Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a county that may not be at the top of your must visit list. However, I’m here to tell you that it should be! Myanmar completely surprised me with it’s kind people, raw beauty and deep rooted history! I’ve put together this beginner’s guide to Myanmar and have included all my top travel tips so that you are prepared before you even go!
Having only recently opened its doors to tourism, the infrastructure isn’t exactly up to the same standards as some other Southeast Asia countries. However, it is a constant work in progress and the people are really working hard to make it easier for visitors to travel around.
This beginners guide to Myanmar is a good starting point if you’re planning to visit so save this guide and use as a reference before you land in this beautiful country!
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Is Myanmar Safe?
The short answer: yes. As long as you stick to the main tourist route. These destinations usually include Mandalay, Bagan Kalaw, Inle Lake, Yangon, Hpa-An and Ngapali. It was not that long ago that Myanmar opened its doors for tourism so there are still a lot of things they are figuring out. Also there is still a lot of conflict going on within Myanmar so it is advised to stick to the main areas and not go off exploring in other parts of the country.
How to Get to Myanmar
Most visitors will enter Myanmar through one of the main international airports. These would be Mandalay International Airport (MDL) and Yangon International Airport (RGN). When you fill out your e-visa form you will need to enter in the destination at which you will be arriving in country.
There are other smaller airport in which you can enter however they may be more expensive than arriving via the larger ones.
I had also read that it is not recommended to do any border crossings by land and that it is best to fly into one of the main airports. However, if you choose to do a border crossing then Thailand might be your best entry point.
When you arrive into Myanmar you will need to have a copy of your e-visa printed to show to immigration. I did not have to show an onward flight or a flight out of the country upon arrival but have heard that sometimes they will ask. Therefore I would be prepared with either a pre-booked flight to another destination or be ready to book one in the moment at the airport.
The other option is to know flight details of an onward journey to tell the immigration officer and hope that that works. That may not be the best advice but you never know what will work!
How to Get Around Myanmar
The first thing to include in this beginner’s guide to Myanmar and quite possibly the most important is how to get around! Myanmar has many different modes of transportation.
How you choose to travel throughout the country depends entirely on your budget, length of stay and personal preference. These are a few of the main options that you can use to travel around Myanmar and within the cities.
The majority of travelers with either fly in and out of Mandalay or Yangon as they have the larger international flight options. There are also many domestic flights available which would be beneficial for those needing to save time. They will be more expensive than the bus or train so keep that in mind.
I didn’t personally take the train while in Myanmar as I had heard some bad experiences from some friends. They had said that the trains we less organized and very uncomfortable compared to the buses. Also in some circumstances the trains actually took longer than the buses.
For every single journey in Myanmar I took the JJ’s VIP Express Bus. The bus had large, reclining seats, a working tv with english movies, water and either a snack or meal. They also provided a blanket because the bus gets very cold. I’d also recommend you bring a sweater and wear pants. Mostly all of the journeys are overnight usually leaving around 9 or 10PM. The travel time is around 6-10 hours depending on your destination.
The only issue I had with the night buses is that you’d arrive at your destination around 4 or 5AM and weren’t always allowed to check into your room. I did get lucky with a few of my hotels as they had the room available and let me in early so I could rest.
You can book your tickets on bookaway.com, 12go.asia, through your hotel or travel agency in town. If you want to pay with credit card it is best to book through one of the mentioned websites above! You can also book directly through the JJ’s website but I didn’t use that since the prices seemed to be the same and their website was a bit confusing. The tickets cost anywhere from around $15-25 depending on your destination.
The bus stations for the JJ bus all have bathrooms which you can use just before leaving. The bus will also make stops along the way for the bathroom but just know that it usually is every few hours so I don’t recommend drinking a ton. All of the restrooms that we stopped at along the way had toilet paper, however I would still recommend you bring your own.
I had a wonderful experience with the buses in Myanmar and would highly recommend them if you are traveling around the country.
In the bigger cities, Mandalay and Yangon, Grab Taxi is available. If you have a SIM card it will be super easy to use and save you the hassle of trying to haggle with the tuk tuk drivers at 4 in the morning when your bus arrives. The Grab app gives you multiple options for the type of vehicle and they even have the tuk tuk as an option. You will need to pay in cash for your ride but that’s the same with any other mode of transportation.
If you don’t already have the Grab app downloaded to your phone be sure to do that prior to arriving to Asia as they will need to send you a verification code via text message.
The tuk tuk is pretty much a standard option in many of the SE Asia countries. It is no different in Myanmar. If you decide to take a tuk tuk that you do not book through Grab make sure to negotiate hard. They will give you an outrageous price so be ready to haggle or walk away.
