Myanmar is a destination that feels worlds away from the rest of civilization. It’s a country that can be rough around the edges, but if you give it a chance you’ll find a friendly, welcoming interior. When visiting Myanmar, I was initially hesitant. I was hesitant because of the unrest in the country, the fact that its neighboring country – Thailand – is a much more talked about and visited place, and hesitant because I didn’t know a drop about Myanmar and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Most concerning to me was the genocide of the Rohingya minority, however, I realize that oftentimes a country is so much more than what is portrayed on the media. Refusing to visit Myanmar, a country that needs tourism, is doing more than just boycotting the military. We’re also taking away the opportunity for locals to earn money and thrive.
So after giving it much thought, I decided that I wanted to see for myself what Myanmar was all about. So I booked a solo trip to explore the most ancient and talked about places in Myanmar, places that are centuries old, and give you a small glimpse into what life might’ve been like thousands of years ago. And although I was nervous and anxious to visit, I encountered nothing but the friendliest locals, most incredible architecture, and kind people that despite having a language barrier, I connected with on a deep level. Most importantly, I made memories that will last me a lifetime, and now know everything that YOU need to know before visiting Myanmar.
Everything You Need to Know About Visiting Myanmar
Is Myanmar Safe?
First things first… is it safe to visit Myanmar? As a solo female traveler, I turned this question around in my head until I finally decided that I just needed to visit for myself to decide whether or not it was safe. And while I encountered petty crime – people stealing out of backpacks – I never felt unsafe. I took the same basic safety precautions that I take in every country and made sure that I was extra careful about advertising the fact that I was traveling alone. I did notice a lot of stares, but that was more being white and blonde – I stuck out like a sore thumb!
It’s really 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 11 pm. Be respectful of what is asked of you to ensure a safe and fun visit.
Because of the genocide against the Rohingya, you should avoid visiting the western side of the country that shares a border with Bangladesh.
Do You Need Any Vaccines to Travel in Myanmar?
Aside from routine vaccines, at the time of writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all people visiting Myanmar receive the Hepatitis A and Typhoid vaccine. The CDC also recommends taking a Malaria pill depending on where in Myanmar you plan to travel to. Lastly, if you plan to be around dogs or wildlife you may also consider a rabies vaccination. You can find up-to-date information on vaccines here.
What’s the Dress Code for Myanmar?
When you’re visiting Myanmar it’s important to keep your shoulders and knees covered. This goes for if you’re visiting a pagoda, temple, or simply walking down the street. While you can get away with showing your shoulders/knees on the street you’ll get a lot of stares because it isn’t common practice. To be safe and respectful, I recommend staying covered at all times no matter which activity you’re doing. And remember, also remove your shoes and socks when entering a pagoda or temple.
What is the Currency in Myanmar?
Myanmar is an incredibly affordable country and the local currency is the Myanmar Kyat (MMK). At the time of writing 1 USD = 1,532.65 MMK. There are ATMs scattered around but I’d make sure to get cash out before leaving the airport just to be safe. Please keep in mind that if a local approaches you saying that he or she collects local currency from all over the world… it’s a scam. This scam is common practice in Bagan and the local turns around and sells your currency for a higher rate in exchange for MMK.
How Do You Get Around Myanmar?
You can find trains, planes, bikes, buses, and even taxis in Myanmar. Referred to as the “country of honking”, many streets don’t have stop signs or traffic lights so people lay on their horns to let you know that they are coming. Please know that all forms of transportation are relatively unreliable so you should give yourself a lot of time when getting from destination to destination.
- E-Bikes – If you visit Bagan, renting an e-bike is the easiest way to get around and the most common mode of transportation. This is because there aren’t any developed streets near the pagodas so bikes are used to get around sandy areas. Renting an e-bike in Bagan should cost around 5000 MMK for a day and 3000 MMK for half of a day. If you rent an e-bike in a bigger city (such as Mandalay), you’ll need an international driver’s license.
- Trains – Because Myanmar is such a large country, train travel might be the better option than buses. I will say, however, that trains only operate between big cities. They aren’t very reliable and they certainly won’t take you everywhere. I found this website very useful when considering booking train travel.
- Planes – Myanmar does have a domestic airplane fleet – Myanmar National Airlines – but don’t expect plane travel to be what you’re used to. Here in Myanmar people march to the beat of their own drum and you can expect major delays and relaxed security measures as you move through the airport.
- Taxis – You can easily request a taxi from your hotel and when you arrive at the airport there will be many taxis waiting for you. However, you can also utilize the app Grab. Grab is Southeast Asia’s Uber and you simply request a ride from your phone. I wouldn’t rely on this if you’re on a deadline though. I found that a lot of drivers canceled on me at the last minute.
- Buses – I think that the easiest and most common way to get around Myanmar is by bus. Tickets are cheap but rides are long and roads are often unkept making it a rough bus ride. Like the other modes of transportation listed, bus travel is hardly reliable. Expect to depart early or late, and give yourself plenty of time when traveling.
What Language Do They Speak in Myanmar?
The main language spoken in Myanmar is Burmese. You can get by on English, but the more remote places that you visit the more of a language barrier there is. Just remember – a smile is worth a thousand words!
Do I Need a Visa to Visit Myanmar?
To visit Myanmar from the US (and other countries) you will need a Myanmar visa. The cost for a standard tourist visa is $50 and the cost for an express visa is $56, valid for 30-days. I chose to go the express route and my visa arrived in 18-hours. Aside from purchasing your visa, you’ll also need to show a flight out of Myanmar and the address of the hotel you’re staying at to enter the country.
When is the Best Time to Visit Myanmar?
The best time to visit Myanmar is from November-February when temperatures are cooler and it isn’t the rainy season. March-May can see unbearable heat (100+ degrees F). And monsoon season is from June-October.
Food and Drink in Myanmar
Typical Burmese food is a spin on your typical Asian dish with heavy influences from India, China, and Thailand. Expect lots of fried rice and curry and to see the popular tea leaf salad on almost every menu. In my experience, most of the restaurants I went to didn’t have the healthiest options. Most dishes were fried and snack options on long bus routes were also kept to chips and other fried foods like nuts. However, if you have a special dietary restriction I did find most restaurants to be accommodating.
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 use to be hearing of, don’t discount this country. It’s full of friendly locals that will jump at the chance to show you THEIR Myanmar. With miles and miles of untouched land not yet impacted by extreme tourism the time to visit Myanmar is now – to get an authentic feel for the country before it’s too late. There is no doubt in my mind that Myanmar will be the next big place to travel to.
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