Mingalarba is the greeting used in Myanmar and we heard many variations of its definition from different people as we travelled through the country. It always seemed to get a nice response so we would recommend it as a good start! We travelled for 10 days in Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) from “one” of the old capital cities of Yangon, to the ancient city of Bagan, to another “old” capital city of Mandalay, to the beautiful sights and sounds of Inle Lake, with a return to Yangon for our flight back out to Bangkok.
The intention of this page is to provide links to the various places we went and recommend as well as provide resources that we found useful along the way. We understand that we don’t have ALL the information, but what we do have will be helpful to those travelling to Myanmar!
The currency of Myanmar is the Kyat (pronounced “chat”). At the time of our visit $1USD was equivalent to 1000MMK (Kyat). It is very important that you bring brand new clean and unused USD if you are going to exchange for Kyat in Myanmar. It was recommended to us to do the exchange in the airport and exchange enough to use for the whole trip and transfer back any unused currency on the way out. The exchange rate either way differs less than 1% so you will not lose much if you have leftover currency to exchange when leaving Myanmar.
Do not expect to find ATM machines littered throughout the country, there are some but they are not abundant and you may experience difficulty removing money from them or even have faulty transactions due to the poor quality of their internet connections. Again we recommend you bring USD with you before you enter the country.
It is really important to understand and respect the political situation in Myanmar. Tourism is relatively new and there has been struggles between the people and their government for many generations. They are NOT ALLOWED to talk poorly of their government or the structure of it and the penalties for doing so are severe. There are places in the country you (as a tourist) are not allowed to visit or see, and be sure to check this out before visiting. There is a typical tourist route which is the one we did and can be varied to add in the “new” capital of Naypyidaw which apparently is quite strange and deserted however the previous President of the country spent a ridiculous amount of money to have it built.
It’s important to note that Myanmar is a place where you are at risk of contracting Malaria. We took Malarone which is a prescription anti malaria medication we brought with us from Canada. You are able to buy it abroad as well however Myanmar is not that place and we recommend you come medically prepared BEFORE entering the country. We visited a travel doctor before we left to get vaccinations and medications for our travel and would recommend you do the same to protect yourself against some potentially fatal diseases that can be fairly easily picked up when visiting Myanmar. Find out what is right for you and plan accordingly.
The water also shouldn’t be consumed without boiling first. As with most countries with contaminated water, we choose to drink only bottled water and even brush our teeth with it. It sure beats the alternative.
There are many ways to get around the country and even more ways to get around the varying cities and islands. Below are the ones we used and can attest to.
Taxi: Taxi fares are negotiated prior to leaving the destination and as always ARE NEGOTIABLE! The only place they aren’t actually negotiable is at the Yangon airport which seems to have the only fixed fees in the country, however they are reasonable. You will find a desk with a board and prices on it to various destinations at the Yangon airport and you should be able to get to any destination within the city for around $10USD. The traffic is extreme in Yangon so be patient and don’t expect a brand new taxi cab either, there aren’t many new cars driving around! You’ll also notice when you get off a bus and are travelling through the country there will be a mob of prospective taxi rides awaiting you with open arms. They will attempt to charge you roughly 4 times the price to get to your destination. You can expect to pay $5USD for two people to get to your hotel from the bus stations pretty much anywhere. If they insist, politely walk away and find someone who will drive you for a reasonable rate. You can also get a daily rate on taxis to take you around to visit the cities. We found that in Mandalay in particular this was the only way to travel and cost around $50USD for the day for two people, one of the least expensive day tours we’ve ever been on with incredible memories!
Bus: J.J. Express was our favourite bus company to travel with throughout Myanmar. We booked through a travel agent who arranged ALL of our bus tickets at once including having the tickets delivered to our hotel and shuttle rides to the terminals etc. which we really appreciated not having to do ourselves. We paid a slight premium for this and booked in Yangon from http://www.intrepid-travels.com/Contact.aspx. You can also find everything online @ http://myanmarbusticket.com to book tickets to travel around. Finally, you can just show up at the terminal and try to book a ticket that way, for the adventurous spirits only.
