Roundup Myanmar: A magical country in transformation

Bagan at SunsetI had actually planned to travel Myanmar right at the beginning of my trip. Uncertainties about the needed budget and the accomodation situation (it was high season back then) eventually kept me from going. But I could never really get it out of my mind. The things I had read and the stories I heard from fellow travelers who had been there just made me more and more curious. At one point I thought that I had to go and from then on it all went pretty quickly. I booked my tickets, arranged my visa in Kuala Lumpur and got a big stash of clean and crisp dollar bills. I was excited and was expecting a country very different from all the other places I have visited and with hopefully less tourism. At that point I didn’t know that my expectation would be more than exceeded.

I arrived in Myanmar during the end of the low and rainy season, a fact that was at first troubling me a bit. What if it would constantly rain, what if roads would be flooded or even washed away? But it turned to be the best decision ever and it changed my view of traveling Asia during that time of the year. The weather was mostly sunny, apart from short downpours, not too hot and it was evident that there were less tourists than usual. Sorting out accommodation was never a problem and prices were actually ok. Another thing I had been worrying about before.

Myanmar itself is a country of contrasts which already became evident during my first stop in the capital of Yangon. It was raw, rugged and sometimes dirty but yet so authentic, beautiful and interesting. Men walking around in their traditional skirts, the Longyi, women wearing traditional makeup, the Thanaka, monks and nuns as integral and ever present part of society and the most intricate temples and stupas I have ever seen. I can say that I was amazed from the first day on and that feeling never released me until my departure.

Yangon streets at night

A small oasis of shelter and serenity in the middle of the city.

Yangon Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon by day. So big…. need a wide angle lens.

Burma, as Myanmar was referred to until 1998, offered a wide range of interesting sites to explore. From the ancient temples of Bagan, the many monasteries and traditional workshops of Mandalay to scenic Inle Lake with its many traditional markets. The country is just a feast for the eye and a heaven for every photographer. At the same time everything is much more authentic, less designed for tourists and more traditional than in any other South East Asian country right now. It makes exploring the beauty of this place so much more worthwhile and exciting.

Mandalay workshops

A traditional workshop in Mandalay

However, what struck me most was the friendliness and helpfulness of the Burmese people. They can be so courteous that, given my experiences in other Asian countries, I sometimes wondered what they really wanted. But no hidden agendas, no fleecing. People were just friendly and curious about foreigners and always tried to help. Another striking feature was their remarkable generosity. On a trip through the Shan Highlands me and my travel buddy Aris were hosted and offered food several times by the villagers who themselves had so little. It’s hard to explain but all of this altered my own attitude as I was traveling and I was very content and well balanced during the entire trip. I just felt at ease and very happy to be there at this dynamic time.

Mandalay-Mingun Pahtodawgyi stupa

Mingun Pahtodawgyi stupa – the dimensions are insane.

Around Mandalay - escapology.eu

Somewhere around Mandalay …

A few practical things on traveling Myanmar: Traveling was actually a lot easier than I expected. You actually don’t need a big stash of dollar notes anymore. Functioning ATMs are everywhere already with more being set up as I write this. A lot of places have improved their accommodation situation with new guesthouses and hotels having just recently opened. The overland transportation by bus is good with new and comfortable buses plowing the main routes across the country day and night. So I guess, traveling is not the adventure as it used to be until just recently. Also tourism in Myanmar has skyrocketed during the last few years. With almost every tourist doing the same sort of loop (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake), it can become crowded, especially during peak season. Don’t expect deserted sites or lonesome sunsets. That being said, it is very easy to venture off the beaten path and get in touch with the locals. This is something I can recommend everyone to do at least once. It is so worth it and you will probably have an unforgettable experience. Despite its touristic hotspots, the country’s tourism is still less developed than in for example Thailand or Vietnam. Even in places like Inle Lake or Bagan you can have those magical and unique experiences that make you rave over your vacation when back home.

