What you need to know before travelling to Myanmar
Myanmar (Burma) has become a new Asian destination with its unique culture, visitor attractions and the special character of the Burmese people. Travelers have a chance to interact with the humble locals, to immerse themselves in the traditional Buddhist atmosphere and to have an excellent experience devoid of large tourist crowds.
Planning a trip to Myanmar is full of great challenges, as the country’s earlier decades of isolation from the outside world have led to a lack of adequate infrastructure. Please take a look to see what you need to know before travelling to Myanmar!
Myanmar is Big and Needs More Time to Connect the Dots
For the largest country in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is relatively laid-back in its infrastructure; such as airports, highways and railways. People usually get around Myanmar either by air or overland.
Flying is most economical time-wise, though it’s not the most budget-friendly. All the major tourist destinations are within an hour’s flight of each other, and nine airline companies (updated 21st Feb, 2017) connect them. It’s therefore possible to roam around the country within 10 days.
Taking long-haul coaches offers special experiences, but can be very costly time-wise.
Bear in mind that Myanmar is big and not that easy to get around, at least not as easy as Thailand, and this will help you decide how you want to travel. At the same time, it is not wise to wear yourself out or waste too much time commuting. Thus, your personal interests and physical condition should be taken into consideration.
When to Go
Myanmar has clear distinctions between seasons. The best time to travel is between October and April, blessed with lovely weather and beautiful landscapes. From May to September, typhoons ravage the coastline and severe rainfall and heat inland makes it hard to travel. Thus the concept of high and low seasons fits neatly here.
Not only does the weather define your trip but also the destinations themselves. For example, you are more likely to gain a great sunrise view over Bagan during the high season than at other times of the year; in the low season, however, you will have no access to Ngapali Beach, for flights are cancelled due to heavy rainstorms.
Once you have Myanmar on your bucket list, plan ahead and set aside your vacation time for it.
How Much Myanmar Costs
The cost of a Myanmar trip falls into three big parts: hotels, transportation and guides.
Travel time also costs, especially in relation to hotels. During the high season, it is common to spend USD90 to 120 per night for a 4-star hotel and more for 5-star. This is at least double the price during low season. It’s better to book ahead.
Means of transportation will greatly affect your bill. There is no business class or first class for domestic flights so the airfares are mostly contingent on the different routes, and range from USD70 to USD180. Car and chauffeur rental, local bus, trains or boats may be better, budget-friendlier options. For example, a 10-hour long-haul bus from Yangon to Mandalay costs only USD10.
Compared with solo adventure, a guided Myanmar trip may not seem so competitive cost-wise. Nevertheless, it may be essential to have a guide if you want to peel back the layers of the country’s religious, laid-back outlook and discover something different.
Normally a tour guide’s wages double during the high season, and may rise to USD200 per day. You can either choose to have one guide who will accompany you all the way; or stationery guides at each destination, different guides with different personalities and angles. The former option doubles the price.
Lower Your Expectations
Most guidebooks and travel websites boast about Myanmar as a once-in-a-lifetime destination, and this attracts more and more travelers thirsty for unique experiences. It is important, however, to keep in mind that Myanmar first opened up just a few decades ago and it is definitely not a luxury destination.
Allow yourself to be shocked the first time you land at an airport that is just one tenth of the size of Central Station in New York; and learn to get used to occasional power cuts in remote areas (cuts don’t happen a lot in big cities); also, flip-flops and skirt-like pants (local name longyi) are what local people perceive as an Armani suit, so don’t feel offended to see your tour guide in such attire.
You might have been traveling a long time, but this first trip to Myanmar is bound to be a totally new experience. No, it will not be exactly like the last trip to Thailand, or that spring break in Florida. It will just be Myanmar, so hopefully you can accept it just as it is. Better just lower your expectations a little bit, try a little bit harder to understand, and your vistas will be greatly broadened.
The best itinerary for a first Myanmar tour is 7-9 days visiting – Yangon-Mandalay-Bagan-Inle Lake-Yangon. You can also take the tour beginning with Yangon to Mandalay (like Yangon-Bagan-Inle Lake-Mandalay), then continuing on to Thailand (Bangkok/Chiang Mai) or China (Kunming), or vice versa.
When to travel, how to travel and how much time and money you are going to spend on your first trip to Myanmar… After the answers to all these questions have been clarified, an outline of your trip emerges and now you only need to fill in the blanks.
How to Get in and out
Most visitors arrive in Myanmar at Yangon International Airport or Mandalay International Airport. Flying from other continents, travelers will use a transit city, as there are no direct flights between major western cities and Yangon. If you have been to other countries in SE Asia, we suggest for the sake of convenience that you transit through a city where you’ve already been.
For example, Bangkok has over 10 daily flights to Yangon and both of Bangkok’s airports are easy to get around, even without a tour guide. Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Guangzhou can all be the entry or exit ports of call for your first trip to Myanmar.
Never been to Asia before? Then it may be better to spend one extra day in the transit city, to help ease the effects of jet lag.
Do I Need a Visa for My First Trip to Myanmar?
For most westerners, the answer is yes. Citizens of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand have the right to visa exemption for 14 days, but are only permitted to enter via the international airports of Yangon and Mandalay. People of other nationalities should apply for a Myanmar visa, either online or via a Myanmar embassy.
Taking an airplane is the best way to get around in Myanmar, especially if time is limited. Although some private airlines were involved in some safety issues in the past, now incidents are few. We usually arrange flights with airlines such as Air KBZ for our clients, to ensure a comfortable flight experience.
For travelers with enough time, taking a cruise and sailing down the Irrawaddy River is a good way of getting from Mandalay to Bagan. The river cruises have operated for years, and have good safety records.
Taking a car can be quite bumpy due to the country’s poor road conditions; but no worries, it’s safe.
Visiting Myanmar is generally considered safe. Violent crime is rare and the levels of crime generally are low. Travelers can have a good experience by practicing common-sense and caution.
Although most Myanmar people are helpful and friendly, take precautions against pick-pocketing. Don’t carry large amounts of cash or wear too much jewelry. Leave valuable things in the hotel’s safe.
Another tip is not to stay in the streets late at night or hang about in remote areas. The lighting system does not work well. We suggest you go back to your hotel before 9 pm.
The medical standards and services in Myanmar are considered to be among the lowest in the world, but healthcare is expected to improve.
The country’s most decent medical facilities are in Yangon and Mandalay. Local hospitals in small towns may only provide basic healthcare service. Medicines are in short supply and nurses are inadequately trained.
We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance before starting your trip, take all necessary vaccinations, and bring any prescribed medicines.
The biggest challenge when planning a trip is lack of adequate information and difficulties in communication.
Travel information is not updated to keep up with current circumstances. Most travel services, such as booking internal flights, hotels, cruise cabins and day tours, cannot be booked through online websites. Though some operators do support online service, the process is far from seamless and cancellations are not easy to make.
This may explain why a travel agency plays an important role in helping clients to achieve their travel plans. Agencies have access to rich resources and are able to use them well. Visitors only need to pay a service fee for the agency to work for them and cover their backs.
For example, internal flights may be changed or cancelled a few days or even a few hours before departure, and the flight status is not updated online. In this situation, a travel agent will help you out by informing you accordingly and changing the itinerary.