In September 2015 I was fortunate enough to have the last-minute opportunity to join an Intrepid Travel tour to Burma (Myanmar) and have to say, it's been one of my travel highlights.
Burma is a magical country with mythical landscapes, ancient temples, friendly locals and food that you will never forget. Whether you're strolling around the golden-spired of the Shwedagon Pagoda or watching the sunset from the top of a temple in Bagan - Burma will capture your heart and soul with its tranquility, its beauty and its simplicity.
Whether a trip is Basic, Original or Comfort doesn't really matter. What does matter are the people I'll be travelling with, sites I'll see, the guide that leads the group and if there is time to meet the locals. As 60% of Intrepid travellers are solo, knew I wouldn't be the only one winging it on my own.
The 12-day Classic Myanmar has a maximum of 12 people and will always go ahead even if there is only one customer. On my trip, however, there were 16! This trip is a Comfort trip which raises the bar in regards to standard of accommodation, meals, transport and amount of free time. The trip runs at a consistent pace with free time available for those that need it. There is no obligation to go on some parts of the tour if you wish to rest in your hotel or do something different. This is nothing like a Contiki Tour, Top Deck, Cosmos, Globus Journeys or Trafalgar trip. Intrepid is more down-to-earth, grass-roots travelling with flexibility to work with the group, the location and the needs of everyone.
On this trip my fellow travellers were:
- Mother and daughter aged 72 and 50 (Australians) - travelled to 21 countries together
- Husband and wife aged 74 and 73 (Australians) - travelled 4 times with Intrepid and to 40+ countries together
- Husband and wife aged 50 and 49 (Australians) - travelled 2 times with Intrepid and to 32 countries together
- Single man aged 65 (Indian living in Australia) - travelled 1 time with Intrepid and to 60+ countries
- Single man aged 55 (English living in Australia) - travelled to 27 countries
- Friends, male and female aged 35 and 34 (English) - travelled to 31 countries
- Single woman aged 50 (Australian) - travelled many times with Intrepid and travelled to 100+ countries.
- Male and female partners aged 48 and 46 (Australian & Irish) - travelled 2 times with Intrepid and to 24 countries together.
- Friends, both females 51 and 48 (Australian) - travelled to 50+ countries together
I asked them all why they were on a 'tour' as they were so well-travelled and know how to get around the world on their own. Everyone had different reasons. Some had travelled several times with Intrepid and liked the style and pace of the trips. Others were like me and found a gap in their calendar and Intrepid dates matched up with the window to travel. A few worked in education and so they were taking time off on the school holidays to travel abroad. One couple wanted the company of people of a similar age.
Accommodation: Classic Burma trip
(apologies for not having better photos of some hotels)
As always I brought my own lightweight shopping bag so I didn't have to use any plastic ones while I was away. Our guide, Ting, bought a large container of water that we could decant into our water bottles every day rather than all buying individual water bottles. Ting was a knowledgeable guide that demonstrated the values of Intrepid by briefing us on how to be respectful to people, to the culture, to the environment and to others on the trip. He reinforced not to buy from young children as they should be in school. At one point n a morning walk we came to a junior school. Ting advised that we weren't going to visit because education is important and we shouldn't interrupt them. But the bell rang and the kids came spilling out of the classrooms. Ting smiled and invited us over to speak with the kids who sang us frere jacque in Burmese and English. You can view it here. When the bell rang again, Ting gently guided us away again reinforcing that they needed to go back to class as studying is important. He also took us to a puppet show in Bagan which you can see here. These are the little touches that make a difference. A company is only as good as its staff and Intrepid have the formula right on recruiting and maintaining a high standard of educated, knowledgeable guides.
On a Comfort trip, the guide handles everything. How?
- You get a wake-up call in the morning
- Your bags are taken to and from your room when you check in and check out
- At airports the guide handled the luggage from the bus to the check in and the same when you arrive at your destination
- Group check-in is handled by the guide
- Organises any personal transport outside of the tour
- Arranges transport to airport at the end of the trip
- Advises and often accompanies you to restaurants
- You are treated as a privileged guest in the country.
Now for some nuts and bolts about the Classic Burma trip.
The following was provided:
The following was provided:
- 8 breakfasts
- 1 dinner
Breakfasts were always a buffet with everything from breads, cereals, yoghurt, local food, fruit, coffee, tea and more. The guide would recommend a restaurant if you wanted to dine somewhere different to the main group.
- Hotel (11 nights)
See photos above for some of the rooms and hotels on this trip.
Accommodation was around 3+ - 4 star with pools at two of the four hotels. All hotels were clean, adequate bedding, quiet and had wi-fi available in your room. The hotels are located central to the action, public transport and easy to find. All rooms had their own en-suite with shower, toilet and hand basin. Doors had locks. TV's were new and shows in many languages.
If you're sharing a room with someone of the same-sex, there isn't an extra charge. I was fortunate to have my own room with no extra cost because there was a couple (who shared) and two guys (who shared) which was a big bonus for me as I like my own company. Although, in Burma I shared with a lovely traveller, Jillian. As always, a single supplement is available for those that like to sleep in, who snore, who are night owls or whatever it is that makes you want to be on your own.
- Boat, minibus and plane with options of horse & cart, push bikes and taxis
I took a horse and cart ride around Bagan as an optional extra. I filmed it on time-lapse and you can view it here.
- Yangon - Shwedagon Paya
- Yangon - Kandawglyi Lake
- Mandalay - Boat trip to Mingum
- Mandalay - U Bein Bridge
- Mandalay - Gold leaf pounding workshop demonstration (watch here)
- Mandalay - Mahamuni Buddha Temple
- Mandalay - Kuthodaw Paya
- Mandalay - Mandalay Hill
- Mandalay - Pyin Oo Lwin day trip
- Bagan - Orientation Walk
- Bagan - Friends International Restaurant lunch
- Bagan - Mt Popa Day Trip
- Inle Lake - Boat trip and village tour (video here of cigar making)
- Inle Lake - Indein Temples visit
- Inle Lake - Shan Banquiet
As with most trips, I organise a transfer from the airport at the start and end of a trip which my travel agent took care of for a minimal fee. It's always nice to arrive in an unknown country and have someone meet you and introduce you to their country. However, I do acknowledge it can be cheaper to make your own arrangements upon arrival.
Travel Insurance was with Covermore was around $160 for the duration of the trip. I used Covermore in 2011 when my daughter contracted chickenpox in Borneo. They were excellent at assisting me in managing the remainder of our trip while she recovered. Well worth the expense.
A big shout out to Anna Hamilton at The Adventure Store in Chapel Street Prahran in Melbourne, Australia. She has been brilliant working with my dates and budget. Nothing was ever too much trouble and her breadth of experience made the whole experience easy. Thanks Anna.
Also a big thank you to my guide - Ting. His passion for his work, knowledge of his country and patience with one dude who was being a tosser was exemplary. A good guide = a good trip.
I rate Classic Myanmar
out of 5
Everyday facts for your trip to Myanmar
Language: Burmese; Myanmar is a union of 135 ethnic groups with their own languages and dialects.
Religion: Buddhism (90%)
Currency: Burmese kyat (MMK)
Power plugs and sockets: Type C, D, F and G. Click here to view images
Country calling code: +95
Local time: = UTC +6.3h
Capital City: Yangon