Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia that is not yet as popular with tourists as it is with the other Southeast Asian countries. It opened its doors to tourists around 2012, after 50 years. It has got stunning temples, beautiful landscapes and rich culture that can easily match those of popular tourist destinations Thailand and Vietnam. I spent 10 days in this beautiful country and there’s just too much to see that 10 days isn’t enough. I’m quite sure I will go back again to check out the other areas, and maybe visit Bagan during the hot air balloon season. If you haven’t been to this country yet, I encourage you to visit it now, before it becomes a mainstream destination.
Best Time to Visit
Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate with three distinct seasons: the cold and dry season, hot and dry season and the wet season. The cold and dry season is from November to February, with average monthly temperatures that range between 20°C (68°F) and 24°C (75°F). The hot-dry season is from March to April with average monthly temperatures between 30°C (86°F) and 35°C (95°F). The wet season is between May and October with an average temperature between 25°C (77°F) and 30°C (86°F). (Source: https://weather-and-climate.com/average-monthly-Rainfall-Temperature-Sunshine-in-Myanmar-Burma)
The best time to visit is during the months of November to February when it is cold and dry. I went to Myanmar during the wet season. I was lucky though that out of the ten days that I was there, I only experienced rain during my last two days in Myanmar. The first eight days were really very hot.
Visa Requirements and Immigration
Visa regulations are based on your passport/nationality. All visitors to Myanmar must hold a passport with a validity of at least 6 months. Ordinary passport holders from Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, and Vietnam do not require a visa for tourist visits of up to 14 days if entering and departing from Yangon, Mandalay, or Naypyidaw International Airports. Citizens from these countries need to apply for the appropriate e-Visa if they would like to stay in Myanmar for over 14 days or wish to enter or exit from any of the International Land Border Checkpoints.
Singapore passport holders can enter the country visa-free for tourist visits of up to 30 days and can enter and depart from all International Checkpoints. Visa exemption Pilot Program has been extended until 30th September 2020 wherein the citizens of Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China and Macau Special Administrative Region of China are allowed entry to Myanmar visa-free for tourist visits of up to 30 days and can enter and depart from all International Checkpoints.
There are 100 countries that are eligible to apply for a tourist electronic visa. You can check the list of those countries here. The e-visa costs US$40 and allows a maximum stay of up to 28 days for tourists. For more information about the types of visa, fees, and duration, visit this site.
Restricted Areas in Myanmar
There are restricted areas for foreigners and tourists traveling in Myanmar. For the list of restricted areas, visit this site.
How to Get To Myanmar
With the visa restrictions stated above, the overland border crossing is a bit difficult to do. The easiest way to get to Myanmar is by taking a flight. Myanmar has three international airports located in Yangon, Mandalay and its capital Nay Pyi Taw, although only a few airlines use it at present. Myanmar’s international flag carrier, Myanmar Airways International, only serves destinations within Asia. To reach Myanmar from outside Asia, the cheapest way is to fly to a regional hub such as Bangkok, Hanoi or Singapore.
There is no direct flight from the Philippines. When I visited it last June, I took a flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Yangon, Myanmar. I booked my flight less than a month prior to travel and it cost me Php 2,525.50 (~US$ 50.5) with Nok Air. From Yangon, I flew to Hanoi, Vietnam with VietJet Air. I paid Php 2,498.36 (~US$ 50) for the flight.
Where to Exchange Money
Burmese kyat (MMK) is the official currency of Myanmar. There are money changers at the airport as well as in the city center. Do not exchange all of your money at the airport. From my experience, the exchange rate at the city center is way better. Exchange only enough Kyat to make it to your accommodation and to last for a day. The exchange rate at Yangon airport when I was there last June was US$ 1 = 1495 Kyats while at the city center it was US$ 1 = 1510 Kyats.
I haven’t tried using ATM there, but there are ATMs at the airport as well as the city center.
Where to Buy Simcard
I recommend buying a local SIM card if you want to stay connected to the internet all the time. They are very cheap and you can buy a SIM card at the airport or at any phone shop in the city center.
I bought an Ooredoo Tourist SIM card with 30 days data plan at the airport. I choose the one with 10 GB data and it costs 11,500 Kyats. Other plans available are 1 GB and costs 2500 Kyats, 2 GB costs 3500 Kyats, 3 GB costs 4500 Kyats, 5 GB costs 6500 Kyats, 20 GB costs 21500 Kyats and 40 GB costs 41500 Kyats.
From One City/Municipality to Another
Buses are available to get from one city to another. They are very comfortable and the most preferred bus company by foreign tourists is JJ Bus. It is a bit pricey but very luxurious to get around Myanmar. I have tried JJ Bus as well as Famous Bus and I didn’t have any bad experience with both. I will write about my experience riding these buses on a different post. Do note that seats sell out fast especially for the 2+1 buses, so I advise booking ahead of time.
You can buy your bus ticket through your hostel/hotel, but it is cheaper if you book directly online on the bus company’s website or with Baolau. It is even cheaper if you book it at the bus station, however, the bus station in Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay are quite far from the city center.
If you have a budget, you can also take a flight. Myanmar has 4 international and 21 domestic operating airports with commercial flights.
Around the City/Municipality
I have only been to four places in Myanmar: Yangon, Mandalay, Inle, and Bagan so I can only share information about those four areas.
Taxis, Grab cars and buses are available to get around the city. As for motorbikes, only government-related officials may use motorbikes in Yangon Municipal area and they are not allowed to carry passengers. Motorcyclists from out of town ride are also not allowed to ride their bikes into Yangon.
A good way of exploring Yangon is by foot if you want to check out Sule Pagoda and the colonial buildings near the Pagoda.
