Myanmar is known for being one of the most unexplored countries in Southeast Asia, known for its archeological sites, gorgeous beaches and amazing nature. Going there needs a certain amount of preparations. Here are some things that you need to consider before traveling to Myanmar.
Best time to travel to Myanmar
The best time to travel to Myanmar is known to be November to February. The temperatures are manageable and the raining period is over. From March to May, it becomes very hot and temperatures can exceed 40°C, especially in the regions of Bagan and Mandalay. The monsoon season is from May throughout the whole summer (June, July and August). A monsoon season is known to be that time of the year when the most rain falls in a certain region.
Before entering the country, make sure to check the visa requirements and whether you actually need one. You can check the official government website for more information and the terms on how to apply for it. Answering the questions on the application does not demand much of your time. It took me around 15min to fill in mine. It is important that you know the address of the accommodation, in which you will be staying, the number of your passport and when you will be travelling.
When to apply for a visa
It is advisable to apply for the visa shortly before travelling as the tourist eVisa is valid only for up to 90 days. After hitting that “send” button, the processing period is not long. I waited only 2 days to get my visa, which was then send directly to my email. You can find more information about the cost here.
The picture for your visa
Last but not least, it is imperative that you upload a picture for your visa. It has to be a biometric photo. We went to a photo studio, since we wanted to be sure that we have the right size of the photo and face symmetry needed. If you try to do it alone, it could be that some of the requirements are not met and your application will be rejected based on technicalities. Plus you have to pay the price of re-applying and that will cost you again more than 50$.
As this is going to be my first long and non-European trip, I had to consider getting vaccinated. For Myanmar, I had to get vaccinations for Hep A, B and Rabies. There are also some regions there that are known for Malaria. In this case, you cannot get vaccinated. You have to take medicine to lower your chances of getting sick, which as well does not guarantee you a 100% effectiveness. People often take other preventive measures additionally to the Malaria medicine. One can buy an insect repellant, wear long sleeves and use a mosquito net, when sleeping.
Money in Myanmar
The official local currency in Myanmar is Kyat (ch-yat). The first thing one learns is that 1 Kyat = 0,00057 EUR. Or to put it more in perspective 100 EUR = 175326.23 Kyat. Or even better 571 EUR = 1001112.79 Kyat, which actually makes you a millionaire. How great is that?! Well, not in real terms… In order to be an actual millionaire in Myanmar, you have to have around 200 million Kyat.
When it comes to paying in Myanmar, everybody goes along the motto “Cash is King”. Nowadays you can find an ATM in every city, so there is no need to worry about cash. Some of the hotels in the cities may offer you also the option to pay by card. This, however, may lead to huge fees and high exchange rates. Therefore, be sure to check the conditions beforehand, if you do not want to have unnecessary extra costs.
Another “fun” fact: Under some circumstances, you will also have to pay in USD. It is not popular, but also not uncommon. In Bagan, we had to pay our breakfast in the hotel in USD. Hence, be sure to have USD stashed along with you.
How long should you stay
It depends on what do you want to see. If you normally focus only on the tourist places in one region, you can also manage Myanmar in less than one week (4-5 days). But if you are fan of travelling throughout the country, visiting new places, you should plan at least ten days. Some blogs advise that two weeks are the optimal amount of time that one should spend in Myanmar.
In my opinion 10-12 days is also manageable, when you plan carefully and know all the restrictions. It is better to plan one or two days buffer, in case something does not go according to plan (getting ill or missing a connection).
Many tourists that have already visited some South eastern countries, know the dos and don’ts. But I guess it is not a common knowledge that some of the countries are more developed than others. For example the rules in Myanmar do not apply for Cambodia or Thailand and vice versa.
One thing that really struck us positively was that you ALWAYS get a bottle of water (sealed). No matter what you do or what kind of transportation way you chose, there is always a free bottle of water for you. We had water when we travelled with the bus, with one private driver and even on the boat we took to Hpa-an. If the bottle is sealed with a plastic cover, it is safe for you to drink from it.
Another safety precaution that we practiced throughout the whole trip was of course brushing our teeth with mineral water. It saved us a lot of sleepless nights because of tummy problems.
In every underdeveloped country there are people that struggle to support their families and sometimes even turn to begging. This is no unfamiliar way of earning money in Myanmar as well.
You will most definitely see people selling their products on the streets and some of them may even approach you and beg to buy something from them. Be prepared that while sitting in a car, there may be women coming up to you, holding their child and asking for food and money. As Myanmar is not that touristic yet, this is quite common, esprecially if you are a “western” foreigner.
