Header image by Alexander Mueller
A mysterious and alluring country, Myanmar has recently become an emerging destination in Asia.
Formerly known as Burma, this state in the heart of the Southeastern Asia offers insight into a still relatively unknown world. It tempts curious visitors with stunning temple landscapes, and a sealed culture that has only opened up to the world within the last decade.
Tourism has been enjoying somewhat of a boom in recent years, especially while the travel experience maintains an air of authenticity, which is reasonably difficult to come by in a world that steadily becomes more globalized.
It may take a month to uncover all the uniqueness Myanmar has to offer, but no matter how long you choose to spend, the following guide will help out with everything you need to know when planning a visit.
Visit Myanmar: Everything You Need to Know to Plan Your Trip
Fly or Drive? Decide How You’ll Be Arriving
The most common way to reach Myanmar is by flying into one of three international airports; Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw (located in-between Mandalay and Yangon) are well connected by international routes.
Though flying is not the only way to enter Myanmar. The country shares a border with China, Thailand, Laos, India, and Bangladesh, and overland border crossings have become a hot trend (Thailand and India currently have open borders with Myanmar).
If entering the country via a land border checkpoint, make sure you thoroughly research as not all ports of entry are advised due to safety, and the rules and regulations are constantly changing.
If you’re entering at the border make sure you have printed copies of your visa approval and a photocopy of your passport, otherwise you risk being turned around.
Photo by Paul Arps (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
The Best Time to Visit Myanmar
Travel guides often advise to travel in peak season, but the best time to explore Myanmar is actually in shoulder season: April to May and October to November.
Most tourists visit Myanmar when the weather is cooler, which is between November and February, though this means that you’re sharing the country with the maximum number of visitors. As such, travel during this time is more expensive, and things like accommodation more limited.
The temperature starts rising from March to May, though this is the perfect time to travel before the monsoon season hits in June.
If you can deal with the heat (expect around 35 -40 °C), you’ll find far less tourists, and have far more flexibility with your itinerary (ie be able to walk into a guest house spontaneously).
Organize Your Visa
Everyone traveling to Myanmar will need to apply for a visa. The good news is that this can be done online, and it’s easy to submit an application via the official government website: evisa.moip.gov.mm
The system was recently updated, and you’re now able to apply online for both business and tourist visas (valid for 28 days) and have them granted within 24 hours if need be.
The fee is $50 per person, or $56 if you need an express service. It doesn’t matter whether you’re entering by air or overland journey, everyone entering Myanmar will need to apply for this visa.
The visa application asks you to specify a port of entry, so it’s best to apply after you’ve decided how you’ll be arriving (though you don’t have to specify which port you’ll be leaving from).
Technically you can arrive at any port of entry, but if it’s different to the one you stated on your visa you could be held up for questions.
Plan Your Itinerary
There are many factors to consider when planning your Myanmar itinerary, including your personal interests, length of your holiday, transportation you prefer, etc.
The best idea for crafting your own itinerary is to browse holiday packages proposed by both international and local tour operators. There is no need to purchase their travel product, but their insightful knowledge is extremely helpful in this case.
If you’re visiting Myanmar for the first time, look at Myanmar Tour Packages proposed by Authentic Asia Tours, a local agency based in Yangon.
Travel forums on Tripadvisor are another good way to get some consultancy from post travelers as well travel experts.
Where to Go in Myanmar
Shwedagon Pagoda (for Temples)
Your holiday to Myanmar is incomplete without seeing Shwedagon. This 2,000 year old pagoda reflects the Buddhist architectural highlights as well local culture in the most photogenic way.
This glistening, gilded gazebo is located in the capital Yangon (which has its fair share of attractions itself – you can check out this Yangon Travel Guide for more information).
Understandably, it is the most sacred pagoda in the country, believed to be dated somewhere between the 6th and 10th centuries. It’s simply not to be missed when it’s lit up at night – and you might well need sunglasses for the occasion!
Photo by Stefan Munder (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Bagan (for Architecture)
Known as the biggest archaeological treasure of Burma Kingdom, Bagan is home to more than 2,200 sacred temples remaining from 13th century.
Once in Bagan, you will quickly be enchanted by the otherworldly sunrise, rustic villages which showcases colorful traditional workshops, eye-catching river with mountain backdrop.
The city of Bagan is undoubtedly the poster boy for Myanmar tourism – the images of which you’ll be greeted with when first researching the country.
