Myanmar, of all Southeast Asian countries, is the least basic of them all. Having only been open for tourism for several years, this beautiful country nestled between Thailand and India remains to be one of the very few untouched and lesser known places to visit in the region. Everyone who’s been there raves about it, setting my expectations high af. But this isn’t a personal rave and rant post about my experience. I’ll write that another time.
The problem I encountered while planning for my trip was that most guides I found online were a little outdated. Maybe because the country is changing rapidly as more people discover what was once a hidden gem, I presume. Researching for this trip was kind of like walking around in the dark and it wasn’t particularly easy. This is exactly why I’m writing this basic little guide– to give you a short introductory guide that’ll provide you tips and an idea on what to actually expect. Because to be honest, regardless of how captivated I was with Burma, it wasn’t exactly like how I imagined. But again, that’s for another time. Let’s start with the basics.
1.) The safety is reliable.
There’s still a misconception that Myanmar is a dangerous place to visit. But truth of the matter is, Burma is one of the safest countries for tourists in this region. Not only tourist related crimes are low (almost non-existent), but it just feels safer in general to walk around the streets of even the sketchiest looking alleys.
Just like the Philippines, there are definitely areas to avoid and that are actually prohibited for tourists. There are still danger zones along the country that aren’t allowed for tourism. However, the usual traveler path ensures safety at its best. I traveled solo from south to north and it definitely felt safer than most countries in Southeast Asia. Burmese people are very kind and helpful in general and not once did I feel any maliciousness or creepiness by any means.
2.) It’s impressively authentic.
Burma is a country bursting with culture and uniqueness. Walking the streets of Yangon still feels like a walk back in time because of how Burmese people remain pure to their traditions. From sandalwood paste painted on almost everyone’s faces (as makeup and sunscreen), to traditional longyi and sarongs, the authenticity everywhere I went to in Myanmar is undeniable.
7-11 are non-existent and I haven’t seen any Mcdonald’s. If there are any commercial shops or restaurants, they’re still Burmese and completely local. There are barely any hints of westernization as of now, but with the quick rise in tourism all over the country, this might change sooner than later, and I really hope it doesn’t.
3.) The food isn’t particularly mind blowing, but it’s hard not to love.
Burmese food isn’t one of my favorite, but I still won’t deny the satisfaction it gave me. Being sandwiched between India and Thailand, the influences on their food is quite strong so you’ll see very blatant similarities with their cuisine especially with curries. Burmese food screams Southeast Asian– strong, rich, and unique flavors all binded with staple ingredients such as coconut, basil, lemongrass, and of course, spices.
Everyone’s favorite, including mine, seems to be the tea leaf salad. Fermented tea leaves is the key ingredient, tossed with greens, peanuts, and a vinigarette like dressing. I ate this every single day and I loved it so much that I learned how to make it. But it’s not like I can make it outside Burma anyway because fermented tea leaves aren’t found literally laying around like it is in Burma.
4.) It’s more expensive than its neighbor countries.
Because Myanmar is basically a novelty in the backpacking community, it is more expensive than its neighbors who are well known amongst Lonely Planet readers. Accommodations are higher and advanced booking is definitely recommended. Budget travel is still highly feasible though if you research and plan accordingly. A decent hostel dorm can cost you between $12-20 a night, and possibly lower for less comfortable ones. It’s particularly more expensive in Bagan since most tourist makes a beeline to this city. Unlike other countries, couch surfing is not allowed in Myanmar as of now. I think this could be because the government is urging tourist to support their local businesses for the good of their thriving community.
Food is generally cheap and if you can survive off their national dish mohinga or tea leaf salad, it shouldn’t cost you more than $2 a meal, and that’s already with extra allowance added. Food prices is basically similar with other Southeast Asian countries. Stick with the street food and you’ll save a few bucks, eat out at restaurants and expect to pay more.
5.) Getting around is easy.
Bus travel around Myanmar was amazing for me. There are different options to choose from but I would highly recommend splurging just a little more for the VIP buses. Their VIP buses is unlike any others that I’ve experienced in Asia. Sure, others have lazy boy seats and an attendant too, but VIP buses in Burma steps it up a notch with their service and comfort. Depending where you’re going and what bus line you’re choosing, bus travel from one city to another can cost between $12-20 one way.
Taxis in Myanmar isn’t bad at all. Most rides will cost you around $1-$4 depending on traffic. Yangon’s traffic is notorious so make sure you opt for airconditioned cabs. Renting a taxi to explore temples in Bagan can be quite pricey though and it could cost up to $40 depending on how good you are with bargaining. But the most popular way to explore Bagan is by E-bikes, since motorbikes are actually prohibited for tourists in the city. E-bikes are relatively cheap, costing from $5 a day. The ones we rented from even comes with free laundry wash. In other cities like Mandalay, motorbike rides are available, starting from $1 for a short ride.
6.) It’s HOT AF.
Having lived in the deserts of Las Vegas, Nevada and the tropical country of the Philippines, I know hot climate. I know the difference between dry and humid temperature to a T, so when I say Myanmar is hot af, trust that it is hot af. The odd thing I find about the weather here is that it’s not entirely humid, but it’s not entirely dry either. It’s almost like a mixture of both, sometimes alternating, but either way, it’s so freaking hot that it feels like it’s drying up my cerebral spinal fluid.
