FOLLOW ME TO MYANMAR: DAY 1 IN MINGUN
Many have asked about my travelling experience in Myanmar, so here's a 6-days itinerary for those looking to visit this beautiful destination! A quick summary of our itinerary: 2 days in Mandalay (MDL) — 3 days in Bagan (NYU) — 1 day in Yangon (RGU)
BEFORE YOU START PLANNING:
SIN - MDL: We flew into Mandalay - the first stop of our trip - via SilkAir.
Note: non-connecting flights from Singapore to Mandalay are only available on Saturdays. For a cheaper alternative, AirAsia offers flights to Mandalay as well, with layovers in Bangkok (DMK), from both Singapore and Kuala Lumpur (KL).
RGN - SIN: SilkAir offers more flight options to and fro Yangon from Singapore which shouldn't come as a surprise since Yangon is the capital. Many other airlines offer direct flights to popular SEA destinations such as Kuala Lumpur as well.
Intercity flights are surprisingly not as affordable as I thought they would be and are certainly, not as frequent. It's not uncommon to see different airlines catering to similar timings. We took their national airlines, Golden Myanmar Airlines for both MDL - NYU & NYU - RGN as it seemed like the most reliable alternative (since there isn't much of a difference in fares anyway).
MDL - NYU: costs USD 79 per person, which I thought was pretty expensive for a mere 30 minutes flight.
NYU - RGN: costs USD 90 per person for an 85 minutes flight.
Their local currency, Burmese Kyat (MMK) are used for transactions and most places only accept cash. Some bigger establishments like hotels and fancy restaurants accept USD as well but the notes have to be crisp.
Kyat is a non-convertible international currency and cannot be officially converted outside Myanmar. We exchanged MMK at the money charger when we touched down at Mandalay airport using USD at the rate of 100 USD for 130,000 MMK.
Note: that higher denomination bills will fetch you a better exchange rate. As mentioned, the notes have to be in pristine condition and not chipped.
SIM CARD with data
We bought both Telenor at MMK 13,000 (comes with 8GB data) and Ooredoo at MMK 16,500 for the same amount of data. Both works pretty fine and each has slightly different coverage but both cover most parts as well as outskirts of the cities.
Those from SEA countries (except M'sia) are given visa exemption for at least 14 days. If you are a Malaysian, like me, you'll need to apply for a visa. Fortunately, if you're unable to visit an embassy to do so, you can do it online as well. Visit here for the official government site.
The cost? USD 50.
Upon submitting the online form, along with a copy of your passport and passport picture, you’ll be asked to make payment. Then, you’ll receive a confirmation email stating that your e-Visa is processing. After a few days (I got mine the next working day), you’ll receive another email containing your eVisa. Print it out as you'll be asked to produce it at the immigration.
Note: the eVisa is only valid for 90 days from the date of issue so don’t apply for it too early in advance. Honestly, it looked pretty dodgy considering that you’re paying USD 50 for it, but we got into Myanmar anyway. So, just treat it as a mandatory tourist tax you’re paying to the government.
This seems the least important on the list because there will be tons of supply for different budgets. Unfortunately, there weren't many choices for Airbnb especially in Mandalay and Bagan and most available options didn't appeal to me because they honestly just look like poorly-maintained hostels.
Note: get 10% off your first booking on booking.com with this link. You're welcome!
We hired a driver to drive us around in all three places. Because there are five of us, we made sure to hire a driver driving an Alphard. Fares are cheapest in Bagan even though it is a tourist spot.
The fare for a 12-hours hire? MMK 110,000 in Mandalay, 50,000 in Bagan and 200,000 in Yangon.
Adventurous visitors could rent e-bikes to travel around in Bagan but I'd not recommend that because it'll be super dusty, oops. Or maybe wear a mask/scarf to cover your face!
Mingun, or Min Kun, is home to the Hsinbyume Pagoda, or more commonly known as Mya Thein Tan Pagoda. But before that, we dropped by Mingun Pahtohdawgyi and Mingun Bell. Our lunch was served at The Garden Café (order their signature salad, super yums!) overlooking the Irrawaddy River. Before crossing the Inwa Bridge, we visited Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda & Umin Thonze Pagoda in Sagaing, both featuring a super colourful interior. Think gold frames, coral walls, yellow pillars, and green ceilings! We ended our day waiting for sunset at U Bein Bridge in Amarapura.
Note: If you have time, I'd recommend you explore Inn Wa and don't forget to visit the Maha Aung Mye Bon Zan Monastery & Yadana Hsemee Pagoda Complex when you are there!