There is one near Mount Popa. So far they only once had a German guest as they told me and this place should be quiet enough.
Please keep in mind, that you need a permission from the government to do it. But my guess is that with the necessary patience and time you would be able to get it.
You can see two pictures of it in my Mount Popa report and the tourguide I recommend there can certainly help you with everything as he is a big fan of the place.
Mount Popa is a one and a half-hour drive, 50 kms, southeast of Bagan. It is an extinct volcano which dominates the area with its imposing expanse. It is surrounded by thick jungle teeming with natural springs, butterflies, monkeys, medicinal herbs and exotic flowers. At its foot is a magnificent rocky outcrop, a table mountain topped with shimmering gold stupas - this is the Popa Taungkalat, usually confused with Mt Popa itself but is the real destination for travellers. The Popa Taungkalat, a buddhist monastery, is the legendary home of 37 Burmese "nats" (spirits), statues of which can be found at its base. It is 737 metre (2,417 ft).
To reach the stupas at the top, we removed our shoes and began the half-hour and 777 step climb up a covered walkway to the summit. There are many stalls next to the steps at the lower levels and a multitude of monkeys looking for food handouts. The walkway winds around the outcrop, at first gradual but then very steep and narrow. The views from the summit are quite spectacular looking over to Mt Popa itself and far into the distance.
On the drive to Mt Popa, there are several primitive roadside mills, where you may watch gentle buffalo slowly circumnavigating the central stone, grinding palm seed into oil. The farmers also make and sell a local toffee (candy) from palm sugar which they call "jaggery." We also stumbled across a market in one of the towns along the way at which we were the only foreigners there.
Mingun is a fascinating township that can be reached by a riverboat in about one hour from Mandalay or a couple of hours by vehicle. It contains a number of beautiful pagodas and good tourist stalls. It is a quiet town with few if any cars or motorbikes as the locals use ox carts for transport.
The Mingun Pahtodawgyi is a monumental uncompleted stupa began in 1790 by King Bodawpaya. The completed stupa would have been the largest in the world at 150 meters. The huge cracks in the structure were caused by an earthquake in 1839.
King Bodawpaya also had a gigantic bell cast to go with his huge stupa. The bell was started in 1808 and finished by 1810 and is today the largest ringing bell in the world. The bell weighs 90 tons and stands 20.7 feet high from the rim to the top. The bell is uncracked and in good ringing condition. The bell does not have a clanger but is rung by striking the outer edge.
Within easy walking distance is the white Hsinbyume or Myatheindan Pagoda with a distinctive architectural style built in 1816. This pagoda was badly damaged by an earthquake but restored in 1874.
There are also the Settawyar Pogoda, Molmi Pogoda and other fascinating pagodas within the township of Mingun.
Mingun is located approximately 11 km (7 miles) north of Mandalay on the western bank of the Irrawaddy River.
The capital of the Burmese kingdom before the colonial era, Mandalay is Myanmar 's second largest city. It is still considered to be the cultural capital as well as the economic and religious centre for Upper Myanmar . Highlights include the Shwenandow pagoda which has some exquisite woodcarvings adorning its walls, the Mahu Muni Buddha image covered in gold leaf, the Kuthodaw Pagoda, home to the world's largest book. No visit to Mandalay would be complete without a climb to the top of Mandalay Hill at the end of the day. Mandalay is also well known for its handicrafts and is the ideal place to search out marble, wood carvings, weavings or traditional puppets. Around Mandalay are four ancient capitals, each very different and each worth a visit to explore their monastic culture and plentiful temples. Mingun is home to the world's largest uncracked bell and is reached by boat along the river, while the other ancient cities of Ava, Amarapura and Sagaing can be visited together in one day.
