LOIKAW - CAPITAL OF KAYAH STATE

Loikaw is the capital of the Kayah State at the South East of Inle Lake in between the Shan State at the North, the Kayin State in the South and Thailand at the East.
An extension to Loikaw and its surrounding villages is a very interesting experience to discover the variety of landscapes in this region situated at around 125 miles from Heho airport.
To reach Loikaw from Heho takes about 6 hours with a few stops on the way for short visits in some villages; the road is narrow but in overall rather good apart few portions yet in poor condition, that can be curvy, and similar as a mountain road; the scenery is beautiful along the road, green and hilly;
the road crosses a part of Pa -O territories, a minority easy to recognize with Pa-O ladies headdress with a bright orange color shawl that often wear women of this ethnic group;
The fields are essentially paddies fields, corn fields and it can be often seen vegetable gardens around local houses. The main cities crossed from Heho are Aung Ban, … bearing the name of the huge artificial lake that constitutes an extension to Inle Lake and Sagar Lake;
Before to arrive Loikaw, you will notice a huge reservoir to connect to Inle and Sagar Lake; the lake of Pekone was created in 1963 to produce hydroelectricity and provide Yangon and Mandalay electricity.

Hotels are still very few in Loikaw, comfort is basic but acceptable; the hotel the most popular by tourists “Hotel Loikaw.”
The first day is then dedicated to the transfer by road from Heho. During the second day, an excursion to the village of Pampet about fifty kilometers from Loikaw to discover the local life of the minority Palaung and the famous “Giraffes” women with elongated neck and superimposed rings; This tradition still continues in today’s day among the younger generation… you might seen some of them working in the surrounding fields of their village…the village consists of about forty houses…at midday, a nice experience is to even have your lunch at the village, a simple but tasty lunch;
most of the people is busy with agricultural activities; some now have small tractors; many villagers have gardens and houses are equipped with solar panels to offset electricity that has not yet reached the village;
after coming back from Pampet, the second part of the day is dedicated to visit the small capital of Kayah State, Loikaw; most residents of that State, are Catholic, converted by Italian missionaries in the nineteenth century, originally animists; the belief continues today among some residents; pillars erected in the village of Chi Ke as posts of offerings to the elements as the sky, the sun in order mainly to get good harvests; the offerings ceremonies take place during the Burmese New Year.

Loikaw is primarily known for the famous site of Thaung GWe, where two temples are erected on a rock cleft in the middle overlooking Loikaw and from where you can admire the panoramic view on the surrounding countryside; a visit is the magnificent wooden building, originally the town hall of Loikaw, was converted into a monastery and totally renovated; the building is well preserved and you can admire the finesse of wood architecture.

On the third day, the return to Inle Lake is mainly by water from the Pekone tank, then through the Saggar and Inle Lakes; the trip takes about 5 hours by boat, the scenery is gorgeous with the mountains surrounding the lakes until you reach Inle Lake or Nyaung Shwe in the evening. You can then continue your discovery of Inle Lake the following days.
This excursion to the Kayah State is a real trip off the beaten paths in a beautiful countryside to discover the provincial life and some minorities to live there with their traditional activities away from the tourists flow, a getaway in “real” Burma, typical and diverse; a discovery not too miss if time allows you to grant a minimum of three additional days in your journey.

HIDDEN MONASTRIES IN MANDALAY

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If you prefer to avoid the usual main monasteries normally visited by tourists in Mandalay, there are also few of them less well known but beautiful monasteries to remain in good condition of conservation; it is a very enjoyable discovery to visit at those monasteries with almost no visitors, most of them built at the middle of the XIX century in a mix of Myanmar and contemporary architecture; among them is Yaw Min Gyi Oak Kyaung, a brick monastery where the architecture reminds the European influence with beautiful stucco. The monastery was built in 1866 by Yaw Min Gyi a high ranking officer under King Mindom;
The wooden Monasteries of Kyay Mying and Ye Mae Thing Kyaung worth also a stop; one of them is still in use where monks stay and where you can see some old style furniture from the XIX century, both were built by one of King Mindom’s queens. Thar Ka Win is also a beautiful monastery with a more massive wooden structure to remain European architecture from the XIX century period.
Another wooden monastery to pay a visit is Kin Win Min Kyi, several times dismantled and rebuilt at different locations; it is interesting to observe the technique of construction of the monastery with huge and high wooden pillars.
You will then make a stop at Shwe Inn Gyin monastery well preserved with beautiful wood carving; the wooden building is made with 164 massive pillars and was built in 1895; the monastery still remain in very good conditions.
Just before the sunset time, you can then reach Shwe Kyin monastery and enjoy the evening prays of young monks that will leave you in a peaceful atmosphere of serenity.

