After months of dreaming about our 2 week trip to Myanmar it was finally time to swap a cold Ireland winter for adventure and sunny days in Myanmar. Our rucksacks were packed and only 17 hours of flying stood between us and our dream destination! With an itinerary featuring Yangon, Inle Lake, Mount Popa, Bagan and Mandalay, together with fun stops in Istanbul and Bangkok, we spent the week leading up to our trip in a state of fever pitch excitement until it was time to depart. Myanmar, we hope you’re ready because we’re on our way!
Under military rule until 2011, voting was underway in the first contested national election in 25 years as we touched down in Myanmar. Yangon was full of hope and excitement and ink dipped pinky fingers, representing a cast vote, could be seen on just about everyone we met during our first few days. News soon filtered through of a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy with the party winning a majority in Myanmar’s parliament. Our late arrival into Yangon meant our first evening was spent catching up on missed sleep in anticipation of a 6am wake up call for a day of exploring the city.
Front page news! Waking up to post election coverage:Our first stop was the huge Shwethalyaung Reclining Buddha which quickly secured its place as the biggest we’ve come across on our travels so far! It also marked the first place of worship we visited in Myanmar and the incredible faith in the country was plain to see. A close up!
Our driver suggested a stop at the Kalaywa Tawya Monastery where hundreds of orphaned novice monks and nuns learn the Buddha’s teaching. Our visit coincided with the monks daily meal time and it was amazing to watch the colourful procession of novice monks as they went about their daily rituals. Next up was an abundance of gold topped pagodas until we were in serious danger of becoming pagoda’d out! We decided a change of pace was in order and ventured into the colonial part of Yangon for our first taste of local Myanmar food with noodles at the foodie gem, 999 Shan Noodle, followed by drinks in the clouds at the 25th floor Skybar where we loved the amazing views of the city.
Going local in the Yangon side streets!Noodles: flavour unknown! Yangon days:Skybar views: we spy the Sieul Pagoda, the Irrawaddy River and the Schewagdon Pagoda glistening in the skyline!We headed down to the river and the Botahuang Pagoda which is believed to house a sacred Buddha hair and we were wowed by the gold glittering from every surface. We spent some time observing life on the river before taking a well earned pit stop at the legendary colonial Strand Hotel for a cocktail.
As night fell we climbed the endless steps (everything is endless in 40 degree heat!) to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred site in all of Myanmar. As well as the plentiful Buddhas, gold topped pagodas and worshipers we indulged in our first of many crazy adventures in the country.
First up was my ridiculous and unfaltering ability to attract the attentions of the local animal life when a stray dog took a shine to my bottom and I had to be saved from its growls by a helpful local with a brush. This was swiftly followed by Dave and his tripod disappearing down a hole in the ground at the Pagoda. Both unscathed, we laughed until we cried. Day 1 in Myanmar was complete!
The Shwedagon Pagoda:Everything that glitters is gold!With a 12 hour night bus to look forward to later in the day, we spent our second Yangon morning wandering around the Kandawgyi Park. The gardens are an oasis of peace in the bustling city and the spectacular golden dragon boat was amazing to see up close.
Night bus time!
VIP buses are all the rage in Myanmar and we opted to travel between Yangon and Inle Lake with a bus company called Joyus Journeys (for some reason the name repeatedly give us a serious case of the giggles!). A joyous journey it was not, as you imagine with any 12 hour bus trip, but it was around this time I developed an amazing ability to sleep in extremely bumpy buses. Dave, on the other hand, realised his amazing inability to sleep on cross country bus journeys. Either way, we were both ecstatic to arrive at Inle Lake and switch the bumpy and sometimes cliff hanger roads of Myanmar for some water action for a few days!
The fisherman of Inle Lake are a Myanmar postcard scene and we set off on a dawn boat ride to explore the lake and its surrounding sights. As we motored across the lake we spotted some of the traditional Intha fishermen who have the strange leg rowing technique which allows them to keep their arm free to toss the nets.
The traditional Inle fishermen:The one thousand 17th century stupas of Indein were the highlight of Inle for us with its fascinating burnt orange Buddha filled ruins a rival to Asia’s finest. A highlight despite my near breakdown when I turned around to face a line of 6 stray dogs following our every move!We were fortunate to be in town for the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival Dragon Boat Race where over 60 people squeeze onto a boat to take part in a noisy and colourful one legged rowing race cheered on by hundreds of locals. We somehow ended up in the middle of the race and it was unbelievable to watch the boats thundering by.The long necked Padung ladies of Inle Lake were our final stop on Inle Lake and we bought some ‘local souvenirs’ which we then spotted in the airport for one tenth of the price resulting in some serious laughs! Obviously our souvenirs are made from a higher quality wood. Yep, we’re certain this must be the case! The women wear metal necklaces which push down their collar bones giving them longer necks. We learned after that these ladies can be exploited by the tourist industry so fingers crossed our overpriced souvenir purchases are helping them directly.Kakku Pagodas
We’d spotted a postcard perfect image of what looked like a thousand pagodas and inquired as to their location at the hotel. Kakku Pagodas was the answer and it was a 2 hour journey by car from Inle Lake. Of course we booked a driver and set off to check them out! The scenic journey through the Shan State cities and farmland was amazing in itself but the sight of 2000 pagodas squeezed into Kakku , a tiny one square kilometer of real estate, is one of our favourite Myanmar memories. Breathtaking!Our local tour guide:
Our Inle evenings were spent watching the incredible sunsets over the lake, trying out the spiciest local food on the menu (a spicy chicken salad saw us drink approximately 2 litres of liquid in 5 minutes as we tried to recover our taste buds) and stroking the beautiful Burmese cats that lived in our resort and who lapped up some playtime. Dave won over some cat fans who, in turn, won his heart and I thought we might have to leave him in Inle with his new friends!
With our first week in Myanmar over all too quickly it was time to leave the incredible Inle Lake behind and move on to the next stop on our whistle stop Myanmar visit. Monkeys, sunrises, temples and dusty roads: read all about week 2 of our Myanmar travels here!
Where we stayed
In Yangon we opted for the luxury Chatrium Hotel, Royal Lake Yangon. We booked a club room which included airport transfers, soft drinks and snacks throughout the day and a cocktail hour in the evening. It was a nice start to our trip and eased us gently into Myanmar life!
Luxury was again the order of the day in Inle Lake (check out our review here) where we stayed in the stunning Inle Princess Resort. This is one of the best hotels we stayed at on our Asia travels and it’s a real Inle treat. Our villa was huge and beautifully furnished with stunning views of the Myanmar countryside.