When we saw the beautiful pictures of Bagan temples, we instantly knew that we needed to visit Myanmar. The country is emerging from decades of isolation, so it gives you a unique opportunity to experience its charm before the mass tourism kicks in. And it’s quite a sight.
Most men and women still wear traditional sarong-like garments and many apply thanaka paste to their faces (mainly women and children). Men chew betel nut, spitting the blood-red juice onto
Contrary to the other Asian countries we visited, there is a general feeling of ease in the Burmese air. The locals seem to be relaxed even as they cross the streets in complete disregard for
So here are a few things we wish we knew about before going to Myanmar…
1. Say Cheese
Myanmar still doesn’t get to see too many tourists, so you will stand out in the crowd and attract attention from the locals. People will look at you with curiosity and you’re gonna have to pose for
Even though these situations can be a bit awkward at times, all the locals we came across were super friendly and engaging even though they often didn’t speak a word of English.
2. Keep Your Mosquito Repellent Close at All Times
The presence of mosquitoes in Southeast Asia is a given but the Burmese kind are on a whole other level. We were in Myanmar during the dry season and still, it was mosquito central EVERYWHERE we went. Outdoors and indoors. From the airport to buses, cars, hotel rooms, restaurants… there are literally no exceptions and you will definitely encounter them en masse.
The good news is that if you forget to stock up on the repellent before arriving in Myanmar, the local pharmacies will have you covered with our favorite brand (OFF! Bug Repellent).
3. Burmese English Might Be Difficult to Understand
The local English accent can be quite tough to understand — even within the tourism industry. On occasion, we even had problems communicating with our hotels’ receptionists.
The key is to keep on smiling and simplify your sentences as much as you can. It’s also a good idea to have pictures that can help the locals understand what you’re going on about.
Robin actually changed his phone wallpaper to an image of coriander (that he hates dearly) to make sure it doesn’t end up in his food. 🤣
That being said, every now and then somebody will surprise you by speaking perfectly polished English, so don’t give up. It happened to us a few times that particularly older people were approaching us – with their almost perfect English – wanting to welcome us to their country and have
4. Getting Around Myanmar Is Tricky
The country is huge. Domestic flights are an option, but they are relatively expensive (around
Depending on your route, you usually do have quite a few transport options to choose from — buses, minibuses, long-distance private or shared taxis, and sometimes even trains or ferries. Of course, there are pros and cons to all of them. We found this aspect of our Burmese adventure the most frustrating, so to save you a headache, we included an extensive domestic transport overview in our First Timer’s Guide to Visiting Myanmar.
Book your transfers in advance as most companies stop the online sales 2-3 days before
5. Get Your Cash Ready
Entrance to major tourists sites will cost you. And some of them are not cheap at all. Here’s the quick overview of the main entrance fees we paid in March 2019, and know that all these require cash.
- Shwedagon Pagoda –
10,000 MMK (6.60 USD) per person
- Mahamuni Pagoda –
2,500 MMK(1.70 USD) per person
- Bagan Archeologial Zone –
25,000 MMK(16.50 USD) per person
- Mingun Zone –
5,000 MMK(3.30 USD) per person
- Inle Lake Zone –
15,000 MMK (10 USD)per person
The entrance fees are sometimes branded as camera fees. You will need to pay those if you intend to take photos. After getting a special sticker, you can click that shutter to your heart’s content.
Another thing that might cost you, if your outfit is deemed inappropriate to visit a temple or pagoda, is renting the longyi/htamein. Some places will only requite a donation or deposit which will be returned to you as you return the garment.
Need Some Cash? Find a Temple!
Making a donation to a temple has never been easier than it is in Myanmar. We found it quite amusing that all the big pagodas we visited had ATMs on the premises. How convenient!
6. Those Lazy-Hazy March Days
Turns out, March is not the ideal month to visit Myanmar. The air is really hazy which doesn’t make for the best visibility. It does, however, allow you to witness the most unique sunrises and sunsets. The sun turns into a giant ball of the perfect shades of oranges and reds which makes the whole show truly special.
Most of the Bagan pagodas can be accessed via dirt road so if you plan on cruising the plains on
7. Bagan’s Postcard Mafia Is Real
Numerous times, we were approached by kids trying to sell us postcards and their drawings in front of the temples. Not only the big ones but also those more remote ones where there was not
Heart-breaking at first, we realized quickly that this is a larger-scale operation. All the children said
- Very cheap, just
1,000 MMK(or sometimes 1 USD).
- If “handmade”, they will throw in the words “Pablo Picasso” to sound cute.
And they are persistent little buggers so a “no, thank you” would not discourage them right away. This seems to be a problem in most of the major tourist sites throughout Asia, so please don’t give in. Every time you support a child like that, somebody else benefits and most probably the kids are kept out of school. This is not cool and strongly discouraged, even if they look at you sadly and try to be cute.
This trend seemed to evolve to different age groups as well. Every time we were approached by
8. You Can End Up in a Hotel Room Without a Window
Well, kind of. In our first hotel in Yangon, there technically was a window but there was also a wall just outside of it. There was absolutely no daylight getting in the room and it didn’t really make for the best first impression of Myanmar.
Examine your hotel thoroughly before you make your booking and don’t be afraid to ask for
So, that’s it!
We enjoyed our Burmese adventure very much! Some places more than others, but overall we were very happy to have seen the country in its early tourism days and are looking forward to coming back in a couple of years to see what has and hasn’t changed.
If you’re researching your trip to Myanmar or you just want to know more about this unique country, check out our other articles:
- The First-Timer’s Guide: What to Know Before Visiting Myanmar
- An Essential Guide to Mandalay
- 13 Things That Might Surprise You in Bagan
See you on the road,