WALKING AROUND MANDALAY

GENTLE WALIKING TOUR IN MANDALAY


The hilly area of Sagaing, 25 kilometers far from Mandalay is considered as the hearth of the Buddhist faith in Mandalay where plenty of monasteries are located among the mountain chain facing at the Irrawaddy River. Sagaing is also one of the ancient capital city with a rich historical past not too miss when visiting Mandalay.
To enjoy a gentle walk in Sagaing will give you another approach of this site, authentic and typical where the majority of tourists usually do not go.
Sagaing is located at 45 minutes drive from Mandalay; you will cross the Irrawaddy river on the main bridge, a massive metallic structure bridge opened in 2008 and next to this bridge, you will see a second one built during the British time and still in use nowadays.

The drive will bring you to the highest part of the Sagaing Hills, named Padamya Hill where your walk will start at Padamya Zedi. From the monastery, you can enjoy beautiful sceneries over the Irrawaddy and the countryside.

Then, your walk will bring you along clear but sometime steep paths from a monastery to another one in a peaceful environment and dense vegetation. You will have a first stop at Asshae Pakarama Monastery, an old wooden monastery surrounded by well maintain gardens, a peaceful location for a break where you will visit in the compound a cave carved out of the rock for the monks to meditate in a cool and peaceful place; from a terrace located at the second cave level, you can observe the trees and particularly, frangipanis, flamboyant and huge tamarind trees ; after this pleasant stop, your walk will bring you to U Min Thonzae and Swan Oo Pyone Shin temples where you can also enjoy scenic views along the Irrawaddy and Sagain Hills; after some steep parts during the first part of the walk, you will then walk down hill along a tiny mountain road looking at monastery complexes along the way until you reach an intersection with the road to Mingun where your car is waiting for you; The entire walk with the visit at few monasteries is around 5 kilometers and takes 3 hours; it is preferable to make the walk early in the morning or in the afternoon around 4pm to enjoy the sunset. This walk will bring you out of the beaten paths where usually tourists are very few and you will enjoy the serenity and the sightseeing on the way in a quiet environment.

BIKING RIDE AROUND MANDALAY


To extend your stay with one more day in Mandalay can allow you to discover the outskirts of the city from another angle. A two or three hours cycling ride in the surroundings of Mandalay will bring you to beautiful countryside where you can observe the rural life from the local villages surrounded by paddies fields.


The distance of the cycling tour is 35 kilometers on flat and easy roads which are mostly shaded by lined trees; the ride is very pleasant and you will observe along the way the irrigation system which enable the farmers to grow crops along the all year. You will pass by the village of Ye Kyi where most of the villagers produce bamboo fans mostly use during funeral ceremonies and you will continue the ride passing by the Yankin Hill with mountains chain in the scenery background before to take dirt paths among the green and quiet countryside.


The bike ride will bring you back to Mandalay where you will face the heavy traffic till reaching the Royal Palace for a short break with snacks and refreshments. This first part of the tour is almost 23 kilometers taking two hours; If you feel to extend the ride for another one hour, you will then continue the bike till the village of Shanlay, biking in Mandalay city and then along the Irrawaddy river for another one hour, and almost 12 kilometers.


