Trip Report Part 2 Hotels Reservations and Yangon-Bago
You may want to read part 1 here tripadvisor.com/ShowTopic-g294190-i9408-k597…
We are independent travellers, a couple (50/60) not the fittest who prefer to travel independently and not to be locked into a itinerary in advance. I’ve backpacked for 30 years. I would call ourselves flashpacker/low end mid-range. We prefer a/c in hot areas, hot showers in cold areas, and prefer an ensuite though can live without one if necessary. We don’t stay in dorms. We carried carry-on sized backpacks which are easy enough to fit under a bus seat or in an auto-rickshaw. We will travel by auto-rickshaw, taxi, or horse and cart, but as we are both motorbike riders we don’t like riding pillion except for short distances on the motos. Neither of us are keen on bike riding, too unfit. We both are on the wrong side of the “healthy” BMI so are bums are HUGE by Burmese standards, I’m 5’8”, my partner’s 6’ so our knees don’t fit in some of their seats either. Effectively on most surface transport you are charged double the local rate - and I thought this was fair enough because we took up at least double the space!
Do You Need Reservations?
The only accommodation I pre-booked prior to arrival in Myanmar was 3 nights at the May Shan Hotel near Sule Pagoda, brilliant location, nice enough room, over-priced at $48. They had WIFI but it was very slow.
Short version - we had little to no problem finding accommodation as we travelled (with the noteable exception of Inle - I’ll get to that), the longest it took was about 10 minutes of phone calls (not by us) in Hpa-An - see below. It’s perfectly possible to travel Burma in peak season so long as you are not wedded to particular hotels and middle or better range. We found that by avoiding hotels that were booked by tour groups we found accommodation with little drama.
Note flying in with AirAsia our carry-on bags weren’t weighted at all, and only went thru the standard security check. We also carried on walking poles and these made it thru Australian, Thai and Burmese security fine.
Against advice we booked 3 nights there and I’m glad we had them. We were jet-lagged having spent only 1 night in Bangkok on the way from NZ. But also the town deserves more time than many seem to give it. Also because of the jetlag I was determined to be in the center of the city so we could easily go “home” for a nap if necessary. The downtown area has a nice vibe - particularly with all the street vendors that come out at dusk. Because we changed money at the airport we paid the taxi kyat (8000) - he would have taken dollars as well. We’d booked and paid for the May Shan Hotel via Agoda, excellent location, very expensive at $48 compared to Bkk - but that’s supply/demand. Nice people
Baroke Aung San Museum - is now open every day except Mon,Tues,holidays - this is the family home of Aung San Suu Kyi and I thought more interesting than the locked gate of her current home. It’s down an alley - and quite a long walk back to the road - our taxi waited for us returned us to central Yangon (5000k). We walked down to the waterfront area and along to The Strand, my partner felt too under-dressed (in shorts), to go inside. We did however get a taxi back to Sakura Tower (20 stories opposite the similarly side Traders Hotel - you can’t miss it) - it looks like an office building but there is a restaurant/bar on the top floor - fantastic view of Shewdagon Pagoda as the sun sets. It looks fancy, and the food seemed expensive but the beer was 2000k which wasn’t outrageous (2000k is the standard price for a large bottle of Myanmar Beer) and the same as the coffee anyways.
We found places to eat as we needed them, though we did got to the Bryani place in the lonely Planet (3700k/2). The street eats and small local restaurants were never dull, hardly ever had a long wait and never made us sick We drank beer every night as it was so hot and were delight to discover that often in came in chilled glasses. The whiskey is also very cheap - 700k for a 175ml of the local brands. The local soft drinks weren’t too sweet but generally we drank water 1 litre in the supermarket was 220k-700k and for various brands we paid anywhere from 300k to 500k at hotels/restaurants. There is always someone selling water, so we never carried a lot with us.
Going with jetlag we went to Shewdagon for dawn. We saw one other pair of tourists in the hour we were there (we got there at 6:15am) - we were waved in without paying but we were approached later to pay the $5 pp - the only time we were approached there. No one tried to sell us anything, indeed when I looked interested in some flowers a lady gave me a blossom for free.
We did the local loop train ($1) but also wanted to buy train tickets to Moulmein for a couple of days hence. We were picked up by a guide/agent who wanted to help - he showed us the (rather unmarked advance booking office -it’s opposite Sakura tower and NOT in the actual train station).
