Thursday, August 21, 2014

MYANMAR/BURMA: February 10-March 10, 2014 INTRODUCTION

     We decided to add Myanmar/Burma to our SE Asia trip as it was so close to Cambodia and Thailand.  We were heading to Cambodia primarily for Angkor and to Thailand to meet up with our daughter and grandson in Phuket in March when she has her spring break from teaching school in China.  It was Myanmar or Laos and Myanmar won.  Actually I wanted to go there before the prices went through the roof!

     Getting our VISA was not as hard as I thought it would be.  Since we live in NY state I sent all our completed forms, passport size pics (believe I sent 2 of each of us), our current passports (I really worried about this), and a $40 money order (for the 2 of us) made out to the Myanmar Consulate and sent to the Permanent Mission of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the UN, New York City address.  I needed the period of validity to be good until March 11th-the day after our planned departure date from Yangon.  This all happened right before Christmas so I was concerned as to whether we would receive our passports back before we left on Jan. 4th.  Per research everything was sent via Fed Ex.  The package was sent out from here on Dec. 6 and received by them in NYC on Dec. 9.  It was shipped back to me Dec. 13 and received by me on Dec. 16.  Valid from 11 DEC 2013 until 11 MAR 2014.  I also included a handwritten note explaining that even though we weren't going to enter Myanmar until Feb. 10th we were leaving the US on Jan. 4th.
     I knew from my research on Trip Advisor and Fodor's that it would be best to have a local agency book the hotels and flights.  I contacted several with my itinerary outline including all my hotel choices, # of nights at each destination, etc.  I was very specific with what I wanted.  I started this process in May/June 2013.  From the several that responded we decided to go with ONE STOP mainly based on the many positive reviews and most importantly the fact that we would not have to wire money before we arrived.  We would pay the agency once we arrived in Yangon.   I e-mailed back and forth with Tun of ONE STOP fine tuning things.  In the beginning of July we had a set itinerary and we were good to go!  We would arrive in Yangon on February 10, 2014 and leave Yangon on March 10, 2014.

     YANGON 4 nights, 1 night, 1 night   All at Summit Parkview.    It had a pool (my husband's request) and was within walking distance to Shwedagon.  Because the only night we could get a room at Mountain Top was March 8th we had no choice but to do the 1-1 night split even if it wasn't our first choice of scheduling.  Cost $180 per night for superior double/twin room.  A hotel with a pool in Yangon is pricey.
    BAGAN  6 nights at Bagan Thande.  It had a pool, good reviews, and per hotel's website looked nice.  Cost $95 per night for superior double/twin room.
     MANDALAY 4 nights at Ayarwaddy River View chosen for price at $95 per night for deluxe river view double/twin room.  A surprise when we arrived was a pool!
     INLE LAKE area 4 nights in town as I didn't want to be isolated on the lake.  I booked the Princess Garden myself.  Very good reviews and a pool.  Cost $55 per night for our own bungalow.
     NGAPALI 4 nights at Bayview Beach.  Cost was $175 per night for a beach front bungalow.
     MRAUK U 3 nights at Shwe Thazin.  Cost for the package which included guide, driver, all sightseeing, permits, etc. was our splurge at $405 per person.
     GOLDEN ROCK 1 night at Mountain Top.  Cost for driver/car $200 total.  Cost for the standard room $80 as all the deluxe rooms were booked.

Prices for the hotels included breakfast and all taxes.

     We did flights Yangon to Bagan, Mandalay to Inle Lake/Heho, Heho to Ngapali/Thandwe, Thandwe to Sittwe, Sittwe to Yangon. Used Air Bagan, Air Mandalay, Air KBZ.  Total cost of flights was $593 per person.   Boat/ferry from Bagan to Mandalay which cost $40 per person. Real splurge was the balloon flight in Bagan-premium service at $360 per person.

    The big surprise was how much we loved Ngapali and the Bayview Beach Resort.  If I had to do it all over again I actually would have given Mrauk U a miss and added those 3 nights to Ngapali.

     After I had booked and paid for my flight round trip Bangkok-Yangon-Yangon-Bangkok I realized I was spending 28 nights in Myanmar but 29 days if you count the day of departure.  You're only allowed 28 days in the country.  I e-mailed the embassy and was told I could get an extension by filling out a ton of paperwork and paying a pricey fee.  I was resigned to do this but when we landed in Yangon and went through Immigration I looked at my passport later to find it had been stamped 10 FEB 2014 until signed-10.3.14 by some official whose writing of his initials I think is a scribble.  So I was ok and when we left in March no one even gave us a second glance as our passports were stamped to exit the country.

     Myanmar was the most expensive of the 3 countries with Cambodia being the most inexpensive.   We had our ups and downs in each country.  There were things we loved and things we didn't love about each country.  Are we glad we went?  Yes.  Would we do it again knowing and having experienced what we did?  Yes.  But there are some things I would have changed which I'll touch upon in my blog.  In summary the people of SE Asia will be what we will remember the most, then Angkor and Bagan for me, Ngapali and Khao Lak for my husband.

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