December 6 – 9, 2017
I bought a roundtrip from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Yangon, Myanmar for $246.02 on AirAsia. My reasoning being that I’d never been to Myanmar and wanted to see the country that had been described to me as “Thailand or Vietnam thirty years ago” and “rapidly declining because of tourism but check it out now because it’s only getting worse.”
I applied for an e-visa online a week before my trip ($50 for US citizens). It was processed within a few days and was valid for 90 days from the date of issue.
When I arrived in Yangon, immigration and entry was a breeze with the e-visa. I don’t think it’s possible to get in otherwise. You can exchange dollars into Myanmar Kyat at the airport but they must be PERFECT –no tears, wrinkles, or marks.
I went out exit 6 and turned left for the taxi station. After I said I wanted to get to the bus station, someone handed me a card declaring 10,000 kyat ($7.50) for the trip and pushed me into a taxi cab. It was a 50-minute ride through dense traffic in a busy city of one-lane roads. I took an overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan with Joyous Journey Express (better known as JJ Express) for $19.76 one-way. The pastries were actually pretty decedent.
At the bus station and at a truck stop, I saw lots of women with shapes painted on their faces (e.g. circles, squares). At first, I ignorantly thought it was foundation or sunscreen not blended in. I looked it up and it’s actually Thanaka (yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark). It’s applied to the face and sometimes arms. It smells a lot like sandalwood. Apart from cosmetic beauty, thanaka also gives a cooling sensation and provides protection from sunburn.
Arriving at Bagan Shwe Pyi Bus Station at 5 am was jarring as there are a sea of men that bombard you asking if you’d like a taxi ride the second you step off the bus. I know this is never a good idea, but I went with one anyway. It was an uncomfortable horse drawn cart where he talked my ear off about the pope and 14th Dalai Lama while intermittently pressuring me to pay him for a tour of the local temples. I overpaid him (maybe $10?) but I was eager for him to leave me alone and thankfully I never saw him again during my trip.
Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, and during it’s height between the 11th and 13th centuries, there were over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries constructed.
When you enter the area, they force you to purchase and carry this card for 25,000 kyat ($18.75), good for five days:
I stayed at the Royal Bagan Hotel ($63 for two nights), which offered the perfect location for walkable-food and easy access to temples. Hotels in Myanmar haven’t seemed to figured out the niceties one expects of tourist areas, but it was clean and nicely located.
My biggest disappointment was a canceled hot air balloon ride because of bad weather. It’s not the company’s fault; safety is the most important thing. I booked and was refunded successfully with Balloons Over Bagan ($340). You can also check out Oriental Ballooning ($399) but they all fly on the same days. Ballooning only happens October to April, so hopefully I’ll book another trip during these months.
Walking around is fun as long as you keep as good attitude about those asking you to buy things. Also, beware of the Skynet signs haha:
With over 2,200 temples, pagodas, and stupas to see in Bagan, I went for a ride in a horse cart one day. I overpaid at 10,000 MMK Myanmar kyat / $7.35 but I preferred it to renting a bicycle or scooter (2000-7000 MMK/day). Bulethi Pagoda at sunset was probably one of my favorite memories.
I had some really good food while was there (e.g. avocado salad, sour pork curry, mutton curry, papaya salad, tea leaf salad, butterfish) and cheap-but-just-okay-beer.