Trip to Myanmar - July 2015
The travel blog from a visit to Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay

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Sule Pagoda in Myanmar . Eyewitness GuidesGolden pagodas and stupas, flip flops and bare feet, women with thanaka painted faces, monks in dark red robes, street food galore with mohinga at its helm, temples as far as the eye can see scattered in the archeological zone of Bagan, the blinding shininess of Shwedagon Pagoda, the mountain temple of Taung Kalat, Buddha images, guys sporting longyi and chewing on betel leaves with areca nut, red stained streets, manual labor to make gold leaf, home of Aung San Suu Kyi – this is a trip report from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) where we visted Yangon, Bagan area and Mandalay.

Short summary
This trip report will focus on the trip that my wife, Nikki, and I took to Myanmar in the period from July 10th to July 19th in 2015. We checked out Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay on our 10 day whirlwind trip.
The trip report is split into sections: this first section that you are reading now covers the trip itself but on the next pages you will find:

Please get in touch if you have any questions or comments. All pictures are taken by Nikki and Gard with our cameras Canon EOS 450D and Panasonic Lumix.

Starting the trip to MyanmarOver the years we have been fortunate enough to visit many of the countries in Asia – Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam and so on but we have never gotten around to visiting Myanmar. Mainly because it has been a bit tricky to visit as it was a country with strict governing rulers. But the country has now opened up, it has become easier to get a visa and we decided it was time to visit. If you want to get an idea of what kind of travelers we are, it might be a good idea to check out some of the other trip reports that we have made – you can find all of them here. As you will see we have been fortunate to visit some really spectacular places in this world.

Planning the trip
We were flying Singapore Airlines to AsiaWe had already booked tickets to Bangkok, Thailand before we decided on Myanmar as our holiday destination. Luckily, using Bangkok as a starting point made it fairly easy to get to Myanmar. AirAsia has flights to both Yangon and Mandalay and it has gotten easier to also book domestic flights online. Sadly enough it is not possible to cover a whole country in a short trip and we decided to focus on the former capital Yangon (Rangoon), the archeological zone of Bagan and finally Mandalay. We booked AirAsia tickets to fly into Yangon and back to Bangkok from Mandalay. For domestic flights we chose to fly Air Bagan from Yangon to Bagan and from Bagan to Mandalay. The last leg could also have been done by a 5-6 hour bus trip.

We also booked the hotels online and we used As usual we also bought the Eyewitness travel guide book. I love my gadgets and you can find endless amount of information online but it is still great to have a guidebook to read on the plane and while you are on location. Myanmar is developing rapidly so don’t trust all the info that you find in guidebooks!

Note: most likely you will need a visa to get into Myanmar. In the past the easiest option was to apply for it at the embassy in Bangkok. But now you can apply of a visa online on and it cost us 50 USD per person.


Map of Myanmar

Map of Myanmar. Map provided by

The trip begins
We flew Singapore airlines to get to AsiaWe had a morning flight out of Stavanger in Norway on July 8th 2015. The first leg was with Scandinavian Airlines to London Heathrow (I finally got to see the new Terminal 2 Queens Terminal) at 10 am. We had a couple of hours there which was good as it is a big terminal and security check can also take some time. But soon we were on our way to Singapore with Singapore Airlines where we had a short stop before proceeding to Bangkok in Thailand. We stayed one night in Bangkok to get some rest after the long flight. So on Friday July 10th we were finally ready to proceed to our main destination. We took a taxi to Don Muang airport, managed self check in, elbowed our way to the right queue and took an Air Asia flight to Yangon. The airport is busy both in terms of traffic outside and checking in at the airport so make sure to get there early.

Note: most international airlines fly in and out of Suvanabhumi airport in Bangkok. Whereas, most of Air Asia’s flights are from the old airport in Bangkok: Don Muang.

Check in with AirAsia in BangkokThe flight from Bangkok to Yangon only takes about 1 hour and before landing we could see that the monsoon season had started as we flew over fields that seemed  to be soaked. We could also see pagodas and we would see lots of these throughout our stay in the country - there are golden pagodas and stupas all over the place. Before landing we used some time to fill out the usual landing card which had to be completed even if we had applied for a visa online and gotten this approved. But this was not a big issue - you have to do the same before landing in e.g. Thailand.

Note: Myanmar is located + 6 ½ hours to GMT time.

Touchdown Yangon
Welcome to YangonWe arrived in the afternoon in Yangon and luckily it was still light so that we could take a look at the landscape before landing. It is always exciting to land in a new city in a country that you have never visited before. It turned out that Yangon airport was way more modern that I thought it would be. The terminal looked quite new and immigration was fast and we also got our suitcases in no time. After customs we found various ATM machines and it was not a problem getting our hands on the local currency known as Kyat (pronounced something like chaat).

Note: local currency in Kyat. In July 2015 1000 Kyat was about 80 US cent or 0.7 Euros. There does not seem to be many coins in use but there are banknotes as low as 50 and 100 Kyat. Most common in use was 500, 1000 and 5000 Kyat. Most of our pre-travel reading indicated that you would need to have crisp, clean (fresh off the mint) US dollars to pay with but we ended up withdrawing kyat which was generally accepted as a payment method in most places.

Taxi when arriving in Yangon in MyanmarThere were also taxi stands in the arrival hall and prices seemed to be fixed at 9000 Kyat (7 USD). It was possible to pay in both Kyat and USD and it did not seem like they had any preference. The taxi that we got was a pretty modern station wagon which was handy as we had two large Samsonite suitcases. The taxi driver gave us his card on the way into town and said that we should not hesitate to call him if we needed any transportation services. The weather when we landed was great in our opinion – we had just ran away from what had been a wet and less than cool Norwegian summer but in Yangon it was about 30 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit).

Note: The climate in Yangon – has a hot season from February until May, rainy season from May to October and then a cooler season from October to February. Check out weather stats before you go!

Bus at Sule Pagoda in YangonI had already downloaded the Yangon Google map on my iPhone and it gave me an opportunity to look at our location while we were driving. Regardless of our research, I guess we expected the map to be less accurate but turned out to be quite up to date. On the way into town we passed the large Shwedagon Pagoda and I realized that it was a lot bigger than I had expected it to be, based on what I had read in the guidebook! The drive from the airport to the hotel took about 1 hour. It is only 17 km (10 miles) but there was quite a bit of traffic that slowed us down. Both Nikki and I were a bit surprised by the city scenes. Based on what we had read, we didn’t think that Yangon would be that modern. We were also a bit surprised that there were no motorcycles. In many Asian cities motorcycles / mopeds dominate traffic (if you have been to Ho Chi Minh City you know what I mean) – we later learned that motorcycles were banned in 2003 and there seems to be various urban legends explaining why the bikes were banned.

Note: Myanmar is the only country that I have been to so far where they drive on the right side of the road (yes, the right!) and at the same time they have cars that I guess are imported from Thailand and Japan hence the steering wheel is also on the right hand side!

View to the Strand hotel in YangonIn Yangon we stayed at the traditional The Strand hotel. After I had booked it I noticed that it was actually listed as a Yangon attraction in the guidebook - and happy hour on Friday night in The Strand bar was also mentioned. I usually choose newer and modern hotels so I didn’t have great expectations for the colonial style of The Strand hotel. Surprisingly enough, it turned out to be a great hotel with great service, good location and a large room. Check out my review of the Strand hotel with photos on this page. I would not hesitate to recommend this hotel as we had a great stay there!

Good morning Yangon
Colonial style building in YangonAfter breakfast it was time to head out of the hotel – I always find this first meeting with new places fascinating. The new smells; how people living there react to tourists; how the place will be compared to the image that has been created based on reading the guidebook etc. The first thing we were reminded of when we got out of the hotel was that it was hot and humid. Even if this was the cooler monsoon season it was still about 30 degrees Celsius (85 Fahrenheit) in the morning. We enjoy this climate but it has some side effects - we noticed that our camera lenses would fog up when moving from air con rooms to the humid outside.