Bicycles: In Bagan and Inle Lake particularly, bicycles are a great way to get around. You can usually rent them from your hotel for very cheap, $3/day or some hotels will offer them for free with your stay.
Horse & Cart: You can choose to rent a horse and cart in some places to take you around and visit all the sites specifically in the archaeological zones as the government won’t allow foreigners to use motorized vehicles to get around. For a day tour you can expect to pay around $25USD for two people.
Walking: We walked almost everywhere within all the cities we visited and found it was the best way to experience the feel of the city, and the people of Myanmar. It’s also a great way to get exercise and meet the local people, which is really what Myanmar is all about.
There are many options for accommodation in Myanmar but we exclusively stayed in hotels. All hotels were booked on Expedia and we cross referenced our options with TripAdvisor to make sure we were going to have a great stay. Also all of our hotel stays included breakfast simplifying our meals and expenses for the day. Many people we spoke with decided to find their accommodation upon arriving and seemed to enjoy what they found in places such as hostels, guest houses and hostels. If travelling with a partner you will pay the same individually as you would in a hotel by booking a hotel except you will likely have a nicer, cleaner, private room. Hotels in Myanmar are very expensive due to a limited supply which is being built up currently to accept the new influx of visitors.
Cost: Average cost of a 3 star hotel including breakfast $75USD/night.
We were told that the two best cities for Visas while travelling through Asia were Singapore and Bangkok. In Bangkok they have many embassies from all over the world making it a great place to stop and grab the visas you require to get into the other countries you wish to visit. At first we visited a ‘visa specialist’ who asked us for $100 USD per person per country to do our visas for us. We politely declined and decided to do them ourselves which was much easier than expected. We were able to get same day Visas for Myanmar. The cost per visa was around $50 USD for same day service which allows up to 28 days in the country.
Myanmar cuisine is different. The standards for cleanliness are not nearly the same as home and the ‘imitation western’ dishes are not very good. We found some gems as far as restaurants go with local and foreign cuisine which will be listed below. Traditional dishes when properly made are delicious but be wary when ordering food from a street vendor! When going to a local restaurant, you will usually order a plate which will have a rice/curry combination of sorts. Ask what you are getting before you buy but this was an excellent experience and the two of us had lunch for $2 USD.
To enter most temples you will need to be wearing a Longyi to cover up for both men and women and women typically have their shoulders covered. Also, you will be asked to remove your shoes and possibly pay a fee to enter ($4-10).
CITIES, ATTRACTIONS & RESTAURANTS WE VISITED:
Yangon: Our introduction to Myanmar was landing in Yangon (formerly Rangoon). It’s filled with old colonial style buildings and there is a moss over everything in the city from the amounts of moisture and humidity found in the rainy monsoon season. Truly a must visit place.
CLOVER CITY CENTER (HOTEL)
PA PA PIZZA (RESTAURANT)
TITU’S INDIAN BANANA LEAF (RESTAURANT)
NGA HTAT GYI PAGODA (ATTRACTION)
SHWEDAGON PAGODA (ATTRACTION)
Bagan: Bagan is one of the most memorable parts of our trip thus far. The archaeological zone spreads a massive 40 square kilometres and most of the temples and pagodas were constructed between the years 1100-1300AD. Spending a few days here is a must if you visit and the sunset is absolutely spectacular. Make sure to visit restaurant row for your food (Weather Spoon’s is on it). Grab a taxi or horse and carriage tour for the day for $25 USD and enjoy this magical place.
WEATHER SPOON’S (RESTAURANT)
Inle Lake: Inle Lake is a great next place to visit. There are huts on the water and so much local culture to see and interact with. Undisturbed by tourism, you get to see what living on this lake truly is like for the local people. Take a boat tour for the day for $25 USD.
VIEWPOINT LODGE & FINE CUISINES (HOTEL *BOOK AHEAD!)
INLE BOAT TOUR (ATTRACTION)
BEYOND TASTE (RESTAURANT)
THE SHAN AT VIEWPOINT (RESTAURANT)
THE FRENCH TOUCH (RESTAURANT)