Things I wish I had known before visiting Myanmar

Myanmar was somehow really different from the other destinations that we visited along Southeast Asia. Not only the prices were different but also the Burmese locals behaved quite different towards us. All the time smiling kids were approaching us, waving and trying to speak to us, but even the adults seem to enjoy seeing us walking around their country. Every other day we got asked to be part of selfies, pictures and even videos with locals.

Myanmar Facts

  • Also called Burma
  • The country was renamed in 1989
  • Independent from the UK since January 1948
  • Ruled by a president since 2011
  • Telephone area code +95

Best travel time to Myanmar

Myanmar’s year is divided into three main seasons.

Best travel time in Myanmar

Middle of October – February

Hot season in Myanmar

March – May

Raining season in Myanmar

June – September

Holidays in Myanmar

04.01. Independence Day
12.02. Union Day
February Maha Shivatatri
March Day of the Farmers
April Water Festival
April Kayin New Year
01.05. Labor Day
August Raksha Bandhan
August/September Jamashtami
September/October Navaratri
September/October Dussehra
25.12. Christmas

Important Words

Mingalabar – Hello
Tat tar (say Da da) – Goodbye
Jay zu tin bar deh – Thank you very much

Money

Dawei I Myanmar I Beach I Sun I Beach life I Burma I vickiviaja
Finally reached the beach. Happy me!

Currency

The currency used in Myanmar is the Kyat (spoken Tshad). One Euro equals 1.609 Kyat and one US-Dollar 1.365 Kyat. (November 2017)

Withdrawing money in Myanmar

In every place that we visited there were ATMs to withdraw money. However, some ATMs don’t work with foreign Credit Cards. If this is the case, you probably have to try another one.

Most of the banks charge a fee for withdrawing money from a foreign credit card.

Prices

The prices differ a lot from the neighbor countries. For instance, food is usually much more affordable in Myanmar than, e.g. in Thailand, but the prices for accommodation are usually much higher in Myanmar.  (In Myanmar we experienced the most expensive prices for accommodation in our whole South East Asia trip)

Tipping

monk I Yangon I Shwegadon I Pagoda I Myanmar I vickiviaja
Monk in Yangon

In general, tips are not expected in Myanmar. But if you experience extraordinary service there shouldn’t be a reason not to leave any. It even happened to us one time that our tip was refused from one street food cook.

Myanmar Budget and Saving money

If you want to know more about your estimated travel cost and how you can save a lot of money while traveling Myanmar, check my Myanmar Budget Post here.

Food

food Myanmar I traditional I Burmese dishes I Southeast Asia I vickiviaja
Finally something else than fried rice: Burmese curry (Unfortunately served more or less cold that time)

The food in Myanmar is absolutely affordable for Westerners. (Most of the time less than 1 Euro per dish) Obviously, that is not always the case if you are eating in a touristic area.

The food hygiene can be quite poor compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. If you have a sensitive stomach, maybe you shouldn’t start with street food from your first day in Myanmar but rather slowly get used to it.

(We actually didn’t really have a problem with that, but we have been traveling around Southeast Asia already for two months before arriving in Myanmar)

In the less touristic parts, it sometimes can get kinda difficult finding restaurants with freshly cooked food. The dishes often get cooked early in the morning and lay on display all day long. Therefore, when you buy it it is neither fresh nor warm anymore. If you feel like warm and fresh food, you most likely have to stick with either tourist restaurants or street food.

In order to make sure that the food stays fresh during a long time on display, it often gets fried a long time in boiling oil. That causes the oiliness of many Burmese dishes.

It can be kind of tricky actually to find some change within Burmese cuisine as fried rice/ fried noodles are most probably on your plate at least once a day. 

In many accommodations, the breakfast is included in the price and guess what is mostly served… That’s right… Fried noodles!

In theory, Burmese food is really good, but after traveling in Southeast Asia already for about 3 months beforehand, we grew tired of it super fast.
We ate much more in tourist areas (mostly my favorite tomato soup) as we were looking for some change on our plates.

Nevertheless, there is one dish that I can totally recommend you: The tea leaf salad. This is like the main dish of Myanmar and is super delicious. The best about it is the combination of soft tea leaves and crunchy ingredients.

By the way: If you order a juice in Myanmar, always say that you want it without milk powder, sweetened condensed milk and sugar. Otherwise, it will be extremely sweet and you won’t taste any of the fruit anymore.

Visa

Waterfall I Pyin Oo Lwin I Myanmar I Burma I Burma I vickiviaja
Waterfall in Pyin Oo Lwin

For entering Myanmar, European and US-citizens are obligated to have a visa. Therefore, you should check on time before your travel and where to get your tourist visa nearest to your place. We applied for our visa while being on the road in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We could choose between the normal visa (1600 Baht/ ca. 41€/ ca. $50) and the express visa (2400 Baht/ ca. 62€/ $73,50) You should bring a recent passport picture for your visa application. In Chiang Mai, we paid 120 Baht (ca. 3€ /ca. $3,70) for 4 pictures. (It was weird how they use different filters than we use in Europe – my hair looked almost black on it and my face was super pale)

Your booking confirmation of your first night in Myanmar, such as your transportation to your first destination should be attached to your visa application as a printed copy.