The sun was blazing and we actually didn’t get much rain at all during our stay in Myanmar – I guess global warming is also influencing the climate in this region. Sadly, there were reports of massive unexpected destructive floods within a week of our departure.

Note: the sun is strong when you get this close to the equator. Wear a good sun screen and a hat to avoid getting fried.

Clothing style in YangonOther observations when starting the walk around Yangon was that both men and women wear traditional outfits on what seemed like a daily basis – very few sported western clothing. The men wear something called a longyi which is just a cylindrical fabric that you step into and wrap it around the waste and tie it with a knot in the front. Men would stop up from time to time in the street to redo this knot. The longyis comes in different colors but are mainly with stripes and checks. Women wear a similar skirt, called the Htamein – more of a wrap skirt with more lavish decorations.

Street vendor making betel quid in YangonAnother thing that we noticed (and that we had read about in advance) were the red stains that we saw on the ground all over Yangon. Quite a few of the Burmese men chew on something called betel quid. Is it a betel leaf that is smeared with slaked lime and then slices of areca nut are added together with various ingredients – and then it is folded together. These betel quids were on sale from small stalls all over Yangon and when you chew on them it dyes your saliva red, which is evident in the red spit marks on the streets. I do like to try out stuff when I travel but I also like my teeth – and chewing on these betel quids seems to ruin your teeth. Check out this video on my YouTube channel to see hoe betel quids are made.

Maha Bandula Park in YangonIt didn’t take long after we got out of the hotel before a young boy approached us and offered me tour services and postcards. He ended up following us until I finally caved and bought some overpriced postcards from him. We wandered the streets and made our way to Maha Bandula Park - only a short stroll away. Yangon has one of the best preserved colonial style collection of buildings in the world and in the park we got a view to Yangon City Hall which is a strange mix of colonial architecture and Burmese traditional architecture. People were resting in the park and young lovers used umbrellas as makeshift privacy in the park.

Girl with tanakha at Taung KalatAnother thing you will notice when you walk around in Myanmar is the thanaka worn (mostly) by women. Thanaka is a paste derived from grinding the bark of certain tree types, mixing it with some water – all on a sandstone. The paste is then put on the face (with what resembled a toothbrush), neck, arms etc. The purpose is to protect the skin against the strong sun but it is also believed to give fairer and healthier skin, help against acne (we saw some guys with random sports of it on their faces) and I guess there is also a decoration purpose. We got some thanaka at the hotel as a bar of soap – just add water in other words and apply it. The one that we got at the hotel had a lovely sandalwood fragrance but it comes in various scents.

A roundabout, pagoda and stalls – Sule Pagoda
Gard and Nikki with a selfie at Sule Pagoda in YangonOne of the major landmarks in Yangon is the Sule Pagoda and as it is located right next to the Maha Bandula Park - we decided to check it out right away. Normally temples are a bit tucked away but Sule Pagoda has been a center and a landmark in Yangon for 2500 years. Now it is actually in the middle of a fairly busy roundabout and on the outside of it there are lotsSule Pagoda in Yangon in Myanmar of small shops where you can find everything from printing services, translation, travel agencies and palm reading! We went into the south entrance and we were quickly reminded that no shoes were allowed and other clothing restrictions. We were also asked to make donations and buy some flowers and Inside Sule Pagoda in YangonI thought this was a part of the entrance fee but as soon as we walked up the staircase we had to pay an entrance fee and get a sticker to prove this. The entrance fee was 3000 Kyat (2.4 USD). At Sula Pagoda you will find lots of Buddha images and the center stupa has a special design as it is octagonal. I feared that it might be a hot affair to walk around barefoot on tiles as the sun was blazing but they have put down white tiles that seems to reflect a lot of the heat – so, no hot coal dancing for us.

Note: wear light clothing. It was piping hot when we were there and my t-shirt and pants were pretty much soaked after a short while of walking around. Convertible pants are a good idea for guys!

Draped Buddha image at Sule Pagoda in YangonAs Sula Pagoda people were making offerings in forms of flowers, money, fruit, incense etc. People were sitting around, resting, eating, sleeping, studying and even breast feeding babies. It is quite common to also see the latter in Norway so it was not something that bothered me in any way. I guess this is also quite common in Myanmar as we came across this several times. Already here we understood that it was not that common for the locals to see tourists. It didn’t take long before a monk came over and wanted his photo taken with us. I guess his friend that was taking the photo was not as tech-savvy as the monk as the friend was struggling to push the right button on the cell phone to take the photo.

Nikki getting a palm reading in YangonOn the outer ring of Sula Pagoda, Nikki decided to wake up a palm reader that was taking a quick rest in his small office. For 5000 Kyats (4 USD) she got her future told while old buses was roaring past outside in the roundabout. It seems like according to the Buddhist belief there are 8 days of the week (Wednesday seems to be split into morning and evening) and each day is assigned to a sign. I’m born on a Monday and my sign is a tiger. Nikki was born on a Wednesday morning and her sign is elephant – very prestigious, according to the palm reader. You will find this in temples as the various days of the week are represented there and people start their praying at their sign. So which day of the week you are born on is important – it also influences your name. Anyway, apparently Nikki will have lots of money in the next year – but what was not so positive is that she will also have a second husband. I guess you have to stay tuned to find out what happens next.

Shopping for longyi
Banknotes in Myanmar - currecy is KyatIt wasn't easy enough to walk around in Yangon. On many roads there are no crossings so you just have to walk over and stand between the passing cars. The sidewalks are crowded with stalls selling books, sim cards, drinks and snacks, betel quid etc. We walked over to Bogyoke Market and passed a KFC restaurant and it was packed. It turned out that it had opened the month we were there, so it was still new to the people – this reminds me of my hometown Stavanger in Norway when we got Starbucks just a few months back ;-) It is a bit strange to walk around in a town where you don't see a McDonald's or Burger King sign - not that we missed them in any way.

Note: a bottle of water is 300-400 Kyats on the street. It is not recommended to drink the tap water.

Checking out Bogyoke market in YangonBogyoke Market was a large indoor market that reminded me of Ben Than market in Ho Chi Minh City. It was possible to buy clothing, jewelry, charms, souvenirs etc. The sales people were not pushy as you see in some Asian countries. Here they were more looking at us and giggling. Nikki did end up buying a longyi (she preferred the men’s style) and it cost 6000 Kyats (about 5 USD) – it does not seem like bargaining is a big part of the market scene here – yet. We had lunch at a small restaurant by the market and enjoyed some snacks whilst it was raining. To give you an idea of the price level: fried rice was 1700 Kyat (1.3 USD), sweet & sour chicken (2.4 USD), a coke was 800 Kyats (60 US Cents), watermelon juice 1300 Kyats (1 USD).

Beware of birds - Sri Kaali Amman Temple
Sri Kaali Amman Temple in YangonOn our way around we also came across the Sri Kaali Amman Temple. This is a hindu temple and they can be quite spectacular. But the most spectacular aspect of this temple was the fact that there were hundreds of birds sitting on wires by the temple. When I walked over to take a closer look at it, I noticed that the people outside were all sitting under umbrellas that were totally covered in bird crap - the same was true for the pavement around the temple. So I decided that it was not necessary to get that close to the temple – luckily I have a 20x zoom on my camera.

Note: A good way to maneuver around town is to use Google maps if you have a smart phone. On the Apple iPhone you can start Google Maps and save a map (e.g. Yangon) offline and this means that you can use the map to locate where you are and find out where you are going next

Sim cards for sale on the street in Yangon in MyanmarOn the streets you will also see lots of people selling sim cards. Things have happened fast in Myanmar – apparently a sim card cost 150 USD dollars just a couple of years back. Since then the country has allowed new players to enter the market and now you can get a sim card for 1500 Kyats (1.20 USD). The new players are Ooredoo and Norwegian Telenor. From the number of posters, banners etc around the country it looks like Telenor is leading the game to provide people with a connection to the world. I bought an Ooredoo sim card for about 5000 Kyats (4 USD) and with another 5000 Kyats as top-up I could buy an internet package that gave me 500 MB for the next month. But it was not impressive in speed and you don’t have to go very far from the city before you don’t have a signal at all.

