A few travel tips for Myanmar (Burma)
Many travelers like Myanmar because of the wonderful and amazing people. And I think they are absolutely right. Especially in areas away from the popular tourist destinations. And it is still very simple to explore the authentic way of life in Myanmar. Visit a big market in the outskirts of Yangon for example, or stay a couple of nights in Sagaing, take enough time to visit the monasteries there and get in touch with the monks and the Buddhism way of life. In a monastery in Sagaing I asked the monks if they receive a lot of visitors, they answered that I am the second tourist since a couple of years!
Here a few practical tips if you like to visit Myanmar any time soon. The travel guides like for example the Lonely Planet from 2011 are already partly outdated. Things are changing too quickly in Myanmar right now.
Changing money: Don't listen to the travel guides like Lonely Planet! You get by far the best rates at the airport. You should change money directly when you arrive in Yangon. Or you go to Bogyoke Aung San Market, leave all the black market moneychangers behind and go to a small bank at the far end of the market to change money with a very good rate. They also accept smaller banknotes for the same rate, which the black market moneychangers don't do.
Hotel or guesthouse reservations: The internet forums are full of concerns and warnings that nowadays it is almost impossible to go to places like Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake or Bagan without hotel reservation. My opinion: most of them are right. It is not like that all hotels are fully booked all the time. But especially if a lot of big groups stay at the same time in the same city, suddenly all hotels are blocked. So yes, I saw a lot of people going from hotel to hotel or guesthouse asking for empty rooms. I was happy that I had advanced reservation for all my hotel rooms. You can make the reservation over the internet here: Exotic Myanmar or Green Palace Travels & Tours. It may take a few days for the answer, but they answer and they are doing a great job. I booked a couple of months in advanced and it was much cheaper than paying directly at the hotel.
Yangon: Take the circle train! It's a three and a half hour slow-moving trip around Yangon for 1 Dollar. You get a wonderful ticket with a stamp and signature and your name written on it, alone the ticket is worth the Dollar ... be aware, that sometimes the train stops for 15 or 20 minutes, so better bring a lot of time. If you are lucky you meet young people in the train at the weekend who would like to improve their English and they explain you everything about Yangon. In Danyingone is a big market located directly at the train station, it is a great idea to hop off the train, visit the market and take the next train back to Yangon. If you are hungry try all the delicious snacks offered at the train station or in the train like water melons, roasted peanuts, pineapples or sweet cakes, you get the snacks for 100 Kyat each.
Sagaing: Stay in Sagaing for a few days instead of Mandalay. It is a wonderful place to visit the monasteries and have a chat with the monks. The funny thing was when I arrived in Sagaing with my prepaid voucher for the Happy Hotel: The hotel was collapsed because of the earthquake in November! Luckily on the other side of the street a new hotel opened a few years ago, and they even accepted my prepaid voucher without problems ...
Sunset in Mandalay: if you would like to avoid the tourists on Manadalay Hill why not enjoying the sunset at the sunset view point directly at the riverbank of the Ayeyarwaddy River? Here you can watch the local fishermen at work or children taking a shower at the river.
Domestic flights: Always check one day before the flight to confirm the schedule. I had 2 domestic flights, and both were changed, one was 5 hrs later; the other was 2 hrs earlier!
Mandalay to Inle Lake: Take a shared taxi from Mandalay to Inle Lake. This is a cheap and convenient way to go from Mandalay directly to Nyaung Shwe. It takes about 8 hrs and costs about 30.000 Kyat. Expect a Toyota Corolla mostly shared with locals, but don't expect seatbelts or air conditioning.
I recommend if you are planning to visit Myanmar, go as soon as possible! The life in Myanmar is changing, and it is changing very fast. OK, it is just the beginning, and the vast majority of the people is still very poor and lives their traditional life. But you can see the changes when you talk to the people: Most of the young men at the age of 18 or 20 meanwhile think Bermuda shorts are far more comfortable and convenient than a Longyi. Many families dream of a house made of stones instead of traditional bamboo. I asked why most of the old and beautiful teakwood monasteries are abandoned and only used as a museum. I got the answer, that also in Myanmar people love the new and clean and therefore "beautiful" buildings, and nobody would like to live in dusty dirty old wooden monasteries! Well, beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder, and honestly, I can't blame the monks for that, although I love the old monasteries. The youth is watching Korean TV, and the boys and novices of course watch Champions League or the English Premier League. But apparently all boys all over the world are doing that, even the boys in a small remote tribal village in Ethiopia on my last visit were listening to the radio to follow the latest news about the match between Manchester United and Chelsea - so this is obviously nothing special :)