The Travel Guide to Myanmar

In recent years, Myanmar has been booming with tourism despite opening its doors in the 1990’s. Considered as the last frontier in Asia, its rich history gives you a little insight to what South East Asia used to be prior to tourism. Waves of tourists have been frolicking to the country, from 268 000 in 2010 to over 1.3 million in 2015 according to the statistics released by Myanmar Tourism. In comparison to my first visit mid-2015 and at the end of 2016, the country has developed dramatically.

Basics:

Myanmar uses two currencies; Burmese Kyats for everyday use and USD for higher end purchases or in hotels. With the rise in tourists entering the country, it was only the last couple of years that ATMs started becoming a common sight in major cities. Prior to this, you had to bring in your entire budget in USD and convert it to Burmese Kyats in the country.

Tip: ONLY crisp USD notes are accepted. Bills with any rips, folds, wrinkles or visible damage will be rejected. On the other hand, there are no issues with Kyats.

A lot of locals in Downtown Yangon have a good command in English and are keen to communicate to practice conversational English. It is a slightly different case once you get out of this area. Don’t fret, in other towns frequented by tourists, there is rarely any issue communicating in English. This is especially the case with those working in the tourism industry. If all else fails, communicating via signals works wonders.

It is not uncommon to see the local males or married women (it is considered unattractive for single women to chew it) with red stained teeth or red spit along the roads. This is caused by chewing on a combination of lime, tobacco, areca nut wrapped in betel leaf. This mind-altering substance gives the consumer a buzz. Unfortunately, studies have shown it to cause an increase oral cancer.

With developing electrical infrastructure, brownouts and power surges are possible. In most instances, power will return within a couple of minutes. In addition to this, most power plugs are two round-pinned (like Europe) or the occasional 3 pinned (UK style). If you’re lucky, there may be universal multi-adapters. WIFI isn’t the most reliable and it is terribly slow so it’s advisable to buy a local SIM card.

Itinerary:

There are several ways to get around Myanmar, the most common being the bus. The bus is time-consuming and often takes longer than expected but it is the cheapest option. There are trains and boats, while they can take the picturesque route, it is often painstakingly long. Alternatively, flying between cities is possible, however, it costs significantly higher. Navigating on Myanmar National AirlinesMyanmar Airways International or other Burmese airline websites can be tricky. The easiest option would be getting a travel agent to organise your air travel.

During a two week period, I travelled from Yangon to Bagan then over to Kalaw, the starting point of a 3-day and 2-night trek to Inle Lake and finally to Mandalay. My method of travel was by the buses. Often, I would book a seat the day prior to departure and there are stands near the bus station to purchase tickets.

Yangon

Myanmar’s largest city and the starting point of most traveller’s journey to the country. The most notable structure in the city (and country) is Shwedagon Pagoda. Yangon offers an insight into its colonial past while strolling down Pansodan Street and the country’s advancement into modernisation. To escape the hustle and bustle of the city, it is easy to hop on the Circle Line taking you to the outskirts of the city for a cheap day out.

Read more about what to do in Yangon in this Off the Beaten Path Guide.

Bagan

Home to an astonishing 2 200 pagodas and stupas, it’s a wonder why Bagan has yet to make it on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Over 10 000 Buddhist temples, stupas and pagodas were constructed in this ancient city, the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan during the 9th – 13th century. Unlike it’s Cambodian (Angkor) equivalent, there aren’t massive crowds. As the entire city of Bagan is classified as an archaeological zone, there is not as much competition to find a spot to catch the sunrise or sunset. Regardless of which temple you decide to ascend, the views would be pretty amazing.As of 2016, a 3-day pass into the Bagan Archaeological

As of 2016, a 3-day pass into the Bagan Archaeological Zone will cost USD$20. This pass should always be carried as you can be randomly checked. During the dry months, it’s not uncommon to see several hot air balloons floating over the horizon during the sunrise. There are several ways to explore the ancient city; by electric-bike (e-bike), chartered driver or by foot. Personally, the best way to cover as much ground while remaining budget friendly is hiring an e-bike – just be warned, don’t abuse the “turbo” button, it drains the battery.

Tip: Ask the locals the lesser known temples to catch the sunrise/sunset from.

Inle Lake

Inle Lake houses several factories built on stilts over the water. Organised tours take you to various factories producing different products. While the area is better known for its weaving industry, the women are famous for their handmade cigars. Cheroot are a distinctive Burmese cigar that is rolled by hand and filled with tobacco. Typically, they are flavourless but Inle Lake is notable for their flavoured cheroots. Liquorice-flavoured cigars are the most common, which uses star anise to give its flavour. I am not a smoker but I did quite like the flavoured cigars.

Tip: Instead of buying an entire pack, you can ask the ladies for one cigar to try.