Nyaung Shwe township is where the famous Inle Lake is located. If you want to visit the tourist attractions in the lake such as the floating gardens, then you need to take a motorboat trip. To check out the town, you can either walk or ride a bike. The hostel that I stayed at, BaobaBed Hostel, offers free bike use for its guests.
Taxis, Grab car, Grab bike, Grab tuk-tuk and tourist vans (Ostello Belo arranges tours for the tourist attractions in the city) are available to get around the city. Driving a motorbike is allowed in Mandalay. I highly recommend using Grab bike to get around the city when you are on a limited budget and don’t have a license to drive a motorbike. It is cheap, fast and safe. If you wanna do a day tour outside Mandalay (Sagaing, Amarapura, U-Bein Bridge, Dee Dote Waterfalls and many more), you can contact Mr. Zaw. He was my tour guide when I was in Mandalay and took me to so many places at a very cheap price. You can contact him on Facebook: mrzawmandalay or send him an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His mobile number is 09796519466.
To explore Old Bagan, you can rent an e-bike for 5000 kyats. I rented the e-bike in the bike shop in front of BaobaBed Hostel Bagan. You can try walking to explore the area but you won’t see much if you do that because it’s a very big area. Driving a motorbike is also allowed in Bagan. If you want to visit Mt. Popa which is an hour’s drive from Old Bagan, you can book a join-in tour at your hotel/hostel and at tour agencies in Bagan.
Where to Stay
If you’re traveling solo, I recommend staying in a hostel to meet like-minded travelers and to save on costs. My favorite hostel during my stay in Myanmar was the Baobabed Hostel. They have a hostel in Yangon, Inle, and Bagan. They have a free breakfast. The one in Inle was my favorite. They offer a complimentary early check-in room. Take note- room, not reception/common area. They have a room where you can sleep in case you arrive really early and you won’t have to pay extra. That room also has its own toilet and bath, and a locker where you can leave your bags. The one in Bagan has a swimming pool.
In Mandalay, I stayed at Ostello Belo. They have free breakfast too, just like BaobaBed. This hostel is some sort of a party hostel, but it was also okay. If you arrive early, you can check-in at 4:00 am and pay only half the price. You need to inform them though that you’ll be arriving early; they’re going to give you that option.
Must-Try in Myanmar
For those who have been following me on Instagram, you must have read that my favorite Burmese food is Shan Noodles. I first tasted it in BaobaBed Hostel in Nyaung Shwe and I really loved it. And I think you should try it too. You should also try eating at local teashops. Try Myanmar tea, local soju, fried vermicelli and samosa. Try eating in local restaurants too where their menu is they show you dishes in small plates and then you choose which food you would like to have.
Also, when you visit Myanmar, you will probably see people with a white-yellowish thing on their face. It is called thanaka. It is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark. They say that it provides protection from sunburn, and is believed to help remove acne and promote smooth skin. Try putting this on your face too, to have the complete Burmese experience.
And of course, the longyi. It is a piece of cloth worn around the waist, running to the feet. It is widely worn in Myanmar. You can buy one in the market.
Some Useful Tips When Visiting Myanmar
- You need to pay a fee when entering Bagan and Inle Lake. They collect the fee at a checkpoint upon entering Bagan/Inle. The entrance fee in Bagan is 25000 kyats and 15000 kyats in Inle. The ticket is valid for five days. Keep the ticket because there are temples in Bagan that ask for it upon entry.
- You will be required to pay 10000 Kyats for Mandalay Archaeological Zone Fee when you visit Mandalay Palace. Also, you will be asked to leave your passport at the gate. My friend told me that he told people at the gate that he left his passport at the hotel so they asked for his driver’s license instead.
- Don’t stay too long in Yangon. One or two days there is enough. Just don’t miss visiting the Shwedagon Pagoda when you are there.
- Bring diarrhea tablets with you, in case you are not used to spicy foods. Some Burmese foods are very spicy and might cause you stomach trouble.
- Burmese people are generally kind and friendly. However, there are some who would try to scam you, especially in touristy areas such as the Sule Pagoda (I experienced getting scammed here) and in Bagan. If someone approaches you and appears to be super friendly and starts following you and telling you stories about the place, be cautious because later on he/she might ask you to give him/her money as a fee for guiding you.
- If you’re visiting Mt. Popa, be careful with the monkeys. There’s a lot of them. They might steal your cap or eyeglasses/sunglasses. Or they might jump on your back. (Happened to me on my way down. I got really scared haha).
When visiting a pagoda:
- Use footwear that is easy to take off. This is to avoid the hassle of taking it off and putting it back on. You are not allowed to use footwear, even socks when entering pagodas.
- Bring a plastic bag or shoe bag. You may leave your footwear at the entrance of the pagodas (some have lockers for shoes). But if you are afraid of losing it (though I doubt if someone will steal it), then better keep it inside your bag. In some pagodas, locals will offer to look after your footwear but will charge you afterward. It didn’t happen to me because I always bring a plastic bag but I have read reviews of people who experienced it.
- Bring wet wipes, lots of it. You’ll be needing it to clean off your feet. Imagine how your feet will look like after walking around the pagodas barefoot.
- Dress appropriately. Wearing shorts (even for guys) and mini-skirts are not allowed inside a temple/pagoda.
I think that’s it for the travel guide. I will write a separate post about my itinerary in Myanmar so stay tuned. If you have any questions, feel free to write it down in the comments section. Subscribe to my blog if you don’t want to miss any of my posts. And please follow my Facebook page @iwentanyways and like my Instagram accounts @iwentanyways and @tnadeperalta for updates. You can also check out my highlights from my trip to Myanmar in my IG @tnadeperalta.