A Beginner’s Guide to Travel in Myanmar

This article comes from one of our readers, Natalie, who also writes the Myanmar Travel Blog. Today she’ll be sharing some of her best tips and insights for anyone travelling to Myanmar!

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is a country in South East Asia that isn’t yet firmly established on the tourist trail like its neighbours: Thailand, India and Laos. Having only opened up to tourists in the last 5 years there is still a lot to learn and discover about this mysterious country.

Photo by Gin the Wanderer – CC BY 2.0

Let’s start with some facts, the country uses the kyat as its currency and speaks mainly Burmese, a language that sounds and looks completely different from its Asian neighbours! English is not as widely spoken as in the more popular South East Asian countries, although most local people you encounter will be very eager to practice. Speaking of locals, they are wonderfully friendly and warm, but as always, be aware of scams and use common sense. Never get mouthy with an officer at a checkpoint (you may pass a few if you choose to travel by road).

The capital is Naypyidaw, the only city in Myanmar that doesn’t ever have black-outs! But there is nothing much to see here apart from large empty roads and government buildings. It’s much more interesting to visit Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, or the bustling hub of Mandalay.

Western fashion has (luckily) not reached this part of the world yet, so don’t be surprised to find men wearing skirts called longyi. Women wear a yellow paste on their faces which is painted in patterns; this is called thanaka and it protects their skin from the sun.

Tea-houses are a popular leftover from colonial times, where people go to meet, chat, have breakfast, eat a variety of cakes or sweets, and drink tea (of course!) Be aware that when you visit a tea-house, a plate of cakes will be brought over to you regardless of whether you ask for it or not, and you will need to pay for it if you eat any. We found this out the hard way after my travel buddy demolished 2 plates worth and then couldn’t figure out why we were being overcharged by so much for a cup of tea!

There is a well trodden tourist route in Myanmar. This is likely because there are still many places out of bounds for foreigners, especially in the north, so unless you are working for National Geographic or specialist charities you will likely be herded down the same path. However, that is not to say this isn’t an incredible path to follow since it’s filled with incredible sights along the way.

Starting in Yangon, the Schwedagon Pagoda is a good place to begin your journey and it gives a nice insight as to what the country offers. The pagoda stands 110 meters tall and it is a beautiful sight to behold. It is frequented by lovely locals who will encourage you to join in their rituals.

A comfortable, but slightly long (around 10 hours) bus ride away from Yangon, and a highlight for many, is the small city of Bagan. Stooped in rich history, it is a unique site in the world with hundreds and thousands of temples and pagodas that stretch as far as the eye can see.

Bagan affords some of the best sunrises and sunsets in all of South East Asia and easily gives the other popular Buddhist tourist sites nearby, such as Angkor Wat in Cambodia or Borobudur in Indonesia, a run for their money. A day or three on an e-bike riding around the pagoda fields and visiting temples is an experience not to be missed – you may feel templed out if you’ve spent some time in the region, but seriously, don’t miss this!

Another location not to be missed in Myanmar is Inle Lake. Relax on a boat on this huge lake with deep blue waters surrounded by mountains and enjoy seeing local life pass you by. Watch the fishermen rowing with one-leg, their hands being used for adjusting the basket they use to catch fish, a way of fishing that is unique to this lake. It is a wonderful feeling to be so detached from the western world and surrounded by the sounds of nature.

With beautiful palm lined empty beaches in the west such as NgweSaung, mountains to trek in the north and interesting historical towns and cities dotted around the country, there is something for everyone in Myanmar. New places to explore are slowly becoming more accessible and it won’t be long before this newly opened country is a firm favorite for travellers.

For being so new, there isn’t much information around the Internet about travelling in Myanmar. However, that’s why I started the Myanmar Travel Blog, which is filled with stories and information based on personal experience, and which offers an honest account of what it is really like to travel there.

If you enjoyed Natalie’s post or you’re curious about travel in Myanmar, you can follow her on Instagram, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter.

Join the Conversation

15 Comments

  1. says: Jolene

    That feature photo!!!! Made me stop in my tracks!! Would love to see Myanmar one day, have done most of the countries around this one!! Love your post!!

  2. says: Wai

    One of the great things about travelling Myanmar about 6 years ago was the lack of tourists and guides. There were no really mentionable must eat restaurants, no clear way to travel between places. A lot of trial and error, and most places were off the beaten path. Don’t write to much, let it stay that way!

  3. says: Jacklynne Marder

    Hello! This post made me so excited to travel Myannmar. I will be coming from Thailand and was wondering about the visa situation for traveling to myannmar by land…Will an online e-visa work? I read somewhere that they only work if you are flying in to Myannmar and getting the visa approved in the airport..so I don’t know what to do since I am traveling by land from Thailand. Your insight would be greatly appreciated!! Thank you

  4. says: Lily La

    What a lovely little guide to Myanmar. I’ve been living in Yangon for the last 18 months and I love it. I visited Myanmar in 2012, and decided to come back to live because it was so charming. Myanmar is changing very quickly, so I’d advise anyone to go quick!

  5. So annoying! You make my list of dreams longer and longer. Myanmar must be so beautiful. But there’s still so much to explore, it’s hard to know where to start. In 2016, I’ll go to Angkor. Maybe in 2017 Myanmar… Thanks for the beautiful inspiration.

  6. says: Greta

    I’ve been to Burma a couple of years ago, and Inle Lake was my favorite spot! The life rhythm there is just different.
    Beautiful pictures!

  7. says: Dave

    Thanks a lot for this post! I have plans to travel to Myanmar sometime next year. 🙂 Can’t wait to take a hot air balloon flight in Bagan. ?

  8. says: Jason Santiago

    You probably have one of the most beautiful travel shots of Myanmar I have ever seen yet. Make me wanna go back to Yangon again. Have you visited the Philippines yet? 🙂

  9. says: Alexandra

    What a lovely post! Hard to find any great articles on Myanmar given its still relatively “unexplored”… Planning a trip there this Xmas so the information was more than useful! which was your favourite city?

    Alexandra xx

  10. says: Amara Smith

    Thanks Audrey for sharing this great post with us. I am also planning to visit Myanmar in this December with my family. Well, we are not a typical backpacker like you. We have booked our Myanmar tour packages from 7 Days Travels & Tours.

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