In no other country have I ever felt so welcome, or so much smiled at, as in Myanmar. Myanmar, or formerly known as Burma, is situated on the West of Thailand and only recently opened its borders to tourism in 2012. So while tourism, especially compared to close countries such as Thailand, is low, it is definitely on the rise. Hostels, hotels and more guesthouses are popping up in various locations and traveling around seems to be becoming easier by the day. Myanmar has a lot to offer, from beaches to beautiful fields filled with temples, visiting Myanmar is for many adventure travelers a dream come true. The country could easily be added to your travel itinerary of South East Asia, it is only a short flight from Bangkok, or could make a 2 – 4 week vacation on its own. Read some tips on traveling Myanmar, places to visit and things to do in Myanmar, and accommodation recommendations down below…
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Myanmar: Know Before You Go
Planning a trip to Myanmar? Best to go prepared, so you can enjoy your vacation worry free once you are over there. To help you out we have created a list of tips and things you should know before traveling to Myanmar. From visa policies to vaccinations, preparing for a holiday or vacation for Myanmar should start as early as 6 months in advance to be sure you will have enough time to get the right vaccinations needed and that you book your flight for the right season for Myanmar… you wouldn’t want to be stuck in 2 weeks of rain in one of the most beautiful places of Southeast Asia.
Visa For Myanmar
Only roughly 12 countries can visit Myanmar currently visa free. However, many EU countries, Canada, USA, Australia, New Zealand and many more can visit Myanmar with an e-visa. The e-visa has to be obtained before entering Myanmar, and often takes roughly 3 working days to be issued. Upon entering the country e-visa holders can stay for 28 days. The e-visa can only be obtained when entering at a select port of entries. As such it is important to do your research to see what situation applies specifically to you before booking a flight or bus to Myanmar. The tourist e-visa costs $50 and can be obtained online. For the specific requirements and to apply for a visa check the Myanmar e-visa website.
Safety in Myanmar
While most regions of Myanmar are perfectly safe to travel, there are still some conflicts going on between the government and ethnic minorities, especially close to the Chinese border and the Western side of Myanmar, so make sure to check the travel advice for Myanmar of your government before traveling to Myanmar. While most of the touristic places such as Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan are considered safe to travel, it is always advised to check the latest news and travel advisory, especially if you are planning on traveling off the beaten path in Myanmar.
Health & Vaccinations
Check with your doctor beforehand if you need any vaccinations or perhaps antimalarial medication depending on which regions or places you are planning to visit. To avoid getting sick on the road be sure to only drink bottled water. Moreover, it is strongly advised to bring some toilet paper along as many restaurants, and stops along the road won’t have any. If you are on specific medications be sure to bring enough, plus backup, for the duration of your journey. Spread the medication between day bags and checked in luggage to avoid being without medication if your luggage goes missing. Last, but definitely not least, when going hiking be aware that there are snakes in Myanmar (both poisonous and not poisonous). For more tips on health & vaccinations for Myanmar checkout Lonely Planet.
When to visit Myanmar
With the monsoon season starting in May and lasting till October visiting Myanmar can be quite hard, streets can be flooded making traveling around harder. However, this rain will mainly fall in the South and West of the country. The North of the country, places such as Bagan and Mandalay, experience way less rainfall and can therefore still be easily traveled to. Many would recommend the high season, lasting from November till February, with little rainfall. During the months of March and April temperatures can rise up to 40 degrees Celsius, which could make traveling in the ‘dry area’, such as Bagan, a bit uncomfortable.
Places to see and things to do in Myanmar
Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital, is currently still the most important and largest city of the country. If you will travel to Myanmar it is highly unlikely you will not find yourself in this city as it also home to the largest international airport of the country. The budget travelers will most likely stay in China town, where most hostels of the city, and other backpackers can be found. Wander around town and you will find tons of colonial buildings timing back to when the British colonized Burma. Awe at the largest pagoda of Myanmar, take a stroll through the park or explore Myanmar’s neighborhoods by train. Yangon is a city that undoubtedly should be on your itinerary. To find out what there is to do in Yangon, check out our complete Yangon city guide.
