Myanmar has been somewhat open to tourism since the 1990s, but due to a civil war raging within its borders and a high level of fear of the government, the number of visiting tourists was quite low. In 2011, thanks to reforms, its borders were thrown wide open and since then, the amount of tourists has doubled.
Myanmar is a country on the cusp of very big change. The Internet, along with a now constant stream of Westerners, is exposing the people of Myanmar to new ideas and cultures. If this is beneficial or harmful to Myanmar’s own culture remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure: go now.
For better or worse, Myanmar WILL change and right now, it is a snapshot in time; history in the making. I feel very blessed to have experienced it.
Before my trip, I scoured small-time travel blogs and the big names in travel, but I was having a horrendous time finding updated travel information. Most of it was dated 2013! So, I am going to give you updated information from my trip in March of 2016.
Feel free to message me for advice or clarification 🙂
It couldn’t be easier with the introduction of the e-visa in 2014. On the government website, you pay 50 bucks, upload a passport picture of yourself, and within a couple days, you have your visa!
Be careful, as it is valid for 90 days and the countdown starts from when you receive it in your mailbox. Don’t sign up too soon before your trip. You can only stay 28 days in Myanmar.
Just show your print-out of the visa at the airport in Mandalay or Yangon and you are GOOD. TO. GO.
The military rule has ended, but there are still areas of Myanmar that are unsafe for tourists and that the government will not allow you to visit. I heard of a girl attempting to go to some of these areas, but she was told they were closed. Stick to well-trodden areas like Bagan, Kalaw, Mandalay, Yangon, Hsipaw and Inle Lake and you’ll be fine. If going elsewhere, research it heavily, so you know the situation.
I was a solo female traveler for 10 days in Myanmar and I felt very safe. I met a few other solo travelers as well, but it seemed there were mostly couples or groups of friends traveling. People were very kind and respectful to me, but I did have one incident. I was walking back to my hostel at Inle Lake, alone and in the early evening, and a teenage boy on a bike came up to me and showed me his penis. I yelled at him and he biked away. I don’t think he had plans to hurt me, but it made me scared and uncomfortable.
Myanmar is safe, but as women, we can’t always let our guard completely down. Be aware.
Theft-wise, I didn’t hear of anyone being robbed and my belongings were always untouched. I didn’t feel like I needed to keep everything close to my body, like in Vietnam. Again, just be aware.
I flew into Mandalay Airport and from there started my journey to Yangon. Many others do the opposite, while some start in Yangon, travel up, and then come back again to Yangon.
I took the 8 hour ferry down the Ayarwaddy River from Mandalay to Bagan and I recommend this way of travel because we were going downstream (so it was quicker than going upstream) and I wasn’t trapped in a bus for hours. I was able to sleep in a lounge chair on the deck and mill around the boat; watching Burmese life pass by. We were also provided with two meals, coffee, and tea. At $42, this is not as cheap as a bus, but it’s a worthwhile experience. I’ll be real, though. 8 hours on any kind of transportation can drive you crazy…
From Bagan, I took a JJ Express Bus to Kalaw for around $18. This is the VIP bus and IT’S THE BEST BUS EVER. We had personal movie screens! I watched some X-Men and my all-time favorite, The Grand Budapest Hotel. The time flew. I was disappointed though because my ticket said we would get lunch boxes and green tea, but we only stopped on the side of the road for tasteless fried rice that I had to pay for! WTF. Also, another girl and I had to band together against the driver to stop the damn bus because we had been driving over 2 hours without a bathroom break and we were about to piss ourselves. As you can see, no transport in Myanmar is perfect. Also, I don’t get carsick easily, but some LA boys on the bus were dying from the bumpy, windy roads. Vomit bags may be needed 😦
I trekked from Kalaw to Inle Lake (blog coming soon on that whole adventure!) and this can take one to two nights, depending on which trek you choose. It’s an amazing way to see the countryside and it’s a deal. I paid $33 for one night’s rest, two days of food, and transport. Plus $10 to enter Inle Lake, which you must pay even if you come by bus or train.
