I sought to answer two questions at the onset of this trip to Myanmar:
1) Is it possible to (successfully) book your own Myanmar trip without using an agency?
2) Is Myanmar in the Travel Sweet Spot or not? In other words, can decent infrastructure be found without having to sacrifice (too much) authenticity?
BOOKING YOUR OWN MYANMAR TRIP
YES, it’s possible — easy, even — to book your own travel to Myanmar. Enough blogs and posts exist on sites like Fodors and Tripadvisor (plus, I’m partial to Lonely Planet) that you can figure out the ideal itinerary.
Logistics-wise, I had NO problem booking intra-country flights through Oway, reserving hotel rooms through Agoda and scheduling airport transports by emailing the properties at which I stayed. If I were to plan my vacation over, the only change I would make is to book a resort in Old Bagan instead of the Blue Bird Hotel in New Bagan.
MYANMAR AND THE TRAVEL SWEET SPOT
So is a trip to Myanmar in the Travel Sweet Spot? Yes. No. Maybe. It’s personal, obviously, and depends on the slope at which you calculate your own infrastructure and authenticity demands. y=mx+b.
As far as my own infrastructure demands, my trip was well-timed. Charming properties existed (I just didn’t pick the right one in Bagan) yet there’s not a Marriott to be found in Myanmar (but that’s about to change). Those fucking travel coaches are still far between yet “brilliant” e-bikes are readily available. I was able to book my travel online, no agent needed. I was a little late, though, from a supply/demand perspective, as I paid a premium rate for every property at which I stayed.
And the 64,000 Kyat question: is Myanmar still “authentic”? Travel coaches, monks with cell phones, Christmas music. If you’re a seasoned traveler, probably not. However, if your idea of a dream vacation is staying at a Sandals all-inclusive resort then I suggest you wait another ten years to visit this country.
I fall somewhere in the middle. I don’t really need 100% authenticity, 100% of the time. In fact, I’ll happily sacrifice a little authenticity for a little luxury. I had my wi-fi, cold beer, electric bike and warm room (2 out of 3 times). And yet I experienced moments of Zen, tested my comfort zone a few times and never once ate a Big Mac.
I’m happy I traveled to Myanmar this year and not last year, or waited until next year.
I have less than 100 “friends” on Facebook: I like to keep it intimate. I mostly lurk to see what people are up to, but sometimes I’ll post a photo after a trip. After I returned from Myanmar I updated my profile photo with the image of the woman that I met on the road while bicycling around Inle Lake.
About a week later a friend introduced me through Facebook to another friend of his, who had posted a photo of herself taken with the same woman in Myanmar! She wore a blue head scarf in my picture; a pink scarf in this one.
I don’t know this woman. I’ve spent only three minutes with her, in passing, on a dirt road. But I suspect she would love this coincidence and welcome her “fame”. Keep an eye out for her if you’re ever on the dirt road leading north from Inle Lake, Myanmar.