Myanmar Travel

Let the Journey Begin to the Golden Land: A Myanmar Travel Guide

myanmar the golden land bagan

I hardly slept through the 45-minute flight from Bangkok (BKK) to Yangon (RGN) because of excitement. It all started with photos of hot air balloons flying over the plains of Bagan. The landscape dotted with many temples and enveloped with fog as the sun’s morning rays shine in the background. At long last, I am finally in Myanmar, the Golden Land.



Myanmar, Let the Journey Begin to the Golden Land

Myanmar (Republic of the Union of Myanmar), formerly but still known as Burma, is located beside Thailand, Laos, Bangladesh, China, and India. The capital was only moved to Naypyidaw in 2005 by the military. It’s a newly-formed city with modern infrastructure in Central Myanmar. The capital used to be in Yangon, the largest city of Myanmar, which remains to be the commercial capital.

It is a country on the rise in the Southeast Asian backpacking trail because of its allure as a place “off the beaten path”. Coming off a lengthy seclusion, it is also a country currently in the midst of change and transition. The local culture is still prevalent and it is not uncommon to see locals wearing longyi and htamein, or spitting the red juice of betel nut. Locals also put on a light yellow colored facial mask called Thanaka, which is used for aesthetic, traditional and functional purposes.

Visa

As Filipinos, we are allowed to stay in Myanmar Visa-Free for 14 days. Should we want to extend, we have to apply for a 28 days visa.

Most nationalities need a visa to enter Myanmar. If you are coming from Bangkok, you can apply at the Myanmar Embassy in 132 Sathon Nua Road. Visa costs vary depending on how many days before your flight you are applying for your visa. Visas are only valid within 90 days after you’ve secured your visa. You can also opt to apply for Visa on Arrival online or e-visa, though this is more expensive than applying at the embassy.

Best time to go

The dry season is from November to February. Be prepared for the heat when you go from March to May. Monsoon season is from July to September but can start as early as May up to early October. If you’re going in the low season, be prepared for the sudden change in weather that can affect your travel schedule. Yangon is more prone to rain than Mandalay.

Money

The National currency is Kyat but US dollar is still widely accepted. Do take note that the dollars you should be bringing with you have to be in pristine condition: new, crisp, unmarked, and with no folds. I had my dollars changed to pristine ones in Super Rich Bangkok (just tell the counter that it’s for Myanmar). I was given change  of USD in not-so-pristine condition when I paid for my entrance in Bagan. But I was still able to use those twenties even when they had a few folds and little scribbles.

Money changers are easier to find now than before as well as ATMs (there are even ATMs now in Hsipaw). The charge per transaction for ATM is around 5000 kyat. The rates of the money changers in the airport and in Yangon doesn’t differ much. Although the money changers at the airport do not have the same rates, so if you’re going to change some of your money there, best to compare them beforehand. Also, more often than not, it is cheaper to pay in kyats that’s why I always have my XE Currency Converter ready.

Read more on dealing with money in Myanmar

Regarding haggling, I say that unless the price is too outrageous, refrain from haggling and just think about how you’re helping those locals.

There are entrance fee rates that one must pay before entering some of the places of interest in Myanmar. Check out this link for the entrance/zone fees. 

Mobile connectivity and The Internet

Myanmar is slowly catching up to its Asian neighbors. When I went there in 2015, there are already 3 mobile service providers: Ooredoo, Telenor, and MPT. The Internet used to be unheard of but now, guesthouses have it and thanks to the 3 mobile service providers, you can have the internet everywhere there is a mobile signal. Getting a sim with data has saved me countless of times during my stay in Myanmar. Also, the locals are now hooked up on Facebook and online games too like Clash of Clans.

Getting There

The fastest and most convenient way to get to Myanmar is by air. Lots of airlines have flights directly going to Yangon (RGN), Mandalay (MDL), and Naypyidaw (NYT).

I booked my flight when Air Asia had their Php 1 sale, more than 3 months before my flight date. Most popular direct flights come from Thailand, Kuala Lumpur, Vietnam, and Singapore. Tiger Air, Jetstar, and Nok Air are some of the budget airlines that have direct flights to Myanmar.

If you are planning to go by the land border, always check for updates.

