Myanmar is a country that has unique and distinctive features unlike any other country in Southeast Asia. People say that it’s what Southeast Asia used to be, yet only the brave and adventurous are willing to explore. It has large undeveloped areas that are still relatively easy to get around in, more places to discover with lesser tourists, and the best part? It’s so affordable!
Is it safe? Yes! Probably safer than what I’m used to. The locals are very friendly and will return a smile when you share yours. In any case, here are some essential travel tips to help your way to a fantastic and remarkable time in Myanmar.
When to go to Myanmar:
I went to Myanmar for my birthday trip in May 2019. Growing up in a tropical country, I thought I’d be prepared for the heat and humidity. I was wrong! Although it is hot and humid all year-round, the temperature went up to 42 degrees Celsius. I wish I’ve read and prepared more about it sooner but it’s okay. Everything worked out in the end. You’ll be going home tan and glowing, thanks to an ample amount of thanaka (more of this later). Keeping myself hydrated is also essential, especially when visiting the bustling city of Yangon or the dry lands such as Bagan.
I got here just before the rainy season starting June to October, which explains the high humidity and short showers throughout the day. Make sure carry with you an umbrella anywhere you go.
The best time to visit Myanmar is around November to February when average temperatures hover at a comfortable 25 degrees. However, this is also the busiest time of the year for tourism.
But if you ask me, when really is the best time to go? I’d say NOW. Now is the time to go before everybody else does. Because you know what, they surely will. Just follow your instincts and just go.
Getting to and around Myanmar:
Myanmar has 3 international airports: Yangon International Airport, Mandalay International Airport and Nay Pyi Taw International Airport. Here are the list of airlines that go to Myanmar. If traveling by land from Thailand, you can cross the border through Tachileik land border crossing, Myawaddy land border crossing, Kawthaung land border crossing.
If you are short on time, your best option is to fly in between cities and still, this wouldn’t cost you so much. You can book through a travel agent in the city or online using Sky Scanner.
You can also go around different areas of Myanmar by riding buses. I love how affordable and comfortable they are. I took the JJ Express and would highly recommend it. I reserved my ticket online and it was very easy, just make sure to present your confirmed ticket to the bus station 30 minutes before you board. Since these buses are meant to travel at night, you find yourself arriving in your destination very VERY early, so you can request your hotel/hostel for an early check-in or perhaps go catch the sunrise somewhere nice.
Depending on the area, taxis can be found almost everywhere. You may have to negotiate first before entering the taxi but it will still be very cheap. Best to download the Grab app to make it more convenient and prices are set already.
You can also rent an e-bike in Bagan where you can ride your way through the temples and do some exploring yourself. Make sure to pack your sunglasses and wear something to cover your mouth from the dust since Myanmar after all, is by far one of the dustiest places I’ve visited. After a while, almost all tourists develop dry cough. Oh, and always remember to put on sunscreen! Luckily, I met a friend that day who I hitched a ride with and was kind enough to give me sunscreen.
But if you’re just like me who can’t properly ride or balance a bike (hehe) might as well get a package that provides comfortable and informative tours. I booked through KKday and had the most amazing time in Bagan. Plus, this beats walking around the city toting head to foot road rash and bandages because I was picked up in my hotel and was given iced cold bottled water to keep me hydrated and feeling fresh. Their tour guide also speaks good English so I really appreciated that experience of learning about their history and culture.
Other than these, you can still choose to walk especially in cities like Yangon, where all the major attractions are relatively close to one another. Not only are you keeping it green by lessening pollution, but you’re also burning calories needed to keep you fit and healthy. There are free walking tours around Yangon so make sure to avail that using their facebook page.
ATMs and Money:
Just like in any trips, make sure to have with you your credit card, ATM, and definitely enough cash with you no matter what. There are 2 currencies in Myanmar: dollars (USD) and their local money, kyat (pronounced as ‘chat’).
For dollars, you can only use clean/pristine, crisp, and brand new dollars. They are very meticulous about this and will reject your money otherwise. This means that a slight fold, crease, mark, or fade in your money will not be accepted. Check your money too if it has serial numbers with AB or CB series or if they are older than 2006 as these will not be accepted either.