Some of the kids welcoming us.

Some of the kids welcoming us.

A night in a Burmese monastery

A memorable night

For me Myanmar was a truly magical place. Magical because of its intriguing mix of friendly people, an omnipresent spirituality and an unmatched degree of authenticity. Almost wherever I went, I had amazing and rewarding encounters with the local people and for me this really makes traveling a foreign country the unique experience it is.

Where I have been:
3 days Yangon
3 days Bagan
4 days, Mandalay
4 days Hsipaw
2 days Remote village somewhere close to Hsipaw
1 day Mandalay
2 day Inle Lake
2 days Yangon

Transportation used:
Taxi, Scooter, Small Ferry, Excursion boat, Bicycle, Public Bus, Minivans, Trains, Horse Cart, Night Bus, E-Bike

Like:
The friendly people, The country’s authenticity, The spirituality

Dislike:
Pricey accommodation in the main cities, ridiculous arrival times of night buses

Types of accommodation:
Hotel, Guesthouse, Monastery, Village Homestay, Nightbus

Highlights:
Hiking into a remote village in the Shan Highlands, spending the night in the monastery

Lowlights:
Can’t think of a real lowlight here

Photos shot and kept on file:
932

Next:
About a month in Vietnam crossing the country from the far North to the South

Below I put a selection of my favorite Myanmar pictures. I hope you enjoyed my reports and the accompanying photographs. Feel free to message me or share your thoughts about your experiences traveling Myanmar or traveling in general. Thanks all for stopping by and the positive feedback. That really keeps me motivated.

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Categories: Myanmar / Burma, Photography, Roundups | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 47 Comments

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47 thoughts on “Roundup Myanmar: A magical country in transformation

  1. Babygirl

    Love it. Your pictures never fail to inspire.

  2. Incredible write-up. So glad you loved Myanmar. For me, Bagan is one of the most impressive places I been in Asia.

    • Hi Lee, thank for stopping by and taking time to read this post. Bagan is impressive, for sure. The fat, that you have so many temples and ruins which are not even close as frequented as for example Angkor Wat makes it so unique. I have the impression that this might change very soon. I am glad that I made it there before tourism really takes over this place. One of the few places where I regularly got up before sunrise, hehe. When did you go?

      • I visited Myanmar in October last year. I did not visit many places, just Yangon and Bagan. One day I would like to return and go to the famous Ngapali Beach.

      • Philipp Dukatz

        I just read an article about the Southern Islands of Myanmar in the Andaman Sea. It is supposed to be totally untouched and like Thailand 70 years ago – I think that would be interesting to see. … one day … How do you get to travel so much if I may ask? Did you also quit your job or how did you manage?

  3. Alex

    Great account and pics…its hard to pick a favorite aspect of Myanmar because all of it is so unique and beautiful and different (like the things you see in Mandalay are completely different than what you experience in Bagan, which in turn is nothing like Inle Lake…yet it’s all fascinating). I loved the gigantic Mingun unfinished stupa in Mandalay, it looked like something out of a science fiction movie (like Stargate!?!). Unbelievable how much manpower (and stone) it must have taken to build just the fraction that remains…beautiful pics, thanks for the trip down ‘memory lane’!

    • Hi Alex, thanks again for feedback. You summed it up pretty well I have to say. everywhere you went, it was different but so interesting and fascinating. It just never got old and time flew by really quickly. The unfinished stupa was great and I was actually lucky to go there. I did’t even plan on staying another day in Mandalay but transportation didn’t work out the way I wanted so I had to spend another night. You never know what things are good for.

  4. Kyong

    Wow..just wow. You have a great eye for capturing the essence and allure of each moment in your pictures. I was in Myanmar for over 2 weeks during the peak season and it was still just as you described it. The people and culture were so genuine and authentic. Thanks for sharing your experience and making it so tangible and vicarious.

    Cheers!