Meeting a new friend at Botahtaung Pagoda
Selfie with a new friend in YangonI was on a mission to see the most famous landmarks of Yangon so I also walked over to Botahtaung Pagoda. Again this is a pagoda that is believed to date back about 2500 years and it is also said that it contains the relics of sacred hair of Gautama Buddha. But having said was also destroyed by allied bombing during World War 2. Botahtaung Pagoda YangonThe entrance fee was about 3000 Kyats (2.3 USD) and I had to remove the shoes and socks again. Once inside I was approached by a girl that just wanted to talk so I asked her to join me while I was walking around. It turned out that Kyu Kyu was studying civil engineering and just wanted to practice a bit of English. I could easily have dismissed her as this is a ploy used we’ve come across before in Asia – pretending to practice English and then trying to convince you come to the gem /souvenir store. I got to learn a bit more about Myanmar from her and I showed her some photos from Norway – and with new gadgets like smartphones it was easy to get connected on Facebook. I also used the opportunity to take a photo of her as she was wearing the thanaka on her face.

More walking – free Yangon walks
Free Yangon walksBefore we headed to Myanmar we found Free Yangon walks but on their schedule it didn’t seem like there would be any walks while we were there. Luckily they changed that and at 4 PM we met up outside City Hall to start the tour. Our guide Angela took a group of 10-15 people around the old colonial quarter of Yangon. To start with I was a bit disappointed that she was not a local (Angela is American) but as the tour progressed this was not an issue. It turned out that she was full of knowledge about the area. We got an excellent 2 hour walk with information about the Anglo-Burmese wars, about the street food, about progress in communication, about the traditional clothing, about the various buildings etc. I can absolutely recommend taking a tour with Free Yangon walks – take it on your first day and you will learn a lot about the city and the history and get a chance to ask questions in a group setting.

Time to taste the food – Yangon Food Tours
Street food in Yangon in MyanmarOur research gave the impression that a lot of travelers were warning people about eating street food. This made us skeptical to experimenting on our own, so we decided to take an evening tour with Yangon Food Tours to get some help on getting a grasp on the Burmese cuisine and to get some advice on what was safe or not. I like to think that we are adventurous travelers when it comes to food and we try to taste the local specialties – such as mopane worms in South Africa, cuy in Peru, street food in Vietnam etc. We went straight from the Free Yangon Walks to our hotel and were picked up by our guide (I think his name was James) and took a taxi with him to the City Hall area.

Note: taxis in Yangon don’t seem to work on meter yet. You can have to agree on a price when you get in and it varies from 1500 Kyats (1.2 USD) for short distances to e.g. 5000 Kyats (4 USD) for going to the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Samosa salad in YangonWe started out by tasting samousa salad from a small stall that only sold this. The woman made it in front of us by mixing tomatoes, onion, chickpeas etc together and then she cut up samosas and blended this in as well. One version was served “dry” and one was served with a broth of some sort. We decided to share portions as we were going to stop at 5 places and we would end up totally stuffed if we were to eat a full portion on each stop. Our guide reassured us that we didn’t need to eat the full portions but it seems so wrong to only eat a few bites and throw out the rest.

Having Mohinga in Yangon in MyanmarWe continued our walk but soon sat down again on a typical street food restaurants with low plastic tables and tiny plastic chairs. This time we got to try what is referred to as the national dish of Myanmar: Mohinga . This dish seems to be available everywhere and it is typically eaten as a breakfast dish. The ingredients include chickpea flour, banana tree stem (not sure where I would be able to get a hold of that in Norway), lemongrass, ginger, garlic, onions, fish paste, and fish sauce. It can be served on rice vermicelli and garnished with dried chili, cilantro etc. It was a good dish but I have to say that it didn’t make a lasting impression on me.

Tasting shan noodles in YangonAlong the way to the next stop we also tasted some Burmese pancakes and steamed pork buns before we stop at a place to try Shan noodles. As the name indicates this is a dish from the Shan state in the east of Myanmar and it was noodles served with a good broth and topped with chicken as far as I can remember. It had a good and rich taste, a touch of spiciness and is something you should try in Myanmar. Most of the time food is eaten with fork and spoon but for the shan noodles we did get chopsticks.

Having mohinga in in YangonWe continued to a place where we could taste Burmese curries. The curries are typically served lukewarm which seems a bit weird and they are quite oily as well. Strangely enough the curries here are not very spicy compared to what you can find in India and Thailand. The curries were rich and tasty but seemed a bit bland without the spicy touch. We rounded off the evening food tour with a dessert at a place that served juice, ice etc. I decided to go for the recommended Falooda which is an unusual mix of syrup, ice cream, sago pudding etc. It is a colorful, sweet drink and it was actually much better than expected.

The food of Myanmar that we tried out is not as exciting as the food of India and Thailand, in my opinion, but it was great to take this evening food tour and I highly recommend it. It was fun to get a guide to the local food and traditions and it was perfect to do this on the first day of our stay in Yangon.

The iconic landmark of Yangon – Shwedagon Pagoda!
West entrance of Shwedagon Pagoda in YangonWhen I got the guidebook it was obvious that Shwedagon Pagoda was not to be missed while in Yangon. When we took the taxi from the airport into downtown Yangon we passed it and it was much larger than I had imagined it to be! Standing 99 meters tall (325 ft) on a hill in Yangon it is truly a landmark. The golden stupa glitters in the sun as it is covered with gold and gold leaf and on the very top there is an “umbrella” where there are thousands of diamonds and rubies and on the very top there is a 76 carat diamond! It was hard to see this with the naked eye but there are photos in the temple area where you can see details of the items that are located at the top in the umbrella.

Escalator at western entrance at Shwedagon Pagoda in YangonWe took a taxi from the hotel one morning and it cost 5000 Kyats (4 USD) for the 15 minute drive. The taxi driver said that he would drop us of by the south entrance and I figured that this would be the most touristy one so I asked him to take us to the western entrance instead. This turned out to be a good call as they have escalators installed on the western entrance! When we got there we were dropped off at the tourist entrance – locals can enter the temples and pagodas for free. We had to pay 8000 Kyats (6.5 USD). I found an old sign by the entrance were the price was 5000 Kyats so I guess they have found out that they can charge more. Again we had to leave shoes, socks and make sure that we had decent clothes on before entering.

Shwedagon Pagoda in YangonThe walkway up towards the pagoda is grand – marble floors and large pillars. We took the escalators towards the pagoda itself and it was funny to see that escalators are still a new concept in Myanmar – so new that a few people struggled to get on and off the escalator. Nikki had to help a woman that was about to fall every time she tried to step onto the next section of the escalator. As we came out of the last escalator we could see the large stupa towering in front of us and shimmering in the sun. The entire temple is huge with a number of smaller pagodas, Buddha shrines, bells etc. Again there were white tiles laid down and luckily they did not get too hot during the time we were there.

Monks at Shwedagon PagodaI guess I compare this site to a church back home. But here it seemed like people were visiting the pagoda as a day out. People seemed to be dressed up a bit but there were people praying, some were eating in the shade of some of the shrines and some were even taking a nap. We had a guide at Shwedagon PagodaThere were guides that would approach us to ask if we wanted a tour of the area – some were hard to understand and we kept on getting different information about the pagoda from the different guides. I did get a guide in the end and he walked around with us for about 1 hour and talked about the pagoda, the history, the Buddhist religion, how one of the massive bells were stolen by the British and then retrieved etc.

