This is the second ‘trip report’ that I have published, the first being a short write-up of my 2014 holiday to Slovenia. The rationale behind them is to try and provide useful information for others who might be thinking of visiting these places, particularly in terms of seeing wildlife. I know I found other people’s reports useful when researching for my trips.
In March 2016 I visited Myanmar, a country that I did not know much about and never expected to visit! The trip lasted 10 days, although 2 of those were essentially spent flying there and back, so 8 full days in the country. This was my first visit to Asia and I absolutely loved it. Myanmar proved to be just as beautiful, charming and beguiling as people said it would be. The people were incredibly friendly, the landscapes stunning and relatively untouched by tourism and the wildlife was amazing. If I ever return to Asia it will be hard for a different country to beat the experience that I had in Myanmar.
Day 1 – fly to Myanmar.
Day 2 – arrive in Yangon. Visit Shwedagon pagoda.
Day 3 – explore Yangon. Visit Kandawygi Lake.
Day 4 – fly to Bagan. Explore Bagan.
Day 5 – day trip to Mount Popa & Taungkalat monastery.
Day 6 – explore Bagan.
Day 7 – fly back to Yangon. Travel to Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary.
Day 8 – explore Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary.
Day 9 – explore Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary.
Day 10 – fly back to UK.
Day 2: Yangon and Shwedagon pagoda.
I arrived in Yangon, the capital city of Myanmar, with a feeling of weary excitement after the 13 hour flight. Those of you have visited hot countries before will know the feeling of the heat hitting you as you step off the airplane. The temperature remained around 39 °C for the whole of the trip, which is something that takes a bit of getting used to if you come from England! After checking into the hotel I went to visit the Shwedagon pagoda, walking there via the People’s Park. Having never visited Asia before it meant that all the wildlife, no matter how common, was exciting to see. The Park was full of birds flitting amongst the scrub and trees; Common Myna, Red-whiskered Bulbul, House Crow, Tree Sparrow and Spotted Dove were all a delight to see and a wonderful way to begin the wildlife watching in Myanmar. I was also amazed to see a mating pair of Tiny Grass Blue butterflies, by far the smallest butterfly I have ever seen!
If you start reading about Myanmar you will almost certainly come across mentions of the Shwedagon Pagoda. It is touted as the jewel of the country and a must-see attraction. Having now seen it for myself I can see why. The scale takes your breath away and the gold plating is mind-blowing. It has to be one of the architectural wonders of the world and it will live long in the memory. Whilst it looked fantastic in the day, it was arguably more impressive at night where it is lit up and appears to glow a luminous gold against the night sky.
Day 3: Yangon and Kandawygi Lake.
I spent a day in Yangon, exploring some of its cultural sites. The day began at Bogyoke Market, an eclectic mix of stalls selling jewellery, wooden crafts and other bits and pieces. It was then a short walk (via the Sule Pagoda) to the nearby Mahabandoola Garden, a small park surrounded by some interesting colonial buildings. After this it was then a short taxi trip up to Kandawgyi Lake, a beautiful body of water that allows you to escape the rush of the city. Yellow Bittern and Red-eyed Bulbul were the main bird highlights and it was fun to walk on the dodgy boardwalk that runs round the lake.
Day 4: fly to Bagan.
Along with the Shwedagon Pagoda, Bagan is one of the jewels in the crown of Myanmar and a place that everyone recommends to visit. Rated as one of the best temple sites in the world, I was tremendously excited as I boarded the short internal flight. A note on flights; on the way there I flew with Air KBZ, which went smoothly. However on the way back I flew with one of the government owned airlines (I can’t recall which one but possibly Golden or Myanmar National) and the flight was cancelled and moved around which resulted in lengthy delays. I would therefore recommend flying both ways with Air KBZ if possible.
Upon arriving at the airport in Bagan, it was then a short transfer to the hotel (Hotel Yadanarbon), which was on the outskirts of New Bagan. The birdwatching began as soon as I checked into the hotel, with Plain-backed Sparrow and White-throated Babbler (endemic to Myanmar) seen from the window! There was also a Streak-eared Bulbul nesting on the ledge below our room window, as well as an inquisitive lizard.
Whilst there was some lovely wildlife at Bagan, the main reason for coming here was to see the temples. There are over 2000 of them, spread out over a vast plain some 70 square kilometres in size. I took a taxi to the Ananda Paya first, one of the larger temples. White-throated Kingfisher and White Wagtail were seen in the grounds. I also took a walk down to the banks of the great Ayeryarwady River. There were numerous butterflies, difficult to identify but Plain Tiger, Yellow Orange-tip, Common Pierrot, Hedge Blue, Pea Blue were seen. A joyous moment occurred when a Bee-eater swooped down and plucked a large white butterfly from the air.
Day 5: day trip to Mount Popa & Taungkalat monastery.