there is a regular servivce from Mandalay up the river.. nearly two days and a bit later you would arrive at Bhamo and you could go by taxi to Mytykina. the accomodations are rudimentary but most burmese would live on the deck cook and there is a place you can buy some food on boat, once again very basic. but it passes through some fantastic sceneries and also each time the boat docks at towns, it is good to go out and see the town and see the activity around the dock such as in Katha. Having a burmese speaking friend accompany you would make the whole thing simpler. You will be charged in dollars but it is very little compared to the length of travel (around 50 usd)
Most people who do the boattrip from myitkiyna to katha or further to mandalay have to stop overnight in in small village called sinbo - if they do their travel by public boats. thats your chance to leave the less beaten track and discover the totally unknown. because the local authorities dont`seem to care about travel restrictions you can leave the village for hikes into the wilderness. you can even rent a bike from a villager to do the trip! just take any direction away from the river. you will meet a lot of surprised locals, who`ll show how to kill fish in a river with a machete(!) or you can help them carrying bamboo out of the jungle. the people here live with the jungle. if you enter the forrest you will soon discover that there are some famers growing different things. so take your time and stay in sinbo for a day more. here you can get a glimpse on the real real life of people in myanmar. by the way: catering is easy. there are some street-kitchens in the village and you can get nice food at your hostel.
For the adventurous traveler, we would like to suggest some trekking spots in the country. Though, there are many but prime spots are Mount Popa (Kyaukpadaung Township), Mandalay (Kyaukhtiyo Township, Mon State) and Tayaw Mountain Range (Kalaw Township, Southern Shan State).
The trekking in Tayaw village is famous for the adventures and sight-seeing it offers. The place also gives an insight into the lifestyle of the Burmese people because many villages too lie in the way. The Palaung people are very welcoming and warm.
To reach the Tayaw Village, you board a flight from Yongon to Heho. Then, proceed about 70 Km west of Taunggyi, which takes you to Kalaw. Once at Kalaw, you are ready for trekking. Kalaw, too, is a famous hiking destination. It sits elevated on the Shan plateau and has good weather. During the British rule this was popular destination. The nearby villages can also be visited during your hiking and trekking trip.
The actual trekking site is about 11Km to the south-west of Kalaw in Tayaw Village. In the village, there are about 12 hilly ranges you can trek to. The trip can last 4-6 hours by foot and is adventurous. More information can be had from the Information Center located in Kalaw.
The Palaung traditions encountered during the trip are an experience in itself. Let me share some of them. The women in Palaung have beautiful attire. They wear skirts with caned hoops and beautiful colorful tops. The houses in Palaung tend to be horizontally long with a lot of members living in it. There are mostly joint families in Palaung culture. A surprising fact you may not like: They tend to bath only once a month.
The main religion in Palaung is Buddhism. Most of the villages are quite small and have a monastery. The main income source is farming and terrace cultivation. The mina food crop they grow is Thanaphet (Cordial Maze) and it has large leafs to wrap Myanmar cheroot (homes). People use these leaves to make Cheroots in Myanmar. Education is still one sector that this region lacks and there is just one primary school in the area. If possible, contribute to the village health fund as it may help some children get education.
Finally, Palaung is a fine trekking destination and alongside it is also a great display of the Myanmar culture. The scenic place is a delight for the adventurers.
As above, if you're wanting to visit most of central Burma, then it's best just to fly budget flights offered by Thai Air Asia roundtripping Bangkok to Yangon. But if you're wanting to visit the northeast Shan area near the 'Golden Triangle' then it's best done as a separate trip from northern Thailand before/after visiting Laos. You can get a separate Burmese visa at the Tachilek border when crossing over from the Thai bordertown of Mae Sai but you'll be restricted to this region and will not be allowed to fly into central Burma.
As the poster mentioned, this border used to be open and I exited and entered/exited via this crossing in the years before the policy change of requiring and exit permit from Tachilek. This area is still worth a visit in it's own right so I'd encourage you to visit it as a side trip from northern Thailand as part of your route to enter/exit Laos.
