Magical Myanmar (also still referred to as Burma) is somewhere that, even as little as 5 years ago, I’m quite sure I never thought I’d go to visit. But when my husband mentioned it, I turned to my faithful friend ‘Google’ and I quickly realized there was no way we weren’t going there on holiday!
We are just back from our family trip and while we would have loved to have done the whole ‘tour’ of the country, time was limited, so we made the conscious decision to focus on one city, but to do it right! So, indulge me a little (on this usually KL-orientated page) and let me take you on a little journey…
There are direct flights daily from KL to Yangon with both Air Asia and Malaysian Airlines and, with a flight time of less than 3 hours, it makes it a really good option even for a long weekend which is basically what we did flying in on the Thursday and flying back home the following Monday. As we were just concentrating on Yangon this was plentiful.
Yangon itself is the biggest city in Myanmar and is home to the Schwedagon Pagoda, the most sacred of all Buddhist Pagodas in the country. As far as phenomenal sights go, this one is pretty unbeatable. It’s the ‘must-see’ tourist attraction and if you’re anything like us, you won’t only visit it once, but you’ll have to do a visit in the day, and then go back to experience the sun setting over a temple that drips gold from every angle, melts into a setting sun and then appears to glow all by itself in the night sky. To say that this Pagoda is stunning is an injustice and has to be seen to be believed.
But the city also offers a number of other attractions. Unfortunately the Sule Pagoda is currently under renovation so it’s not really worth the visit at the moment, but if you do Schwegadon Pagoda, you’ve done the best of the best so don’t worry about this minor set back!
The Colonial Quarter made for a nice little walk, and was enjoyable for the whole family as the park in the middle seems to be the general meeting area for locals and tourists alike; people laze around in the shade, enjoy the water fountains and the children can get busy on the playground so it made a nice stop-off in the heat of the day!
There’s also a couple of beautiful parks and lakes in Yangon; we particularly liked Kandawgyi Park which is home to the golden “Karaweik”, a restaurant built in a replica Burmese boat which is an impressive sight on the lake.
We had a walk around the park, and while the gardens were nice and we got some great views over the park and beyond (and had a play in yet another playground!) the boardwalk bridge that we decided to take really is extremely ‘unsafe’ and I’m sure would be closed to the public in any other city in the world! So, yes it looks pretty, but do be careful where you walk or stick to a path that sweeps the outskirts of the park, as I can imagine there being a few injuries with nails sticking out and loose wooden planks.
Another couple of places that we visited included the Chaukhtatgyi Buddha, a massive reclining Buddha statue near a monastery, and the Nga Htat Gyi Pagoda which are relatively close to each other so can be combined into the one trip if you’re in the area.
The Bogyoke Aung San Market and China town were both fascinating places, but also crazy! If you go early in the morning the indoor market sees fewer tourists, so I’d suggest getting there shortly after opening at around 9.30am – it’s colourful, there’s a great range of items in there, and you’ll find some great gift/souvenir ideas!
As for China Town – amazing photo opportunities, but the craziest of places you’ll see. It’s crowded beyond belief, there’s people everyone, so if you decide to go – hold on to your children!! I’m so glad we went, but it may not be for everyone if you’re with young children!
As a family we are fairly adventurous travelers and like going a bit off the beaten track and wandering off on our own to see if we can find some little unknown places along the way. We made an attempt to do this on the first day in Yangon but I have to say that (for the first time ever!) it wasn’t that easy and I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it with very young children. Yangon as a city remains undeveloped and isn’t yet completely set-up for the influx of tourists they hope to see in the coming years. While the tourist attractions are immaculate and constantly under renovation to keep them in as good a condition as can be, the same is not true about the city! Pavements are in a poor state and the curbs are unusually high so not ideal with pushchairs.
It’s fairly dirty and unkempt, public transport is something you are just not going to even consider using (with buses/trains having no AC, no doors or windows and people hanging out of any opening that’s available on poorly maintained vehicles) and English isn’t really spoken by locals, nor are signs written in anything than the local language, so the minute we strayed from the usual tourist spots, it was far from ideal. I’d say that Myanmar is the first place we have been where I’d say it really is worth paying that little bit extra for a hotel of quality, to ensure certain levels of hygiene, well prepared food, and staff who can communicate well in English. We went with a branded hotel which was more than satisfactory, – I wouldn’t personally have wanted to go for any of the ‘backpacker’ type places or local options on this occasion, but that’s my own opinion of course and I’m sure you can find suitable places.
However, using Yangon as our base, we then went further afield on the Sunday to make the most of the region and did a day trip to Bago, hiring a private car and driver to make the two-hour drive there and back. This was an amazing day and something I would definitely recommend doing. We had asked a taxi driver the day before how much it would cost if we booked him for the day and he asked for 80USD. We then checked with our hotel, who booked us a large private car (fully air-conditioned, reclining chairs, curtains up at the windows, fresh water and refreshing towels with an English speaking driver) all for 100USD so it was worth paying a tiny bit extra for a journey that wasn’t only impressive but also extremely comfortable (bearing in mind taxis don’t always have seat belts in the back and can be cramped etc)
Bago has a lot to offer to tourists and has a more relaxed vibe than busy Yangon. Getting around was easy and traffic-free and there were ample attractions to fit them nicely into our visit, plus our driver knew exactly where to take us for lunch – a nice little restaurant called Hanthawaddy, which I later saw was No.2 on Tripadvisor for the city.