Apart from visiting the factories, there is a winery worth visiting. Inle Lake is easily accessible by bicycle. Hope on one and head over to “Red Mountain Winery”. It’s an interesting place to visit with a group of friends for a day of wine tasting (drink responsibly). Free wine tours around the grounds available.

Mandalay

This bustling city is quite similar to its counterpart of Yangon in terms of development. It’s the former royal capital of Northern Myanmar. What was once completely destroyed during World War II, Mandalay Palace has now restored to its former glory. Using traditional Burmese architecture, it was built by the last Burmese monarchy. This palace is located in the city centre and is surrounded by high walls and a moat.

While there are countless of religious sites to visit in Mandalay, there are a lot of attractions on the outskirts of the city. Several ancient cities are scattered out of the city that worth checking out. Also found just out of Mandalay is U-Bein Bridge, the world’s oldest and longest (1.2km) teakwood bridge. It spans across Taungthaman Lake and it is a favourite spot amongst locals to enjoy the sunset.

Extending your trip:

The above mentioned are common cities frequented by travellers. There are a lot more places than Myanmar has to offer. With plenty of opportunities to extend your trip, below are a few suggestions. In reference to their locality, they are marked with a star on the previous map. The following includes a collaboration with fellow travel bloggers.

Hsipaw

This laid back town boasts plenty of trekking opportunities. It is dubbed “Little Bagan” due to its endless pagodas and similar atmosphere. Navigating this town is easy and inexpensive on a bike, seeing various nature sights such as waterfalls, rock formations and natural pools.

Hpa-an (by Bianca @ The Altruistic Traveller)

Hpa An Countryside captured by Bianca (The Altruistic Traveller)

Hpa-An is located nearby the border crossing between Thailand and Myanmar. If crossing overland it can either serve as your first or last stop through this great country. The town centre doesn’t have too much on offer, however, the wonders of Hpa-An lie on the town’s outskirts where you can witness some of the most spectacular scenery in Asia. Take one of the full day tours offered by the famous Soe Brother’s Guesthouse and have the chance to visit magnificent ancient Buddhist caves, and take a slow canoe ride through untouched regions full of lush green fields and beautiful mountains that reflect off the water like a perfect mirror image.

Check out more of Bianca’s travels here.

Naypyidaw

The Burmese capital has been moved from Yangon to Naypyidaw as of 2005. Unlike the most of Myanmar, the capital has stable electricity and high-speed internet. There isn’t an abundance of activities for tourists as it is a government city made primarily for government staff. It was an expectation that by moving the government offices to the capital, it would bring massive waves of people, however, that didn’t happen. For the most part, the multi-laned highways through the city are empty. With modern buildings and an almost abandoned feel, it is possible to forget which country you’re in.

Golden Rock captured by Erin @ 10 Miles Behind Me

Golden Rock/Kyaiktiyo (by Erin @ 10 Miles Behind Me)

My trip to Golden Rock was a definite highlight during my month in Myanmar. From Yangon, I took a 5-hr bus ride to the base of the mountain. From there, the way up the mountain is an uncomfortable ride on a huge open-back truck with rows of seating. If you have long legs, make sure to sit in the first row. Some do this as a day trip, from either Yangon or Bago on the way, but I stayed overnight on top of the mountain. There are a few food stands and restaurants and one hotel, and it’s quite relaxing.

The Golden Rock itself is a giant rock covered in gold leaf with a golden pagoda on top of it, precariously balanced on another rock. It’s said that the rocks stay in place because the golden one is balanced on a few strands of the Buddha’s hair. The day I was there it had rained and was quite foggy, but the rock stood bright against the fog. Before the sun went down, the fog cleared away and I was able to experience the incredible view from the top of the mountain. There are a few other pagodas and paths to walk around, but I spent the most time staring mesmerised at the rock itself.

Check out more of Erin’s travels here.

That’s a wrap! Myanmar is a beautiful country, with so much history and amazing sights. Even visiting all these amazing places, you would have barely scratched the surface. Besides Yangon and Mandalay, you’ll be out in the Burmese countryside, observing daily life, away from the bustling cities. It’s easy to get lost in one of their thousands of temples and feel a little like Tomb Raider. The locals are unbelievably welcoming, with kids often smiling and waving, their jolliness is contagious. I urge you to visit Myanmar to see it for yourself, see it before it gets too developed and while it is still all yours.

Peace, love and good vibes.

30 Comment

  1. When I visited Burma Yangon was still the capital! It must have changed so much, now Naypyidaw is the capital! I didn’t get to visit the golden rock and it was the highlight of your trip? Your picture does make it look special, Buddhas hair is pretty special holding the rock, it does look like it is about to fall off.

  2. It looks so beautiful. It’s becoming quite a popular place by the looks of it. I’ve fallen in love with Bagan just from the picture! This is such a great guide!

