Myanmar isn’t a Southeast Asian country that is often on travelers “must see” lists, or planned for their great backpacking adventure. Which is a shame, because Myanmar is one of the most culturally preserved and exciting destinations in Asia.
Myanmar is 10 ½ hours ahead of Washington D.C. during daylight savings time and 11 ½ hours ahead during the fall and winter months. Yangon is a ½ hour behind Bangkok.
Before arriving in Myanmar you should download Maps.me to your phone or mobile device. The app is a lifesaver. It is free, has an offline function and doesn’t require a data plan to use. I have found that the Maps.me data set is much more accurate than Google or Apple maps inside Myanmar.
Points of Interest
- Shwedagon Pagoda
- Inle Lake
- Golden Rock
- Hpa An
- Mount Popa
- Saung Naing Gyi Waterfall
- Ngapali Beach
- U-Bein Bridge
Planning your visit
For your Myanmar visa there are two options. If you want to get everything squared away before arriving, you can apply for the e-visa (https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/) which takes several days to process, and after approval, you receive a government-issued letter to print and show on arrival. When you arrive, there is a separate line for foreign travelers to walk through and present their passport and letter of approval. You’ll need to name your intended entry point on your e-Visa application and although you can then enter from a different point, it might take longer to process your visa on arrival. if you have a passport from the Philippines you do not need a visa to enter Myanmar.
Visa on Arrival
If you don’t have time to apply before you arrive, or just feeling a little lazy, you can get a visa on arrival. When I traveled to Myanmar, there was only one person in that line, but it could be a long wait as tourism grows.
The cheapest and easiest way to get to Myanmar is to fly into Yangon or Mandalay. It’s cheaper to fly into Yangon, and there are more connections, than into Mandalay. You can drive into Myanmar from Thailand through several border crossings listed here.
The official currency in Myanmar is the Kyat (pronounced “chat”). You can also use US Dollars at most businesses. if you use USD the bills need to be as crisp and new as possible. You will receive a lower exchange rate for wrinkled and dirty bills, or they may reject them outright. Most businesses and money changers will not accept any USD smaller than a $20 and the highest exchange rate is reserved for $100 bills only. ATM’s are now plentiful and reliable, though it is advisable to only use the ATM’s at larger hotels and shopping centers.
Myanmar (Burmese) is the official language of Myanmar and the original language of the Burman people. A wide variety of other languages are also spoken in Myanmar, especially by ethnic minorities. English is not widely spoken outside of the tourist areas. When venturing outside of tourist areas you will also find that signs are only in the Myanmar language and are very difficult to read unless you have memorized the Myanmar alphabet.
SIM cards are cheap and easy to get in Myanmar. Most companies sell their SIM cards for around $2 – $5 US dollars. You will find them available at kiosks in the airport, in all major shopping centers, and as standalone stores distributed through-ought the city. Currently, MPT has the fastest data services with LTE in Yangon. Ooredoo and Telenor are the other main options in Myanmar.
There are fancy VIP buses that are cheap and comfortable, with reclining seats, blankets, and snacks offered. Now that there is a main highway that runs from Yangon all the way to Mandalay, the road north isn’t too rough.
The US embassy in Yangon has this to say about bus travel in Myanmar:
“The use of buses, both within the city and between cities, remains permissible, but strongly discouraged. Although some of the bus fleets have been improved, a number of older buses remain. We have received anecdotal reporting of night bus drivers using yabba to stay awake. Add to that the conditions of the roads themselves and taking buses remains a dicey proposition.”
Train travel is a decent option and can be taken from Yangon all the way north to Hsipaw with transfers. My recommendation from experience is to book a 1st class ticket on the train which won’t be much more expensive, and it’ll save your back and bum from a lot of pain.
These drivers have nice cars with air-conditioning. A private taxi will run around $20-$25 for a full day drive to another city.
Normal taxis are available everywhere in Myanmar They will often tell you a high set price if you are going to main tourist sights, so make sure to barter for a lower price. For most sights around Yangon that were too far to walk, expect to pay around 3,000-5,000 Kyat per trip. Both Uber and Grab apps are available in Yangon, although they utilize the same public taxi’s already hail-able on the street.