I usually have my dollars exchanged at the airport so I know it’s legit and would give me an appropriate conversion. However, if you find yourself in the city and paying in dollars, expect them to give you changes in their local currencies. The exchange rate is just about 1,500 kyat for every dollar.
There are ATMs around the city and they mostly work. Still, I prefer preparing ahead but just in case, there will be a $4 withdrawal fee on top of the additional fees your bank may charge you with.
And if your card doesn’t work in the ATMs just like mine, you can always go to places that charge credit cards. It’s not always common but it’s not impossible to find. I used my credit card that is already setup in my Grab app to go around, then I look for restaurants that has a working credit card terminal.
Dress codes are typically not very strict day-to-day so just wear what’s appropriate and comfortable based on the season you’re coming. However, certain attire and dress codes must be followed when visiting temples in Myanmar. It is important to note that both men and women should have their shoulders and legs covered when entering pagoda’s or temples.
I bought my own longyi to wrap around my legs. I always have one handy in my bag just in case I come across an interesting temple I’d like to check. There is a variety of longyi designs to choose from and is very affordable. I got mine at the Bogyoke market, but you can definitely find these available and sold at the temples.
Thanaka or Sunscreen:
Once you arrive Myanmar, you'll immediately notice people, especially women, with yellowish-white paste painted on their faces. This is thanaka which is nature's purest form of sunscreen. It is grounded from a tree bark found in Myanmar and is mixed with water to form a paste. Pulverising this is tedious work and it is said that men do this to give as gifts to their wife. Nowadays, it is found everywhere and can be bought very cheaply.
Kids seem to love putting this on tourists too and I just love how they get creative and design it on your face. They designed a leaf on mine.
Betel Nut or Kun Ja
Don't be surprised when you see people spitting all of a sudden or sporting red teeth when they smile at you. It's because they are chewing paan or betel nut which is made of betel leaf with areca nut, slaked lime, and tobacco. It is said to help people keep awake and can be addicting. Personally, I tried it just for the sake of experiencing it but unfortunately, I had a hard time spitting lol I look like I'm puking in the side of the road and I just felt uncomfortable. But heck, at least I tried it.
Food and Drinks:
Traditional Myanmar food consist of different vegetable and meaty side dishes filled with rich flavors and textures. It’s something that may need being accustomed to since most are largely flavored with fat, salt, sugar, and other spices. They are also fond of curries so you’ll be surprised to see a menu of what seem to be the same curry but all very unique.
And just like in any country, there is a possibility for you to get sick at least once due to poor hygiene standards. Luckily, I make sure to drink only from bottled water and go to places that I feel is safe. Consider bringing some medicine and vitamin pills with you just in case.
Accommodations in Yangon and Bagan:
During my trip in Myanmar, I tried to maximize my days here by exploring Yangon and Bagan region. In selecting a good accommodation, I consider the following categories: location, price, and comfort. Yangon’s bustling downtown area can be a great spot since it’s located nearby awesome attractions plus it’s fairly cheap too. Bagan, on the other hand, has several accommodations too that can be found in either New or Old Bagan city center.
In my case, I chose to book in hotels because I want to be comfortable after a long day of exploring. Check out the hotels I stayed in throughout my stay in Yangon and Bagan.
Budget-friendly hotel in Yangon: Super Hotel Yangon
Luxury hotel in Yangon: Sedona Hotel
Reasonably Priced Hotel in Bagan: The Regency Hotel
Wi-Fi / Internet:
Wi-fi can be quite difficult in Myanmar so I prefer having my own travel wi-fi especially since I plan to go to Thailand after. I chose Big Sky Nation which have great coverage and speed wherever I go. They have amazing travel plans too. Once you avail, there’s no need for additional setup. It’s really that simple.
Here's how you can get your pocket wifi: Big Sky Nation
Get 15% discount when you use my code: MJTRAVELS
What other tips do you need to know? Comment below! :D