Bagan and Inle Lake
I feel very lucky that I was able to visit Myanmar when I did and to date it is one of the most magical places I have been to. From delicious and unique food to some of the most hospitable people you will ever meet, Myanmar is at the top of my must see list.
Where to Stay
Stay Bagan: Hotel Empress is a quaint little hotel in the center of the new village. The rooms are basic but comfortable and they offer a great complimentary breakfast. This is where I fell in love with Burmese food! The hotel offers hire bikes for $3 for the whole day which is a great way to see the area. If you are alone or want a more social environment a lot of backpackers stay at the Hostel Ostello Bello which is also centrally located. This hostel is part of a larger chain throughout Europe and Asia and offers 24-hour check in, complimentary breakfast, and a bar (which is hard to find in Bagan). If you like it there is also one in Inle Lake and Mandalay. Remember that Myanmar is a relatively inexpensive country to travel to so it is a good time to splurge on a 5-star resort!
Where to Eat
Eat: Kauk Nyin Paung is the meal that got me hooked on Burmese breakfast. It consists of black sticky rice, crispy beans and is topped with oil and a salty seasame seed mix. They will often have small dishes of fermented pickles and beans that you can top it with and if you’re feeling really bold, you can add an egg. Don’t be afraid to ask your hotel for this dish because as a Westerner they will most likely automatically hand you a single fried egg or pancake. Fermented tea leaf salad, also known as Laphet Thoke, is another popular dish in Myanmar. It has an earthy and tangy taste unlike any other salad I’ve tasted and was such a treat. If you need a break from the salads and currys of Myanmar there is a great restaurant called Weatherspoons in Nuang Yu (Bagan) that claims to have “the best burger in Asia” and they may be right. Huge burgers with tons of toppings paired with a delicious cocktail is a nice change of pace. We stumbled upon Chillax Bar in Inle Lake and returned several times while there. It has great food and drinks and is a perfect place to put your feet up and hang out for the evening.
Where to Play
Play Bagan: Bagan is all about the Pagodas and is the most magical place I have ever been. Hire a bicycle from your hotel and get up at 5am in order to get to the Pagodas in time for sunrise. There are a few pagodas that are “touristy” and you’ll have to fight for a good view so I suggest finding one where you can be alone. You are able to climb up through the small winding staircases and stake your claim at the top. The amazing thing about Bagan is that there are over 2,000 temples and they are virtually untouched by tourists. I watched the sunrise with two other girls and a local boy and there was not another person in site. Feel like splurging? Book a hot air balloon! This is no doubt a once in a life time opportunity but will run you close to $400 per person. Head over to Nuang Yu (this is where Weatherspoons is!) to walk around the old village and browse the markets.
Play Inlay Lake: Hire bike and spend the day exploring the village outskirts. Make your way up to the Red Mountain Winery. The wine isn’t the best but the views are gorgeous and who doesn’t like a day of bike riding and vineyards? Hire a private boat (best done through hotel) to take you around the lake. While on the lake there are many stops you can make including a silversmith, lotus silk factory, cigar factory, floating gardens and monastery. You can spend all day out on the water visiting the different villages and it’s a real eye opener to a different way of life.
- Make sure you enter the country with crisp American dollars. As you enter the Bagan archeological region there will be a man who comes on the bus and collects a $20 fee. It is important that the money is new and crisp or they may not accept it.
- Always accept a free bottle of water.
- Overnight buses are a great and cheap way to go from city to city.
- Don’t be nervous riding your bicycle in the road. Vehicles will give you a quick and friendly toot to let you know they’re approaching. Give them a wave and say “ming-gah-lah-bahr” which means hello!
- Wear sandals while visiting the pagodas because you have to take your shoes off before entering.