Drone flying is not illegal in Myanmar, there are a lot of restricted air space areas within Yangon. You are prohibited from flying them over the airport, Shwedagon, military bases, police bases, embassies, and the residences of certain VIPs. The police carry drone killer frequency interrupters. Since it’s not always easy to know what areas are restricted, it would be quite easy to fly into the wrong area and get your drone zapped, in which case, it will be lost.
Despite being legal to own and operate, some individuals have reported having their drones confiscated and held at the Yangon Airport during their visit to Myanmar. Drones do get returned at the time of departure, but this a concern for drone enthusiasts and filmmakers.
Myanmar has a tropical climate with three seasons; the monsoon season (June-October), the cool season (November-February), and the hot season (March – May). During monsoon season Yangon receives, on average, more than 100 inches of rain. Mandalay, in comparison, only receives around 30 inches of rain during the same time period.
The electrical voltage is 220V/50hz with four plugs used most often. In major hotels, plug type G (rectangular three prong) is most frequently available. Power can be intermittent, although all major hotels and most restaurants have generator backup. It is advisable to use UPS backup for any desktop computers or other sensitive electronics.
Visiting Pagoda’s and religious sites
When visiting Myanmar’s most famous Pagoda, Shwedagon, or any other religious site there are a few things you should be aware of. men and women are required to cover their shoulders and knees. Women should also avoid plunging necklines. The Myanmar people dress very conservatively and they expect visitors to their sacred sites to show the same amount of respect. The second most important thing to remember is that for the majority of sites you visit you will have to be barefoot. No socks, no sandals, no shoes. A lot of the pagodas have monkeys, birds, cats, dogs, and other animals residing in them, you will step in feces. Your feet are going to get incredibly nasty. I recommend, at a minimum, carrying a package of baby wipes to wipe down your feet after leaving a religious site. We also recommend carrying one of these little brushes(affiliate link).
What to eat
- Mohinga – a fish broth packed with rice noodles, eggs, and fritters. An excellent breakfast soup.
- Laphet – means pickled tea leaves. It’s mixed together with tomatoes, garlic, chilli and cabbage. They use fish sauce or peanut oil for dressing and a squeeze of lime.
- A Kyaw Sone (Vegetable Fritters) vegetables that are chopped and coated in batter then deep-fried.
Etiquette in Myanmar is based upon respect and feeling for others. For detailed information please look here.
Burmese names may consist of a single word (“Nu,” for example), two words (“Hla Min”) or three words (“Khin Maung Myint”), but each is a complete unit. If you use only one word of the name you destroy its meaning. Thus, it is simply incorrect to call someone named Myint Aung, “Mr. Aung” or “Myint.” Therefore, it is incorrect to shorten a name such as Aung San Suu Kyi to Ms. Kyi. There are no family names, only his or her given name. Burmese women do not change their names when they marry, and you cannot tell the relationship between people by their names. So a woman married to Than Tun is not known as “Mrs. Tun.”
There are Burmese equivalents of Mister, Miss, etc. “U” (pronounced “Oo”) is used in addressing a man older than yourself or one of some social or official standing. Similarly for women, “Daw” is used in addressing a married woman or one of social or official standing. A second, less formal form is used for persons of approximately the same age and position, or among close acquaintances. “Ko” for men and boys and “Ma” for women and girls.
The People of Myanmar
Myanmar is one of Asia’s most ethnically diverse nations which, despite causing many problems, greatly enriches the country’s culture and tourist appeal. The majority of the population of Myanmar lives in the Ayeyarwady delta region, in Rakhine, and along the southeastern coastline. The government of Myanmar currently recognizes more than 135 ethnic groups within its borders. Of these, the Bamar are easily the largest. The other six main ethnic groups are the Shan, Kachin, Kayin, Rakhine, Chin, and Mon. Each of which has their own state. These seven main ethnic groups make up approximately 92 percent of the population.
- Can i drink the water?
- It is not advisable to drink straight from the tap in Myanmar. Water cleaning and filtration systems in Myanmar do not operate at the same standards of European or North American systems. Additionally, you should use bottled water for all purposes including brushing teeth. Do not consume leafy greens (uncooked) or fruits/vegetables (uncooked) that cannot be peeled unless you know they have been properly washed.