Myanmar is a far off destination both physically and culturally. It’s a country rough around the edges, but if you give it some time, you’ll find a warm and soothing interior. A place where I was hesitant to visit, but also am well aware that a country is more than what is portrayed on the media. And although there is no part of me that agrees with the civil war currently occurring in the west and in the north, I also know that a country is often times made up of so much more than its government and its military. And that the people who suffer are sometimes the people who don’t agree with the way their government is acting on behalf of them.
So after giving it much thought, I decided that I wanted to see for myself what Myanmar was all about. And although I was nervous and anxious to visit, I encountered nothing but the friendliest locals. I encountered beautiful, untouched landscape. I encountered food that was just meh. But most importantly, I made memories that will last me a lifetime. And along the way, I learned everything you need to know before visiting Myanmar.
The question I asked myself time and time again when deciding if I should visit… is it safe? And more importantly, is it safe for a solo female traveler? Now that I have been, I can tell you with certainty that YES… it is safe to visit Myanmar as a solo female traveler. Although anything can happen in any country, I never felt unsafe. I practiced safety precautions that I practice everywhere I go. I didn’t drink too much, I didn’t stay out too late, and I made sure to be aware of my surroundings.
I felt welcomed to the country and as though the locals truly went out of their way to make me feel comfortable. That isn’t to say I didn’t get a lot of stares. I did. But they were curious stares, of people that perhaps haven’t seen a whole lotta blonde girls walking around alone.
It is also important to keep in mind that this country is still culturally and politically different than what you may be used to. Most places close at a decent hour and expect you to be back to your hotel shortly after nightfall. I saw more than one sign requesting that people be in before 10 pm, with noise levels down after 11pm. Be respectful of what is asked of you to ensure a safe and fun visit.
At time of writing the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) recommends that all people visiting Myanmar receive the Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccine. You can find up to date information on vaccines here.
Whether you’re visiting a pagoda, temple, or just walking around the streets, dress is the same everywhere. Be respectful of the culture and wear something that covers your knees and shoulders. Also remember to always remove shoes and socks when entering a pagoda or temple.
Dress rules are not strictly enforced on the streets, and it’s okay if you want to show your shoulders or knees. But know that it isn’t typically how women in the country dress so you will receive more stares than usual, but nobody will confront you about it.
The local currency is the Myanmar Kyat – MMK. At time of writing 1 USD = 1,532.65 MMK.
Please keep in mind that if a local approaches you, saying that he or she collects local currency from all around the world… it’s a scam. It happens often in Bagan and the local then turns around and sells the currency back to someone else for MMK.
Renting ebikes are common in Bagan and come with no strings attached. It should cost around 5000 MMK for a day, 3000 MMK for half of a day. However, if you are driving in a bigger city, such as Mandalay, you need an international drivers license to rent an ebike.
While it is easiest to ask your hotel to call a cab for you, you can also download Grab. Grab acts as Uber in Southeast Asia. It is cheaper but I found that a lot of drivers tended to cancel on me. So if you’re in a hurry, it might not be the best option.
Myanmar does have domestic airlines, but don’t expect them to be like what you’re used to. The airlines are laid back and tend to march to the beat of their own drum.
The common way to get from town to town is by bus. Again, these buses march to the beat of their own drum. Some depart early. Some depart late. You will always arrive, so try to have fun with it and don’t stress out. The roads are still pretty underdeveloped so expect a very, very bumpy ride.
Myanmar is referred to as the “country of honking”. There aren’t your typical road lights and stop signs on the corners. Instead the drivers honk to let other people on the road know they are coming. Don’t be alarmed!
The language spoken is Burmese. However you can get by on English. I came across a few locals who spoke perfect English, but most speak broken English. Definitely enough to get by and get place to place.
You will see all types of animals around Myanmar! Cows, chickens, horses, pigs, and more. Unfortunately there are also stray dogs, cats, and even puppies. Please remember that these are STRAY animals. Not house pets. Do NOT go up and attempt to pet them and pick them up, no matter how cute they are. If they bite you (and break skin), you must assume that the animal has rabies and get somewhere as soon as possible for a rabies shot.
To enter Myanmar from the USA and the UK, among other countries, you need a visa. Cost for a tourist visa is $50, and for an express visa $56. I got an express visa and received it within 18 hours.
For a tourist visa, keep in mind that you will need to show a flight out of Myanmar and the address of a hotel you’re staying at to enter the country. Your visa will only be valid for 30 days.
Food and drink
The typical Myanmar food is a spin on an Asian dish such as fried rice or curry. A common side dish is tea leaf salad, and it is truly delicious. Keep in mind that the food is not the healthiest – most dishes are fried, or have something fried in them. If you’re vegetarian or vegan don’t worry, I came across a restaurant in every town I visited that accompanied all dietary restrictions.
Myanmar has all the drinks you could find anywhere else. Beer, wine, cocktails, and more. Please be aware that you should not drink water out of the sink. Always opt for bottled water, and only eat uncooked fruits and vegetables from restaurants that use filtered water.
While Myanmar isn’t the typical destination you may used to be hearing of, don’t discount this country. Full of beautiful locals, ready and waiting to welcome you in. Miles and miles of untouched land not yet impacted by extreme tourism. Visit Myanmar now, to get an authentic feel for how the country really is. There is no doubt in my mind that this country will be the next big place to travel. Go and see for yourself before its too late.
If you’re planning a trip to Myanmar, make sure to check out One Week in Myanmar – Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake