Myanmar Travel Guide
Journey to the Golden Land
It all started with the amazing photographs of a friend, Ian Barin of Ian Barin Photography whom I met during his travel to Siem Reap, Cambodia. After seeing all his wonderful photos from Myanmar, I finally decided to make a flight booking to the Golden Land. I hardly slept that night as his photographs were still stuck in my mind and were like inviting me to fly over straightaway. The stupas and hot air balloon in the golden moments of sunrise in Bagan, the Shwedagon Pagoda twinkling in the nighttime in Yangon and the magical river to a fishing community off Inle Lake were all flashing inside my head. Now, the dreams have become a reality. Voila, let the journey begin to the Golden Land!
Myanmar or formerly Burma is one of the most fascinating, culturally stunning and undiscovered destinations in the world – a very much untouched place to discover. It is a country which is now on the rise as one of the top travel destinations in Asia. Travelers may now freely enter the country as E-visa is now readily available. Authentic beauty, rich culture and unspoiled places by mass tourism await every traveler. It is fairly difficult to describe in words how spectacular this destination is. Well, if China and India made love to each other, Myanmar could be their love child.
As this country used to be in isolation for several years, yes, it has just opened its doors to tourism, nobody can deny that the Burmese culture is highly preserved and well-observed. You can see men wearing their traditional longyi and htamein, women with yellow paint/mask on their faces which is called thanaka and elders chewing betel nuts.
Quick Facts About Myanmar
- Capital City: Naypyidaw
- Language: Burmese
- Currency: Kyat or Burmese Kyat (MKK)
- Population: The current population of Myanmar (formerly Burma) is 54,311,819
- Religion: Buddhism (90% of the nation)
- Time Zone: Myanmar Time (MMT) +0630 UTC
- Burma is known as “The Golden Land,” due to the amazing golden pagodas in the country
I booked my flight via AirAsia and I was lucky enough to pay for a not so expensive price, only for US$60.00! I flew from Bangkok’s Don Mueang Airport to Yangon International Airport and took me for about an hour. Though the country is surrounded by its neighboring Asian countries, most of the borders are still closed for some reasons.
Most nationalities need to get a visa to enter Myanmar. The visa cost depends on how long you plan to stay in the country. Getting a visa to Myanmar can now be processed via online. The Myanmar tourist visa costs US$50.00 which is valid for 28 days while a Myanmar business visa costs US$70.00 valid for 70 days. Please do take note that obtaining a business visa means providing necessary documents. For more info about E-visa, you can check here.
As Filipinos, we are allowed to enter Myanmar visa-free valid for 14 days and there are options on extending our stay.
Currency and Access to Money
Whilst the national currency is Kyat (pronounced as ‘chat’), dollars are widely accepted in the country. US$1.00 is equivalent to MMK 1, 200.00. You can check the exchange rate over here. On the other hand, make sure that your bills are in pristine condition: new and crisp, otherwise, it may cause yousome inconvenience. I’m already used to this as in Cambodia, which has been my home for the last 9 months, has the same set up just like this. Dollar bills that are not in good shape only means they can not be accepted! Therefore, always make sure that you double check the bills that you receive – better to double check than to be sorry.
When it comes to the access to money, there have been ban machines (ATMs) all over the large cities. So don’t stress yourself thinking about where to withdraw cash. Exchanging dollars to Kyat can also be done at the airport as money exchange centers are readily available on site.
There are numerous hotels and guesthouses within the major cities; on the other hand, you may find it difficult to look for cheap ones as the accommodation in Myanmar is somehow a bit pricey compared to its neighboring countries. You may want to check my blog post on websites every traveler should know. Helpful booking sites are listed there.
When to travel
Peak Season: October to February
This is the best time to travel to Myanmar, though this season can also be the most expensive. Accommodations fill up really quickly and the rates are at their maximum. Make sure to book an accommodation before you go during this period.
Off Peak Season: May to September
This season is the least expensive one and also a perfect time to pay a visit. Hotel rates are at their lowest and there’s no need for an advanced booking. Just simply go and find one. Also, this season is the time where you can own and fully immerse yourself in the country. Please do take note that from July to September is also the Monsoon Season.
Shoulder Season: March to May
This is the hottest season of the year where you can find yourself ‘burning’ as the temperature tends to go up to 45c (Yes, you will really feel the burn!).
The people of Burma are one of the most welcoming people I have met throughout my travel around Southeast Asia. They will make you feel comfortable and are always willing to extend their help. They will always greet you with a big smile and will make friends with you. Burmese are also keen on taking foreigners around their country. They will take you around and give you bits of knowledge about their home. Most of the men usually wear longyi or the Burmese sarong (long, colorful skirts). You can also see women, sometimes young boys with thanaka on their faces which is a yellowish lotion used as a sort of sun block and beauty product.
Also, don’t get freaked out when you see men with stains on their teeth. That is clearly the result of their habit of chewing a mixture of red tobacco and betel nuts.
Language & Ease of Communication
The official language is Burmese. English is not widely spoken in the country most especially locals from rural areas or from the countryside regions. On the other hand, that should not bother you as it is all part of the experience.
Myanmar is still a developing country.The progress is just starting to spring into life and tourism is still in the developing process. Therefore, be prepared to venture off challenging ways of traveling,. Taking the buses is the most reliable mode of transport. They are not only present everywhere but they also connect all the major cities. Trains are also available; though, the journey seems to take a lifetime.
Places to Visit
Traveling around Myanmar can still be limited as there are particular areas restricting travelers from getting in. Therefore, many travelers who head over Myanmar prefer to stick to ‘tourist triangle’ – Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake.
Yangon is the former capital and the largest city in Myanmar. My first impression of Yangon or Myanmar in general was it was really untouched or much more underdeveloped than Cambodia. On the other hand, as soon as I had a sight of the city, I was so surprised to see skyscrapers, business establishment, and they have means of public transport such as public buses, trains and taxis.
Shwedagon Pagoda is the main attraction of Yangon. It is a 2,500 year-old massive golden pagoda which is just so stunning and will leave you in awe. Walking around this golden temple will make you feel like you are in a different world as the feeling is really different. I can say that it is always awe-inspiring whatever time of the day it is. But my most favourite scene is at night as it dominates Yangon’s skyline.
Bagan is one of the most amazing and most historic places that I have ever been. With over 3,000 temples from centuries ago, dotted around a massive landscape, this destination should definitely be ticked off your travel destination list. Bagan features Buddhist temples and pagodas that were built between the 11th – 13th centuries and they are absolutely breath-taking to see.
Many travelers do not also miss out on visiting Inle Lake which is one of the most popular destinations in Burma. Inle Lake will give you a unique experience and a chance to explore nature. A one-day boat tour around Inle Lake will be adequate for you too see the floating market, long necked ladies, stilt houses on the water, and traditional fishermen.
For more photos of my adventure in Myanmar, you can visit my Instagram account and follow my journey.
Have you also traveled to Burma? What’s your Myanmar travel like? Share your stories with us by writing your comment down below. I hope this Myanmar travel guide is able to give you some info before you begin your journey to the Golden Land.