Magical Myanmar: Kyaukme & Bagan
From Mandalay we went to Kyaukme for a trek in the mountains. This, for us, was one of the unavoidable three stops in Burma, along with Bagan and the Inle Lake. Kyaukme is in the middle of nowhere and the bus to get there was simply a great cultural experience. There are only three guesthouses allowed to host foreigners, which are all on the same street next to each other and are all quite similar.
You have to hire a guide to go trekking in the region, and he tailors the trek to your physical fitness. Trekking in this region of Burma is simply a must, with the rice fields, the views and the jungle surrounding the way. We slept in a villager’s house on top of the mountain and got to spend the evening with our guide and his uncle, which was a lot of fun. This trek was our occasion to have real conversations with Burmese people and to have an exchange of our two cultures. It was the most authentic moment of our trip.
We also visited a school on the way and donated some pens. These kids were great. No worries about the food on the trip: you only need to take your stuff for the night, as the rest is provided to you by your guide. We heartedly recommend to contact Naing Naing (pronounced 9 9) and try to hire him or his nephew (Jonathan – our guide) for the trek, as they are both great – Naing Naing’s information is in the Lonely Planet guide and you can hire Jonathan through him!
We left Kyaukme on the worst bus of our trip – old, shaky, cold and unreliable (one stop to cool down the breaks and another to buy a new parking break – a piece of wood), and this was down the mountain, of course. We finally arrived in one piece in Bagan at dawn. We went first to our guesthouse – the Winner Hotel – which we recommend as it is one of the closest to the temples and one of the cheapest, but clean and comfortable. We visited the Shwezigon pagoda and Mount Popa on the first day. The Shwezigon pagoda was nice but the great thing about it is that you can find the Irrawady River on the other side. At the end of the afternoon, we loved climbing Mount Popa with the monkeys being around all the way, but were disappointed not to have seen the sunset because of the heavy rain.
Most of the guides recommend spending 3 days in Bagan but we had enough time with one busy day of visiting. Bagan in itself is composed of small villages. Old Bagan has quite a few things to do and the rest of the villages surrounding it do have some attractions, although we mainly wanted to see the major temples and the environment. We hired two e-bikes for us four (that looked more like motorbikes than anything else) and that was the best idea of our day!
Going around the sites with the bikes was perfect – wind to refresh us during the drives and a huge amount of time saved by not taking simple bicycles. However, be careful of sunstroke, as you do not feel the heat until it’s too late (not fun!). Allow yourself to get lost, as you will discover new temples and feel like Indiana Jones at this touristic site without missing the major temples. You are allowed to climb on some of the major temples and we highly recommend to watch the sunrise and sunset on top of them (the hotel will bring you to the one with the best view, but others are worth the stop for being less touristic). Bagan was wonderful and exotic, even though it was where we encountered the most touristic side of Burma, with its small tourist shops and sellers.
In this “Magical Myanmar” mini-series, Nadège de Beauffort and Dorothée Brabant recount their adventures in Myanmar. Photos were taken by the guys traveling with them: Maximilien Le Fevere de Ten Hove and Nicolas Coomans.