Celeste van Rooyen - Photography

Smile, and Myanmar / Burma smiles with you

My Diary My Burma aka Myanmar

Welcome to my experience in Burma – well informative article with must see visuals

I’m not really going to repeat all the info of the Lonely Planet here but just some highlights for a light read and the route most travelers choose.  For sure if there’s ever a city where everybody has a Lonely Planet, then it is here.  Even the more updated Lonely Planet.  The LP was everybody’s bible; everybody was following it to the extreme.

This country’s history is phenomenal – please take some time to do some research into it and you will understand where these people come from a bit better.

The Unique facts I noticed and TiP’s I would love to share

 1)  The difference between pagoda and stupas and monasteries – You can go inside a monastery, where a pagoda is just a solid structure like a wine glass upside down.

2)  Try a first day in a city like Bagan without the Lonely Planet and see where your senses, networking with locals and your bicycle leads you – then at night you can read the LP and fill in the must do’s the next day.

3)  Money:  Super important – don’t take your chances – there is really no ATM’s anywhere (except for at Yangoon) – take enough US dollars – even in case of a medical emergency  (1 dollar to the extreme would be 850 kyat).  The notes should be clean and not damaged and the number on the notes should not be starting with the letters: CB

4)  It’s beautiful to notice that Myanmar is probably one of the last country’s left where most of the men still wear traditional clothing with shirt – As a whole it looks so sophisticated – the delicate material with fine print are to be wrapped in a certain way to form a long skirt, called: LONGYI.

5)  Whilst the woman wears a type of lotion on their faces – a yellow paste, glue or tree bark mixed with water – called THANAKA.  It’s a traditional beauty treatment and used as sunscreen lotion as well.

6)  Do blend in by using these traditions on your face or by wearing the Longyi.  If you see some characters with reddish/brown stained teeth, don’t be too shocked – it’s the stains from the cheaper leave coated nicotine mix that they chew.

7)  Pack your mosquito repellant

8)  Remember small gifts like pens, snacks etc. for the kids and as gratitude towards the friendly welcomes


DXB – BKK YangoonBaganKalawInle LakeMandalay – BKK – DXB

I booked my tickets with skyscanner – scanning the cheapest available flights and airlines:  http://www.kayak.com

I flew with Myanmar Airways from Bangkok to Yangoon & with Air Asia from Mandalay to Bangkok – approximately 150 USD each leg.

My Insurance for my equipment and myself was from www.worldnomads.com


- I must admit it was the first time I do get insurance, and they turned out to be very effective especially when I got sick in Inle Lake already and had to get myself to an airport and fly to Yanhee hospital in Bangkok due to the lack of money (access to ATM’s) – you just need to pay the first 100 dollars and Worldnomads will cover the rest.



So here we go – A year ago I got bumped off my BKK flight and Emirates Airlines apologized by giving me a free ticket back to the same destination valid for a year. During Xmas and New Year 2013 I decided to go to Myanmar.  So on 20 Dec I flew into BKK where I, (like so many other travellers that I saw on the same route) queued outside the embassy for our visa to enter the unknown.  Burma has only been opened for travellers (and only some parts) for the last two years, and when I saw the others and started meeting my fellow travelers, I felt at ease that I was on the right track and that it was THE time to go.

The type of traveller was rarely met first time travellers that started in Myanmar – the crowd flocking here was well travelled tourist that wanted to experience something different and loved Asia.  I’ve never met so many Dutch travelers before wow!

Obtaining the visa for Burma was very easy – I arrived at the visa office at around 9 am in the morning – straight from my flight and around 9 in the morning (1200 Baht), I could pick up my visa the next day around 3pm.  For a bit more, you could do it the same day.

Only 2 photos needed and a copy of your passport.  (I’m really still shocked that some people show up without these?!!)  No proof of travel tickets, accommodation etc. required.  I even met a Dutch traveller that went to Burma thinking he could get a visa at the airport as advised – but alas had to fly to BKK to obtain the visa first.

I wrote and declared myself as a photographer and journalist on the application and still had no trouble obtaining the visa.