Our visit took us to the shiny Kambazathadi Golden Palace, and some of the most impressive Buddha statues we’ve ever seen (Kyaik Pun Pagoda and Mya Tha Lyaung Reclining Buddha) but a true highlight was being invited into Kyaly Khat Wai Monastery, which is currently home to over 500 monks, and watching their daily rituals and being a part of their way of life, if only for a short moment.
The children gave them donations as they filed into their meal, have watched the food being prepared, and wandered around the monastery itself. A unique experience that we are still talking about a month later.
Included in our schedule was the Shwemawdaw Paya but again this is under renovation (although it actually still looks quite magnificent) and the Snake Pagoda, the latter of which isn’t really worth a stop so if you are pushed for time, don’t worry if you decide to pass by without visiting it.
On the drive back to Yangon we were offered to further stops; one at the Htauk Kyant WW2 cemetery which has beautiful gardens and is very well maintained, and also the White Elephants in Hsin Hpyu Daw Park. Sadly the latter, as I feared, was slightly depressing and nothing more than 3 elephants being chained to the floor of a temple so I wouldn’t suggest making this part of your trip. It was very sad to see these large creatures being kept in a small space with extremely restricted movement…..
Throughout our trip we met amazing people daily who, although couldn’t necessarily converse with us, were friendly and interested in who we were. The children were amazing – large groups of local kids would run up to us, want to play with our twins and would more often than not pose for photos and be absolutely delightful in their nature.
Our trip turned out to be a fabulous experience and was also quite eye opening. The tourist attractions are out of this world and are very geared towards the number of visitors they receive but, beyond that, there’s a lot for the country to do to make it completely user-friendly for people travelling with families. But please, don’t be put off by anything I have said that may come across as slightly negative – it certainly hasn’t stopped us saying that we will go back; Yangon was just the tip of the iceberg for us as far as Myanmar is concerned. Next stop, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake……!
To close, I will just put a couple of pointers below which should help ease your travel and apart from that, go and discover the undiscovered, and revel in exploring somewhere that most people will never get the opportunity to travel to……
1) Everywhere online tells you to take dollars as that is all you will need. Not entirely true! I don’t think we once paid anything in dollars! Yes we took dollars with us but changed the majority into the local currency of Burmese Kyat for our spending money. Not only that, make sure you always have lots of small denomination bills on you. You will need them everywhere you go; from giving donations at Pagodoas or to Buddhist monks at the monasteries to the lady who will take care of your shoes when you take them off to wander around religious sites.
2) At all pagodas and temples, you will need to take off your shoes. There is always someone providing a little cubbyhole to store your belongings, but if you want to avoid paying for this all the time, just take a little bag that will fold up in your pocket and take it out to carry around your shoes instead. It also saves you needing to look through hundreds of pairs of shoes at temples that don’t have great order in their ‘cloakroom’!
3) They have very strict ruling about the way you dress to enter any of the religious sites. No footwear of any sort, no clothes above the knee ( for men and women) and no vest/tank tops or anything showing your shoulders etc. Children are obviously not penalized for their dress code but for us, we either made sure we wore long linen trousers, or had sarongs in our bags ready to pull out and wrap around us.
4) Bottled water was readily available on the streets. It was always icy cold and refreshing and sealed. It’s extremely cheap – we were paying around 30 cent (400 kyat) for a litre bottle.
5) We went into one supermarket and they did have an aisle that contained some baby food. Brands like Heinz, Heinz Organic, Cerelac and pouches of Sprout Baby food were all available but I don’t know if that would be the case everywhere in the country. I always pack a fair few snacks from home to keep us going just in case. There was baby formular and nappies but needless to say we didn’t test any of these products.
6) For the majority of site, pushchairs won’t be ideal. There’s normally a fair few steps to reach the attractions so a baby carrier for the youngest of travelers would be more practical
7) As westerners with a young family, we got quite a lot of attention from the locals. Living in Asia all their lives my two little blondies are fairly used to it, but I have to say that after a few days it really was quite extreme and my son really was fed up of everyone continually touching him and trying to catch him on film. Even I was asked to pose for more selfies with random strangers in 5 days than I have been asked in my entire life! If social media were a big thing in Myanmar, I think I’d be trending right now!! So, although it really is harmless, maybe explain to children how much interest is going to be shown, and be prepared to be bombarded for photos and more!
If you are heading to Myanmar have an amazing time, and feel free to let me know how you got on. If you have any questions that you think I may be able to help you with before your trip, please just drop me a comment below and I’ll always be happy to help. S x