I’m 30 & This Is How Much I Spent On My Multi-City Trip Through Myanmar

Welcome to Travel Diaries, a Refinery29 series where we tag along as real women embark on trips around the world and track their travel expenses down to the last cent. Here, we offer a detailed, intimate account of when, where, and how our peers spend their vacation days and disposable income: all the meals, adventures, indulgences, setbacks, and surprises.
This week's travel diary: A 30-year-old digital marketing specialist from Singapore checks "hot air balloon ride" off her bucket list in a multi-city tour of Myanmar.
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Editor's note: all currency has been converted to USD.
Age: 30
Occupation: Digital Marketing Specialist
Salary: 52,000
Travel Companion: Friend, G.
Hometown: Singapore
Trip Location: Myanmar: Yangon, Inle Lake, and Bagan
Trip Length: 6 days
Annual # Of Vacation Days: 21 days
Companion’s # of Vacation Days: 21 days
Cost: Took a Direct Jetstar flight from Changi Airport, Singapore to Yangon International Airport, Myanmar.

Total:  $123.4
Cost: We spent our night in Yangon at the Merchant Art Boutique Hotel ($15.60). Then two nights in Inle Lake at the Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min Hotel and it included breakfast ($125). Then in Bagan we stayed at the Bagan Billiken Hotel, which also included breakfast ($38.80).
Total: $179.40
Miscellaneous pre-vacation spending 
Leather belt from H&M $14.40
Snacks from Don Quijote (Japanese chain supermarket) $10.10
Total: $24.50

Day One 

7:15 a.m. – I've checked-in online and since I do not have any luggage to drop off, I leave my house as late as I possibly can. I book a GoJek (a southeast Asian ride-hailing app) and reach Changi Airport in about 15 minutes. $9.60
7:30 a.m. – Before stepping into the airport, I quickly sanitise my hands and put on a surgical mask. Due to the COVID-19 epidemic, everyone in the country is pretty much on high alert. Once I’m in the departure hall, I head to the pharmacy to get a travel-sized bottle of contact lens solution. $2.10
10:40 a.m. – I land in Yangon International Airport and breeze through customs and immigration. The timezone in Yangon is one hour and 30 minutes behind Singapore's. Once I'm out, I spot our driver, Mr. W., holding a sign of my name. We found him online and contacted him three weeks before our trip. We didn’t put in any deposit (as it wasn’t asked of us) and will be paying for the services in cash. He will be driving us through Yangon, Inle Lake, and Bagan for six days. G. is also in a surgical mask and I almost don't recognise her! We find a money changer in the airport and exchange my Singapore dollars for Myanmar kyats as there weren't many money changers in Singapore that held kyats.
12:00 p.m. – We have lunch at a restaurant called House of Memories which is rated highly on TripAdvisor. The restaurant is full of tourists but the food is local and tastes amazing! It's our very first try of Myanmar cuisine. We have pork curry, brinjal salad, potato rice, tomato rice, and lemongrass tea. $7.90
1:00 p.m. – We'll be going ballooning in Bagan on Day Five of our trip but Mr. W. suggests that we make the booking and payment in the Yangon office instead so we drive to that office of Golden Eagle, which is the hot air balloon operation company.  We choose the “Classic Package” which allows up to 12 passengers per basket. We have a list of pilots to choose from complete with their photos and profile. We choose our pilot at random, and secretly hope that he's not a popular choice so that there'll be less passengers in our balloon! $300
1:30 p.m. – Our next destination is the Waziya Film street, which is a back-alley filled with pretty, colourful wall art based on films and movies. We take lots of pictures here.
2:30 p.m. – We want to ride on the Circle Train which is a very old, local train that goes around the city. The entire loop takes three hours but we only plan to ride a few stops for the experience. When we reach the Yangon railway station, Mr. W. finds out that the next train will only arrive in two-and-a-half hours! We decide to skip this activity after all. We still get to see the trains which have stopped at the station, and we hop onto them to take some photos.
3:30 p.m. – We are now pretty hot and sweaty so we head to the Merchant Art Boutique Hotel to check-in. G. passes me the Bioré make-up removing wipes and Ellips hair vitamin capsules that I asked her to buy for me from KLIA’s duty-free. $1.90
4:30 p.m. – We walk for ten minutes to Shwedagon Pagoda which is absolutely massive and beautifully decked in gold! We pay a foreigner entrance fee and we're given surgical masks to wear. In all of the pagodas, it’s compulsory for shoulders and knees to be covered and footwear is not allowed. G. is Buddhist so she kneels down to pray and also takes part in some of the rituals such as bathing of the Buddha. A friendly local joins us and explains that there is a corner in the pagoda for every day of the week and we should go to the corner based on the day that we were born. It turns out that my friend was at the wrong corner and now has to repeat the ritual at the correct one, haha! The local continues to follow us which makes us uncomfortable so we tell him that we're fine to explore on our own. (Later on, I watched another traveller's Instagram Story where the exact same thing happened to her and it turns out that the local guide ended up demanding a large tip. Turns out we were lucky to have escaped that trap.) $6.90
5:30 p.m. – We meet Mr. W. at our hotel and head to Sule Pagoda. It’s pretty underwhelming up close so we decide not to enter and simply enjoy it from the outside.
6:30 p.m – We have dinner at 999 Shan Noodle Shop, and order chicken noodle soup, pork rib dry noodles, and a side dish of fried tofu pieces. Everything is delicious but G. particularly did not like the taste of the pork. Prior to this trip, we were warned by several friends that Burmese food would be an acquired taste but thankfully G. and I find the taste to be similar to what we have back home in Singapore and Malaysia. $2.70
7:30 p.m – On our drive back to the hotel, we notice that the Shwedagon Pagoda looks even more stunning at night so we ask the driver to drop us there again. We get stopped at the entrance again to pay the foreigner entrance fee so we show them our ticket from before and thankfully it gets accepted.
8:30 p.m – We’re finally back at the hotel and we turn in early as we have a long drive to Inle Lake tomorrow!
Daily Total: $331.10