Getting Around

Domestic flights are quite expensive so most travelers use land transportation. Take note that some roads are not in the best condition and that there could be horrible traffic especially during rush hours. VIP or express buses are available especially in the tourist routes (Yangon, Inle Lake, Bagan, Mandalay). They may be slightly more expensive but the comfort is definitely worth it. The bus is spacious and has different amenities like a charging socket, LCD monitor, reclining seat, free water and snacks, and even a blanket. You can even book your seat at JJ Bus via their Facebook Page.

The cheaper buses are another story, though. Some have air conditioning, some do not. No reclining seats and it surely is an adventure riding them.

You can also book your bus via your guesthouse. A word of caution, though, I have read in guides before that one shouldn’t ask the bus driver what time you will arrive at your destination. It’s sort of bad luck.

Train travel in Myanmar is a different experience. Some tracks are already run-down resulting to a bouncy ride. But it gives you the chance to mingle with the locals and has a more authentic transportation experience. The scenery is also incomparable, with the train going to Hsipaw taking the cake.

Horse carriages, motorbikes, trishaws, small boats and pick-up cars are the other modes of transportations that I saw and tried in Myanmar.

Accommodation

There are lots of guesthouse and hostels available, but with the influx of tourists, it is best to reserve beforehand, unless it’s low season.

Accommodations in Yangon | Accommodations in Mandalay | Accommodations in Inle Lake

Safety

Definitely safe for tourists. I was used to people being hospitable in my home country, but the Burmese really stood out from my travel experiences. They are so welcoming, very friendly, generous and helpful.

There are a few areas closed off for tourists due to lack of infrastructure and the ongoing conflict between different ethnic groups.

Places of Interest

Most of the travelers visit Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, and the Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo). Visitors also go to Bago, where you can find the gigantic Shwe Tharlyaung Buddha, the second largest Buddha image on earth.

For beach lovers, Ngwesaung Beach, located on the western coast of the Bay of Bengal, is just 4 to 6 hours away from Yangon. Ngapali Beach is the most popular beach but is not for backpackers as you have to fly in and out.

For nature lovers, you can visit Inya Lake and Kandawgyi Lake in Yangon. Inle Lake is popular for its floating villages and the Intha fishermen rowing their boats with one leg.

The ancient city of Bagan is home to thousands of unique temples across a vast plain. They say that the best way to experience a Bagan sunrise is by riding a hot air balloon, which is quite expensive.

Innwa, Sagaing, and Amarapura are the most visited in Mandalay. The city is a bustling metropolis, more modern than Yangon interspersed with places of historical and religious importance.



Food

Burmese food has influences of its neighboring countries. Though it is not as popular as Indian, Thai, and Chinese cuisine, you’ll still leave Myanmar with a dish you liked. Mohinga is the unofficial national dish and may not be the most visually appealing but it is surely packed with ingredients and an explosion of different tastes. Tea Leaf Salad is also worth a try as well as the Burmese curry. Shan noodles have also become wildly popular with both visitors and locals alike. It is also not unusual to see animal innards boiled in a hot pot and then eaten on a stick among roadside stalls. The Burmese also has a lot of fried street food, some of it made using chickpea and corn flour.

Sample Itinerary

Here’s my 10-day itinerary across Myanmar (September 2015):

Day 1 YANGON

BKK – RGN
Shared taxi with newfound friends to Sleep In Hostel
Walking around the city:
Bogyoke Aung San Market (food and shopping for longyi)
Thone Pan Hla (milk tea)
Sule Pagoda
Yangon City Hall
Maha Bandula Garden
High Court Building
Maha Wizaya Pagoda
Shwedagon Pagoda
Dinner at roadside stall

SEE ALSO: FREE THINGS TO DO IN YANGON

Day 2 YANGON – BAGAN

Free breakfast from Sleep In Hostel
Circle Line Train
Late lunch in roadside stall
Shared taxi to Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal
JJ Bus to Bagan
Shared trishaw to guest house
Check in at Winner Guest House
Free breakfast at Winner Guest House
Rent e-bike next door
Temple Hopping
Dinner at Aroma 2 in Nyaung U

Day 3 BAGAN

Sunrise!
Van to Mt. Popa (with stop at a palm sugar facility)
Lunch at Weather Spoon’s in Nyaung U
Sunset at Old Bagan (Buphaya temple)
Dinner at a restaurant near Winner Guest House

