Myanmar has always been a country we wanted to visit, but we also anticipated several stumbling blocks and hurdles to getting there. However, with the country opening up to tourism and initially travel bloggers helped us with so many travel tips, we decided to go this year and share a Travel Myanmar guide of our own. Before you know it, Myanmar will easily become one of your favorite countries in South East Asia too.
Myanmar is going through massive change, and tourism infrastructure is constantly improving. Much to our surprise, you can travel Myanmar easily, and this is changing by the day.
Other travelers and bloggers were so helpful with their tips; we thought we would reciprocate and share what we learned. We hope this helps you with your future travel plans.
Despite being hot, sweaty, uncomfortable, and unplugged from the rest of the world at times, we didn’t let this get us down. Drink plenty of water, stay in the present, and be grateful you can finally see this country and all its wonders!
Bagan at Sunset and Inle Lake homes
Travel Myanmar: Important Tips Before You Go
The EVISA process is easier than ever to get to Myanmar, no matter what country you are currently in. The cost is $50USD.
It’s the best option if you’re already traveling and nowhere near a Myanmar Embassy, but it’s only available if you enter by air.
In less than 24 hours (it mentions it may take five business days), we were approved.
You are required to bring a printed document of the file with you to the border.
The other option is going to an embassy. At the time of booking, we heard the cost was $25USD, but there can be long line-ups and wait times, booking on line is worth the extra cost.
There are ATMs everywhere, particularly in the big cities like Yangon and Mandalay, and less in Bagan and Inle Lake. It’s best to plan ahead so you get cash when you can. You’ll save time searching for an ATM.
We didn’t have any issues using our bank card anywhere, which usually happens at least once when we travel.
Fortunately, there are options with Visa Plus, or Mastercard/Cirrus. Depending on your bank and bank account, you may avoid fees from your home bank(like other destinations) It’s best to check the requirements before leaving home. You cannot avoid the Myanmar bank fees for taking out cash, and the standard rate is 6,000 KYAT (around $6USD)
We brought U.S. cash with us in case we had issues, but didn’t use any of it!
Travel Myanmar Tips on Booking Hotels and Guesthouses:
Hotels, in general, are significantly more expensive than the rest of S.E. Asia.
We used Agoda, an online booking system for all kinds of accommodations, with plenty to choose from for all areas of Asia.
We found that the more we spent, the better value we received. About $25-35USD a night (depending on location) gave us a comfortable room, great bed, good shower, Wi-Fi, a really good, hearty breakfast, and great service.
Other travelers we met were spending around $20USD or less and received much less often it consisted of— no air conditioning, limited breakfast, and uncomfortable room. Again, situations and hotels vary.
We found some good discounts for nice hotels through Agoda.com, and we could charge direct on our credit card to avoid taking out wads of cash. You often arrive early if you take night buses, so it helped to have a room already booked.
Best to scope out your favorite options and write them down, in the case of a blackout or Internet issue. In that instance, you have to book your hotel by phone!
There are many great places to stay in Myanmar, here are some of our favorites:
Yangon: We stayed at the Hotel Grand United Chinatown– Interestingly there are two of them, our stay was at the link attached. Great breakfast, good location near the markets and night market, and comfortable very air-conditioned rooms.
Bagan: The Crown Prince Hotel– This hotel is just on the outskirts of New Bagan. Modern, comfortable rooms, great location, and breakfasts.
Kalaw: Nature Land Hotel II – Up on a hill overlooking Kalaw are these quaint, yet spacious cabins. Comfortable, clean rooms, delicious breakfast and beautiful views of the town of Kalaw.
Mandalay: 79 Living Hotel – Comfortable rooms, near the train station and goes down as the coldest Air conditioned hotel anywhere.
Inle Lake: The Inle Lotus Hotel – One of the best spots we have every stayed. Impeccable service, modern, clean cabin style rooms and delicious breakfasts. Free shuttle into town as its about 5kms outside Nyaung Shwe town.
How to Book Transportation in Myanmar:
Transport to major destinations is very easy to plan on your own, and there are lots of times and bus options! A major change in the last couple years is access to high-quality buses for long journeys.
We used JJ Express VIP bus (your hotel can book you a ticket directly for a small commission). They’re comfortable and incredibly professional, putting some North American bus lines to shame. They ensure your baggage tag actually matches your ticket stub and offer snacks and water on the bus. Although they don’t have toilets, JJ Express frequently stops, even for a dinner from Inle Lake to Yangon.
We particularly like JJ Express because they clearly state their prices are the same for everyone.
Costs for Attractions and Entrances:
Expect to pay foreigner prices for most attractions and temple visits versus local prices. Respectively, most of us come from higher income countries, but we often paid between 2-3x more than locals. It’s rather frustrating to pay so much more because we were visitors.
Access to cell and data plans is a significant improvement in Myanmar. SIM cards have only become common and inexpensive in the past two months. Now they’re available at the airport or anywhere on the street.
We bought our 3G SIM card with Telenor at the airport on arrival for 1,500KYAT ($1.40USD) and then 12,000 KYAT ($11.30USD) for 1G data package.
Options for service companies are Telenor, Ooredoo, and MPT. At the time, Telenor was the only option at the airport.
It’s a good idea to ask where these companies have service within Myanmar. Telenor had service in Yangon and Mandalay. We also managed to get service on top of temples in Bagan and on the boat trip to Mandalay. However, we didn’t get any in our hotel. MPT had service in Inle Lake and Kalaw at the time of this post.
But to be clear, just because we had 3G service didn’t mean we actually had service! Often it wasn’t enough to have a Skype call or upload/download anything with ease. It was fine for checking and responding to emails. Wi-Fi was unpredictable.
