Ancient City of Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan Balloons II

I am not sure if people were surprised when we chose Myanmar as our honeymoon getaway. Regardless, we chose that place since we wanted to have a more Indiana Jones type of an adventure for our next trip. Myanmar, or Burma, opened its door to tourist on 2013, after junta, former military leaders, have transferred its power to the civilian government. After long years of civil wars, things are slowly picking up and the country is gradually developing and opening up to other countries. You won’t expect majority of the modern comforts to be readily available, but that is the current charm of Myanmar.  We chose Bagan for the promise to see the temple ruins.

Flying to and around

So a day after our wedding, on Mar 1, Francis and I flew with Tigerair and Air KBZ from Singapore to Yangon, their capital city, and then Bagan. There is no direct flight to Bagan and the website bookings are still on their infancy stage. Most of the airlines still depend on travel agencies physically booking the flight in their office. Some have started to show prices online but reservations are only confirmed when you pay at their local offices, hence skipping the convenience of credit card payment. There are only few airlines that accept credit card reservations, but you have to take note on other things as well. Plane sizes are smaller and tend to not be of updated model. It is a must to research on which airline in terms of safety, punctuality and accessibility. Air KBZ was checked out to be decent and tickets can be booked online. Even after landing at Yangon, we still made sure to check regularly if there will be changes to the schedule or route. After factoring all this in, payment are in USD and are not cheap. It was 194.6 SGD for TigerAir and 233 USD for Air KBZ. In case you were wondering, Bagan airport is called Nyaung U.

Another option was to go via bus, but considering the short time, it was not worth the savings. Some parts of the roads are not paved as well, so it will not be enjoyable trip. On other hand though, it only cost 10k-30k Kyat (Myanmar Currency), which is on average 20 SGD. Something to think about.

I paid 69.55 SGD travel insurance with MSIG Singapore for 6 days. I didn’t need to get visa since my passport allows me to stay for 2 weeks.

Weather and What to Wear

It is better to go on the cool season (November to February), which is also the peak season. The air conditioner is non existent except maybe blowing warm air. Walking in the hot season is not advisable as there are places, like temples, where you will need to walk barefoot. You leave your slippers or shoes at the entrance. Some places will have shoe racks, majority have you putting them on the dusty ground. Bring sunscreen and hat. If you like, you can try the local sunscreen from Thanaka bark. It gives a yellowish white matte look and apparently, a good anti-aging paste. There are some places where your knees and shoulders have to be covered, similar to Thailand. Make sure to pack light clothes for warm and cool weather as the temperature differs from place to place.

Money Matters

kyat-currency

Credit card payment is not as popular as cash payment. You can bring kyat or USD. Hotels and some business prefer USD for its easy conversion. Kyat is not a common currency for international money exchange so it is better to spend, or plan, your Kyats before flying back home. The conversion rate from Kyat to USD will vary, some of the street vendors will charge a higher rate if you do not have Kyat on hand. On the other hand, you will have a better rate when buying Kyat in Myanmar versus your country’s money exchange places.

During our trip, it was 1 SGD = 870 Kyat.

Accommodation and Traveling Around

You can travel around Bagan by walking, rent an e-bike or normal bike, or ridding a carriage. We took a private tour to make it personal, since it was our honeymoon. Else, we would have taken the e-bike for the whole 4 days we were there. We took the e-bike on the 3rd day. We paid 175 USD for the 2 day tour and 10 USD for the bike. Our tour guide, Thein, had water bottles for us, explained the history of each temples and picked us up at dawn to see the sunrise. He took us to a village and we witness a coming of age ceremony for boys. He was suppose to pick us at the airport but got the arrival date mixed up. We had to take the taxi with pre agreed payment of 8k Kyat (no meter). Thein did drop us back to the airport, so it was ok. The e-bike also had its charm as you can make random stops to places that caught our attention.

We stayed in Thurizza Hotel. It was 240 USD for 4 nights. You need to book at a 3rd party reservation website. The bed was hard – I would not want to stay again as it gave me back aches. We had western breakfast at the rooftop. I wanted to try the local breakfast so we requested to have the Mohinga on the last day. It was interesting.

thurizza-hotel

We also stayed in Hotel 7 Mile in Yagon for the last night before flying off. We didn’t explore Yangon though. Nothing to note on the hotel stay either. It was 52.7 USD for 1 night. We paid 5k Kyat for each trip to and from the airport.

hotel-7-mile

Attractions

Buy the Bagan temple entrance fee, 25k Kyat, at the airport. You will may need to show this when visiting some temples.

We have wanted to try the hot air balloon but I can’t rationalize paying 300+ USD for a ride (I sense a pattern rejecting expensive bucket list: sky diving, helicopter ride, hot air balloon, you get the picture).

We probably visited almost 20 temples and the best were the following:

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On the 2nd day, we went to Mount Popa and climb up the endless stairs to the top. It was a very good exercise. My legs were cramping the next day. Watch out for the monkeys, they may harass you if they sniff food from you.

mount-popa

On the last day of Bagan, we just relax and I went for a massage before flying off to Yangon.

Food

Do not drink tap water, even when brushing your teeth. Meals are not expensive and you can have a good meal for 5k Kyat. Just check the cleanliness of the establishment, especially when buying along the streets. Nothing fancy to report on the food type; healthy though, since majority of their dish are with vegetables.

Other things to note

It is quite safe everywhere, ladies can walk at night. Tipping is not mandatory but welcomed. Internet service are non existential. You can connect to the WiFi but expect a lag on the connection. Be sure to be updated with your vaccine shots just to be safe. Bring medicine in case for stomach reaction or insect bites. We bought a local SIM to contact our tour guide. It was 12k Kyat with preloaded credit.

Overall, I think it was a dreamy trip. It was a break from the urban jungle and most of the modern technology. Everything was on a relaxed pace.

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