Day 4 BAGAN to MANDALAY

Early morning bus to Mandalay
Check in Rich Queen Guesthouse
Hire a motorbike driver to tour Mandalay
Sunset at U-Bein bridge

Day 5 MANDALAY

Free breakfast
Tour Mandalay with locals from Why Not resto bar

Day 6 PYIN OO LWIN

Pick-up car to Pyin Oo Lwin
Check in
Walk around town

Day 7 PYIN OO LWIN to HSIPAW

Train from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw (Gokteik Viaduct!)
Check in Red Dragon Hotel
Walk around Hsipaw
Dinner at Club Terrace

Day 8 HSIPAW – MANDALAY – YANGON

Walk around Hsipaw
Bus to Mandalay
JJ Bus to Yangon
(Note: I realized too late that there’s a direct bus from Hsipaw to Yangon. Silly me)

Day 9 YANGON

Check in 4 Rivers Hostel
Walk around Yangon

Day 10

RGN – BKK

Reminders to travelers

Travel responsibly and travel with an open mind. Be sensitive to cultural and religious norms. Always be respectful. As much as possible, I encourage you to not travel luxuriously here to have a more authentic experience. Learn even a little of the language. It doesn’t hurt to greet the locals with Mingalabar and a smile. I assure you, there is very little chance that they won’t greet you back.

Like in Angkor, Cambodia, be prepared to be templed out. That’s fine. Just take your time and savor those moments. And like those who said it before, it’s best to visit Myanmar now before it succumbs to modernization and mass tourism.

*** Featured Image Source: Pixabay| CC0 by judithscharnowski


Have you been to Myanmar? How was your experience? Any more tips to add?

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27 Comments

  • Reply
    Josh
    October 11, 2016 at 9:40 pm

    Great blog! Very informative and helpful. Did you booked your ticket via JJ’s FB page? I’m traveling to Myanmar this November and finalizing my travel IT.

    • Reply
      Darlene
      October 11, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      I used JJ a few times and the last time I used them (Mandalay to Yangon, I just contacted them via their fb page). The other times I booked through my hostel. Thank you! Feel free to ask if you still have questions 🙂

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    August 11, 2016 at 1:57 pm

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  • Reply
    Morgan
    June 24, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Myanmar is such a beautiful country, this is such an amazing guide you have put alot of hard work in to perfecting it! I also love your photos! they are beautiful!

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  • Reply
    Sarah
    May 16, 2016 at 3:04 pm

    This is such a useful guide. Thank you so much for sharing this info! I am planning a trip to Myanmar at the end of June {eeek so hot!} but it’s the only time I could make it work. I’m seeing Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay!

    Best,
    Sarah

  • Reply
    Psychic Nest
    May 16, 2016 at 12:33 am

    Hi Darlene,

    Myanmar is “must” destination for me in the future. I have read so many travel reviews and I would really love to visit. Though what I had no clue – and thank you for mentioning it – is the expensive air flights. I will write that on my list as well and make sure that I use land transportation. Thank you for the great post!

    Zaria

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  • Reply
    Trisha Velarmino - P.S. I'm On My Way
    April 26, 2016 at 2:14 am

    Myanmar is my dream Southeast Asian destination. Did you go alone? Is it relatively safe for a solo female traveller? I am now even more excited to plan a trip there and to Laos since it seems very budget friendly. Exciting times for Myanmar, too! I wanna witness it first hand! And the temples of Bagan will be such a dream come true to experience. Imagine spending the sunrise or the sunset in a temple of your choice. Thanks for this very informative post, Darlene!

  • Reply
    ROBERT LEE
    April 25, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    This is so nice, that you could travel to Myanmar. While most people dream of or travel to popular destinations, it is countries like Myanmar that people should be going to. I mean, culturally, it is so different and still retains the old vs the typical tourist traps found in major destinations – not to mention the common scams too.

  • Reply
    Mar Pages
    April 25, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    Myanmar is finally being recognised for the beauty that it is! The sun is gorgeous against the intricate architecture, and the food is warm and comforting. Glad more people are visiting it now, I would!

