When we started our three-month trip, we were sure we’d be going to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. After those, we didn’t know where we wanted to go next and decided to let it depend on the amount of time we had left and the cost of flight tickets to the destination. After careful consideration between Bali, Taiwan and Myanmar, the latter ended up being the winner! Myanmar, also known as Burma, is a country with a complicated history and – as you may know – has only opened up for tourism quite recently. This means that the touristic facilities are not comparable with Thailand (to name one example), but that you’ll have more chance of an “authentic travel experience”.
Before you go, you’ll need to apply for a visa – which you can easily do online. Make sure to do this only via the official government site, and avoid paying more for hidden “administration fees” via other sites. (I actually was tricked into paying more for an e-visa and only noticed when I saw my bill afterwards – that really sucked!)
As for our chosen itinerary – we didn’t quite explore everything in Myanmar that appealed to us, but considering we’d been on the road for more than two months and had covered quite some ground, we wanted to take it a bit slower for the last stretch of our trip. Yup – traveling can be really exhausting, but our experience in Myanmar was really wonderful. The people are super friendly and the weather and surroundings are beautiful – what’s not to love?
Fact is – Myanmar is still one of the least developped countries when it comes to tourism compared to the other places we’ve been in Southeast Asia. However, the facilities have improved tremendously compared to a couple of years ago. There’s no lack of ATMs (at least not in the destinations that are considered “touristic”), and internet does exist here (however you should get your own mobile data via a local sim card since the wifi still kind of sucks). It’s definitely no longer necessary to take crips dollars with you, just withdraw money from an ATM and pay in local currency – easy peasy!
We did find that travelling around the country is a bit more tricky here. Your two main options are bus or plane – the first is way cheaper, but will take way, way longer and the bad conditions of the road will make you feel like your riding a rollercoaster all night long. The plane is obviously faster but more expensive. We opted for a combination of both (mainly because I couldn’t handle another bumpy bus ride all night long). JJ Express offers a good and reliable bus service, you can find more info about the bus routes on their site and you can book the tickets online – major plus! When it comes to domestic flights, we never experienced any trouble and everything always went (pretty) smooth and fast.
Other than that, it’s quite easy to book your stay online these days – but since there are less options in general, things tend to sell out faster. If you want to make sure you’re getting a decent budget stay, it’s advisable to book a bit in advance. Prices for accomodation are a bit higher here compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, but still remain in the (very) affordable range.
HIGHLIGHTS & ITINERARY
Our route in Myanmar wasn’t groundbreaking – we pretty much visited the well-known destinations going from Yangon to Bagan (by bus), to Inle Lake (by bus), to Ngapali (by plane), to Yangon again (by plane) to catch our flight back home. Whatever your plan may be in Myanmar, I think Bagan and Inle Lake can’t be missing on your itinerary. Bagan is comparable to Angkor Wat – it’s really stunning and unique, and something you have to see at least once when you’re visiting Myanmar. Bagan is still relatively unvisited (compared to Angkor Wat), so it’s super chill to explore all the different sites and temples. Things are changing fast, though – at the time of visiting it was no longer allowed to climb the majority of the temples (a popular activity during sunrise and sunset) – which only makes sense since it can cause a lot of damage to the temples. We only found two temples where it was still allowed – the easiest way to find them is to follow one of the kids scooting around who are eager to point you in the right direction (for a small compensation, of course).
Inle Lake is a beautiful freshwater lake in the Nyaungshwe region – and it’s simply a perfect spot relax and enjoy all the natural beauty surrounding you. Besides cruising Inle Lake, you can take a bike ride around the country side or have wine and enjoy the sunset at the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery. There are a lot of options to do “tours” around Inle Lake (that take you to all the handicraft shops or the local market spot that day), which is fine but definitely the tourist thing to do. We took a couple of boat rides around Inle Lake (it’s huge!), and my favorite thing about that was simply admiring the natural beauty around me.
Ngapali beach was the definition of palm tree paradise – perfect to relax for a couple of days. It’s very quiet, despite the fancy resorts here. We stayed at AZ family guesthouse, which I’d recommend!
GOOD TO KNOW
Forget cigarettes, it’s all about chewing betel nut here. And let’s be honest – it’s pretty disgusting. Chewing betel nut makes your teeth look like Khaleesi’s after eating a horse heart. Yup, it basically looks like blood in your mouth – and everyone has the habit of spitting out the substance on the street, stairs, bus – you name it, and you’ll most likely find some betel nut spit there. A common thing in Myanmar, but I wouldn’t define it as their best habit.
The people are really friendly and quite outgoing here, which is always an added plus. As all countries in Southeast Asia, their culture is more modest and “covered-up” when it comes to clothes. It’s always better to find a balance between the Western way of dressing and their culture.
Yangon is the biggest city and former capital of Myanmar. No motorbikes are allowed here, but there are plenty of cars and traffic jams – it can take a huge amount of time to go somewhere by car, so best to take that into account if you need to go to the airport or a bus stop somewhere. Yangon is busy, but has charm – however beware of the “sidewalks”, they are often in very bad state and basically just an open hole of sewer to fall into (not kidding).
I read a lot of things about needing to be careful with the food beforehand – which, I have to admit, made me less “adventurous” when it came to eating. Nobody likes food poisining when they’re traveling, right? I was a bit more careful when picking restaurants, and didn’t eat too much meat or street food – but in the end I never experienced any trouble. It never hurts to pay a bit more attention, but don’t stop enjoying your food of course!