Myanmar? What is this country? Myanmar or Burma? These are the first questions that usually arise when we hear about Myanmar. Before I traveled to Asia, I didn’t know much about this country. I didn’t even plan to go there too much. However, fate worked and on the plane from Singapore to Cambodia I met a couple of Poles who traveled to Asia for many years and in their opinion Myanmar is one of the most beautiful and interesting countries to visit. For an hour they told me about the magnificence of Myanmar and when I landed in Cambodia I knew that I would then go west to Burma via Thailand, and not to Vietnam as I initially assumed. This is what I love about traveling, this spontaneity and freedom, thanks to which we open ourselves to various possibilities.
Myanmar, Burma or Myanmar?
And so during the trip I learned that the name Myanmar (Myanmar) is used by the locals. In turn, the name Burma was used by English colonizers, because it is the Burmese population that constitutes the majority of the inhabitants in this country. However, in the late 80s, the military dictatorship ruling the country established a common name for Myanmar for the whole country. In Polish, the name Myanmar is most often used.
Myanmar – Crossing the border
Mae Sot in Thailand
Traveling in Myanmar was associated with certain restrictions. And so initially I planned to cross the border in Tachileik in the north of Thailand,but during the trip I learned that yes, the border can be crossed, but the road to the center of the country is closed to tourists and I would have to buy a flight by plane. My idea was to move by land, so I changed my plans and drove south to the town of Mae Sot in Thailand. There I crossed the land border with Myanmar.
Myawaddy – on the Burmese side
At the border, most of the people were Burmese, there were long queues to the passport windows. Usually, tourists also cross the border here, but that day in the morning it was only me. To enter Myanmar we need to buy a visa, you can do it online. A visa for 30 days cost about $50. The transition itself went without complications. On the Burmese side there were plenty of stalls with various goods from Thailand. The border was also crossed by large trucks – from what I noticed, the import of electric windmills reigned – the local summer was approaching and temperatures around 40 ° C.
Immediately after leaving the border gate, I was accosted by the local “bus boss”– a man who organizes trips for tourists. We set the price, he took me to a currency exchange point (the currency in Myanmar is Kiat, 1 PLN is about 360 Kiats) and we waited for more tourists. However, after almost 2 hours, still no one came. The uncertain viral times began, and the hot season was about to begin.
Boss decided to send me by bus with other Burmese to Hpa An. Fortunately, one of them spoke English. He was returning with a girl from Thailand. In addition, a driver chewing betel (a popular stimulant in Asia) traveled with us, whose lips were colored black. On the way we stopped for an hour-high dinner in a roadside eatery. The road itself was very winding and only up to a certain point poured asphalt. And so it took me a whole day to drive a 140-kilometer route along with crossing the border. I was in Hpa An around 6 p.m.
I wrote about Hpa An and its attractions in this post. The city and its surroundings offer many opportunities to explore caves and trekking in mountains such as Zwegabin or Taung Wine. For this pagodas, gardens and walks by the river. Bardzi recommend this place 🙂
The next city I visited was Mawlamyaing. Seemingly unremarkable, but it is here that the largest statue of the Reclining Buddha (measuring over 180 meters) is located. I got to Mawmejn by local bus. As the bus was filled with people, the driver sat me in front on a special stool of his assistant. They put my backpack next to the front entrance next to it and we set off to the rhythm of hits from the 80s, which the driver, as he said, played from Youtube especially for me.
There is not much to visit in Mawmejn. I stayed in a hostel right next to the bus station. The statue of the reclining Buddha is located several kilometers outside the city and there is not much public transport there, except for taxis and moto-taxis. Therefore, already on the spot I decided to give up this attraction and in the evening I went to the Kyeik Tha Lan PagodaBuddhist temple complex, located on a hill in the city center and from which there is a view of the whole of Mawlamyine. It’s a nice place for the sunset. There are several beautiful Buddha statues here. There is peace and quiet. We can observe the inhabitants visiting the temples.
Kalaw and trekking to Inle Lake
Arrival in Kalaw
The next stage of the journey was a 3-day trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake. I got to Kalaw by night bus from Hpa An. It was a full moon holiday (a day off from work) and the ride was with a small adventure – someone threw a stone in the glass, which caused a delay of several hours. After reaching Kalaw in the morning, fortunately, most accommodation renters can start the nighting day right after arrival. It works so well that when we arrive in the morning we have a whole day to sign up for trekking and rest. And the next day we go 🙂
I chose a travel agency on the recommendation of friends I met on the go. The trekking lasted 3 days. There were a total of 7 of us and 2 guides. In addition to ours, there were other groups, but the guides choose routes in such a way as not to pass by and admire the landscapes in peace. On trekking we covered about 20 kilometers a day.
