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Trip Report with Young Kids

Boulder, Colorado
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Trip Report with Young Kids

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Here is our trip report of Myanmar for one month in October 2013 with our 2 kids, ages 3 and 5. There is not a lot of up to date information for travelers to Burma with children of this age, so I thought I would make a contribution knowing that many more families with young ones will be venturing to this exciting country in the coming months. Occasionally, we would see families but not many, and practically none with kids under 6.

I am not sure who was more interested in who - us in the locals or the locals in us! Myanmar is such fascinating place, and I think our presence added to it at times, even for fellow foreigners. Awaiting our flight from Heho to Thandwe, quite a few tourists looked a little dumbfounded at the sight if us. Our kids have bright, blonde hair, so that served as a magnet for the Burmese.

We are on a 10 month long trip through SE Asia, so we would like to think we are on a budget. Fitting Myanmar into the plan definitely forced us to spend much more money than its neighboring countries, especially since we wanted to play it safe by flying and staying in places a notch above backpacker digs. Once in this bracket, things get pricey fast.

In terms of planning and booking, I started one year in advance. I found a great agent, Yu Yu Win, at Tour Mandalay, who replied right away to my first inquiry and was excellent throughout. As a mother herself, she understood our needs as a family, especially in terms of safety and budget. We decided the safest way to travel between cities was flying, so she arranged all of our flights. In terms of hotels, she would present a few options based on our requests (mid range, quiet, pool, etc), and we were able to pick and choose. In some cases, her options were just too expensive, and it was never a problem to decline and book our own accomodation, which is what we did in Nyaung Shwe, Kalaw, and Ngapali. In fact, many guesthouses in NS were reluctant to book through agents at the time, so the traveller is forced to contact them independently anyway. I was able to make three bookings in NS via email, and later narrowed it down to one based on tripadvisor reviews coming in. Ironically, in the end, we loved a place we discovered after arrival called La Maison Birmane, and ended up moving. I could go on and on about how great this place is. Anyway, having an agent is nice for families, since multiple passengers must be booked and the system is a little tricky. Yu Yu arranged our first airport transfer which can be awkward with children, and was simply there for us in case of an emergency at any time during the trip. Though it seems weird and scary to wire lots of money to strange bank in Singapore, and then meet the agent in your hotel to get paper tickets and hotel vouchers, this is Burma, so you will have to prepare yourself for the unusual anyway. The Burmese are so trusting, there is nothing to worry about and you will quickly realize this upon arrival.

Hotels in Yangon are outrageously expensive, but we felt a pool was worth it for the kids, so we splurged on Summit Parkview. We received a warm welcome and the kids loved the breakfast buffet. The pool is nothing special but at least it was an option. The best thing about Summit is its location. You can walk to Shwedagon which is where you want to visit first, in my opinion, anyway. This is one of the world's greatest religious sites, and it was not only immensely intriguing but also fun for our children. Also very near is Happy World, a funky local amusement center and Feel Restaurant, a clean and friendly introduction to Burmese cuisine. On our walks, a cheap travel/ umbrella stroller worked just fine, since 3 year olds can never walk far. By the way, flip flops/ thongs are not a good option anywhere in Myanmar (bc of sketchy sidewalks and roads, with lots of poop, mud, trash, and general filth) besides at the beach, especially for kids. We like Keens: waterproof, sturdy, and closed toed with a good tread.

Our first stop upcountry was Bagan, and we stayed at Thande Hotel, another budget buster, but good for kids, as it is beside the river and has a pool. Bagan was wicked hot, so the pool was nice to have. However, do note we know for a fact it is untreated water as we brought pool testing strips (for the kids' sake). After seeing the results, I was really shocked and would not swim in it. We kept our mouths shut and you should too! Antibiotic ear drops might be a good idea to bring along - we used this as a prophylactic. In terms of sightseeing, we found that mixing it up a bit with horse carts and a car/guide worked perfectly. The kids loved the horse carts, but to see the temples that are a little further away, it is most comfortable with a car, namely one with AC. The e-bikes look really cool and even have kid seats on the back, but we tend to be very cautious after a bicycle accident in Vietnam. The horse cart drivers were happy for our business too, since the eBike threatens their livelihood considerably. Our guide was easy to find. I just emailed him based on a positive trip advisor review, and he wrote back right away. He was well spoken, knowledgeable, patient, good with the kids and at a fair price. You may PM me for more info.

After Bagan, we flew to Nyaung Shwe via Heho and stayed at a couple places before we found the ideal spot, La Maison Birmane. Their property is gorgeous, very quiet, and cottages spacious for families. The breakfast pancakes were more like true crepes, a real treat. The kids loved making friends with all the people in the neighborhood. We ate frequently at the restaurant Beyond Taste, which had a kids menu, and even kids plates and cutlery. They were very kind. We enjoyed the boat trips on Inle lake but plan wisely with kids since they can be long, cold, uncomfortable and noisy (bc of the boat motors). We stayed on the lake at Shwe Inn Tha for 2 nights, just so that we were better positioned to see the remote southern end and be around for the pagoda festival. This paid off, but the hotel was overpriced despite the pool, gorgeous scenery, and large room.

