Myanmar is in South East Asia, the most popular destination for backpackers. However, with this country being relatively new to tourism people often overlook it. It is nowhere near as touristy as is neighbour, Thailand. Since this destination is not a popular tourist destination-yet-there are some things that you might need to know before you go.
Here is a guideline to help you plan your trip to Myanmar and know what to expect;
A Myanmar tourist visa is very easy to apply for. It can only be done about three weeks before and it is done online. For your online application you will need a passport photo of yourself that you can upload. You can even save money by just taking it yourself with a white wall behind you.
Make sure that you go directly through the official website to avoid paying any unnecessary service fees.
Once you have received the visa it is valid for 30 days from your date of entry. Make sure to print it and keep with you for your entire trip. You will be asked for it from many hotels and hostels.
Within cities the way to get around varies.
In Yangon you will only be taking taxi’s.
In Mandalay you can go by taxi, or rent a motor bike. I hired a motorbike and driver for the day to take me around to all of the highlights of the city- it was great because I didn’t have to worry about getting lost.
In Bagan you will most definitely want to rent an e-bike (basically a scooter) and in Inle Lake you will rent a bicycle. Even though there is a wide variety of ways to go sightseeing, they are all very affordable.
Buses are one of the best way to make your way around from city to city. They vary greatly though. Sometimes you will be on a mini bus where they are constantly stopping along the way and cramming locals into the isles. The best bus that I got was express and they didn’t stop along the way to pick anyone up- we even had our own personal T.V!
‘Night bus’ is a term used lightly in Myanmar. The buses don’t actually drive you all night until you arrive at your destination in the morning. Instead, they usually drop you off at your destination groggy and tired at 4 a.m. It doesn’t make sense because some of them leave around 6 p.m. and then arrive at 4 a.m. Why can’t they just leave a few hours later so that you arrive at a decent time?
I had many guest houses let me sleep on their porch for the night but if you want to guarantee yourself a place to stay when you arrive, book accommodation for the night that you are leaving.
Another option to get around is by train. You can read about my train ride experience here.
Speaking of accommodation, it is best to book your accommodation before hand. This will not only make your traveling go smoother but also actually save you money. For example, Bagan is the most touristy and expensive place to visit in Myanmar. Having said that, it is not somewhere that you want to miss.
By booking ahead my friend and I were able to secure a place for about $20 USD a night. A week later I met a girl who was leaving for Bagan the next day and was looking up places to stay. She couldn’t find anything for less than $75 a night! The nice and reasonably priced places go quickly so it is best to arrange all of this before you leave for your trip.
More and more hostels are opening up slowly making it more backpacker friendly but there still are not a lot of hostels to choose from- so get them early! I found that Agoda often had the cheapest prices.
Many websites tell people that they can use USD or Kyat. I recommend just using Kyat. While a few places may accepted USD it is not as common as travel websites make it out to be. You certainly won’t be able to eat out at local restaurants using USD.
If you only have USD you can exchange it in Myanmar easily. Well, sort of. You have to make sure that your money is crisp and new in order for them to accept it for exchange. If you want the best rate for your money only bring one hundred dollar bills. They give you a better rate the higher your note.
When I went to currency exchange places many of them said that they only had enough to exchange $100 so you may have to exchange money a few times during your trip. But it is easy to find banks and currency changers.
As well, ATM’s are now everywhere in the country so you can also just take out cash when you get there. Of course, I don’t recommend arriving without any cash on hand.
Budget: For 2 weeks in Myanmar I spent about $500 USD.
Myanmar is a very safe country, I never once felt afraid- even when I was traveling alone. The people are so friendly here that before you can even ask for help they are helping you.
Side-note: They have the cutest children ever here!
The only thing that you need to watch out for is food poisoning. Actually, don’t even bother trying to avoid it- you will get it. Almost everyone I met, including myself, who stayed in Myanmar for over a week ended up getting sick at one point. But it was worth it.
The food in Myanmar is delicious. Some things were a bit greasy but I started learning how to avoid that. Myanmar also has many night markets with a huge variety of street food. These were so fun to eat at and try different things. People are always afraid to eat street food because of hygienic reasons but I saw the kitchens of a few restaurants that I ate at and I don’t trust them any more than a food stall.
Eating out will only cost you a about $2-4 a meal.
This is not a party destination. I heard many people say that Myanmar has the culture that Thailand lacks. I can’t help but think not having a party scene has something to do with that.
However, it is not completely dry, You can easily find alcohol everywhere and enjoy a nice beer on the beach or a cocktail out at dinner
Tipping isn’t part of the culture in Myanmar. You may wish to do it if you have an awesome guide or driver though. When it comes to restaurants it isn’t necessary.
In Myanmar you should cover your chest and shoulders and wear clothing that goes down to your knees.
In Pagodas you will not even be able to enter if your shoulders, belly, chest or thighs are showing. Even if you don’t plan on going to a pagoda- you will. They are everywhere so make sure you are always dressed appropriately to go in one. As well, you want to respect the local culture by not wearing clothing that they may find offensive.
People in Myanmar are very welcoming and understanding so it is hard to offend them. However, in order to be respectful here are a few things to consider.
- Take off your shoes before entering pagodas or houses
- Give money with one hand and the other hand placed on the inside of your elbow
- Cover your shoulders, chest and knees
- Women don’t touch monks