Another “tactic” that some parents use is to send their 3-4-year-old child instead, and play with the emotions of the tourists. In the meantime, the parents will be standing a few meters behind and “supervise” the situation. It almost felt like it was imperative for the child to do good by their parents.
Apart from that people are incredibly kind, helping you get around without any troubles. There were some locals who did know a little bit of English and were translating for us, when we didn’t know what to do. But be aware that most of the people in Myanmar cannot speak English! Sometimes we had to explain what we wanted with hand gestures, pen and paper and even showed them pictures of the things online! So double check if the person standing in front of you, actually understood what were you saying. They will not object to anything that you are saying since in their culture, it is considered to be rude.
Normally, there are no problems when you find something online and decide to book it, when it comes to tours and transportation. The transaction is quite safe and you won’t have any problems. What you do have to take into consideration though is whether or not the firm offering the service is actually good and if the previous customers were satisfied with their services.
We used online bookings only when we had to book an accommodation or find transport. We preferred to book most of our accommodation beforehand, since you do not always get a clean room like in the western countries. My boyfriend and I were also concerned that while traveling in the “high season”, we might not be able to book a room once we arrive.
When searching for a tour online, we were really shocked. The prices of the tours, offered online, were extremely high!!! They were charging tripple the price that you would get, if you simply ask around. We had a guide that charged us $30 for a whole day tour, with multiple stops, while online we would had to book something for over $150. And it featured just half of the attractions that we saw.
In addition to asking around, it is always a good practice to check the flyers at the reception desk in your hotel. It might be that you find exactly what are you looking for in there. We found a day trip in Mandalay and its surroundings, with an English speaking guide, for $20 each (online a tour like that was around $130 each).
In the city
There are a lot of good ways in getting around in the cities. The most popular way in my opinion would be, tuk tuk. A tuk tuk is a rikshaw and it is commonly used as a taxi. It is a small vehicle but the drivers can make it work, no matter how much luggage you have with you, which is, to be honest, an incredible skill. Depending on the number of people, you can also find some rickshaws that can fit up to 4-5 people at once.
And it is really cheap. We usually paid around 1000 Kyat per person (0,57€). This may change, if your destination is quite far. Be sure to know where you are going and if the driver is trying to “cheat” you. You can always bargain with the driver how much you are willing to pay.
Other popular ways of getting around are motorcycle bikes, private cars, scooters (electric or normal) and of course the “normal” taxis, which have their license and registration hanging in front of you in the car. Driving a scooter may be fun but be aware that
Outside the city
Travels between cities looks a lot different than in Europe. You have a few options – bus, train, airplane or private car. You (as a tourist) are not allowed to drive by yourself in Myanmar so there are no car rental agencies. Instead, you can hire a private driver to take you to your destination. He can as well act not just as a regular driver but as a tour guide as well. Therefore be sure to ask the firm up front.
Traveling by plane, will save you of course time and you will be able to experience more of the country, but it will set you back a couple of hundred dollars back. Yangon International airport is the main hub of domestic flights and offers a lot of good connections once there.
If you are traveling on a budget, you might want to consider traveling by bus. It is quicker, cheaper and much more comfortable than a train. Some of the bus agencies offer you as well VIP services, in which you have more leg space, air conditioning, screens and some snacks during the ride. Leg space is really important, when taking the night bus, since some of the routes may even take 16h. In the end, taking the bus means saving money, but giving up time.
Another preferred way of travel is by boat. There are a few river routes, which are extremely popular among tourists (e.g. Bagan – Mandalay). The prices are fair and you get to have a scenic view throughout the ride.
Useful tools and apps
Before coming to Myanmar, my boyfriend downloaded the complete map of Myanmar from Google Maps on his phone. This way, he was able to track how much time we had left to our destination, as the GPS was always working. It was really useful for us, since most of the times, there were no signs on the streets and no lights on the road. He also used Google Maps to mark places we wanted to visit and to search for new ones, once we were offline.
Another useful tool that you can save you a lot of troubles is Maps.me. It is an app, with which you can as well download the maps you need and mark the places important for you. You can also save booking references and estimate routes. It is a good tool to have everything at once and many of the people we met, while traveling had it also installed on their phones.
Keep in touch
It is extremely easy to buy a local SIM card from big cities such as Yangon and Mandalay. It does not cost much (around 5-6$) and you have all the extras you need to manage.
We survived without having to buy one. Online access has become a norm in Myanmar. Hotels, restaurants and Cafés offer you a free internet access. You have to just ask for the WIFI password and they are more than happy to give it to you.