There are many blog posts floating around the web about travel in Myanmar, and nearly all of them are outdated. The information is outdated because things are rapidly evolving in Myanmar, as the country has widely opened its borders to tourism with lenient visa restrictions.
I spent almost 3 weeks exploring Myanmar in January, 2015 and I had an incredible experience. In this Travel Guide to Myanmar, you’ll find the most up-to-date travel information as of March 2016. I’ll provide you with everything you need to know such as exclusive travel tips, what to expect from Burmese culture, things to do, what to eat, wher to sleep, where to party and more. I will also give you mini-guides to the 3 major cities of Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake.
I encourage you to comment on this post if you have more advice to share about Myanmar, or if you’re looking to meet up with fellow travelers!! Also, if you need help planning your trip, then I am happy to do so. Please see the end of this blog post for more info 🙂
General Thoughts & Reactions
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is unquestionably my favorite country in South East Asia (and quite possibly in the world). I spent 2-and-a-half-weeks exploring around the country in early 2015. My trip to Burma has made the biggest influence on my life out of any previous trips I’ve taken around the world to 75 countries.
I’m just so excited to share my Myanmar experiences with you that my fingers are typing at robot speeds right now. Seriously!
From the moment I got off the plane in Yangon (the largest city), I was in utter shock. It was my first time back in South East Asia in nearly 6 months, but what I was experiencing was noticeably different than the rest. Culture shock was real.
After traveling to some 25 countries in Asia, I found Myanmar to be the most authentic, untouched and special of them all. But don’t get too excited, because that is going to change VERY soon.
The reason why Burma is exploding in popularity is because tourists may now enter freely after acquiring a visa online and picking it up on arrival. In 2012, only 1 million tourists visited in Myanmar, but a projected 5.1 million are expected to visit in 2016. That’s a 400% increase!
So, my advice to you is to go NOW before the country turns into the next Thailand, where foreigners will begin to settle and the country will become too commercialized. When I was in Myanmar, I didn’t recognize a single name brand other than Coca Cola. I mean, even McDonald’s hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon yet (but I heard it’s already in the works…)
Before my trip, I read many blogs and news sources online which repeatedly said ATM machines aren’t available in Myanmar. Well, that is completely false now. I saw hundreds of ATM machines throughout the major cities. It is true that nobody accepts credit cards, so you must have cash readily available at all times (I recommending bringing lots of $US Cash). I never had issues pulling out money from an ATM, and all machines thankfully gave me small bills (5,000 Kyat notes or $5USD).
Wifi does exist in most hotels, but it’s terribly slow. Do you remember dial-up internet from the 1990s? Yeah, the wifi in Myanmar is about the same as that… I repeat, the wifi in Myanmar is the same speed as dial-up internet from the 1990s. However, the nicer your hotel is, the better chance that they’ve paid more for a better wifi signal.
For bloggers and digital nomads who depend on wifi like myself, it was kind of a nightmare to get anything done because it was nearly impossible to upload photos and blog posts. In places like Bagan and Inle lake, most hotels will “claim” that they have wifi, but it simply won’t work. I once waited 50 minutes for one email to send. For one email!
And if the weather is rainy or overcast, then all of the wifi signals will completely shut down in the city (it happened to me in Bagan). It was frustrating, but having no wifi did make me appreciate the beauty of the country without worrying about updating my Instagram. That being said, the wifi availability will likely become better in the near future.
Myanmar is a very cheap country to travel in, aside from hotel prices which are unusually high. Taxi rides are no more than $2-3 to get across town (they don’t use meters — so you must negotiate prices beforehand). Water bottles are $0.20 cents. A one-hour Burmese massage was $3.50. I bought a legit pair of sandals for $1.15. Food is dirt cheap as well. If you avoid the touristy restaurants, then you can eat some delicious Shan noodles for $0.80 cents (photo below).
