I've just come to a realization. That I (and Hai for that matter) haven't been abroad for more than a year and a half. I think that's the longest I've gone without travelling internationally in my adult life. And it's almost strange that I just realized this since, one, I'm obsessed with travel and, two, I'm a travel blogger always looking for interesting travel experiences to share with you. I guess I can be grateful that our adoptive base of Japan has a wealth of amazing experiences on offer and that you seem to like reading about them. While my list of Japan stories I need to write for you just seems to keep getting longer, there is also a list of other destinations that have been speaking to me and I'm determined to keep working my way through them too.
I've always been drawn to Southeast Asia. One reason may be logistics since that was the easiest and cheapest place to fly as a university student in Australia. But I think it was much more than that. There's just something about being in Southeast Asia that makes me fall in love with travel all over again. Even though I've now been to Southeast Asia more times than I can count, from quick visits to several-month stays, I know there is still so much more to experience. For the past couple of years I have been saying that there's one Southeast Asian country that I just have to get to so I knew that when we started thinking about a trip for this coming May that this would be top of my list. Fortunately Hai's equally keen to check out this destination so we didn't spend much time debating alternatives.
So where are we going?
The country we decided on for our trip is Myanmar (Burma) and I couldn't be more excited about it! I first became interested in Myanmar several years ago when I started seeing blog posts popping up about it. The country was just starting to open up to foreign tourists then and there wasn't a whole lot of information available online about travel there, but when I saw images of the old Kingdom of Pagan (Bagan) with its thousands of temples and unbelievable sunrises and sunsets, I was completely sold and wanted nothing more than to grab a bicycle and explore those plains for days, basking in another world and time.
Planning a trip to Myanmar
The country is still in its infancy as a tourist destination and compared to many other Southeast Asian destinations relatively little written about it, but travel is becoming increasingly easier and taking a trip there in 2017 is probably not as hard as you may think.
For example, there are an increasing number of flights, especially in and out of the old capital of Yangon and more recently the northern city of Mandalay, and 28-day tourist eVisas are now available for passport holders of 100 countries, 8 countries -basically their Southeast Asian neighbors- of which do not require a visa at all for stays of up to 14 days.
We decided to book return flights between Tokyo's Haneda Airport, which is much more conveniently located to central Tokyo than Narita, and Yangon (via Hong Kong) with an LCC we are using for the first time called HK Express. The total cost for two adults came to approximately 83,000 yen, which is about AU$970, US$740, €700 or £600. That's for a completely no frills package – no meals, no entertainment and no check-in luggage, as we are planning to just travel with carry-on. You should note that the return flight was a promo special so that made things cheaper but we found the prices on their website to be affordable overall. What remains to be seen is their reliability. I've read a lot about significant delays and poor customer service with this airline. We'll try them out and let you know what our experience is like.
What we plan to see and do
Our trip will be for two weeks. We first looked at a week but even if only hitting up the major points we didn't want to leave without seeing, after doing some research we felt it would have been way too rushed to get the most out of them. That's because travel in-country, especially the trains, can take significant amounts of time and the reality is we will be spending days in transit. So in order to allow enough time to get from one place to another and then have time to take it in when we get there, we decided to extend an extra week. That was partly a decision based on the fact that HK Express fly our route only two days a week but mostly because it made the most sense for our travel plans.
We still have a lot more research to do but we know for sure that we will be heading to Yangon, Inle Lake and Bagan. In Yangon, we won't be missing Shwedagon Pagoda, the city's iconic glittery temple, and the street markets. We plan to explore a lot on foot, stopping off at tea houses along the way, and also taking the Yangon Circular Railway that goes into more suburban areas where you can get a better sense of everyday local life.
On our way to Inle Lake, we'll be taking the “Slow Train From Thazi” which is said to move at a snail's pace but is also considered one of the most scenic train rides in the world. At Inle Lake itself, we hope to get out on the water and meet some of the lake's iconic fishermen, who row their boats with their feet!
Bagan will naturally be mostly about the temples. We'll probably hire bikes to get around more efficiently since the temples cover such a large area and we also hope to take to the skies in a hot-air balloon to view some of those sweeping vistas from above.
It seems we will also be in Myanmar for the month of Kason (April/May), the second month of the Burmese lunar calendar. The day of the full-moon during Kason is a particularly sacred day in the Buddhist religion as it said to be the day that the third Buddha predicted the hermit Thumaydhar would become the fourth Buddha, Gautama, in his next life. It also celebrates the day Gautama Buddha was born, when he gained enlightenment, and his passing from the earthly world into nirvana.
This is the hottest time to visit Myanmar and the full moon of Kason is marked by pouring water on bodhi trees in water-pouring ceremonies at temples across the country. Bodhi trees are said to represent Buddha and so by keeping the trees alive during the hottest season, the Burmese are also maintaining the strength of the Buddhist religion. This is honestly the first time I have heard about the sacred month of Kason in Myanmar and I'm eager to see what we can find out while we're there and hopefully get some photos to share with you of the full-moon festivities.
I've only just started to scratch the surface of all the wonderful experiences that await us in Myanmar. We'd love to hear from you too. Have you been to Myanmar? What are your recommendations? Or if you haven't and are interested to know more, what kinds of stories or information would you like to read about?
In what will be our first international trip in almost two years and to a destination that I'm sure a lot of you are curious about too, I literally cannot wait to share this with you.