Myanmar is a beautiful country. A 2 weeks 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 the necessary information and some handy tips.
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 it Ethical to Visit Myanmar?
- 3 Is Myanmar safe to travel?
- 4 Where is Myanmar located?
- 5 Myanmar Travel Map
- 6 Is it Myanmar or Burma?
- 7 India and Myanmar
- 8 How to get a Visa for Myanmar?
- 9 What is the Best Time to Visit Myanmar?
- 10 How to reach Myanmar?
- 11 Getting around Myanmar
- 12 Best Places to visit in Myanmar
- 13 Choosing accommodation in Myanmar
Myanmar – Then and Now
Myanmar has long been considered a pariah state when it was under 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 – is it ethical to visit Myanmar and is it safe?
Is it Ethical to Visit Myanmar?
This is a pertinent question that you might face before travelling to Myanmar. With the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar and the stand of the country on the same, it might seem to be a difficult moral choice whether or not to visit Myanmar.
Whether you want to travel to Myanmar is your personal decision. But the rest of Myanmar is separated from the region and there is no effect of conflict in the rest of the country. We would just like to say that tourism is helping the locals of Myanmar in a positive way after the liberation from the military rule.
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 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.
Infrastructure in Myanmar is beginning to grow. 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).
Travelling in Myanmar was a great learning experience. The best part was that we did not know what was there ahead of us. While the language barrier was evident, but the friendly locals made up for that. Every step we took, each journey in Myanmar was a learning process for us as travellers. Visit Myanmar with an open mind. You will come back with a fonder heart.
Where is Myanmar located?
Myanmar or Burma is that Southeast Asian country which is yet to see the large influx of tourism. The country is bordered on the north and northeast by China, on the east and southeast by Laos and Thailand and on the west by Bangladesh and India. The southern part of Myanmar lies the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal.
Myanmar Travel Map
Is it Myanmar or Burma?
It is both. This Southeast Asian country is known by both the names. While Burma more caters to the British colonial past, Myanmar is the name given by the Military government in 1989 after thousands were killed in an uprising. Many names were changed across the country. Rangoon became Yangon, Ayeyarwady became Irrawaddy, Moulmein became Mawlamyine. However, both the names are used interchangeably.
However, Burma describes only the ethnic Burmese, Myanmar is supposed to take in all those who are living in the country. Politically, Myanmar is the name, though we usually use both the names.
India and Myanmar
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).
How to get a 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.
What is the Best Time to Visit Myanmar?
Myanmar essentially has a tropical climate having distinct wet and dry seasons. The country has warm to hot summer and mild winters.
November to February (Peak Season)
This is the popular high season when the weather is mild and rainfall is least. This is the time when Myanmar gets the maximum tourist footfall.
May to September (Low Season)
Monsoon starts mid-May and peaks from July to September. The weather is stifling hot and you get lots of rain. Sometimes rains make roads impassable.
October, March-April (Shoulder Season)
During March and April, weather can be quite hot around Bagan and Mandalay. Weather remains cooler in Shan state. October too remains hot, but better than May-June.
We had visited during October and got mixed weather. While Mandalay received rain and in Bagan, it rained for a day. We missed the sunset in both Mandalay and Bagan due to bad weather. However, the second day in Bagan was full of sunshine and Yangon had great weather.
How to reach Myanmar?
The most common way of entry to Myanmar is by flights. Flights from Southeast Asian countries to Myanmar are quite affordable. There are 3 international airports in Myanmar – Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw.
Myanmar has multiple land border entries as well. Currently, it is possible to travel freely overland between the Myanmar borders with India and Thailand. The border crossing with Laos is remote and requires special permission which is also quite uncertain. The borders with Bangladesh and China are closed to foreigners.
India-Myanmar Overland Border crossing
There are two open border crossings connecting Myanmar and India. Both accept e-visas, require no special travel permits and are not in areas of restricted travel.
Moreh is in the state of Manipur, India while Tamu falls in western Sagaing Division. We had taken this route to visit Myanmar.
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.
Remember, to visit Manipur in India, one requires an ILP (for Indians) and PAP (for foreigners).
Zokawthar lies in Champhai district of Mizoram, India while Rikhawdar is in the remote northwestern Chin State of Myanmar.