However, there is also the option to get a visa on arrival, but it is more pricey than applying for a visa beforehand.

Author’s note: Please note that information can change at any time. Please make sure that information is correct by contacting an official source before your trip or applying for your visa. This post is just for general information and I can’t guarantee or be made responsible for any changes or exceptions.

Security

Train I Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw I Myanmar I Burma I vickiviaja
Train from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw

Basically, you can travel to Myanmar without further security concerns.

General security

I felt save in Myanmar during our whole stay. The fightings and riots are taking place in an area which is inaccesible for tourists. Inside of the country, most probably you won’t realize of anything that is going on there recently. Anyway, you should always be wary and keep an eye on the development of the conflicts.

Myanmar is full of street dogs. Usually, they don’t do anything, but still, you should try to avoid getting near or petting them.

Pickpockets and scams

We didn’t find any scams during our time in Burma. Nevertheless, you should always be careful as in every other country around this area and better check twice before trusting someone and keep an eye on your belongings. If you are not sure whether prices are accurate, make sure to check online or ask in your accommodation.  If you are being approached, especially around tourist sights (e.g. temples in Bagan), don’t just walk with them. Also keep in mind that when locals giving you tours around a sight without you asking them for it, they will either ask you for money afterwards or expect you to buy any of their products.

Taxis and Tuk-Tuks

As in any other country around Southeast Asia taking a taxi or tuk-tuk requires some vigilance. You should make sure to compare prices and don’t believe everything the driver might tell you. 99% of times the temple that you are going to see is not closed and the “great tour you can do with just this one driver” is probably an overpriced scam. Even though the driver might seem super trustworthy and nice.

Infrastructure

Hpa An I Temple I Myanmar I Birma I Burma I vickiviaja
Temple in Hpa An

To be honest, the roads around Myanmar are usually not high-quality ones. Often it is more comfortable to take the big busses when traveling long distance. (In Myanmar most routes are actually long distance) Especially, in the South of the country, that just recently got opened for tourism, the rides can be extremely shaky. If you tend to get motion sick, better make sure to bring gum or take some pills 30 minutes prior to your trip. 

If you want to rent a motorcycle or scooter, please keep some things in mind.
In Myanmar they have right-hand-traffic. Anyway, it can be quite confusing because the steering wheel in the car is located on the right side as well. I think that is pretty unique in the world, isn’t it? (But if you know any other country that does that, please let me know in the comments below)

Myanmar I Burma I Car ride I Ride hand side traffic I vickiviaja

As a foreigner in Myanmar, you are not permitted to drive a car yourself.

The roads inside of the cities are not only most of the time of a bad quality, but also totally dirty and full of garbage. Everywhere you will find red spots on the ground. Those are caused by the infamous betel nuts, which are really popular with men in Myanmar. They chew them (It’s a kind of chewing tobacco) and then just spit them on the street. Not a nice thing to look at, to be honest. Moreover, it dyes the teeth in a red-brownish shade.

The waste disposal in Myanmar doesn’t reach Western Standard by far and therefore, you will find waste everywhere. It is such a pity for a country of such gorgeous nature.

Night buses

Thanaka I Make-up I Myanmar I Birma I vickiviaja
Traditional make-up in Myanmar: Thanaka

To get from one place to another around Myanmar can sometimes actually be kind of a struggle. Especially, if you don’t follow the typical tourist routes. For some routes, you probably have to take a (shared) taxi. (e.g. from the Mae Sot/Myawaddy border to Hpa An)

However, taxi rides around Myanmar are absolutely affordable for Westerners. If there is a bus available, it is usually best to take a bus. It is worth it to take a night bus as you save some money for accommodation and you can sleep during your ride.

Make sure to bring some long clothes and a jacket as it can get extremely cold during the rides as the AC is usually put super strong. In many buses, they will offer you blankets though. (But they are not always enough if you get as easily cold as me)

Our nicest ride was the VIP Bus from Yangon to Bagan. (the few extra Dollar were totally worth it!) We even had a little board computer on every seat allowing us to watch movies and play games during our ride.
Our worst one was the 14 hours ride from Hsipaw to Inle Lake. The AC was extremely strong blowing cold air into my face during the whole ride. The next days I had to spend in bed with a tonsillitis and fever, which forced us to stay in Inle Lake much longer than planned. (Well, Eduardo got sick too, so at least I didn’t have to feel guilty 😉 )

However, there is a big drawback of taking night buses in Myanmar. Usually, you arrive at your destination already between 03-05 am. You already guessed it, that means waiting. But yes, what can you do at 03 am besides walking around in the dark?