Last time i asked it was supposedly about $200 for everything (help at the border crossing, a guide and driver till Lashio) and whatever paperwork they need between the border and Lashio.... Up to Ruili you are on your own (not difficult, there are overnight sleeper buses). The flight might seem a little cheaper (i think it is somewhere between $160 and $200 i'm not sure about that. It was about $160 2 years ago). But you'll have to pay the taxi from Mandalay airport to the city which is highly overcharged (anywhere between $12 and $20 depending on how many taxi's are there/left)since there are no other options available (it is way out of the city and there are no buses/trains or even a village....).
For me, i really enjoyed the trip overland. I did the flight too but it is not nearly as exciting. Besides, the area between Kunming and Hsipaw is really visited by tourists so it is really interesting. Btw, there are hot springs in Lashio. I haven't tried this out yet since i didn't know they were there. And if you do go overland, find the english class/school (the guy has the only internet available i think). It is much fun to be there. And we got invited to dinner by the boys of the class and for breakfast the girls took me out ;-)
While you may enter Myanmar from China via the Ruili-Muse border, you will have to arrange for an escort/guide to take you from the Myanmar border to the town of Lashio (east of Hsipaw). I don't know the cost but have heard that it's not cheap. From Lashio, you can travel by bus or train to Hsipaw, the next major town, on your own. There may even be share taxis.
You might consider flying from Kunming to Mandaly instead of travelling overland because I've read that the cost for a flight is nearly the same as overland travel.
Overall, Burma is safe but you do need to take the usual precautions as a solo female traveler.
And as others have forewarned, you do have to count the kyat notes on an exchange carefully (take your time and count it twice before handing over your US$) because 'shorting' does happen. Otherwise, overall, the people of Burma are incredibly friendly and honest.
We will agree to disagree. I know what I saw and what I KNOW. What I stated about BURMA is not conjecture. From what I know I have, yes, formulated my opinion about the country and the JUNTA. You sound as if you are defending the JUNTA and what it stands for. My opinion, but there is no defense for how they have treated their people overthe past 40+ years. You also made reference to the JUNTA emptying out Rangoon a couple of years after the 8/8/88 student demonstrations. Where was the UN during that time? Good question. But then the JUNTA is very good at keeping the press away from the country when it wants to. During the demonstrations, NO press was allowed into the country at all. Yes, information did get out but it was limited. You compare Saddam to Burma? In many ways there are comparisons, especially in the brutality towrds the people, no doubt. But why didn't the world stop the JUNTA. Look at the strategic importance in comparison. Not something I agree with but none the less a reality in our world. Strategic importance dictates the world response to such matters. Sad but true. Are you saying that the JUNTA did not clear the city of most or all of it's dissidents?? If you are Burmese and it looks and sounds as if you are then you should either know that it did happen or are in denial, to which I state that you are in some way related to the JUNTA and are trying to divert attention away from reality.
Forget about the past for a moment. How do you explain the JUNTA ignoring and NOT responding to the crisis in the delta? Not even caring enough to take care of the bodies that are still floating around out in the delta. There are places that the government hasn't even been to yet to see what assistance is needed. Foreign aid workers were the first in most of the areas AND were the first to assist the people with the basics, food, water and shelter. How can the JUNTA declare the emergency over with when the basics have not even been met. The audacity to say it will take 10 billion to rebuild. Rebuild what? The military? Let's watch and see where the money goes.
This is not about the Burmese people or about the country itself. Soley about the JUNTA. Travelers will decide to travel or not to travel there. If I were to go to Burma today could I go where I want to and when I want to? NO. And for what reason. What is it that the JUNTA is afraid of?
A couple of last questions. Where are you writing from? Burma? or are you out? Curious that you have access to the internet, especially if you are writing your response from BURMA! That would suggest that you have privileges that few have. Curious.
I can't wait to get back to Burma. But I'll go back when the people are free and under democratic rule, hopefully under Aung San Suu Kyi, or any other democratically elected person. Meanwhile, I struggle with the dilemma of support or not to support. Without reservation I would send aid dollars and other form of aid if I knew it was goin to the people. As it stands now, nobody can gaurantee that.
