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Heading South from Mandalay and Relaxing at Chaung Tha Beach

(Part 3 of 3) We bypass the train for a flight from Mandalay to Yangon

Sunset over Chaung Tha Beach

In our previous article, we backpacked our way by Bus from Yangon to Bagan (with a few stops along the way!).

On the final leg of our 3 week journey around Myanmar we stayed in Mandalay for a couple of nights along with researching a great selection of budget hotels for backpackers in Mandalay around 25th, 26th, 27th & 28th street in the city centre.  We then skipped getting the train from Mandalay back to Yangon in favour of trying out the new Golden Myanmar Airlines, which saved us an awkward and uncomfortable overnight bone shaking train journey.  We tried a few new places to eat in Yangon, including the infamous Biryani restaurant on the corner of Maha Vandula Road. Then caught a bus from Hlaing Thar Yar Bus Terminal to the west of Yangon for our final trip to Chuang Tha beach, where we enjoyed sunsets over the Bay of Bengal and spearfishing with a new friend.

If you are joining us at this point, you can read the first part of our awesome trip of lifetime backpacking Myanmar and seeing Kyakityo (Kinpun) for the Golden Rock and following Kipling's footsteps in Mawlemyine.

To recap… Our route around Myanmar (Burma):

Myanmar Budget Backpacking Guide Map

Map Key: 1 Yangon, 2 Kyakityo, 3 Mawlemyine, 4 Pyay, 5 Magway (Minbu), 6 Bagan,7 Mandalay, 8 Chuang Tha Beach (Pathein). In this part, we cover points 7 & 8 with some more exploring of Yangon.

Days 13 – 15, Having a break in Mandalay and getting ill from Ice Cream

We arrived in Mandalay just after midday, with plenty of time to search for some accommodation.  From the Lonely Planet guide, it seemed like the best place for backpackers to find hotels in Mandalay we should head towards 28th Street, where the Nylon Ice Cream is located.  A taxi to the city centre from the Highway Bus Station shouldn't cost more more than 5,000 Kyat after some haggling.  There are plenty of taxi touts standing and waiting at the bus doors when they open on arrival.  All trying to get double that for a 15-20 minute trip into town.  Be tough and just keep walking until someone offers a ride for a more reasonable fare.

When we arrived at the Nylon Ice Cream bar, Cristabel stayed with the bags, whilst I took a walk around for 45 minutes to find somewhere reasonable to stay.  Mandalay definitely has a wider choice of accommodation than Yangon and all for under $30 a night on average.  Without repeating myself, if you haven't already.. Read our guide to budget accommodation in Mandalay first (opens in a new window / tab).  We reviewed 8 fairly decent places to stay, all under various budgets.

I'd like to say we saw a lot of Mandalay, as there was plenty of sights and attractions that we really wanted to do around the local area (see our Google Maps Engine for some inspiration!).  But luck was not on our side.

Apart from hitting a travelling wall (after seeing so much in such a short space of time), we got fairly ill after experiencing the Nylon Ice Cream bar, another place recommended in the Lonely Planet guide.  As I have said in previous posts, the guide is crap for recommendations of accommodation and places to eat & drink.. But I still have to recommend buying the damn thing for it's complete guide to attractions.  Anyone use another guidebook that was actually useful, tell me and I'll add it here later!

We stayed in Mandalay for 3 nights and have nothing to say about the place.. Apart from that there are plenty of attractions a few hours away to see such as Mingun Pahtodawgyi, Su Taung Pyi Pagoda, Inn WaMonywa (Snake Temple) to name a few.  We certainly will go back in the future with a bit more time on our side, and a healthier disposition!

Days 16 – 17, we fly from Mandalay to Yangon by Myanmar's new low cost carrier and try out Union Bar & Grill on Strand Road

Golden Myanmar Airlines started their flagship service, flying between Yangon and Mandalay earlier this year.  They are also opening up further domestic routes over the next 18 months that will compete with the government owned rival airlines.  Before hearing about this new airline, I wouldn't have ever trusted flying on a Burmese airliner.  The reason being is they all had old planes that were unreliable and unsafe.  Well now with Golden Myanmar Airlines, you can feel safer, flying on brand new Airbus planes.  The flight from Mandalay to Yangon (and vice-versa) costs just $41 (£30) each.  Which now means it makes no sense to take the terrible overnight train service.  You may have read elsewhere you should do it for the ‘adventure' or some shit.. Just take a flight!  It doesn't make you any less adventurous and you will save time.

We again stayed at the May Fair Inn, which for $25 (windowless) or $30 (with window) gets you a decent room, in a decent location and ensuite bathroom.  As we covered previously, when we went to The Strand Hotel for Afternoon Tea, we walked past a new bar that had just opened called Union Bar & Grill.  It was of course, not budget traveller friendly.  But in terms of value compared to eating out somewhere ‘fancy' in London it was a real treat!

A short review of The Union Bar & Grill in Yangon (Strand Road)

Starters average around $7 with a posh offering of items such as Bang Bang Chicken, Tempura Crab Rolls, Salt & Pepper Calamari and Charred Squid.