One of the popular day trips that you can do from Bagan is to the Taungkalat monastery and Mount Popa. I hired a taxi to take me there, the 1 hour drive was fascinating, passing through arid plains. On the way we stopped at a roadside hut where the local people make palm whiskey, which was nice to try! Taungkalat is quite impressive, gleaming like a golden beacon atop its 737 metre high rocky outcrop. The climb up the 777 steps is well worth it, you get great views of the surrounding landscape and of Mount Popa, the 1518 metre peak nearby. A colony of Rhesus Macaque monkeys live at the monastery and are fascinating to watch as you make the climb.
On the way back I asked our driver to stop off at the entrance to Mount Popa, which is on the way back to Bagan. I was given an hour or so to explore the lower slope. It was great to see the diversity of butterflies zipping around and to walk into the dry forest environment. Common Rose, Lemon Emigrant, Blue Glassy Tiger, Common Duffer, Burmese Sailer and Common Cerulean were seen. A tiny stick insect was also found, an amazing thing to see in the leaf litter, as well as a large locust. Upon returning to Bagan the final bird of the day was a Common Iora near the hotel.
Day 6: Bagan.
This was my first full day in Bagan and I wanted to make the most of it and visit as many of the key temples as I could. I took advantage of the electric motorbikes that you can hire, which are an efficient way to seeing more of the site. I visited Htilominion Paya, Shwesandaw Paya, Sulamani Paya, Dhammayangyi Paya, Thatbyinnyu Paya and Dhammayazika pagoda. It was hard not to feel like Indiana Jones when exploring the temples, and walking between them through the maze of arid scrub, with smaller shrines dotted inbetween. One of the many highlights from the day was seeing bats flying around inside the massive Dhammayangyi Paya. At sunset I climbed the Shwesandaw Paya to watch the sunset over the Ayeryarwady River. Whilst I was focusing on photographing the sunset, my partner witnessed a Laggar Falcon trying to catch the bats as they emerged from the nearby Dhammayangyi Paya (I missed it but had seen the falcon earlier in the day). Other birds from the day included Red-vented Bulbul, Burmese Bushlark (another endemic) and Long-tailed Shrike. Finding a Crimson Speckled moth was also a lovely bonus, a species I had always wanted to see.
During the short stay in Bagan I ate at the following restaurants: Sarabha (near Tharabar Gate), Ayemya Theida (New Bagan) and Black Rose (New Bagan). All were fantastic and I would highly recommend them.
Bagan was truly incredible, a once in a lifetime experience of a place that was truly special. It is a spectacle that needs to be seen to be believed, words cannot really do it justice.
Day 7: fly to Yangon and trip out to Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary.
The majority of this day was spent completing the long trip from Bagan to the Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary. After arriving back in Yangon I took a taxi to the Pansodan Ferry at the southern edge of the city. Here I met our guide for the trip, Soe Moe Aung of TraveltoPathein. Soe Moe had organised the whole trip for us and looked after us really well. I boarded a bus to Bogale, a town located deep into the delta region of Myanmar. The drive was great, passing through the delta region of the country, a fertile plane of wetland farms, created as the Ayeryarwady River fragments as it flows into the Andaman Sea. It was so interesting seeing the wooden bridges and houses, complete with small duck farms and water buffalo. Upon reaching Bogale I had a bit of food and sorted out our registration with the government environmental agency for the Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary. The Sanctuary is one of the only protected areas in Myanmar and perhaps the last remaining area of untouched mangrove forest left in the country. The reserve was established to protect the population of saltwater crocodile found there, which was on the brink of extinction in the area. It is also a refuge for the rare and endangered Irrawaddy River Dolphin, with about 58 to 72 of these special creatures estimated to be living in the river in Myanmar.
The boat trip to the lodge in the mangroves was fantastic, taking place as the sun was setting. Black-shouldered Kite and Black-crowned Night Heron flew over, as well as an owl (species unknown) and a bat. Geckos greeted us at the lodge and once we had settled in we took a night time boat trip out into the mangroves to look for crocodiles. Using powerful torches, we spotted them by their eyeshine and were able to get relatively close to some of them in the boat. We saw four, three juveniles and one larger. An exciting introduction to the reserve!
Day 8: Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary.