  • Reply
    Klaudia
    April 25, 2016 at 1:53 am

    Amazing photos ! I learn more and more about Asian countries , traditions and the most important 🙂 the delicious food ! I have never heard ( of even thought ) of Burmese food . I am a big lover of Asian dishes of all types . What makes me wonder a bit , this is a breakfast ? That would make a rich lunch for me ! I really enjoyed your post , a great inside about the Golden Land .

  • Reply
    Nimi Popat
    April 25, 2016 at 1:37 am

    I always wanted to go to Myanmar. Your post made me want more. What an indepth review post. It looks like you covered whole Myanmar with your words in just 1 post. 🙂

  • Reply
    Arrianne Guzman
    April 25, 2016 at 12:07 am

    One of the best visa-free countries to visit I must say 🙂 This is actually included on my bucket list! I feel lucky to stumble upon this very informative guide. You made me feel stronger to be in Myanmar one day. Such a great post, Darlene!

  • Reply
    Jhanz
    April 24, 2016 at 11:12 pm

    This is really helpful! Never been to Myanmar and no plans to visit YET but this sounds so insightful. 🙂

  • Reply
    Vicki | MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld
    April 24, 2016 at 10:42 am

    I’m super jealous you went to Myanmar!! I have wanted to go for years and have to keep putting if off due to various things happening. I want to do/see/eat everything you mentioned! And the train tracks over the valley look incredible! Great itinerary and thanks for the tips!

  • Reply
    anna
    April 24, 2016 at 9:09 am

    Oh Dada! Myanmar is high up on my list! Bookmarking this super comprehensive guide! Thanks for the visa tip as well.

  • Reply
    christine
    April 24, 2016 at 8:25 am

    This is great! I really want to go but don’t low where to begin. I also heard the transportation is bad, so I was debating flights. Good to know it is expensive to fly!

  • Reply
    Georgia
    April 24, 2016 at 4:27 am

    This was such an excellent post!! I’ve never been to Myanmar and wasn’t aware that it’s what they call Burma now, you learn something new everyday! The viaduct looks incredible in your photo, but something I don’t think I could do as I’m terrified of things like that, I hate stairs with gaps in them! Haha! This has made me want to visit Myanmar and I will definitely be referring back to your itinerary if I do go!

  • Reply
    Arzo Travels
    April 24, 2016 at 4:13 am

    Myanmar looks like such a beautiful country. I wrote my thesis about Myanmar and its child soldiers so my impressions were kind of sad, but the scenery is nevertheless stunning since I do not like heat I should keep in mind going around Christmas time 🙂

  • Reply
    Dunja
    April 24, 2016 at 3:12 am

    Very informative, thank you! I’ve never been to Myanmar, but it seems like a very interesting country. I hope i’d have the chance to visit it before it becomes visited by zillions of tourists. Amazing photography! The first pic is beyond beautiful.

  • Reply
    Karla | karlaroundtheworld
    April 23, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    Myanmar has always been a dream. How much would it cost for a budget backpacker?

    • Reply
      Darlene
      April 25, 2016 at 5:28 pm

      Hi Karla! For 10 days I’ve allotted a budget of 300$ but only used up 200 – 250$. 🙂

  • Reply
    Bettina Bacani
    April 23, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    This is one of the most detailed travel posts I have ever seen. I will definitely keep this in mind when I get the chance to go to Myanmar. I like that you mentioned to refrain from haggling and just think about helping the locals. That’s a really nice idea. Most people would be like “Haggle, haggle, and haggle!”

  • Reply
    The London Mum
    April 23, 2016 at 8:38 pm

    Oh gosh, you’ve made me really want to visit Myanmar now. It all sounds beautiful. I agree, i think the best way would be to have some authentic experiences by not travelling around the country too luxuriously.

  • Reply
    jen
    April 23, 2016 at 7:46 pm

    Darlene you have created a wonderful resource. I’ve thought about visiting Myanmar several times and now you have gotten me to move it up a notch on the bucket list. I’m bookmarking to help me plan.

  • Reply
    Ma.Me.Mi.Mommy
    April 23, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    I haven’t been to Myanmar. It’s good to know though that Filipinos can go in without visa. I’m drooling over those lunpias at the back than their unofficial national dish in your photo. Haha. Should I be needing an itinerary in the future, I shall refer to yours. 🙂

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