Myanmar is a beautiful country. A 10 days Myanmar backpacking trip took us to some of the best places in the country. There are beautiful pagodas all over. And then there are lakes, floating villages, breathtaking landscapes, the Irrawaddy and smiling people who welcomed us with open hearts. Myanmar is one of the most culturally exciting places in Southeast Asia. Here is our Myanmar Travel Guide with our trip highlights with necessary information and some handy tips.
Myanmar or Burma as it was earlier called has a special connection with India. India has long since had a historical and cultural relationship with Myanmar. The cultural exchange included Buddhism and the Burmese script whose alphabets were adapted from the Grantha script. The last emperor of India Bahadur Shah Zafar breathed his last at Yangon. So much so we have Bollywood songs that speak of Rangoon (Yangon).
Yangon is the largest city in Myanmar and there are so many exciting things to do in Yangon.
Exploring the country was thus on our bucket list for long. When we came to know that we can travel from India to Myanmar by road, we decided that we have to go there. The excitement of doing the unknown was great. It was our Grand Myanmar Road Trip where we explored the major places of Myanmar by buses, cars, trains and cruise.
- 1 Myanmar – then and now
- 2 Is Myanmar safe to travel?
- 3 How to obtain Visa for Myanmar?
- 4 What currencies can be used in Myanmar?
- 5 India to Myanmar by road – crossing borders and driving through the Asian Highway – our Myanmar Backpacking trip
- 6 Getting around – Myanmar Travel Guide
- 7 Buses in Myanmar:
- 8 Trains in Myanmar:
- 9 Private Taxis:
- 10 Sim Cards in Myanmar
- 11 How is the food at Myanmar?
- 12 Do you get vegetarian food at Myanmar?
- 13 Places to visit in Myanmar
- 14 How much does it cost for a Myanmar backpacking trip?
- 15 What is the Best Time to Visit Myanmar?
- 16 A few tips for Myanmar Visit
- 17 A few important Burmese words that you should know
Myanmar – then and now
Myanmar has long been considered a pariah state when it was under the military rule from 1962 to 2011. Very few tourists ever visited the country and even travel agents had boycotted Myanmar in the fear that tourist funding is not helping the locals but are actually fattening the treasury of the militants! After 2010, gradual liberalization began and the free elections were held in 2015. Since then, tourist inflow has also increased. But somehow Myanmar is still under the scanner with the army operations in the Rakhine state.
So a lot of eyebrows were raised when we decided to visit Myanmar. Advice and warnings poured in. And this brings to the question – how safe is Myanmar for tourists?
Is Myanmar safe to travel?
Yes. Myanmar is very safe to travel. Myanmar is now trying to attract tourists. Most of the main regions of Myanmar are quite safe to travel. Our personal experience says that the Burmese are quite helpful. We have not felt unsafe for a moment even when we did not actually know how the roads would be.
We had actually taken the land route to visit Myanmar.
We had crossed the border at Moreh in Manipur and travelled to Mandalay by road. We did not have any previous point of reference about the roads and its conditions. We trusted our gut and travelled.
Myanmar now has first-class bus services between main towns. Sim cards are also easily available. There are a few restricted areas for foreigners to visit and permits are required. (List Restricted Areas of Myanmar)
How to obtain Visa for Myanmar?
You would need a Visa to visit the country. Indians can visit till Tamu near Moreh in Manipur and Rhikhawdar near Zokhawtar in Mizoram without a visa. But going beyond these places would require a Visa.
Visa on arrival is available in Myanmar only for business travellers. But it is quite easy to obtain an e-visa. You can apply for Myanmar Visa online. We got our e-visa within 3 days of application. A 28-days visa would take USD 50. Make sure your passport is valid for six months.
You can also obtain Myanmar Visa from Myanmar Consulate in your city. In Kolkata, the address is 57K, Par Matesh Barua Sarani Road, Ballygunge Circular Road, Kolkata – 700019.
What currencies can be used in Myanmar?
The Myanmar currency is Kyat (pronounced as Chat). INR 1 was around 20-21 Kyats when we visited Myanmar.
Initially, Myanmar used to accept UD Dollars from tourists, but now they have started accepting Kyats from travellers as well. But if you are bringing in dollars anyways, bring fresh currency notes.