Day Two

6:00 a.m. – We check out of the hotel and get ready to leave Yangon! Yangon gave us a good taste of what city-living in Myanmar is like, but we are now ready to explore other parts of this country. Today we are heading to Inle Lake, which is a freshwater lake in the Shan Hills of Myanmar. We will be staying there for two nights. Before we leave, Mr. W.’s boss meets us at the hotel to collect payment for the driver services. And our ten-hour drive to Inle Lake begins! $232.50
9:30 a.m. – We make our first rest-stop at the 76 Mile Mini Rest Camp which is a large eatery along the Yangon-Mandalay expressway. Mr. W. is visibly tired and I feel worried for most of the drive. He has a plastic bag full of energy drinks and stops every two hours for a cigarette and drink. G. and I are really hungry as we didn’t have breakfast and it's already 11:00 a.m. in our local timezone. We order two glasses of dragonfruit juice (SO yummy!), fish soup with noodles and a cold noodle salad. $1.10
12:00 p.m. – We stop for petrol and I get a bag full of candy from the minimart. $1.30
7:00 p.m. – We reach Inle Lake and pay a zone entrance fee of 15,000 kyats per person. $10.40
7:50 p.m. – We finally reach our hotel, Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min Hotel, which is a gorgeous lakeside resort but a deep 20-minute drive from the town center. After checking in, we ask the staff about booking a boat tour for tomorrow. They show us a list of boat tour packages covering the different attractions of Inle Lake, along with the prices. We take this list with us so that G. and I can discuss it in detail.
8:20 p.m. – We don’t want to bother Mr. W. who must be exhausted so we have dinner in the hotel's restaurant. We each have carbonara pasta and a huge pot of tea that hits the spot nicely! We also discuss which spots we want to cover in our boat tour for tomorrow. $13.50
9:30 p.m. – We head back to the reception to book our boat tour for Inle Lake, and we end up customising our own package instead because we want to mix and match the spots from the different packages as well as avoid having to pay extra. G. successfully negotiates the price down from USD30 to USD25! This will be paid directly to the boat driver tomorrow. We head back to our room and knock out.
Daily Total: $258.80

