Just writing a summary of our 5D4N trip to Myanmar from Jan17-22 2014 - as T.A has been great in providing us with ample info. Room/Restaurant reviews will be updated later. Do PM if you have any questions.
Our traveling group: 3 females in our late 20s/early 30s, backpacking style (guesthouses) with a focus on photography/just being in the place.
We booked our accommodation, Bagan guide, Inle guide, domestic air ticket (Bagan > Inle), & overnight bus from Yangon > Bagan prior to flying
Day 1 YANGON
Touched down in Yangon in the late morning.
Exchanged USD to Kyats at the airport (rates are basically the same in all the booths, and similar to rates in downtown). The whole 'crispy notes, no lines, no dots, no staple holes' rule was still in full force.
We wanted to keep some extra USD as a back-up, but not all moneychanging booths offered that, eg. giving a USD$150, but wanting to only change USD$120 for now, and getting back USD$30 (in crispy notes). However we were lucky and managed this at one of the booths that belonged to a bank.
Went to the Airport Taxi booth to book a taxi to our accommodation, with 1 stop over to Air Mandalay to pay for our pre-booked domestic flight from Bagan to Inle. Cost 15000Kyats.
Told the Airport Taxi booth people that we wanted a local SIM card, was brought out of the building and a lady sold us one for 250000Kyats (the USD$20 one I believe). This proved to be VERY useful for us, as we were traveling to Bagan and Inle too so we could communicate with the guides there prior - but in Inle, the reception was pretty bad and when we needed to use it, it wasn't working (no reception).
Checked in at Little Cabin Inn (we had a special arrangement of only storing luggage & using the shower for USD10/day/person as we were taking the overnight bus that night to Bagan). My friend had also booked our Yangon>Bagan bus tickets through them.
Took a taxi (200 kyats) to Nilar Briyani for late lunch (had difficult corresponding with the taxi driver, so advise that you get the accommodation people to write out the address & ideally you learn how to say where you want to go too, and how much - the taxis do not use meters).
Wondered around the area and ended up in the Sule Pagoda area, and walked down to the Bogyoke Aung San market aka Scott market (took us in all about 1.5 hours of wandering around & getting lost). There's a couple of shops that sell lovely handpainted postcards of Myanmar, cost 5000kyats for one piece.
Took a taxi back to Little Cabin Inn - don't take the taxis that're waiting at the entrance, they charged us 300kyats (double the usual cost and they refuse to negotiate. You can easily get a taxi on the main road by flagging one down, just tell them where you're going & how much it'll cost before stepping into the taxi).
Took a taxi (9000kyats) from Little Cabin Inn to Aung Mingalar Bus station in the evening to pay for our bus tickets & catch our overnight bus (JJ Express, 18000kyats).
JJ Express is locally known as the best overnight bus from Yangon > Bagan.
Airconditioned, provide bottled mineral water (you can ask for more) & some snacks (slice of cake, some biscuits) - there's also 2 stops at the earlier part of the journey where you can take a quick toilet break and buy some food. There's music videos playing so having ear plugs would help.
Day 2 BAGAN
Reached Bagan at 4am in the morning. Was freezing cold!
Got surrounded by drivers all around. Quoted exorbitant prices for taxi (20000kyats) to our accommodation (Mya Thida Hotel, USD90/night for 1 queen bed + 1 single, ensuite, with breakfast) - our accommodation had said it would cost half of it. And horse carriage was quoted as 10000kyats. No one was willing to quote lower, so we had no choice but to go with horse carriage, in the extreme cold (comes with our having limited funds).
Suggest that you pre-arrange a car pick-up from your hotel so you don't have to go through this, especially if it happens to be in winter!
Started our full day tour at 830am - had initially booked with Thein Than (as recommended on TA) but he had another group, so Zaw came instead. It was an enjoyable tour, definitely would suggest a guide as if not, it would just be stupas/temples/buildings all day. And they can also suggest the best angles for photography.
(I would just like to add a note that Thein Than was wonderful in answering all of my questions prior to our trip to Bagan. And the itinerary suggested by him covered the main sights of Bagan in a day.)
Day 3-4 INLE
Pick-up from Mya Thida Hotel to the Airport (opens at 630am).
Straightforward checking in, they're strict about baggage limits and will charge extra.
Flight to Heho via Air Mandalay was running slightly late. They do the 'airplane boarding' the old-fashioned way, via announcement in the boarding room, so you need to pay attention.