Also from NS, we did an overnight to an isolated Taung Yo village accessed 2 hours by car plus 1 hour walking (uphill, in the mud). Shanta Foundation, based in our home state of Colorado and run by an acquaintance, assists this village, and Comet Travel in town arranged everything. We also did something similar out of pretty little Kalaw to a Danu village through a local guide there. Alex was truly excellent (pm for more info). Both experiences will remain as highlights of our entire trip. Staying in 2013 with people who still live as our ancestors was fascinating and enriching for the entire family. we were treated to amazingly fresh local food prepared by fire, and washed our hands beside a huge rainwater cistern outside among pigs, water buffalo, chickens, and ducks. Our host family's generosity was so touching considering how little they have. And, simply feeling so connected with nature was exhilarating. Though a little challenging, both treks were totally doable with young kids, and they loved it since to them it was like camping! We saw lots of animals of all sorts, and even took an ox cart ride to get us back down the mountain -- bumpy but awesome!

After Kalaw, we flew Heho (departure lounge has a REAL espresso bar!) to Thandwe in the pouring rain and luckily landed safely after a rather bumpy ride. (All of our flights were on Air Bagan, which seemed ok.) Due to the fact that over 2012 and into '13 Burma progressively became more and more expensive, we eventually had to rule out a fancy Ngapali resort with a pool. For a basic resort room away from the beach, we were still beyond our budget, so it did not seem worth it. Instead, we went with Laguna Lodge, and the owner, Oliver, was able to arrange and hold our booking for months. We paid cash in advance once we arrived in Yangon, which resulted in a 10% discount. It is frustrating to experience what 52 Euros apparently gets you at Ngapali: not much, if not more filth, Mosquitos, and stinky towels than I would like to mention. But there are some major pluses to Laguna for kids: you don't need a pool because you have a fabulous kid friendly beach with fine sand and gentle water right in front of your door. In places like Thailand and Malaysia that are dealing with jellyfish problems and Hawaii with sharks, there is truly nothing to worry about here. The water is so warm and waves so gentle, we were really pleased. We tried Amata's pool next door (had to purchase an expensive drink) but the water was freezing. Laguna is one of the only places we saw with a natural beach front - no sea wall, no landscaping, so if you like natural, this is your place. There is nothing like falling asleep to the waves crashing literally at your doorstep. And the kids could just run free throughout the property, no problems, and the staff were very engaging with them. In particular, one of the massage girls, Pan Su, was especially sweet with our daughter, essentially babysitting her for large portions of the day on her own volition. Oliver's son who is 8 was also around, and our kids immediately became best friends with this congenial and very talkative boy. All in all, it was a good time at Laguna mostly because the setting is truly superb, but I would not recommend it unless they make some major improvements.

A word about the Internet:

Upon arrival to Myanmar I quickly realized my blogging days would be limited due to spotty Internet. Some places ranged from occasional wifi in the room, to absolutely none, no where. A lasting signal of any sort, anywhere never happened. Our last two stops, Kalaw and Ngapali, were of the nada sort. In these places, we almost had a destitute feeling, not knowing what the weather was going to do, not being able to conduct business at home, and wondering if loved ones had written. Not being able to do the simplest research on our location was a little frustrating since our lonely planet has long been out of date, even since its publishing date with all the rapid change here. I knew Internet usage would be less convenient here, but not this bad.

A Word about Health: Before we left for Yangon, we stocked up on some essentials in Bangkok, and I also had some things from home. We got hep a, b, typhoid, tetanus, mmr, polio, etc shots at home, but also japanese encephalitis and seasonal flu shots at the international traveler's clinic in Bangkok. Malaria was not a concern, but Dengue was, so protect yourself and kids. None of us got sick from the food beyond a little adjustment period, though my son did get a mild 2 day fever followed by a cold. I would recommend bringing the following: multivitamins, since the kids mostly ate rice, bread, pizza, and pasta, and only a little meat, veggies and fruit, the probiotic Saccrymyses, which does not need to be refrigerated, broad spectrum antibiotic, antibiotic ointment for cuts, antibiotic eye and ear drops, Betadine or other non-stinging wound cleaner, bug repellant (lots, since it is hard to find in Burma), a battery powered ear thermometer, paracetamol, tummy ache chewable tablets, alcohol wipes, hand sanitizer, cotton balls for wound cleaning, bandaids, and antihistamine cream.

We had a wonderful time in Myanmar and you will too. Just take a few precautions, come with an open, patient mind, and get ready for memories that will last a lifetime.