I flew from Inle Lake to Yangon, which in a country that is still developing its air industry, worried me. I didn’t need to worry too much. I felt safe, even though there were security risks all up in that airport (our baggage was checked-in and then left in a pile in the check-in lobby with no one watching it….) and the flight was nice. Only one hour and we were given a sub-par meal and some coffee/tea. It cost me $120. Not cheap, but saved me valuable time.
This is a big one. You’ll read online that there are no ATMs in Myanmar and that you must carry all your cash in big bricks on your body and stuffed all through your bags. You will read that you must bring crisp, new $100 US bills to exchange. Should I use the local currency, kyat, or dollars??!! I was stressing hard about this. Let me break it down for you.
-There are MANY ATMs in Mandalay, Bagan, Kalaw, Inle Lake, and Yangon. Some may not work because they are out of money at the moment, so head to the next one. I was very worried about my shitty credit union ATM card from small-town California not working, but it did!!! Make sure and inform your bank before you go.There is also Western Union if you get in trouble. Most credit cards can give you advances at the bank, as well. You just need to rock up to the Burmese bank with your passport and credit card. The interest rate is killer, though.
-I brought $300 USD, for fear my ATM card would not work. Luckily, my card worked and I spent kyat everywhere (ATMS only give kyat). You don’t need to use USD, although many hotels and buses, etc will accept it. I ended up going to the bank and exchanging my USD to kyat because it was so much easier to use. The thing about them being crisp and new is true. I kept mine in an envelope .Two other travelers told me their money was folded and was not accepted for exchange, so treat those dollars nicely. But your kyat? It doesn’t matter. Those bills be diiiirty.
Going to Myanmar is like going back in time. You’ll see boys and girls playing in streams, buffaloes pulling wooden carts, and farmers wearing straw hats in the fields. It’s a simple, good life and the Burmese also believe in being simple and good. They were sometimes shy, but everyone I came across was very kind and lovely to me.
So please, RESPECT THEIR CULTURE. I cannot stress this enough. This is not Thailand. It is shocking and even downright disrespectful to many Burmese to parade around in booty shorts and a tube top. I saw young girls doing this and I knew they were naive, but it made me uncomfortable to see them dressed like that in a culture where the women wear long skirts and cover their shoulders.
Listen, I’m a California girl. I HATE wearing t-shirts and pants. But, before my trip I went out and bought long skirts, elephant pants, thin cardigans, and shawls for my travels and to explore temples in. I felt good knowing that I was being respectful…even if I was downright sweltering at times!
There were times, like when I was at an expat-filled cafe or in my hostel, that I let my shoulders show. I also wore shorts on my bike ride around Inle Lake because I tried in a long dress and spent most of the time trying to keep it from flying up. But, my clothes were still fairly modest and this was in pretty touristy areas. Look at your surroundings and see how you are fitting in. If you are trekking or in a small village, absolutely dress modestly.
This goes for guys, too. Please, wear t-shirts for the temples and you must have shorts that go below the knees. Try the local longyi that all Burmese men wear! It looks like a bad-ass skirt and it’s all the rage, even with travelers.
The religion in Myanmar is Buddhist and 90 percent of the Burmese practice it. Their temples and beliefs are sacred to them, so use good sense and don’t be inappropriate at religious sites. The government recently announced a law in Bagan that would keep tourists from climbing up temples (this is the only way to see the sunset and sunrise!) because of tourists dancing, sleeping, and probably just being annoying atop these ancient temples. Lucky for us, they retracted this statement. Don’t give them reason to bring it up again..
So, there you have it. The 2016 guide to Myanmar! I wish you safe travels and believe me, Myanmar will change your life. Any other tips or suggestions for traveling in Myanmar? Questions? Let me know in the comments below! ❤