    • Yo Kyong, how are you man? Good you enjoyed Myanmar as well. It’s a magical country. But I guess surfing Bali is good for a change as well, right? Keep it up my friend and enjoy while it lasts! Phil

  5. Kirsty's Nest

    I must say I think you take the most incredible photographs I have ever seen!

    • Hi Kirsty, thanks for stopping by again. I am happy that you enjoy my photos. Myanmar was a rewarding country for a photographer I have to say. But my upcoming reports on Vietnam will also feature some nice shots. Regular practice with the camera is the thing that makes you improve. How are you doing anyhow? How about your travel plans? Cheers, Philipp

  6. Pingback: Yangon a minute! | backpackerlee

  7. Loved your post! I’m in the planning stages of a trip to Myanmar for the fall and your pictures were fabulously inspiring!

    • Hi Jen, thanks for stopping by. Where are you from and what do you wanna see in Myanmar? It’s a great country to visit and fall should be perfect as I did during that time of the year as well. If you need some advice before going or something don’t hesitate to get in touch. Always glad to help out. Cheers, Philipp

      • Hi Philipp, I’m a phd candidate from the US doing my dissertation research in Taipei. I’m planning on heading to Myanmar from Taiwan. I really want to go to Myanmar to explore the temples in Bagan, the culture in and around Inle Lake, and to see a bit of Asia that has just recently opened to outsiders. Right now I’m just in the planning stage, but I’m looking forward to purchasing tickets and booking hotels! – Jen

    • sounds great Jen, let me know if you need some input in terms of planning your trip. How is Taiwan then? That is definitely one of the countries I wanna visit next. Heard so many good things about it and I also know some people there. One day … πŸ˜‰

  8. Thank you for the wonderful pictures. This was an amazing experience for all your future readers!

  9. I think I’m almost halfway done reading your travels.haha And I’m really glad I found your blog. I’ve also traveled to the countries you’ve posted here, except for Indonesia (hopefully this year, might visit Tanah Toraja after reading your post), and it’s so wonderfully nostalgic to read your adventures and experiences especially in those relatively ‘remote’ places you’ve visited (Hsipaw and Burma in general, Muang Ngoi). Glad to find and it’s so refreshing to encounter a blogger that explores and prefers the more remote areas. πŸ™‚ Looking forward to reading more about your upcoming adventures. (P.S. Glad you had a great time in the Philippines!)

    • Hi Angelica, thanks for stopping by and I a glad you like my little travel documentaries. So funny that you have been also been to some of the places I have visited. Seems we have the same sort of taste for adventure. and yeah, going remote is the best and most rewarding type of traveling. I read a bit on your blog and I really like it. Especially the articles about India and trekking in Nepal. Two things that I really really wanna do. Hopefully one day and hopefully soon. How was it and how much time did you spend in each of these countries? OK, I better go – I wanna edit some of my Vietnam pictures tonight. Take care, Phil

      • Yes, going to remote places seem to be the most rewarding type of traveling. πŸ™‚ I spent a month each in India and Nepal back in 2011. Let’s just say that my daily budget for these two countries were cheaper than for Southeast Asia. You can also do independent trekking in Nepal, right now USD20-25 is the average daily cost during the trek. My travels in these two countries have also been very rewarding. India is definitely challenging, but it’s so different from everywhere else I’ve ever been to. It requires so much patience from travelers, but it gives you back more than what you could have expected. Trekking in the Himalayas has been my favorite adventure so far. I’ve been there twice, and I know I’ll be going back for more treks in the future. I’m pretty sure you’ll have a great time there too. πŸ˜‰ Just let me know if you need more information, I’d be happy to help.