A Word about Hotels:
Hotel rooms are openly available everywhere, and yes, they are a bit expensive because of the lack of rooms to accommodate the influx of tourists. It’s not totally necessary to book all hotels in advance, but I would highly recommend it to avoid frustration when you arrive. And trust me, the hotels fill up fast (especially during peak season from Nov – Mar).
I recommend booking your stay on Agoda.com — they always have the best rates and a lot of options for big cities in Myanmar.
To find the best deals on hotels in Yangon, click here.
For hotels in Bagan, click here.
For hotels in Mandalay, click here.
For hotels in Inle Lake, click here.
For hotels in Ngapali Beach, click here.
Public Transportation is immaculate and generally reliable. There are buses EVERYWHERE that connect all the major cities. But don’t try to book a bus on your own or attempt to find the bus station. Your guesthouse will gladly book your ticket in advance, and arrange a pick up service from your hotel. There are “VIP” buses, which are a bit more expensive (around $15-20 for a 12 hour ride), but they’re absolutely worth it. The VIP buses have comfortable reclining chairs, TVs, blankets, air conditioning, and dinner is provided!
I didn’t take any local trains because I heard horror stories about them… Like my buddy, Rodrigo, who told me that his train compartment was separated off the tracks, and he landed in the middle of the forest by himself with nobody around. That is not a made-up story. If you are an adventurous traveler, then go for it, but for others who want a better chance of staying alive, go for the bus.
The weather is always hot in Myanmar – especially in Yangon. The “peak season” to visit with the best weather is from November to February. If you visit in other months, then it will likely be scorching hot (110F/45C in Yangon) or you’ll hit rainy season which goes from May to October. Regardless of when you visit Myanmar, make sure to bring mosquito repellent, because you will probably get bitten. One morning, I counted 45 mosquito bites on my body.
The Burmese language is really cool looking, but my ears couldn’t make sense of anything when I listened to it being spoken. It looks like a bunch of “C’s” and “O’s” and squiggly lines put together. I suggest learning the basic words like “Ming-la-ba” which means “Hello,” and “Je-su-ba” which means “Thank you.”
Need extra help planning your trip?
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Alright, now it’s time for some quick facts about Myanmar!
– Currency: Myanmar Kyat ($1USD = 1,000 kyats)
– Language: Burmese (official)
– Population: 51.5 million (in 2014)
– Capital City: Naypyidaw (although it was Yangon before 2006)
– Area: 676,578 sq km (slightly smaller than Texas)
– 68% of the population are ethnic Burmese
– Burma is known as “The Golden Land,” due to the amazing golden pagodas everywhere
– Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948
– 90% of local people are Buddhist
– Myanmar is one of 3 countries who don’t use the metric system (along with U.S.A and Liberia)
– Rice and Green Tea are typically served with every meal
– Myanmar has over 135 ethnic tribes, each speaking their own unique dialect
– Wine-making is a popular industry with the Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Late Wine and Inle Valley White Wineries being the most famous
– Betel Nut mixed with Tobacco is very common, and men will chew it and spit it all day long (eww)
Burmese food is plentiful, flavorful and delicious!
I ate myself overly full the entire time I was there. All local dishes are very, very cheap. I was spending anywhere from .80 cents to $3 USD for decently sized portions.
The cuisine is a mixture between Thai, Chinese and Indian food, which makes sense because Myanmar is physically sandwiched in between these three countries..
Common dishes include curries, steamed vegetables, seasoned onions and (fried) rice & noodles. Most things are flavored with local spices, garlic, ginger and chili peppers. If you’re like me and you like extra spicy, then add as many chili peppers as you want!
Traditional Burmese dishes include Mohinga (rice noodles with fish soup and orange sauce, the taste of which varies from sweet to spicy), Onnokauswe (noodles cooked in coconut milk with chicken or pork), and Shan Noodles (rice noodles stir-fried with chicken in bean sauce, topped with chopped roasted peanut, bean sprouts, cabbage, scallions and chili flakes). My favorite dish was Shan Noodles– and I ate it everyday!
