Having only opened its doors to tourists in 2012, Myanmar was rumored to be one of the last "off the beaten track" destinations in Asia. While living in Hong Kong, I met several people working on projects to develop tourism in the area so I was eager to visit as soon as possible, with the hopes of experiencing the country before it becomes fully commercialized.
I'd already planned a trip to Hong Kong and wanted to tack on a visit to a new area, so when my plans to visit Shanghai fell through, Myanmar was a natural choice.
Myanmar started an E-Visa program in 2016 so the visa application procedure was simple and only took about 3 days to process. There are direct flights from Hong Kong to Yangon but timing is limited. I arrived in Yangon around 1AM and went straight to the Holly Hotel to catch some sleep before my flight in the morning. The Holly is one of the newest hotels in Yangon. It was clean, relatively quiet, and included free Wifi and breakfast for only $40 USD per night.
I flew Air KBZ from Yangon to Bagan. While I've heard horror stories of local airlines being delayed for several hours, I had a great experience with them both coming and going. I do recommend keeping your luggage to a minimum as there isn't much overhead space and and checking bags is a pain.
I arrived in Bagan and checked into the Aureum Palace Hotel where I enjoyed Lahpet, or Tea Leaf salad, before heading out to explore.
The Bagan Archaeological zone is one of the most impressive sites in Asia. From the 9-13th centuries it was the capitol of the Kingdom of Pagan and a city of incredible significance for Theravada Buddhists, to this day it attracts monks from around the world looking to deepen their practice. At its peak there were over 10,000 temples, today there are around 2,200 as many were destroyed by Mongol invasions and earthquakes.
Entering the Archaeological zone costs 25,000 Kyat (around $19 USD) and the temples can be explored by foot, bike, or hot air balloon. I recomend doing some combination of all three! Exploring by foot/bike allows you to go inside a few of the temples that are accessible to the public, you're also able to get amazing photos during sunset (arrive early to secure a great view).
At nearly $400 USD per person, hot air balloon is certainly the most expensive way to explore the temples but it's also a unique experience you'll never forget. I'd never understood the appeal of hot air balloons but after my experience with Golden Eagle Ballooning I am eager to do it again. It was a great way to see more temples but what I really enjoyed was flying over the villages and getting a peak into how the Burmese people really live.
When it was too hot to visit anymore temples, I returned to my hotel, the Aureum Palace. It is an older property but the facilities are very well maintained and the staff is exceptionally helpful. The hotel has an amazing location right in the middle of the Archaeological zone, which means you can even view the temples while enjoying a dip in the pool! In addition to Bagan, they have properties in Ngapali and Inle, they offer packages that organize transportation and accommodation for all of Myanmar's top sites. I was limited on time this trip but would love to stay with them again in the future. Rooms are between $140-250 USD per night depending on the time of year.
If you've been to Myanmar or are planning to visit soon, shoot me a message, I'd love to hear your thoughts!