A local travel agent showed us where the office was and translated for us. He was keen to sell us a 5 day trip to Moulmein with car/driver for $220 -but when we said we wanted to go by train he offered us hotel for $35 so I was pretty sure we’d fine accommodation, so after he’d taken us to the right window and helped with the translation for the train tickets he just quietly left. Over and over we had similar experience, drivers of taxis didn’t just drop us off they would literally take us to stations and show us exactly where to go to get what we required.
You have to have your passport with you to buy train tickets and to book into hotels, they are took forever copying out the visa details. The train prices in LP are about right $28/2 upper class to Moulmein. There is a night train, but I REALLY wouldn’t recommend it, the day train leaves at 7:15am is supposed to take 9 hours - it took us 12 hours, others 10 hours - your time may vary! It was the roughest train trip I’ve ever done, I had bruises on my back where my bra catch was between the seat back and me, I was sometimes airborn. It was a great trip, and except when it sat in the sun for 1.5hours not that uncomfortable (there is no glass in the windows so long as the train moves it’s not too hot).
There is a continual parade of vendors on trains selling everything from bottled water (or just cold water who I got to fill my bottle), ice creams, samosas, watermelon, full meals, sweets, cigarettes, coffee, and beer and soft drinks.
It was VERY hot in Moulemein at the area - it should have been the cool season but it was probably mid-30s (same as Yangon) but the humidity was probably 90%+ There was NO wind - so you would stand outside after dark and just sweat. We stayed at the Breeze Guest house ($12/2) - but they had no a/c rooms available. There were plenty of other hotels around though, and I’m sure some of those had a/c - probably for about $30. Almost all hotels included breakfast in the room rate usually fruit, eggs, toast, coffee.
We saw very few other tourists in Moulmein - the Breeze GH can organise tours, even if you don’t stay there I’d recommend just showing up and using their services, Mr Tony is a guide who lives there and he will organise everything you need (fluent English). We hired a car with a driver for a day with another couple for 40,000k which took us to the mini-Golden rock north of town and also to the huge reclining Buddha to the south. We were generally the only westerners there - and after I jumped in the swimming pool at the Reclining Buddha was even more in demand for photos (I wore my clothes, swimsuit would not have been appropriate). They also organized a group of us to Ogre Island using public ferry and tuktuks on the island. This would have been very difficult without a guide there was absolutely no English signage anywhere.
BTW my partner took the time and learnt the numerals, it’s handy to remember which bus you go off at a lunch stop, or to read platform signage or bus routes.
After several days in Moulmein, we went to Setse. I got the GH to ring the Setse GH to book us in - the guy said he’d never called Setse before and copied the number down in his own notebook. There is only one hotel where you an stay it has 5 decent rooms (fan only, ensuite) - beach side and some older wooden, probably hotter rooms $20 room (1 or 2 people). The location is great, the beach is lovely - wide and flat, and the sea was clean and nice to swim in. It was also brown as it was the end of the Monsoon, but it wasn’t silty, and I felt fine swimming in it. There is a local beach market next to the hotel which did excellent fried fish (3000k) and cold beer (2000k). The place was pumping with locals as it was the weekend, but most went at sunset.
To get there from from the market in Moulmein we took a local bus to Thanbyuzayat about 2 hours (1000k ea) - the bus seemed to be going on and we saw our objective the commonwealth war cemetery so we hoped off the bus there. The place is worth visiting, you’ll probably be the only one there, the main front gate is locked but there is a caretaker on the right side street as you face the main gate. We had to wake him up - he was most embarrassed. We left our gear with him, and after we’d finished he asked us to sign the visitors book - there were only 2 other groups over the past 3 days. We ate at the local stall on the road - noodles - v.tasty (1400k/2 inc soft drinks and water). We knew we would probably get a pick up to Setse so established the correct side of the road, by saying Setse a lot and pointing in both directions. Stood in some shade but got waved over to another little shop where and English speaker appeared, he flagged down every pickup that came along until one stopped for us, it was cramped and quite slow as he delivered people and goods to lots of places, took about 45 minutes and cost about 500k each. We were dropped at the hotel.