Also, markets and street vendors sell a large variety of tropical fruits and hand picked vegetables.
The service inside restaurants is very good and quick. They will literally bring the food to you within a few minutes after ordering. My favorite part about a Burmese restaurant is the way in which you get the attention of the getting the waiter/waitress. You must make a kissing sound with your lips! Ladies, don’t think that creepy guys are hitting on you when you hear this sound. In all of my travels around the world, Yangon is the only place that I’ve seen a kissing sound to grab attention of someone in a restaurant!
Due to Myanmar being a tropical country, the fruit is as fresh as it gets. Everyday, I ate a combination of watermelon, avocados, bananas, papayas, and oranges. I recommend ordering fruit juice from a street vendor for just .20 cents! My favorite fruits were papaya and watermelon.
For a complete guide of Myanmar Foods, check out my friend Juan’s ebook called Delicious Myanmar! His book is very detailed about Myanmar cuisine & culture, and I personally recommend it.
Just like elsewhere in South East Asia, the locals are extremely heart warming, welcoming and friendly. But I found Burmese people to be the kindest of them all.
Everyone will greet you with a giant smile. I made local friends who showed me around the entire time I was there. Every Burmese person that I met literally went out of their way to make sure that I was having a good time.
The majority of men wear a longyi, which is a Burmese sarong. They look like long, colorful skirts that go from their waist to their ankles. It is derived from the Buddhist religion, which has strong roots in Myanmar. You will also see a large amount of monks walking on the streets and around the Pagodas. They are very humble and friendly. If you say hello to them, they’ll kindly wave and smile back at you.
Most men (especially taxi drivers) are constantly chewing this mixture of red tobacco and betel nut in their mouth, which stains their teeth a bloody color of red. Don’t get freaked out when you see it. But I can warn you to avoid the red splatter marks on the ground, because that is spit from their mouths. It’s literally everywhere and it’s disgusting.
Burmese women wear a special face paint- called thanaka– which is yellowish-white in color. It is a distinct feature of the Burmese people and the tradition has been kept for over 2,000 years. Women use it for make-up, blocking the sun, and it’s apparently healthy for their skin.
All people, both men and women of all ages, dress very casual and they always wear flip flops. Apparently it’s also a tradition in Myanmar to wear flip flops, because you are required to take off your shoes when entering households, pagodas and some restaurants.
Omg I almost forgot to mention how ADORABLE the kids are! I just couldn’t get enough of them. Like this precious little girl below.
Yangon is the former capital and largest city in Myanmar, with a population of about 6 million people. The city is located in the southern part of the country, with Thailand to the East and the Bay of Bengal to the West. If you are arriving in Myanmar by plane, then you’ll most likely be arriving at Yangon International Airport.
My first impressions of Yangon were chaotic, dirty, and impoverished. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. The infrastructure was very poor. Sidewalks had giant holes in them. There were stray dogs and cats are running around on the streets. The streets were overloaded with traffic jams and honking horns from impatient drivers. Every other car on the road seemed to be a taxi driver, who provided cheap rides around the city for $1-3 USD. It kind of reminded me of a mini-version of Bangkok. There was always a lot happening at once, but everything just seemed to work just fine.
However, I quickly adjusted to the culture and I began to fall in love with this place.
In nearly every direction you look, there will be a sparking golden pagoda, with the most famous one being the Shwedagon Pagoda. If you search for Myanmar on Google Images, then this is the shiny gold pagoda that you’ll see. And holy crap, it’s amazing!
In fact, I think the Shwedagon Pagoda is the most underrated building in the world. All other epic buildings around the world get recognized (Colosseum, Parthenon, Great Wall, Taj Mahal, Opera House, Hagia Sophia, Eiffel Tower, etc.), but the Shwedagon doesn’t get nearly as much credit as it deserves.
