Tag Archive for: Myanmar

Yangon felt very different from Mandalay and Bagan. It is the biggest city in Myanmar and, apparently, also the busiest. The urban landscape is dominated by tall concrete structures, a few large pagodas and colonial buildings that clearly don’t receive much attention.



Street food vendors populate almost every street corner and local markets spread along many roads, selling everything, from culinary products to electronics and antiquities.



Religion here seems to be as important as in other parts of the country, but the atmosphere feels less religious due to the busy lifestyle of the citizens and the less obvious spiritual sights. The city felt like an infusion of international elements. Western brands are easily discoverable, but Chinese and Japanese products clearly dominate the local market, which was a perfect opportunity for us to try again some of the Japanese food that we always miss.


What to see in Yangon

Yangon might seem a more interesting destination for those arriving for the first time in the country, while for us it felt like being in another crowded city. The heat didn’t seem to add to the pleasure of discovering the city, so we kept our wish list for visiting touristic spots short. Pagodas we’ve seen too many already till that point of our journey in Myanmar, but we still wanted to find out if the experience feels different in Yangon, compared to the rest of the country. So we decided to visit the Botahtaung Pagoda, a religious complex where we could admire large walls covered in gold and a big Buddha statue.



There are several large pagodas in the city, some of the most important being the Sule Pagoda, the Chauk Htet Gyi Pagoda, the Kaba Aye Pagoda and the most famous of all, the Shwedagon Pagoda, which we visited in our last day. The Shwedagon Pagoda is considered to be the oldest pagoda in Myanmar, legends saying that it is more than 2500 years old.

But what we appreciated most about the city was meeting friends, work colleagues from the past and new friends that we got to know at the beginning of our trip into Myanmar.

On the last day, we treated ourselves with a few hours at the rooftop pool of a hotel from where we got also a beautiful panoramic view of the city.



The two weeks that we spent in Myanmar ended at the airport in Yangon, from where we took the flight back to Thailand, where locals were getting ready to celebrate the upcoming Buddhist festival of light. Read more about it here.

For more photos from Yangon follow this link.

While having to choose few travel destinations from the generous number of beautiful places that a traveler could add to his bucket list, I knew since the beginning of our big adventure that Bagan will be one of our stops. I knew it because of a picture that caught my attention, showing the sun rising over a valley filled with old temples, surrounded by perfect morning light. It looked beautiful and it felt mysterious and welcoming.



Bagan, the Burmese archeological treasure

Bagan is one of the most notorious archaeological sites in Asia and a symbol of a country whose earlier history was shaped by the permanently increasing interest for the Buddhist religion. Modern times instead are described by sad events: civil war, an aggressive military regime and poverty. But despite these facts, we found many kind people in Myanmar and in Bagan probably the kindest of all the ones we met throughout the country.

Bagan used to be the center of Buddhism culture in Southeast Asia, which led to the construction of over 4000 (10000 according to other sources) temples that populated a large area along the Irrawaddy River, out of which more than 2000 survived till today. It is most probably a stop on every traveler’s route in Myanmar.



We kept our itinerary in Myanmar short, but planned here a longer stop, in order to have the necessary time to enjoy Bagan to the fullest. While there are different options to travel to the ancient city, we chose to take a bus from Mandalay that brought us to our destination in less than six hours. All buses, as train and airplanes arrive in Nyaung-U, in the northern part of the archaeological area, from where access is only granted upon paying the entrance fee of 25 000 Kyats for a three days ticket.


Where to stay in Bagan?

While many people prefer to stay in Nyaung-U, we decided to go to New Bagan, a small village where we hoped to find less noise and we happily did. When traveling from Nyaung-U to New Bagan, be aware of taxi drivers that will try to rip you off and note that prices are indicated on a board at the office entrance of the bus station.

We found New Bagan to be more quiet and pleasant. While it is not very close to the more interesting part of the archaeological area, the prices for the accommodation are definitely a convincing argument for travelers on a budget. Most parts of the village were constructed between small temples, making it feel nice to wake up in the morning and already be surrounded by so much spiritual history.


Moving around in Bagan

Due to conservation efforts, traffic is limited to the use of electric vehicles that are largely available for rent. For the same purpose, also access to most temples is prohibited due to the damage done by mass tourism in the previous years.



But there are a few locations that are well marked on mobile apps, from where travelers can admire the valley. These are small hills that attract fewer crowds. We tried to go to all of them in one single morning and met with less than 10 people at all the viewpoints together. Where do the crowds go than? you might ask. Apparently, the highest interest is still for climbing temples and, if you don’t mind the crowds, you can join them at a few specific locations.



We recommend using the app Maps.Me where they are better marked, including updates on which ones are still open to tourists. There are also a few small pagodas that you can climb and finding them is not hard. The valley fills with locals in the morning that would happily show you the “secret” spots in return for a small tip.

While some people book private tours to go to the attraction points, most visitors rent electric scooters. It is definitely the fastest way to move around, leaving you the freedom to discover the surroundings without a time limit. We tried to see the area by scooter but also by bike and we can say that taking the bikes felt like the best option. Some parts are very quiet and can be explored in peace.



