Myanmar, also known in her previous name “Burma”, is a magical and special country that makes you feel like you’re in a journey back in time. It has opened its doors to tourists only in recent years, and therefore local culture dominates, and the influences of the West and progress are almost not yet felt. I believe that in a few years Myanmar will become a major tourist destination, and so I’m glad I was able to visit it while it was still raw and authentic.
Myanmar borders with India, China, Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh. It is influenced by its culture mainly from India and China, but has a uniqueness and charm that I have not seen anywhere else. A common perception in the world is that it is dangerous to visit Myanmar, but the dangerous area where there are riots is only near the Bangladesh border, so I just avoided this area during my trip. All other areas are safe and wonderful. Before I left for my trip, I was warned that the local food was not suited to the western palate, and that the hotels were not five-star hotels as I’m used to from other places in the world. To my surprise, the hotels were extraordinary at a level that would not embarrass any Western country, and the food served there was high quality, tasted amazing and combined a local kitchen with Western cuisine.
The trip was planned by the local agent Thiri from One Stop Myanmar travel agency, and if you’re looking for a luxury trip (not backpacking) I highly recommend using her services- she planned a perfect trip that exceeded all expectations. She chose hotels, domestic flights, and a private instructor and driver on each destination. Without her help there is no chance that I could have planned such a trip, because as I have already mentioned, the country is not developed and orientation without a guide is not easy.
I visited four major destinations, each showing a different side of Myanmar, and together we got a varied, fascinating and exciting trip. All the meals I ate were at the hotels restaurants, after an unsuccessful attempt at a “recommended” touristic restaurant in Yangon.
Yangon (3 days)
The largest and most developed city (relatively) in Myanmar, whish was once considered its capital.
- Lotte Hotel Yangon– Korean luxury hotel chain. This beautiful hotel is situated on the banks of a lake, with the best service I have encountered and luxurious rooms. It has a magical pool with lake view, a gym and a range of other services. We ate dinner at the La Seine restaurant at the hotel, which offered the most delicious, varied and quality buffet I have ever seen: a beautiful fish stand cut before your eyes, sushi, Korean delicacies, 7 kinds of soups, sausages and cheeses, pastas, pizzas, fresh grilled meat upon request, local Myanmar cuisine and don’t even get me started with the desserts. This was undoubtedly an unforgettable culinary experience, accompanied by an amazing attitude on the part of the restaurant staff. In the morning we ate breakfast in the same restaurant, which of course was not a disappointment and was amazing and varied. Luckily, this chain has many branches in other cities in Asia and the rest of the world, so I can visit their excellent hotels again on one of my following trips.
- Shangri-La– A luxurious and beautiful hotel in an excellent location in the city center, which provides easy access to attractions and markets. We booked a beautiful room on the 21st floor with an amazing view.
- Shwedagon Pagoda– A huge gilded pagoda almost 100 meters high, considered one of the symbols of Myanmar. One of the most magical areas I have ever seen. It is recommended to arrive in the afternoon right before sunset, so you’re able to see the pagoda in 3 different ways: with daylight, during the sunset, and when it is lightened by lights in the dark.
- Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple– A magical temple with a huge statue of Buddha, 65 meters long- the third largest in Myanmar.
Bagan (3 days)
No doubt THE most special place in Myanmar. An ancient city that makes you feel like you’re in wonderland – every few meters there is another magnificent temple, some old and some renovated, with different textures and colors. The place is known for its magnificent sunsets, which can be seen from an hot air balloon, or if you wish, just by watching the balloons flying from the ground with the sunrise and temples in the background.
Tharabar Gate Hotel– A beautiful hotel with wooden cabins, amazing pool and excellent service. It is in the heart of the Old city and allows quick access to all of Bagan’s main attractions.
In Bagan we had a charming guide named Lin, who introduced us to the fascinating history of the place and took us to all the best places for pictures! He is also a great photographer – a huge plus in a tour guide. In fact, all my pictures from Bagan except those in the air balloon were taken by him.
- A Guided Tour to The Temples – In Bagan there are thousands of temples, behind which lies a fascinating historical story. The guide will take you to the most beautiful and interesting temples. We visited Ananda temple, That Byin Nyu Temple and many more.
- Flying a Hot Air Balloon – This is not a cheap attraction at all, but in my eyes it’s an experience you need to try at least once- and Bagan is the perfect place for that. The flight allows you to see all those temples, monasteries and pagodas from above, and the sight is breathtaking. We took a Golden Eagle balloon and it was a good choice – make sure to book in advance.
- Visiting a Traditional Village – The guide took us to a traditional village where the locals live in bamboo houses. All members of the family sleep in one room and maintain a different and intriguing way of life – a cultural experience.
- Watching Sunrises and Sunsets – In Bagan I watched the most amazing sunsets I had ever seen, as the sun sets on the temples. Our agent Thierry included different daily activities to watch the sunset, so we were able to see three unforgettable sunsets – one from a hill with a view, one from a passageway and one from the temple roof. One day we also watched the sunrise, when we got up at 4:30 for our air balloon flight.
Inle Lake (4 Days)
Inle Princess Resort– A breath-taking hotel on the banks of Lake Inle, with spacious log cabins and a magical and special atmosphere. We took a villa overlooking the lake, and every evening we watched the sunset from our private balcony. Getting out of the hotel to most attractions in the area is with wooden boats – an unforgettable experience.
- Shwe Indein Pagoda – A group of dense, colorful and beautiful pagodas, some old and some new.
- Pindaya Cave – When I heard that we were going to visit a cave, I expected a “normal” cave – natural and dark with Stalactites and stalagmites, but nothing prepared me for this special place: an ancient cave on a high mountain with an unimaginable amount of Buddha statues, mostly gilded.
- Kakku Pagodas – A complex that contains more than 2000 amazing ancient pagodas. A spectacular sight.
- Floating Gardens – Famous gardens that float across the lake, where they grow tomatoes, flowers, pumpkins and other fruits and vegetables. It is interesting to see the gardeners walking among the gardens in wooden boats to pick the crop.
- Paduang “Long Neck” Women – A tribe of women who wear metal rings around their necks and are therefore called “long neck”.
- Floating Market – A market located on the banks of the lake and reached by boat. You can find food stands, souvenirs and clothes, and every day it takes place in a different location.
- Watching Local Fishermen – You should ask the instructor to take a closer look at the local fishermen, who fish with a unique and interesting technique.
Ngapali Beach- 3 days
Sandoway Resort – It’s hard to describe in words the magic of this place – a luxurious and relaxing resort that reminded me of experiences from Hawaii and the Philippines. We took a villa on the beach, which was the most beautiful villa I’ve ever seen – huge, well equipped and a design I wish every hotel would have. A few steps from the balcony overlooking the sea, there is a path to the beach, where each villa has a private sunshade. If you want to order food, all you need to do is to raise a green flag and the beach waiters will come to you immediately. The food in the restaurant is exceptional, and the service is warm and personal. We saw no logical reason to leave the hotel, and for three whole days we just walked between the beach and the restaurant. Because what more can you ask for on a dreamy vacation?