Main courses are between $10 – $15 for Pizza, Sandwiches, Burgers, Pasta and a few lighter ‘Main' dishes such as Pork Loins, Nori Wrapped Salmon, Shan Noodles & Local Curry.  You can opt for the bigger dishes such as 8oz imported Rib-Eye, New York Strip steaks, etc.. If you have money to throw around.

We tried a few of their sandwiches, burger, noodles & pasta dishes.. all were really good! After having High Tea at The Strand before, we found having a cup of traditional english tea here was much better value at just $2 for a pot of Earl Grey!  Perfect after a long walk around Yangon.

I think the cocktails are the highlight though.  I went a bit nuts one day we visited and started ordering the Brazilian Caipirinha on a few rounds, at $6 its ouch expensive.  But then again, I do love them! And christ they are strong and so tasty!

We felt a little bit scummy being in there after hours, as all the well heeled locals and expats working in Yangon go there to socialize.  After 10 months of travelling with the same clothes we didn't quite look the part.  But then again, the service was friendly throughout and we felt comfortable enough.

To get here: 42 Strand Road, Yangon (website).

How to find Union Bar & Grill Yangon Strand Road

Union Bar & Grill Yangon Location

On the 2nd day, we tried to work out the final plan for our last few days in Myanmar.  We wanted to go to Pathein, but transport wasn't going to be convenient enough to leave us enough time to have 1 night in Yangon before leaving, back to Bangkok.  We decided to instead just get a bus directly to Chaung Tha Beach, where we could spend 2 nights enjoying the western facing sunset over the Bay of Bengal and just relax.  We booked our tickets through an agent just outside the front of Yangon Train Station.  It's hard to miss all the booths, they will likely try to flag you down if you walk nearby.

Our bus ticket directly to Chaung Tha cost 10,000 Kyat each.  That sounds like a lot, but originally they wanted closer to 15,000 each.  I still believe it was too much, and if you find the right company, you can maybe get there for 7-8,000 per person.  As usual, it was an early start at 6am.. we headed back to our hotel to get an early night!

Days 18 – 20, Chaung Tha Beach – enjoying a magnificent sunset over the Bay of Bengal

Spearfishing with Mohses at Chaung Tha beach

The bus station you need to travel to for getting buses towards Chaung Tha Beach / Pathein & Ngwesaung Beach all depart from the western most bus station (Hlaing Thar Yar).  It's a good 30-40 minutes away at 6am in the morning, or more like 1 hour in traffic!

It's actually the first time (apart from Bagan) where we even spotted other westerners. Which cements this part as a well trodden path, which is easy to travel around.  The bus journey takes around 6 hours.  If it wasn't for the single track roads and tracks going over & around the hillside before Chaung Tha, it shouldn't take more than 3 hours in terms of distance.  I imagine it won't be long until this place gets a highway, as there is a lot of potential for it to become a big beach destination for foreigners (its already popular with the Burmese growing middle class).

Chaung Tha beach accommodation I have to say is laughably bad value for money.  We walked up and down part of the main beach road to look at all the accommodation available, only to come across budget rooms, available at mid-higher end prices.  There are a few ‘barebones' guesthouses along the front, if you can stand the jail-cell like rooms and shared squat bathrooms.  Otherwise the hotels that you would actually want to stay at are all $70 and up per night.  I can recommend 2 hotels though on different budget scales..

Shwe Hin Tha Hotel – $40 per night

Is one of the first hotels when you get to on the main road.  If you are getting here by bus, they will ask you where you are staying so that they can drop you off before getting to the main Chaung Tha bus station.  Which is a motorbike ride away from the main hotels area.

We made a deal with the owner and got one of their better rooms for $40 per night with breakfast included. Otherwise they do have some air-con rooms going for $35 per night.

One thing to bare in mind in Chaung Tha is there really is no 24 hour electricity here.  The electric kicks out at sunrise and comes back on just before sunset. There are no generators (unless you go to the $70+ hotel resorts).  The resort has WiFi, but obviously not for majority of the day and it's only available in the main reception area which is covered in flying insects after dusk.

Hill Garden Hotel – $25 per night

Set waaaaay back from the main road.  It will take you about 10-15 minutes to walk from your hotel to any of the restaurants and small shops off the main drag.

This hotel is owned / managed by the same hotel as above.  So if you want to see the rooms first, go to the reception of Shwe Hin Tha and ask to speak to the Manager who will drive you down the track road.  That saves you a lot of time and bother!

The positive about these 2 places?  You can actually book them in advance through Agoda which I can recommend you doing (there's a first for Myanmar!).

Chaung Tha Beach – The ‘locals' beach

After checking in, we headed for the beach.  It kind of reminded me of a less depressing version of beaches in Britain.  The weather was nice for starters and they had pony rides, kids toys and souvenirs for sale.  Other bizarre things you will see are Pony's painted in zebra patterns to ride, children selling fireworks and odd little ‘bars' on the beach serving fresh coconut and beer.  I say ‘bars' because I still can't work out to this day whether they were bars or locals just hanging out with a picnic.