India to Myanmar by road – crossing borders and driving through the Asian Highway – our Myanmar Backpacking trip
The India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, the ambitious project to connect the three nations is still under progress. The first 160 km stretch is called the India-Myanmar Friendship Highway (IMFH). Recently, the land crossing was opened by both governments to travellers with
We did not have any point of reference about how to travel from Tamu to Mandalay. We only knew that 12 – seater vans are available from Tamu to Mandalay. Know more about our road journey to Myanmar from India.
So after reaching Imphal, we took a car to Moreh, the Indian side of the border. It was already 4 PM when we reached Moreh. We had to quickly visit the Moreh ICP to get our passport and visas checked. After all the formalities were done, we crossed the Indo-Myanmar Friendship Bridge.
At the opposite side of the bridge was the Myanmar immigration office. The officer pored over our documents and within a few minutes, we were officially in Myanmar. Oh! We had already exchanged our Indian Rupees to Myanmar Kyats at the Moreh Market. You can do that at the Tamu side of the market as well. We did that on our return.
Tamu is just about 2 km from the immigration office. A car offered to take us to Tamu at INR 100 per head. As it was already late, we took the car without any negotiation. From Tamu, you get 12-seater vans that would take you to Mandalay. But remember, that the last van leaves approximately at 4 PM in Myanmar Standard Time (MMT – UTC + 6:30). A single seat will take 20,000 Kyats.
We were already late and the last van had left. The person whom we had contacted for the van was there, but he told us that the next van was only available the next day. We did not want to stay back at Tamu for the night. So we took a private car to Mandalay. This was the most expensive transport arrangement
The distance between Tamu to Mandalay is about 470 km and it takes about 12 hours to reach Mandalay. The road beyond Kalewa, 150 km from Tamu is not good. There are 69 bridges on the road and it is the most disturbing part of the journey. We started around 6 PM and after an overnight rough journey reached Mandalay at around 8:30 AM.
Getting around – Myanmar Travel Guide
If you are travelling within the town, then it is better to take a taxi. Most of the taxi drivers now understand basic English. Bigger cities like Yangon and Mandalay have good bus services, but it will be quite a task to get on the bus if you do not know Burmese. All the road signs and those on the buses are in Burmese. Tuktuks or autos are also an option for short distances. You can also rent bikes at some of the places. I will get to them when I discuss the individual places.
For travelling across cities, you have the option to take buses, trains, private taxis and flights.
Buses in Myanmar:
The best way to travel across cities in Myanmar is by buses. Myanmar has first rated bus services. JJ Express and Elite Buses are quite comfortable and we found them to be better than bus service in India. The buses have reclining seats, provide blankets, a bottle of water and snacks too.
How to book buses in Myanmar?
Most of the companies have online sites. We had booked our bus tickets from JJ Express. You can also ask your hotel/hostel to get bus tickets for you. The bus stations are usually far from the main town. Most of the times, either pick-up or drop to your hostel is provided by the bus companies.
Buses and Toilet Breaks:
One thing I found quite good is that the buses provide regular toilet breaks after every few hours. Just be aware that most of the toilets are squat toilets although you will find Western ones also in few places. Do carry toilet paper with you.
Trains in Myanmar:
We always find train journeys to be much beautiful. Especially trains in Southeast Asia can be quite unique and a perfect opportunity to get an insight into the local people and culture. It is the same no doubt in the case of Myanmar. The trains run across beautiful landscapes, but the trains are quite slow. It is better to book a First Class ticket on the train as it is going to save a lot of hassles. For overnight journeys, an ordinary class is not recommended. We had taken the train ride from Bagan to Yangon. It was a good 17 hours of the train journey. We had booked in 1st Class. While the seats were good and linen and pillows were provided and we got an entire coupe to us, the fan in the compartment did not work. So train journeys get a mixed review from us. If you love train journeys and the nostalgia of the trains, only then take an overnight train in Myanmar. Otherwise, buses are more comfortable and cheaper too. You can always take a circular train ride in Yangon if you want to experience Myanmar Railways.
How to book trains in Myanmar?
In Myanmar, you can book tickets online. We had booked our train ticket from Go-Myanmar.com. They would issue an online confirmation of the ticket. You would require to send them the copy of your passport and the address of your hotel. They send the paper tickets to the hotel from where you can collect the tickets. Paper tickets are valid documents for travelling by train.
You can hire a private taxi to take you to the next destinations. Cars in Myanmar are all quite nice with air-conditioning.
