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Big Sur - Hiking Andrew Molera State Park

One of the great delights of living in the Bay Area is the proximity to the natural beauty of California and it's hard to beat the stunning drive down Highway One to Big Sur. This is certainly one of the iconic American road trips, but for me the joy of being in the area is getting out of your car and hitting a trail, so you can be "in" the landscape rather than just looking at it from the asphalt. 

Our Burmese Itinerary

For additional Burma posts click here.
I thought I'd start my Burma posts with an outline of our itinerary. We were in Burma for three weeks and we opted to fly into Mandalay on Air Asia and out of Yangon. If you are coming via Bangkok I'd recommend this, as you minimized any doubling back. We aimed for enough time in each place to relax and explore, and overall were happy with the pacing. However, I'd recommend adding a day or two at  Inle to give yourself more time to enjoy everything in and around the lake. There are lots of other areas to explore in Burma and we thought about adding some walking, but for our first trip we decided to focus on the main cities and temple sites, with some relaxation at the beach in Ngapali.  
Generally I prefer to make my own hotel and flight reservations but in Burma it is  currently easiest to use a local travel agent, particularly because the hotels are very heavily booked in the season and not all of the domestic airlines are online. We avoided the very high end hotels which are currently a very poor value and are most heavily associated with the military junta. We used Myanmar Shalom, a Yangon based travel agency, and I recommend them. Mr. Tin, who was my contact, was professional and responsive. They are happy to offer an a la carte service and he gave me a full breakdown of all the costs. This meant I was able to opt for transfers, guides and transport where it suited and to make our own arrangements where I wanted to. They are a local Burmese Jewish company based in Yangon  but conveniently  (and with a small surcharge) you can use a credit card which was a great advantage to us and minimizes carrying cash - which seems to be a necessity with with many of the other local agencies. On our final day in Yangon they sent a car to take us to the airport even though we hadn't paid for, or reserved a transfer. Mr Tin said they wanted to make sure we were looked after and it was a very gracious gesture. They kept in contact with us throughout the trip and I would certainly use them again.
Planning  the Burmese segment of our "Mad Dash" was very different from everywhere else we visited. Burma is currently the place to see and it's often difficult to get into the hotels you initially identify, unless you book a long time in advance or at the very last minute when travel agents may have released some of their inventory. We stayed at larger, more generic places than we normally opt for, because these were what was available.  Overall, we we fairly happy with the places the travel agent recommended but Burma isn't yet a destination offering a wide range of well run, independent boutique options.  
The common consensus among travelers seems to be go to Burma sooner rather than later, before it changes or Westernizes. But this isn't an overnight process and I'm generally resistant to the idea  that authenticity can only be found at a certain time and place. Conversely, I can see the argument for delaying a trip to Burma until it has developed a market for independent travelers looking for elegant, characterful, local owned properties. Right now, because of the number of groups traveling to the country, the prices remain inflated  and there is a  limited market aimed between the backpackers and the tour groups.
Ok, so lets get to the itinerary...

Three nights in Mandalay at the centrally located (but modest) Mandalay City Hotel. We had a half day tour of town on the day we arrived, a day outside of town with a driver and guide and a day on our own walking around the city. From Mandalay we took the  all day ferry down to Bagan.
Four Nights in Bagan at the Amazing Bagan Resort, located outside of town where we escaped the dust and enjoyed the pool. We were very glad to have three full days to explore the temples which we enjoyed seeing on our own. For us anything less would have been too rushed.
Three nights at Inle Lake where we stayed in town at the small boutique Amazing Nyaung Shwe.  The first day we drove from the airport  to the temples at Kakku and then to Inle . While I enjoyed seeing the landscape and meeting the local guide, Kakku was far too much driving for a one day trip. We spent one long day out on the lake and wished we'd had longer.

Four nights on the beach at Ngapali at the Thande Hotel. The hotel is attractive but we should have opted for a better room, as the travel agent recommended!

We flew to Sittwe where we spent a night at the  rather basic but acceptable Shwe Thazin Hotel. The next morning we toured the spectacular fish market and then took a private boat with a guide up to  Mrauk U where we spent three nights at the Shwe Thazin Hotel, which was simple but fine. We spent one and a half days  touring the temples and a day on the river exploring several Chin villages. Transportation and the guide were included in the package.

We ended the trip with an early morning boat journey  down to Sittwe and a flight to Yangon. Though some people don't seem impressed by Yangon, we love cities and were happy to have three nights here. We stayed at the East Hotel which was a small, well located  modest boutique option right in the center of town. We had one day with a driver and guide and one day on our own. The hotel was in a great location for exploring the city on our own.
You can see the route we took below, we opted to visit Ngapali before Sittwe to maximize direct flights and to minimize cost. Given the  juggling that is required to deal with the domestic flights we were very glad to have used a travel agent.
Maps generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

There's lots more to say about Burma but this gives us a place to start. 

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