For more feedback regarding our accommodation, check my tripadvisor reviews. For photos (to be loaded soon) and more please visit our

blog : www.awaywegobyebye.wordpress.com

The Hague, The...
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11. Re: Trip Report with Young Kids

hi there,

thanks for your post. we are a family with two lovely daughters ages 5 and 2 from europe traveling right now in burma and it seems like things have changed a lot since your last minute. atm´s are widely available. hotels pop up like mushrooms.

we have been on the road since september last year and have visited australia,new zealand and malaysia. our desicion to visit burma was very spontanious. within a week we flew over sydney to kl where we rested 3 days and booked a flight with malaysian airways to yangon. and with golden myanmar airlines to mandalay.

we book our flights within the country as we go as this is what almost all travelers seem to do.

a one way flight costs around 40 usd per person with usually free airport transfer.

depending on your airline. its absolutely no problem to pop in a travel agency which are in every corner and book a flight for the next day. the prices are the same. booking in advance or last minute.

the hotels and guesthouses we do find through tripadviser and contact them via email. its popular to book through agoda to get best rates. if you contact them via email the replies are usually prompt and you will get a great walk in deal.internet is widely available and even free in main touristic sites.

we took all our vacciantions back home in holland and didnt need anything else. for the 28 visa we applied in kuala lumpur. went to the agency in the morning. took two photografs right there,filled in the papers,they made copies of our passports for 20cents in total and there was even a compurter with a printer to print out your flight ticket which you need in order to apply for a visa.

we picked up our visa in the afternoon and paid 560 malay ringitt for 4 people.

all very easy and smooth. everything was absolutely last minute and thanks to uncle google we paid the least amount for flights and accommodation.

here we are now,in mandalay in the new oway hotel with beautiful rooms and beautiful staff.

oh,and we love to check travel blogs to see what other travellers reccommend for eating. we only eat at food stalls on the street. the more people sit at a stall the better. we avoid touristy restaurants like pest and always travel independently. we were suprised to find mostly 50 plus tourist,traveling in groups and package tours flashing their dslrs in peoples faces and pretending watching animals in zoo.

barely young people on the road. guess its due to overpriced accommodation. t

he people here are utterly kind and generous and they love kids to bits!everyone is touching,holding,kissing my girls and giving them little gifts in form of food. (tangerines,coconut balls...etc)

we feel like superstars here and as you said it: who is more interested in who?lol.

anyways,long story short: you dont need to be turned off by preparing one year in advance! things changes very quickly here. too quickly maybe....this country is truely beautiful mainly due to its amazing people! i am happy to be able to travel here with my family before starbucks,ikea&co come in!

happy travels to everybody,

dilek

Drammen, Norway
2 posts
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12. Re: Trip Report with Young Kids

Hello Lyndel. This was so helpful! Loved your blog :-)

We are planning our trip in January with our two boys that will be 1 and 2 years at that point. But we are experiencing some Budget frustration. Unlike you we don't want to blow the Budget and are not doing domestic flights, but traveling by bus and Train, and looking for accommodations with no luxury, and the boy sheer bed with us. We never use air con when we travel to hot places. However, we want to have good experiences and are looking for good locations and atmosphere. Don't need to be 100% clean, but nice fresh food is a must. We do want to se the temples in Yangoon and Began and want to spend a day or so in Mandalay. But most of the time we want to spend trekking and camping. Maybe 3 day at the Beach, but we are also going to Thailand so not a must for us. Our Budget is 300 dollres a day. Do you think is feasible or am I way unrealistic? Seams to me that when you go to three stars plus or four stars the price make a massive jump?

Irene

Boulder, Colorado
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75 posts
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13. Re: Trip Report with Young Kids

Hi Irene,

I think 300Usd per day is ample. I think 200usd might be enough even, especially if you are not flying.

Ngapali beach is very special... I would try to make it there even if you are going to do beaches in Thailand. Let's face it, kids this age want to have fun and culture is a little arbitrary at this point. With a 1 and 2 year old, I do not advise anything other than flying to Thandwe, though. Maybe hotels have come down in price a bit since we were there. But if you are visiting during the high season, I would consider booking in advance. Book directly through hotels bc you can negotiate and agoda takes a fee, which makes it most expensive for you and owner. You will love Burma but it will definitely be a challenge. You don't want your kids crawling on the floors too much and there very very few playgrounds. Have to get creative with playtime, accept a certain level of grime and understand/ accept there is little road safety as well as international standard health care in close proximity anywhere. Stroller is a must. Pm me if you need more info.

Knoxville, Tennessee
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14. Re: Trip Report with Young Kids

What airline did you use from Yangon to Bagan, and were you happy? Most concerned about safety...

Warks.England
Destination Expert
for Myanmar, Yangon (Rangoon), Ngapali, Tossa de Mar
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15. Re: Trip Report with Young Kids

OP's report said this

(All of our flights were on Air Bagan, which seemed ok.)

I too have flown quite a few sectors with AB (and Asianwings,Airmandalay,AirKBZ and Yangonair) and I have no major concerns on safety.

SS

Boulder, Colorado
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16. Re: Trip Report with Young Kids

When deciding what transport to take on any journey is difficult with regards to safety. We chose flying in Burma, for its effieciency but we also felt it would be safer than the roads. However, I do think Asian low cost carriers have room to improve their safety, especially as passenger volume increases in the region. The quality of Burmese Transportation infrastructure in general lags behind the rapidly increasing demand and that's when safety lapses can happen. I feel as though our flight from Bagan to Thandwe was the most harrowing, since landing happens between steep mountains and the sea. It was rainy, windy, and runway very bumpy.

17. Re: Trip Report with Young Kids

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