Myanmar is the largest country in Southeast Asia. Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a beautiful land filled with many historic sites and friendly people. It was also isolated for many years. As such Myanmar does not have the infrastructure or tourist infrastructure that is present in other nations. On a backpacking trip to Myanmar you will often be “roughing it” but will typically find that the rewards of visiting this beautiful and exotic land outweigh the difficulties.
Myanmar offers not only breathtaking scenery but also ancient Buddhist temples and relics a thousand years old or more. It is an excellent place to go to get to know more about Buddhism. To get the most out of your trip it is really important to start planning your trip to Myanmar well in advance. This includes obtaining the correct visa in a timely manner: read to learn more.
Myanmar has a subtropical climate with three seasons. It is hot and relatively dry from March to April and then the rain starts in May and lasts until October. This is the monsoon season during which the coastal regions get most of their 90 inches of rain a year any many routes in the interior of the country are not passable.
The central parts of the country are dryer, even in the rainy season and the Northern Mountains are high enough that they get snow at this time. The rainy season is followed by a cooler climate from November to February. The rain makes access to some areas difficult or impossible, so plan to visit Myanmar between November and April.
For a first trip to Myanmar visitors will want to go to Yangon, Old Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake. You should allot a couple of days for each location. Yangon (formerly Rangoon) was the nation’s capital and is still an important religious center. Make sure to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda complex as the high point of your visit to Yangon.
The Old Bagan area of the city of Myanmar was the capital of the Bagan kingdom. It is a UNESCO historic site and has many thousand-year-old structures from that era a thousand years ago. Mandalay was the capital of northern Myanmar. Is a center for studying Buddhism and has many historic structures.
Inle Lake has floating villages and gardens and is surrounded by scenic mountains. And a few days hiking around the village of Kalaw plus travel time and you have a two week trip to Myanmar.
Overland Entry to Myanmar from Thailand
There are four border crossings that foreigners can use to get from Thailand to Myanmar and back. These are Mae Sai–Tachileik, Mae Sot–Myawaddy, Ranong–Kawthaung; and Three Pagodas Pass (Sangkhlaburi–Payathonzu). Beware that each of these overland routes comes with complications. At all of them you can get a one-day visa to visit Myanmar and return but at Three Pagodas Pass you will need to surrender your passport to enter. In theory you can enter through any of the other three for longer than a day but in each case the process is more complicated that just walking up and asking permission to enter. Researching more information will help you learn about visiting Myanmar and knowing about the visa requirements for your trip.
From outside of South and Southeast Asia the least expensive way to get to Myanmar is to fly to a regional air hub like Singapore or Bangkok and then take a flight from there. Flights are available to Yangon from Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Siem Reap, or Phnom Penh. There are also flights from Bangkok, Kunming, and Dehong to Mandalay but service is somewhat limited.
Myanmar has borders with Thailand, Laos, China, India, and Bangladesh. However, foreigners are not allowed to enter Myanmar from Laos or Bangladesh. Overland entry between Yunnan Province of China and Muse is open to organized tour groups and, despite talk to the contrary, is not yet open to independent travelers. Entry is possible from India for foreigners but it can take a while to get a visa. But, if you already have your eVisa, there are two entry points. The most-used overland entry into Myanmar is from Thailand.
If you want to fly to Myanmar and leave by land you can do this through the Tachileik–Mae Sai crossing to Thailand but don’t just walk up there expecting to get out of the country. Visit the government tourist office in Yangon (Myanmar Travels & Tours) as soon as you get into the country because it commonly takes two weeks to process this visa. It costs about $50 and you are often required to hire a local tour guide at the border. The visa includes a 15-day visa to visit Thailand which will come in handy if you did not get a Thai visa before entering Myanmar.
If all you want is to visit the town of Tachileik you can get a free permit at the Kengtung immigration office.
When planning your trip to Myanmar, start the process of getting a visa early. The only people who can get visas on arrival are people entering for business reasons and residents of neighboring countries. However, there are ways to get a visa in advance.
Your visa will cost $50 and make certain that your passport is not going to expire for more than six months after you plan to enter Myanmar. You can go to the Myanmar website where they have a four-step process to obtain an eVisa and make online payment.
Myanmar has embassies around the world and, if you prefer, you can apply for your visa at one of these. The embassy in the USA is in Washington. In Australia it is in Canberra. In the UK it is in London. And, in Canada it is in Ottawa. Myanmar embassies in India in New Delhi, in Cambodia in Phnom Penh, and Thailand in Bangkok are available if you are already in the general region but, with the exception of India, you may have trouble finding an English speaker to deal with if English is your only language.
An eVisa obtained online from the Myanmar website is good for 28 days from date of entry and three months from date of issue so do your research early but make sure not to get a visa that will expire before you arrive in the country! Business visas are also good for three months from the date of issue but are good for 70 days from the date you enter the country. Social visit visas have the same limits as a tourist visa. The social visit visa is for former citizens of Myanmar who are coming back to visit.
When entering or leaving Myanmar it is required to declare if you are carrying amounts in excess of $10,000 US and if you are coming directly from a country where Yellow Fever is prevalent you will be required to show proof of vaccination. If you receive an approval letter for your visa you will need to present that as well as your visa when you enter the country. And, expect to have your passport and visa checked multiple times at hotels, train stations, airports, and security checkpoints.
At times of and in areas of civil unrest in Myanmar travelers may find their movements restricted even to the extent of being confined to their hotel.
Foreigners are not allowed into some parts of Myanmar. These areas include Kachin State where you can be in the urban area but not in the country. In Kayah State the same restrictions apply, OK in the city but not in rural areas. Both Shan State and Kayin State allow urban visits but have long lists of rural townships where travel is restricted. Likewise, Sagaing Division, Tanintharyi Division, Bago Region, and Mon State all have restrictions for visiting rural areas. Restrictions in these areas will not affect your visits to Mandalay, Inle Lake, Yangon, or the Old Bagan area.
Part of the reason for travel restrictions in Myanmar has been because of the Covid-19 pandemic and part has been because of civil unrest after the military overthrew the civilian government and has dealt harshly and with lethal force against street demonstrations. If part of your reason for going to Myanmar is to get to know the people, be careful of getting involved in street demonstrations or political gatherings as these may entail risk not only to locals but especially to foreigners who may be seen as interfering with or meddling in the affairs of the country and its current military government.
Take a trip when you know that everything is ready to travel, including visas, insurance, money, and others. Also keep your items safe.