Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar has been a tourist destination for less than a decade and is experiencing a new tourist boom. Still considered to be off the beaten track it is a magnificent destination in Southeast Asia. There are stunning temples, incredible trekking opportunities, friendly people and a rich cultural heritage. Be sure to add this relatively unexplored country to your itinerary for SE Asia.
Accomodation will be your biggest expense while visiting Myanmar, as everything else is reasonably cheap. Accomodation is pricey because as a new tourist economy there are not as many ammenities as other SE Asia countries, and thus less competition. For a dorm room you’ll be looking at pay 13,000 MMK a night, that normally comes with breakfast and Wifi is fairly good across the country. For a double room expect to pay 25,000 – 35,000 MMK a night depending on the quality of the hotel. The biggest and best chain of hostels is Ostello Bello, who have 3 locations in popular backpacker towns.
Money Saving Tips
Myanmar is one of the most affordable and budget friendly countries to visit in Southeast Asia. Aside from accomodation, you’ll be hard pushed to find reasons to spend money. Recommendations for saving money and stretching your budget include: taking the non-VIP option on buses to save a third on bus transport, and eating street food or where the locals are eating. Spend most of your time trekking and staying with the locals, finding affordable treks is easy and will save you a lot of expense on accommodation and meals as everything is included in the paid price.
The bus system is excellent throughout Myanmar, most of the buses are brand new supplied by the Chinese, so they are comfortable and often come with snacks, drinks and personal TV screens. Expect to pay about 2,000 MMK per hour you travel. From Yangon to Bagan will take about 9 hours overnight and the cost ranges from 12,000 – 18,000 MMK depending on whether you take VIP or non VIP. The difference between VIP and non-VIP isn’t huge, so if you are saving money take the cheaper option.
Where To Eat
Myanmar specialties on the global scene are not well known, however the country offers some tasty dishes that are similar to those you will find in other SE Asia countries, but with a local twist. The street food is great and affordable, and most carts offer chairs and seating to eat their treats. Not many of them speak English, so be prepared to point at someone else’s dish and ask for the same. You can get a meal for 1,500 MMK on the street and some street snacks like samosas are 100 MMK each, perfect for bus rides. In a restaurant expect to pay 2,000-4,000 MMK for a local main meal, Western food starts at around 5,000 MMK.
The local beer is Myanmar (named after the country), a bottle in a shop costs around 1,500 MMK, personally I didn’t visit any bars whilst in Myanmar as I wasn’t there for the party scene, and there isn’t a huge party crowd anywhere outside of Yangon!
Best Time To Visit
There are three distinct seasons, hot (March to April), monsoon (May to October) and cool (November to February). We visited during rainy season and by goodness does it rain, the streets in Yangon flood pretty quickly so best to avoid rainy season if you can and head there between November and April.
4G coverage is excellent in Myanmar and recent improvements to infrastructure mean getting a sim card is well worthwhile.
Ooredoo offers the best Internet coverage, a 30 day sim with 6GB of internet costs 10,000 MMK at the airport, although you make be able to find it cheaper.
You will be required to purchase a visa for entry into Myanmar. This is among the expensive visas in SE Asia, for UK citizens it currently costs just over $50 so make sure you make the most of the 30 days!
How much: Di-ha Bao-lai la?
Over 90% of the population identify themselves as Theravada Buddhists, which is the predominant religion, evident in the style of temples around the country.
Burmese & English are the primary languages, although english not commonly spoken by the locals. Burmese is a Sino-Tibetan language with strong Chinese and Tibetan influences.
Standing at 325 feet tall the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is a sight to behold. It’s gilded in solid gold and is the most sacred pagoda in all of Myanmar. Expect there to be a lot of visitors both domestic and international as it’s easy to spend half a day wandering around the site and marvelling at the size of the golden pagoda. Entrance fee is 10,000 MMK.
The second largest city in Myanmar, Mandalay is home to a variety of activities. You can visit the oldest wooden teak bridge in Asia, head out exploring the ancient city of Mincun, wander around the ancient palace or head up Mandalay hill to watch the sunrise or sunset.
The 2nd biggest lake in Myanmar and a beautiful sight to behold. The lake supports the livelihoods of over 70,000 people. Take a boat ride across the lake to see some of the floating villages, visit the local tribes and witness how the locals interact with the lake.
The star of the show in Myanmar, the temples of Bagan are over a thousand years old and 2,200 of them spread out across Old and New Bagan. The sunrises here are beautiful and the iconic photo of hot air balloons rising over the temples is famous all around the world. Make sure to visit between November and April for the hot air balloons as they don’t fly during rainy season. The entrance fee is 25,000 MMK which is valid for 7 days, you could spend 3 or 4 days exploring the temples and climbing to the top of them before being tired of seeing these ancient structures. In our opinion these temples are a hard tie for some of the best in Southeast Asia, comparable to Angkor Wat.
One of the best things to do in Myanmar is trekking, it’s remarkably cheap, well organized and you will find yourself surrounded by incredible scenery. The 3 day 2 night trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake is a must do, it’s 40,000 MMK which works out to less than $9 a day and includes all your food, accommodation and tour guide.
People watch in Yangon
Yangon is a hustling, bustling busy city and the perfect place to people watch. There are a number of pagodas to visit, including the Shwedagon and Yule. You can also take a train ride around the entire city for 200 MMK and watch the local people go about their days while relaxing on the 3 hour round trip.