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 10 days backpacking in Myanmar – Our Itinerary
- 14 Myanmar Backpacking – Travel Advice
- 15 Food in Myanmar
- 16 Choosing accommodation in Myanmar
- 17 Things you should know before visiting Myanmar
- 18 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 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
Mandalay – the last royal capital of Myanmar
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.
There are a lot of things to do in Mandalay but do not miss the U-Bein Bridge and the sunset from Mandalay Hill.
Shwedagon Pagoda is one of the most important attractions in Myanmar as well in Yangon. The largest city of Myanmar and the erstwhile capital of the country, Yangon is the bustling economic capital of Myanmar. Yangon is quite similar to Kolkata in India and we felt that they are twin cities built by the British. Other interesting places to visit in Yangon are the Sule Pagoda, Kandwagyi Lake, Downtown among many others.
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. More than 3000 Buddhist temples and pagodas are scattered across the plains of Bagan, which was the site of first Burmese kingdom.
Rent an e-bike and explore Bagan completely. The sunrise and sunsets of Bagan over the pagodas are world famous and should not be missed. While hot-air balloon ride is one of the most coveted things in Bagan, but it is not exactly for budget travellers. We were instead happy to see the sunrise from the temple top and see the balloons fly in a distance!
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.
Inle Lake is so awe-inspiring that every visitor has something to take from here. Whether the water surrounded pagodas and temples, or the markets and floating villages, Inle is beautiful in all respect. If you have more time, then hike to the remote areas of Inle.
Hsipaw (famous for the train ride crossing Gokteik Viaduct)
Hsipaw is more known for short treks to Shan and Palaung villages. These treks leads to small villages, waterfalls, fields and also hot springs. Hsipaw is a historic town and was the home to the Shan princes once upon a time. Hsipaw has its own Little Bagan with old stupas, though not as impressive as Bagan. There is a 3-day trek from Hsipaw to Kalaw.
Also, you can take the train from Pyin Oo Lwin to or Hsipaw to get some of the most amazing views of the country. The famous Gokteik Viaduct falls in this train journey.
Kalaw is just the place for exploring Myanmar countryside. There are several trekking routes in the region. You can hike through the hills and meet the friendly locals while enjoying the monasteries, sceneries and quaint villages. There is a trek route from Kalaw to Inle lake for 3 days.
Ngapali Beach does not fall in the most common tourist circuit of Myanmar. This beautiful beach with swaying palm trees, tempting blue waters and white sand is a welcome break from the pagodas and temples that we see so much around Myanmar.
Mrauk-u is the second most important archaeological site after Bagan in Myanmar. The temples here are quite different from those in Bagan. The temples have thick walls and made mostly of stones, unlike Bagan where bricks are used. The place is culturally and historically quite important for Myanmar and it was the capital of the Arakan kingdom. Mrauk-u has some beautiful countryside consisting of Chin villages.
However, Mrauk-u lies in the conflicted Rakhine state and is currently out of bound to travellers. There is however conflicting news about the place being closed to foreign travellers. But I would suggest you drop the plan to visit this place for the time being.
10 days backpacking in Myanmar – Our Itinerary
Myanmar is a big country and has such diverse attractions like temples, lakes, mountains and virgin beaches; that a mere 14 days does not do justice. But since we have a job back home, we saw the best of Myanmar in these 2 weeks. 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
Day 1: Tamu
We started from Tamu in the evening at 6PM Myanmar time towards Mandalay.
Day 2: Mandalay
We reached Mandalay early in the morning. 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 3-5: Bagan
We took a bus from Mandalay to Bagan that cost 9000 Kyats per head.
Bagan is actually split into 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.
Bagan can be explored by renting an e-bike (6000 Kyats for the 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 the 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 6-8: Yangon
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 9: Inle
Take the boat ride at 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 10: 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 time for us to leave Mandalay. This time, we took the shared van to Tamu. The journey started at 7:30 PM.
We reached Tamu at around 10 AM the next day. From Tamu, we crossed the border to Moreh and then back to Imphal.
Myanmar Backpacking – Travel Advice
Is Myanmar expensive? Myanmar Budget Travel Tips
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 hostels were within 20000-22000 Kyats.
- Budget stay: Dorms – $10-15, Double room – $25-30
- Midrange: $35-50
- High end: $60+
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 would spend around $10 for food everyday.
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.
- Local Flights: $50-150
- Trains: $10-25 (upper class)
- Buses: $10-30 (long bus rides)
Visa: Visa to Myanmar is $50
Others: 100000 Kyats. These include the entry fees and camera fees, sim cards, shopping and other miscellaneous expenses.
Entrance Fees in Myanmar:
A few of the pagodas have entrance fees for the foreigners. And then there are the Archaeological Zone Fees.
