Sitting down and reviewing the photos we took in Myanmar I was super grateful for how much we got to experience in this beautiful country.
The people, traditions, festivals, meeting fellow travellers and of course the food.
Thinking about what made the visit all the more enjoyable was a combination of being open to new experiences, but also being in ‘the know’ on a few things, and adhering to a few cultural guidelines.
As Myanmar gains popularity for visitors and is recognised as being a top 5 destination in 2016, here’s Tripmasher’s useful budget and travel tips for Myanmar.
1. Getting your Myanmar visa
If you are travelling from Thailand, allow 3-4 working days to process your visa from Bangkok or Chiang Mai. A Myanmar consulate opened up in Chiang Mai earlier this year outside the old city off Huay Kuew Road. You can also opt to get an e-visa allowing 100 countries to travel up to 28 days for tourism purposes. You must fly into one of the major international airports, but this new system is part of Myanmar’s ever expanding policy to encourage more visitors to the country. Find out more at www.evisa.moip.gov.mm
Crisp, untorn and unmarked US Dollars are a must. We found the exchange rate at Yangon airport the best in our time in Myanmar at 1290 kyat to $1US. Although this does fluctuate. We used our Citibank Visa Plus card to withdraw kyats and found many ATMs working in the major tourist cities like Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan. However, if you want to be certain, bring the $US you need and aim to withdraw kyats from the airport. Always carry small notes for donations for shoe minding (200 kyats) or flower garlands and incense (500 kyats) particularly in places like Mingun or around temples during festivals.
3. Budget and itinerary
We spent 17 days in Myanmar travelling the ‘Golden Kite’ route. Check out our detailed itinerary and budget post for ideas. The route can be completed in 14 days and for $30US per person per day (if not cheaper). There are reports of Myanmar becoming increasingly unfriendly (price-wise) to the backpacker clientele, but I would disagree. It may take more time finding decent accommodation at a fair price, negotiating on transport, but we were fairly relaxed spenders and found we stayed within budget quite easily. Transport and accommodation will always be your big hitters spending wise. Aim for overnight buses to save on accommodation and eat street food. An area where your budget can blow out is taxi/songtaew fares if you are unaware of what would be a ‘fair price’. Do a quick google search or ask your hotel. It’s worth being mindful of these fares in advance so when you arrive at 5am all disheveled from an overnight bus journey you can negotiate a fair price. In some instances the reasonable price was half of what the first price was quoted.
4. Internet in Myanmar
Wifi is available, but sketchy at best, so I would say not to bother, unless you want to make your friends envious with all your photo posts 🙂
We had no problems with belly troubles in our entire time in Myanmar. Eat Mohinga for breakfast, curry for lunch and do yourself a favour and try the tea-leaf salad anywhere. Aim for fish dishes by water channels like Inle Lake or go vegetarian, some of the best food we had was in Bagan outside Thatbyinnyu Temple at Be kind to Animals The Moon. Described as experiencing the ‘Lonely Planet effect’ we saw none of this and the food is top notch.
Try the tropical fruit. Our favourite was the red-fleshed dragon fruit. Buy some at a market and refrigerate for later consumption or devour on the streets, just be wary the juice does stain.
Try to avoid animal-labour vehicles where possible. Often uncomfortable, and time consuming, not to mention the conditions for the animals. The only place where an animal powered vehicle is needed (if you don’t have your own bike) is Inwa. A separate note on e-bikes in Bagan. Just Do It. I don’t drive, and can barely ride a bike, so to try and pull off a motorised version of a 2 wheeler was a feat for me, but I did it! So anybody can. Go slow and keep to the left and indicate as much as you need to to alert motorists what you are doing.
Visitor levels in Myanmar are doubling each year making it difficult to get decent priced accommodation on the hoof, particularly if you are travelling in busy periods. We found Motherland Inn 2 in Yangon, Mr Charles Guesthouse in Hsipaw, Hotel 1 in Mandalay and Kaday Aung in Bagan the best places for a mix of budget and flash-packer accommodation. In Bagan if you can get a hotel with a pool, you will really appreciate the refreshing dip after dusty mornings on the road.
Travel sickness pills – Bring some!
I have traversed Drake’s Passage to Antarctica and pulled through the Andes bends in Ecuador and Peru, but the vertical and horizontal shakes of Myanmar buses and trains take it to a whole new level. If you are anti pill-popping, then try and get some ginger tablets. Always handy for funny tummy feelings it helps settle your stomach.
It’s hot! Even in their ‘winter’ months temperatures are soaring. Be prepared with loose fitting clothes. Also Myanmar is much more conservatively attired than say your beaches in Koh Tao, so bring appropriate clothes or buy a longyi (wrap skirt worn by men and women) to cover your legs and a wrap for your shoulders entering temples.
