Monkey at Mt Popa (Tom Williams)
Blog Words : Blog of the week | 03 March

The best and worst of Burma

In the spirit of the Oscars, Five Dollar Travellers, Tommo and Megsy, hand out bouquets and brickbats to the institutions of backpacker Burma

Best and Worst City/Town

Megsy: My favourite city would have to be Yangon. Many of the guides say get in and get out as soon as possible but the street food options here were amazing and beer street was a great place to hang out and meet both foreigners and locals alike.

Worst place was Nyaung Shwe, the small tourist town outside of Inle Lake. This place is boring and some of the “tourist” prices in restaurants were ridiculous! It felt as if they were discussing right in front of us (in Burmese) how much to rip us off just because we were foreigners!

Tommo: I’d also have to agree with these choices, although Yangon gets super sweaty in the hot season. You can escape the heat and still get a great vibe in Pyin oo Lwin – though certainly less foreigners to hang out with.

Best and Worst Food

Megsy: I love the salads – even though they are covered with oil and have no health benefits at all. Ginger salad, tomato salad and even some tea leaf salads. Having said that, the tea salads were a bit hit and miss. It could be best or worst food, depending on who made it!

Tommo: The best food, amazingly for me as a red blooded carnivore, were the mini BBQ potatoes. Sweet little bites of awesomeness and they are grilled so they are more healthy than the salads!

As for the worst food, another surprise: “Mohinga”. This is considered to be a national dish of Burma and it’s probably the first time I’ve hated a national dish from any country. It’s a fish noodle soup, but unless you go to a fancy restaurant its likely to taste like rotten fish – no refrigeration for most Burmese street food I’m afraid!

Best and Worst Beer

Megsy: Myanmar Draught Rules! Dagon was horrible.

Tommo: Agreed. Myanmar draught is now my favourite Asian beer – and I’ve tried a lot! Its 5%, served icy cold even on a hot day, and is only 70 cents per mug. As for worst beer, I agree Dagon is at the bottom of the pile but there really isn’t anything that can compare to the Myanmar draught so they are all pretty bad other than that.

My least favourite place is a little controversial: The temples of Bagan. This is the biggest attraction in Burma but once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all… Maybe if you LOVE temples or are Buddhist you’d enjoy it more but for us adventure and excitement fans it just gets boring real quick. That said, sunrise/sunset photos over the plains are really nice, it’s the walking round temple after temple that gets dull.

Best and Worst Attraction

Megsy: The Ubein Bridge – Amarapura, just outside of Mandalay. This is a stunning place to go at sunset and the bridge itself has a lot of history to it.

Worst? The fact that  they are still advertising the Jumping Cat Monastery at Inle Lake, when the cats no longer jump.

Tommo: I’d say the best attraction is Mount Popa. It's perched high on a rocky mountain, you climb the 777 steps to get there and it has a really cool, chilled out vibe – plus its residents, hundreds of monkeys, are a lot of fun! You have to take a 90-minute ride from Bagan to get there, so a lot of people skip it but it is really worth the ride, in my opinion.

My least favourite place is a little controversial: the temples of Bagan. This is the biggest attraction in Burma, but once you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all. Maybe if you LOVE temples, or you are Buddhist you’d enjoy it more, but for us it got boring real quick. That said, sunrise/sunset photos over the plains are really nice. It’s the walking round temple after temple that gets dull.

Best and Worst Budget Hotel/Hostel/Guesthouse

Megsy: The best and the worst is the same hostel: Mahabandoola in Yangon! This place was cheap and very nasty, with not the cleanest facilities, but the atmosphere among the other travellers staying there was great. Plus, the staff were so helpful and awesome!

Tommo: The best is one we didn’t get to stay at because it was just above our budget. The Bravo Hotel in Pyin oo Lwin was $30 a night but it is leagues above any of the $20 options. As for the worst, Grace hotel II, also in Pyin oo Lwin, is the poorest value place we stayed at. So, not the worst, just the worst at the $20-$25 price point. They’ve been riding off their Lonely Planet review for years and now there are plenty of better options in the area.

Best and Worst Experience overall

Megsy: One of the best experiences I’ve EVER had while travelling is the Thingyan Festival, where the streets turn into a massive water fight for 3 whole days!

Worst? Getting Bitten by a cow and needing to get five separate rabies injections! OK here’s the story. We were on a motorbike tour of the Paulaung Mountain villages and the tour guide said that if you put your hand into the baby cows mouth it will suckle on your hand, which feels weird and is kinda cute. Cute until it decides to give human flesh a try and takes a bite of your hand!

Tommo: I was lucky enough not to be bitten by the cow, so I thought the 3-day motorbike trek was the best experience in Burma. You get the adventure of traversing some of the worst roads in the world and you homestay with village people in the mountains – which is technically illegal, though the government turn a blind eye in this region, apparently. These are real people and the area is visited by very few tourists – we did not see another tourist for three days!

Worst? The overnight bus ride to and from Inle Lake. It goes down in my top 5 worst travel experiences of all time! Broken aircon, tiny bus seat, winding roads at high speed that actually throw you from your chair. A sweaty and uncomfortable time with no sleep for 10 – 12 hours!

Have you been to Burma recently? Do you agree with Tommo and Megsy? Or do you have other places and experiences you'd like to nominate? Tell us in the comments below.

Tommo and MegsyTommo and Megsy | The Five Dollar Traveller

We are long-term travellers looking for culture and fun on a budget – he local perspective of the places we visit, outside of the tourist bubble. The food, drink, history, the people and finding the cheapest way to have amazing travel experiences: Maximum adventure, minimum budget.

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