Myanmar – Thailand border crossing
4 Myanmar/Thailand border crossings are open for travellers.
- Mae Sot (Tak province, Thailand) – Myawaddy (Kayin state, Myanmar)
- Mae Sai (Chiang Rai Province, Thailand) – Tachileik (Shan State, Myanmar)
- Ranong (Ranong Province, Thailand) and Kawthaung (Tanintharyi Region, Myanmar)
- Phunaron (Phu Nam Ron) (Thailand – nearest town Kanchanaburi) – Htee Kee (Tanintharyi Division, Myanmar – nearest town Dawei). This border is remote and e-Visa is not a valid entry at this border.
You can get more information on the border crossing between Myanmar and Thailand here.
Remember, for e-Visa you have to mention the intended entry point in the eVisa application. You can enter from a different point but then it will take a longer time to process your Visa on arrival.
You can exit from any of the International Airports or land border checkpoints as this does not requires to be mentioned upfront.
Getting around Myanmar
For travelling across cities, you have the option to take buses, trains, private taxis and flights.
Buses in Myanmar
For backpacking in Myanmar and budget travel, we feel 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.
Most of the buses travel overnight which we thought is great. We would not lose the day of sightseeing in this way. But it also has a negative side to it. The buses will arrive at the cities at some odd hour in the morning and you will not be able to check in to your hotel or hostel until 2PM. So if you want to take a nap, it is a long waiting time!
We happened to reach Mandalay early in the morning and could only check in to our hostel at 2PM. We kept our bags at the hostel and went out for sightseeing. Thankfully, the hostel allowed us to use the toilets.
How to book buses in Myanmar?
Most of the bus 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. But that will incur an extra cost in form of commission. So it is better to book your buses online.
You can also turn up at the local bus station and buy your ticket there. But do this only if you know the schedule of the buses. Most of the bus stations are outside the town. It is not a good idea to pay for an expensive taxi and get back to the city again.
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. So double-check it.
Buses and Toilet Breaks
Bus journeys in Myanmar can be long ones taking up to 10-12 hours. And the buses do not have a toilet on board. But the buses provide regular toilet breaks every few hours. Just be aware that most of the toilets are squat toilets although you will find Western ones also in a few places. Do carry toilet paper with you.
The air vents in the buses make the temperature real cold in the buses. Even though the buses provide a blanket, but you need to wear a warm layer to beat that cold. Wear them, especially if you are travelling in winter.
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. So unless you really want a train journey experience, you might want to avoid the trains.
Do not look for air conditioned coaches. 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.
The trains in Myanmar are still left in the yesteryears. There are coups and a well dressed attendant came to carry our luggage to your cabin. He also came at intervals to check on us and to give us our dinner at night.
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.
We took the slow train from Bagan to Yangon and also wanted to take the slow cruise ride. But it did not fall into place somehow.
You can hire a private taxi to take you to the next destinations. But unless it is absolutely necessary, it is better to avoid them. There are no fixed fares and the prices are fixed at the spot on the whim of the driver. You have to negotiate a lot. You would be needing taxis to go to and fro the airport or bus station.
Within the city – Local Transport
Local transport in Myanmar is slowly developing and sometimes travelling within the city can become quite a task.
If you are travelling in the town, you can take a taxi. Most of the taxi drivers now understand basic English. But as I said before, you have to negotiate a bit with the fare. But unlike the taxis for intercity travel, taxi fares within the city are a bit more regulated. At Yangon, we had asked different taxi drivers at different places and they gave us more or less the same price for renting the car for the full day.
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. We found a peculiarity about the buses in Myanmar. Vehicles move on the right side of the road. And the buses have doors on the left side (like that in India where the vehicle moves on the left side of the road). It seemed that suddenly one day the Burmese authority decided to stop moving the vehicles on the left and start moving them on the right side of the road. And then they did not change the buses!
Tuktuks or autos are also an option for short distances. Again, here also you have to haggle with the price.
You can also rent bikes at some of the places like Bagan, Mandalay and Inle. Bikes can be rented from your hotel or hostel as well as rental shops.
Getting off-the-beaten-track in Myanmar
Getting off-the-beaten-track in Myanmar is not easy. Myanmar is not open for exploration everywhere. Parts of Chin state and Mon state are restricted areas for foreigners and you have to get approval from the Ministry of Home Affairs &/or Ministry of Tourism before you can travel there. See the list here.
Best Places to visit in Myanmar
Choosing accommodation in Myanmar
Pin it for a later read!