One of the nicest ways to enter Burma is to 'do' the Burma road. For one thing, it is the only border crossing you can use without having to fly part of the way to get to the rest of Burma. Secondly, this border is usually open to foreigners who want to visit Burma instead of doing a 'visa-run' for Thailand. The borders with Thailand are very subjectively open. At the moment they aren't (may 2007) and haven't been for a while (though people have been able to cross at the beginning of the closing period. Apparently not all border guards were up to date).
For the border crossing with China, you need a guide. They will help with all administrative hassle as well as road-blocks, border guards etc.. And they will arrange the car & driver that will take you to Lashio. From there you are on your own. The travel agency is situated in the Camelia hotel in Kunming. Prices for the trip are independent of the number of travelers. And i heard the other day that prices are up now to $200 per person.
I loved it when i did this trip and if i ever have to come from China into Burma again, i will most definitely do this route again. I'm quite convinced that had i entered via Yangon and not via Mu-Se i would not so readily have fallen in love with this country. But i did. The people, the landscape heck even the food was 10 times better then what i encountered later in Yangon. Not that it is bad there, just not as good ;-)
There are not that many people (yet) to cross here. I have met only 1 other person in the (by now) 6 months i've been in this country so it is still very much an 'off-the-beaten-path'. When we crossed in februari 2006 the border guard on the chinese side told us they have foreigners crossing the border about every 2 weeks.... Mostly other asians.
There isn't much to distinguish the Burma road from any other road when your on it. The views are great. People we met where really nice. But that is it. Basically it is more your own feeling that makes it more or less special.
Kyaukme is a sleepy town between Pin Oo Lwin and Hsipaw and very few travelers go here. Which is a pity. It has a nice ambiance (nicer than Hsipaw i personally think) and like in Hsipaw it is a good place for walks and hikes. But since there is no 'Mr. Charles' who organizes everything, you'll have to do much yourself. There are a few 'guided' in town though who are more then ready to help you along should you want their advice and/or company. Even overnight treks can be arranged.
We had an extra day at Inle Lake and we wanted something else. So we went to beautiful Kekku. It is not very far from Inle lake and well within Pa-O territory. You have to pay $5 p.p. for admission at the Pa-O administration office in Taunggy But with that money they keep the site up (and make repairs since it is an active religious site) and you get a guide to come with you and explain everything. It is a really interesting place. I'd liked to have taken the trek from Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake) to this place which would have taken us 7 hours but since both my stepmother and me weren't able to do so at this particular time, we'd taken a car from Nyaung Shwe. The drive is nice, through Pa-O villages where you can stop if you'd like to. If you do the hike (with guide of course), you can sleep at the wooden bungalows that have recently been constructed next to the one restaurant near the site (though there is a food market close by where you can get excellent noodles). My father listened mostly to the explanations of our guide. The others (including me) did our utmost best to make as many beautiful pictures of this site as possible. I think between the 3 of us we did fairly well ;-)
It is still a reasonably unknown place even though it is this close to Inle Lake. Last year they had around 4000 people visiting the site.
These caves are near Monywa (but still quite a ride away). We took a tuk-tuk like vehicle to get there across the bridge instead of going by ferry and arranging transport on the other side. It took us almost an hour to get here. But it is worth it. The caves are quite a sight. Though many are in bad shape it is really nice to go in and have a look around. Apparently quite a few caves have been plundered by relic robbers but fortunately there is still enough to see. When i was there i was the only westerner here. Of course this was in July which low season but it is a bit out of the way for the big 4 (Yangon, Inle lake, Mandalay & Bagan) so you'll find less people here. There are burmese around who'll approach you since they want to be your guide. It can be worth doing since there is a lot to know about these caves which were built between the 14th and 18th century. it took us the better part of a morning to get around. then again, i'm a sucker for these kind of places.
Kandawgyi Palace hotel is located on the shore of Royal Lake. I hope these pics will help you to...more
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