Archaeological Zone Fees for Mandalay : 10000 Kyats
It includes a visit to Amarapura, Innwa, Pinya, Paleik, Shwe Nan Taw Kyaung, the Mandalay Royal palace, Sanda Muni Pagoda, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda and Mandalay Hill. It is valid for 5 days from the date of purchase.
Archaeological Zone Fees for Bagan : 25000 Kyats
It includes your visit to the entire Bagan area and is valid for 3 days.
Inle Zone Fees : 15000 Kyats (Valid for 3 days)
Archaeological Zone Fees for Mingun & Sagaing : 5000 Kyats (Valid for 1 day)
Entrance Fees to Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon : 10000 Kyats
A few of the pagodas have camera fees of 200-300 Kyats
Money in Myanmar
What currencies can be used in Myanmar?
The Myanmar currency is Kyat (pronounced as Chat). INR 1 was around 20-21 Kyats when we visited Myanmar. Kyats come in notes of value K50, K100, K200, K500, K1000, K5000 and K10000. There are no coins in Myanmar.
You can use both Dollars ($) and Kyats (MMK) in Myanmar. Initially, Myanmar used to accept UD Dollars from tourists, but now they have started accepting Kyats from travellers as well. Infact, most of the hostels expected that we paid in Dollars.
But if you are bringing in dollars anyways, you have to bring in crisp, uncreased, unmarked, unfolded and fresh currency notes. That is a lot to ask. Also, pre-2006 dollar bills or ones with the letters AB and CB at the start of the serial number might not be accepted or exchanged (Don’t ask me why). So if you are carrying USD, carry them in a pristine and flat condition.
Where can I exchange money in Myanmar?
You can exchange the dollars at Kyats in local banks of larger cities and at the airports. In Yangon, you can head to Bogyoke Aung San Market and exchange your currencies. There are numerous money changing shops here and they offer competitive rates. But visit the market before 4PM as these shops tend to close by that time.
Do not exchange money from the money exchangers on the street.
Travellers’ cheque is usually not accepted in Myanmar.
ATMs in Myanmar
Myanmar now has a number of ATMs in all the major cities and tourist destinations. We saw a number of ATMs at Bagan, Yangon and Inle. These ATMs now accept almost all international bank and credit cards.
ATMs in Myanmar dispense Kyat only. So you can withdraw the local currency from the ATMs.
Quite naturally, there is a fee involved with withdrawal of cash. For ATM cash withdrawals, there is typically a K5000 ($3) transaction fee, and a withdrawal limit of K300000 ($200) per transaction in addition to the fees that your bank may charge. So for every transaction, there will be a fees of $4-5.
You might not find ATMs at smaller towns in Myanmar. So keep cash ready for these places for you never know when the ATMs run dry or there is internet failure.
When to use Dollar and when to use Kyat
Typically dollars are used to pay your accommodation in Myanmar and transport like flights and luxury buses. Some high-end restaurants can also expect dollars. But otherwise, Kyats are good to use in Myanmar.
We had exchanged our money at Moreh and used Kyats in all our transactions in Myanmar without any problem. We also exchanged money at Bogyoke Aung San Market at a good rate.
Sim Cards and Internet 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 10 days trip as most of the hostels have a good wifi connection. But the same cannot be said in the case of the restaurants.
Mobile internet is good in the cities and we got proper network and internet connections even when we travelled on the buses between cities (which is quite rare in India). Most of the hotels and hostels provide a good wifi connection. The same cannot be said about the restaurants. But they are improving.
Food in Myanmar
Burmese cuisine is quite diverse and is highly influenced by 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 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 in Myanmar. Bakery items like cakes, buns and bread are also very easily available and they taste great.
Choosing accommodation in Myanmar
Choose your accommodation as per your convenience. Now, there are a number of hostels in all the important places in Myanmar like Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle and Kalaw. Hostels are affordable options for accommodation in Myanmar.
Hotels and Guesthouses: You will find hotels and guesthouses in all the tourist destinations of various budgets and categories. I would suggest you to use Booking.com to book your stay in Myanmar.
Most of the hotels and hostels provide a towel. But they take a security deposit of $10 on check-in.
Things you should know before visiting Myanmar
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 will be a lot 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 human 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 traditions and customs and pack some temple clothes. 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.
You will face the fishermen of Inle Lake asking for tips while giving those balancing pose. If you wish to take photographs, you might have to shell out a few bucks.
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.
Be ready for the snarling traffic in Mandalay and Yangon.
Alcohol is widely available in Myanmar. You will find beer stations at almost every town. There will be someone sitting at the table whatever be the time of the day it is.
At Myanmar, you will see almost everyone has applied something on their cheeks. This paste is known as 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. The 10 days spent in Myanmar was quite a different experience for us. Like I said before, we went to Myanmar with an open mind and came back with a fonder heart. Cannot wait to visit there again!
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