Short stop at the zoo
Feeding the hippo in Yangon zooA friend of mine told me that the zoo in Yangon is a bit fascinating so we decided to stop by here after the visit to Shwedagon Pagoda. The zoo was 3000 Kyats per adult (about 2 USD) so we didn’t break the bank, in other words. The zoo is an old school zoo and it is sad to see animals being kept in pretty small cages and fields. Beware of the crocodileThe only advantage is that you can get alarmingly close to some of the animals – one guy was feeding a hippo (considered one of the most dangerous animals in South Africa) and we could see straight down his throat. They also have elephants, rhinos, lions, bears, birds etc. The sign next to the crocodile (or was it the alligator) pool was in Burmese but a couple of drawings on it indicated that you should avoid placing kids on the edge of the fence as they will be eaten if they fall in. I don’t really recommend a visit to this place – save your money for a safari somewhere (e.g. South Africa) instead.

Traditional puppet show
Puppet show in Yangon, MyanmarAccording to the guidebook the art of puppeteering has a long tradition in Myanmar. But it does not seem to be that common anymore so when we asked at the hotel they said that they would have to check around. When they got back to us they told us that there were practically just 1 or 2 places in Yangon and we could go to a show right now at a place called Htwe Oo. We jumped into a taxi and it took us to the place near Sule Pagoda. Details of puppet in YangonWe looked around for the place, asked locals and just as we were giving up we saw this tiny sign on a building. We had to climb some stairs and entered what seemed to be a flat but inside there was a small stage and seats. Back in the old days the puppet shows could last for hours and hours as the puppeteers would travel from village to village and recount tales of old and new - we got the shortened version in 45 minutes. Before the show and afterwards we got a chance to look closer at the puppets and try to control them - which was not easy. There are lots of strings involved and some even had a string to control the eyebrows. We paid 5000 Kyats (4 USD) each for the show and it was interesting to see it – but I’m also glad that it didn’t last for several hours!

Shwedagon Pagoda – part 2!
Dusk at Shwedagon Pagoda in YangonWhen we visited the Shwedagon Pagoda in the morning we also decided that we had to come back later on as people say that it is beautiful at sunset. So we kept our entry ticket receipt and stickers and took a taxi to the pagoda again at 5.30 PM. We repeated the process of getting up to the actual pagoda Gard and Nikki at Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon at nightand it was pretty crowded as the sun was setting. But I’m glad that we went back at this time – at dusk the lights came on and started illuminating the stupa. Again there was a lot of attention from people when they saw us – especially Nikki. After a while we started feeling like celebrities that were being chased by paparazzi. Nikki managed to take an excellent photo by a local monk – she was going to take a photo of me but the monk walked in between us. I guess some of the coolest photos can be taken by accident. I can recommend going to the Shwedagon Pagoda at sunset – the atmosphere was different and there are lots of locals hanging out there so it is fun if you just want to watch people – with the beautiful golden pagoda lit in the background.

Note: there are toilets at the entrance of the pagoda and there is actually an ATM on the terrace of the stupa. Water can be bought at the entrance.

Dinner at Rangoon Tea House
Curry at Rangoon Tea HouseIf you want to try out the local cuisine but don’t feel the urge to try out street food, you can check out Rangoon Tea House. This was recommended by Free Yangon Walks and we decided to try it out one night. The menu had Burmese salads, curries, mohinga etc and hence you can get to taste the flavors of Myanmar. The place seemed fairly new and is more of a bar/café as it had a large TV screen mounted on the wall showing tennis being played at Wimbledon. The mutton samosas, chicken curry and pork curry that we had was pretty good and so was the coconut rice. It cost about 25.000 Kyats (20 USD) excluding drinks for the meal. Rangoon Tea House is located on 77 Pansodan street. If you want a drink I can recommend Gekko nearby. Please check out the Yangon Google Map to see where the places are located.

Note: the streets of Yangon are pretty dark at night. We felt safe but just keep an eye out for cars. We brought a headlamp and reflective straps that we used a lot later on the trip. Be prepared to see local wildlife (rats, stray dogs etc) if you walk around Yangon.

Trying the local train – circular line
Working on the railway in YangonIf you want to see a bit more of regular life in Yangon and the suburbs, you can try out the circular train. As the name implies this is a train that loops around Yangon. We walked over to the train station one morning and past sleeping dogs in the street, betel quid stalls, sim cards for sale etc. At the train station we were informed that the ticket was 300 Kyats (25 US Cents) and it would take 3-4 hours.Selfie with a curious kid on the train in Yangon We had to wait a bit for the train but that gave us the opportunity to look at a work team that seemed to be adjusting the railway tracks manually. The train cars had benches on each side and once again we got a lot of attention as there were not many tourists on the train. Waiting for a train in YangonOne guy kept on staring at Nikki for like 20 minutes with a nasal inhaler shoved up his one nostril. I thought it was great fun to take the train as I could stand in the open door (well, there were no doors) and look at Yangon pass by. There are frequent stops on the way and vendors came in to sell their stuff – one woman had a small stool that she carried with her and could sit down to make people a snack. We didn’t do the entire circular line – we got off at Pan Hlaing.

Note: in case you want to try out the circular line keep in mind that it goes clockwise.

A small theme park – People’s Park
Entrance to People's Park in YangonWe walked to People’s Park after taking the train and to be honest I didn’t really know what the park was all about. We came to a grand entrance on the north side of the park and had to pay 300 Kyats (25 US Cents) to enter. It turned out that the park is a small theme park with pools, a small rollercoaster, bumper cars, carousels, playgrounds etc. But it seemed like a lot of the places were not operational and some of the attraction could do with a bit of maintenance. When walking through the park you get to the entrance/exit that is located near Shwedagon Pagoda and you get a great view of the massive stupa.

Reclining Buddha
The reclining Buddha in Yangon and feet symbolsThe guidebook mentioned a large sitting Buddha and a large reclining Buddha – we decided to stop by the latter and it is called Shwethalyaung Buddha – or is it Chauk Htat Gyi? When we got there we had to go through the usual routine of taking of shoes and socks but it was worth it as the reclining Buddha is impressive in size. Measuring 55 meters (180 feet) it is larger than the reclining Buddha of Wat Pho in Bangkok. The sole of the feet was also decorated with 108 symbols related to Buddhas life. The reclining Buddha is beautiful – painted in white with stunning red lips, enviable eyelashes and beautiful eyes.

Sunset and dinner
Risotto at Union Bar & Grill in YangonOn our last night in Yangon we decided to have dinner at Union Bar & Grill located right down the street from our hotel on Strand Road. As we left our hotel the sun was setting and created some amazing colors over the buildings in Yangon. We just walked over to Union Bar & Grill and there were not that many people there. The ordering process was not that easy as our waiter didn’t speak English that well and there seemed to be a bit of confusion as several waiters came over to take our orders. My starter was a ham hock and pigs cheek terrine which was good – eTerrine at Union Bar & Grill in Yangonspecially the apple sauce that was served on the side. But the risotto that I had as a main dish was not very good. It was a pea risotto and it was dry and it didn’t seem like it was made with proper risotto rice. Nikki was not impressed with her braised beef either – it was both dry and not tender but the sauce was good. The best part of the meal was the apple crumble for dessert. As a conclusion I guess I can say that we were not that impressed by Union Bar & Grill. It cost about 75 USD including a 10% service charge and taxes (excluding drinks).

Monk at Swedagon Pagoda in MyanmarWe had a great stay in Yangon in Myanmar. It is not the kind of city that has lots of well known tourist attractions but it is still worth a visit. The Shwedagon Pagoda was the most impressive sight in the city, in my opinion – much larger than I thought it would be and with a fascinating atmosphere at least when we visited at dusk. Apart from that we had fun people watching and based on the reactions from the locals it seemed like they also enjoyed watching us, giggling about us and taking photos of us and with us. Nikki got most attention as was starting to feel like a celebrity towards the end. It was fun to see a new country, new city and a new people - and to see that they are still not quite used to tourists yet. So go to Yangon to see it yourself before it is too late. This was only the start of our trip so we had lots more to look forward to. Please continue to read to check out our visit to Bagan and Mandalay.