The healthy village of Shanlay is located close to The Irrawaddy, flooded during the Monsoon between June and September making the soil very rich and allowing the farmers to get good income from agriculture activities; villagers have also other activities like wood and jade carving and bronze casting that you can observe while visiting the village which host almost 300 hundred houses and 1000 inhabitants.
The car will be waiting for you at the entrance of the village to bring you back to Mandalay along the Kandawgyi lake.

CYCLING TOUR IN BAGAN

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CYCLING TOUR IN BAGAN

Beside the temples, the famous archeological site of Bagan can be explored from a total different side exploring the countryside and the local life by walking and cycling.

Bagan surrounding offer many opportunities for half day to experience a more authentic side of Bagan out of the tourist beaten paths; Good mountain bikes can be rent in Bagan and paths despite to be sandy at certain parts are generally flat and smooth offering no difficulties for a gentle walk or bike ride.

One of the possibilities for a 3 hours cycling tour is to explore the countryside around Bagan along the water irrigation system to dispatch waters from the Irrawaddy in the countryside; in the very dry region, the system enables farms to grow cereals, rice, fruits, and peanuts all around the year.

Along the tour, you will see the farmers busy in their fields, still working with buffalos rather than tractors; in the area, there are many peanut fields to make cooking oil but also paddy fields and sesame fields; you may also have the chance to see different kinds of birds cattle egress, white throat rabble , river lapwings, but also herds of goats along the fields; the ride will send you until the monastery of Kan Pauk surrounded by huge tamarind trees with an old colonial house in desperate need of renovation; you will then come back on your paths till the village of Nwa Kyoa, a wealthy village supplied by electricity and water where most of the villagers own buffalos; the last part of the trip goes on very large paths lined by palm trees until back to your hotel;

It is also possible to extend the ride by another few hours passing by different villages, Tawin Taing, Kwin Sin Kyeal, Minandaw to enjoy and observe the countryside and sceneries with temples background.

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WHERE TO STAY IN BAGAN

The recent last two years have seen the opening of new hotels or the renovation of exciting ones, especially in the area of New Bagan.

ARIENDAMAR HOTEl

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Areindamar hotel is a newly opened hotel in Bagan after an entire renovation in November 2012. The hotel is located in New Bagan area. The property offers 50 large and nicely decorated Deluxe rooms with facilities such as wifi Internet connection, safety box, coffee making facilities, 24 hours room service. The interior hotel compound offer privacy with magnificent trees as well as a beautiful swimming pool. Among the 50 rooms, 36 are located in the main building and 12 in a new annex opposite to the hotel; Areindmar Hotel is managed by Tarabar group of hotels.

BLUE BIRD HOTEL

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Blue Bird is a nice small lodge in the New Bagan area with 24 deluxe rooms; The large rooms and the swimming pool are set in tropical gardens giving a very private atmosphere, a kind of Oasis in Bagan to relax in a peaceful and private environnement.

RAZAGYO HOTEL

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Razagyo Hotel has 40 rooms located and is located in New Bagan, close to the main temples attractions and 10 kilometers from the airport. The building was totally refurbished and reopened in December 2012. The hotel has 34 Superior rooms and 6 deluxe rooms, with air conditioning, spacious and comfortable with modern facilities. Wifi connection is available in the entire building; Facilities such 24 hours room service, Satellite TV, swimming pool are available. The Razzagyo Hotel offers a good address to stay with a reasonable room rate.

SWHE YEE PWINT HOTELL

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Shwe Yee Pwint Hotel is an elegant small boutique hotel situated in New Bagan. The existing building was totally refurbished and reopened under the new hotel name of Shwe Yee Pwint in September 2012.

The hotel and accommodations offer a charming atmosphere. The 35 rooms, 13 Superior and 22 Deluxe are nicely designed with elegant decoration; rooms are spacious and nicely furnished; Facilities like Wifi connection, separate bath tap and showers are available in all rooms. The hotel has a swimming pool and equipped with conference facilities. The property is located at short distances from the main temples, 10 kilometers from the airport and 12 kilometers from Nyaung Oo.

