Planning A Trip to Myanmar (Burma)
Travelling to Myanmar is unlike other destinations we’ve travelled to on our around the world trip, we needed to do some serious travel planning before our arrival. If you have this fascinating destination on your bucket list get planning now.
There are a few things you need to sort out before travelling to Myanmar. Firstly take enough “foreign” currency to cover your expenses as you cannot use debit/credit cards here or withdraw cash from banks or ATMs, unless you have a Myanmar account. You’ll also need to pay all train, airfares and entrance permits in US dollars. Dollars have to be brand new and not have any creases or marks in them. Secondly, you’ll need a visa which involves a fair bit of form filling and you need to provide a travel itinerary i.e. hotel names and dates, and proof of exit in and out of the country. We decided to do this in Bangkok, and paid a premium for same day turnaround. We offer some travel advice on how to get a visa for Myanmar on our travel blog, as we had to do quite a bit of research and hope it is a valuable resource for anybody considering travel to Burma.
A Disappointing Arrival in Myanmar
We arrived in Yangon (previously known as Rangoon) during the low season. We’d booked our accommodation ahead of arrival, which isn’t something we usually do, but thought it would be a good idea to spend some time exploring the old capital city of Myanmar. We hoped to spend this time familiarising ourselves with the Burmese culture and a little of the language (as much as you can in three nights) before continuing our trip around the country.
We wish we hadn’t. It is fairly difficult to walk around Yangon, where there are pavements, they are very dangerous with open drainage covers everywhere. The smell of car fumes from antiquated cars, which would be condemned in most countries, is stifling. Our hotel was miserable and when looking at other Yangon hotels, we struggled to find suitable alternatives. Compared with most of Asia, budget and mid-range priced hotels are expensive and of a very low standard. Also mid-priced restaurants and cafes, don’t compare too favourably either. Although there are some good places to eat located near the embassy sector in Yangon, but this is slightly out of the main city centre, and you’ll pay a significant price for a good quality meal.
There are some sightseeing opportunities to keep you entertained in Yangon. The highlight of our Yangon experience was the Shwedagon Pagoda. The temple is vast and makes for a splendid and enlightening tour. For us, this was the main reason for visiting Yangon. We would still recommend people visit here, but maybe spend more time at some of the other delightful destinations the Myanmar has to offer, rather than in Yangon.
Mandalay A Spiritual Destination
Mandalay is a bustling city, containing a great market for purchasing souvenirs or to pick up a longyi so you can dress like a local. There are plenty of places to eat to try some Myanmar cuisine or one of the many great value Chapati stalls dotted about downtown. You can also easily take a tour of the surrounding areas Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing, that offer great sightseeing opportunities. The payas, monks and monasteries around Mandalay make this a very spiritual destination.
Bagan: Burma’s Architectural Gem
Bagan is the ultimate must see destination on any trip to Myanmar, and one that you will feel privileged to have visited. Hire a bike or take a tour in a horse-drawn carriage to explore this tranquil destination. Step back in time and visit some of the stunning temples and payas dating from the 10th – 13th century, you won’t struggle with over 4000 to choose from. A visit to Bagan is like nowhere else in the world.
Boating Around Inle Lake
Hire a boat and visit local villages, markets and traders. Inle Lake is the meeting point for many of the different tribes, who leave their villages to trade here. You can see fisherman rowing their boats in a very distinctive way, using one leg – it has to be seen to be believed. You can trek in the surrounding mountains or just admire their beauty from a distance. Try some of the locally produced tomatoes that are literally grown in the river. Make a trip to the Nga Hpe Kyaung monastery, where you can see cats jumping through hoops! A trip to Inle Lake makes for a very authentic Burmese travel experience.
The Myanmar Experience
We left Myanmar with a feeling of joy in our hearts. We’d initially not warmed to the country, and wondered why we’d decided to visit Burma. However, as you travel around Myanmar, you’ll be amazed at the spectacular architecture, natural beauty and friendliness of the Burmese. The big question is, would we return to Myanmar? The answer is an emphatic, yes. You can read more about our trip to Myanmar at our around the world travel blog.