Some places are hotter than the other, although quite frankly, the minimal difference is easy to overlook when I’m covered in too much sweat. Bagan is the hottest, and remember that I went in May which is basically like walking in fire already by the time noon arrives. 9am already feels like past noon, so it’s best to start early on your exploration game, and then take a break during the afternoon until you’ve got enoug energy to chase sunset by 5. Inle Lake is the coolest area but the heat of the sun will stai drain you. Yangon isn’t as hot as Bagan or Mandalay, but it was still a three digit temperature and if you don’t watch out for yourself, it may cause you migraine, so make sure you stay fully hydrated!
7.) You might wanna bring wet wipes.
Myanmar, especially Bagan, is famous for its thousands of temples. I would presume that you’ve researched proper attire when visiting their places of worship if you plan on coming here (but more on that later), and one of their essential requirements is that you have to be barefoot when you enter their temples. Most temples in Bagan are not guarded, but it is a common knowledge that when traveling to other places, you must respect their culture.
And that’s exactly why I recommend brining wet wipes with you at all times to clean your feet as you go. Some major attractions like Schwedagon Pagoda offers wet wipes outside for a small price or a tip, but many others don’t. Socks aren’t allowed either so don’t try to be cheeky. One temple I went to in Inle Lake had hella pigeons so I’m pretty sure. was basically walking in pigeon poop. Those wipes are lifesaver so keep them handy. Oh, and also keep in mind how hot the ground is during day time so you’ll be tiptoeing silly at one point.
8.) It’s true about the crispy dollars.
One of the first things I read about Myanmar travel is that they’re very picky about the dollars they exchange. Myanmar currency is Kyat, and they only exchange crispy dollar bills. Although not essentially crispy, they want no significant folds or tears. It’s also preferred if you have the newer bills because they’ll most likely reject the old ones. I don’t particularly know why they’re very picky about their currency exchange, all I know is that they take this shit seriously. They have ATM machines that dispenses Kyat only, so make sure you buy some good ole’ dollars before your trip.
9.) Locals won’t hate you for showing a little bit of skin.
As I’ve said earlier, part of traveling requires us to respect the culture of the places we’re visiting and that includes dressing appropriately. Burmese people are very conservative and this can be seen in their daily attire too. However, I don’t find that they get easily offended if you show just a little bit of skin. By little, I mean a bit of shoulder and maybe some below the knee exposure. I’ve seen plenty of foreigners and even locals that bares a little bit of shoulder so I don’t think they’re particularly strict about that. I have also seen others wearing shorts, but I personally wouldn’t comfortable showing that much skin in Myanmar.
Many guides have insisted that showing your shoulders will offend the locals, but as I’ve spoken to some of them, they totally get it. It’s a hot country to be in especially if you’re coming from the Western Hemisphere. They won’t judge you if you want a little bit more comfort. However, when it comes to temples, you’ve got to abide by their rules. It’s a place of worship for them so don’t test that (I did however, took them out for a quick few seconds for my pictures). Cover your shoulders and knees, a simple shawl or sarong can be pretty handy if you don’t want to remain hot the entire day.
10.) Where to go?
Two weeks was too short for me to see all the places I wanted to. I was able to travel the usual tourist route though, starting from the south. I spent a couple of days in Yangon, which is the capital of Burma. The culture here is fast paced compared to the other cities, but it remains traditional. It’s a bit crowded, with traffic jams unavoidable during day time. Chaotic, busy, yet quaint, Yangon was something I couldn’t decide if I loved or hated it. Either way, it’s not something you should miss.
Inle Lake is charming. With cooler weather and simpler lifestyle, this place attracts tourists like crazy and of all the stops in Burma, this is considered to be the most touristy. I don’t know if I agree with that though. I think it all depends on how you spend your time there. In my case, it was simply wonderful.
Bagan to me is the most touristy. Filled with backpackers and adventure lovers, the temples of Bagan are strongly seeked after by many. It’s a charming place, and though the temples aren’t quite as impressive as those in Cambodia, Bagan’s temples as a whole is what makes it stand out. Stunning would be an understatement, and you know what, the best sunrise I’ve ever witnessed is here in Bagan.
My final stop was Mandalay. I have two days here but I spent my first day sick in bed. I didn’t regret that since I wasn’t really interested in the city at all. The reviews I’ve heard turned me off so I didn’t bother exploring it. I did go to a few places and as expected, it didn’t leave me too impressed. All in all, it was just another city that didn’t leave a huge impression on me.
Myanmar is a vast country and to truly see its beauty, it’s important that you take your time. Because of the rise in tourism, I’m positive that the charm of Burma will inevitably change. I think there’s already been huge changes. While those who visited a couple of years ago calls it their favorite country in Southeast Asia or in the world, I feel quite differently. It could be personal reasons, but it could also be the fact that they went at a better time. Regardless, I think the time to visit Myanmar if you haven’t been there is now. Clearly, there’s still magic here that you need to chase before it runs out.
Are you following me on Facebook yet? Please do so I can keep you updated with my latest travel tales and hacks. I aim to inspire and you can find all that goodies on my Instagram and Twitter too. See you there 🙂