This Myanmar travel blog is perfect for first time visitors. Covering what to expect, and things to see in Myanmar, start planning your trip to Myanmar here!
Myanmar travel blog
In December 2018 / January 2019, we visited one of the countries that had always been very high on my list – Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
A large country which is home to over 135 ethnic groups, Myanmar is a great place to visit, although not for the faint-hearted.Whilst it's nowhere near as challenging as some of the countries I cycled through in Africa, it is a next-level experience when compared to the mollycoddling nature of Chiang Mai. (Note to self – Must use the word mollycoddling more in blog posts).
Where is Myanmar?
Myanmar is the second largest country in SE Asia, after Indonesia. It borders with Bangladesh to the west, China and Laos to the east, and Thailand to the east and south-east.
Although the largest part of the country is land-locked, it has an impressively long coastline of almost 2,000 kms, and several hundreds of islands.
What is Myanmar famous for?
In terms of sightseeing, the number one destination in Myanmar has to be the temples of Bagan. A huge area dotted with several thousands of Buddhist temples, Bagan is a definitive must-see in any Myanmar itinerary.
Other popular destinations in Myanmar are the following:
- Inle Lake, a lovely area offering hikes, opportunity for boat rides and bike touring, and plenty of year-round festivals
- Yangon, the sprawling capital of Myanmar, with amazing colonial architecture and lots of temples and markets
- Mandalay, a big city with a rural feeling, home to some amazing pagodas and authentic, lively markets
- Ngapali beach, a beautiful sandy beach on the west side of the country
- The Mergui archipelago, with over 800 islands, not far from Thailand
What is Myanmar like?
We spent a few weeks in Myanmar, and visited some of its most popular landmarks – Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake and Yangon.
Based on our experience in these places, Myanmar seems to be a lot less developed than the other nearby countries. There is much less modern western influence, smaller buildings and an overall rural feeling, even in the cities.
If I had to describe what country Myanmar is similar to, I'd say it would be Nepal. Not exactly the same… just a little similar.
What are the people like in Myanmar?
We found the Burmese people to be really friendly, and although English is rather limited, we could easily communicate pretty much everywhere. Learning a few words in Burmese was quite helpful, but as the language has its own alphabet, it would be very difficult to learn to speak properly in such a short time.
We would have really liked to visit Myanmar’s coast, especially Ngapali beach, however getting there proved to be quite time consuming and costly. Given our Visa was valid for 28 days and we would run out of time, we had to skip it, but would love to go there in the future.
It would be very difficult to describe Myanmar’s culture in just a few lines. Myanmar is one of the most diverse countries in the world, as it is home to over 135 ethnic groups, with distinct traditions, costumes and food. As a result, there are hundreds of little rules that a visitor would be very unlikely to remember.
The predominant feeling was that Myanmar is a very religious country, where Buddhism permeates every level of life. Perhaps it's the adherence to Buddhism that makes Myanmar quite a conservative society, and we found the people to be friendly and honest, but also fairly shy.
It is recommended to dress modestly everywhere, especially in the Buddhist temples where you will need to cover your shoulders and knees and remove your shoes. For couples travelling together, it’s best to avoid holding hands, and other signs of affections in public are also not recommended.
I'm some sort of magnet
So whilst on the whole we considered the people to be fairly shy, on more than one occasion people came up for chats and asked to take a photo with me.
This happens to me quite often in Asia. Not sure why! Above you'll see a couple of Buddhist monks in Myanmar. Below, was a photo taken in India back in 2004 or something.
I must have had my photo taken with random people hundreds of time now when travelling in Asia after they asked. I dread to think how many people's family photo albums I'm in… and why!
Food in Myanmar
We’ll be honest – apart from a few dishes, we didn’t think that food in Myanmar was particularly special, especially when compared to Thai food which was our favourite in SE Asia.
It's a shame really, because the food in Myanmar does look colourful. It's just a bit bland to taste.
As food in Myanmar has been influenced by all the neighboring countries, it’s fairly easy to find Indian and Chinese restaurants, especially in Yangon. I can't honestly say that we had a memorable meal in Myanmar though.
Tea Leaf Salad
That said, there is one dish that stood out, because it was so unusual, and that was the tea leaf salad. It's one of the most popular dishes in Myanmar with a combination of pickled tea leaves, roasted peanuts and other beans, sesame seeds and fried garlic.
We often found it served with chopped tomato and dried shrimp, but we also found it fully customized, with all the ingredients served separately, so that we could mix and match the ones we wanted. As such, you can add things like chillies, ginger, lime, and whatever else you see fit.
Another dish we found pretty much everywhere was the mohinga soup. This was a soup consisting of fish broth, noodles, and several herbs and spices such as lemongrass, cilantro, ginger, garlic and onion.
While we didn’t find it as flavorful as the Thai curry dishes, it was quite tasty and definitely one of the dishes you must try in Myanmar. I seem to remember having this for breakfast on the boat trip from Mandalay to Bagan.
Tea Culture in Myanmar
Special reference goes to the Burmese tea culture, where strong, black tea is mixed with condensed or sweetened milk. You can find both hot and iced versions of the Burmese tea, and the icy version is a great way to keep yourself hydrated in Myanmar’s hot weather.
In terms of food hygiene, in our experience Myanmar needs a little attention. We actually got a stomach bug or some kind of flu three times while we were in Myanmar, but to be fair we weren’t particularly cautious. Like everywhere, it’s best to avoid consuming uncooked fruits and vegetables, and you should also pay attention to drinking water.