I was awe-struck by how much gold and detail the pagoda had. Walking around the pagoda felt like I was on a different planet- or it felt like Las Vegas on steroids in the year 2050. Keep an eye out for this temple to become the “next place to visit” in coming years, as millions of newcomers will be flocking to Myanmar.
Other things to do in Yangon
– Visit the local markets
– Get an awesome massage for $3.50!
– Spend a long time admiring the Shwedagon pagoda
– Visit the Sule Pagoda
– Walk through Chinatown
– Visit the Bogyoke Aung San Market
– Take the circular train to the outskirts of town
– Have a beer by the lake
– Eat some street food
Most of the nightlife in Myanmar occurs in Yangon. There are several districts with bars and clubs which are open until the wee hours of the morning. Local booze consists of Mandalay Rum (only $3 for a bottle and it’s damn good) and Myanmar Beer (an award winning Lager that is less than $1 per bottle).
My Burmese friends took me out to a club in Yangon and it was a crazy experience! Girls dress sexy, drinks are insanely cheap, and they party all night long. Almost all clubs in Yangon play awesome EDM music too! No matter what night of the week it is, there will be people out having fun. I went to the club on a Tuesday and it was a wild time!
Click here to read about my bizarre experience at a club in Yangon.
Where to Stay in Yangon?
The following hotels are my top recommendations in Yangon. For a more comprehensive list, please check out Agoda.com and book your stay today!
1) For budget travelers – 20th Street Hostel (Book online now)
*rates – $9/night for an 8 bed dorm
2) For mid-price – Taw Win Garden Hotel (Book online now)
*rates – $81/night for a deluxe room with breakfast
3) For luxury – Shangri-la (Book online now)
*rates – $219/night for a deluxe room with breakfast
The city of Bagan is one of the coolest and most historic places that I’ve ever been. It’s located about 290 kilometers south of Mandalay and 700 kilometers north of Yangon, in the central part of the country. You cannot visit Myanmar without a stop in Bagan!
The biggest draw to Bagan are the 3,000+ world-renowned Buddhist temples that span across the landscape. They were built between the 11th – 13th Centuries and they are absolutely stunning to see. You can take a hot air balloon over Bagan during sunrise, and get a breathtaking view of the landscape. The Balloons are seasonal, and do not operate in rainy season.
The most reputable hot air balloon company since 1999 is called Balloons Over Bagan. But to be completely honest with you, I was a bit underwhelmed by the experience, especially for a whopping price of $380 USD. I wrote an honest review about my experience with Balloons Over Bagan that I encourage you to check out before booking your ticket. I personally wouldn’t recommend it and I’d tell you to save your money, because $380 can be your entire budget for 6 weeks of travel in Myanmar.
However, what you should definitely do in Bagan is rent an electric motorbike for $5USD per day to go exploring around the temples on your own time. It’s incredibly peaceful and unforgettable to be surrounded by hundreds of temples with no one in sight. In my opinion, the temples of Bagan are much more tranquil than those of Angkor Wat, because you have the freedom to explore on your own without running into anyone.
(This photo was taken by my friend Sam. He sells loads of incredible photos from Myanmar and around the world, so email him if you’re interested at email@example.com)
Let me warn you that Bagan is very touristy which makes it the most expensive city that I visited in Burma. Hotels are not cheap, and beware if you try to stay at “budget places” (for $15USD per night), then expect them to be of poor quality. In other words, you get what you pay for. I stayed at a place called Mya Thida hotel for $15/night, and the workers were absolutely clueless and unhelpful. Also, all wifi signals all over Bagan are extremely poor, and when the weather is cloudy or rainy, the wifi is completely blocked out around the city.
I recommend spending 2-3 days in Bagan. That should be enough to see everything and get a nice feel for the temples.
Where to Stay in Bagan?
The following hotels are my top recommendations in Bagan. For a more comprehensive list, please check out Agoda.com and book your stay today!