Explore Inle’s Waterways
Tucked away in the lush Shan State, Inle Lake is an exceptional site you should delve into. It’s the second largest body of freshwater in the country, and at 13.5 miles long and 7 miles wide, it has to be seen to be believed.
From exotic Nyaung Shwe town to Inpakhone stilt village, from floating gardens to on-water markets, Inle displays unique lake culture that you make not encountered elsewhere in Asia.
For active adventure, the breathtaking trek from Indein to Kalaw is a perfect option. For foodie hopping, Shan cuisines and appetizing dishes is undeniable.
And certainly, photographers will love shooting local fishermen who row their traditional boats with only 1 leg!
Photo by David Stanley (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Hpa An (for Authentic Myanmar)
When it comes traveling off beaten track, the picturesque route linking Yangon to Hpa An crossing Mawlamyine has something to inspire you.
The combination of tropical forest, verdant plantation at Irrawaddy Delta and tranquil southern landscape make this area a perfect escape to immerse in local culture.
If this is not enough, make your way to capture the Buddha mountain or swim in the pristine natural pool in Hpa An.
With an intrigue network of ancient capital covering Inwa, Sagaing, Mingun and the Royal Palace, Mandalay means your days will be occupied by interesting cultural touches.
The former capital of Myanmar evokes many emotions depending on which side you stand of British colonial rule. However, the core charm of Mandalay comes from its surroundings.
Just about 2 hours drive from the city, you will have chance to travel back to the past in Maymyo where numerous British colonial villas, churches are well preserved. Another journey that may surprise you very much is a 3 day trip upriver to watch Irrawaddy dolphin.
Mandalay Hill is well worth the climb for the panoramic view and exploring the Shwenandaw Monastery and enormous Mandalay Palace will keep you occupied for hours.
Photo by Paul Arps (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Money / Budgeting
Myanmar now has ATMs but withdrawing money means you have to pay high operation fee (around $5 per transaction). It’s best to carry cash, as these transaction fees can add up quite quickly.
Like any country, Myanmar can be as cheap or expensive as you want it to be. In terms of budgeting, cost-wise it’s on par with most other countries in South East Asia, though keep in mind that there’s no haggling.
You can stay in top end luxury hotels run by the government, or you can stay in locally run guest houses for as cheap as $25 a night (around $10 if you’ve booked a dorm bed). Street food, or eating at local restaurants might cost around $10 a day.
In terms of domestic travel in Myanmar, buses are the main form of getting around the country. This is the cheapest option, at around $20 a ticket, though keep in mind that it’s highly uncomfortable, and you won’t have toilet facilities. Internal flights start from $100.
Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, so it may be worth your while to read up on religious etiquette while visiting. This relates to entering religious sites with bare feet, covering your shoulders, and wearing conservative clothes.
Internet is improving but is still very slow; you shouldn’t expect high speed wifi when visiting Myanmar. Don’t count on Facebook for communication; it’s better to buy a local simcard with a data package from the airport.
Data packages in Myanmar are very cheap, and it’s a great way to access Google maps and other apps while you’re out exploring. You can also turn your phone into a hotspot, and the connection will be faster than your hotel’s WiFi.
The country is constantly expanding its infrastructure for tourism, and many new sites and attractions are opening to visitors every year. Check the updated news about southern Myanmar, especially Mergui for better discovery.
Photo by Paul Arps (CC BY 2.0) via Flickr
Is Myanmar Safe
Travel to Myanmar is considered very safe, and there has been no known tourist related violence reported within the main sites of the country.
Burmese people are very friendly and they will go out of their way to make you feel comfortable. Even if they don’t speak English, they will try to communicate with you, and are the warmest, friendliest people you may ever meet.
If visiting recently opened parts of the country it is likely there will be some degree of surveillance operating, though you won’t be in any danger.
It’s important to avoid any type of political unrest, and be very sensitive about what you say in public. Ie don’t discuss polictics if you see any protests, demonstrations, or military events, don’t get involved.
It is wise to stay up to date on the country’s political situation if you are exploring the country beyond the typical tourist circuit.
Addressing the Political Situation
Demands for a travel boycott of Myanmar have launched in response to international condemnation and media coverage of the Rohingya tragedy.
Boycotting may seem like the honorable thing to do, as no one wants to be complacent of human suffering, but the reality is that a sanction against Myanmar isn’t noble and won’t positively impact the humanitarian crisis.
A decline in tourism simply won’t change the Rohingya emergency but could severely worsen the situation. Click here to read why choosing not to travel is one of the worst things you could do.
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