Gangs, drug lords, shootings on the streets- that might come…
Lonely Planet just named Myanmar as one of the best places to visit in 2017 and after just coming back from a trip through Myanmar. I have to say I can only agree with that. This country met my wildest expectations and beyond- if you are thinking of traveling there as well, please do. Now is the best time to visit: Myanmar, also known as Burma, just recently opened up for tourism a few years ago and you will still be able to get a very genuine, original experience of this country.
Prior to my trip I was reading a lot of blogpost and articles about Myanmar. I was asking myself a lot of questions: What is it going to be like? What do I have to consider? What do I need to bring?
Most blogs and guide books date back to 2012/2013 when tourism was still in its early phase. However since than a lot has changed or might be slightly different. Therefore I want to give you an update to help you plan your trip and give you an overview on important things such as visa requirements, money, getting around etc.
Depending from which country you are from, you might need to arrange a tourist visa for your visit. Best thing to do prior to your trip is to check online on the official government page as things could change quickly. So far most passport holders from South East Asian countries can visit Myanmar for 14 days without getting a visa. However most nations will need a visa for their visit and there are several options:
evisa: I found this the easiest option. You can apply online on the government website for a tourist visa. The costs are 50 $. When applying for it, you need to make sure to enter all your details correctly and upload a recent color passport picture and pay via the website. I received an email with my confirmation letter after 24 hours that I needed to print out and show at the immigration.
embassy: Another option is to apply for a visa at the Myanmar Embassy in your homecountry or if you are already in South East Asia and have a little bit of time, you could apply for a visa at one of the embassies, f.e. in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur where you get the visa on the same day. Come in the morning with your passport and passport photo and you can pick it up again in the afternoon. Cost vary but are a bit cheaper than online.
Make sure that your passport is valid at least 6 months beyond the date of intended departure.
Best time to go
Low (rainy) season is from May to September and you don’t need to avoid this period per se. You can be lucky, but there is no guarantee for good weather.
High season is from December to February, as it rains the least and is not so hot. As it is a very busy period I would recommend to book ahead.
A great alternative is to travel in shoulder season (Oct-Nov, Mar-Apr) as you will have pretty reliable weather and can enjoy Myanmar without the big crowds. We were in Myanmar beginning of October just at the end of rainy season and it was perfect. The countryside was green and lush and it was relatively quiet at the major sights.
Solo Travel vs. group travel
Backpacking around Myanmar is definitely possible and is getting more and more easy. Even as a female solo traveler you will be fine. Alternatively you could go with a tour company which saves you a bit of the hassle of organizing your transportation and accomodation. I opted to go on an organized trip with Stray Asia since there itinerary included everything that I wanted to see and really enjoyed not having to organize everything.
What to pack
So what are the essentials that you need to bring to Myanmar? As for any hot, tropical country I would recommend to pack sun protection such as sunscreen, a hat and a pair of sunglasses. Also don’t forget to bring mosquito spray.
Myanmar’s sightseeing is packed with visits to temples and pagodas, which require a certain dresscode. You will need to remove your shoes on those sites and cover your knees and shoulders (those rules apply for men and women alike). So definitely pack a pair of shoes that can be removed easily like flip flops, bring t-shirts, long pants/skirts/dresses. I brought a big scarf on this trip which was very useful to cover up in the temples or to keep me warm on long bus journeys.
Another small, but great item to pack is a headlamp or torch since the street lights at night are sparse and to use it to navigate in the temples of Bagan at sunset or sunrise.
Other essentials are a basic first aid kit, adapters and a camera to capture your trip.
Money, money, money
In a lot of blog posts and guidebooks out there you will still read that you need to bring crisp, new dollar bills to change into the local currency (kyat) as cash machines where nowhere to be found.
And that’s what I did before my trip- I went to the bank and changed my euros to dollar notes. When I arrived in Myanmar I soon realized that almost everywhere in the major spots atm”s can be found, where you can get the exact amount of money that you need. That saves you the trip to the bank at home and there is no need to change your own currency to dollars to than change it again to Kyat. I also don’t like to walk around with a lot of cash and prefer to just take the amount I need out of the cash machine.
However it is never wrong to have a little bit of emergency cash in your pocket when traveling.
In Myanmar cash is king: you might be able to use your credit card to withdraw money, but in most places you can only pay with cash.
Nowadays you will find wifi in quite a large number of hotels and guest houses, however the connection is not really good. It might take a while to load a page or upload photos.
If you want more reliable internet I can recommend you to get a tourist sim card at your arrival. I bought mine at the airport from the provider ooredoo. For 15 $ I got 2.5 GB of internet. It was definitely more reliable and faster than the wifi I found.
With more and more tourists coming to Myanmar there is a wide range of accommodation available now. While previously guest houses where quite expensive for what they were, with more competition the prices fell and the service is improving. In big cities like Yangon and Mandalay there are lots of options now, with dorm rooms starting from around 5$ a night. A night in a guest house will set you back between 10-20 $ for a private room often including breakfast. Find someone to share the room with and you can spilt the costs.
Getting around Myanmar can be confusing at first, but it is definitely worth seeing all the beautiful gems this country has to offer. If you want to visit popular places like Yangon, Mandalay, Inle or Bagan, it is actually quite easy and you will able to book your transportation at your accommodation or at a travel agency.
We took a bus for most journeys and after having travelled around South East Asia a lot, my expectations weren’t very high. We chose JJ Express and got positively surprised by their modern, comfortable busses. The seat reminded me of a business class seat on an airplane, we were able to watch movies and even got served a small snack and something to eat. You might need to pay a little bit more for this company, but it is definitely worth it as they are safe and reliable.
Getting a taxi in the cities is pretty cheap and you will only pay 1-2 $ at the most to get to places.
If you want to know more about local customs and etiquettes to follow, check this article (link).
I hope I could help you with this survival guide for Myanmar :), please if you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment below. I am happy to answer them.