Myanmar Visa office Address:

132 Sathorn Nua Road

Bangkok 10500

walking distance from my favourite backpackers that I mentioned in my Thailand post  (very popular book online beforehand)


Bagan  my most favourite part of the experience…


Bagan – the plato with thousands of temples that takes your breath away, is by far my favourite city in Myanmar.  I flew in from  Yangon (Rangon).  They sell the 10 dollar archeology ticket at the airport – keep it with all times with you.


Pagodas (Stupas) and MonasterIes

What is the difference you might ask? In case you missed it earlier: 

With a Pagoda you cannot go inside and a monastery you can enter. A pagoda is like a solid wine glass turned around.

Monasteries are open for public and some you can even go on top.


The city is still in progress (It broke my heart to see the little ladies in the road – tarring it by hand!!!)

Not all the pagodas are open for public – and more annoying – not everybody is updated with which ones are closed or open. (except for the touristy ones that is sooo crowded) So sometimes you look for a viewpoint and you might be disappointed by your insider’s knowledge. Everybody has different information on the best views of pogodas – from tourist office to travel agent to traveller to books. You kindof just have to decide for yourself and follow your six sense.


For me, that’s all part of the adventure and might be a road you had to take to lead you to find something else.  I, of course, loved discovering the off the beaten track pagodas.  There are loads of them – I found one that was directed to me by one of the hawkers trying to sell paintings (signs of tourism influx).


As the sunset and the sunrise views is different, the balloon rides over the plato is only with sunrise.


Shwe san daw Pagoda is the most famous and super packed with tourists.

Dhamma-ya-za-ka Zedi is my favourite pagoda by far !!! Ancient, gold and beautiful views. 

Remember shoes off at all times.


After 3 days I was surely not ready to leave. I wanted more sunsets. I felt like I was not done with Bagan, I felt I wanted to hug every single pagoda and share some more warm sunset energies with them – running amongst them on the plain .. lets just say I was on a high here;  at peace;  felt at home.

On everybody’s lips and thoughts was the following:  ‘How do you prevent the tourist boom and worldly exposure NOT to change and influence the ‘ancient pure innocence’ of the tradition of a country – it’s authenticity. But that’s inevitable and bound to happen. That is probably why the majority of us are here – to experience the real before tourists change it.

I noticed the type of tourist coming to Myanmar is not your first time traveller, but a more experienced crowd. Maybe a first time Asia tourist that want to include another nearby country.  The majority of tourist I met were Dutch.  

One evening I asked a truck of local workers to give me a ride out of the plain before the nightfall dawned on me and my lightless bicycle.  The young woman was so intrigued by my look and blond hair and me.    In broken English they wanted to know if I was married and when they heard that I was from South Africa, they replied: “Waka waka!” – from the Shakira world cup song.  So the locals are still in contact with the world in some sort of way – and even have old style mobiles.  


New Bagan is my favourite and is situated central amongst the pagodas if you want to stay close by

– especially if you are riding your bicycle after sunset home in the dark. Remember to get yourself a little light for your nightride home – I made hat mistake a few times. During the holiday season it was so difficult to find accommodation – actually any space at all – but I was blessed to find this family resort, perfect location, great price (28 dollar sharing) and cosy:

Glorious hotel

Sabae Street between Gangaw st and Yuzana st

Khanlaung yat

Anawratha quarter




09402630769 06165260



Renting bicycles for 3000 local currency a day is easy and safe to leave it anywhere.

The last day the tourist office – close to where I stayed -(of which was also the only place in Bagan to exchange my baht for me) helped me to rent a car and find others to share the car with.

Myanmar travels and tours

Corner of Engyine street and Main road to Chauk

095 61 65040

I rented the car for 45 dollor and went to Mount Popa (1 hour drive away) for the day – I asked the driver to pick me up around 6 in the morning so I could at least see a sunrise on another ancient structure to start my day – happiness!

The tourist office also helped me with the bus tickets to Kalaw (11 000  local money).



‘I took the 8-hour night bus from Bagan to arrive around 2 am in the morning in Kalaw.  If I could change anything on this trip I would probably take the bus during the day to see the beautiful landscapes.  But everything happen for a reason and I bumped into fellow travellers that I met in the Bangkok hostel and we shared a room that had the most amazing porch overlooking the whole quant cozy town. (see image below).’