ZFREETI HOTEL

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Zfreeti hotel has newly opened in last December 2013 and is conveniently located in the heart of Nyaung Oo, the small provincial town of Bagan area; the hotel has a total of 102 rooms in different rooms categories, deluxe, Superior, Standard and Suites; Internet wifi access, swimming pool, payment by credit (Visa and Master) are among the services available at the hotel with a restaurant located at the rooftop.

GENTLE WALKING TOUR IN BAGAN

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Another great way to enjoy Bagan is a gentle walk out of the beaten paths used by the tourists to give you the full time to observe at the rural life and admire the temples background of Bagan.
One of the many possibilities for treks in Bagan region is to experience a walk in the area of “Phaw Saw” closed to New Bagan with Thitsawadi temple as starting point; Thitsawadi temple was built at the 14th century with the top accessible to enjoy a panoramic view of the temples, especially in the morning between 8 and 10am;

The 3 miles trek with easy grade takes 2 hours on flat and sandy paths; You will then reach the Monastic University complex of Su Than Pyay dated from the 11th to the 13th centuries; the monument is in bad stage of conservation but you can still look at the techniques of constructions but also at the Ordination hall, still remaining in good conditions.

You will continue your way passing by corn and season fields but also cotton plantations till you reach the new monastery of Thein Pyin Swan, a new monastery rebuilt with the sponsor of South Korea; the next step will send you to Pyatagyi Monastery ; on the way, you may have chance to observe different kinds of birds, some of them can be found exclusively in the area of Bagan, River Lapwing, King Fishers, Chines Pond Heron, Cattle egress, Chine Froncoline, white throated Barbers; By reaching at Pyatagyi, you will notice the specific technique of constructions with double arch roofs of this unfinished temple from the 12th century; the temple is another good opportunity to reach its top and observe the large panoramic view scenery with as background many major temples, Sulamani, Damayangyi, Thapyinyunt;

You continue your trek by passing the small hill of Oae Hlain Taung which is easily accessible for those who cannot climb the steep steps at the temples;
There are the two alternatives to end the trip, either at the Dhammayangyi; behind the Dhammayangyi is the small temple of Myak Gum to also offer some panoramic view at the end of the trip or to end at the Ananda Temple;

This pleasant walk along the temples and the fields will bring you a different and authentic view of Bagan surroundings. Bagan has very hot climate and it is recommendable to make the walk either early in the morning and in the late afternoon.

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NGAPALI BEACH EXCURSION TO THANDWE RIVER


There is no better place than the beach to end your holidays in Myanmar and especially at famous Ngapali Beach. The beach lined up with coconut trees offers a perfect retreat to relax for few days after visiting the more cultural place form the North of Myanmar. Ngapali has beautiful turquoise waters by white sand beach and a large range of charming resorts; Despite Ngapali has become more popular from the last few years, the place still remain very authentic with fishermen villages and ox carts still used by the local farmers to pass by along the beach.

To relax and enjoy the beautiful environment of the beach would be the main reason to come to Ngapali. But less known are also some excursions to do by boat to discover the close surroundings around Ngapali. To access by boat to some unspoiled little beaches would be one of the possible excursions.

A more authentic trip would be to discover the Thandwe River accessible from the sea and to observe the landscapes and the farmer activities at some miles only from the beach. The whole excursions take almost five hours. The boat can comes to pick-up up directly from the beach at your hotel depending where it is located. You can enjoy the first part of the trip sailing along the coast looking at the fishermen villages, and passing by some islands among one the famous and biggest one called Pearl Island. You will sail for almost 45 minutes to one hour until you reach the entrance of Thandwe River and access by a large channel;

After few miles, the channel becomes suddenly narrower making many curves and you can better observe the flora with specially the mangroves and to look at some species of birds. After sailing for 45 minutes to one hour, you have a stop to continue by foot for a gentle walking along the countryside until to reach the village of Zalun. Despite the area is very close to the sea border, the activities here are totally dedicated to agriculture. You will pass by paddy fields, cashew nuts fields, banana plantations until you reach the village by narrow but accessible paths where you can observe the traditional village houses along the main village path lined up by big trees as well as the monastery. You will then come back by the same paths contemplating at the scenery until your reach the boat to sail upstream till the sea where you can enjoy one more time the wild environment along the river; After sailing along the coast till Ngapali beach, a couple place to relax is the Pleasant View Restaurant located on the rock at the beach side and only accessible during the low tide, a perfect place to end up the excursion and enjoy the breeze from the sea.