10. Going barefoot
Wear flip flops or easy to remove sandals as you will be going barefoot a lot. Entering temples, people’s homes and hostel accommodation too. It is courtesy to take your shoes off and quite nice to walk around with sun bathed pave-stones warming your soles. Think of it as a free hot-stone therapy 🙂 Of course the flip side is when you find yourself in a major city after the rains. At this point you may want to keep your feet clean and dry from the puddles of muddy, dark water.
11. Beer winnings
If you drink beer, then buy Myanmar and always check what’s under the white rubber seal of the caps. You might be a winner!
The most friendly people I have met in all 63 countries I have travelled. Don’t be alarmed by the constant questions of whether or not you like their country. They genuinely want to know and if you can try and stop for tea. One of our favourite moments was an unexpected stop for tea with a carpenter in Inle Lake. He wanted to share his tea with us and have a chat. They are friendly people and not out to scam you (okay there are always a couple out there). Keep your wits, but be open to invitations.
Ask permission from people before taking their photo. All they can do is say no or turn their head away if they don’t want their face in the photo. Be prepared for the reverse when locals from out of town are around for festivals and want to take pictures with you or ask you to hold their baby. Patience and a smile is all you need.
14. Temples and Pagodas
There are a lot of them and you may find yourself with temple-tiredness, particularly if you have seen Bagan in the early parts of your trip in Myanmar. If this is the case, ask your accommodation to identify other places for you to visit or hire a guide to show you a unique part of the temple you wouldn’t normally find or understand walking around on your own. We found a guide for Shwedagon Pagoda the most valuable in breaking down the meanings of all the golden structures in this large complex in Yangon.
A special note for Bagan: When you are advised that a temple for sunrise or sunset is not so touristy – don’t believe them. With visitor numbers on the up and a country with numerous festivals, most temples will have people around for sunset and sunrise. Don’t let this deter you, there are always a few gems and ‘lucky’ days where it can be you and a handful of other people.
15. Leave your luggage in Yangon
If you are arriving and departing from Yangon then I would suggest leaving any unnecessary luggage with your accommodation. We were travelling with yoga mats and Richard’s music gear, so it was great to leave this behind in locker storage at Motherland Inn 2.
Find out when these festivals are taking place and organise your trip to visit the key towns as they happen. Yes, places will be busier, but so much fun to witness the traditions and religious festivals with Myanmar families from near and far.
A list of holidays and festivals for 2016 can be found here.
17. Political environment
Myanmar has concluded it’s first democratic election in over 25 years. The country has a long history of injustices for certain groups and it is worth understanding this environment before you travel. Be mindful of asking questions of people about their political stance and views even in this time, but if they are open to it, it can be a rewarding learning experience.
Everyone has got to make a living right? You will find people asking you to view their shop items, or a friendly face will show you around a temple, not for a tip, but so you may buy their handicraft. Be polite and patient. If you want to buy souvenirs then this could be a great way to have a ‘tour’ and pick up a few gifts. It is often suggested to buy from Bogyoke Aung San Market in Yangon, but why not help the families in the places you visit?
19. Must have travel items
- Travel pillow and eye mask for those overnight bus journeys.
- Travel with socks for the overnight bus journeys as they like to turn up the A/C.
- Head phones and a good read. I enjoyed reading Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace.
- Tissue paper for toilet stops. As with most of Asia rarely any paper is provided.
- Podcasts or music for the long overland journeys or trekking. Two winners for me are Hamish and Andy and No Such Thing As A Fish
- Burmese language basics. Min-ga-la-ba (Hello) and Che-zu-ding-ba-dey (Thank you).
- Tripmasher app. Coming soon, it will become your handbook for destination inspiration, getting around and a fun travel planning companion for your next great adventure.
20. General rules on safety and behaviour
As with most Asian countries, there are common rules of behaviour that are worth heeding.
- Keep your cool. Losing your temper is losing your face in front of the Myanmar people. They will not understand why you are so upset or frustrated. Breathe, take your time and compose yourself.
- Do not show the soles of your feet to anyone and if you do apologise immediately.
- Head touching is something that I have read in numerous blogs and guides. I don’t do this in my day to day life, but if you have a habit of touching heads, calm the farm when you are in Myanmar. The head is the most spiritual part of the body and thus considered taboo to touch. If you want to learn more on customs, monk interaction and public affection a comprehensive guide can be found here.
- There are certain parts of Myanmar going through civil dispute particularly with the Rohingya peoples in the north. You are unlikely to travel there, but if you find yourself off the usual route, find out from your accommodation or locals where is safe to go.
- Want to party? Myanmar is not really the scene for it as most places shut up shop at around 10-11pm. You are safe walking the streets before this time. Whilst we saw no activity to suggest that there is trouble after 11pm, you will find yourself in fairly unlit areas with shops and bars closed, and worth travelling in a group.
That brings our journey to Myanmar to a close. We hope the budget and travels tips for Myanmar prove useful for your next trip.
Do you have any other tips to share? Please leave them in the comments below.
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