Tag Archives | Burma

Beautiful Burma

We get asked a lot, “What is your favorite place you’ve traveled?” My standard answer for the past 10 years has always been Turkey, and a shout out for my love Paris.  If I had a dollar for every time I said that, I would be headed back to the Istanbul all-expenses paid.  That all changed last year. Luci and I went to Burma.  Burma changed my favorite place answer and more importantly, it changed me.

Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, is located in between India and Thailand.  Burma has a rich history, one of beauty and conflict.  If you can get beyond the challenges and meet the people and storied history, you are in for a powerful journey.

Our trip to the region took us to two strikingly different areas within the country: Bagan and Mt. Popa. Both are not to be missed, and candidly, they are the tip of the iceberg of Burmese beauty and mystery.

Before You Go

Be aware that the Myanmar government limits where foreigners are able to travel.  It is critical that you understand in advance where you are allowed to travel.  Going to and from Bagan, Myanmar, will not take you anywhere near prohibited areas. No need to worry.  Myanmar has made giant leaps forward in welcoming tourists.  Don’t forget to arrange your visa: https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/.  It is helpful to learn a few basic phrases in Burmese. English is not widely spoken beyond the tourist areas. 

Getting There

There are two major international airports in the country: Yangon, the capital, and Mandalay.  If your focus is Bagan, Mandalay is the best choice.  We elected to connect via Bangkok, Thailand.  Connection options include many of the major hubs in Asia. 

Currency

The currency of Myanmar is the Myanmar Kyat.  While we did find ATMs in Bagan, they were not plentiful.  We would recommend not going thin on cash, as credit cards are not widely accepted.  The exchange rate is favorable to Westerners, making Burma perfect for the budget focused traveler. We often joke that Myanmar makes Thailand look expensive. We found the food, accommodation, and transportation to be very affordable. Luci got a two-hour massage for $12.

We landed at the Mandalay Airport and we had arranged in advance a car service to take us the four-hour drive to Bagan.  If you arrive after 4 p.m., we might recommend that you overnight in Mandalay and then take the drive into Bagan.  Half of the drive will be on a modern freeway.  The remainder of the drive will be winding through small Burmese towns and fields. There are few road signs and the roads can be rough. We loved the drive and were glad we didn’t elect to rent a car.

Beautiful Bagan

Bagan is steeped in spiritual and political history.  It once was the capital city of the Pagan Kingdom.  It was a thriving center of commerce and religious practice from the 9th to the 13th centuries. At its height, it was home to over 10,000 Buddhist temples and monasteries.  Later, a number of Hindu temples were added to the mix. Today, you can visit over 2,000 different structures that dot the valley.  It truly rivals Angkor Wat.  Most, if not all, of the temples are open to visitors.  A number of earthquakes have rocked the area over the centuries.  Some of the temples are in disrepair and some of the larger temples are under reconstruction.  In August 2016 a major earthquake hit the area and over 400 temples were destroyed.  For obvious reasons, do not delay your visit to the area.

Getting Around

We highly recommend renting an electric scooter.  They are simple to drive and very affordable.  We paid $3 (US currency) a day!  They brought them right to our B and B.  The temples are spread out and the valley is vast.  There is no way to do it on foot.  We recommend the first day of your visit to hire a guide that can give you an introduction and overview of the history and religious importance of the temples. 

Rent a scooter!

Sunrise and Sunset

The Bagan Valley is one of the most photogenic locations we have ever visited.  This is especially true during the “golden hour” at dawn and dusk.  During the right season, you can board a hot air balloon. We unfortunately, we didn’t time our visit to allow this. Bummer. The views from the balloons must be amazing! Next trip!

Visiting Temples

Know that most temples are still active religious centers. You will be expected to show reverence and respect.   This begins with the attire.  It is important to be modest in your clothing choices.  You will be asked to remove you shoes in most temples.  This can be very hot on the feet and a nightmare for germaphobes (Luci). In the major temples, you will be asked to keep your voices low.

Accommodations

Good news, bad news.  Major hotel chains have not landed in Bagan.  This is great news.  Bad news is the good places fill up quickly.  Most have a mom and pop B and B feel.  Make your bookings early.  We recommend the Tripadvisor.com to get the latest intel on the best places to rest your head.  We stayed at the Bluebird.  It was beyond our expectations. The service rivaled a five star hotel and the food was excellent.

