Seven Must-do Activities for Travellers in Myanmar

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Dov Rawson

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Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is undoubtedly one of my favourite countries I’ve visited. The people are the most warm and kind I’ve met across the world and the landscape is all kinds of awesome. I knew NOTHING about the country before I landed, having been convinced by my sister just a week earlier to book a flight from Thailand and meet her there.

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Myanmar only opened their borders to tourists over the last few years but it’s expected to become a hugely popular travel destination in no time at all. Try and get there as soon as possible. I went to Thailand first – which is beautiful – but I’d probably describe the tourist-swarmed neighbouring country as a “trashed Myanmar.”

Myanmar is massive and you can only get a 28 day visa so here are seven things I did which I HIGHLY recommend you try and do too.

1. Climb a temple in Bagan and watch the sunrise

This is probably my number one thing to do in Myanmar. The ancient city of Bagan is a place like no other. Hire a motorised scooter (they’re cheap) for the day and make sure to get to a temple for sunrise at least once or twice. We arrived in Bagan at around 4:30am and decided to go straight to a temple for sunrise, on recommendation of our taxi driver. You can find secluded and busy temples but the taxi driver took us to a busy one and it was the best possible way to start my time in Myanmar.

After climbing up to the top, you watch Bagan slowly reveal itself as daylight arrives. Every day, tens of hot air balloons make their way over the majestic city as the sun comes up, leaving you in a state of awe (and with some incredible photographs.) Unaware of the oncoming hot air balloons, my sister thought I’d left the temple and climbed down before the hot air balloons took off. 45 minutes later, I found her happily eating noodles for breakfast with some locals but she wasn’t too pleased when she realised what she missed. We stayed for three days so it was no issue.

Actually going in the hot air balloon will set you back around 300USD (steep) but watching it from a temple won’t cost you a cent. If you go to a busy temple, local artists may try and sell you their work.

2. Go temple hopping in Bagan

Well you’ve come all the way to Bagan so go and see the temples! The motorised scooters are good to get around but they do run out of battery if you plan to use them all day – as is what happened to two of our five person convoy when heading back after sunset. If this happens, leave it and take a photo (and general directions) to show to the people you rented it from so they can go out and find it.

You could pay for a tour guide but there’s really no need as the locals are friendly and helpful, albeit with limited English. Get a map and go and see some temples which date back to the 10th century – you can get some good recommendations when you’re there.

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3. Hike at Mount Popa

A 90 minute drive from Bagan, our group of six paid a minibus driver approximately £5 (11,000 kyat) each to drive us both ways. Most climb the 777 steps up to the Mount Popa monastery but we elected for a more challenging hike nearby of around 3-4 hours round trip. The uphill hike starts and ends at the incredibly lavish Mt. Popa Mountain Resort (photo at top of page), where we celebrated our achievement with some expensive food and a gorgeous sunset.

The actual hike is moderately difficult but prepare for incredible views and a few cheeky monkeys at the summit. Alternatively, the steep walk to the Mount Popa monastery is supposedly 45 minutes and I’d recommend doing at least one of the two hikes.

4. Anisakan Waterfall

A 30 minute drive from Pynn Oo Lyin followed by a difficult 30 minute hike (each way) will see you arrive at the breathtaking Anisakan Falls. You can swim at the bottom of the gigantic and powerful waterfall but there’s a steep walkway to the right of the waterfall which will lead you to the top of the first segment of the waterfall. Not for those who suffer bad vertigo, you can stand right on the edge of the falls and it is also a fairytale place for a swim. Ask the locals to point out the walkway if you’re confused but save some energy for the steep hike back to the road, where you’ve probably arranged a taxi to wait for you.

Side note – Two great recommendations for Pynn Oo Lyin: Orchid Nan Myaning Hotel/Hostel and an amazingly authentic Indian restaurant named ‘Krishna’. Curry to die for.

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5. Take a boat on Inle Lake

Yet another extraordinary place in Myanmar which will feel like a dream. Although most go a little later in the day, six of us arranged a boat to take us out for an (unforgettable) sunrise for a combined total of 18000 kyat (£10). The boat driver took us around for six hours, stopping at islands which he recommended or places we had read about. Despite our best efforts, we failed to find the infamous “cat jumping monastery” on the lake – which apparently no longer exists.

Thousands of people live on the massive lake in stilt houses and many of them make a living on the lake too; fishing, weaving, making cigars or working at the floating island market, among others. They welcome you to enter their various workplaces under the pretence of you hopefully buying something. At the cigar making island, they showed and explained how they are made before insisting we try their different types of cigars. On something of an Inle Lake high, I splurged a little and bought a handmade lampshade (?!), a fairly ridiculous outfit for my nephew and some ‘street food’ at the food market.

You cannot leave Myanmar without going to Inle Lake!

6. Visit the bat cave at sunset

Arriving at the Soe Brothers Guesthouse in Hpa-An, we saw they ran a bat cave evening tour at sunset. A group of fellow travellers joined us in a mini pick-up truck and we headed to the bat cave whilst making acquaintances. A short walk followed and then it was a waiting game, whilst finding a good spot to watch the incredible bat exodus.

As the sun set, hundreds of thousands of bats flew out together for around half an hour, with amazing views overlooking the river and the bridge. An old couple with kids come to the pagoda at sunset everyday and bang makeshift drums which the bats move in unison too. An experience not to be missed.

7. Cave tour

Another excellent (and cheap) guided tour booked the night before at the Soe Brothers Guesthouse. A mini pick-up truck took us to five caves/temples around Hpa-an – an area famous for its numerous surrounding caves, mountains and beautiful green landscape. At 3000 kyat, the Cat Groon Cave was the only cave which charged entry but, to be frank, was not really worth it. Next to the temple, the playful monkeys and a steep climb to a breathtaking viewpoint are much more interesting.

The sight of amazingly intricate Buddhist art inside the caves is something to behold. After walking through the Saddar Cave, the extra 1500 kyat to take a boat back to the waiting tuk-tuk is definitely worth it. You’ll be out from 8:30 to 5:30 and my sister and I found this a great place to end our time in Myanmar.

Pretty irrelevant to the article but I met some of the most incredible people I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet during my three weeks in Myanmar. Unforgettable.

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