A full on and exhausting trip, but worth it for the amount crammed in and the amazing sights and experiences. Now is a great time to go before it gets too 'touristy'.
- What was the most inspirational moment of your trip?
There were two highlights of the trip for me:
1) The optional sunrise hot air balloon ride over the temples at Bagan. It was absolutely stunning and very well run, with a champagne breakfast with croissants and fruit after landing.
2) The day on Inle Lake. Again, the scenery was stunning and there were lots of interesting places to stop off at. It was very hot in the middle of the day though and some people were flagging a bit.
- What did you think of your group leader?
- Ko Ko did a great job of steering us round the country to a tight timescale, and dealing with changes to the itinerary (flight to Mandalay rather than boat). He also did his best to keep the group happy - when we were split between wanting to do the Mandalay tour on a local truck or air conditioned bus, he organised one of each and we paid according to which option we wanted.
- Do you have any advice for potential travellers?
If you are interested in doing the Bagan balloon ride, book it as far in advance as possible. A lot of people on our trip were disappointed not to get a place - the only two of us who managed to do it booked 4 months in advance. It is very popular and there is a significant waiting list every day. It also depends on the weather - we were very lucky as it hadn't run the previous 3 days.
Take ear plugs and an eye mask - some of the hotels suffered from outside noise and only had thin curtains.
Research the temperature at Inle Lake at the time you are going - we all took woolly hats etc as advised in the trip notes, but while it was definitely cooler at night than most places, I was fine with a thin cardigan (and I feel the cold!) My fleece was useful for the start of the boat ride on the lake though as its a bit chilly with the wind when the boats are moving fast. Other (less wimpy) people were fine without coats though.
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Most tourist restaurants have a mix of Chinese, Thai and Burmese food and a lot have some western food such as chicken/fish and chips or pasta. I can't eat chillies but had no problem - they often ask you how spicy you want dishes when ordering and it was easy to get them just to leave the chillies out.
Be prepared for a bit of a mix in the standard of accommodation. The hotel in Rangoon was very clean and comfortable but some of the others were quite basic with not everything working. The hotel at Inle was mixed - some people had really nice rooms whereas the solo travellers had small more basic ones. Most of the hotel bathrooms were wet rooms so it would be worth taking some flip flops to wear in there (if you don't want to use the ones provided which have seen better days and have obviously been worn by many people!)
The money rules were starting to relax when we were there, but you're probably still safest taking mint condition USD. People on our trip did manage to change non mint dollars in some places though. Changing money is easy at most of the hotels and airports.
There are quite a few very early starts, especially if you also do the balloon ride (three days were pre 5am). Also, with so much to pack in, the morning activities often ran over and we didn't really end up with the free afternoons listed in the itinerary. We often didn't stop for lunch till 2 or 3 so it would be a good idea to take some cereal bars or similar as it was often a long gap between breakfast and lunch.