Bagan – temple overload

Check in for domestic flight in YangonBefore arriving in Myanmar, we also organized plane tickets in advance. The tickets were bought online and we used AirBagan. On Tuesday July 14th 2015 it was time for us to move on. On paper it always looks like a great idea to have an early morning flight to get the most out of the day – but when the alarm rang at 4.45 AM I had other thoughts in my head. But The Strand hotel had prepared a little breakfast box for us and tea/coffee was available on checkout so at least we could get the day started with some caffeine. The hotel organized a taxi for us to the hotel and it cost 15 USD and I guess it would have been cheaper to get a taxi in the street. But the car that we got was nice and had space for both our large suitcases, so I didn’t complain. With little or no traffic at 5 AM the drive to the airport took 25-30 minutes.

Note: to check out flight options, times and cost we used Flymya

We used Air Bagan from Yangon to BaganCheck in at the domestic terminal in Yangon was not quite what I’m used to. The suitcases were placed on large scales to check out the weight and I handed over printouts of our tickets with Air Bagan but I never actually had to show any ID papers. Security control was also not as thorough as usual and soon we were sitting in the departure hall – the power kept on dropping out but it didn’t seem to influence the operations at the airport. The flight to Bagan (or Nyaung U Airport as it is called) took about 1 hour and 10 minutes in a turbo prop ATR-72. We even got a small sandwich and some fruit on the flight which is more than we get back home in Norway these days. The Nyaung U Airport is pretty tiny but we were driven to the terminal in a bus and got our luggage pretty fast.

Note: there is a 20 USD entrance fee to get into the archeological zone in Bagan. You can buy this at the airport and remember to bring the receipt with you as it will be checked at various temples.

Time to explore Bagan!
The best way to get around BaganThe taxi from the airport to our hotel only took about 10 minutes and cost 5000 Kyats (about 4 USD) – the price seemed to be pretty much fixed depending on destination. We had booked a room at Amazing Bagan Resort and you can read my review of the hotel here. It was a nice hotel with a pool and quite close to both the archeological zone of Bagan and the restaurant street of Nyaung U, but the bed was way too hard for my liking. We arrived in the morning and we were able to check in right away, which was excellent. The hotel also helped us organize rental of two electrical scooters and soon we were cruising on our way to the temple area. The e-scooters that we booked through the hotel was 4000 Kyats (3.2 USD) for 4 hours.

Note: there are many places to rent e-scooters from in the restaurant street (Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4 street) Nyaung U. The first ones that we rented from the hotel were not very good – bad seat, bad breaks, no indicators etc. So look around before you rent.

Bagan signA short history lesson: Bagan used to be the capital of Pagan and between the 11th and 13th century more than 10000 temples, pagoda and monasteries were built here. As it is also an active earthquake zone “only” 2200 temples remains and many of them have been reconstructed after the last damaging earthquake in 1975. The reconstruction seems to have been done in various ways and not always with a focus on original materials and appearance and hence Bagan has struggled to become a UNESCO World Heritage site but it seems like this is an ongoing process.

Temple view in Bagan in MyanmarFor us it was amazing to start driving in Bagan. It was piping hot even if this was supposed to be the cooler monsoon season. This area is quite dry and during the “summer” they can easily have 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) . Summer also means less wind and this is when you can go ballooning over the temples of Bagan. The wind we experienced was not very cooling either – more like a warm breeze. There are temples, pagodas and ruins basically everywhere – no kidding. It was hard to stay focused on the driving as there are temples left, right and center but luckily there is not that much traffic in the streets around Bagan.

Packing advice from Nikki – for female travelers
Gard and Nikki at sunset in BaganA majority of Burmese are practicing Buddhists and when you travel to Bagan, you will be awe struck by the vast number of temples and pagodas that speckle the landscape. As with some religious institutes, there is a dress code to enter the pagodas. Although we travelled during monsoon, we only experienced less than a handful of afternoon showers during our entire whirlwind trip. In general, there were high temperatures (+35 degrees Celsius or 95 degrees Fahrenheit) with high humidity levels, which did not subside much in the evenings. Packing was a bit of challenge for me this time. After some research, my parameters were: keep it covered and cool. Local women tend to wear long, figure hugging patterned wrap skirts with matching tops and flip flops.

Gard and Nikki with view to temples in BaganSigns at the pagodas indicated: No shorts or miniskirts (Midi or maxi skirts/dresses were acceptable), shorts should cover knees (culottes were pretty comfy and airy), figure hugging / skin tight clothing was not an issue as long as the length was appropriate, colourful attire didn’t seemed to be an issue, no spaghetti strap tops (spaghetti strap / sleeveless was definitely a no-no but a light scarf as coverage was acceptable), be aware of excessive cleavage, short / cap sleeved loose fitting linen t-shirts were my staple, no socks and shoes allowed. I wore out my flip flops and was would suggest you save the pedicure for the end of your trip, my powder blue toe nail polish didn’t seem to cause a raucous and no other tourists were required to remove foot jewelry (toe rings).

Nikki in a red dress on a temple in BaganPacking essentials: loofah / body scrub: it’s hot and humid all day and most nights, and after a day exploring you’re bound to need a good scrub , 90% of our days included a visit to a pagoda/temple which meant we were barefoot most days and dirty feet was a daily occurrence. Sunscreen: It felt like the sun’s rays were on us right until the sun set so SPF30 and higher for face and body is a must, I am partial to Neutrogena products and like to use sunscreen specific for an active person, sunglasses and hats were put to good use. Antibac: Hand sanitizer – liquid and wipes.

Exploring the archeological zone in Bagan

Htilominlo Temple in Bagan, MyanmarWe drove along the Lanmadaw 3rd street and stopped at the first large temple that we came to – Htilominlo temple (aka Htilo Minlo temple). Standing 46 metres (151 ft) tall and built in reddish bricks - it certainly stands out in the landscape. It was much cooler inside the temple and a relief from the sun’s scorching rays. Many of the temples are similar in style and structure. Often there would be 4 larger Buddha statues facing each direction of the square structure, there are temples with beautiful frescos and murals and some contain hallways within the temple. There is also the option of getting to the upper levels on some of the temples and this is recommended as you get an amazing view once you get a few meters above the ground. There are some vendors outside the entrance of the larger temples and they sell postcards, souvenirs, clothing but also drinks and snacks in some places. I will not list all the temples we stopped at as that would be quite boring but I will mention a few. I have tried to map out the most important temples and places of interest in this Bagan Google map.

View to Thatbyinnyu temple in BaganAfter driving through the old city wall at the Tharabar gate we stopped at Shwegu Gyi Phaya – the view was the attraction here, rather than the interior, as it was possible to climb some stairs to get to the upper levels. This gave us the first view of the area from a vantage point and I think this is when we realized why it is so popular with hot air ballooning here in the summer time. As you look out on the surroundings you can see the terracotta colored pagodas and stupas peaking up from the green landscape. And there are hundreds and thousands of these spires all over the place – we kept on saying that it looked like the background of an Indian Jones movie. Bagan really surprised me – I know that there would be temples but it turned out that this was just mind-blowing and at the same level as visiting Angkor Wat or Macchu Picchu.

Happy Buddha at Ananda templeBagan was not really crowded at all – we would run into the same people over and over again as most people hired e-scooters and drove around to the main temples. We stopped at temples that were recommended by the guidebook but also temples that were recommended by the hotel. Another temple that you will most likely stop by if you go to Bagan is the Ananda temple. Here you will find 4 large standing Buddha’s facing in each direction. A couple of the statues are made in such a way to if you look at the face from a distance you will see a smile. But as you get closer and look up at the face the smile has turned into a more serious look.