Waking up with a view is probably one of life’s little gifts

Lilly was probably use to travellers arriving at 2 in the morning and told us to rest in the dining room till 8 am check in.

This little haven and town is a favourite pittstop if you just want to breath and relax in between the highlights of Bagan and Inle Lake – and that was exactly what I decided to do; doing my own little hikes following the humms of Monks….

The other reason for stopping here was for most of the other travellers to do the famous TREK from Kalaw to Inle Lake – staying overnight in a Monastery.

Another ‘heart skipping a beat’ highlight (for a photographer) would be the early morning bell and monks walking right pasT the hostel to collect food – barefoot on the cold street cement… but still beautiful… (see images)


Golden Lily guest house

5/88 Natsin Road



095 81 50108

095 81 50820

094 93 63681

email goldenlily@mandalay.net.mm & aung.harri@gmail.com

 7 dollar a night & they organize the trekking as well – delivering your luggage for you at your next hotel

Best Restaurant: Kalaw Pineland restaurant with wifi

A few days later I left Kalaw for Inle Lake super early – it was freezing cold. The bus door was open the entire time for the local kids to hop on and off for school.  Still I had some great views of sunrise and real life from the bus.  Everybody, no matter how poor, is wearing these amazing bags that is handmade in the province.

After a 2 and half hours, to my dismay, the local bus’s drop off point is:  Shwenyaung.  From there I had to get another ‘pick up’ as they call it for Inle Lake: Nyaungshwe

Cost:  1000 kyats and the entry for Inle lake is now 5 dollars



During the festive season Inle Lake was fully booked – I met some travellers who said they stayed with the monks and paid them the same price as a normal hotel – using the monk’s bath sounded like more fun and authentic to me!

Gold Star hotel

Phaungdawpyan Road, Nyanung Shwe, Inlay, Shan State tel 95 081 209200-209201, 09-5141168

email: goldstarhtl@mandalay.net.mm  /  goldstarhtl@gmail.com

(10 dollar – 15 dollar depending) and right next to the lake – I was very happy here


Life on the river – a 5 star day

Seeing how people live just make me feel so fortunate.

Early morning you take the famous boat ride to explore this life on the river.  It will cost you 15000 local – and you can share with 3 others.  The views on the river changes constantly – like a moving movie and I could not stop smiling; feeling content with all the ‘new’ to learn and experience.  The markets on the river are only in the mornings and changes location daily along the river.  The favourite souvenir item is the colourful Inle Lake bag that is only found in Inle Lake.

 Here we viewed the old style of weaving – Interesting how sugar cane material was 10 times more expensive than silk – and the aim is to deliver one longi a day per worker.

The silence and visiting the ringneck ladies was indescribable.  That was probably the highlight for me. 8 Kilo’s of gold would be the weight of the final rings – A tradition from the tribes you don’t come across every day.  Apparently it was done to women in those days to make them so ugly that the enemy won’t steal them.  Nowadays they are doing this to make money from tourists and not easily found.

There were suprising no exmples on how they make the unique pots – that’s only available in Bagan

The local fishermen on the river has an unique way of catching fish with a twist of the foot and balancing the net

Don’t miss this

The authentic way of doing things reminded me of Cuba – especially attending the cigarette making sessions. 600 cigarettes are produced per day per person.

It was the perfect day to start the new year and I was sad to think that the influx of tourist would change this country and it’s ways.


I love you Myanmar!!

















6 comments to Smile, and Myanmar / Burma smiles with you

  • Ernesto Casanova

    Celeste van Rooyen is the best photographer ever. Her work is extremely unique and special. She is one of those few people in the world that are able to capture the essence of life in just a picture. I would highly recommend her work anytime and anywhere.

    Ernesto Casanova

  • Eugen

    djieslaaik!!! wow wow wow wow wwooowwwwww!!!!! Daai oog raak net beter en beter. So geoefende oog. Stunning!!!!

  • Jacques Vivier

    Wow Celeste, Nie net stunning fotos nie maar insiggewende blog ook. Het my sommer lus gemaak om self daar rond te gaan toer.

  • feel like seeing more?

  • ryan bowman

    LOVE the wide shot of the bridge at sunset…truely awesome
    you have mad crazy foto skills. :)

  • oz

    u’ve come a long way hun :) xxx

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