Picked-up by our 2 days Inle guide, taken to a Shan restaurant just outside the airport for an awesome (really the best food we'd had in 3 days) bowl of Shan noodles.
(The consensus our group had at this point was that Shan cuisine is the closest to the Asian palate - not overly oily/fried/spicy and 'cleaner' in taste. But we hadn't gone on our Yangon Food Tour yet.)
Checked into Mingalar Inn (USD 90/night, 3 single beds, ensuite, with breakfast)
Started on our Inle tour (basically travelled by boat on both days, definitely suggest hiring a boat and going on the sights around Inle. The energy/air is really good too!)
Places we visited:
Indein (pagodas/village, it's quite a walk, but worth it)
Floating markets (a must go for fresh produce/trying their local street food)
The boatmen will bring you to an area where fishermen will be there to pose for pictures with their famous one-legged way of fishing. They'll ask for tips after you've taken photos - USD$1 per photographer is enough. We didn't know about that til the fisherman asked, but the good thing is that he was very willing to pose for my photographer friends, so I guess it's worth it for some?
Tip: Bring slippers (you can leave them in the boat) so you can slip them off when you're going to the temples. However, bring warm socks too if during winter time as going back in the evening, the winds are quite a killer. Having a warm beanie will help too! The mornings too are really cold (puffs of condensation coming out when we spoke), but it warms up around 10+ onwards. Before dipping down in the evening.
Do tip the boatman (if it's not a personal one-on-one hire), We tipped about USD$3 for 1.5 days.
We took an overnight bus back to Yangon in the evening, we had our Inle guide help us to pre-book the tickets (Taung Pya Tan - VIP bus, 18000kyats, bottled mineral water & some cakes provided).
There is a shuttle bus that goes around picking up those who're taking the buses (from what we'd observed, all buses would start from the same spot, which seems like just a random spot on a street), but this needs to be pre-arranged as well. Just go up to the buses when they arrive, and check if the ticket you're holding corresponds to the bus.
It was the most comfortable ride ever. There's also 2 stops for toilet breaks/food (15min-30min stopovers). Bring ear plugs, local music videos play for quite a few hours before it gets shut down.
Day 5 YANGON
Reached Yangon at 6am, had pre-arranged for a pick-up with a driver.
We stopped by the famous Golden Pagoda for a look around, but were too tired to actually want to go in. Deposited back at Little Cabin Inn (15000kyats in all), had a quick shower and rest before meeting our guide, James, for our Yangon Food Tour (brunch/lunch).
We were definitely glad to have gone on the tour, had a taste of a lot of food that were local Myanmar food, yet wasn't the super oily/spicy stuff that we'd had to eat the first couple of days that our palates weren't used to. Would definitely recommend going on this tour! (Let them know if you are okay with street food.) James was a wonderful guide as well, very energetic and happy to share with us about Myanmar and himself.
Was deposited back at Bogyoke Aung San market, where my friends wanted to do some shopping. They had to do some bargaining, and the tip from locals we'd met too was that no local buys without bargaining at least 30% down first. :)
I'm not a shopper myself but the straw products (wallets/clutches) looked good.
Went back to Little Cabin Inn to recuperate before heading to the airport for our evening flight. Departure tax is included in the air ticket so there's no need to set aside any money for that.
Would say that this is definitely a good first trip to get an oversight of Myanmar. You can feel there's change in the air, yet people are still generally nice and honest, and even when you do hard bargaining, if you aren't able to reach an agreed price, it seemed like they were okay with it too, just a shrug and let it go.
Tips aren't compulsory, but I think it's nice when they go out of the way to help (if you have some spare change). However in Inle, it was heavily suggested - likely because our boatmen was hired through a company and wasn't his own businessman.
Singapore dollars are also accepted in most money changing places. For USD, sometimes you can pay in that, and they'll give you the change back in Kyats, you'll lose a little in terms of the exchange rate though.
Bagan was very dry and sandy when we went, so bring moisturizer and drink LOTS of water.
Inle was hands-down my favourite, but it was also the most expensive out of the 3 places for us - having said that, without a guide, I think we wouldn't have been able to enjoy the place as much.
When it comes to negotiating for prices, unless you're a season hard-assed negotiator whoc actually enjoys the exchange as well (none of us were!), it helps to do pre-arrangement of cars/etc where possible.
Hope this was helpful for some!