We had a few rain showers after an hour and retreated to the beach bar attached to Shwe Hin Tha hotel.  The beach isn't what you would find in Thailand, with white sand, palm lined fringes and bamboo / jungle themed bars aimed at western backpackers.  It's very local focused with little to no other westerners here.  The bar was a nice place to retreat to though, as we witnessed an incredible golden sunset, whilst sinking back some Myanmar beer.  It was at this point we met Mohses ‘The Deaf Man of Chaung Tha beach‘.  You can read the full story at that link of our day spent spearfishing and snorkelling with Mohses.

Even though we didn't manage to get to Pathein (well apart from a short lunch break stop on the way to Chaung Tha).  We managed to buy some small umbrella souvenirs of the traditional Pathein umbrella.  I heard a rumour that cocktail umbrellas were inspired by them, worth picking one up as they are very good quality!

We managed to book our bus ticket back to Yangon for 7,000 Kyat each.  That's about the cheapest you can probably get it for, as a foreigner.  Far better value than our trip here, from Yangon!

Days 21 – 23, we finish our tour of Myanmar back in Yangon.. Not before trying a Biryani!

The bus got back to Yangon at around midday (as 99% of long distance buses do in Myanmar).  Again, the western bus station is a long way out of town.  We had heavy traffic on our way back and it took about an hour to get to May Fair Inn and cost 9,000 Kyat in total for the 2 of us in a shared taxi.  It is a taxi mafia that runs the system at Hlaing Thar Yar bus terminal, so getting a taxi below that price will be difficult!

We were lucky and got the last room available at May Fair Inn.. Actually an hour later and we would have been seriously out of luck.  After settling in, we headed out to a place we had wanted to try since we got to Myanmar and stayed in Yangon the first time..

Enjoying a Biryani in Yangon

Located on the corner of Pansodan Street & Maha Bandula Road, there is a corner Biryani station.  You'll smell it before you see it!  They have large vats of Biryani they must serve 100's of portions a day from.  This Biryani is some of the best we have ever tried!  For just under 2,000 Kyat per person you get a decent portion of Biryani.  Either order it to go, or grab a table inside.  The speed at which they serve you is incredible, you can be sitting down and eating in under 30 seconds.

This isn't the only Biryani place in Yangon either, it's one of the local specialties which must be tried!

Biryani in Yangon

Hmmmm Yummy Biryani!

Trying out Burmese Afternoon Tea

We came across a little tea shop when we previously had been in Yangon a few weeks earlier.  We decided at the time we were too hungry for just tea and snacks, so made a promise to come back another time.  Located on Seikkantha Street, just after the corner of Merchant Street in which you turn down the road.  This traditional burmese tea shop serves up as close to I can describe Afternoon Tea.

Take a seat anywhere and you will soon be served either Chinese Tea or better still Milk Tea.  The milk tea is like an english tea, but much much stronger with condensed milk. British people will understand the term builders tea strength.. Well this was double as strong as even that, with a nice smooth taste from the condensed milk and sugary!  Wow, this stuff is comforting and refreshing.

Burmese Style Afternoon Tea

Trying out the Burmese style Afternoon Tea

The best time to visit the tea shop is after lunchtime, as they will fill your table up with many plates of various things you can eat.  You simply pay for what you eat.  So don't feel compelled to eat everything in sight!  If you aim to do a walking tour of downtown Yangon's colonial era buildings (as we describe in part 1 of our guide) then this works well as a stop at the end of your tour.

After 23 days in Myanmar, our trip finally came to an end.  We really loved this country and urge everyone to go and visit, before things change too much.  It's hard to envisage what could happen in the future, there's visions of Thailand & Bangkoks development over the past 20 years happening here..  Maybe it will turn into a Cambodia or Malaysia.  I think that's all wrong, as Myanmar is nothing like any of these countries.  The people are unique not because they have been ‘sheltered' from the rest of the world for so long, because they tell a different story.

There are some parts of this country I really didn't like (and it was the touristy areas) and dozens of places we need to go back to explore further.  I know one thing, and that's I'm planning our next trip already.

This guide was from a 3 part series on our travels around Myanmar (Burma), read the below guides for more information and inspiration for your adventures!

Interested in reading our other Travel Guides on Myanmar?

If you enjoyed this blog and series, please share via the link below!  Thank you.

About Darryl Hall (85 Articles)
Darryl left the shorelines of England in 2013 to study and travel in China and South East Asia for a year. Darryl is a co-founder of escapingthedesk.com, a travel blog with the aim of sharing travel tips, country & city guides for other backpackers. Visit my Google+ page.

2 Comments on Heading South from Mandalay and Relaxing at Chaung Tha Beach

  1. Wow, what a nice story. I’ve plan to visit Myanmar also. Is that Country safe for solo backpacker especially female backpacker?

    Regards from Indonesia,

    Tery

  2. Hey Tery, yes Myanmar is very safe for solo female backpackers. It’s got a good track history with foreigners in general. It’s arguably the safest country in South East Asia to travel in. I hope you enjoy your travels!

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