Travelling to Myanmar (Burma) has always been my dream… But actually I should have named this post “Myanmar, the country in which I had my very first banana pancake” and everything would have been said. Yes, it’s true. It was in Myanmar (Burma), more precisely at the restaurant “Cheriland” in Bagan, where I ate the very first banana pancake of my life. Banana Pancake Trail. Where everyone has already been in Southeast Asia. The trail beaten by hundreds and thousands of backpackers looking for adventures and individuality. It would never have surprised me in Thailand but I never ever would have expected this in Myanmar. Ok, one banana pancake please.
And all you need to know when travelling to Myanmar (Burma).
When to go:
Yesterday, even better the day before yesterday. The time when Myanmar (Burma) didn’t attract mass tourism is over. If you don’t mind then the best time travelling to Myanmar (Burma) is between November and January, after the rainy season. If you’re allergic to tourists like I am to peanuts, then you should avoid this time of the year. And even in the dry season you can have bad weather…
Where to go:
Myanmar’s (Burma’s) banana pancake trail is Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay. These are not only the places on route of the classical round trips, these are also the places accessible for tourists and easy to get to (see transportation). All these places are definitely worth the visit, but if you’re looking for a less crowded, more ‘authentic’ place you should avoid them. Although Myanmar (Burma) is opening up to tourists more and more, there are still places tourists are not allowed to go to. Please check if a place is open for tourists before you’re planning to go there.
The easiest and fastest way to get a visa is through the embassy of Myanmar in Bangkok. There are two options:
1.) Express visa (same day) 1260 Baht
2.) Regular visa (3 week days) 800 Baht
For both visa you’ll need:
– two passport photos
– a filled-in visa form
– your passport
– a copy of your passport
– you’ll also need a copy of your flight ticket to Myanmar (Burma) departing in between 24h if you’re applying for an express visa.
All you need for the visa you can easily get just around the corner of the embassy. There’s a photo booth and small shops where you get the form and where you can make copies and even book a last minute flight. We’ve booked our flight from Bangkok to Yangon with Air Asia four days in advance and paid € 126 per person for the round trip.
Where: The embassy is in 132 Sathorn Nua Road, the next Skytrain stop is Surasak, from there you’re walking down Sathorn Road and then you will already see the waiting line.
When: You can apply for a visa on week days from 9am to 12am. Come as early as you can as the waiting line is always very long. We arrived there at around 10am and had to wait until noon to submit our visa application. Tip: Fill in the form at the shop around the corner, draw a number at the embassy and then wait till your number gets called. It’s faster than to wait in line to get your form at the embassy. From 3:30pm on you can pick up your visa. Better to be there early again! Then stand in line for the ticket counter which is printed on your receipt. A visa is valid for 3 months and one single entry for a duration of 28 days.
Although the embassy in Bangkok is the easiest and fastest way to get a visa for Myanmar (Burma) it will take you at least one whole day (for the express visa) and two half days (for the regular visa) as the waiting time is always very long.
Everything in Myanmar (Burma) is changing very fast at the moment, I wouldn’t be surprised if you can get money from an ATM there soon. But for now you need to bring all your money in cash. ALL YOUR MONEY. No accommodation, flight or tour can be paid with credit card. As you don’t get the national currency Kyat anywhere else you’ll need to bring US Dollars. And not just any Dollars. New ones, pristine ones. I’m not kidding you! Tell them at the bank counter that you need the Dollars for Myanmar (Burma) and they will understand. As soon as you have the Dollars treat them very carefully. If they are not pristine it can happen that they won’t be accepted and then they are useless for you in Myanmar (Burma). Tip: If you want to get US Dollars in Bangkok I can recommend “Super Rich Money Exchange”, just go to an office near you and ask in which office you can get pristine Dollars.
Update 27th August 2013: You’ll find some ATMs now in Myanmar (Burma) (thanks to Dreißigtausendmiles for the tip). But I wouldn’t count on it. Too often I had the problem to get money from an ATM in other countries too. Either they didn’t except VISA or Mastercard, they were out of function or there was no money left in there. But in a case of emergency it could be very helpful. It also could be good to have some Euros with you in that case.