    • Hi Angelica, thanks for the info. What did you like best in India and which party did you explore. It is so huge, I think I would prefer the North and Rajastan. But yeah, so much to see I guess. Also, which treks in Nepal did you do? I heard there is an abundance with lots of people doing the Amarapura trek or the Everest Base Camp. Maybe you can give me some info on that as well. Already thinking of my next trips hehe. Thanks a lot for your help, Philipp

      • I’ve only been to the North of India, and really liked my stay in Dharamsala. Which was interesting since it wasn’t part of the itinerary, a missed train going to Jaisalmer had us going there instead. And we were lucky to have seen and hear the Dalai Lama speak when we were there, and also see some parts of the Himalayas. I’d love to explore and trek more of the North in the coming years – maybe Leh and Spiti Valley. I’ve done Annapurna Sanctuary and Langtang Valley in Nepal. Annapurna is more famous but the base camp is really gorgeous. The trek is a bit strenous but not hard altitude-wise compared to EBC. Langtang is more isolated, which is also great if you want to stay away from the crowds. Btw, hope it’s okay that I send you an email? Just wanted to know more about Sulawesi, I’m planning a trip to Indonesia this year. Thanks πŸ™‚

    • Wow, your trip sounds great. Northern India and Nepal … I so wanna go. Thanks for your tips. If I have the chance, I will definitely get back in touch to get some more details. Concerning Sulawesi, you can of course send me an e-mail. Absolutely no problem, I am always glad to help. When are you planning to go? Oh by the way, where in the Phils do you actually live? I might have passed through ;).

      • Sure, just let me know if you need any help for India and Nepal. πŸ™‚ Will send you an email soon on Sulawesi and Indo in general, might go there early October. Thanks so much! I’m based in Manila right now but I grew up in Baguio City in Northern Luzon. You might have passed by it if you’ve been to the Cordilleras (Sagada, Batad).

    • Damn, it almost seems like 90 percent of all Filipino people live in Manila. What are you doing in Manila then? I did see the Cordilleras and it was great. It was actually one of my favorites in the Philippines. Riding topload on jeepneys through the mountains, the coffins in Sagada, the fresh air and Batad. Really, really nice there. If you like, you can check my article on or stay there …. was so much fun.

      http://ow.ly/tOk0I

      OK, just let me know what you need about Indo and Sulawesi. Always glad to help. Paalam, Philipp

      • Tell me about it! Manila as a crowded city is an understatement. haha But yes, the good jobs and money are here. Well, at least that’s what most Filipinos from the provinces think that’s why they all move to Manila to find jobs. The key to surviving Manila is living in a more quiet and peaceful place (it’s possible), or to go to the beaches as often as we can. πŸ˜‰ I love the Cordilleras too including the topload rides, the mountains, and the wild rivers. Did you go to Buscalan? Was lucky enough to meet Fang-od, the traditional tattoo artist there, and slept at their village on top of a mountain.

  10. Damn, I haven’t been to Buscalan. Where exactly is it? And what about that tattoo artist? That sounds really interesting I have to say. Would be something for next time. I bet it would make a good story as well. Did you write something about it on your blog?
    Which area in Manila do you live in? I had friends who lived in the Fort which is of course very nice but also quiet pricey. But the traffic in the city was terrible. I am not sure if I could be able to live there. The monetary compensation would have to be high, that’s for sure. Especially after you have seen all of those really nice and beautiful places in the Philippines. Damn, I really feel like going back. So much more to explore there ….

  11. Great summary of your travels in Myanmar Phil! Your photos are amazing as well. My husband and I spent 9 days there this past December and we loved it. We did a similar itinerary to yours: Mandalay-Pyin Oo Lwin- Hsipaw-Day trek to Palaung Village outside Hsipaw-Mandalay-Bagan-Heho-Trekking from near Kalaw-Inle Lake. My favorite part was the trek from Kalaw-Inle Lake. The countryside was so beautiful and the people were amazingly friendly. I’m a photographer as well and was really pleased to find the people loved to be photographed. With the interruptions of daily life back in the US I’m still going through my photos. I don’t mind though, it allows me to relive the trip. Enjoy the rest of your travels!

