Unlike many of our other travel destinations, we were strongly advised to properly plan in Burma. Whereas Nico and I generally like to ‘go with the flow’, experience a place and what it has to offer before planning our exit date, we acted to the contrary in Myanmar.
Our planning was driven by several factors, namely:
- a sudden increase of demand for hotel rooms as a result of Burma ‘opening to the West’;
- limitations on where exactly we could stay as not all hotels had licenses to host tourists;
- our aim to engage in ‘ethical tourism’ in Myanmar, whereby we endeavoured to avoid any expenditure directly given to military/government-owned enterprises;
- two key national events occurring at the same time as our visit: the first democratic elections in over 50 years and the biggest religious holiday of the year: Songkran (commonly referred to as the Water Festival);
- prices for budget accommodation and transport being disproportionately higher in Myanmar in relation to Cambodia, Thailand and Laos (amongst other factors).
We generally pre-booked all of our accommodation – usually 2-3 days in advance, sometimes earlier when possible. In regards to the Water Festival, we even booked our transport about 5-6 days in advance (we had previously been booking the night before a journey, but we’d been burnt on this count before).
The overnight 445 mile bus journey from Yangon to Mandalay may seem arduous, but it really is one of the best journeys you can have in Myanmar. Comfort levels are superb; water and air-conditioning are provided; there are sufficient rest stops along the way; and the road is relatively new, straight and well-constructed. If I wasn’t coughing whilst everyone around me tried to sleep, I probably would have enjoyed it more. Nonetheless, it was well worth the saving, and it gave us the opportunity to explore the northern part of Myanmar as well as the south.
Whilst in Mandalay, unfortunately, my energy levels were still sub-optimal due to illness. We did, however, work our legs up the hundreds and hundreds of steps leading to Mandalay Hill overlooking Burma’s second largest city and former royal capital of Mandalay. Unfortunately, the view of the sunset was interrupted by smog and fog and pollution and dust arising from the roads and paths of the city. This did not stop us, however, from befriending a red-robed monk, who revealed the Buddhist legends behind the religious statues and monuments of Mandalay Hill, all the while practising his English with us, the wacky travelling wayfarers.
We also took a mini-trip to a township outside of Mandalay called Amarapura. Here, we experienced a beautiful sunset and the picturesque, teak, U Bein bridge. I have loads of great pictures from this wonderful evening. I’ll share some below.