Day Three

8:30 a.m. – We have breakfast at the buffet that's included in our two-night stay. We load up on eggs, french toast, pancakes, pastries, sausages, cereal, and noodles. We are two very small but greedy girls. Yum!
9:50 a.m. – We head to the hotel's jetty where our boat is waiting for us. It is a very long and narrow sampan powered by a motor at the rear. It's my first time being on a lake and I marvel at how still the water is! We are also surrounded by mountains which makes the scenery just breathtaking.
10:00 a.m. – Inle Lake is famous for leg-rowing fishermen (named as such because they use their legs to paddle their boats!) and we spot one at the start of our tour. He gamely poses for photos and then gestures for a tip. I am caught unaware and quickly hand him two 100 kyat notes (from me and G.). I later realize that was only $0.20 in total and feel really bad. Our sampan takes us through the Inle Lake 'village.' People here live on stilt houses on the lake and everyone gets around by sampan too. We pass by many people doing their laundry and taking baths in the lake. $0.10
11:00 a.m. – Our first stop is the Ngwe Sin Tun silversmith workshop where they show us how silver is made and what it’s made into. The tour ends with a gift shop selling silverware but we don't buy anything.
12:00 p.m. – Our next stop is the Shwe Indein Pagoda which is clusters of ancient pagodas in beautiful colours of grey, white and gold. We spend about an hour and a half here and share a large coconut before heading back to the boat. $1.00
2:00 p.m. – The boat driver brings us to another village to see the long-necked women of Inle Lake. These women have metal rings around their necks to lengthen them, and one ring is added each year until it reaches the maximum of 25 rings. I felt awkward just watching these women as though they are on exhibit but they turned out to be very friendly and welcoming. They even started coaxing us to take photos with them. I drop them a tip of 150 kyats as it is the only small change I have left. $0.10
3:00 p.m. – Our last stop of the tour is the leg-rowing fishermen at sunset but it’s still early so the boat driver brings us back to the hotel and says he will pick us up again at 5:00 p.m.
4:00 p.m. – We walk out of our hotel, to a small eatery across the road called New Life Restaurant. We haven't eaten since breakfast so this is our late lunch/early dinner? We order fish and a cauliflower and egg dish with two plates of rice. We finish up just in time for the 5:00 p.m. pick-up. $2.10
5:00 p.m. – The sun is starting to set and the scenery is even more breathtaking now. Our boat driver brings us to a leg-rowing fisherman on the lake who secures our boat to a buoy in the water so that we are floating alongside him. Our driver cuts the engine, and the fisherman starts to pose with his large fishing net basket, which almost looks like he’s doing yoga on his sampan. He occasionally uses his leg, twirled around his paddle, to move and steer his sampan. It is a private performance for us and he creates picture-perfect moments with the sun setting as his backdrop. He is very interactive with us and allows G. to hop into his sampan! I tip him 15,000 kyats for the interaction ($10.40). We head back to the hotel and pay the boat driver ($12.50 for my half). $22.90
6:00 p.m. – We head back to our room to pack up and just chill out for the rest of the night. We're checking out of the hotel tomorrow and it's another long drive to Bagan.
Daily Total: $26.20