Bagan Temple

The Food

There are a number of restaurants along the Irrawaddy River.  Dinner at sunset overlooking the river is magical.  While there a host of different options for every taste, western options are limited.  Most of the fruits and veggies are locally sourced.  The local specialty is actually peanuts.  They are sooo good!  Bring us back some?

A view of the Buddhist compound from Mt. Popa

Mt. Popa

A wonderful side trip from Bagan is going to Mt. Popa.  The Mt. Popa National Park is densely forested former volcano.  It is nothing short of beautiful.  There are a number of resorts overlooking the famous Buddhist monastery that is perched on a volcanic outcropping.   Words cannot describe just how beautiful it is.

Getting There

Getting to Mt. Popa is simple.  Just hire a car and take the 1 hour 30 drive.  There is are interesting little town right at the base of the volcano that has an incredible selection of fruit.  The exotic fresh fruit is yummy!

Needless to say, Bagan is one of the special places on the planet.  In time, we worry that it will become over commercialized as Angkor has.  Visit soon to see it in its pristine beauty. 

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Romance, Leeches and Elephants?

Thailand is likely best known for its inviting beaches and vibrant cities.  One of the best kept secrets of old Siam is its rain forests.  A short and affordable drive from either Phuket or Krabi, is the crown jewel of the Thailand forests, Khao Sok National forest.   Khao Sok is perfect for the active couple.  There is so much to offer!

Romance Tree HouseOne fun idea for lodging is to stay in a tree house deep in the forest!  We chose “Our Jungle House” located on the edge of the national forest.  It offers “rustic” accommodation with excellent service.   The Jungle House is located right on a small river that offers great wading and if you wish, take an inner tube float from the bridge down to the resort.  The resort has a main lodge and a number of cabins and tree houses along the river.  Many command excellent views and all are spaced out enough to make you feel like you’re the only ones out there!  Of course the “Fighting Couple” elected to take “Romance Tree House”.

 

What to do

Bird of ParadiseDay hikes

There are so many great little day hikes all through the park.  When you arrive at the entrance, pay your 100Baht entry fee and they will supply you with a really good map.  Scope out your adventure according to your time.  There a many lakes, waterfalls as well as caves to explore.  Remember to pack your water and take your time as you hike due to the extreme heat and humidity.   Take your time and don’t overdo it.  Better yet, pack a picnic and spend the entire day exploring one of the pristine rain forest in Asia.   Hiring a guide is up to you.  It is Thailand, so they do come cheap.  Many of the hikes are just fine as self guided adventures.

 

If you are looking for more pictures of the Rain Forest, check out the Fighting Couple on Facebook.

Night hikes

You can arrange through the park or your lodging a night hike to explore the jungle.  A number of the creepy crawlers can only be seen at night.  Our guide’s command of english was limited, but the flora and fauna was truly beautiful.  One thing to be mindful of when traipsing through the rainforest is to beware of Leeches.  Yes, we said leeches.  They fall from the trees and are about an inch long and very skinny (that is before they latch on and begin to vampire you).   Our guide was wearing shorts and sandals.  He kept picking these little things off his toes.  Mike was supremely confident since he was wearing long slacks with tall socks and shoes that no harm would come from these pesky things.  Oh contraire!  Once we returned to our “romance” tree house,  Mike found that he had acquired an unintended souvenir, a leech.  It latched on just above the kneecap.  It came off fairly easy, but the blood flowed for quite awhile.  following are some of the shots we caught while in the Jungle:

Thailand night hike

 Elephant expedition  This is Thailand, so everywhere you turn there is a vendor wanting you to sign up with them to “ride and elephant”.   If all you want is a quick photo op, go ahead.   On you hop, then a quick saunter around the parking lot, and you are done.  Boring!   If you really want to experience a true elephant adventure, work with your accommodation to take a half day trek.  Our elephant wranglers loaded us in the back of a pickup at our hotel and took us up in the mountains.  We were assigned an “elephant driver”.  We mounted our pachyderm and off we went.  The driver sits on the elephants neck offering verbal cues as to our path.  Words and pictures cannot capture just how gorgeous our trek was.  It felt like something out of Jurassic Park.  Stunning!  At our turn around point we had a swim in a waterfall fed lake.  It was a great day!  (Sorry, no fighting on this one)

Thailand Rain Forest

 

Thailand Rain forest

 

Thailand Rain Fores

The Thailand rain forest is not to be missed.  Thailand has it all, lovely beaches, lush rain forest and  the people are some of the most welcoming and gracious we have come across in our adventures.  So, have you been to Khao Sok?  What were your impressions?

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