DIY MYANMAR (Burma): A First-Timer’s Guide To The Golden Land

From all the countries in our itinerary on  our South East Asia backpacking trip, Myanmar is the country that we were looking forward to visit the most. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, opened its doors to tourism a few years ago. Since then, it’s been on top of the list for travelers visiting South East Asia. Myanmar, with its years of isolation and mystery, people are brimming with curiosity as to how the country is doing in the present. We did some research online and via other travelers before coming to Myanmar.  We got bits of information; however, we still did not know exactly what to expect from this country. Myanmar was our last stop in our South East Asia itinerary and we indeed saved the best for last. So here is our guide to visiting “The Golden Land” or  “The Land of Pagodas” – Myanmar. This is the first part of our travel guide series for Myanmar.

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Old City of Bagan | Photo by: Mica Veloso

GETTING THERE

Fly to Myanmar.

We learned this one the hard way. Most of our trip was made overland except for the flight to Vietnam. As we were on a tight budget, we planned to enter Myanmar by crossing the border from Northern Thailand in Mae Sai to Tachileik in Myanmar and travel onwards to see the rest of the country. We found information online about border crossings to Myanmar but it was rather inconsistent as some sites indicate that you can only travel as far as Keng Tung if you enter the country from this border. This was not acceptable for us as we wanted to see the Big Four (Mandalay, Inle Lake, Bagan and Yangon).

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Young monks in a monastery in Mandalay | Photo by: Mica Veloso

Visa limitations and Stress

We also had only one day left in our Thai visa and we needed to get out of the country the next day. So, we surveyed our options. We were in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand at that time and flights from Chang Mai to Myanmar were outrageously expensive for us backpackers nearing the end of our trip. That option was definitely out. Next, we checked flights from Bangkok to Myanmar and they were cheaper but we needed at least half a day to get to Bangkok and we wouldn’t make the flight to Myanmar in time. That means we would overstay our visa for one day in Thailand and there would be a 500 baht penalty per day. We decided to take the risk and headed out to Bangkok by bus the next day on their earliest trip.

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Pagoda in Myanmar

TIP!!!

  • When searching flights from Bangkok to Myanmar, choose the ones departing from the old airport (Don Muang Airport) as the flights are relatively cheaper than the ones departing from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
  • Book your flights as early as possible to avail of seat sales.
  • Search both prices for Yangon and Mandalay. We booked the cheapest option the night before our departure to Myanmar. The cheapest option we found was flying in to Mandalay from Bangkok and flying out of Myanmar from Yangon to Bangkok. Our roundtrip airfare amounted to Php 6,540.51 or USD 145.41 per person. Not bad at all for booking the flights the night before!
  • Airasia also offers a free shuttle bus from the airport to the city center. This helps you save money too as the airport is quite far from the city center, around 35km.
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Local fisherman in Inle Lake | Photo by: Mica Veloso

Myanmar Visa

The Philippines is part of the ASEAN community, so they did not require a visa for us to enter Myanmar and we were allowed to travel the country for 14 days. For other nationalities, please check the current visa policies for Myanmar.

Overall: Flying to Myanmar is the best option especially if you have limited time to spend in the country. Overland travel can cost a lot of time and money. In addition, transportation options are limited in isolated parts of the country.

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A farmer in one of the villages near Kalaw | Photo by: Mica Veloso

MONEY

In Myanmar, dollars and their local currency kyat (pronounced as “chat”) are both accepted. At the time of visit (August 2014), 1 dollar was equal to 985 kyat. As of January 2015, 1 dollar is worth 1030 kyat. The best exchange rate we got in Myanmar was in Mandalay at some jewelry shop in front of the Zay Cho Market, one of the main market places in the middle of town. They based the rate on the official exchange rate on the newspaper that day!

TIP!!!

Make sure that your dollar bills are pristine as for some reason they do not accept old or folded bills.

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Thilashins or “Pink Nuns” in Yangon

More tips when traveling in Myanmar:

WATER – Based on stories from other travelers we met who have been to Myanmar, a lot of people get sick there by drinking water or with the food. Luckily, we did not get sick during our whole stay. However, we were careful by drinking only bottled drinks and no ice.

GET READY TO GET BAREFOOT! – When visiting the temples and pagodas in Myanmar, no footwear is allowed, even if it means it’s a whopping 1,729 steps to the top! So reserve your foot spa appointment for after your trip.

DRESS APPROPRIATELY – Myanmar is a conservative country and you can especially see this with the way the locals are dressed. Both men and women wear the “longyi,” their traditional clothing made of a sheet of cloth with different patterns, much similar to our Filipino “malong.” Please make sure that your shoulders and knees are covered especially when visiting temples and holy places.

GET FRIENDLY WITH THE LOCALS – Since Myanmar has not had that many tourists in the past years compared to its South East Asian neighbors, the locals are very much intrigued and interested to talk to tourists. At first, we were wary with people approaching and maybe trying to scam us, but this never happened to us in the whole of our stay in this beautiful country. The people of Myanmar are friendly, open and respectful.

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Locals in Inwa

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Our Myanmar crew

Hopefully this information helps travelers journeying to Myanmar for the first time. 14 days was not enough for us to see all that we wanted to see in this gorgeous country and we promised to ourselves that we will be back in the future. So, soak up the culture, meet some locals and have a grand time! We surely did. 🙂

*All photos are by: Mica Veloso, our fellow backpacker. For more beautiful travel photography, you can follow her on Instagram.

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