Finally, we can’t stress enough the importance of keeping hydrated throughout the day, especially when walking around hot places like Bagan. Always have some water to hand, and consider consuming some electrolytes to avoid dehydration and a possible sun stroke.
Transportation in Myanmar
Finding transportation in Myanmar from one place to the next was fairly straightforward. There were several bus options, ranging from minivans to large, modern air-conditioned coaches. Arm yourself with patience, as bus rides can be really long, at the range of 10-12 hours.
If you are taking a bus in Myanmar, make sure you have enough warm clothes, as the air-con can be horrendous. It might be best to avoid drinking too much water, as toilet breaks are not super frequent, and there is no toilet on the bus.
In our experience, drivers will be happy to stop for a toilet break if you ask, but you will often find that there will simply be nowhere to stop for miles and miles.
We didn’t take any trains in Myanmar, but we read that they take even longer hours than buses from place to place, so they are probably best avoided if you want to save time.
Mandalay to Bagan River Boat
We took the river boat going from Mandalay to Bagan, and it was actually pretty cool, as we stopped on the way to see a couple of villages on the shore. There were seats both inside and outside the boat, and it was fairly easy to take a nap.
Finally, there are a few local flights serving the main tourist areas, however they are quite costly, and it might be best to book them in advance.
As for getting around the cities, we used local taxis and drivers, as well as the Grab app. Taxis in Yangon were really inexpensive, with the average ride costing less than 1.5 euro.
Visas for Myanmar
In order to visit Myanmar, you will need a visa. The application can be done online for a fee of 50 dollars, and in our experience it only took a few hours to receive our e-visas. There are several visa processing companies offering this service, but the best thing to do is visit the official e-Visa website.
You will need to fill in your details, including point of entrance and exit from the country. You will also need to upload a passport-sized photo which you can easily do with your mobile phone – no need to have your photo taken professionally anymore!
What is the best time of year to visit Myanmar?
Myanmar is a large country, and weather differs around the different places of interest. In general, though, you could say that Myanmar has roughly three seasons:
- The dry and cool season – October / November to February
- The dry and warm season – March to May
- Rainy season – June to October / November
Based on this, the best time of year to go to Myanmar is between November and February. This is the time of year when temperatures are tolerable, and there isn’t too much rain.
In our experience travelling around Myanmar in December / January, the temperatures were mostly pleasant during the day, while they dropped considerably during the evening.
Bagan and Yangon were quite hot during the day, while Inle Lake was pleasant during the day and pretty cold at night. This was the only country where we experienced temperatures below 10-12 degrees in our 5-month trip, and that was in Inle Lake.
It’s best to avoid travelling in Myanmar during the monsoon season, which is June to October, as it will be very wet and we reckon that transportation might be affected. Furthermore, some places like Ngapali beach are completely closed down due to the heavy rain.
Accommodation in Myanmar
We had no problem finding hotels and rooms in Myanmar through Booking, even at short notice. Remember that staying at an unlicensed hotel / room is illegal in Myanmar, so if you want to do any of the popular hikes around Inle Lake on your own, make sure you ask in advance for places to stay legally.
Money in Myanmar
Myanmar uses the Kyat (MMK), with 1 euro = 1,713.16 Kyats at the time of writing – you can check the current exchange rate at xe.com. We use the popular Revolut card when we travel, through which we can withdraw up to 200 euros/month for free, whereas for everything extra we are charged a commission of 2%.
ATMs in Myanmar charged a small commission per withdrawal, and they had a maximum withdrawal limit which was normally around 300,000 Kyats. We only had problems withdrawing money in one ATM in Mandalay, but that was also over a weekend, so it is possible that it hadn’t been stocked up.
Overall we had no problems withdrawing money in Myanmar, while paying by card was possible at most hotels and larger businesses, sometimes for a small fee.
Unlike other travelers, we didn’t see the need to make any transactions in dollars, but if you decide to go down that path, make sure you check the rates the businesses are using.
Laundry in Myanmar
Depending on the type of accommodation you choose to go for, laundry in Myanmar can actually be quite costly, as some hotels charge per piece.
We found launderettes that charged by the kilo, but in more costly hotels we ended up doing a bit of handwashing – after all, clothes dried in just a few hours.
Is Myanmar Safe?
This is a question we have both been asked numerous times in the past for many places where we’ve been, including Athens. For Myanmar in particular, and with the ongoing Rohingya crisis, we had quite a few people ask us if it’s safe to go there.
While it can’t be denied that some areas of the country would not be ideal for visitors, these areas are off-limits to tourists anyway.
Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake are some of the most popular destinations in Myanmar, and we found them all very safe, apart from the dreaded stomach bug, the odd rat and the holes in the ground.
In fact, Nyaung Shwe town in Inle Lake was one of the safest places we visited in SE Asia. With its friendly people always making sure we had the correct change, and with its relaxed atmosphere and beautiful nature, we felt kind of sad to leave for busy Yangon!
Is it ethical to travel to Myanmar?
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, had a military junta regime from 1962 to 2011, when a civilian government – backed by the military – came into power. Keep in mind that democracy, as we refer to it in the Western world, is more of a rarity and novelty in this region than the norm. In this regard, Myanmar is no exception.
The ethical concerns for some travelers would centre on the Rohingya crisis. This is a personal decision each individual has to make. Or not make at all. It's not for me to tell you where you can and can't visit. You're your own person!
Myanmar travel blog – Your thoughts
So there you have it, our thoughts and suggestions for Myanmar. Have you been to this country, and what did you think? Let us know in the comments!
Related: Best time to go to Chiang Mai