Day Four

7:00 a.m. – We have our last breakfast at our hotel, and yup, we stuff ourselves silly again.
7:45 a.m. – As G. is checking out of the hotel, I notice some soap bars in the lobby that are for sale. (I have this thing where I must buy a soap bar as a personal souvenir whenever I travel.) The soap bars are made from recycled sources and produced by Planet 21 (Accor’s sustainable development program). They are only $1 per bar and all proceeds go to charity. G. and I buy 5 bars each. $5
8:00 a.m. – Mr. W. picks us up and we start our seven-hour drive to Bagan where we will be staying for the next two nights. Bagan is an archaeological site that has recently been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also where we will take our hot air balloon!
12:00 p.m. – Our first pit-stop is for lunch. We share a bowl of vegetable noodle soup and chicken salad (they call a lot of their dishes 'salad' here but this dish is actually stir-fried chicken slices with onion and garlic, on a bed of lettuce). $1.60
3:45 p.m. – We arrive in Bagan and pay a zone entrance fee. We’re given an entrance ticket that we’re supposed to have with us at all times while in Bagan because there are checks at all of the pagodas. $17.30
4:00 p.m. – We check-in to the Bagan Billiken Hotel and rest for a bit.
5:00 p.m. – Mr. W. picks us up to catch the sunset at U-Sauk-Pan Hpaya Temple where there is a viewing mound to climb and catch the sunset. Here, we also take in the 360-degree view of ancient pagodas around us.
5:45 p.m. – For dinner, Mr. W. recommends the Thai restaurant opposite our hotel. He drops us off and we say goodbye for the day. We are the only two customers in the restaurant but it could be that we’re early for dinner. We order tom yum soup, an omelet, and two bowls of rice. The bowl of soup is huge and looks like it's good for four people. We struggle to finish, and I have so much tom yum soup that I know I'm going to be thirsty for hours. $4.00
7:00 p.m. – We turn in early because we have a super early morning tomorrow.
Daily Total: $27.90

Day Five

5:00 a.m. – Rise and shine, it's hot air balloon day! This has been on my bucket list since I was 21 years old! 
5:40 a.m. – Our bus from Golden Eagle arrives. G. and I are in floral maxi dresses and realise we're severely over (or under?) dressed because everyone is in straight-up winter wear like down jackets and sweaters. Yes, we feel a little ridiculous but we don't care enough to let it ruin the best day of our lives.
6:00 a.m. – We arrive at our ballooning spot where there is a small breakfast spread of croissants, tea, and coffee. Our pilot comes over to introduce himself and mark our attendance.
6:17 a.m. – We listen to the safety briefing and step-by-step instructions on how the balloon will be inflated and what we have to do after. It's all so informative and exciting! Apparently there are no doors on the balloon's basket and we have to climb over them (yes, in our maxi dresses). I confess to G. that I'm suddenly feeling really scared and may start to freak out when the balloon takes off.
6:30 a.m. – The balloon takes off and I don’t feel it at all! Somehow I thought that taking off would be very scary, but it just felt like we were floating away (which was literally what we were doing anyway). Our pilot turns out to be so funny and charismatic. He tells us the names and history of all the pagodas we float over. And we also listen in on him communicating with the other balloon pilots via walky-talky. 
7:15 a.m. – While some of the other balloons have chosen to land, he tells us that he'll continue flying us for another 15 mins to give us our money's worth. He is the best!
7:30 a.m. – I realise that the ground crew has been following us by van and they were in action and ready to receive us when we land.
7:45 a.m. – We finish the whole experience with a spread of fruits, banana bread, and champagne. We also get a ballooning certificate with our names on it.
9:00 a.m. – The same bus brings us back to our hotel. G. and I head to the rooftop as they're still serving breakfast (included in our stay). I have a cup of coffee and a plate of fried noodles. J has a bowl of soup noodles.
10 a.m. – It’s time to explore the rest of Bagan, which is beautifully peppered with ancient pagodas in all shapes and sizes - the majority of which are abandoned. And not all of them have been properly maintained but that adds to the rustic charm of Bagan. Mr. W. brings us to 6 of the larger pagodas that we can enter and explore. I’ll just list them here so that I don’t drag this diary! There are no entrance fees to the pagodas but we did have to flash our entrance ticket at all of them: Sezigon Pagoda, Ananda Phaya, Dhamayan Gyi Temple, Thatbyinnyu Phaya, Loka Nanda, and Sulamani. The pagodas are all very near to one another by car so we manage to visit them all pretty quickly. Like in Yangon, we have to cover our shoulders and knees and remove footwear before entering the pagodas. We spend the most time at Ananda Phaya. The architecture is beautiful and the exterior is almost all white with gold at the top. Inside all of the pagodas that we enter, there are several Buddha statues that locals will kneel down and pray to.
12:45 p.m. – In between pagoda-hopping, we have lunch at River Front Restaurant which, as the name suggests, is facing the Irrawaddy River. We have their pork curry, stir-fry vegetables with garlic, avocado juice, and papaya juice. $7.10
4:50 p.m. – It’s the golden hour again and Mr. W. brings us to Nyaung Lat Phet, which is a large viewing mound, to catch our second sunset in Bagan. While we wait for the sunset we get to watch a very large herd of cows pass through to graze the field and drink from a small pond of water!
6:30 p.m. – We drive over to a restaurant/bar called Weather Spoon's for dinner but it's full. Every customer seems to be a tourist. We don't mind waiting but Mr. W. suggests for us to try somewhere else instead. So we head to Sharky's which also serves up Western and European fare. We share a plate of half a rotisserie chicken and pumpkin ravioli, which are both very delicious.
7:30 p.m. – We head back to the hotel to pack up and sleep early!
Daily Total: $7.10