It is more recommended to make the trip in the morning starting around 7H30 to 8H00. There is usually less wind in the morning and the sea more calm, this excursion is a perfect opportunity to enjoy the hilly sceneries along the coast and to discover both of the fishing activities and traditional life at the sea border but also inland life more dedicated to farmer activities.

Cruise on the Irrawaddy between Banmaw and Mandalay with a local ferry

The Irrawaddy river is widely use to carry cargo and passengers, specially from Yangon to Mandalay, but the gorges that surround the river near Banmaw, 300 Kilometers north of Mandalay, renowned for their beauty are less well known. In the rainy season when the water level is high, river cruises are offered to sail on the Irrawaddy and discover much more rugged landscapes than in between Mandalay and Bagan to access to the famous gorges of the Irrawaddy.

For a much more modest budget than a luxurious and comfortable cruise, it is also possible to sail down the Irrawaddy with a local river ferry boat operated by the “In Land Waters Department” named Pyay Kyi Dagon;

The ship offers very simple cabins and a basic service, but nevertheless allows you time for a cruise two days / one night to contemplate the Irrawaddy beautiful scenery!

Banmaw is not accessible by road to foreigners and the easiest way is to fly from Mandalay for a short flight of about 45 minutes; Banmaw (or Bhamo) is the largest city of Kachin State and time one after; it is possible to walk on foot to discover the charms of this small provincial town with its abundant local fruit and vegetable market and its beautiful colonial wooden houses.

The only recommendable hotel is Friendship hotel , simple but clean; before boarding the local ferry , it is advisable to ask the hotel to prepare for picnic meals on the boat, in total the lunch and dinner on day 1 and lunch on day 2 as the kitchen/restaurant from the boat is to be avoided; it is essential to have enough bottles of drinking water and other recommended accessories like a small kettle , convenient to prepare coffee or instant noodles, torch lights, sunscreen , hat, sunglasses, small padlock to lock the cabin, binoculars…

You are then ready to enjoy for 2 days the splendid scenery that awaits you, and observe local life which runs along the banks of the river, and the animation that the boat creates at each stop along the way in small provincial towns it serves.

This trip is a real immersion in the traditional Burma life , far from the traditional tourist sites, and this cruise will certainly give you joy to sympathize with local passengers; besides you will access to sumptuous landscape along the Irrawaddy punctuated only by the ship’s siren . And maybe you will even see a group of dolphins that inhabit the Irrawaddy between Mingun and Kyawk Myaung ;

The Pyay The Gyi Dagon ship makes three departures per week , Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning from 7am Bhamo for an arrival around 16:00 the next day in Mandalay , it does not require special permission to travel to Bhamo , or even be accompanied by a guide, but only 5 miles around Bhamo are accessible to foreigners.

Twante Pottery Village

Twante is a small provincial town famous for its pottery activities, 25 kilometers far from Yangon. An interesting way to reach Twante is to take the passengers ferry in Yangon and to reach Dalla from the other bank of the river. The ferry ride gives a chance to observe the boats and the port activities but also provide a panoramic view on the massive old colonial buildings along the river.

After reaching Dalla, a pre arranged car or a local taxi can bring you to Twante. The transfer takes around 45 minutes on a narrow road through paddies fields until to reach the small town of Twante. Twante is well known for its pottery activities handled by few families since several generations.

To visit one of the workshops gives an interesting view of the process of making the pots.

Since the Nargis cyclone, and facing the shortage of water in villages, many of the workshops have developed water filters made in clay mostly sent to the Arakan region and the Irrawaddy Delta, the two regions the most affected by the cyclone at this time.