Sim Cards in Myanmar
Earlier, Sim cards were a luxury in Myanmar. I remember our walking tour guide say that even 5 years back, Sim cards would cost as high as $260! But now, after Myanmar has opened up to tourism, Sim cards are easily available and the network is quite good. We took a Telenor Sim Card at 3000 Kyats (only around 1.9$) and 1 GB data took another 3000 Kyats. 1 GB data was sufficient for our one day trip as most of the hostels have a good wifi connection. But the same cannot be said in case of restaurants.
How is the food at Myanmar?
The Burmese cuisine is quite diverse and is highly influenced by the neighbouring cultures. A traditional Burmese platter would contain rice, a curry, salad and a number of side dishes. We used to order rice and chicken or pork. Along with it came a number of other dishes which would invariably have a dried fish preparation, soup, salad made of fermented tea leaves and a lentil or bean preparation. The Burmese curries are mostly oily. You can also try the various types of noodles.
There are a number of Indian restaurants at Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay, though I did not see one in Inle.
Street food at these places is quite famous among the locals. The food shops in the corner never seem to be empty. Yangon also has a 2 km stretch where only street food is sold. But you need to have a strong stomach to try these.
Most of the hostels serve breakfast. There is usually one Burmese item at breakfast. Bread, coffee and tea are also served and you can have them as much as you want.
Do you get vegetarian food at Myanmar?
You will find vegetarian food at the Indian restaurants at Yangon and Mandalay. In Yangon, there are a couple of South Indian restaurants also. At smaller towns, the restaurant might have some veg items on their menu. But fruits like bananas, apples are easily available at Myanmar. Bakery items like cakes, buns and bread are also very easily available and they taste great.
Places to visit in Myanmar
Now comes the most important part – places to visit at Myanmar. The country is so big and has such diverse attractions like temples, lakes, mountains and virgin beaches; that a mere 10 days does not do justice. But since we have a job back home, we saw the best of Myanmar in these 10 days. What more, we also celebrated Durga Puja at Yangon!
So here was our travel route in Myanmar:
Moreh (India) – Tamu – Mandalay – Bagan – Yangon – Inle – Mandalay – Tamu – Moreh
So let me just briefly tell you about our 9 days Myanmar itinerary. Detailed posts will follow.
Day 1: Mandalay
Mandalay was the last royal capital of Myanmar. Myanmar’s second biggest city has a charm of its own. Surrounded by hills and numerous pagodas, the city is all about the beautiful temples, lakes and old cities. Since we have to return from Mandalay itself and had a day while return, we visited the old cities of Amarapura, Sagaing and Ava Heritage Village on the first day. It was one of my desires to see the sunset at U-Bein Bridge. But unfortunately, the day was cloudy and infact, it rained a bit too. So we could not get a sunset view at U-Bein. Nevertheless, the day was quite satisfying with all the beautiful pagodas and interesting attractions that included a boat ride and horse-cart ride too.
Getting around in Mandalay: You can either rent a taxi for sightseeing, or rent a motorbike for the day. You can rent motorbikes at 12000 Kyats. We had rented a taxi for the three cities tour.
We stayed at Ace Star Backpackers Hostel at Mandalay. Book your stay here.
Day 2-4: Bagan
All those breathtaking pictures of hot air balloons over the old temples in Bagan are in a way synonymous with Myanmar. Endless temples, hot air balloons, huge Buddha statues awaited us at Bagan. We took a bus from Mandalay to Bagan that cost 9000 Kyats per head.
Bagan is actually split in three areas:
Old Bagan – where you will find all the temples and pagodas. The place where you need to be while at Bagan. Also old Bagan is the place where most of the expensive and upscale hotels are found.
New Bagan – The place where the locals live and most of the hostels are located.
Nyaung U – The main bus station, airport and railway station are closer to Nyaung U and most budget hostels and hotels are found here. Our Hostel was also here.
YOU MAY ALSO LIKE – TEMPLES OF BAGAN THAT SHOULD NOT BE MISSED
Bagan can be explored by renting an e-bike (6000 Kyats for full day and 3000 Kyats for half day). The next day we rented an e-bike and explored Bagan along with a guide. The guide services were provided for free from the hostel. Again rain played a spoilsport, but could not deter us from exploring Bagan. But again, we missed the Bagan sunrise and sunset.