Visit to Shwezigon Paya
Selfie at Shwezigon pagodaIn Nyaung U you will find the beautiful Shwezigon pagoda. As the hotel had bikes that we could use for free we decided to bike over before dinner at night. The only problem was that the bikes seemed to be pre-world war 2 bikes with no gears, bad breaks and just in general bad condition. But we managed to bike over to the pagoda. At the entrance we were stopped by a couple of ladies that told us where to park the bikes. It was a nice gesture but it turned out that they were vendors and of course they wanted to sell us various stuff. The pagoda was more or less empty at sunset but it was beautiful when the sun was going down and the lights came on. Once again there were some curious locals that looked at us as if we were from out of this world.

Eating out in Nyaung U
The restaurant street in Nyaung U outside BaganThere are some restaurants and cafes in Nyaung U and we stuck to this area instead of heading into New Bagan. Most of the restaurants are located in the “restaurant street” or Thi Ri Pyitsaya 4 St. I don’t think that you could call this a culinary adventure place as there are only a few restaurants. We had dinner at Weather Spoon's that was good – they serve local, Asian and western food so we decided to stick to local food. A portion of curry is about 3900 Kyats (3 USD) while a large Mandalay beer (0.7 liter) is 2100 Kyats (1.7 USD). Nikki really enjoyed their Mandalay Mule. Dinner at Weather Spoon's in BaganMost of the restaurants are semi outdoor places and it was piping hot when we were having dinner at Weather Spoon's. The Black Bamboo had good fried rice and ginger chicken and has a nice selection of homemade ice cream. Aroma 2 seems to be another favorite in town and they have Indian food. They have a cheesy slogan of “No good, no pay” that is a bit much (at least when we got the check and it was more or less translated into a number of languages) – but the food was good and cost about 6000 Kyats (5 USD). We also got to taste a Burmese red wine from Red Mountain at Aroma 2. I guess they were not used to serving wine as I had to take over the opening of the bottle before the waiter destroyed opener, the bottle or cut his fingers. The wine was actually not bad at all but ice-cold beer is better in this climate. We also ate at Novel restaurant – again we had Asian food (Thai/Chinese) that was OK – total bill for us was 16.000 Kyats (13 USD).

Note: do remember mosquito repellent at night in Bagan. Most restaurants are semi outdoors!

A day with a guide in Bagan
Gard and Nikki at Shwezigon pagoda in BaganAs we felt that we were just checking out the temples randomly we decided to hire a guide for a day. We organized this at the hotel and were informed that a guide was 40 USD and if we also wanted a car that would be 35 USD extra – I’m not sure that I see what would be the alternative ;-) Maybe having the guide on the back of an e-scooter? We were picked up about 8 am from the hotel and we started out at Cliimbing temples in BaganShwezigon pagoda where we got a lot of history about Myanmar and Bagan, but also about Buddhism, about architecture etc. It was interesting but at the same time it was also information overload and it was sometimes tricky to understand what our guide was saying. We continued to a small temple called Bulethi . The nice thing about this temple was that we were able to climb the steep staircase to get a nice view of the area. It was amazing to be able to take photos in all directions – and there are a lot of temples to take photos of! Some of the temples that we visited had great murals and frescos that we were not allowed to take photos of.

Note: some temples might be locked. There is normally a caretaker that lives nearby that can unlock the place for you and they expect to get a tip in return.

Stone carving in a temple in BaganTo not have a total overdose of temples we decided to have a long break in the middle of the day, have some lunch and jump into the pool at the hotel. We were picked up again at 4 PM and we headed to one of the oldest temples in Bagan, Naga Yon Hpaya, where construction started in 1084 AD! But we also got to see some amazing stone carvings at Nan Hpaya, a dying or dead reclining Buddha at Manuha temple etc. But the best part was when Nikki and I were taken to a temple before sunset. Nikki with a view to temples in BaganI think that it was Law Ka Ou Shaung but I’m not quite sure – we were all alone there with the guide and there was a dark staircase that led to the upper levels. We got spectacular views and the lighting was perfect at this time. For the actual sunset we went to one of the most popular places: Shwesandaw pagoda. Here there are several terraces and quite a few other sunset enthusiasts. It even seemed like there was a group of Thai monks that were visiting and wanted to take some photos of the happening. Unfortunately, it was not an epic sunset but it was still a great experience.

Note: the streets towards our hotel were not well lit. So unless you want to walk in darkness it is recommended to bringing a head lamp or a torch to light up the road back home ;-) It was not that easy to find transport back to the hotel in Bagan at night. Some taxi drivers wanted 5000 Kyats (4 USD) which is a bit much for the short drive.

Chasing monks and visiting Mount Popa
Monks on their morning walk in Nyaung U outside Bagan in MyanmarOne morning we got up at 6.30 am – it was not a second too late as I was not very comfortable on the rock hard bed at Amazing Bagan Resort. Our mission this day was to visit Taung Kalat monastery in Mount Popa national park. We had organized a driver for this but first we got him to drive us to Nyaung U. As it was still early in the morning (7 am) the monks were still doing their morning walk. As in Thailand, the monks in Myanmar also seem to go on morning walks and people give alms in the form of food. The monks that we came across where walking in a single file, in silence and barefoot – each of them carrying a bowl to collect food.

Herd of goats outside Bagan in MyanmarBut soon we were on our way to the Mount Popa area located about 50 km (30 miles) outside Bagan. It didn’t take long to get out of town – it was surprising to get to a toll station as the road was not very good. It was fascinating to look out the window of the car – along the way farmers were still ploughing the fields with an ox and shepherds were keeping an eye on their herds. And out here in the middle of the Myanmar countryside we would still see shacks, fences and houses decorated with the Telenor banners. It seems like they have gone for the approach of decorating the entire country in blue.
The landscape changed as we were driving – from being warm and dry it got cooler, lusher and more humid. Most likely as we were getting higher up. Mount Popa is an old volcano and you can see the old caldera if you look at it on Google Maps. On the slopes of this extinct volcano you will find Taung Kalat – a volcanic plug with sheer walls with the monastery located on the very top.

Taung Kalat monastery in MyanmarIt was quite spectacular to see this when we came there as the monastery was basically touching the clouds. This place seems to be important as it has a Nat shrine and monastery on top. Buddhism in Myanmar is Theravada Buddhism mixed with elements of the Nat (spirit) worship. When we got out of the car we noticed that the talk of monkeys being present at Taung Kalat is not exaggerated. Entrance to Taung Kalat staircaseThere were monkeys of all sizes running around and it is best to not show that you have any food or you might get robbed. We started on the 777 steps and there was a place near the entrance where we could park our shoes as you have to go barefoot to the top. There is not entrance fee but we gave a donation where we left our shoes. Later on we found out that we should have brought some money in the form of smaller banknotes as we were asked for donation every minute or so. Along the way there were people cleaning the staircase and they all asked for donation – personally, I would have preferred to pay a once off entrance fee.

Steep staircase to get to the top of Taung Kalat, Mount Popa in MyanmarThe staircase leading to the top was pretty easy but I guess we are used to going uphill. There were a lot of people that seemed to struggle a bit and some parts are steep. To start with there are also some vendors where you can buy t-shirts and souvenirs. The staircase is covered which is excellent as you don’t get fried if it is sunny or soaking wet if it is raining. For us it took about 20 minutes to reach the top in a comfortable pace.As you climb towards Taung Kalat, you can buys various souvenirs At the top we did not get much of a view as the clouds were quite low. The monkeys were also at the very top and the locals used slingshots to chase them away when they were getting too close or aggressive. We also met a few locals on top that wanted to take photos with us and it gave me the opportunity to take a photo of girl with thanaka paste in her face. The view was not great when we went to Taung KalatApart from this, there are a few shrines on top with Buddha images but the main attraction is the view. On the way down Nikki got quite a scare when a monkey started to attack so keep in mind to not flash anything that looks like food! All in all it is worth a visit but make sure to go there on a clear day to enjoy the view. We paid 40 USD for the driver for this trip. Our driver loved his flower chains – we had the same driver for our Bagan temple excursion and he would buy fresh flower chains to hang in the car. I love the smell of fresh flowers but Nikki who has allergies was not too happy about this.

