All the essential information you need to plan your trip around Myanmar
17 Oct 2019 By Lily Pham
All the essential information you need to plan your trip around Myanmar: visa, costs, security, weather, what to see and much more
When you arrive in Myanmar, you will immediately notice that you are in a country very different from the rest of the southeast of Asia; neither clearly identifiable with Southeast Asia nor with the Indian Subcontinent, but with characteristics of the both to which its unique personality is added. You will learn what a longyi and the tanaka are used on the face, that with tea leaves you can also prepare a meal, why most men have red teeth, the reason for so many golden pagodas and that people's hospitality is not corrupted despite the decades of military dictatorship.
In recent years tourism has boomed in Myanmar and it is clear that the main destinations are going to lose authenticity over time, but at the moment it is quite limited to four places. Unlike Thailand, Cambodia or Vietnam, in Myanmar you will not have to go far to meet people where foreigners are a happy novelty.
In order to enter Myanmar, you will need to apply for a tourist visa in advance. As you are probably in Bangkok at some point before going, take advantage of doing it where the procedure is very simple.
What they are going to ask you is: Original passport and 2 photograph, complete the form they give you at the consulate and between USD 25 and 40, depending on the visa process you choose from.
Once you have the visa attached to your passport, you have 28 days to be in Myanmar from the moment you enter the country. That is to say, that the 28 days of visa do not begin to count from the moment they give it to you, but since you set foot on Burmese.
There is also the possibility of applying for an online visa, which is a fairly simple procedure and you do not need to go to the embassy.
Is it safe to visit Myanmar?
Together with Singapore, Myanmar is the safest country in an area where it is already very rare for you to have problems of this kind. Yes, it is a very poor country where a tourist with their dollars and technology could be a huge temptation, but there are two issues that influence: penalties for criminals, especially that attack foreigners, are very hard; and, mainly, the moral, spiritual burden and social shame for staining one's hands - that which politicians don't have - is the worst punishment.
There are areas of the country that have been in armed conflict for decades, between repressed ethnic minority troops and those of the government, but these places are closed to tourism.
What is very important to avoid problems is that you keep in mind that you are not traveling along the beaches of Thailand. Myanmar is a country where it is not funny to see the drunken tourists like you may do in Thailand.
When you go to temples and sacred places, remember to take off your shoes before entering and bring something that covers your shoulders and legs at least to the knees, as we tell you in Buddhism, the least you should know.
Before traveling, we recommend that you go to this page that explains with cartoons the Dos and Don’ts for tourists in Myanmar and that you read 15 Western customs that you should not do in Southeast Asia.
If you were already traveling through other countries in Southeast Asia, you will notice that the level of English in Myanmar is higher than in Thailand and Laos, and that most people in the cities have even basic knowledge to understand simple questions. In the main tourist destinations you will not have communication problems (unless you are hard with English); everyone who works in tourism speaks English and in many restaurants they have the menu in both languages, even in some teahouses where foreigners are not seen (to know what to ask in these Burmese institutions, do not miss Everything I know about Myanmar , I learned it by drinking tea).
Learning some basic phrases is essential for all conversations to begin with good vibes:
Ni kaung laa ?: How are you?
Ni kaung dé: Good (responding to How are you?)
Tsé tsú timba dé: Thank you.
Ia ba dé: You're welcome.
Twá do mé: Bye
Na mé belo ko lé ?: What is your name?
Na mé ga ____ pa: My name is _____
Myanmar's currency is called Kyat, which is pronounced "chat". If you are going to enter by land, you can change a little of your Thai baht in the border cities so you have some cash, but the best thing is that you wait to get to a exchange offices once in bigger towns. If you are going to travel by plane, at the Yangon airport you will find very good change.
Dollars, euros, Thai baht and Singapore dollars are accepted in many exchange offices, but the most convenient thing is to bring cash. It is very important that these arrive almost as if they were fresh from the printer so as not to have problems. Well, not so much, but notice that they are not wrinkled, written, folded, bitten or burned because they are quite heavy with this, and the newer, the better. If possible, take 100 that are the ones that change at the best rate, but also some kids for hotels where you can pay in dollars.
The same rule does not apply to the kyat; The ones with the smallest denomination may be last, but they will still be accepted when you shop.
As for ATMs, in the main tourist destinations you will find without problems. In Yangon, for example, there are several around Shwedagon Pagoda. Paying with a credit card is still somewhat limited to more expensive hotels and restaurants.
The cost of traveling through Myanmar is a bit higher than in the other countries in the area, except Singapore. The biggest difference is in accommodation, since cheap hotels that accept foreigners do not cope with the growth of tourism, and prices rise with demand. A rustic double room (fan and no bathroom) is between USD 10 and 20, depending on the season, Yangon being the most expensive city.
Street food and simple restaurants is the cheapest in all of Southeast Asia. While the cheapest dishes are not at the sybaritic level of those in Thailand or Malaysia, you can also eat a vegetarian super set like the one pictured with unlimited rice and tea for USD 1 - 2, and for less than half a plate of Shan Noodles or Lahpet (fermented tea leaf salad) in tea houses.
More details in Myanmar, suitable for backpackers? Travel budget and recommendations for when you arrive on the first day in Myanmar: advice from traveler to traveler.
The rainy season runs from mid-May to early October, and where it is most affected is from Yangon to the south. Traveling to the north (Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake) you will not have so many problems.
The best weather you will have from November to February, but this coincides with the high tourist season. Of course, it does not compare to what it is in Thailand, but in the four main destinations, accommodation prices rise and fill up quickly.
March to June is when it's hotter.
Traveling in Myanmar
The classic route that most tourists do is through the "big four": Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. Myanmar is not Thailand, but tourism has grown so much in recent years with the political changes in the country, that these destinations begin to have the undesirable symptoms that dollars bring, especially Bagan and Inle Lake that depend almost exclusively on tourism. With this we do not want to tell you not to go to these places, but that you prioritize taking some time to get off the marked route.
Particularly, the place that surprised us the most was Hsipaw, a town north of Mandalay from where you can go hiking in the mountains.
Yangon, despite the fact that most of the travelers were telling us that there was no point in staying more than one day, it is one of the cities that most caught us in the Southeast. It is true that at first sight it is dirty, fragrant, chaotic and decadent, but the taste is found in its spontaneity and, especially, in the tea houses where we spend hours sitting.
Waking up to cycle through Bagan with the first rays of light, seeing how ruins and temples fill the landscape, is surely one of the strongest experiences you have on the trip.
If you enter by land, the most used border is in Mae Sot (Thailand) - Myawaddy, and from there you can go directly to Yangon or make stops along the way in villages like Hpa-An -very good to ride a bike around- , Kyaiktiyo - the one with the golden rock - and Bago.
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18 Sep 2019 By Lily Pham