But if you still don’t feel like organizing the tour by yourself, note that you can negotiate a cheap private tour with local tuk tuk drivers that will bring you to the right spots.

We went three times to the main part of the archaeological area, the Old Bagan, which is hosting the biggest and most impressive temples. We went there on our first day to admire the sunset and three times in a row for the sunrise. The sunrise is obviously a better time to go, because of the cool air in the morning but also because only in the morning visitors can see the sky filling up with hot air balloons, which add to the magic of the moment.



Daytrip to Mount Popa

Travelers who have a bit of extra time in Bagan can book a half-day tour to Mount Popa. The mountain hosts a large pagoda that looks beautiful from far, but while climbing the stairs of the temple to the top we found it less attractive. It felt like a very dirty place, populated by a large community of monkeys that manifest aggressive behaviors. Although some of them look cute, visitors are advised not to approach them.


Where to eat in Bagan

One of the things that you don’t need to worry about in Myanmar is finding food. And because Bagan is such a touristic destination, you will easily find many restaurants and bars everywhere. Burmese food was one of our best culinary experiences in Asia. It was cheap, the portions were always big and it tasted great. One thing to be aware of is that they like garlic, lots of it, so you might need to mention if you prefer less or none in your food. The same goes for coriander, which I unhappily discovered in my food many times, despite the efforts to avoid it.


One of our favorite dishes – seaweed salad


Bagan was on top of our wishlist before we traveled to Asia and it remained one of our most pleasant memories when we left the ancient city behind us and traveled to our last destination in the country, the city of Yangon.

See more photos from Bagan here.

We left Thailand and we started a new adventure in the old royal capital of formerly Burma (today Myanmar), Mandalay. Myanmar was for a long time on our list, but as our time in Asia was coming slowly to an end we only reserved two weeks for this country.

Arriving in Mandalay

We arrived in Mandalay on a small airport and went fast through the immigration control as we already applied online for the visa before our arrival. We took a bus towards the city center for 4000 MMK ( around 2€ per person) that dropped us directly at our accommodation, close to the Grand Palace.

We spent our first afternoon together with a lovely Dutch couple who stayed at the same hotel as us and with whom we would meet more often during our trip. We had lunch in a local restaurant and got a first taste of Myanmar cuisine, which we found very similar to other Asian countries, but offered new flavors that made it one of our favorites.

The approaching darkness at the end of the day forced us to rush up the stairs of the amazing temple on Mandalay Hill as we wanted to reach the top for the sunset. We found a beautiful vibe up there and the last traces of daylight covered the valley in a mystic atmosphere.


As we were climbing down the hill we took more time to admire the big Buddha statues. Some of them were standing which we found different from others that we’ve seen before, after visiting many temples where Buddha was represented lying down or in the lotus position.

The town of Mingun and its ancient treasures

The following day we planned to do a lot of sightseeing. We left towards Mingun Jetty, where we boarded a boat that brought us to the other side of the river, in Min Kun, northwest from Mandalay. The boat ride took around 1 hour and cost 5000 MMK for a return ticket. The ticket can be purchased directly in the port. The entrance ticket of Mingun costs the same price and is valid for the whole day and can be used in Mingun and Sagain Hill where visitors can see a lot of other pagodas.



There are many ancient pagodas and temples that can be admired in Mandalay, but Mingun hides some of the most spectacular ones. Mingun Pagoda was our first stop, a structure that was planned to become the biggest Pagoda in the world, but after the initiator of the project, King Bodawpaya died, the construction stopped. A few decades later, a heavy earthquake affected the area and also damaged the Pagoda, causing huge cracks to appear on the face of the huge stupa.



Another ambitious project of the same king was the Mingun Bell, a 90 tons heavy bell that was supposed to be used for the big stupa, being considered nowadays to be the biggest functional one in the world. There is one in Moscow that is bigger but it is damaged.

The beautiful Hsinbyume Pagoda

Another ancient treasure of Mingun is the Hsinbyume Pagoda, a place of worship painted in white that was designed after the physical description of the Buddhist mythological mountain. Visitors are free to roam on the circular terraces of the temple and admire the landscapes from the top, including a view of the Mingun Pagoda.



Like many other constructions around the area, the pagoda was affected by the same earthquake that damaged the Mingun Pagoda but was restored later by one of the country’s kings.

Sunset at the Ubein Bridge

After our launch in Mingun, we decided spontaneously not to take the boat back to Mandalay but arranged a transfer with a local driver to take us along the Irrawaddy River, where we visited the Umin Thonze Pagoda.



Later we drove till Amarapura, from where we walked on the Ubein Bridge. The bridge is one of the top highlights around Mandalay, a long structure of wood and concrete that allows locals to easily cross over the Taung Tha Man Lake, although it seemed to us that there more tourists crossing the bridge than locals.



Visitors can opt for a ride on the lake on colorful small boats or to just chill on a terrace with a fresh coconut while admiring the sunset.



It was already dark when we reached our hotel in Mandalay. We went for a portion of noodles at a nearby family restaurant and ended the day with a beer later on the hotel’s terrace and later fighting the mosquitoes that invaded the room during the day.

The last day we spent exploring the streets of the city and getting ready for our most awaited destination in Myanmar, Bagan. Read more about it here.