We were quite sad that we could not see the glorious sunrise at Bagan. It was raining and chances of a clear day seemed distant. But when we awoke the next morning at 5 AM, we found a clear sky to our surprise. The rain gods seem to have listened to my prayers and decided to give Bagan a miss that day. We simply rented a bike again and were off to see the sunrise. And believe me, it was one of the best. I simply cannot express my feelings.
We stayed at Lux Pillow Hostel at Bagan. Book your stay here.
Note: To enter Bagan, you have to pay an Archaeological Fee of 25000 Kyats per head.
Day 5-7: Yangon
The largest city of Myanmar and the erstwhile capital of the country, Yangon is the bustling economic capital of Myanmar. We took the evening train from Bagan to Yangon. We reached Yangon at 11 AM. Our hostel was at the heart of Yangon downtown. What we found interesting at Yangon is that the city is so much similar to Kolkata. The buildings, architecture and even the Jetty – all reminded us of Kolkata. The first evening we did a free walking tour of colonial Yangon with Yangon Walks.
The next day, visited the most interesting places to visit in Yangon like Shwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda, Kandawgyi Lake, the grave of Bahadur Shah Zafar, Inya Lake and the others. In the evening we were at the Botahtaung Jetty watching a spectacular sunset. The weather gods were pleased with us.
The next morning, we decided to explore Yangon by foot. We explored Yangon Downtown, Chinatown and the markets and visited the cathedrals, synagogues and markets.
We stayed at Little Yangon Hostel at Yangon. Book your stay here.
Day 8: Inle
Inle is perhaps the most beautiful place that we visited in Myanmar. The sprawling and laidback Inle Lake is a sharp contrast to the bustling Yangon. Tucked in a valley and surrounded by canals and water bodies, Inle is a backpackers’ delight. We were quite happy to have visited Inle after visiting the busy Bagan.
Take the boat ride at the Inle Lake and visit the floating villages. You will be amazed to see how they have built their houses and all other necessities on the water bodies. There are the pagodas, weaving centres and even post offices, hospitals along with the huts. The scenery is beautiful as you go cruising across the maze of houses. The best part was, however, the visit to the Indein village, the place of 1000 pagodas.
At Inle, you can rent bicycles at 2000 Kyats per day for exploring the village.
Note: Shared boat ride took 6000 Kyats per head and 1000 Kyats extra for visit to Indein. A boat usually has 4-5 passengers. You can also book an entire boat for yourself. That will take around 25000 Kyats.
There is a fee of 15000 Kyats for entering Inle as well.
We stayed at Sin Yaw Guesthouse at Inle (Nyaung Shwe). Book your stay here.
Day 9: Mandalay
It was our last day in Mandalay as well as Myanmar. We reached Mandalay at 4:30 AM from Inle. We were quite tired and so checked in to our hostel for a quick nap. We visited Mingun and Mandalay Palace. Mingun is a lovely place.
In the evening, it was the time for us to leave Mandalay. This time, we took the shared van to Tamu. The journey started at 7:30 PM and we reached Tamu at around 10 AM next day. And from Tamu, again it was the journey to Imphal and back home the next day.
If you have more days, then you can add these places as well to your trip.
Kalaw (3-day hike to Inle Lake)
Mrauk-u (mini Bagan)
Hsipaw (famous for the train ride crossing Gokteik Viaduct)
How much does it cost for a Myanmar backpacking trip?
This is one of the major questions that most of you would have in mind. For Indians, the flight cost to Myanmar takes a major chunk of the budget. Otherwise, Myanmar is quite budget friendly and Myanmar backpacking trip can be done on a budget. We will give a break up of our cost to travel in Myanmar.
Accommodation: We stayed at budget hostels and guesthouses. All our hostel was within 20000-22000 MMK (Kyats). Our total expenditure on accommodation was 68000 MMK
Food: There are many options to eat at Myanmar. We tried local restaurants while we were outdoors. Some of the nights we utilized the kitchen of the hostel also. Breakfasts were provided at the hostels. For lunch, we ate at the local restaurants. We spent approximately 90000 MMK on food for the 9 days.
Travel: It took the major chunk of the budget. Since there was three of us, we rented cars for sightseeing at Mandalay and Yangon. We also took a cruise ride at Bagan. We spent around 165000 MMK for travel. This includes the car fare from Tamu to Mandalay and back. The JJ express bus tickets and the train ticket we had bought online before for INR 8565.