Day Six

6:00 a.m. – We check out of our hotel and collect our breakfast box prepared by the hotel. Mr. W. and his cousin are here to pick us up for the 10-hour drive to Yangon International Airport. Mr. W. and his cousin will take turns to drive as Mr. W. told us that he’s worried he can’t do the trip alone.
8:00 a.m. – After two hours of driving, the cousin takes over the wheel. Although I can't feel it, I notice from the dashboard that the cousin is driving at 100km/h which is 30km/h faster than the speed Mr. W. has been driving for the past five days. I’m thankful for that because it means we will reach our destination earlier.
10:00 a.m. – We make our first pit-stop for breakfast. G. and I are not hungry enough to order food as we have already eaten part of our breakfast box (a sandwich with fried egg and onions) in the car. We each have a papaya juice instead. And this is where it goes downhill. $1.30
12:00 p.m. – I throw up in the car. Into the plastic bag with our half-eaten breakfast boxes. And again at the side of the road. I don't know why I am nauseous but it could be the food or the drive. Or both? G. and I have eaten the same things all day but the joke is that her stomach could be stronger than mine. This now turns into a full-blown fever with body ache and I feel like complete shit all the way to the airport. At least I stop feeling nauseous.
3:00 p.m. – Because of the fast driving, we are early so we ask Mr. W. if we can drop by a pharmacy to buy hand sanitizers and surgical masks because they are completely sold out in both our countries. We go to three different pharmacies and in all of the surgical masks are sold out too but I get three small bottles of hand sanitizers. $2.90
4:15 p.m. – We finally reach the airport and I'm so happy to be out of the car! We say goodbye to our drivers and take photos with them. G. checks in to her AirAsia flight first but my counter doesn't open for another 45 minutes.
4:30 p.m. – I get a fresh apple juice and paracetamol from the minimart in the airport. $1.50
6:00 p.m. – We head into the departure hall together and I can’t find a water dispenser so I get bottled water from Coffee Bean. $1.00
7:00 p.m. – G. and I say goodbye and she boards her plane back to Kuala Lumpur. I walk around the departure hall to spend my remaining kyat since it would be difficult to change it back to Singapore dollars. I grab a box of mango candy as a souvenir for the office. At the check-out, there is a man trying to buy a bottle of water with his credit card but the cashier tells him that he needs to spend a minimum of $2 to pay by card. He doesn't understand the cashier so he just nods and continues to hand them his card. I tell the cashier that I'll pay for his water with my remaining Kyat and gestures to the man 'I've got this'. I pay for his water and my candy and head to my gate. $5.50
8:00 p.m. – I board my flight which seems to be full but somehow I have two empty seats beside me! My body still feels like it's about to die and I try and try to fall asleep but I suffer throughout the entire three-hour journey.
Daily Total: $12.20