Last look at Nyaung U and temples
Thanaka stickAfter the trip to Taung Kalat we decided to hire some e-scooters again to check out a bit more of the Bagan area. This time we rented in the restaurant street and got a pair that was much better than the ones that we had to the first day. These even had a working indicator, a compartment for storage etc. We had a brief stop at the thanaka museum and it is the only one in the world apparently. You can easily skip this without feeling bad about it ;-) There is a small shop outside the sells thanaka paste with various fragrances and sizes just in case you need to stock up before you head home.

Note: we did not get a helmet and it didn’t seem like this was offered to any tourists. The bikes do about 45 km/h (about 28 mph) so drive carefully.

Inside Naga Yon Hpaya temple in BaganWe used the bikes to check out a few temples that were recommended by the guidebook. It was like a treasure hunt as the map in the guidebook was not very good and hence there was a bit of running around. Next to Ananda, we visited Ananda Ok Kyaung which was locked but it was opened when we came and the caretaker turned on the lights and gave us flashlights to see the murals that decorates the ceiling and walls. We also visited an old teak monastery called Nat Taung Kyaung on the banks of the Irrawaddy River. On the way back we stopped at Shwe Leik Too which is another temple where you can climb to the upper levels to get a great view. By this time my feet were so dirty from walking around barefoot more or less all day – it was good to get back to the hotel for a scrub that afternoon.

Note: Do you wonder where all the temples are located? Check out this Bagan Google map to see where some of the main temples are located.

Shwesandaw Pagoda in Bagan in MyanmarIt is easy to summarize Bagan: AMAZING! I like to think that I’m a guy that knows a bit about traveling and places to see in this world. But I had no idea that Bagan would be this epic. If you enjoyed seeing Angkor Wat and were thrilled by the site of Machu Picchu, I’m sure you will also love exploring the temples of Bagan. Do take the time and money to hire a guide for the day – yes, it is information overload but he/she will be able to give you more details than you can find in the guidebooks. Go now before it gets too crowded! Please check out this page to see more photos from our stay in Bagan! Here is an article from the Telegraph that you also might find useful.

Panorama view of temples in Bagan

The road to Mandalay

At Nyaung U airport in Bagan in MyanmarOn Friday July 17th 2015 it was time to move on to Mandalay. Before going there we looked into taking the train or bus to Mandalay but the train seems to be slow and unpredictable and we didn’t feel like spending 5-6 hours in a bus. So once again I had bought a ticket with Air Bagan where the flight was scheduled at about 7 am – it is good to get an early start, right? ;-) The taxi to the airport in Nyaung U only took 10 minutes and again check in and security was pretty informal to say the least. The ATR-72 took us to Mandalay in only 25 minutes and as we took off we could see the temples of Bagan peek up towards the sky.

Hotel Bagan King in Mandalay seen from the streetMandalay airport was bigger as it is a larger city. The airport is also further out of town and we booked a taxi inside the terminal for 12.000 Kyats (10 USD). The driver took our suitcases but as we walked out the door he gave the suitcase to some porters. I thought this was a part of the taxi service but I guess not because all of a sudden the one porter says to me “you give me money”. The drive into Mandalay took about 45 minutes and to start with we were more or less alone on a 4 lane highway. But as we got closer to town there were lots of traffic and in Mandalay there is no ban against motorcycles. In Mandalay we stayed at Bagan King hotel. You can read my review of the hotel here.

Tour of Mandalay
View to Mandalay HillAs we had short time in Mandalay (only 1 ½ days) we decided to hire a guide. Our hotel Bagan King called a guide and he showed up within an hour and that was excellent as we were eager to see a bit on Mandalay. Our guide Freddy was not only a guide; he had also studied to become a priest and had spent several years living and studying in Italy. He started by taking us to Mandalay Hill and this is actually a 240 meter high hill Entrance to Mandalay Hillthat overlooks the city. As with the Shwedagon pagoda in Yangon there was an entrance to take the 1729 stairs to the top – but luckily Freddy knew a “shortcut” – also known as driving to the top and taking the escalator the last few meters. At the top you will find the Su Taung Pyi Pagoda which has a setup with Buddha images, the Buddha’s footprint etc but the most impressive is the view. As it is located on a hill you get a great view of the entire city and beyond. It was first here I understood how large the Mandalay Palace located in the middle of the city is.

Note: I think there is a 5 USD entrance fee to the Pagoda on Mandalay Hill but note that there is also a 10 USD fee to get a pass to get into a few of the historic sites in Mandalay (just like the 20 USD fee to get access to the Bagan archeological zone). And an additional fee to take photos.

The huge marble Buddha in Mandalay in MyanmarWe continued to Kyauktawgyi Pagoda (or Kyauk Taw Gyi Phaya) by the southern foot of the Mandalay Hill. In here you will find an 8 meter huge marble Buddha cut out of one giant piece of marble! The pagoda was built between 1853 and 1878 so the 900 ton Buddha figure was transported here by manual labor! Apparently it took 10000 people about 2 weeks to transport it from the river to the location where it sits today! Shrines at Kuthodaw Pagoda in MandalayWe were on a roll and Freddy took us to the next place that he referred to as the world’s largest book. I imagined it to be an enormous book but it turned out to be an enormous temple complex instead. At Kuthodaw Pagoda you will find 729 slabs of marble measuring 1 x 1,5 meters and with engravings containing Buddhist scriptures on each side. This was done from 1860 to 1868 and it seems to have been initiated by King Mindon – you will run into his name many times if you tour Mandalay. Each of the slabs of marble is stored in a small white shrine making this quite a sight. We were not surprised to find a golden stupa in the middle of the complex either. This is also a UNESCO Heritage site.

Outside Golden Palace in MandalayWe had a short stop at Atumashi monastery which is a reconstruction of the 1857 monastery built by King Mindon. As it is a reconstruction it is not that impressive but the original structure must have been quite a sight when it was built. Right next door we visited Shwenandaw Kyaung or the Golden Palace Monastery. This was interesting as it used to be located in the Mandalay Palace and it used to be King Mindon’s master bedroom. When he died and his son Thibaw took over, he moved the house out of the Mandalay Palace as he felt it was haunted. During World War 2 most of Mandalay palace was destroyed by allied bombing while Shwenandaw Kyaung remains. It is a beautiful teak building with extensive wood carvings and you can still see traces of the gold (hence the name) inside.

Mandalay Palace
Mandalay Royal PalaceFrom the top of Mandalay Hill we got a good view to Mandalay Palace. This was built by King Mindon (you guessed it) when he moved the capital to Mandalay in 1857 and it would be the last royal palace as the British took over after the third Anglo-Burmese war in 1885. The place is enormous but I guess King Mindon needed some space as he had about 50 official wives – it is hard to be king! The palace is a 2 x 2 km area (1.25 miles x 1.25 miles) with a 64 meter moat around it! Sadly the place was bombed during theGard and Nikki at Mandalay Palace in Myanmar second world war, so most of the buildings are reconstructions. We entered the palace area on the east bridge and I think this is the only bridge that is open to the public. Our guide Freddy had to register before we could enter as this is not just a museum, a majority of it is used as a fortress. In my opinion it seems a bit strange that the army choose to stay in a fortress in the middle of a big city with a surrounding moat – it gives an impression that they are afraid that the people will turn on them. We drove to the center of the palace “island” where the reconstruction of the Royal Palace can be found. We walked through the various buildings that were pretty much empty but there were some replicas of thrones on display to give an impression what it must have been like back in the day. There is an original watch tower that you can climb and with views to the royal palace area. I guess you need a big royal palace when you have 50 wives! Yes, I admit it – I can’t get over the fact that he had that many wives.