When thinking about Myanmar, or googling Myanmar, this is often the first place that comes to people’s mind. Bagan, an ancient city filled with endless fields of temples, pagodas and stupas, a place that could probably leave you wandering for days, perhaps even weeks… Witnessing a sunset in Bagan is on many people’s Myanmar bucket list, and it should be on yours. Seeing the sunrise or sunset in Bagan to many travelers is considered the highlight of their trip. After seeing the sunrise explore the rest of Bagan by bicycle or e-bike to see all of Bagan’s most beautiful temples and pagodas.
Inle Lake is a 20km long lake, surrounded by beautiful hills, that can be found in the Western Shan State. The lake is known for the characteristic fishermen but also the floating villages, with some of these villages even having their own floating gardens and temples. This destination is a perfect getaway if you want to enjoy some nature. Stay in the nearby village of Nyaung Shwe where most of the buses will stop and the guesthouses can be found. Your guesthouse will most likely be able to arrange the option to rent a boat for a day to enjoy the lake, see the fishermen at work, or visit the small villages on the lake.
Mandalay is the second largest city of Myanmar and can be found in the centre of Myanmar, although this is as far North as most travelers go. Mandalay is in fact the last royal capital of the country; you can find the Mandalay Palace here, the last palace of the Burmese Monarchy. While many travelers skip Mandalay, as it seems like it is a city that doesn’t have a lot to offer, it is actually a city that should be on everyone’s Myanmar itinerary. There are plenty of things to do in Mandalay, both touristic and off the beaten path. See the magical sunset from Mandalay hill or wander around the Hsinbyume Pagoda, a stunning white pagoda located in the surroundings of Mandalay.
Hsipaw, located 200km Northeast of Mandalay, is a small village that travelers use as a home base for trekking. It is recommended to take the train to Hsipaw, and well it might be slow, it is known as the most beautiful train ride in the world. It is a full day activity, but well worth your time. Once you get to Hsipaw, you can opt for a one day or multiple day trekking to explore the beautiful green and lush surroundings of the Shan State. Stay at homestays when doing overnight trekkings and learn more about the locals living in the Shan state. Do know however that Hsipaw is located close to a conflict zone, and while travelers will tell they felt safe, it is recommended to only go trekking with a guide in the area!
Pyin Oo Lwin
Closely located to Mandalay, and often a forgotten destination, is the lovely town of Pyin Oo Lwin. While the town is not worth staying for a long time, it is home to many colonial buildings, botanical gardens and the beautiful Anisakan Waterfalls. A recommended one or two night stay will keep you entertained and gives a perfect getaway from the busy city of Mandalay. While many travelers skip seeing Pyin Oo Lwin, it is also the gateway to head further into the Shan state, and to go trekking in some of Myanmar’s most beautiful green surroundings in Hsipaw. While this might not sounds exciting for everyone, it is the train ride that will make most people change their mind. The train ride from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw is considered the most scenic and beautiful train ride in Myanmar as it crosses the photogenic Goteik Viaduct. Interested in taking the train? Check out our complete guide to the train ride and crossing the Goteik viaduct with all the info and tips.
Hpa An is small, but the area is beautiful and gives the opportunity for some nice hikes to viewpoints or some beautiful nature. It is a destination that is often skipped by many travelers, as it is quite of the general travel route. But those who do visit, get rewarded with beautiful caves, fields filled with buddha statues and the opportunity to see some of the most beautiful sunrises of Myanmar. Rent a scooter and explore Hpa An’s area or simply enjoy the delicious local foods in the centre of Hpa An. Hpa An is the gateway to Thailand, and travelers can take a bus or taxi here to find their way to Chiang Mai or Bangkok.
Transport in Myanmar
Distances between touristic destinations in Myanmar are rather large, and if not researched well, also rather uncomfortable. Luckily, due to the rise of tourism in Myanmar it has become easier now then ever to travel in Myanmar. Book tickets online, make your way to the station and just sit back and enjoy the view. The most convenient way to travel around Myanmar is by taking the bus. Read our tips for taking the bus in Myanmar down below.
