagan (usd 119/pax). taxi to heho airport (15,000 kyat); overnight at ocean pearl inn (usd 33/triple); entrance fee to shwedagon pagada (usd 5/pax).
day 10 – yangon to singapore (taxi to airport 7000 kyat).
in all, we spent usd 663/pax*, (excluding the sq air tickets @ s$367/pax). a pretty good bargain i think, for a wonderful 10-day whirlwind trip.
*we set our budget at usd 1030/pax or usd 103/day/pax.