Myanmar (previously known as Burma) recently opened up to the world is still relatively untapped by mainstream tourism. It is located between India, China, and Thailand and is a great travel destination for any shoestring South East Asia traveler. A new visa process, the E-visa ($50 USD) can be arranged online and you get a response within 3 business days, on top of that you don’t need to send your passport to any embassy. The caveat is that you have to arrive via plane internationally in Yangon to use the E-visa.
Many women and children have Thanaka on their face (a paste ground from a special tree) and cheeks for sun protection and also wear longyi (a long skirt). People of Myanmar are very friendly and honest- for example, a local helped us flag a taxi for 2000 kyat when most of the taxi drivers were quoting 4000kyat and driving by during rush hour. He did this without expecting anything in return. As a traveler you feel very safe in Myanmar (as long as you stick to the main tourist destinations… I cannot speak for the areas that have conflict or the restricted areas near the borders).
It is widely known that the prices of accommodation for Myanmar are very expensive considering what you get. Specifically, there is very little budget accommodation for under $25 a night.
Many of the destinations in Myanmar are easily accessible by plane. Flights cost between $70USD to 110USD. Flights are sometimes not reliable and there are often flight changes. Booking through Go Myanmar Tours was an easy process and they updated by email if there were any time changes for the flight. KBZ Airlines was great, they feed you even for a short 1.5 hour flight. They were also on time (which is apparently unusual for most flights in Myanmar). KBZ is a relatively new airline, 4 years old, good safety record so far, which is always important!
Alternately, you can get between places by bus however the bus rides can be 8-12 hours long (during the day or overnight), and cost around $15 to $25 USD. Again, booking through Go Myanmar made it an easy process and tickets were provided for JJ bus, a VIP bus that had air conditioning.
Downtown Yangon is easily walkable and seeing the old colonial architecture is a fun and free thing to do. Shwedagon pagoda is best visited via taxi (as it can be quite a distance to walk if you’re staying in downtown) and admission is 9000 kyat. Make sure you have long pants or a skirt or you can buy a longyi for 5000 kyat. For women, you also have to wear a top with sleeves, you can borrow a shirt for 3000 kyat if you don’t have one. It’s best to visit Shwedagon pagoda in the evening when the marble tiles don’t scorch your feet! If you do visit earlier and want to return for the sunset view, you can return later as long as you keep your ticket and sticker. The colours of sunset for the pagoda is beautiful and a surreal experience… you’ll feel like you’re in an alternate world! For me, I felt like I was in Disneyland.
Staying in Chinatown made it easy to get around. Hotel Grand United on 21st street, although it was around $50USD a night, it included breakfast (with delicious mohinga, a Burmese catfish broth soup with rice vermicelli) and the view from the rooftop patio was great, reminiscent of a rooftop view of the Eiffel Tower, except you see the Shwedagon pagoda. In the evening, 19th street is considered the place to be for street food galore. Just make sure you can stomach it before you try it!
Every tourist has to pay 25,000 Kyat ($20USD) as an Archeological fee and this is usually collected when you arrive into Bagan by flight. You have to carry the card with you and you may be asked to show it when you are exploring Bagan.
A great place to eat (and has very fast wifi compared to all the other places in Bagan) is called Weather Spoon on the main ‘restaurant road’. The food is good and reasonably priced, pad thai was 2900 kyat ($2.40USD). Apparently it has the best burger in Asia (it looked amazing) but we didn’t try it.
E-bikes (which go up to 30km/h) are a great way to explore Old Bagan. If you’re staying in Nyaung U (where most of the cheaper accommodation is) it takes about 15 minutes to Old Bagan by E-bike. They can be rented for around 5000 kyat ($4USD)/day. The pagodas are amazing, they are over 900 years old and very well preserved. Some were damaged in the 1975 earthquake in Bagan but most have been untouched and undamaged.
Zfreeti Hotel in Nyaung U is usually around $70 USD/night but during the low season it is under $40USD/night. There’s a great pool with happy hour drinks and a delicious breakfast included. The rooms were modern and there is room service (fried noodles, croissant sandwiches, French fries, and chicken skewers were only $10 USD in total).
Sunset views of Old Bagan are best seen from a few viewing spots, Shwesandaw Pagoda and Shwegugyi Paya. If you’re visiting during high (and dry) season (December to February) it may be a great opportunity to view Old Bagan from a hot air balloon.
Inle Lake was by far our favourite destination in Myanmar so far. It’s not as hot an humid as Yangon or Bagan and there’s a real ‘chill’ vibe in Inle Lake. Also the most amount of tourists we have seen so far in Myanmar were at Inle Lake. The lake is a bit discoloured and off-putting, and probably very polluted as a little splash of that water on my hand resulted in a bad rash!
Just like Bagan, tourists have to pay a fee of 12,500 Kyat (approximately $10USD) to be in the Inle Zone area. This fee likely goes to the government. The taxi ride usually costs 20,000 to 25,000 kyat from the airport in Heho to the Inle Lake area. The taxi ride is about one hour long. If you are able to find others to share the ride with you will be able to reduce the price substantially.
There is a lot to do in the Inle Lake area including renting a bicycle to visit the Khaung Daing hot springs (a 45 minute bicycle ride through picturesque farms and villages) or the Red Mountain winery. Renting a bicycle is the easiest to get around and costs 2000 kyat for the day. Locals will likely come up to you and try and sell you a boat ride for 15,000 to 18,000 kyat ($13-15 USD) for the day. You get your own private boat to explore Inle Lake with and it is definitely a ‘must see’ if you’re heading to Inle Lake. If you don’t mind sharing with others you can split the cost of the boat. There’s also cooking classes (15,000 kyat for a cooking class and it includes lunch or dinner).
If you’re into trekking, doing a two day hike from Kalaw into Inle Lake is also a great way to experience Myanmar. Given that we visited during the monsoon season we elected not to have this experience!
Shan noodles (a delicious soup noodle) were only 1500 kyat ($1.30 USD) and very hearty and filling. Couple that with a 750mL bottle of Myanmar beer for 2000 kyat ($1.70 USD) and you have yourself a meal.
Myanmar is a beautiful country to visit and the people are gracious, friendly, and just all around wonderful. It is easy to get around Myanmar by flight and also bus. I would definitely recommend a visit to Myanmar if you are heading to South East Asia.
Readers, have you been to Myanmar? Any must see places or must-do activities?