Others sites of interests are the lively and busy market, but also the Shwe san Daw Pagoda with an architecture similar to the Shwedagon Pagoda. A look at the Twante river gives the opportunity to see different types of cargo boats carrying varieties of goods between the Irrrawaddy Delta and Yangon. Garden Relax Restaurant can be a good address for a lunch break before to come back to Yangon in the early afternoon. The all trip might take around 4 to 5 hours or the full day if combined with a short visit of Dalla on the way back to Twante before to catch up the ferry boat to return to Yangon.

Dalla Excursion

Dalla is one of the Yangon’s townships located at the opposite bank of the Yangon River. The only access to reach Dalla is to take a passenger ferry boat from the city center jetty opposite to the Strand Hotel. Thousand of Yangonites use the ferries to go daily to work to Yangon city center.

It is worth to explore Dalla for few hours and get a glimpse of the provincial life just very close to the heart of Yangon. Crossing the Yangon river will give you a large view on Yangon city and the beautiful massive colonial building along the rivers but also all the ports activities. To cross the river with the local passenger ferry takes around 10 minutes.

After reaching the opposite bank of Yangon River, the best way to discover the daily provincial life of this Yangon’s township is to take a trishaw. The ride will bring you to a couple of interesting pagodas and along the narrow and busy lanes of Dalla. The clock tower is the central point of Dalla. You can make a stop at the morning or the night market. The return to Yangon by the ferry boat gives you a chance to observe the river activities with the busy traffic of both cargo and passengers boats.

Discover and explore Yangon by foot

It is a great way to discover and explore Yangon by foot.

To explore the city center and the impressive colonial buildings is one of the good walk in Yangon.

Another very pleasant gentle walk and not less interesting is a hike to start from Chaukhtagyi Reclining Buddha and ending at Kandawgyi Lake. There is a lot see along the walk. Chaukhtagyi houses a huge reclining Buddha under a roofed building, one of the biggest one in Myanmar. Just opposite on the other side of Shwegondine Road is Ngathagyi, an impressive seated Buddha. The most interesting is perhaps to see the huge wooden carving at the back of the Buddha. Both Chaukhtagyi and Ngathagyi are not always features in the main places of interest, but it worth to visit both of those Buddha images. And very interesting, is the Monasteries complex attached with Ngatthagyi. Just located behind Ngatagyi, by walking a few minutes only, you will discover some old monasteries built in a mix of colonial and traditional style, a real architectural treasure.

Your walk continues downhill through tiny lanes in Bo Cho quarter passing small houses followed by residential areas and bigger houses. You will look at some traditional wooden house to still remain with their elaborated roof structures. Passing by Nga Hta Gyi Street, you will reach Bogyoke Aung San Museum. It is worth to have a stop and visit this charming colonial house, home of Bogyoke Aung San and his family. Many family photos are displayed. Furniture is also still there. You can see at Daw Aung San Su Kyi photos when she was a little girl. Note that the museum is close on Mondays.

Start again your walk, pass by The German Embassy and reach Natmauk Road. Turn right until you reach Kandawgyi Plant Nursery on your left hand side. Before you access to the nursery and Kandawgyi parks, you will see a couple of beautiful old wooden houses in desperate need of renovation.

Enter Kandawgyi plants nursery and walk along the main way where are located most of the plants and flowers small shops. It is a really pleasant to walk around. Pass the Amusement park until you reach the long wooden bridge to stretch at the southern edge of Kandawgyi Lake. The walk along the bridge will bring you close to Kandawgyi Palace Hotel. From there, you can enjoy a beautiful view at Shwedagon Pagoda to reflect in the lake’s waters.

Your walk will end at one of Kandawgyi Park’s gate on Set Yone Road with a view at Karaweik, a huge concrete reproduction of a Royal Barge.

Depending the time you will allow for your visits at Chaukthagyi, Ngathagyi, Bogyoke Aung San Museum, and the Kandawgyi Plant Nursery, it should take around two and half to three hours. Again, there is a lot to see during this relaxing walk, in a calm environment, more than in the city center. It is recommended to make the walk in the afternoon and enjoy the sunset at Kandawgyi Lake with the Shwedagon Pagoda at the background.