Motorbikes & E-Bikes
You can rent a motorbike in Myanmar but I would only do so in the bigger cities if you are a confident driver. The prices are around 8K kyat ($5.31 USD) for a manual bike or 15K kyat ($10 USD) for an automatic. The price is for 24 hours and includes a helmet. These prices were the highest I have seen compared to many other countries in SE Asia.
In Bagan, tourists can only rent the e-bike. This costs 8K kyat ($5.30 USD) per day and can be rented through your hotel or rental shops in town. The prices all seem to be around the same. The downside to the e-bike is that the battery doesn’t last that long and you’ll most likely have to return to your hotel at some point during the day to swap out your bike.
Another option to get around town is to hail a taxi. They will probably not be metered so you’ll have to agree on a price before stepping into the vehicle. I noticed that the prices for taxis were similar to Grab and cheaper than a tuk tuk. One time in Yangon I got quoted a cheaper price for a taxi than a Grab so it doesn’t hurt to ask around!
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In Myanmar they have what’s called Archaeological Zone Fees. Now this only applies to a few of the cities and not everywhere. These fees are also only for tourists. In Inle Lake you have to pay 15,000 kyat ($10 USD) per person to enter the entire area. If you arrive by bus they will make you pay the archaeological zone fee as soon as you get off the bus or even while you are still on the bus.
In Bagan, the zone fees of 25,000 kyat ($16.75 USD) are paid once you exit the bus and drive via tuk tuk into town to get to your hotel. Here they will take a picture of you and give you a printed receipt. Keep this receipt on you or take a picture of it just in case you are asked to show it in the future.
In Mandalay you will have to pay zone fees which include your entrance fee into certain temples or sights. For example, the zone fee of 10,000 kyat ($6.50) in Mandalay town covers the Mandalay Palace, Shwenandaw Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda and a few more. You will have to pay an additional zone fee of 5,000 kyat ($3.30 USD) for Mingun town to see the Mingun Pagoda and the Hsinbyume Pagoda.
Temples or Sights
At some of the temples you will will have to pay an entrance fee. The amount is usually smaller than the zone fee and you should only be required to pay this in places like Yangon. You should only be charged a fee for a specific temple or sight if there is not a zone fee or if there is a camera usage fee. This happened to me only in Inle Lake where I was charged a very small amount of 500 MMK ($0.30 USD) for a camera fee.
TIP: Only pay for your digital camera and say that you won’t be using your phone. They will try to charge for you for each device and no one is checking or cares once you’re in.
Phone Service Options including Data & Wifi
Once you arrive at the airport you will see a few different options for data plans and SIM cards for your phones. The two main ones we saw were Ooredoo and Mytel which offer a tourist pack depending on how long you will be in country and how many GB’s you think you’ll need.
Purchasing a SIM in the airport is about the same price as doing it out in town and it’ll save you a ton of hassle later so just do it there.
I chose to use Ooredoo and it was not that great but neither was the wifi anywhere we went. Therefore, I’m not sure if the other option would be much better. I think in general the wifi and internet just isn’t very stable in Myanmar.
Even if you stumble upon a cafe or restaurant that offers free wifi, as well as your hotel, the connection will be slow and almost non-existant.
I paid 11,500 MMK ($7.75 USD) for my data package which was for 9500 MB and good for 30 days.
Photography in Myanmar
Capturing the perfect photograph on your Myanmar holiday is very easy to do! Tripods are allowed everywhere and they don’t have any specific rules against photography. There are a few temples that require you to pay a “photography fee” and two of them were in Inle Lake.
Drones are allowed in the country but are NOT allowed to be flown unless you have retained a permit. Even then they have some pretty strict laws on where you can and cannot fly. If you have a drone and have not received permission to fly I would not risk it. Our hotel in Bagan said that if you got caught flying a drone over the temples you would either receive a 500,000 kyat ($332) fine or get your drone confiscated. Not sure how accurate that information is or whether the punishment is much harsher but I decided it wasn’t worth finding out. In summary, just don’t fly a drone.
Visas: Applying for an e-Visa
Most passport holders from other countries will need to apply online for a visa to Myanmar prior to visiting. You will need to do this about 5 days before your arrival as it can sometimes take that long and you’ll need to find a place to print out your visa.
To apply, you will need a copy of your passport and a passport sized photo that you can upload. The cost is $50 per person and it is good for 28 days.
NOTE: You CANNOT get a visa on arrival in Myanmar so make sure to apply online.
Many counties around the world recommend getting the same vaccinations prior to your trip. A few of these you may have already gotten when you were a child and some you may need to get or update before leaving your country. I know that some of these vaccinations can come with a hefty price tag but I guarantee you’d rather be safe than sorry.