Taking the Bus in Myanmar
Taking the bus in Myanmar is the most comfortable way to see the country, especially if you take the VIP bus. There are many bus services running nowadays, especially on the touristic routes. It is recommended to take the VIP bus, especially if you plan to travel overnight, as these buses are a whole lot more comfortable. While the traditional buses are set up on a 2 + 2 seater basis, with very limited leg space, VIP buses have larger seats as they are set up on a 2+ 1 basis. They also have more leg space and many services offer fleece blankets to keep you warm during the night. Check out the price of the buses, how many hours it takes and the available buses here! One of the most popular VIP bus services is JJ Express, you can check out reviews and photos of how your VIP will roughly look like here op Tripadvisor.
However, with the rise of tourism you will often find these buses completely sold out if you don’t book them in advance, especially in the high season. As such it is recommended to book your bus a couple of days in advance. When boarding the bus be sure to bring a warm sweater, socks and to wear long pants, the air-conditioning is often turned high and it will be cold on the bus.
Trains in Myanmar
While normally trains are the preferred way of travel by many travelers, you might want to skip taking the train in Myanmar. The railways in Myanmar are bumpy and the train only travels with a low speed, often making this an uncomfortable and long way to see the country. Nonetheless, there are a couple of train rides that are worth your time, such as the circle train in Yangon and the scenic train ride from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw.
Accommodation in Myanmar for Budget Travelers
Yangon – Hostel 9 Yangon – Located close to many sights and delicious restaurants Hostel9 offers a perfect location for a decent price. Staff is helpful with booking bus tickets and giving advice about what to do and how to get there in town. With the free breakfast and a nice hangout area the hostel is a great place to meet new travelers at the beginning of your trip! Hostel9 has one of the best locations of Yangon for backpackers, as it is conveniently close located to 19th street, the place to be at night.
Bagan – Ostello Bello Bagan – One of the first hostels to open in Bagan that offered wifi, comfortable beds, a good location and a good atmosphere. While the price might be a bit high (equal to hotels in the area) it is a good option for the solo flash packers or backpacker willing to splurge a little bit. The facilities are great, the hostel staff is friendly and helpful and the location is perfect!
Inle Lake – Ostello Bello Nyaung Schwe – This hostel is the second hostel of the Ostello Bello hostel chain in Myanmar and just like Bagan, offers great service. The hostel is clean, has comfortable beds, free breakfast and a rooftop with beautiful view. Besides that, the travel desk makes it easy to book trips or your next bus and the staff is well informed about everything there is to do in the area.
Mandalay – Ostello Bello Mandalay – When it comes to hostels and hotels in Mandalay, Ostello Bello must have the perfect location. The hostel is close to many restaurants, and the old Palace! The hostel offers a large range of dorms all equipped with good showers, own light and socket and a comfortable bed. The hangout area up and downstairs, and the free breakfast, makes it a great place to meet other travelers.
Pyin Oo Lwin – Royal Flower Guesthouse – A budget Guesthouse with the friendliest staff. From the moment we arrived we felt very welcomed. Rooms are basic but sufficient. Possibility to rent motorbike from the hotel to explore the area. Staff will give recommendations and draw maps, they also know the best food in town. So if you are looking for a budget option, Royal Flower Guesthouse is your place to be.
Hsipaw – Mr Charles Guesthouse – One of the places to be if you want to go trekking. Mr Charles Guesthouse is a massive guesthouse, home to private rooms and dorms, a restaurant and a travel agency. If you book in advance a truck will be ready to come and pick you up from the train. Once checked in you can sit down with the tour agency to discuss doing a one day or multiple day trekking. Solo traveler? No problem, you can join other groups of backpackers if there is still availability on the trekking! Accommodation is basic, but great for resources.
The Ultimate Myanmar Travel Guide
And there you have it, the ultimate Myanmar travel guide. Now that you are all ready to go and explore Myanmar, be sure to check out our other articles on Myanmar here for some more travel inspiration. Oh, and of course don’t forget to pin it!