Myanmar in Ten Days: Days 1 – 2

This past February, I took a trip to Myanmar with my good friend Sarah. As we were both teaching in Shanghai at the time, we wanted to take this opportunity to explore Southeast Asia during the Chinese New Year holiday. We visited Mandalay, Bagan, and ended our trip in Yangon. 

Day 1 – Mandalay

We landed in Mandalay at around 3pm on a Sunday. The airport is fairly small and underdeveloped. Depending on the time you arrive, there may or may not be services available. From what I remember, the only place that was open at the time was a shuttle service and a money changer. 

 

Our priorities for the day: get to our hotel and get food! We exchanged what RMB we had in our wallets and took a taxi from the airport direct to our hostel, the Moon Light Hotel, which cost maybe 30 CAD (for reference, the exchange rate at the time of our travel was about 1 CAD to 1000 MMK). 

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Small but cozy. Our room was very neat, clean and tidy (until we arrived, that is).

 

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We stayed at the Moon Light Hotel for 3 nights, which cost us about 50 USD. The hotel is very new, staff are extremely friendly, and breakfast is included. 
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Breakfast featured both Asian and Western cuisine.

 

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View of the city from the dining room.

 

If you haven’t traveled Asia before, some of the imagery you encounter can be pretty jarring. While our hotel was tidy imitation of some Western hotels, just outside you can see signs of impoverishment; unpaved roads, large piles of garbage, stray animals, and the like. Not a vacation destination for the faint of heart. 

 

For dinner, we walked to Mingalabar, the #1 rated restaurant on Trip Advisor in Mandalay, and boy – did it live up to those standards! For bout 15 CAD, we had a beer, lime soda, soup, rice, a main of lamb curry, and dessert. The main course comes with all the side dishes you see below, the idea being that you can customize each bite according to your taste preference. The side dishes they serve vary from night to night, but ours featured peanuts, fish, potatoes, cauliflower, a shrimp paste, and some raw vegetables. 

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So good we went back the next day!

 

A word of caution… 

Our biggest mistake on this trip was not bringing enough CASH! We had read online that there have been many improvements in the big cities in terms of ATMs being available. Having come from China, both of us have UnionPay cards that are accepted at many ATMs throughout Myanmar, according to research. We did not, however, factor into account that these ATMS may not be regularly maintained, so many that we visited were out of cash! 

 

[For some mysterious reason, I was not able to withdraw ANY money on my UnionPay card, but luckily Sarah was able to to do on her Canadian bank card.]

Long story short, to avoid running into this issue, I would recommend bringing enough cash with you to last the trip. But beware of pickpockets, especially in touristy places! 

Day 2 – Mandalay Palace

Our second day was spent getting acquainted with the city, hitting up every ATM we encountered, and getting SIM cards. I would highly recommend getting a SIM with a data plan for your travels, as it makes life significantly easier (access to GPS, Trip Advisor, etc.) SIM cards are fairly cheap and top ups are easy to come by (most convenience stores will have them). Popular carriers include Oredoo and Telenor. 

 

In the afternoon, we asked our hotel to help us call a taxi to take us to Mandalay Palace. If you call a taxi through your hotel, the prices are usually set (though still very reasonable). If you choose to hail your own transport, usually there is a bit more room to negotiate. Keep in mind that these are not “taxis” in the Western sense, but rather random strangers you’re waving down in the streets who happen to have a car and want to make a few extra bucks driving people around. 

To get into the Palace grounds, you need a visitor’s pass. You’ll be asked to leave your passport with the guards in exchange for one. We did not have our passports with us, but luckily, they accepted Sarah’s drivers licence (phew!). In the area surrounding the palace there’s a park and some temples and pagodas. We just walked around and took our time exploring the area. 

At one of the vendors, a girl offered to paint our faces with thanaka, a yellow-white paste made from tree bark. We later learned that wearing thanaka is like putting on clean clothes; worn by people of both genders who may perceived as “unruly” if you did not put it on, though trends seem to be changing in the big cities. 
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Thanaka is used for both cosmetics and as sun protection.

 

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In the afternoon, we ate at a restaurant in town and freshened up at the hotel before heading out again in the evening. We went back to Mingalabar (which means “Hello” in Burmese) for dinner, and walked to the bar across the street for cocktails.

Day 3 – Mandalay Hill

Early next morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and took a taxi to the Lion’s Gate entrance of Mandalay Hill. Mandalay hill is a popular destination at night time, as many tourists often go to see the sunset. I found the views in the fresh morning air just fine, and seeing as there were hardly any people around during the hike up, wonderfully peaceful. 
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Entrance to Mandalay Hill.

 

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The majority of the climb is done under a covered walkway. The climb must be done barefoot, so we left our shoes by the entrance. (You pay 1000 ks for someone to “look after” them).

 

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You’ll meet many strays along the way. Cats, dogs, turkeys even!

 

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Lots of buildings, sculptures and pit stops along the way to the top.

 

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Part of the covered walkway up the hill.

 

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There are many scenic places to stop and take photos along the way!

 

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You’ll know you’re at the top once you reach the giant escalator that takes you down Mandalay Hill. We opted to take a shuttle down for 2000 ks instead. 
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Blue shuttle bus that took us down from the top of Mandalay Hill.

 

Final verdict: Mandalay Hill is a must! Definitely enjoyed our morning hike. We took our time, and stopped a lot to take photos and enjoyed the scenery. 

 

I can’t remember what else we did in the evening (ate food somewhere definitely), but the morning hike did take up a lot of our energy. A day well spent overall. 

​NEXT UP: A private tour to the ancient cities in Mandalay (click here for Day 4 details). 

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