Kyat do not look very pristine in comparison to your Dollars…
After arriving in Myanmar (Burma) you can easily exchange your Dollars into Kyat. You will get the best rate in a bank. Depending on your arrival time it can pay off to exchange some of your money directly at the airport. Avoid to exchange any money in hotels or on the black market.
We only paid the taxi from the airport to our hotel in Yangon and the flights to Bagan in Dollars, everything else in Kyat. It’s also possible to pay for some accommodation in Dollars. Best not to exchange all your money at once but from time to time. It is possible to change Kyat back into Dollars at the airport before your departure.
Altogether Myanmar (Burma) was more expensive that we thought it would be. Especially when it comes down to accommodation. The room rates have doubled since last year (at least on the banana pancake trail). We’ve paid around 30$ a night for mostly run down hotel rooms. So please take too much money with you than too little. Sebastian from Offthepath has a detailed cost breakdown for Myanmar (Burma) on his blog. But although we’ve visited Myanmar (Burma) just shortly after Sebastian, we already paid around 10% more than he did for everything.
In my opinion, the food in Myanmar (Burma) is nothing really special. Fried rice, fried noodles, curry, banana pancake. Stuff you get everywhere in Southeast Asia. There is such a thing as Burmese cuisine but I’ve actually never really had the chance to try it and the things I’ve heard about it makes me think that I was lucky to do not. But I really loved the street food, especially the samosas and spring rolls.
Accommodation is more expensive than you would think it is and in comparison not really worth the money. There are 5 star luxury hotels but besides this the other hotels, motels and guesthouses don’t have a high standard. And especially in the popular places there is way less accommodation than needed. It’s really difficult to find a place to stay if you don’t have a reservation. The best way is to call at least two days in advance if there are rooms available. Online bookings and reservations are nearly impossible.
People in Myanmar (Burma) are incredibly friendly, open and interested. Walk through the streets with a smile on your face and you will have many lovely encounters. Please do also learn some words in Burmese like “Mingalaba” for “hello” and “Kscheitzutinbade” for “thank you”.
There are different ways to get around in Myanmar (Burma). Besides a previously booked package tour, which is the most easiest way, you also can travel individually. You can even rent a car but only with a Burmese driver. The best opportunities therefor are: plane, bus and train. I’ve heard many bumby stories about the trains, but we’ve only used plane and bus.
Plane: You can’t book a domestic flight from outside the country. It is definitely the best and fastest way to travel Myanmar (Burma) but also the most expensive one. A flight from Yangon to Bagan for example costs around $ 110, same for a flight from Inle Lake to Yagon. I can recommend the Dana Moe Air Ticket Center in Yangon, which is next to the Central Hotel. It’s funny to watch the agents there booking a flight as it involves many many phone calls and then you get a piece of paper with the flight details and if that’s what you want you can book the ticket.
Bus: You can also book your bus ride at a travel agency, but we’ve always booked directly at our hotel. A bus ride is a tenth of the flight rate but also ten times slower… And yes, all the horror stories you’ve heard about bus rides in Myanmar (Burma) are true. The AC will be freezing, the roads are bumpy, the driver will force you to leave the bus for a “break” every now and then and if you’re lucky there’s a cheesy Burmese romantic comedy on TV instead of Burmese Heavy Metal music. But if you need to watch your budget a bus ride is definitely on the list. Best equipment: A sleeping bag, warm clothes, a head lamp and ear plugs.
Although everything is changing very fast at the moment you have to feel comfortable with the thought of no Internet access outside of Yangon. More and more accommodations are offering free Wifi and there are Internet cafes in all the popular places, but the connection is often really really bad. The best time to use the Internet is between 8am and 10am.
You can find more Do’s and Don’ts when travelling to Myanmar here: www.dosanddontsfortourists.com
As everything in Myanmar (Burma) is changing so fast at the moment I would be very thankful if you could help me to keep this guide up to date. Are there any changes? Do you have any more questions? Any other tips one should know when travelling to Myanmar (Burma)?