Myanmar is one of those exceptional countries in Southeast Asia that we constantly urge people to visit sooner rather than later. This rapidly changing country is started growing as soon as it started opening its doors to tourism and investment. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia, Myanmar is a place that still isn’t built up for tourists. It is a place full of alluring temples and pagodas, rugged landscapes, and incredible people who are keen to know more about life outside their own country. While I could go on and on about the many things to do in Myanmar and why you should go, here are a few essential tips to help you make the most out of your trip there.
Prepare Things in Advance
Hailing from a country with so many visa restrictions, the number one thing I look into when deciding to go to a place is visa requirements. In fact, nowadays, some countries even require you to get a visa for layovers and transit flights. Luckily, now people from over 100 countries can apply for an e-visa without having to go to any local embassy. The application is easy enough and can be done directly (without having to go through a visa agency of any sort) The tourist visa costs $50 and is valid for 28 days.
Insider Tip: Remember, it is only possible to enter Myanmar with an e-visa through Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw International airports. If you’re doing a land crossing, you can enter with an e-visa using the threeThai-Myanmar land border crossings Tachileik, Myawadi (Myawaddy) and Kawthoung (Kawthaung)
Plan Your Trip According to Festivals
Similar to the popular Thai festivals of Songkran and Yi Peng, Myanmar has their own festivals which are worth timing your trip for. Festivals such as the Thingyan Water Festival (pronounced Tin-Jon), or even the Tazaungdaing Festival are heaps of fun and is a great way to see a more festive side to the country. Like most festivals in Southeast Asia, these celebrations commemorate special events like the end of monsoon season and the coming of a new lunar year, etc. While a lot of people love the colorful events and festivities, the best part about taking part in local festivals is being able to observe local traditions.
Popular Festivals in Myanmar
- Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights: Celebrated in the month of November
- Thingyan Water Festival: Celebrated Mid- April
- Shwedagon Pagoda Festival: Celebrated first week of March
While it generally doesn’t get very busy, my rule of thumb during festivals is to always pre-book transport and tours as regular transit timetables are bound to get disrupted. This comes from my partner Tom’s personal experience after getting stranded in China for a couple of days during one local holiday. You can make use of tour and transport services like Flymya to secure transport if you find yourself in Myanmar during peak season.
Get to Know the Currency
When traveling in Myanmar first began, there were virtually no ATM machines available. Travelers then had to carry enough cash (USD or Euros) with them to last about a month or so due to the unreliability of banks. However, nowadays, ATM machines are readily available in all the main tourist destinations. Naturally, if you go to more local towns, bring some spare cash with you just in case. The maximum amount of money you can take out from the ATM is 300,000 kyats which is about $225 per transaction with some ATM machines charging around 5,000 kyat ($5) as a bank fee.
However, with that being said, some establishments still accept dollars or euros- just make sure they aren’t folded or creased. Large hotel establishments will also allow you to pay by credit card but some still operate on a cash basis.
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Learn the Language
Taking the time to know a few words before your trip can go a long way. Not only will the locals love you for it, it will also help you get out of tricky situations when no one can speak English (which is pretty common in the less touristy parts of the country). Since I started traveling full time, I’ve made it a point to be able to say at the very least hello and thank you in the local language. If I’m feeling playful, I also learn how to order a beer. While I am pretty sure they will all one day come into use in a random trivia question, for now, I settle with the fact that it makes the locals smile whenever they hear me try to speak their language.
Basic Burmese for Traveling
Good morning: min-ga-la-ba
Do you speak English? shin aaingaliutlo pyaw lar?
Hello: Ming – ga – la – pa
Thank you: cè-zù tin-ba-deh
Bye Bye: Da Da
Come Prepared for Bus Rides
Although the bus conditions in Myanmar have greatly improved, when my partner Tom went, he had to endure 8 hours or so in a rickety local bus with no AC and proper seats. To make things worse, the woman in front of him was feeling ill and was barfing non-stop in a little bag. (Sorry if that was too visual for you!) Nowadays, Myanmar has VIP buses that can take you from point A to B. Despite being on a tight budget, we highly recommend you go for the VIP bus. The couple of dollars you save will go a long way. On the same note, we’ve also heard some horror stories about night buses so decide carefully. Although it will save you a night’s accommodation, the windy uneven roads, loud non-stop karaoke music, and the general fast-and-furious like drivers in Asia should be enough to make you think twice.
Related: Best Places to Stay in Myanmar
Immerse Yourself in Their Culture
One of the best things about traveling to Myanmar is unlike other Southeast Asian countries where the local culture is more often than not influenced by Western society, Myanmar is a place where you can observe local culture at its best. Everywhere you go, expect to see many locals with their faces painted with Thanaka which they use for both beauty and tradition. This sunblock type of mixture is used for sun protection as well as acne and is worn by both adults and children. It is also very common to see men wear long sarong-like skirts (Longy) during celebrations. This is sold in most markets so feel free to hop on the bandwagon! Another interesting cultural tradition still practiced in Myanmar is chewing betel nuts. This crazy concoction which makes your entire mouth bright red is made up of tobacco, various herbs, areca seeds which are then wrapped in a Paan leaf and is chewed to small pieces.
Get to Know their History
Similar to Cambodia, in order to fully understand the Burmese people, taking the time to read about their past and what they have been through pays off. This will give you a better understanding of who they are and what makes their country so unique. For so many years, Myanmar was ruled with an iron fist from Kings to the British Empire, all the way from conflicts which rooted during the 9th century. If you want to get your history on, these two books have great insight on the development of Myanmar.
Books on Burmese History and Travel
Last but not least, one of the bet tips when planning a trip to Myanmar is to consider. Due to the extreme weather conditions (extreme heat or extreme rain), Burma is best visited during the months of November to March. Having very little rainfall while still being hot during the day and relatively cool at night, these months are the most ideal. During the months of July to September, some roads become impassable due to the heavy monsoon flooding. For tips on what to pack for Myanmar, check out our Southeast Asia Packing List which has everything you need from light shawls, good quality travel jackets, and proper hiking shoes.