So end of March, the end of my girlfriend’s visit to Thailand approached and so I took some days off to spend some time with her and her friend in Myanmar. They had both been doing a medical internship in Bangkok at the King Chulalongkorn Hospital (“Chula”) for a month, so this was the perfect opportunity to visit the ever more popular neighboring country.
Luckily, I saved some of my days off so I could take a few in a row. On a lovely Friday morning, I was heading to Don Mueang on the A1 bus (which btw is a steal at THB30 from Chattuchak market/BTS Mo Chit, compared to the taxis, let alone motortaxis). After a bumpy flight with AirAsia to Mandalay (MDL) with no leg space at all, I touched down in MDL in the early afternoon.
Exhibit 1: The minibus (literally, mini)
Well, I should better cut the torturous bus rides on half-assembled seats and crammed in shitty vehicles (designed in China and obviously for ants, compare with exhibit 1) in order to jump to the more pleasant parts of my journey. Having arrived in Bagan after some 5 hours bus ride, we checked into a lovely hotel (Royal Bagan Hotel) which would be our base for the next three days. We went to bed early since we had to get up at 5 the next morning to see the sunrise.
In Bagan you can rent fully electric scooters without any bureaucratic fuss so the three of us were soon set to find “our” temple in order to have a perfect (and ideally private) spot to witness the scenery. Having had some tips and rough directions, we arrived at one of over 2,200 temples (some say 3,000) somewhere in the middle of the “Bagan Archaelogical Zone” to then find our way up to the top in the twilight of dawn. That task wasn’t as easy as it might sound.
However, we finally made it up there and the view during the following hours was truly mesmerizing. I have to admit that I was quite skeptical beforehand, considering almost unanimously praising reports on Bagan I got from other travelers. And no, I don’t get any royalties from any travel agencies. Yet, I can assure you that (at least for now) the experience can be amazing. However, a surge in tourism (accompanied by all its positive and negative impacts) is clearly visible and, in my opinion, it will be a challenge for the country to cope with.
After touring through the temple fields for three days and having eaten some unexpectedly good Western food there, we were on the road again. This time, however, we were traveling eastbound and in a “VIP”-bus. As pretentious as the name might sound, it isn`t. In fact, it is comparable to a regular coach with enough leg space, more or less decent upholstery, solidly mounted seats and working seat belts. Since the scheduler of this travel company probably had better things to do than caring about the appropriateness of his timetable, we arrived at our destination (Kalaw) at 3 am and it was pretty cold. We found a hotel room with three beds for 15,000 kyat (roughly €10) where we could stay for the rest of the night. On the next morning, my girlfriend’s friend took off for a two-day hike to Inle Lake, while we rented a motorbike from a random garage (yes that’s possible, apparently) for 5,000 kyat and rode to a famous viewpoint which turned out to be not at the spot where we thought it to be. To cut a long story short, we were lost somewhere in the highlands around Kalaw and had to go back the way we came.
Around noon, we were on the train to Shwenyaung (near Nyaung Shwe, who proposed these names?) and this is really recommendable as well. You pay 1,150 Kyats of which 0.70 Kyat (around 0.00069EUR) are the life insurance premium. That is funny. Well, at Inle Lake we had an amazing time as well, including nice food, a very touristy boat-tour across the lake including some very touristy handicraft demonstrations (and attached shops, of course) as well as lovely scenery at dawn. You can rent a boat including a driver for 18,000 kyat per day (although we were done and did not want to do more shops and handicraft after half a day). After two days in Nyaung Shwe I went back to Shwenyaung (sorry, I can’t help it) and took a night bus back to Mandalay. From there, I went back to Bangkok on a Wednesday and concluded an amazing and very interesting Myanmar experience.