Myanmar Travel Tips – 15 Things to Know Before Visiting Burma
Breathtaking temples, mysterious ruins, virgin beaches, river deltas and exotic culture – Myanmar has it all! Yet, it is one of the least visited countries in South East Asia – which is why it is usually tough for travelers to find sufficient Myanmar Travel Tips prior to their visit.
Myanmar (formally known as Burma) has been somewhat isolated under a military dictatorship until recently but is now undergoing political changes and opening up to tourism. If you’re planning on visiting South East Asia, I urge you to give Myanmar a chance. To help you plan your trip, I am sharing Myanmar travel tips consisting of things I learned before and during my trip.
1) Embassy Visa vs eVisa
An eVisa for Myanmar costs around USD 50, whereas a direct visa application to the Myanmar Embassy will cost you around USD 17-25. Of course, we chose the latter! We applied from New Delhi and had to visit the embassy THREE times because of some confusion. At one point, I also printed a page from their website to show them one particular paragraph. It made me wonder if I would have saved myself many precious hours by applying for an eVisa? Anyway, you can check iVisa for visa requirements, info and more details for obtaining a visa for Myanmar. We did use their service for applying for an eVisa for India (for San) after wasting many painful hours on Indian government’s visa website. Yes, they charged a little fee but we ended up saving our precious time while we were island hopping in the Philippines.
2) Research about the permits
Many areas in Myanmar are restricted to tourism and you need a government permit to enter them. These permits can usually be arranged by a travel agent for an expensive fee. Research well in advance and look for the most updated information because the situation is changing very fast.
3) Book your hotel beforehand
Myanmar has only a limited budget accommodation options that sell out months in advance. We booked the cheapest room we could find in Yangon a month in advance. It was a basic room with a shared toilet for which we paid USD 20. However, we arrived at Ngwe Saung without a booking. The cheapest we found was USD 55 per night for a tent on the beach.
4) Carry crisp US Dollar Bills in various denominations
Legally, it is not possible to buy Myanmar’s currency overseas. Carry USDs since it is the most preferred currency there and is easy to exchange almost everywhere. Make sure you carry clean bills because many people refuse to accept the ones that look slightly old. Higher denomination bills with fetch you a better exchange rate.
5) The Thing About Withdrawing Cash from ATMs
Although there are many ATMs in big cities, they are not very reliable due to power shortages. Carry cash while visiting smaller areas. Moreover, there’s a transaction fee of USD 3-5 per ATM withdrawal on international cards. Make sure you alert your bank beforehand so that your card doesn’t get blocked when you try to withdraw cash in Myanmar. A few high end establishments accept credit cards but get ready to pay a 3-5% transaction fee.
6) Phone and Internet
Do yourself a favor and buy a Telenor SIM card with 3G at the airport. I bought one for MMK 12,000 kyats (Roughly USD 9) that lasted my entire trip without a single recharge. The 3G speed was pretty good and was faster than the WiFi that we experienced in an internet cafe in Yangon.
7) No need to carry a lot of toiletries
Unless you have specific needs, I’d advise you against carrying too many toiletries. Even our most simple hostels provided us with toothbrushes, toothpastes, super clean towels, shampoo, soap, etc. Moreover the supermarkets in Myanmar had most of the common brands such as Nivea and Vaseline at half the prices.
8) Wear shoes that are easy to remove
Myanmar is full of beautiful pagodas that are everywhere – even on beaches! Visit as many as you can because they are lovely. Even if you’re not into temples – you WILL want to visit them to admire their stunning architecture. Wear shoes that are “pagoda ready” and are easy to remove because you will need to enter barefoot.
9) Carry a plastic bag for your shoes
Do what the locals do – bring a few plastic bags in your bag pack to carry your shoes with you when you visit the pagodas. Many pagodas have multiple entries and exits so carrying your shoes with you will save you a lot of time. This is something I had to learn the hard way.
10) Dress Sensibly
Do not wear hot pants, crop tops and sleeveless vests while you’re here. Burmese people don’t show a lot of skin (even on the beach) and it’s a good idea to respect their culture. Moreover, if you wear shorts, you can’t enter the beautiful pagodas. A typical Myanmar local male wears a checkered longyi (similar to lungi in India) with a knot in front paired with a collared shirt. A typical local woman wears a longyi with a side knot (kinda looks like a cute wrap around skirt) that shows a very tiny bit of leg along with a matching blouse. It’s a good idea to buy a longyi – it’s super comfortable to wear!
11) Carry noise canceling headphones and eye masks for overnight buses
We traveled extensively by overnight buses between destinations because Burmese trains don’t have the best reputation. Each time, we were woken up a few times during the night by strong lights and loud music. In one case, our bus conductor had a microphone and LOVED announcing things after every one hour.
12) Carry a torch for blackouts
The first black out that I experienced in Myanmar was just a few minutes after landing at Yangon airport. We heard from people that black outs are common in Myanmar. Carry a torch so that you can move around easily in case there’s one in your hotel.
13) Drink Bottled water and start slow with street food
As with most of the Asian countries, drink bottled water to avoid getting seriously ill. If you love Indian and Thai street food, you’re gonna LOVE the street food in Myanmar. Take it slow and let your stomach prepare itself. My stomach has toughened after years of eating Indian street food but Sandro suffered from an upset stomach after the first night.
14) Get ready to squat in a toilet
If you have traveled to Asia then you probably know the drill. Myanmar is no exception. If you decide to visit villages, you may not find WCs but will have to use traditional toilets where you need to squat to pee in a hole.
15) Respect and learn about the culture
Burmese people are polite and helpful. Please respect their culture and familiarize yourself with the local etiquette. Burmese people hand over things, especially money with right hand with their left hand touching the elbow. I found it to be very respectful and started doing it while I was there. If you have a Buddha head tee shirt, tattoo or jewelry – please hide them when you’re here. Don’t be shocked if you smile at a local and you see a “red smile” flashing back at you. That’s not blood but betel stains since many locals chew betel leaves. Oh, and if they make a loud kissing sound – they are probably calling out someone, not sending you flying kisses.
Have you visited Myanmar already and have a few tips to add? Let me know in the comments section.
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