As always it is best to talk to your doctor or a travel medical clinic to determine what the best options are for you.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends the following vaccinations for travelers heading to Myanmar: Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), tetanus, varicella (chickenpox), polio and the flu. Polio is actually a bit one right now due to recent outbreaks in Asia. If you had your polio vaccination as a child then confirm that you’ve also had your adult booster.
Other recommended vaccinations are: Hepatitis A, Thypoid, Japanese Encephalitis and Hepatitis B. You could also consider getting the Rabies series and you would need proof of Yellow Fever if you’ve come from a country where YF is present.
Another thing to keep in mind are the mosquitos. It is recommended to take anti-malarial medication while you are in Bagan but again, it is best to speak to a medical professional. Additionally, always wear insect repellent with DEET to prevent contracting Dengue Fever as it is very common in Asia.
The Currency in Myanmar & ATMS
The currency in Myanmar is the kyat or MMK. The conversion rate as of December 2019 is 1 USD = ~1,500 MMK. Most places, including your hotel, restaurants, motorbike rentals and entrance fees will only take cash so it’s best to have enough on you.
I only used kyat which I withdrew from an ATM in town. ATM’s can easily be found throughout the cities but as always I recommend using one attached to a bank just in case something happens and the machine doesn’t return your card.
Another thing to note is that sometimes your card will not work at certain ATM’s and will be rejected. Just try it in another machine before worrying that something is wrong with your card. Also keep in mind that some of the smaller towns like Inle Lake might be more difficult to get cash so I recommend bringing enough with you for the duration of your stay there.
Best Time to Go to Myanmar
There are three different seasons in Myanmar. From October to around March is their dry, winter season. I went in November and the temperature during the day would get quite warm but at night it was cool and pleasant. There will be a brief time when it becomes very hot and that is from March to May.
Then from May to October is will be their wet, rainy season. However, don’t let that deter you from visiting during those months. Low season is often the best time to go due to less tourists and cheaper prices.
TIP: Visit from the beginning of October until the beginning of April to see the hot air balloons. They do not fly during the rest of the year!
What to wear in Myanmar
While traveling around Myanmar it is important to keep your shoulders and legs covered when entering the temples. This applies to both men and women. Many of the temples have strict rules and will either deny entry or have a skirt or shawl that you can borrow or rent. Also, wear easily removable shoes when you are visiting the temples as you will have to leave your shoes outside.
Since the weather is very hot, you’ll want to have light weight clothing that will keep you cool when out exploring for the day. However, in the evenings the temperature gets cooler and the overnight buses can be freezing. Therefore you’ll also want to pack a sweater, pants and maybe even a scarf! I bought one at the lotus & silk factory in Inle Lake!
Other Important Things to Know
Since Myanmar is newer to the Southeast Asia travel circuit, haggling is not exactly common practice in the country. I found that the price given is usually the price you will end up paying. Granted I didn’t do much shopping there but you won’t find the same sort of haggling or negotiating game that is so commonly used throughout most of Southeast Asia.
The only thing I bought in Myanmar was a scarf at the lotus, silk & cotton factory in Inle Lake and the price was set.
Just like traveling anywhere in the world, your budget depends entirely on you. Myanmar is definitely a budget friendly destination but you could also splurge here if you wanted.
A hot air balloon ride in Bagan for example will set you back $350 USD a person. A fancy hotel could cost you well over $200 a night. However, you can also travel through Myanmar very inexpensively. Most rooms that I stayed in were under $20 a night for 2 people including breakfast. They were equipped with hot water, A/C and wifi even if the connection wasn’t that strong.
Dining in Myanmar can also be inexpensive if you eat at a local restaurant and stick to the standard dishes like fried noodles and fried rice.
Overall we spent on average around $45-60 a day for the 2 of us including hotel, food and transportation. Our daily expenses were a little higher on the days we had to pay the zone fees.
The Myanmar Time Zone
When checking the time you may notice that Myanmar has a 30-minute time difference compared to most of the world. However, this is not that uncommon. The same goes for India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and a few other countries so don’t think something is wrong with your phone!
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WHAT CAMERA GEAR DO I USE?
- Main Camera: Sony A7III
- Wide angle lens: Sony G Master 16-35mm f/2.8
- Zoom lens: Sony 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3
- Secondary Camera: Canon 6D Mark II
- Canon wide angle lens: Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L
- Underwater camera: Leica X-U
- Camera with gimbal: DJI Osmo Pocket & Underwater Housing
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro
- Camera Bag: Polar Pro Drone Trekker
- External Hard Drive: LaCie 1 TB rugged mini external hard drive