Visa: Visa to Myanmar is USD 50 or INR 3722 (when I got it).
Others: 100000 MMK. These include the entry fees and camera fees, sim cards, shopping and other miscellaneous expenses.
A few of the pagodas have entrance fees for the foreigners. And then there are the Archaeological Zone Fees.
Archaeological Zone Fees for Mandalay : 10000 Kyats
It includes a visit to Amarapura, Innwa, Pinya, Paleik, Shwe Nan Taw Kyaung, the Mandalay Royal palace, Sanda Muni Pagoda, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda and Mandalay Hill. It is valid for 5 days from the date of purchase.
Archaeological Zone Fees for Bagan : 25000 Kyats
It includes your visit to the entire Bagan area and is valid for 3 days.
Inle Entrance Fees : 15000 Kyats (Valid for 3 days)
Archaeological Zone Fees for Mingun & Sagaing : 5000 Kyats (Valid for 1 day)
Entrance Fees to Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon : 10000 Kyats
A few of the pagodas have camera fees of 200-300 Kyats
Here is the breakup of our total expense at Myanmar:
|VISA||INR 3722||INR 3722|
|Accommodation||MMK 68000||INR 3400*|
|Food||MMK 90000||INR 4500*|
|Travel within Myanmar||MMK 165000 + INR 4280||INR 12530*|
|Travel within India||INR 4500 (Flight from Kolkata to Imphal and back; Fare from Imphal to Moreh & back)||INR 4500|
|Others||MMK 100000||INR 5000*|
|Misc||INR 1000 (For food and travel part in India – Kolkata to Imphal & Moreh and back)||INR 2000|
|TOTAL||INR 34652 / USD 500|
* We exchanged INR to MMK at 20 Kyats per Rupee (INR 1 = 20 MMK)
Please note that we have given the cost on per head basis.
You can even do the trip on a tighter budget if you opt to take the local buses.
What is the Best Time to Visit Myanmar?
The best time to visit Myanmar is the winter months from November to March. October is also a good time and is just the beginning of tourist season.
A few tips for Myanmar Visit
- In Myanmar, you have to remove your shoes before entering the house of your host. Infact, in hostels too, you have to leave the shoes outside at the shoe rack.
- Also remember, there are lots of walking barefoot. While entering the pagodas, you have to keep your shoes outside.
- The head is considered to be the most important part of the body. Do not touch anyone’s head, even that of children. It is seen as a sign of aggression.
- While accepting anything (even money), use your right hand to receive while holding the forearm with your left hand. Do this while giving also. This shows respect and courtesy. I was doing this back in India also for a few days after I came back from Myanmar.
- Tipping is not usually expected in Myanmar. But you can always give some tips if you are happy with the service.
- Respect their customs and traditions. While visiting the pagodas and religious shrines, keep your shoulders and knees covered. In short, do not wear half pants and sleeveless dresses.
- Carry your sun hat and sunscreen whenever you go. There is a lot of walking in the sun.
- The Burmese are lovely people and are always smiling. They quite happily pose for photographs. Asking money for taking photographs has not yet gotten into them. But if possible, take their permission before taking a photograph.
But you might face the fishermen of Inle Lake asking for tips while giving those balancing pose.
- Smile a lot and interact with the locals. Most of them know very less English and this is one of the major problems of tourism in Myanmar. But smile says a lot and helps too.
- At Myanmar, you will see almost everyone has applied something on their cheeks. It is called Thanaka. Made from tree bark, it is a great sunscreen and gives a cooling sensation and protects from sunburn. You can try applying it in your face. I don’t know about its sunscreen properties, but it really feels good and gives a cooling sensation.
A few important Burmese words that you should know
We had a tough time at the local restaurants to explain what we wanted to eat. They took us to their kitchen and we had to show them what we wanted. Here are a few words that are good to know.
Hello – min-ga-la-ba
Goodbye – thaw:-meh-naw
Thank you – kyei-zu-bah
Where is – beh-hma-leh
How much is it? – beh-lau-leh
Bill – báu-cha
Menu – mi.nù
Myanmar is a wonderful place to visit. The place is still relatively new to tourism. If you have any questions about Myanmar trip and tourism in Myanmar, do let us know.
More posts will be coming up soon.
A few more pictures of Myanmar
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