Burma tips from James and Robin – hey, you're welcome!
The ethos of Ampersand is that ‘luxury is in the experience’ and Burma is a great example of this. In light of the political changes in Burma, which have created much client interest, Ampersand has been carrying out fact-finding recces for the last three years (during which time our team has spent close to 3 months in Burma collectively) and we started selling holidays there this year.
To help you decide if Burma is the right destination for you, we put James in the hot seat to pick out his top 3 favourite Burma experiences and we asked Robin to dispense a few quick tips on the hotel options in Burma...
JAMES JAYASUNDERA, MD of Ampersand Travel
1. Visiting the giant golden Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon: Once, we were there for the water festival and it was surrounded by hundreds and thousands of worshippers paying their respects. The air was heavy with the scent of flowers and incense, and the shuffling crowds flowed as one around the pagoda. It was wonderful to see families of all sizes, spanning 4 (perhaps 5) generations, spending time and praying together.
2. Slicing through the water on Inle Lake on a long-tail boat: The water, mountain and sky seemed to merge with one another and the colours were washed out into shades of blue and grey. It was cool – almost cold – and it felt surreal. Here, whole villages live on the water and crops are grown on small strips of floating islands. Rarely has reality felt more dreamlike.
3. Seeing close to 300 young novice monks in the botanical gardens of Pyin Oo Lwin: The gardens are beautifully maintained and a popular spot for honeymooners and families. Deciding to take a rest and watch the world go by, a few young novices came walking around the corner in single file. A few soon became 10, 10 became 20 and before we knew it a sea of red robes were swaying past us. Some were very small, barely 4 years old, whilst others were a little older, all of whom maintained extraordinary discipline and poise. They filed past us and disappeared as silently as they appeared.
Yangon: The Governor's Residence is the most luxurious property in Yangon. It is a superb luxury retreat in the heart of the city, full of character and has a lovely swimming pool. The Strand is perfect if you really want the colonial touch, and The Savoy is slightly less of a colonial property but it's still very nice and a little bit cheaper.
Mandalay: There are three really good properties in Mandalay – one is the Rupar Mandalar which is a relatively small character hotel and it has lovely rooms but it's not a big 5 star property. Mandalay Hill Resort is a big 5 star property and, though we don’t normally use such large hotels, we’ve made an exception with this property because the location is great, the food is amazing, and their higher category rooms are fantastic. Also the alternatives, though possibly smaller and more cosy, overall are not necessarily better. The Hotel by the Red Canal is good if you’re looking for something a little cheaper. It is a high-level guest house – almost like a big homestay because the staff so friendly and welcoming – and it has a small pool.
Bagan: Our favourite hotel in Bagan is the Thiripyitsaya Sanctuary Resort. It is Japanese owned and they have quite a few rooms – their lowest category rooms are almost like an American summer camp where you have wooden chalets around a garden. The higher category rooms have views over the river and the property itself has a lovely pool with views over the Irrawaddy. It's a spacious resort with a really positive vibe. Aureum Palace has very nice rooms and a knockout pool with views directly overlooking the Bagan plains dotted with temples… really quite amazing. Its top notch location is perfect for exploring the temples by bike or foot. The Hotel at Tharabar Gate is a good option if you’re looking for something a little cheaper – it is a mid-range character hotel, well located and the hotel is sprawled over a fairly large area.
Ngapali: Sandoway Resort is definitely our number one choice. Their rooms, especially their lower category rooms, are extremely well priced – particularly compared with Thailand’s resorts. If you really want to enjoy the end of your trip, the beachfront villas at Sandoway are truly unbeatable with double doors that open onto the beach so you can walk straight out onto the sand. It really rocks – it’s a beautiful hotel! Ngapali Bay View is a relatively new property, old and decrepit until about 2011 when they did it up. They have massive rooms but the gardens aren’t as mature as Sandoway Resort, which is right next door. However, it’s still a really nice property, well managed and everything is up to date and new. The Amara Beach is on a different beach the other side of the airport – the beach itself is nice but there are some rocks in the water so it’s not quite as charming a place to swim, but if you want some seclusion and no tourists this is a really good one to choose because it’s really on its own. And it only has a small inventory of rooms, which are all very nice.
Inle Lake: Inle Princess is one of our favourite hotels in Burma and it has the chicest clientele in Inle.. It’s a really charming, small lakeside property, the rooms are lovely and the lakefront rooms are really sweet with a little sit out area on the water. And the spa’s amazing – they’ve got huge treatment rooms and when you’ve finished they’ve got a huge shower room. Inle Lake View is another great property, the junior suite rooms are extremely nice and good value. It’s a bit bigger than the Inle Princess but it’s also well-run.
Putau: Malika Lodge was designed by the same architect as the Aman and, though the location is really beautiful, there's not much there in the way of development. You go for forests, trekking, wildlife, waterfalls – it’s all possible from the lodge. However, it’s rather hard to get to and it is not cheap. It’s not run at the same level of an Aman but the hardware is good.
* Foodie tip: Le Planteur in Yangon is probably the best restaurant in the country and they sell fusion food and traditional Burmese food. It’s close to the Shwedagon Pagoda and fits nicely with a late afternoon visit there. There is also a fun restaurant in Yangon called the Green Elephant selling traditional food. We would recommend getting out and experiencing local tea shops – there are lots of exotic dishes. The Burmese eat a lot of salads; one salad they eat a lot which you won’t have come across is the green tea leaf salad – they cure the leaves and add peanut and chillies and all sorts!
If you are interested, please look at our suggested Burma itineraries and our full portfolio of Burma hotels. For more information or to book your trip to Burma, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or call +44 (0)20 7289 6100