Day Seven

12:44 a.m. – I reach Changi Airport and book a GoJek home. Usually, my mum or partner picks me from the airport whenever I travel but it’s too late on a weekday so I don't want to bother them. When I reach home, I take a quick body shower (which is really disgusting since I just came from an airplane but I can’t survive long enough to wash and dry my hair in this state) and pass out. $9.20
7:30 p.m. – Even though I am already feeling much better, I’m still slightly warm so I visit the doctor's because I become paranoid that I may have somehow contracted the coronavirus. And because I have travelled somewhere in the past 14 days, I am made to sit outside the clinic to be isolated from other clinic patients. Fortunately, the doctor doesn't notice any other symptoms consistent with the coronavirus (i.e. cough, shortness of breath) so he sends me home with two days of medical leave and instructions to monitor for symptoms. The doctor's fees are covered by my company insurance.
Daily Total: $9.20
How did you prepare for this trip?
G. got a lot of her inspiration, that she shared with me, from Instagram and travel influencers. She is very visual-oriented whereas I am very list-oriented. I just Googled stuff like, ‘Myanmar drivers’, ‘top things to do in Bagan/Yangon,’ and relied on TripAdvisor ratings for places to eat.
We shared a Google sheet between the both of us that contained our detailed itinerary, breakdown of costs for the driver and excursions, and a list of food options.
Did you use credit card points/miles to pay for parts of this trip? If so, please explain further: No.
If flight, when did you book? Do you think you got a good deal? 
I booked my flight a month before my trip. It wasn’t a particularly good nor bad deal. I had to match my friend’s timings (she’s flying in from Kuala Lumpur) so I didn’t have the flexibility to choose a cheaper option.
Do you have credit card debt as a result of booking this vacation? If so, how much?
No. I didn’t use my credit card at all for this trip. G. charged all of the hotel stays to her credit card, and I repaid her in cash.
What was your favorite part of the trip? 
Both the boat tour at Inle Lake and hot air balloon ride in Bagan. Both of us are city girls so we’ve never seen, let alone been on a lake before. The scenery at Inle Lake was breathtaking and it was such an eye-opening experience to see up close the lives of the people living on Inle Lake. The entire hot air balloon experience was perfect. From the beautiful scenery to getting such an engaging and friendly balloon pilot. A passenger on our balloon mentioned that she’d flown in Cappadocia before, and the landing was so bad that she got rope burns on her palms, so I just felt so lucky that my first experience was so safe and enjoyable.
What was the best meal or food you ate while you were there?
Our first meal at House of Memories was the best, and a really great introduction to Burmese food.
Is there a tourist trap you wish you had avoided?
Nope. Even though a lot of the stops during our Inle Lake boat tour were sort of tourist traps (they all ended with a gift shop), they were also eye-opening experiences for us to see how the villagers made their living. We didn’t buy anything so there was no loss to us.
What advice would you give someone who is traveling to the same location?
Visiting Yangon can be skipped because, besides the Shwedagon Pagoda, there wasn’t anything else that was a must-see. I would instead replace or add Mandalay as another stop.
Is there anything about your trip you would do differently in retrospect?
I would include Mandalay as another stop. And I may not have gone with a private driver for the whole trip and instead take domestic flights between the cities to save time. Not having to pay for a private driver would’ve also allowed us to ride e-scooters around Bagan like a lot of tourists were doing.
Would you stay at your hotels again?
Our hotels in Yangon and Bagan were forgettable experiences so I wouldn’t necessarily book them again. We had an amazing stay at our Novotel resort on Inle Lake but there are other luxury resorts (Sofitel, Princess Resorts) that I’d want to try if I ever went back.
Where were you located in the specific city and would you recommend staying in that part of town?
In Yangon, we were a 10-min walk away from the Shwedagon Pagoda so yes, I would recommend staying in the same area. At Inle Lake, we were pretty secluded and far away from the town centre but it was the same for all of the lakeside resorts and most of your day would be out on the lake anyway. So I would still 100% recommend staying at any of the lakeside resorts for the view, comfort, and experience. And lastly, in Bagan we were staying in this area called Old Bagan, making us minutes away from the big pagodas, plus we had plenty of restaurants and massage parlours beside us.
Is there anything you wished you had time to do, but didn’t?
I would have wanted a chance to stay at Mount Popa in Bagan as there are some beautiful mountain resorts there. I would’ve also wanted to hike Mount Popa.
Do you feel like you were there for the right length of time? Would you have come home sooner or stayed longer given the chance?
Yes, I felt like it was the right length of time and I felt like I’ve seen and experienced the very best of Myanmar within the six days.
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