I spent 18 days of our 6 week SEASia trip in Myanmar. We were in Myanmar from late January into February.
The necessary planning and planning and planning seemed to take forever.
I started in the spring working with Santa Maria Travels, http://www.myanmartravels.net/index.htm. Santa Maria had been recommended on this board. I was happy with their services. In the planning stages they were efficient and responsive answering my emails the next day. All arrangements went smoothly and they were easy to contact the couple times we needed to during our time in Myanmar. The major frustration was that prices for airfare and hotels don’t get set until closer in and I was having a difficult time getting an idea of what the trip might cost and what we might add or would need to delete due to costs. This, of course, is not the fault of SM. Since prices had escalated these last couple years, I couldn’t even go by what others had spent a year or two ago. It was early fall by the time I got estimates for rates and airfare. Planning and traveling in Myanmar may take patience, be prepared. I normally don’t use TA’s, so I am certainly not an expert on rating them, but I would rate Santa Maria 5* and highly recommend them.
In the end the itinerary we worked out was pretty much the typical tourist circuit which follows: (Note: full reviews of hotels are posted. Also our general preference is to stay in small BnB’s or real boutique hotels so these hotels were very different than our usual digs when we travel).
Flew roundtrip on Air Asia from BKK to Yangon. I booked these flights. We had to stop at Yangon first on the way to Mandalay to pay Santa Maria. We then went from Yangon International airport to the Domestic airport to fly Mandalay that same day. I had asked about getting the vouchers in Mandalay & paying, but they said it had to be done in Yangon. That’s something I would certainly check on if you don’t want Yangon to be your first stop.
3 nights in Mandalay @ the Rupar Mandalar Resort which we loved. This was a smallish place, but they were building a rather large addition near the pool area - 5*
1 night in Pyin OO Lwin @ Hotel Pyin OO Lyin which was a new hotel that was barely okay, our room was dark & COLD. Maybe a room that got sun would have made a difference - 3*
3 nights in Hsipaw @ Mr. Charles Guest House, which is a basic guest house and it was fine for what it was – 3*
1 night back in Mandalay @Rupar Mandalar
Boat to Bagan - 10-11 hours, but to my surprise I enjoyed all of them
4 nights in Bagan The Hotel @ Tharber Gate in Old Bagan which has a perfect location. Hotel could do with some sprucing up. It was fine - 4*
Flew to Heho and drove to Inle Lake where we spent 4 nights @ Pristine Lotus Spa Resort which is a lovely property with some lake views - 5* (http://www.pristinelotus.com)
Flew from HeHo to Yangon where we spent 2 nights at Traders Hotel. Big business hotel with typical hotel comforts and was being refurbished. At long last we had great Internet connectivity & it gets extra for that - 4*.
Santa Maria made all hotel reservations and flight reservations with the exception of the roundtrip to and from Myanmar that I booked online. All flights were on Yangon Air and were fine. I did research to try and avoid patronizing properties currently directly connected to the corrupt regime & its cronies. Severl hotels Santa Maria suggested we did not stay at due to the regime connections, but I realize it’s hard to know who owns a stake in what and where the money really goes.
We took pristine US$, but we did find ATMs available and had no trouble using them. We had one ATM that was out of order’ and someone directed us right around the corner to a working ATM. Our bank reimburses any fees so we didn’t need to worry about ATM fees. The fees were about $5. Hotels had signs that they accepted credit cards with varying fees attached ranging from 3% - 5%.
Myanmar grew on me – it was not love at first sight by any stretch perhaps because we started in Mandalay, a very hard place to love let alone like. I found the people open, curious & friendly. Food was generally good with some very good dishes thrown in. Some of the sites are jaw dropping. I’m very glad I went, learned a lot and understand a bit more about a country with a very tragic, turbulent history.
The issue of going now or waiting is vexing to me. Myanmar is not ready or equipped for the number of tourists it is experiencing. I have read articles on this and talked with locals about it. In a few years it will have a better tourist infrastructure that might make it easier or more pleasurable to visit. Myanmar is past what it was say even 2-3 years ago, but it is definitely not what it will be in 3- 5 years. Myanmar is in transition from the old to whatever it will become. I know there are way more tourists now than a couple years ago, but with a very few exceptions I never felt the presence of too many tourists like one may experience at Angkor Wat or other places I have visited.