    • Hi Kristin, sounds like yo had a great trip. You might have seen a lot of the things that I did on your trip. How was your weather in December and how busy was it back then with tourists? Myanmar really was one of my favorite countries in Asia. So unique and so authentic. Thanks for stopping by, take care, Philipp

      • The weather in December was actually cooler than we had planned for. Mainly 70’s during the day and 50’s at night except for the night we spent in the village between Kalaw and Inle Lake. It was about 30 degrees that night. That was kind of unexpected but it was ok. In Bagan and Inle Lake there were a fair amount of tourists but not too bad. In Hsipaw not too many; there were about 8 of us on the trek and we saw a couple other trekkers with private guides. If there were 50 tourists in town that’s a lot. On the two day trek from Kalaw to Inle there were probably about 25 people doing the same trek which we only realized at a store/rest stop. What’s funny is we kept seeing the same people throughout the country which was kind of nice. I loved Myanmar as well, I felt that I saw how the people really live. They are so nice and honest. In fact, because they booked more people on the trek around Hsipaw they gave us money back. I would love to visit again and see the more remote parts of the country like Chin State.
        Enjoy your travels!

      • Hi Kristin,
        sounds you had a great time. I also found the people very nice and honest. sometimes, after having spent a lot of time in other Asian countries, I could not even believe it. I was looking for a catch or some dubious intention but people were just genuinely honest. I also wanna go back to see the more remote places. A friend of mine went up river from Mandalay to Katha and said he did not see any tourists at all. Also the Southern Islands are supposed to be super nice. Someone compared them to the Thai islands in the 1970s. Sounds very intriguing ….

  12. crazyguyinthailand

    Really really amazing pics πŸ™‚

  13. love your pictures! you’re inspiring me to travel to myanmar before the year ends. really want to do hot air ballooning in bagan

    • Hey there, thanks a lot. Myanmar is really a great place to visit, especially if you are into photography. I also checked out your blog and I really like your pictures too. Really nice. What gear are you currently using as I have to buy new equipment since all of mine got stolen in Saigon…. Cheers and greetings to Singapore! Phil

      • Hey Phil,

        Thanks for the kind words. I mostly shoot with my iphone or my samsung nx300. basic gear at the moment. yet to upgrade.

    • Dodn’t woory too much about gear. I have seen truly amazing iPhone photographs. You can still practice and get better. Just take your time and refrain from snapping away…. All the best, Philipp

  14. Esabela

    Ugh! I feel like I’m missing out and running out of time. I just *love* the captured images here. Each seems to tell a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing this – definitely on my bucket list (and yesterday I didn’t even have a bucket list *wink*).

    • No problem Esabella. Taking pictures there is truly amazing as the country is over photogenic. So nice…. I hope you will get the chance to visit it someday….and btw… I don’t have a bucket list either. Not really liking the whole concept of it πŸ˜‰

      • Esabela

        Thanks, Phil! Surely I will come visit the country – I hope sooner than later though. I gotta go back on the road (or in the air? πŸ™‚ ) as it has been a while since I last flew out. Thanks again and keep us posted!

    • Sure will, let me know if you plan on going and whether or not you need any tips or advice. Always glad to help …

  15. HI Phil,
    nice summary! I am going to Myanmar in September and am looking forward to it.
    Your posts about it are a good help and inspiration for planning the trip.
    Thank you!

    • HI Mandy, you are lucky that you get to go to Myanmar in September. Soo nice.. I bet you will have a wonderful trip. How long will you bestaying? Happy to have given you a little bit of inspiration. Keep me updated on how it goes..I wish I could go there again as well ….

  16. Just love the photo of you standing at: Mingun Pahtodawgyi Stupa , what an impressive sight, what a piece of history, what an impressive sight! Just amazing and so inspiring. Love this!

    • Mingun is very impressive although it is quite a touristy place. But yeah, it is worth checking out …. Cheers

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