You’ll be surrounded by men in skirts (longyis), women and children covered in face paint (thanaka) and need to dodge the constant spitting of betel nuts. It’s these reasons and more that Myanmar is one of the most incredible and unusual places we’ve ever visited.
CAPITAL CITY: Naypyidaw
Kyats (pronounced ‘chat’) and US dollars
There’s mixed information about currency in Myanmar. Legally, they must accept kyats everywhere however you can’t exchange your money to kyats outside of the country so it’s best to take in US dollars. If you are taking US dollars, you need to make sure the notes they are in absolutely perfect condition. No tears, no folds, no defects whatsoever. You will get a better exchange rate if you are changing larger notes – take $100 and $50 notes if possible. Many hotels work in dollars so accommodation can be paid in dollars if you wish, however they must accept kyats if that’s how you want to pay.ARRIVAL
Air: You can fly into Yangon or Mandalay. When you check in to fly to Myanmar you’ll need to show your visa and possibly your outward flight.
Land: Land entry is only available via Thailand, unless you are on a special tour package from China or India. The easiest option is crossing from Mae Sot. Note: You cannot use an e-visa if you enter by land.
Visa: Varies depending on your nationality. There is the option of a e-visa for many nationalities which is very fast and painless, submit your information and a passport photo online and wait for the result. Allow up to three business days to receive it back (ours came back that same afternoon). If you’re already in Thailand you also have the option of applying for your visa in Bangkok or Chiang Mai.
Internal travel in Myanmar is best booked when you arrive in the country, unless you are travelling with an all-inclusive tour. As soon as you arrive find a travel agency (there’s plenty around), and book your transport. You can book along the way but you may want to book at least a few days in advance if you’re travelling during peak season (November to February). Read our post about Choosing Your Transport in Myanmar.PUBLIC TRANSPORT
Taxis are the main form of transport within towns and cities, although there are also public buses that you can use. Taxis don’t use a meter so you must agree on a rate before getting in. Speak to your hotel about how much a fare should be to get a rough idea of what you should be paying. You’ve also got the option of a pick-up truck in some of the cities, and rickshaws are here and there.
Accommodation in Myanmar is significantly more expensive than other areas of Southeast Asia, but you can still secure a reasonable place to stay on a budget of $40-$60USD per night. As always, there are cheaper and more expensive options but if you don’t want to stay in a hostel, but don’t need to be staying in the Ritz, $40-$60USD will get you a hotel which is comfortable, clean and includes breakfast and a private bathroom.
WHERE TO GO
Yangon: Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is often recommended for just a one day visit but we would stay for at least two. It’s a vibrant melting pot of a city, with amazing streets to wander through, pagodas galore and great food. One of its largest attractions is the glittering Shwedagon Pagoda which can’t be missed. Yangon is the perfect place to base yourself to explore other attractions on day trips and as your port to visit the south. Hpa-An: Easily accessible by bus from Yangon and the capital of Karen state, Hpa-An is a small town full of smiling children, markets, and epic views. A perfect spot to take countryside hikes and to enjoy a slower pace than what you’ve been experiencing in Yangon. From there take a scenic boat trip to Mawlamyine.
Bagan: Located in central Myanmar, the ancient city of Bagan is one of those places you’ll never forget and is iconic Myanmar. Home to over 2000 Buddhist temples and pagodas, Bagan must make it to your itinerary. Spend a few days here making sure you get to every sunrise and hiring a push-bike, e-bike or car to explore during the day. We highly recommend the hot air balloon flight, not easy on the wallet, but the experience of flying high above thousands of temples at sunrise is something you’ll never forget. See our flight in photos here.
Hsipaw: One of the highlights of visiting Hsipaw is the train ride from Pyin Oo Lwin. Once you get there, Hsipaw is the perfect spot for treks to surrounding villages, boat rides, and just enjoying a less chaotic way of life for a few days.
Nyuang Shwe/Inle Lake: Although very much on the tourist track, Nyuang Shwe and Inle Lake are a beautiful part of Myanmar and should definitely be part of your itinerary. There are three standard boat tours – one that just does the top of Inle, one that also also goes to Indein, and another that goes right down towards the south of the lake. You can get plenty of information when you arrive, and you’re not going to have trouble booking one in, although try to find a boat driver that is flexible so you can avoid all the tourist traps and just enjoy your time on the lake. Nyuang Shwe is a beautiful little town to wander and enjoy some really good food!
– Mohinga (breakfast)
– Shan-style noodles (north)
– Tea leaf salad
TOP PHOTO SPOTS
– Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon
– Pagodas from a hot air balloon, Bagan (see our flight here)
– Mingalar Market, Nyuang Shwe
– Indein, Inle LakeOTHER
Internet access: Most hotels will say they’ve got WiFi but it’s generally really slow or completely non-existent. Buy yourself a SIM card from one of the three providers – MPT, Telenor or Ooredoo for 1500kyats and then top up your credit. Their top-up system for data doesn’t work on gigabytes, but on kyats amount – you can generally get 3000 or 5000 kyats top-up.
Laundry: Laundry is done through your hotel, we didn’t see any laundromats while we were there. They charge per piece and the cost varies depending on where you’re staying, however generally it won’t cost more than 1500kyats for an item, most hover around the 300-500 kyats mark.
Visit now: Myanmar can seem daunting due to the lack of information online, the limited Internet access and inability to book a lot of your trip from home, but that’s all the more reason to visit. It’s still relatively untouched, which makes it such an incredibly unique experience, one of our favourite trips to date.
Food: As told by our trusty hiking guide in Hsipaw, the Burmese cook in the morning and will then serve the food throughout the day until the evening, so it’s generally fine until lunch time but after that there’s a lot higher risk of food poisoning. The Chinese always cook fresh so it’s much wiser to choose Chinese food for dinner and probably lunch too, just to be safe.
*Myanmar is constantly changing, this information is accurate as of February 2016. If you see anything that is outdated, please let us know so we can make appropriate adjustments.
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