1) For budget travelers – Royal Bagan Hotel (Book online now)
*rates – $33/night for a superior room with breakfast
2) For mid-price – Blue Bird Hotel (Book online now)
*rates – $125/night for a deluxe twin bed room with breakfast
3) For luxury – Bagan Lodge Hotel (Book online now)
*rates – $211/night for a beautiful villa with breakfast
Every traveler coming through Myanmar must stop at Inle Lake.
If you have a few extra days to spare, I highly recommend doing the 3-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. You can hire a private tour guide for just $12 per day which includes all meals and accommodation. The trek was the best travel experience of my life!
Read all about my experience on the trek right here.
The 25 kilometer lake is surrounded by about 500 villages. I advise you to book your hotel in the northern village called Nyaung Shwe. It’s a really cool area to explore and it has the best selection of cheap hotels. Almost all backpackers stay in Nyaung Shwe.
I highly recommend to take the day boat tour around the lake for just $2 per person (if you have a group of 6 people), and you can see the floating market, hand-weaving silk, long neck ladies, Buddhist temples, stilt house neighborhoods on the water, and one-legged fisherman on the lake. It’s a great half-day to spend on the lake!
Or if you prefer to explore by land, then you can rent a bike for $1 a day and ride freely along the lake path. Make a visit to one of the many hot springs and get tipsy at the famous Red Mountain winery (I got pretty drunk for a few dollars). During my 2 day trip to Inle Lake, I spent the first day exploring by bike, and the next day on the boat tour. If you do this, then 2 days is plenty to spend there.
Inle Lake was one of the highlights of my trip to Myanmar. You can’t miss out on this place!
Where to Stay in Inle Lake?
The following hotels are my top recommendations in Inle Lake. For a more comprehensive list, please check out Agoda.com and book your stay today!
1) For budget travelers – Richland Motel (Book online now)
*rates – $19/night for a standard double room
2) For mid-price – Inle Resort and Spa (Book online now)
*rates – $107/night for a garden cottage with breakfast
3) For luxury – Inle Princess Resort (Book online now)
*rates – $247/night for a beautiful villa with breakfast
Here are some other notable places to visit in Myanmar:
– The Golden Rock
– Ngapali Beach
– Kyaing Tong
– The Irrawaddy River
Give Back 🙂
I have put in countless hours to make sure that the content in this post is both accurate and up-to-date. And over the last few months, this post has blown up to be one of the most viewed on my travel blog.
So, as a way to give back, I would appreciate if you can book your hotels on Agoda.com. This is an affiliate link, meaning that if you book a hotel from this link, then I make a small commission at no additional cost to you. The money will go directly into making this website better.
Also, I am more than happy to help plan your trip!
I would love to help you get things sorted out for your trip. I have gained significant knowledge about Myanmar and how to make the most of a short vacation to this magical place.
Due to high demand and the hundreds of daily emails I am receiving, I charge $100 to plan your trip from start to finish. If interested, please email me and tell me how many days you have to spend and which activities you are interested in doing — and I will put something fun together. I will find you the best route to take, recommend places to stay, tell you things to do and more.
Final Checklist for your trip to Myanmar:
– Fill out your visa online and print it out to show at the airport
– Have a basic itinerary planned out of your destinations
– Bring brand new, crisp and unmarked $US bills
– Call your debit card company and tell them that you’re going to Myanmar to avoid any issues pulling out money from ATMs
– Bring copies of your passport and write down your visa number because all hostels will ask you for it
– Check Air Asia for the cheapest flights (especially from Bangkok)
For more information on Myanmar, check out my friend Juan’s blog called Myanmar Travel Essentials. It is the bible for things to do in Myanmar!
Another great website with excellent up-to-date information on destinations and travel is Go-Myanmar.com.
Thanks for reading, and as always, contact me if you have any questions about Myanmar or if you need help planning your trip!