Karen McBride, Darrell Barnes, and their two children: Jordan (11) and Tazmin (9). They hail from the UK and have been living in Beijing for seven years. Jordan and Tazmin are students at Beijing International Bilingual Academy (BIBA).
The family visited Myanmar for 11 days during the Chinese New Year holiday in January and February of 2012. They flew with Air China from Beijing to Yangon with a one-hour layover in Kunming. After researching via Lonely Planet and Trip Advisor (www.tripadvisor.com), they booked a tailor-made tour package via email with Myanmar Golden Image Travels and Tours (www.myanmargoldentravel.com). Flying domestically with Air Mandalay, they visited four locations: Yangon, Baganto, Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach. They saw pagoda and buddhas in Yangon, before heading to Baganto, an archaeological countryside landscape with 3,200 temples. At Inle Lake, they explored villages, plantations, and daily life on stilts. While at Ngapali Beach, they stayed at Amata Resort and Spa (amataresort.com).
Air China international flights for two adults and two kids cost around RMB 21,000. The tour package total came to RMB 27,700; it includes accommodation with breakfast in three and four-star hotels, all domestic flights, a private boat ride at Inle Lake, all entrance fees, a private car, a driver, and a guide in all locations except Ngapali Beach. Costs for eating out and shopping were very reasonable. The total cost of the vacation was approximately RMB 50,000.
The Best Part
The family had two favorite moments. At the unspoiled Ngapali Beach, they enjoyed a relaxing five-hour private boat trip with fishing and snorkeling. They stopped off at a simple bamboo bar on a tiny island, where the staff fried up their catch for free. Their other favorite moment was at Inle Lake, where they traveled for two days on a motorized five-seater long boat. They saw the long-necked Karen people, vegetable plantations, markets, and restaurants. Inle Lake is famous for fishermen who use one leg as an oar so that their hands are freed up to use the cone-shaped fishing net.
The Worst Part
Though the Hupin Hotel Khaung Daing (www.hupinhotelmyanmar.com) at Inle Lake was amazing – with spacious cottages on stilts, fabulous views of the lake, and a Harry Potter-style dining room – the travelers were unprepared for the temperature drop in the evenings and shivered in their beds every night of their stay.
On Ngapali Beach, the fishing boat captain taught Jordan and Tazmin how to catch crabs in the sand every evening after work. Then, they built crab castles and tunnels for them together just for fun – not for money. Also, the local Ngapali restaurateurs were eager to please; the service was great and the seafood, which had good value, was delicious.
The places were all tourist-friendly, and quite a few people spoke English. Everywhere the family went, they found it easy to find restaurants and dishes that Jordan and Tazmin could enjoy; it helps that there’s a strong Chinese influence in the local food. They got to stay in adjacent rooms at some hotels, and in others, the staff was obliging about adding extra beds for the kids.
It’s a good time to visit Myanmar, since the country has opened up a lot. The locals are welcoming of tourists, but there are not too many of them yet and prices are still reasonable.
Check the weather in advance. The rainy season (June-September) is not good for visiting. January and February was perfect beach weather during the day (mid-20s to high 30s), but the nights at Inle Lake got to be quite cold.
Karen and Darrell did a lot of research before deciding which locations they really wanted to visit and which hotels they liked. They then communicated their wishes to the tour company and went over their suggestions through email.
Taking a flight tends to be the most popular mode of domestic travel, and Air Mandalay caters mainly to tourists. Pay attention to the boarding calls at the airport, as it is very easy to board the wrong plane. The flights sometimes include an unreported stop.
There is very limited Internet service outside of the big cities and no international roaming for GSM mobile phones, so you can be truly incommunicado in the countryside.
Don’t expect to find Starbucks or McDonald’s – though Sprite and Coke were available everywhere. If you need your caffeine fix, you’ll have to get used to instant coffee sachets.