Another school holiday, another destination off the bucket list: Myanmar
Myanmar (or Burma, as some call it) is a somewhat contentious destination due to its turbulent political history and current refugee crisis. And we did have mixed feelings about travelling there. But this post is not about that. So if you do want to visit this country, here are my tips. We travelled with our two kids (ages 8 and 5) and my husband’s parents, who are in their 70s.
We started planning this holiday about 6 months ago. We asked friends who had travelled there to give us their recommendations on where to go and what to do, and combined this with our trusted Lonely Planet guide.
We booked our flights (international on Singapore Airlines, domestic on airKBZ) and our hotels ourselves. Most of the hotels were offering special rates and all were able to accommodate an extra bed (either at a small charge or free of charge). Hotels also offered airport pick-ups at competitive prices so we booked those, too.
We then contacted two local agencies to quote us guided tours for each of the places we wanted to visit. Using Tripadvisor we shortlisted two travel agencies that had the best reviews: Thahara and OneStop. After exchanging a few emails with both we decided to go with OneStop, as they seemed more responsive and generally more professional.
We spent 10 days in Myanmar in total, three nights in Yangon, three in Bagan and three at Inle Lake. Check our full itinerary here.
Yangon was my least favourite place but one you can’t escape unfortunately. Traffic is crazy!
We chose to stay at the Shangri-la Sule because of its location and also because it has a pool which we thought would be a nice way to cool down after a day of sightseeing.
On our first morning, our OneStop guide picked us up bright and early from our hotel and took us to all the landmarks of Yangon. It was a packed itinerary and we were all exhausted by the time we got back to our hotel, especially the little ones. The highlight was definitely the Shwedagon Pagoda, a must-see!
We left Yangon the following morning and headed to Bagan, the land of a thousand forgotten temples. We stayed at Bagan Lodge, a lovely and conveniently located hotel in ancient Bagan. We spent that afternoon relaxing by the pool.
The next two days were spent visiting some of the most significant temples of the area and some of the typical Myanmar crafts such as lacquerware, weaving and silversmithing. To make it a little more exciting for the kids, we traded the minivan for a horse cart for one afternoon. Our guide was fantastic and got along famously with the kids. He also took us to a local village for a glimpse of local life in rural Myanmar.
I recommend you bring stationery with you like pencils, rubber and notebooks to give out to kids otherwise your guide will likely make you buy candies. We thought about doing the hot air balloon over Bagan and probably should have but it is quite pricey at more than US$300 per person.
From Bagan we headed to Inle Lake, where we stayed at the Sanctum Inle Resort, a wonderful hotel designed like a monastery. The rooms were large and airy and the service was amazing. The restaurant offered both local and international food, much to the delight of the kids. Again we spent the afternoon by the pool.
The next morning we got picked up by our guide who took us straight to the jetty where two long-tail boats were waiting for us. It took a few minutes of navigating through narrow channels before we emerged on Inle Lake. We all had our breath taken away by the beauty of the scenery.
On the lake expect to see genuine (and less genuine) local fishermen performing the traditional fishing technique. They balance themselves on one leg on their longboats while paddling with the other leg and throwing conical nets into the shallow water to catch fish. You’ll also be taken to local markets, floating gardens, floating villages, silversmiths, weavers, cigarette makers and of course more temples.
The highlight for the kids was the Inle Heritage House, a not-for-profit organisation that preserves the cultural and natural wealth of the Inle region. One of their initiative is to reintroduce the Burmese cat breed into Myanmar. Yes they have a cattery that you can visit. Luckily they also have a delicious restaurant and a tiny shop selling gorgeous local arts and crafts. Perfect place to buy gifts for friends and family while the kids play with the cats!
After our experience in Bagan of giving away candies to the local kids, we’d stopped at a shop to buy stationery and two soccer balls. We asked our guide in Inle Lake if he could take us to a local school where we could give them out. That was such a lovely experience. The kids got to see a local primary school (and realise how fortunate they are), and engage with the kids.
Time went by so quickly and before we knew it it was time to head back to Yangon. We loved Inle Lake the best and I hope to have the opportunity to go back one day.
For our last evening in Yangon we booked a traditional puppet theatre show (Htwe Oo Myanmar) hosted by an award winning local family who are trying to revive this dying art. The performance lasts for an hour and takes place in their front living room. A very intimate and unforgettable cultural experience!
After the show we headed to the famous Shan Yoe Yar restaurant, housed in a century-old wooden mansion and serving delicious Shan cuisine.
I haven’t mentioned anything about the food yet but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. I expected the curries and noodles but I had no idea they would offer so many salads. Fresh salads made with one primary ingredient like tomatoes, or pennyworth, tea leaf, cucumber, spinach, ginger, etc. are eaten all day long and are pretty much available everywhere. These were all delicious and I highly recommend you give them a try. You’ll be hooked! Kids loved them too. Caution for those with allergies, they use a lot of peanut in their cuisine.
Myanmar has so much to offer and is still very much underrated. Tourism is definitely picking up but we still felt like what we saw, especially at Inle Lake, was genuine, and not just a show put up for tourists. This won’t last long, though, so my advice is to start planning your trip asap. Hope you love it as much as we did!
- Tourists need to a visa to enter the country, but luckily it’s all very easy to do online.
- Myanmar is a Buddhist country so make sure you dress appropriately. Bring clothes that cover your knees and shoulders (men, too).
- Bring shoes that you can take off easily (for the many temples you will visit)
- You might want to label your shoes, especially if it’s a popular brand like Birkenstock – it is not cool when your pair gets swapped with an old one! Trust me on that one.
- Bring stationery or toys that you can hand out to the kids
- Take a spare suitcase to bring back souvenirs
What to bring back:
- Shawls and textiles
- Green tea
- Precious and smi-precious stones
- Teak products
- Myanmar cigars (cheroots)
- Bells & Gongs
- Koung Mon biscuits (perfect to share with colleagues) – available at supermarkets