Have I mentioned how much I loved my overall time in Myanmar yet? Oh, I have? Like, multiple times?
Well it’s all true. I found Myanmar to be absolutely magical and established a strong connection to this developing Southeast Asian country by the time I had left.
As is usually the case though, I still encountered numerous small hiccups and misunderstandings that I wish I had been better prepared for. So, continuing on with my advice from earlier in the week, here are 10 tips that I picked up during my time mysterious Myanmar.
Myanmar Travel Advice # 1 – Submit Your eVisa Application ASAP
According to Myanmar’s official eVisa site, the application processing time can be up to 3 days. No big deal. However, when it came time for me to apply, just getting to the point where I could submit anything was a royal pain. First it started with system issues on their side, then some sort of browser incompatibility where my photos weren’t displaying correctly. Eventually everything got sorted out, but 10 days after I originally wanted to apply.
Note that Myanmar is currently NOT offering Visa on Arrival for tourists, so your only options are to go through this eVisa system ($50 USD), or apply in person at one of their many embassies ($20-$34 USD).
Myanmar Travel Advice # 2 – Bring a Small Stash of Extra Crisp US Bills
Even though the local kyat currency is now available to visitors, US bills are still widely accepted. In fact, in many of the tourist hubs, prices will often be prominently displayed in USD. While you’ll still be able to pay in kyat, vendors will sometimes inflate the total cost to compensate.
It’s also very important to make sure that your bills are crisp with no visible signs of damage. While some shops may be fine with slight wear, banks or currency exchange counters will only accept near pristine condition. As I learned when arriving in Bagan, even a light crease is enough for a bill to be rejected.
Myanmar Travel Advice # 3 – Don’t Always Count on ATM Availability
For the most part, you will have no issues finding working ATMs in the larger cities of Yangan, Mandalay, and even Bagan. Each will dispense kyat and usually allow you to take out up to 300,000 at a time ($255 USD), which is a great way to avoid racking up expensive transaction fees.
Don’t rely too heavily on ATMs when traveling outside the main tourist hubs though, as out of service errors are far from uncommon. I had a scare during my time in Inle Lake, when 2 of the 3 ATMs in town weren’t working. Luckily that 3rd one came through and I didn’t have spend the next few weeks working off my hotel stay!
Myanmar Travel Advice # 4 – Bring Your Own Food for Long Distance Travel
Traveling throughout Myanmar in anything other than an airplane will usually require multiple hours. If you’re lucky, you’ll have some kind of dining car or frequent food stops, but this isn’t always the case.
While taking the train from Yangon to Mandalay, I ended up on the overnight express, which didn’t have a dining car. The only food available was from vendors who would quickly hop-on at each station we stopped at. Certainly better than nothing, but not so satisfying for a 15+ hour ride.
Interested in even more in depth advice on traveling throughout Myanmar? Check out this post for a full breakdown!
Myanmar Travel Advice # 5 – Hire a Driver to Help Explore Outside City Limits
While you can easily and cheaply get around the busier areas with the help of public transportation, it won’t get you very far outside of the city. You could certainly hire a taxi but, depending on how far you’re going, these can be very expensive (see my next tip for more on this). Instead, think about hiring a driver for the day through your hotel or guest house. Most will charge anywhere between $30-$50 USD, with plenty of room for negation if you have multiple trips or passengers.
Just as valuable as the car though is the driver, who will most likely be very knowledgeable about the area and can suggest places that you would have otherwise never known about. Kyauktan Yele Pagoda in Yangon and the private sunset temple in Old Bagan are both incredible stops that I wouldn’t have found without my driver’s help.
Myanmar Travel Advice # 6 – Negotiate Taxi Fares Like a Maniac
No group appears to be taking advantage of the tourism boom in Myanmar more than the local taxi drivers (“taking advantage of” being the key phrase here). Just about everywhere I traveled, taxies were charging foreigners sky high rates. The worst I experienced was being quoted 25,000 kyat (about $21 USD) for a 45 minute ride from the Yangon bus terminal to my hotel. That’s more than half of what I paid for a full-day with a private driver!
Your best bet here is to negotiate the same way you would in any other Southeast Asian country, but with a much lower counter. My strategy is usually to start at 1/3rd of the initial offer and do my best to end up at 1/2. For Myanmar though? I’d recommend starting at 1/4th and trying to get to 1/3. If that doesn’t work, see if you can find a few extra people to split the fare with.
Myanmar Travel Advice # 7 – Don’t Be Afraid to Talk to the Locals
I found the locals all throughout Myanmar to be incredibly friendly, proud, and curious to know more about travelers from outside their country. While hanging around Yangon during Burmese Independence Day, I had quite a few approach me and start a conversation, asking where I was from and what life was like back in the US.
No matter what, everyone always wanted to make sure that I was enjoying my time there.
Myanmar Travel Advice # 8 – Bring Sanitizer Wipes For Your Feet
As with all traditional Buddhist temples, visitors are required to remove both their shoes and socks before entering. In the more crowded ones, this usually just results in a thin layer of dirt that can easily be cleaned afterwards. No big deal.
A few of these temples however are literally crawling with wildlife, which means that there’s a fair chance of stepping in something not so sanitary. Believe me, there was nothing that I wanted more than a wet wipe after stepping in a pile of ice cold monkey poop at the bottom of Mount Popa.
Myanmar Travel Advice # 9 – Use a Travel Agency for Important Pre-bookings
Outside of the airlines, most forms of long distance transportation need to arranged in person or through your hotel/guest house. While this isn’t a big deal if you have plenty of time in advance to lock these down, it can be a bit nerve-wracking when you have a tight one night turnaround. For a small fee, you can have a local travel agency, such as Go-Myanmar.com, make the purchase for you. Just submit all of your info on their site and arrange a pick-up time with them to grab your ticket.
Looking back, doing this for my Yangon to Mandalay train trip would have saved me a ton of stress (and sleep). Lesson learned.
Myanmar Travel Advice #10 – Relax and Take Your Time
Just about all infrastructure throughout the country is still in the process of recovering from decades of military oppression. While this is rapidly improving to take full advantage of incoming tourism, you should still expect rough traveling conditions, delays, and frequent scheduling inconsistencies. Traffic can be horrendous in the larger cities and stable internet tends to be a luxury. Go in knowing all of this, and that it’s best to just have plenty of flexibility throughout your time here.
The best Myanmar travel advice I can give is to just go with the flow.
As long as you’re able to just accept that there will be bumps in the road while traveling Myanmar (both literally and figuratively), everything else will fall into place and you’ll be rewarded with a truly amazing travel experience.