Kalaw is located at an altitude of 1320 meters, so upon arrival I felt a strong drop in temperature at night. Therefore, it is good to take some warm clothes for trekking. I only take a small backpack with clothes with me. Food and accommodation were organized by the agency.
Trekking to Inle Lake
Trekking led through farmland and forests. Sometimes on wider roads, sometimes completely narrow dirt paths, and sometimes we walked on tracks. Not along the tracks, on the tracks ;). The guide reassured us that trains in Myanmar run very slowly and very rarely, so we will definitely hear if one is approaching. So it happened, the train passed very slowly, so that we had a chance to come to the passengers and waith each.
Along the way, we could observe a quiet life in the countryside, farmers raising m.in ginger, turmeric, garlic or chickpeas. In the villages I passed, peppers and coffee dried on the ground. Most of the work so far is done using hands, sometimes you could see plows and ows pulling them. There are no modern machines there. However, from my observations, even with such agriculture, plants were sprayed with chemicals.
During the trekking I had the opportunity to stay with a Burmese family. Thanks to their kindness, the whole group also enjoyed a homemade dinner. In the villages in the interior of the country, there is still a lack of electricity and running water.
On the last day we reached the shore of Lake Inle. There, after a farewell dinner, we were transported by boat to the town of Nyaungshwe,where there are hostels and restaurants. Our large backpacks were already waiting in hostels, because before starting trekking you should indicate the place of accommodation in Nyaungshwe.
Myanmar is known for its Inle Lake. It is the second largest lake in terms of area in the country pis laid at an altitude of 800 meters above sea level. It is the basis for the livelihood of local residents, fishermen, farmers. Many people live in wooden huts erected on logs by the shore of the lake. It is also here that you can observe fishermen fishing in the traditional way standing on one leg. We can take a boat trip on the lake, visiting villages set on stilts.
Nyaungshwe is a town located north of the lake, connected to it by a narrow channel. It is here that the main accommodation base on Lake Inle is located. There are also a lot of restaurants, a city market where we can buy fruits and souvenirs, we can go for a massage after trekking or do laundry. A few kilometers north of the town is the old wooden monastery of Shwe Yan Pyay. The best way to move around the area is a bicycle, or a rented scooter, because the distances between the villages are quite large, and the bike can be transported by boat to the other side of the lake.
One of the attractions at Inle Lake is to visit a village where chickpea tofu is made (traditional tofu is made from soybeans). After buying a tour, the guide serves us various tofu dishes, even a pulcne sweet cake. Then we go to the surrounding houses, where the production process takes place.
Hsipaw and train to Pyin U Lwin
After visiting Inle Lake, I drove north to Hsipaw. It is a town located in the mountains and is known for its beautiful views. Here we can also go on a few days of trekking. However, after my arrival and the slow exacerbating of the coronavirus situation, only one-day trips were organized. It was then that I decided to go to the larger city of Mandalay the next morning. This time I had to let go of trekking.
Another unusual attraction was the train journey from Hsipaw to Pyin U Lwin. The road leads through the Goteik viaduct built in 1899. It measures 689 meters, and at the highest point its height is 102 meters. Due to the age of the viaduct just before the entrance (and so slow train) slows down to a speed of several kilometers per hour. Which allows for a longer moment of admiring the views or gives you a chance to take pictures.
By train I go only to Pyin U Lwin, and from there change to a group taxi to Mandalay. This is a much faster way to overcome this section.
Myanmar in a nutshell
After reaching Mandalay in the evening, I had only one day to visit several temples. From my observations, this is a large concrete metropolis, so with the heat reaching 40 degrees Celsius, I no longer had the strength to fully explore during the day. However, it is an interesting city and I hope to come back to it again.
I had the opportunity to visit Myanmar in March 2020, just before the epidemiological situation deteriorated. Although I had a visa for a month of travel, after 2 weeks spent in Myanmar, I decided to return to Polski.Co unfortunately did not allow me to see all the places I wanted, but it gave me time to fall in love with this beautiful country. So different from Cambodia and Thailand, not yet contaminated by the influx of tourists.