As Myanmar rapidly grows with new areas opening up from the black zones and massive increases in tourism each year, it’s very hard to keep up to date with information. In this travel guide to Myanmar I will give you up to date travel information, exclusive travel tips, best sites to visit, some of my favorite places that I have eaten and much more.
Please comment at the bottom of this page with any tips that will help fellow travelers out.
I arrived in Myanmar during monsoon season at the end of May 2016 and stayed the full 28 days that was granted to me with my visa. I will admit after landing in Yangon I wasn’t all that impressed . Read all about it here. This was my first visit to Southeast Asia and to say I had culture shock would be quite the understatement. But you know what? This is why I chose to come to Myanmar in the first place. I wanted to be air lifted out of my safety zone and immersed into a completely different culture. Mission completed.
Before arriving I read so many blogs and articles about Myanmar and just about every single one of them said the same thing. “Visit now before it’s too late”, or something along those lines. After visiting I have to agree with them. Visit before it’s too late. Go now before hoards of tourists descend upon Myanmar. Go now before commercialization strikes. The only brand that has really sunk its teeth into Myanmar so far is Coca Cola, apart from that I didn’t really recognize any other brands. There was a KFC in Yangon but only one and I’m sure it wont be too long before McDonalds start to spread their happy meal virus throughout this country.
It was incredible to have the opportunity to visit a country where it seems the 21st century has barely scratched the surface. It truly is a time capsule.
Facts about Myanmar
- Currency: Myanmar Kyat ($1USD = 1,200 kyats) This fluctuates often
- Language: Burmese
- Population: 53.25 million (2016)
- Capital City: Nay Pyi Taw (although it is has changed so many times in its history)
- Area: 676,578 sq km
- Myanmar is known as “The Golden Land,” due to the golden pagodas that scatter the land
- Myanmar gained independence from Britain in 1948
- The main religion in Myanmar is Buddhism
Most of your budget will go towards hotels. There are some budget hotels and hostels but most places I stayed in were around the $20 USD mark. Bear in mind that this was for 2 people sharing and most of the time it had its own bathroom and everywhere has breakfast included. The most I paid was $45 but for this I was staying in a 5 star resort with access to all the facilities. WiFi is provided with no additional charge but I have to warn you it is pretty terrible. Think 90’s dial-up without the noise. It might be faster to send a carrier pigeon than an email at times.
Here are a list of the hotels that I stayed at. I highly recommend each and every one. Click on the links to view the deals and reviews.
Yangon – Shannkalay Hostel – I stayed here three times during my time in Yangon. Nice rooms with air-con and the staff are always very helpful
Bago – Amara Gold Hostel – Doesn’t have the greatest reviews on Agoda for some reason. Never had any issues and had a nice buffet breakfast and your own bathroom. A bargain if you ask me.
Mawlamyine – Cinderella Hotel – This was a stand out hotel. 5 star service at a fraction of the price.
Ye – Starlight Guesthouse – One of my highlights in Myanmar. Apart from running the hotel with his wife, David also teaches English lessons 4 nights a week and will invite you along. If you ask him he will arrange for his students to take you around the area. They get to practice their English and you get a cheap tour. Everyone’s a winner.
Nay Pyi Taw – The Grand Amara – Another luxury hotel for less than $50 with access to all the amenities. They have good food and drink at surprisingly inexpensive prices for a resort. 80Cents for a rum sour. Keep em comin’
Mandalay – Hotel A1 – This hotel is well… A1. Great rooms, great location and the staff will arrange any taxis or tours for you. Free bike rental.
Bagan – Bagan Nova Guesthouse – Nice clean rooms with private bathroom and cheaper than the popular Ostello Bello Hostel just around the corner. If you go to Ostello Bello at certain times throughout the day you get free pasta.
Nyaung Shwe ( Inle Lake) – Mingalar Inn – Everyone at that worked here was so helpful. The standard rooms aren’t much but you can upgrade to a nicer room. They have a swimming pool and you can also hire bikes.
With influences from surrounding nations like China, India and Thailand, you know straight away that Myanmar is going to have some great food on offer. Unlike Thailand and India though, Burmese cuisine focuses less on the chilli side and leans more toward the sweet, sour and salty flavors. One thing I didn’t like though was the excess use of oil which is used to preserve the food.
Street food will cost you anything between 300 – 1000 Kyat.
Eating in beer stations and tea houses prices usually start at 1500 – 3000 kyat.
A meal at a nicer restaurant 4000 Kyat upwards.
Western food can be anything from 5000 Kyat for burger and fries to 10000 Kyat for a pizza.
Every now and again you just need a pizza right?
Here are some of my favorite food from each place I visited.
If you are looking for your first taste of Myanmar cuisine then you need to pay a visit to the Feel Myanmar restaurant. Your table will be filled with more food than is even possible to consume and they have some delicious curries.
Alternatively if you are looking for a “Western fix” make your way to 50th street bar. They have some great pizzas on offer. Every now and then you just need a pizza.
Mingalabar Myanmar restaurant serves up some seriously delicious, authentic, Burmese cuisine at a reasonable price.
Aung Linn chinese restaurant that will have you wanting to go back for more. It wasn’t until after I had been that I read they do some very tasty deserts
Down an alley way across from Marie Min lies the Rainforest restaurant. There was a good vibe to this restaurant and I loved the decor of old antiques. They serve freshly made Thai food which makes for a nice change to Myanmar cuisine.
For me the best meal I had in Myanmar was in Inle Lake. A small family run restaurant called Everest, it had some of the best Indian food I have ever tasted. Make sure you don’t miss out on this one.
All the way down in Dawei there is a curry shop that has some of the best curries I have tried in Myanmar. It is called Tha Hto (Daw Zan). It’s pretty famous with the locals and they will easily direct you to it.
