Myanmar (also known as Burma) opened its doors to tourism only in 2012, after decades of troublesome history, human-rights violations and firm suppression by the military junta. Even
This article is a collection of things we learned before and during our visit to
Since it’s quite a big one, here is the table of contents for your convenience. If you have anything to add, or you have a pending question, don’t hesitate to reach out!
Table of Contents
- A Quick History Lesson
- Visa Requirements
- Getting There
- Must-See Places
- Domestic Transport
A Quick History Lesson
Before we start, know that this is a vastly oversimplified version of the past events in Burma/Myanmar. If you want to dive in deeper (worth it!), please see the sources at the end of
It isn’t a surprise that Myanmar has become more popular in recent years. Having opened its doors to tourism only in 2012, it hasn’t been long since we have the option of experiencing this intriguing country first-hand. After declaring independence from the British in 1948, Burmese democracy wasn’t meant to last long. Just 14 years later, a coup brought the country under the control of
The then-Burma had a new constitution enforced in 1974, led by armed forces and held in power for
Widespread corruption and food shortages sparked violent protests, which led to over
In another coup, in 1988, an even more suppressive military junta took over control. The United States and others imposed sanctions on an already suffering country, and in 1989 the military regime changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar, and the then-capital from Rangoon to Yangon. Some countries use the original names until today (e.g. United Kingdom).
Fast forward to 2007. The military government unexpectedly stopped subsidizing fuel, drastically increasing its price. This sparked more widespread protests. At the same time, the Saffron Revolution led by monks was an enormous problem to the government, as it limited the amount of power over people. A year later, in 2008, Cyclone Nargis killed almost 140,000 people and
In the same year of 2008, the military regime held a referendum on a new constitution, that would follow up with multi-party elections in 2010 — the first one in decades. The referendum was said to be widely accepted, but rights groups called the outcome a fraud.
Finally, in a surprise move, the military junta dissolved in 2011 and a civilian government was introduced. Doubts about its integrity were on the rise as it consisted of mostly ex-military personel, leading to fears about a continuous military dominance.
Since then, the country has had democratic elections and has started a (slow) recovery. Some reforms have led to a boost in the Burmese economy. Foreign investment and reestablishing relationships with countries such as the United States (which also reduced the sanctions), and global tourism has brought in much-needed help.
Nevertheless, Myanmar is still — in parts — a deeply troubled and unstable country.
If you are the kind of visitors that like to see things before they are overcrowded by mass-tourism, then this one is for you. But do your research and be a good thoughtful tourist wherever you can.
If you hold a passport from Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand or Vietnam you can enter the country visa-free for 14 days. For a handful of other countries, namely Hong Kong, Japan, Macao, Singapore or South Korea, this extends to a full 30 days.
Visa on Arrival
Passport holders from China and India may obtain a tourist visa on arrival at selected airports for
For most people, getting an eVisa Approval Letter in advance is inevitable. This costs either
We opted for the express version as we suck at planning and thought we could enter visa-free. Within about an hour, the eVisa Approval Letter was ready for download on the website.
Some people reported that they did not get the approval confirmation via email. So don’t freak out, and just occasionally check the website manually instead.
Other than that, just remember to print it out and to keep it on you for the entire duration of the stay in Myanmar. You will need it when entering, and you need it when exiting. In our case, they stamped mine, but did nothing with Diana’s. Just keep it until you leave!
The easiest and most common option seems to be flying into Yangon International Airport, which is also what we opted for. It is well connected with a majority of Asia’s biggest cities so chances are you will be entering the country there.
The airport itself is a pretty standard one. Nothing surprising there. In the arrival hall, there are a few ATMs, a convenience store and a few shops where you can get a local sim card.
As in other countries in the region, the U.S. Dollar is often the preferred currency. Any hotel will quote not only room prices but also all extras in Dollars instead of the official currency, Kyat.
We never had any Dollars on us and instead went all in on Kyat. This turned out to be perfectly acceptable, except for the occasional oddity where they took the base price in Dollars and converted it at a slightly worse exchange rate into Kyat.
As a general rule, at the time of writing this,
Having been through decades isolation, Myanmar seems to be much more conservative than
- Many people wear traditional sarong-like garments. They rarely expose knees or shoulders and you will make everybody way more comfortable if you do the same.
- The locals may be offended by public displays of affection even when it’s only holding hands with your loved ones. Avoid kisses and things of that kind.
- Money is usually handed over and received with the right hand with the left hand supporting the right arm.
- In the typical Buddhist manner, the Burmese feel strongly about the head, considered holy, and
feet,deemed impure. Hence, mind your body language! It’s considered super disrespectful to touch somebody’s head (even kids). Mind your feet when you sit on the ground.Best, tuck them under yourself and — after a few minutes — try to hold up the tearsof discomfort. Having your feet pointing away from your body or at a person or a pagodais a big no-no.
- You should be barefoot at all the pagodas. Even if they are Bagan’s thousand-years-old run-down structures.
- Myanmar Penal Code prescribes up to four years’ imprisonment for “insulting religion” and “hurting religious feelings”. It actually happens that the authorities prosecute foreigners so save yourself a potential headache and be a respectful tourist.
We had a pretty tight schedule in Myanmar, so we will stick to the most recommended places of our research. These are the ones that you will see on Instagram. They’re safe, often gorgeous and have loads of sights and accommodation options.
Naturally, there is a lot more to see, but here are the basics!
Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) is Myanmar’s former capital and largest city. There are many restaurants and bars, shops and all the hustle and bustle you would expect from a big city. It is said that it’s Yangon that most reflects the changes that have occurred since the country’s reopening to
Find some time to visit Yangon Yangon rooftop bar and admire the city from above while sipping
Mandalay is the second-largest city and the last royal capital of Myanmar. It is also the center of Burmese culture.
See the sunrise at U-Bein bridge, enjoy the view of Sagaing hills studded with white and gold pagodas, take a boat ride to Mingun village. Check out the world’s largest book at the Kuthodaw Pagoda or, together with numerous pilgrims, admire the Mahamuni Buddha image.
Mandalay is also the home of the best Burmese food we tried. The Mingalabar restaurant is
For more details, check out our article: An Essential Guide to Mandalay
Bagan is home to over 2,200 Buddhist temples and pagodas. It is the country’s main tourist attraction and has some of the most magical sunsets an sunrises we have ever experienced.
While Bagan didn’t blow our minds, we truly enjoyed renting e-bikes for the day and cruising around so-so-so-so many temples. Some without a soul in sight except for us. This allowed us to make
For more insights, check out our article 13 Things That Might Surprise You in Bagan
Inle Lake is quite a unique water world surrounded by mountains. The fishermen row their boats with one leg, they use weeds to build floating gardens and live in stilt houses right on the lake.
Make sure you go for a sunrise cruise around the lake, visit the Shwe Inn Dein Pagoda surrounded by hundreds of smaller stupas and bike through the surrounding countryside. During your time in
We heard a lot of amazing things about Hpa-An’s limestone mountains, caves
The country is huge and getting around it can be quite challenging and time-consuming.
We planned most of our transfers via 12GO Asia as they seem to include the largest number of options and have useful tips. Note, however, that most connections are only available through their page until 2-3 days before the departure date. Hence, it’s best to fix your travel plans in advance.
Depending on your route, you usually do have quite a few ways to choose from:
The good news is that most tourist destinations are connected via domestic flights. These, however, can be quite pricy (min
We opted against flying as we were traveling with a drone and wanted to avoid potential problems with security/customs related to that.
Buses are arguably your best option but they take time (Yangon to Bagan was 10h ride and Inle Lake to Yangon – 12h).
Both times we took the bus, we opted for JJ Express VIP/first class (2+1). It was fairly priced
There was no toilet on the bus but there were stops every 3-4hours. On one of these occasions, they actually forced everybody out of the bus for a mandatory half-an -hour-long dinner break. Other than that it was quite a smooth (although quite bumpy) sailing.
▪ Bring earplugs/noise-canceling headphones – with the crew doing their thing, it can get quite noisy particularly in the front of the bus.
▪ Bring lots of layers to avoid freezing – the night can be really chilly and the aircondition is set to maximum.
▪ Roads are bumpy – VERY bumpy – so take some anti-motion sickness meds if you have
According to our experience, they are the cheapest but not the most comfortable option. We paid approx.
That being said, the minibuses are usually full. They pick up people along the way and extra seats are arranged in the aisle. Chances are you will be squeezed in there like a sardine without any wiggle space for hours.
Buy more than one seat if you want to be a little more comfortable.
Don’t. Just don’t do it!
We chose this option for a transfer from Mandalay to Inle Lake as the night bus was reaching
They can be really expensive. And the price seems to increase all the time (we suspect the same can be said about the whole tourist industry in Myanmar).
Just to give you an idea, we read online that a drive from Bagan to Mandalay should cost us
Trains and Ferries
We heard that trains are an absolute nightmare so we stayed away from them.
Ferries are also an option for some routes (like Bagan to Mandalay) but they are not the fastest. Additionally, during the dry season, they are said to take much longer than originally scheduled as it’s not uncommon for the boat to get suck in the shallow waters.
The Uber of Southeast Asia and the saviour of our souls.
Available in all areas of high population density. We used it loads in Yangon and Mandalay. It’s really cheap, too! When in Mandalay, make sure to check out their Tuk Tuks which they call ThoneBane for whatever reason. We paid somewhat between
The general tip would be to avoid normal Taxis unless you know exactly what to pay and you’re willing to negotiate. The only time we ever took one was when we were stuck in Yangon and Grab would constantly say that all their drivers were busy. We offered the same price as Grab offered us and they accepted — but this was an exception.
You will be approached by taxi drivers any time you get off of a bus, or if you’re standing outside of
Renting a car or a motorbike
We read online that tourists are generally not allowed to rent a car without a driver in Myanmar. You also can’t rent motorbikes outside the big cities. Although, we didn’t try to go for any of those, at least one person told us they had no problems renting a scooter in Inle Lake (which technically shouldn’t be possible). Therefore, the situation seems to be a bit fluid so if you’re interested in
One thing we would like to point out that in the area we ventured into, safety was never an issue. In fact, we always felt extremely safe. It’s a bit weird early on to be starred at all the time, but this seems to be driven by pure curiosity. Particularly, if you’re tall and/or blond. Tourists are still not super common in many parts of Myanmar, but we never felt unsafe in the slightest.
However, and we wouldn’t be comfortable writing this article without mentioning it, there are real and active armed conflicts in some parts of the country that are very unsafe and strongly discouraged by major governments around the world.
We encourage you to check what your government recommends and following their advice if possible.
- UK — Travel Advice for Burma
- United States — Travel Advisory
- Germany — Travel & Security Notices (German)
- Poland — Country Overview (Polish)
As previously mentioned, we really enjoyed Myanmar and look forward to going back in
If you still want to know more about Myanmar, check out our other articles:
- 8 Things They Don’t Tell You About Myanmar
- An Essential Guide to Mandalay
- 13 Things That Might Surprise You in Bagan
See you on the road,