The below is a rather practical account of our two week tour of Burma, with things we think are useful to know and indicating what we would have done differently.
We loved our trip and the main highlight are the people, they are simply amazing.
- int'l arrival in Bangkok, with onwards connection to Yangon
- 1 night Yangon
- 3 nights Mandalay
- 2 nights Monywa
- 1 night Pakkoku
- 3 nights Bagan
- 2 nights Pindaya
- 1 night Kalaw
- 1 overnight trek to Inle Lake
- 3 nights Inle Lake
- 1 night Yangon
We booked through the Air Mandalay website and the service was excellent. You submit your request online and then all the rest is done by email. To avoid us losing time going to their office in downtown Yangon, they offered to have a staff member meet us with our tickets at Yangon airport upon our arrival from Bangkok. We paid in $ cash in return for our tickets; very smooth and great service.
We took 3 domestic flights (Yangon-Mandalay, Bagan-Heho, Heho-Yangon) and did the rest by local busses and some taxis.
If you fly into Bangkok, you can now take a direct flight from Bangkok to Mandalay which allows you to skip Yangon at the beginning of your trip, which is definitely what we would have done had we known this option existed.
we didn't have any issues with USD bills being refused and the money changers all accept EURO as well. Plus we saw a lot of ATMs, there are even 2 of them inside the main temple in Yangon! Credit cards are still rarely accepted in restaurants, shops and hotels but some of them do accept Visa.
We found that the Burmese are not into bargaining. If you get anything off the initial price, it'll be very little. Some even refuse to bargain.
tip: if you have a hotel reservation, it is often much cheaper asking them to arrange to pick you up at the airport than taking a taxi upon arrival. For example, in Heho we paid $55 to get to Pindaya whereas our hotel could have arranged a taxi service for $35!
Otherwise, agree on the fare before getting into the car and you'll be fine. You can ask your hotels/hostels how much it should cost to get somewhere, but apart from that one time in Heho, we were never ripped off.
- high lights of our trip: Mandalay, Pindaya, Monywa
- we cycled around Mandalay for a day allowing you to take in the main sights in the center, don't let the traffic put you off, they seem to be careful around tourists on bikes. Next day we did a taxi tour in the surroundings (Sagaing and In Wa).
- we loved getting off the beaten track by staying in Monywa and Pakkoku, which are easy stops between Mandalay and Bagan. The 2 nights in Monywa and one night in Pakkoku were just perfect. In Monywa we ended up walking around a local fair where we felt like we were the main attraction, with people pointing and smiling at us, taking our picture.
- we would stay only 2 nights in Bagan. The electric scooters you can now rent there ($8 per day) are fantastic and let you cover more ground faster than on a regular bike.
- Pindaya offered an interesting day trek, not so much for the landscapes but we visited farmers, a school and monastery. The morning of the walk is quite uphill so you have to be a little bit fit.
- walk to Inle Lake (one night): it's an easy walk with very nice scenery especially on day one. Although you'll not be alone on this route, when we did it there were in total maybe 5 or 6 other small groups on the track (mostly couples, some small groups of 4 or 5). All groups seem to sleep in the same village but that didn't bother us at all, it is still a very quiet and rural village that seems almost untouched by tourisme.
- Inle Lake: we found this to be the most touristy place on our entire tour. It was probably the boat ride on the lake that gave us that feeling. You have two options: you rent a boat for the day and pay $18, but then they take you to a series of (work)shops: silver, tabacco, silk, wood, before they take you to some sights. We found out later that the drivers get a commission on anything you buy in the shops.
Second option is that you pay more for the boat (we heard around $40 for the day), but then you get to choose where you stop and can avoid shops all together. Had we know before, we would have definitely gone for the second option.
- Inle Lake wine tasting: we really enjoyed this experience. You can cycle easily from Nuang Shwe; go late afternoon, the sun set views are great.