Doing the return was pretty similar, except we walked about 1/2km into the main part of Setse (away from the beach) to find their local market and a pickup. We could have hired motos as well to take us back to Thanbyuzayat. There may be a daily bus but maybe not on the day we wanted to go. There is always a pickup though - I just think the locals didn’t expect us to take them. Frankly they are slow and uncomfortable but for shorter trips I’ll take them quite happily. The pickup dropped us in front a big fancy bus which turned out to be the 9am to Moulmein (1500k 1.5 hours, video even, but no a/c). Then we realised that we had to time to make it all the way to Hpa-An - instead of over-nighting in Moulmein (this is why I hate pre-booking).
In Moulmein again the bus dropped off at several places but also got to the bus station, the conductor showed me which shop front was for Hpa-An, and we bought another ticket for a bus an hour hence. We had lunch at the bus station, consisting of fried snacks and fruit - it was still incredibly hot. The Hpa-An bus turned up and appeared full-packed with people standing, but we had seat numbers, and people were re-arranged until we fitted into the back seat on the correct numbers, then benches were added to the aisle of the displaced. These local buses also carry huge quantities of rice and other cargo, so we had to have a bags with us, anything more than a carry-on size would have been difficult as it was - we had one bag on the floor being looked after by a random local, and the lighter one across our kness. It was a VERY long, hot two hours to Hpa-An. I’d recommend trying to do the tourist boat organised by Breeze Guest house - it’s longer and probably costs more but it must be more comfortable.
Again the bus probably went to a bus station on the outskirts, which we never saw, but we were dropped in the centre of town. The LP map is accurate and we found Parani Motel($40 - recommended) (misnamed it’s a mid-range hotel a/c, fridge, breakfast inc) nearby. Unfortunately they were full. By now it was 2pm - we’d been travelled since 6:30am - it was 35C and about 100% humidity - looking pathetic wasn’t hard. The friendly, English-fluent, receptionist, suggested another around the corner. I asked if she’d mind calling just to check they had space. They did not. She then called every other hotel in town that takes foreigners, all 6 - they were all full. Then there was a big discussion with the 3 or 4 guys standing around. I heard the English word agent. Behind reception there was an elaborate whiteboard of reservations, many in company or agent names rather than individuals. We were seated in front of fans, brought cold water and more calls were made (we were never charged for any call BTW) - 2 calls later we had a room. There was a festival on and I suspect agencies block book a certain number of beds but maybe don’t use them all. The bad news was the room was on the 3rd floor - no lift of course, and the stairs well far too steep to be legal in any country with a Health & Safety Policy. The good news is the porter carried our bags (no tips expected).
Hpa-An was quite extraordinary - the festival was mainly local Burmese pop so we gave it a miss, but wandered around town and ate in an excellent Burmese restaraunt (4500k/2) with the curries out the front and all the side dishes included (in the LP recommended). That night we walked around to the Soe Bros GH and arranged to join a day trip the next day via tuktuk. This took us around the various caves and monastries. Spectacular karst landscape - recommended - but it’s a long hot day.
After the trouble getting a room we reserved a hotel in our next stop Bago. I also needed to get bus tickets. I went back to reception, they phoned a couple of places for me, one the ph number was wrong, the next wanted $50! The third the Imperial was $20. The bus ticket was sorted by the porter who was keen to arrange it for us - I gave him 10,000k and attempted the north face of Everest again, sorry the stairs. About 10 minutes later there was a ring at the door - yup $40 in Hp-An gets you a room with a door bell - and there he was - apologetic that he hadn’t realised that foreigner tickets were twice the local price - so I owed 2,000k on the ticket, he was delighted with a 1000k tip, and I was delighted to not have to go out in the heat again.
The bus to Bago was comfortable - everyone had a seat and there was a video even! 5 hour trip stopped once for a dinner break for about 20mins. Bago is a very scarppy, uninspiring looking town, but we got picked up by a richshaw tout, who carried out bags to our hotel and then arranged a 1/2 day trip around the sights including going inside a huge monastery and numerous buddhas (larger and larger). He tried to help us buy train tickets for the next day but they were sold out so we had to return the next day to buy after Yangon released their quota (there’s not a computer to be seen in Myanmar Railways). He came back to the hotel, gave us a lift the several km’s again, waited until we had the tickets and took us to the station. I tipped him 5000k - he was very happy. The Imperial was an absolute dump and I wouldn’t have stayed there if we hadn’t booked it and it was hot. Surprisingly the room actually had excellent a/c - it was v.overpriced at $20