Myanmar also known as Burma is a Southeast Asian country which unites more than 100 ethnic groups within its borders. Currently living through a new era this exceptional country where you can find thousands of pagodas scattered across magnificent landscape and surviving traditional ways of Asian people.
If you already traveled to many different countries, feel that you have seen a lot and there is not a lot what can surprise you. Go to Myanmar! It is impressive to watch how this country has an ability to surprise and delight people who seen a lot during their travels. Start exploring Myanmar golden wonders with incredible dazzling Shwedagon Pagoda (Shwedagon Zedi Daw) located in Yangon. Or try to contemplate around 2000 surviving Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries in Bagan. To top it all up, you can climb Mt Kyaiktiyo, a place where most of the common folks gather, sleep and pray near famous Golden Rock. Each of these sights are religious, in their own way, they are between most important Buddhist sights around the country. So, most of the people you meet there will be not tourists, rather locals who are devoted to Buddhism and monks are revered there as stars.
After you visit religious sites do not forget that it is a nation of multiple ethnic groups. Traveling around Myanmar, visiting different villages, meeting various tribes will make you feel like in a TV show where you get to ask questions, experience their everyday life, enjoy a cup of tea and feel how warm and welcoming people of Myanmar truly are. Despite all the recent changes, Myanmar remains a rural nation of traditional values which has certain feel to it. While here you will meet men wearing the sarong-like longyi and most of women in super tight cloths. People in the streets will be chewing betel nut and spitting the blood-red juice onto the ground. Not only inside the country, but in neighboring countries as well you will meet Myanmar people coated in thanakha which they use not only for blocking the sun but also for fashion these days.
Current Myanmar is its people who are doing their best to make a change and develop their country in the best way they see. For more than a half century after end of British rule of Myanmar in 1948 country was under different influences and only in 2015 Myanmar had its first democratic elections. After which international Sanctions have been dropped, many investors from around the world and especially Asia poured to do business here. Country is developing fast, especially to withstand massive travel industry which is only growing here. Such things as mobile-phone coverage or internet access is now common, however, not so long ago it was different. Mostly, what is being developed is limited to big cities and some of Myanmar regions remain untouched due to ongoing ethnic conflict. Even though Myanmar military lost the elections, they tend to hold strong influence on the politics of the country.
All in all, the country does not let all the ongoing changes overwhelm you during your trip. Surprisingly, there are still many destinations, activities and pleasures which you can find yourselves enjoying alone. Rent a scooter in multiple destinations, such as Pyin Oo Lwin, Mawlamyine, Monywa or others. Go around the countryside, visit markets and not “must see” attractions. Find yourself a trek in amazing Shan mountainous region. Visit different villages, meet locals, who are amazing, humorous, engaging, warm and welcoming! Enjoy it to the fullest as people here what is truly golden, not the sparkling pagodas!
We spent here whole 4 weeks and we are sure that someday we will come back and explore more of Myanmar during another adventure!
What to expect
The currency in Myanmar is Burmese kyat. Even if you do not have kyats, it is considerably easy to get it changed from your currency in any bank you visit. Most of the ATM’s in Myanmar accept VISA or Mastercard. However, even if you use Revolut or equivalent card, you will be forced to pay a certain fixed bank fee (on our visit this was 5000 kyats, which is equal to 3.13 EUR). So, even if it is convenient and you can withdraw money from almost all of the ATM’s throughout the country, it includes certain cost.
To avoid the ATM’s cost, you can bring enough of cash with you on your trip. Both euro and dollar are very convenient and easy to change here. To lesser the costs, you can withdraw larger amounts every time you need cash. For instance, every time we had to withdraw money, we took the highest amount possible in the ATM (most of them have a limit of 300000 kyats which is less than 200 EUR). In our opinion it is best to bring enough cash for your trip and then you can avoid the ATM fees.
Important! Myanmar is still a country where in most places you will not be able to purchase or pay with a card. So, be prepared and always have some cash with you.
In Myanmar you will find mostly tropical and subtropical climate. Although country is in the monsoon region of Asia, it varies depending on your location and in the highlands, on elevation. Basically, country has three seasons starting with cool and dry from November to February, then hot but still dry from March to May and rainy season from June to October. As in most mountainous countries during the same day you can feel hot in the beach and cold in the mountains, so always plan which parts you are going to explore and dress accordingly. Myanmar is a big country!
The official language is – Myanmar language (which is by most of English speakers still called by its former name – Burmese language). This is official language in the country and also the language of Bamar(Burman) people – principal ethnic group of Myanmar. There are many major and minor groups throughout the country who speak similar or very different standard or non-standard dialects of this language or sometimes even different language at all.
We would suggest visiting Myanmar during cool and dry season between November and February. Especially, if you are not a fan of heat. Even though the temperature and weather can hardly be called cool at that time, you will find it going down to 22°C in central regions and 14°C in the north. Sometimes you can get lucky and get temperature even below 10°C during the night in the mountainous regions up north.
Myanmar is not very expensive when it comes to internet and card. The process to buy a card is quite easy as well, you can do it in many shops which provide telecommunication service. We chose Norwegian provider which we used in Bangladesh called Telenor. The SIM card cost us below 3 euros and included some credit for calls and 2 GB of internet data which was valid until we use it. There are monthly plans as well, we were familiar with their convenient application where you can pay online and top up whenever you need it. Afterwards in the same app you can order the amount of data or calls you wish. Great experience!
We would advise against drinking tap water in Myanmar. Even though in some sources you could find that water is safe to drink. In most of the places you visit, people have water purifiers or big canisters of already purified water which is alright. We suggest to doublecheck with your host or locals before you drink it. We drank lots of filtered water during our trip and we consider it to be safe.
We did try hitchhiking in Myanmar, and it was a very pleasant experience. Even though our first driver suggested that no one will stop for us and there are so many bad people in Myanmar, we decided to try our luck and we were genuinely surprised how easy is to hitchhike in here. Even in most remote places of Shan province where almost no traffic goes we managed to pass through various mountain passes and reach our destination with the help of warm and welcoming natives!
Couchsurfing does not work here as most of the people are inactive, busy or not responding. If you plan on using Workaway here, be prepared to spend some quality time as most of the hosts have a condition that you must stay at least for two weeks. It is amazing but when your visa is only 28 days and you want to travel around the country, that might get it the way. Therefore, in most cities we visited it was very easy and a good choice to use platforms like Agoda, Booking, Airbnb or others. The prices there are genuine and reasonable! All around the country you will find lots of budget good value price ratio deals available if you look for it! One thing we noticed, especially in Shan province, that hotel who can host foreigners has to have a certain license, which limits your options and possibilities where you can stay, on top of that, they might charge you more as there are not many places to go to.