Note: there seems to be a tradition for moving capitals in Myanmar. At the moment the capital is Naypyidaw

Gold leafs and Mahamuni Buddha
Gard wearing a longyi in MyanmarOn the way to the next temple we stopped by a place to get an introduction to how gold leaf is made. To summarize it in two words: hard work! The gold is beaten manually for hours and hours until it is super thin and then it is sold in parcels and used for offerings. Just making the special bamboo paper that is used in the process takes several years! When we came to Mahamuni Buddha temple it turned out that my shorts were too short and I got a longyi and Freddy helped me tie it around my waste – I didn’t want to have any accidents in the middle of the temple. Mahamuni Buddha in MandalaySeems like I fit a longyi – at least Nikki enjoyed how I looked in it. The main attraction in this temple is the Mahamuni Buddha image. According to legend this is a cast of Gautama Buddha when he visited Arakan. The Buddha image is cast in bronze, it is about 4 meters high and weighs about 6,5 tons and it is housed in a small chamber. It was the first place we went to where women were not allowed to enter –At Mahamuni Buddha temple in Mandalay they were allowed to enter the temple itself but not to go into the small chamber to touch the Buddha. I was allowed to climb to the platform that surrounds the Buddha and so many people have put gold leafs on and it has become a bit disfigured due to this. But the face is kept clean and shiny as it is washed every morning. The women were allowed to sit outside the chamber to pray and there were also TV screens within the temple showing live coverage of the Buddha. There are also various other statues in the temples – some have been stolen from Angkor Wat in Cambodia by Thailand (or back then Siam) and then it was stolen from Ayutthaya by the Burmese later on.

Shrine at Mandalay Hill in MyanmarBy this time we were getting pretty worn out – we had been up from the crack of dawn and had covered many of the main attractions of Mandalay in hectic pace with Freddy. We paid Freddy about 70 USD for the touring and driving that day and it was great to have a guide to show us around and to take us from place to place. If you are in Mandalay and you are short on time make sure to get a guide. If you want to see where some of the places are located feel free to check out the Mandalay Google map that I have made. You can zoom in, switch to satelite view and highlight your own points of interests if you are logged into Google.

Mandalay at night
Mandalay is not an easy city to walk around inMandalay is not a city for walking around. In many places there is no pavement and in places where there is a pavement it can be filled with obstructions and holes (down to drainage and sewage). At night it gets worse as there are not that many street lights. We walked from the hotel at night to find a Burmese restaurant called Tu Tu but when we got there the selection of food was rather limited. So plan B was BBB as we had read good reviews about it. We decided to sit outside and ordered pizza and a burger and we also decided to have local red wine. I'm not that familiar with the price level of local wine but in the store a bottle cost about 11.000 Kyats but at BBB it cost about 26.000 Kyat (21 USD) if I'm not mistaken. We had the same bottle in a restaurant in We had a sad burger at BBB in MandalayBagan and there it was 18.000 Kyats (14 USD) so BBB seemed a bit overpriced. I ordered the chicken pizza but got a beef pizza instead - but I'm not sure that it would have made any difference. On the menu it said "Our pizzas are baked to order" but the pizza that I got reminded me of one of those frozen pizzas that you can buy at the local grocery store and just pop it into the oven. The burger that we got was also a sad sight. It didn't have much topping and they were very stingy with the fries. The beef burger meat seemed quite dry and Nikki was not very happy with it at all. After having this pizza and this burger we decided to not test out the dessert option. So all in all this was very disappointing. The total bill was about 39.000 Kyat (31 USD). I would recommend that you go to a local restaurant instead and get some delicious Burmese food instead.

Note: if you are going out to eat at local restaurant keep in mind that they close pretty early compared to European standards. When we asked places would close at 9 or 10 PM.

Walking around Mandalay
Street sign in Mandalay in MyanmarNikki was not feeling good the next morning so she decided to relax in the room while I went on a walkabout in Mandalay. The city is pretty easy to navigate in as the British implemented a street grid system where streets run north to south as 1st to 49th and then east to west as 50th to 90th. In addition to this there are signs on street corners to indicate whereTwo young monks in the streets of Mandalay in Myanmar you are. A lot of the street corners also had motorcycle taxis offering their services and I got lots of offers when I was walking. The street corners also contained small shops, kiosks selling sim cards and drinks but also small makeshift restaurants. The most fascinating was that corners also seem to contain a well or water supply and people seem to take their morning shower/bath here. Dried fish on market in MandalayAgain I would meet monks on their morning walk in the streets as I made my way over to Zay Cho market. The market itself made up with several buildings and I just walked into one where there was lots of clothing for sale. Outside there was a bustling life as vendors were setting up their stalls and it was possible to buy everything in fruit and vegetables, meat, dried fish, big chunks of fermented fish paste that had a very potent smell etc. It was crowded and busy but fun to look at.

Eindawya pagoda in MandalayI stopped to take a look at Mahar Thatkyarthiha or Setkyathiha Pagoda – it seems like many of the places that I went to can be spelled in various ways. The same goes for Ein Daw Yar Pagoda or Eindawya pagoda. These pagodas might be historical and I was more or less alone there but they are not as impressive as the temples and pagodas that we had seen the previous day. Walking back to the hotel I walked past Mandalay Station. It seemed pretty impressive seen from the outside but there was not much inside apart from platforms for waiting on the train. It seems like trains are unbearably slow in Myanmar and you never know when the train will leave or get to the destination and most people recommend taking the bus or flying. It seemed like a lot of the buildings had their own generators in front and I assume this is because the regular power supply is a bit unstable.

Having a shan food lunch at Lashiolay in Mandalay in MyanmarTo round off the stay in Myanmar we had Shan food at Lashiolay Shan Restaurant where the selection of curries and meat was excellent but they didn’t seem too eager to serve us shan noodles. It was an informal place where we just pointed on the dishes we wanted and a guy served it up on a plate. It seemed like local cats also enjoy hanging out there and Nikki was not happy when a cat missed spraying the table leg and hit Nikki instead! We also had a good dinner at (Pakkoku) Daw Lay May restaurant just outside our hotel. They had an extensive menu and we got lots of side dishes when we ordered curry. They didn’t have any beer at the restaurant but they didn’t mind that I stopped by the convenience store next door to get a Myanmar beer.

Time to head home
On Sunday 19th of July it was time for us to start heading home. After a breakfast at Bagan King we took a taxi to the airport and that cost 12.000 Kyats (10 USD). Our driver was chewing betel quids nonstop and his smile when we paid him at the airport confirmed that he had been doing that for a number of years. The departure hall at the airport seemed quite new and modern and check in was fast. We took AirAsia back to Bangkok and that took about 1 hour and 40 minutes to Don Muang airport.

Note: there was talk about an airport tax before we left but we never had to pay this when leaving.

Nuns in Mandalay in MyanmarWe had a great time in Myanmar. Before we went there I think we were both a bit nervous that we would come to a country where it would be hard to get around, hard to communicate with the people, hard to get decent food etc. But it turned out that we found a country where people are friendly and smiling, we enjoyed the local food,Female construction workers in Mandalay it was easy to get local money from ATMs etc. It seems like the development in Myanmar is going fast so even if we had a new guidebook it seemed outdated in some aspects. I was really impressed by the temples of Bagan! Being alone with Nikki on a temple around sunset and having a view to hundreds of temples scattered around in the landscape was breathtaking. I think the best recommendation is go before it is too late and before it gets too crowded! It was also amazing to experience the Shwedagon Pagoda – especially at sunset. The gilded stupa is beautiful as the lights are lit at night and the atmosphere was magical.

ABook with a views we had limited time we had to choose what to see in Myanmar. It would have been great to have more time in Mandalay to see some of the sights in the outskirts of the city – like the unfinished stupa of MIngun and the old capitals of Inwa (Ava) and Amarapura. But it would also have been fun to have time to see the golden rock at Kyaiktiyo, paddle around Inle lake and check out the caves of Pindaya. I hope that I have been able to capture some of the essence of Myanmar in this trip report – hopefully it has given you some help if you are going there – or some inspiration to go there if it was not on your wish list already. Get in touch if you have any questions or comment. Please check out this page to see more photos from our trip to Myanmar.



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