I clearly remember the moment that solidified my desire to continue travelling when we had our own family. I was waddling, 26+ weeks pregnant, up the large rock which is Sigirya, in Sri Lanka when I was passed by a young couple with a toddler perched happily in a hiking pack – they were all smiling – why wouldn’t you be? Here they were, showing their toddler the world…We would do the same!
And, with that, 18 months later, July 2015, we landed in Yangon, with a feverish toddler, a Kelty carrier, a day bag and one 65L MacPac (which had our Phil and Ted Portacot packed inside of it). We were ready to explore Myanmar in the short time that we had bookended by Terms 2 and 3 of Adam’s holidays away from Horsham College.
We subscribe (generally) to the travel theory, that the people of all countries deserve the benefits of tourism, no matter the stance taken by the governments of the country of the time. The Myanmar government has refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the Islamic Rohingya for generations, to the point that some of its actions amount to attempts at genocide.
“…from our point of view, it is beneficial for anyone to visit and gain an understanding of Myanmar, its beautiful people and its challenges.”
But, we feel that it’s often easy to judge whole countries by the actions of its government, but when you think of it, if you do that, under what authority can you reside in Australia with ‘its’ treatment of refugees, indigenous populations and incarcerated youth.
In saying that, from our point of view, it is beneficial for anyone to visit and gain an understanding of Myanmar, its beautiful people and its challenges.
For more on what we packed, would have left behind and will pack next time see our future post What to pack for a toddler in Asia.
So, this was our itinerary for 11 days in Myanmar in July.
- Yangon: 2 nights/3 days
- Bagan: 3 nights/3 days
- Inle Lake: 3 nights/3 days
- Yangon: 2 nights/2 days
The travel to and around Myanmar is fairly easy for a country which has only recently opened itself up to tourism. Visa’s come in the form of an eVisa for 28 days, applied for online.
These were some of our thoughts on its travel for anyone interested (particularly those taking a young family):
Downtown you get a real sense of Yangon life for the middle and lower classes (the majority of the population). It reminded us a lot of Hanoi on our first visit in 2005, where there are still a lot of street stalls, and shops/restaurants predominately cater towards locals rather than tourists. In this way, Myanmar is amazing for those wanting an old-world Asian experience. No doubt it won’t stay like this for long.
The Embassies Area is stunning, lots of lakes, gardens and wealth. You get the sense that like many government areas, the people living and working in these areas are shielded from the ‘real’ Myanmar. In saying that, we loved how relaxing it was for us, travelling with a 15-month old. Quiet and a nice respite for what can be the craziness of an Asian capital.
Yangon is great for walking and exploring (in any of the areas). Oddly, we didn’t end up taking the loop train which is recommended for many tourists, and think this would also have been a great experience.
We did find some children’s playgrounds in the embassies area, and there was heaps of good food and interesting social enterprises to check out across the city, including: Popmelo, Yangoods (in Le Planteur), Shan 999 Noodles all worth getting to. Shwedagon Pagoda was simply a brilliant ‘shrine’ to the Buddhist religion, and it’s gold pagodas awestriking.
As per usual, beers everywhere are about $1. (Is this really the main reason we travel!?)
Bagan: 3 Nights/3 Days
Although we had limited exposure to the other areas of Bagan, we highly recommend that people stay between the Old Bagan area and Nyaung-U (on or very near the main backpack/tourist strip).
We did this routine: out in the morning, pool and beers in the afternoon, every day. It works.
In July, the humidity and heat in Bagan is stifling and we could not walk with Issy in our hiking pack. We moved closer to this strip on our first day and forwent a night’s accommodation at our initial accom, which was too far off the beaten track for this reason. (Read our other tips for travelling with toddler’s in Asia.)
Luckily, we met a young Australian family on the first day that suggested their hotel (Zfreeti) – it was central, new (think 4 star Aussie standard), had a pool (a must with kids) and great low season rates (around $50 US in 2015.)
This accommodation was perfect (a little upmarket for us) and the perfect base for exploring Bagan with a toddler that LOVES to swim. We were able to get out and explore during the early and later cooler hours of the day and swim at other times…and the restaurant strip we spoke about earlier was a few hundred meters away. We did this routine: out in the morning, pool and beers in the afternoon, every day. It works.
“…it takes you back in time, and gives an understanding of the immense history of the region.”
Bagan has thousands of pagoda’s which were also designed as Buddhist shrines. Most house a statue of the great man in one position or another. We saw these sights by both horse and cart (fun for Issy) and also hiring a car with air-con – welcome respite after sightseeing in the heat. The memories for Lisa and I as a family are really rewarding, the experience of the area is similar to that of visiting Angkor Wat in Cambodia – it takes you back in time, and gives an understanding of the immense history of the region. For Issy (and us generally) it was super hot – so the pool was a necessity. Be aware of doing too much out and about with kids. With three (as we are now), we wouldn’t have Bagan on the list for this reason.
We also visited Mount Popa, the climb up the 777 steps was hampered by an extraordinary number of very cheeky monkeys. Rather than do this, we’d actually recommend the hot air ballooning, which we didn’t organise in time, but regret not having the experience of having done something similar in Capadoccia in Turkey.
We have memories of a nice touristy restaurant Weather Spoons (named, we assume, as a tip of the colonial hat to the famous British pub chain) with great burgers and chips, which after days of curries and noodle dishes, and seeking comfort from the heat, was a welcome sight, and a place we visited each day we were there.
Inle Lake: 3 Nights/3 Days
Inle was our favourite place to travel as a family.
So we didn’t mention, but Issy was sick all the way over to Myanmar with some form of gastro, which then got passed to Adam for our first two days in Yangon. Somehow, 5 days later when we arrived in Inle, it got passed to me. So my memories are mainly of throwing up on the side of the road as we entered the town. Adam on the other hand remembers this trip as similar in scenery to the middle of Vietnam (Hoi-An area). There are a lot of wetlands and rice paddies, and modes of transport are mainly motorbikes for the locals (as well as boats obviously).
It was great for us to take Issy through the markets. The town was slower, and the climate cooler. The people in the markets, both local customers and also shop/stawell owners were super accommodating and friendly, and for this reason Inle was our favourite place to travel as a family. Food places were also great including French Restaurant: Viewpoint.
We stayed in Nyaungshwe, in Aquarius Inn, an odd place that also had a pool, and was more your generic mid-low quality accommodation ($20-$30 per night), with requisite hard bed (Aussie backpackers in outback Australia quality). This was fine for us, but stay where you feel comfortable. We wanted the pool, and the room was large and roomy, great for a family.
We did a tour of Inle Lake (which is what you do if you visit here), which is great to experience life as a rural Burmese person. The boat was a motorised-canoe, so we probably wouldn’t be putting our 2 year old in it these days (just saying!), but “perfectly safe” for a 15 month old. Many villages still operate on the lake, mainly as fishing villages, and we visited a local market on one of the small islands. Again, very safe for families and welcoming of us and Issy.
“What we loved about Myanmar was how welcoming the people were, and embracing of us and Issy. Every restaurant, and accommodation we stayed were truly gracious and grateful…”
What we loved about Myanmar was how welcoming the people were, and embracing of us and Issy. Every restaurant, and accommodation we stayed were truly gracious and grateful, and we hopefully returned the favour (save for the occasionally cranky child).
The food was classic Asian, as in, very good, although definitely different to Thai, and Indian (two of its closest neighbours). In hindsight, it would have been nice to be a bit more adventurous with food, and have done a little bit more homework on national dishes.
With kids in 10 words:
- Pool Required
- Dollar beers
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