  3. Maynamar is one of the beautiful countries, so much things to see and to learn. Great post so many details Which can be very helpful for someone that wants to visit it. I will definitely recommend it to someone that wants to travel here also beautiful pictures. Thanks for sharing

  4. The golden Rock, balanced on another rock looks really impressive, must be great to see this with own eyes. Myanmar in general looks like a fantastic travel destination, I would love to see these Golden temples. Interesting fact, that only crisp US Notes are accepted , do you have an idea, why it is particular like this?

  5. Such an amazing country that hasn’t really been on the travel radar of many tourists as yet. SO much culture and i’m actually surprised at how much there is to see and explore through your post. Even though I am not a smoker, would love to try the Burmese Cigar.

  6. Great post. My wife is from Thailand and I have always wanted to visit Myanmar. It looks lovely and this post is very informative. Next Southeast Asian destination for me, after Thailand, is Vietnam, but Mayanmar is on my list also. Thanks for sharing. Safe travels!

  7. A great round-up of places to visit in Myanmar and some good tips. I would never have thought about needing crisp US bils. That’s great to know. The views of Hpa-an look amazing. Hope to make it to Myanmar one of these days.

  8. I really want to go to Myanmar one day! Thanks for a very useful post!

  9. I keep kicking myself that I didn’t go to Myanmar when I was in SEA, but it was just one of those countries that I knew NOTHING about. Now it is at the top of my bucket list and I know I just have to go! I looks so interesting. I think it’s becoming more popular too.

  10. We have not been but oh, what an adventure. Those statues are HUGE! We always travel with the kids and they always enjoy using a different currency. Great way to practice those math skills even when on the road = converting currency is a great way to use math!

  11. Wow, that looks great. It’s always been one of my big regrets that I’ve never been to Myanmar. Over 2,000 pagodas and stupas in Bagan?! That must take some exploring. Such an informative post.

  12. I really need to visit Myanmar before it becomes overcrowded! It looks wonderful!

  13. Myanmar seems like such an amazing country! Especially the country side around Hpa-an looks beautiful 🙂 Now I kind of regret not going to Myanmar on my Southeast Asia trip last year….

  14. Myanmar looks majestic. The temples look incredible and different from other nations in Asia. That is so interesting about the red stained teeth. I hope they get that habit under control due to the oral cancer risk. Yangon looks so cultural. I bet I could spend a whole week there marvelling at all the sites to see.

  15. Pinning this for future use because I am dying to get to this part of the world! Thanks Caroline 🙂

  16. We visited Myanmar in October 2015 and genuinely fell in love with the warmth and generosity of its people. A great article, thanks for sharing

  17. Pinned this as we are heading to Myannmar in June! Your post has been super helpful and got me so excited!! it looks so amazing 🙂

  18. I am absolutely DYING to visit Myanmar! I wanted to go in April but apparently the balloon season in Bagan ends in March. Trying to head there in October or November so will definitely pin this for later!

  19. I would love to visit Myanmar. I crossed over the border from Northern Thailand years ago and the city there was basically a police state. Would love to return and see the country as you have presented it. Really enjoyed this post and will save it as a guide for a return visit.

  20. Myanmar looks like such a beautiful place! I can not wait to visit someday! Thanks for such an informative post.

  21. Great tip about needing crisp bills. I’ve wanted to visit Myanmar for years and almost got a chance to a couple years back when there was a cheap First Class fare. But with all the political uncertainty we ended up not going. One day I’ll get there. But for now, I’ve enjoyed visiting through your post. 🙂

  22. That looks wonderful! Reminds me of Thailand and how much I wanna go and explore more in Azja! Love your post and your photos ! It’s very helpful !

  23. Myanmar has been on my bucket list for quite some time. I really want to visit Bagan. Hopefully soon…

  24. I really try not to have a bucket list, (because I´d be adding to it every day!) but if I did Burma would definitely make the top three! The pictures are just stunning. Great tip about the currency too!

  25. This is super helpful for my upcoming trip, and you have been super helpful with your advice! I wish I would have more than three days there, but that’s just all the more excuse to go back. Thanks again for all your advice on Myanmar!!

  26. Such a beautiful place! love your post and photos! Will definitely recommend this.

  27. This is an incredibly comprehensive list! I had no idea about much of this information. It incredible to see much how tourism has impacted the country. And quite surprising to learn that English is spoken in many areas.

  28. I have a friend going to Myanmar in two weeks! Perfect timing as she has been researching where to go and things to do so sending this off to her shortly. Love the wealth of information here!

  29. Great post with some really interesting and informative information! So glad you warned me about the dollars! I’m in Guatemala and it’s the same here, I’m not stuck with a load of imperfect dollars! I’ll be sure not to make that mistake when I visit Myanmar!

  30. We are thinking of heading to Myanmar later this year so I am always looking for guides to create ideas for our trip. I wasn’t aware of the two currencies that you could use. Can you use local currency for hotels as well or is it only US dollars?

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