If you are lucky, your accommodation lets you check-in already early in the morning. In our accommodation in Dawei we could directly check in upon arrival at 03 am without paying extra. In order to enjoy this benefit of checking in early, it’s necessary to book your accommodation beforehand. Find the best accommodation deals for Myanmar with booking.com here.

Saving money in Myanmar & Calculating your Myanmar Budget

If you want to know more about the expenses we had in Myanmar and many tricks of how to save a lot of money while traveling in Myanmar, check out my Myanmar Budget Guide here.

Dress Code in Myanmar

Myanmar dresscode I How to dress in Myanmar I Burma I Thanaka I Longyi I vickiviaja
With traditional Burmese skirt (Longyi) and Thanaka

Myanmar is full of the most beautiful temples. If you want to explore those temples, please be respectful and dress accordingly. So make sure to always have something with you to wear inside of the temple grounds that covers your knees and shoulders.

Men and woman usually wear a traditional wrap skirt which is called Longyi. They are super practical also for tourists when visiting temples.

Also, note that you have to take your shoes and socks off before entering a temple in Myanmar and walk barefoot through the temple grounds. Take care, as the floor can often be slippery during rain and is usually covered pigeon poop.

Another popular thing for locals (mostly women and children) is the Thanaka. Thanaka is a kind of traditional makeup, which is made from ground bark. It is not only used for beauty purposes but also it prevents sunburns.

Doing your laundry in Myanmar

Who has traveled through Southeast Asia before knows, washing your laundry or getting it done for you, usually is pretty cheap. But not in Myanmar! Expect to pay more than double than in its neighbour countries. So, better bring some soap and wash by hand. That can save you a lot of money if you are traveling Myanmar on a budget.

Already packed your bags?

Learn about everything that you have to bring to your trip to Myanmar with my ultimate Packing List for females (+free printable).

Internet and Sim Card in Myanmar

Expect the wifi-connection of your hotel to be gone at least once a day (mostly, everytime you wanna use it – Thanks, Murphey 😉 ) And if it works, often it is super slow nevertheless.

You can buy an affordable sim-card with mobile internet. It works better than the wifi but still not always. (We chose Ooredoo, but there are other companies of the same quality as well)

 

Reading Tip: Sunrise versus sunset in Bagan.

Ethical doubts about a trip to Myanmar?

Child I Myanmar I Burma I lake I blackandwhite I vickiviaja
Child in Bagan

Currently, there are brutal attacks against the Rohingya taking place in Myanmar. (The attacks are basically happening since quite a time, but reaching another peak lately) The Rohingya people are a mostly Muslim minority living in Rhakine state in Myanmar. Since 25th August around 624.000 of them had to flee to Bangladesh. (02.11.2017)

Many tourists lately boycott visiting Myanmar because of those happenings.
The peak of these expulsions happened around August/September 2017, right when we traveled through the country. Anyway, inside of the country, no one was talking about what was happening, nor did the news show anything. And I have to be honest that we didn’t do our homework getting information before entering the country of what was actually going on. Therefore, we just got the news through German and Spanish Media while already staying inside of the country.

However, we tried to not support the government in any way. We bought stuff in small private shops, ate in little restaurants or street food stalls and didn’t take any official taxis. Nevertheless, there was something that we didn’t know, with every night spent in an accommodation, a tourism tax goes straight to the government supporting directly or indirectly the fightings against the Rohingya.

In the end, if you are willing to go and visit Myanmar anyway, is completely up to you. And for everyone that is judging, please keep in mind that Myanmar is nevertheless a country of extraordinary beauty with a unique culture and a lot of people depending on the money that the tourism provides. 

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About me

Vicki

Hi, my name is Vicki. Here you can accompany my boyfriend Eduardo and me on our way through different countries of this world. Let's travel together!

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Interested in Myanmar?

6 thoughts on Things I wish I had known before visiting Myanmar

  1. Even if Myanmar has been on my places to visit, I visited the country without loading myself the much needed information. I know, I know! It was just that I was at the point of getting a bit exhausted from all the planning and moving etc (plus, my boyfriend loves Myanmar and somehow I depended on him knowing it by heart). Reading this post made me reflect on the things I learned about the country as we were traversing the cities and towns here and there. This post is so informative and yet, gives so much character to the country itself. And about your actions/comment/thoughts regarding Rohingya, it is a truly complicated situation for the visitors, much more to the locals. With everything considered, even before the situation escalated, Myanmar has always been controlled–even after they opened their doors to foreigners. It is such a sad and unfortunate reality especially to those that are affected by it. But even so, I too wouldn’t encourage to boycott Myanmar. It has so much to offer and there are so many locals spread across the country who also needs to have their stories and voices heard in various forms. And sometimes, it is through our eyes and voices that they get to tell them. And much more, give and get inspiration from. Great post amd thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. This was a really useful article, Vicki! Thank you! Visited Myanmar some months ago and would’ve been good to know some of this information beforehand.

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