Believe it or not Myanmar has some great beers. The most popular being called Myanmar has actually won quite a few awards worldwide. My Favorite was Dagon beer, and at 8% it is pretty strong stuff. For a 750ml bottle out of the shop expect to pay 1500 Kyat and at a bar they usually start at 2500 Kyat.
If you have time pay a visit to the vineyard close to Inle Lake and enjoy a wine tasting with some beautiful views of the Lake and surrounding areas. I have to warn you though the wine is not as good as the views.
Okay so I knew I was going to have to pay certain fees when I came to Myanmar but it still really annoyed me. They call it an “archaeological fee” which lets be honest probably goes straight in to the governments pockets. I found that in certain places like Bago and Mandalay it probably wasn’t worth paying for, as I thought the sites I didn’t have to pay for were equally as impressive if not better. Each year it seems that they are increasing the fees. I was expecting to pay 15000 Kyat for entering Bagan but when we got there the prices had been hiked up to 25000 Kyat. Quite the difference. Like I said, I knew I needed to pay and if I was so opposed to it I didn’t have to visit.
- Shwedagon Pagoda – 8000 Kyat
- Bago – 10000 Kyat
- Golden Rock – 6000 Kyat
- Mandalay – 10000 Kyat
- Inle Lake – 15000 Kyat
- Bagan – 25000 Kyat
I will say at first that I had a tough time with travel situation but mainly in the southern regions where it’s a little more off the beaten track. Read about it here. When you go North if you get the chance take JJ buses. They are brand new, still in the wrapper, luxurious coaches. I have honestly never been on a better bus.
The best way to find out information is to ask at your hotel. They will have knowledge of times, costs etc. Bus stations always seem to be located quite far out-of-town, atleast in the bigger cities, so a taxi will be needed to get there as well.
Bus tickets have ranged from 10000 – 20000 Kyat. When you are buying a ticket say from Yangon to Taungoo, you have to pay the full fare to Inle Lake. I know it doesn’t make much sense, it’s really annoying and can add more expense but that’s the way they work it here.
Trains are cheap but slow and unreliable. But I think it should be a rite of passage for anyone travelling in Myanmar. Go on one just for the experience.
The Ayerwaddy boat ride from Mandalay to Bagan was one of the highlights of my time in Myanmar. Seeing all the villages up and down the river that rely on the boats for trade with each other was certainly great to see. In monsoon season there are only two boats per week, Wednesday and Sunday and takes about 13 hours. 25000 Kyat from the hotels but probably be able to get them cheaper from the jetty.
Taxis from the airport and Bus terminal in Yangon and Mandalay should only cost around 8000 – 10000 Kyat. Shorter journeys can be anywhere between 2500 – 5000 Kyat. The taxi drivers seem to have a take it or leave it attitude so there is not too much room for negotiation.
It is possible to hire a tuk tuk for the day in many places. This obviously depends on the city but in Bago, between 4 people in cost 20000 Kyat. It was more expensive in mandalay. The hotels were advertising at 45000 Kyat. We managed to get 2 motorbike taxis to take us around the Mandalay area for 25000 Kyat for the full day (8am – 6.30pm)
Atm’s a couple years ago seemed to a little bit of an issue but now they are everywhere. They are even conveniently place inside temples just in case you don’t have any money for donations… It may still a good idea to bring Dollars as some of the hotels give their rates in USD and often charge a higher exchange rate if converting to Kyat. If you do bring Dollars make sure they are pristine. No marks, no creases, nothing. They scrutinize every note so this is something to keep in mind if you do bring cash with you. Higher denomination notes also get a higher exchange rate.
Everyone visiting Myanmar will require a visa and have at least 6 months left on their passport. Its is very simple to get one online from here and will cost you $50. Entry is only allowed at Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw, and Mandalay International Airports and must be the same entry point as stated on your E-Visa. Also, I didn’t have an onward flight booked and was not allowed to board my flight from Kuala Lumpur until I booked a flight.
Border crossings are becoming more regular but I’m not sure of the ins and outs.
Where to Visit?
Everyone coming to Myanmar will have heard of Inle Lake or about the thousands of temples in Bagan just waiting for you to explore. Don’t get me wrong seeing the temples at Bagan was truly a “WOW” moment for me and it is somewhere that you shouldn’t miss. But for me the best experiences that I had, was getting off the beaten track. I traveled all the way down to Dawei, stopping off at a few towns along the way and don’t think I saw 1 tourist for the entire time I spent down in that region. If you want to experience the real Myanmar, get off the tourist circuit.
Most notable places to visit in Myanmar:
–Bago and the Golden Rock
When to go?
March to May – Extremely hot
May to October – Wet season but tends to be cooler. Yes it rains but not all the time. End of May was an ideal time to visit. Very quiet so hotels were a little cheaper than usual.
November to February – Temperature will be cooler but as it is high season there will be a lot of tourists.
-Fill out your visa online and print it out to show at the airport.
-Have a basic itinerary planned out of your destinations.
-Bring brand new, crisp and unmarked $US bills.
-Let your bank know that you are travelling here to avoid you cards being blocked.
-Bring copies of your passport and write down your visa number because all hostels will ask you for it.
-Check Sky Scanner for cheapest flights. Air Asia are usually the cheapest.
Myanmar truly is an amazing place to visit and if you can try to go as soon as possible before it is ruined and some of the magic is lost.
Thank you for reading. I hope that you have found this guide useful. Contact me at Bryan@Bonvoyagebryan.com if you have any questions or if you would like some help to plan an itinerary for you trip to Myanmar. Leave a comment and share some of your tips and best experiences from Myanmar.
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