I spent the whole of the day out in the boat cruising through the river channels, exploring the mangrove forest. It was a fantastic experience to explore this amazing habitat via boat, and lots of wildlife was seen. We also stopped off at a couple of villages within the mangroves and even did a bit of kayaking too. Black Kite, Brahminy Kite, Black-shouldered Kite, Chinese Pond Heron and Black-capped Kingfisher were all seen on the main river channel before we entered the main Wildlife Sanctuary area. We were also incredibly lucky to spot a group of three Irrawaddy River Dolphins on two separate occasions! They surfaced regularly and quite close to the boat, offering us amazing views. A nice selection of water birds were seen, such as River Tern, Whimbrel, Long-billed Dowitcher and Nordmanns Greenshank. Other interesting birds included Green-billed Malkoha, Mangrove Pitta, Asian Openbill and Orange-breasted Green Pigeon. A large red squirrel (species unknown) was an unexpected highlight. Two special bird encounters took place during the day, both at different villages in the mangroves. One of the villages we stopped at had a Brahminy Kite chick that they were caring for. They had found it knocked from its nest and were rearing it to release it when it is older. It was amazing to hold it and see such a special bird up close. The second encounter was of a similar vein but at the opposite end of the spectrum. At a different village we were told that a Brown Fish Owl often ate fish that the villagers gave it. It turned out that this was an adult bird that had been reared by the villagers, which now lived in the wild but still frequented the area around the village. I was lucky that the owl was there and I had stunning views of it looking at us from one of the trees.
In the evening we had Long-tailed Nightjars calling around the lodge where we were staying. I then took another night time boat trip to look for crocodiles, where I saw four, including one large beast that dived into the water with quite a splash!
Day 9: Meinmahla Kyun Wildlife Sanctuary & trip back to Yangon.
The final day in Myanmar was spent cruising the mangroves in the morning and travelling back to Yangon in the afternoon. Several new birds were seen, including Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Osprey, Booted Eagle, Lesser Coucal, Common Kingfisher, Whistling Duck, Olive-backed Sunbird, Streaked Bulbul and Large Woodshrike.
Asian Openbill Anastomus oscitans
Asian Palm Swift Cypsiurus balasiensis
Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata
Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax
Black Drongo Dicrurus macrocercus
Black Kite Milvus migrans
Black-shouldered Kite Elanus axillaris
Booted Eagle Hieraaetus pennatus
Brahminy Kite Haliastur indus
Brown-headed Gull Chroicocephalus brunnicephalus
Brown Fish Owl Ketupa zeylonensis
Burmese Bushlark Mirafra microptera
Cattle Egret Bubulcus ibis
Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus
Common Iora Aegithina tiphia
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis
Common Myna Acridotheres tristis
Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos
Great White Egret Ardea alba
Green-billed Malkoha Phaenicophaeus tristis
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea
House Crow Corvus splendens
Laggar Falcon Falco jugger
Large Woodshrike Tephrodornis virgatus
Large-tailed Nightjar Caprimulgus macrurus
Lesser Coucal Centropus bengalensis
Little Cormorant Microcarbo niger
Little Egret Egretta garzetta
Little Pied Flycatcher Ficedula westermanni
Long-billed Dowitcher Limnodromus scolopaceus
Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach
Mangrove Pitta Pitta megarhyncha
Nordmann’s Greenshank Tringa guttifer
Olive-backed Sunbird Cinnyris jugularis
Orange-breasted Green Pigeon Treron bicinctus
Oriental Magpie-robin Copsychus saularis
Osprey Pandion haliaetus
Plain-backed Sparrow Passer flaveolus
Red-eyed Bulbul Pycnonotus brunneus
Red-vented Bulbul Pycnonotus cafer
Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus
Red Junglefowl Gallus gallus
River Tern Sterna aurantia
Scaly-breasted Munia Lonchura punctulata
Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker Dicaeum cruentatum
Spotted Dove Spilopelia chinensis
Streaked Bulbul Ixos malaccensis
Streak-eared Bulbul Pycnonotus conradi
Tree Sparrow Passer montanus
White-throated Babbler Turdoides gularis
White-throated Kingfisher Halcyon smyrnensis
White-throated Fantail Rhipidura albicollis
White Wagtail Motacilla alba
Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus
Fulvous Whistling-duck Dendrocygna bicolor
Yellow Bittern Ixobrychus sinensis
Butterflies & Moths:
Blue Glassy Tiger Ideopsis vulgaris
Burmese Sailer Neptis leucoporus
Common Cerulean Jamides celeno
Common Duffer Discophora sondaica
Common Hedge Blue Acytolepis puspa
Common Pierrot Castalius rosimon
Common Rose Pachliopta aristolochiae
Crimson Speckled moth Utetheisa pulchella
Lemon Emigrant Catopsilia pomona
Peablue Lampides boeticus
Plains Cupid Chilades pandava
Plain Tiger Danaus chrysippus
Striped Albatross Appias libythea
Swamp Tiger Danaus affinis
Ting Grass Blue Zizula hylax
Yellow Orange Tip Ixias pyrene
Bats in the temples at Bagan
Crabs in mangroves
Geckos in lodge in mangroves
Irrawaddy River Dolphins
Lizard at hotel in Bagan
Large green-blue lizard in Bagan
Mudskipper fish in mangroves
Snake at Bagan
Squirrels at Bagan
Squirrel species in mangroves