It’s sometimes hard to reach local numbers, as local businesses have multiple lines, to deal with service disruptions, so try their list of multiple numbers!
Technology is changing so drastically; there’s no doubt things may change when you get there.
Beware of Blackouts
Most hotels and businesses have the air conditioning cranked up so high (16°C), it’s no wonder they have issues with their power grid! Blackouts happened daily. Larger hotels and several restaurants have generators kick in, but sometimes the Internet isn’t included in the backup power. In Yangon, you hear the hum of generators as you walk by — a sign of frequent blackouts. It’s rather fascinating.
The Yangon City Walks Touris free and excellent. It’s an architectural tour of 1900s British colonial buildings with some cultural references. Great expat and local guides share their knowledge of the city.
The Circle Train Ride travels around Yangon. Even though you can do this on your own for $1USD each way, it was worth having a local guide explain anything we wanted to know. Urban Adventures has a day long excursion with a local guide. This was a fascinating day!
Schwedagon Pagoda is huge and very impressive to see. For best light and minimal heat, it’s best to do early morning or before the sun sets. It’s clearly a sacred place for many Burmese, but still easy to wander despite the fact that hundreds of people will likely be there, too.
The 19th Street food and drink area is a bustling alleyway of restaurants and BBQ and food hawkers. Myanmar draft beer is cold and cheap, food is good, and it’s the perfect spot for people watching. Both locals and travelers spend evenings here.
We looked into doing a local tour in Yangon, but they were outrageously expensive, than any price in S.E. Asia — we were quoted between $100-160USD each. Instead, we settled for doing the options listed above.
Yangon- 19th street, streets by day, Schwedagon Pagoda at dusk and the Circle Line train.
We loved touring around endless back dirt roads looking for the next temple to admire and felt virtually on our own at times. Even when it’s sunset or sunrise, you still get a good vantage point.
The bigger temples were busier, and large bus groups flocked these areas. But, if you go early, and see a bus coming, you can dodge the area and come back later. This place is nowhere near as busy as Angkor Wat in Cambodia. You are unleashed on your own to enjoy it independently!
Renting E-bikes was the best option to see as many temples and pagodas possible, while beating the heat to avoid getting completely tired out. (No motorbikes allowed for foreigners!)
It’s great to get a bicycle for exercise, but it’s far too hot, and the distance between temples could leave you breathless — and not in a good way. The E-bikes were a heck of a lot of fun off-roading in the dirt, which is the way to get from the pagodas and temples.
On top of a temple in Bagan at sunrise
Mount Popa from the highway
The trip to Mount Popa is a good day trip. It’s an interesting volcanic plug of an extinct volcano with a rather curious temple on top. It’s worth getting a local guide to explain the significance and Buddhist folklore to truly appreciate it. We didn’t get a guide due to the booking cost in Bagan and thought it’d be easy to find one when we arrived. It wasn’t. We later heard you could book a guide at a neighboring hotel nearby.
If we can recommend anything when you travel Myanmar, it’s the three-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. It’s a wonderful cultural tour and decent hike in and around the villages and tribes of the hills and countryside. We went through Sam’s Trekking, as recommended by others and it did not disappoint.
Our local guide and views of hiking outside of Kalaw
There is an expectation with other travelers that Inle Lake is a resort nestled beside a beautiful lake. I believe that’s why some don’t like it.It’s a beautiful lake with Nyaung Shwe, the major town, quite far from it with a long canal to access the lake. As a result, you won’t be drinking cocktails or sun-tanning like any other lake resort!
You can’t see the lake from most hotels; your view is only a very busy canal of boats. Once you get over this, the place is fantastic. Watching life on the lake and the neighboring towns creates the charm of this place. Nyaung Shwe is small, basic, and has a local flavor despite the influx of tourism. It’s very easy to be fascinated by life on the river without having a lake-side resort!
Inle lake homes on the water
Red Mountain Winery:
We heard mixed reviews about a winery on the outskirts of town but decided to check it out for ourselves. It’s a nice spot with a beautiful view of the mountains and countryside, but the wine is not good. (I spent many years working in the wine business- trust me!) We were surprised the place was so full of travelers, although the views are pretty scenic and a good way to kill a hot afternoon.
Red Mountain winery in Inle Lake
Burmese food has no shortage of flavor. It’s a cross between Indian, Thai, and flavors all of their own. The curries and soups were great, and the tea-leaf salad is better than you can expect.
In our view, street food is a bit more of a risk to eat than other street-food in neighboring countries, as pots of curries, liquids, and mixed salads sit in the sweltering heat all day long.
I loved the food, especially the little side dishes that came our way of salty, fishy, and sweet additions to make every bite of the meal taste completely different.
Troy was missing Thai food too much, but we agreed our best meals were at local events where we were invited to the table of families. If you meet locals that invite you for a meal, you are in for a real treat!
Myanmar – Burmese food
Myanmar will continue to evolve as tourism and access to more places. Some people speculate that future tourism will keep prices high to attract a higher income traveler, and the government will continue to limit hotel licenses.
Others think the massive growth of tourism will increase competition and prices will come down to Thailand pricing. Regardless, Travel Myanmar now before it changes!
Any specific questions about your travel Myanmar plan? Or what Myanmar travel tips you would like to add? Please let us know and leave a comment.
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Dorene is a marketing consultant and freelance writer. She quit her 20-year career in marketing to redesign her career and lifestyle on her own terms by living location independent. Now with her husband Troy, she helps people who want to redefine their midlife and make conscious changes at TravelLifeX. She also trains & coaches travel and hospitality clients to improve their marketing at TravelLifeMedia.com