Myanmar is a vast land of ancient pagodas, colorful water villages, and expansive landscapes. The country has only recently begun to open up. As a result, Myanmar has a blossoming tourist infrastructure, low prices, and is not overwhelmed by tourists.
I just spent a month in Myanmar and was completely charmed by the country's friendly people and scenic landscapes. This beginners guide to Myanmar will tell you everything you need to know when planning a trip.
Getting a Visa
Getting a visa for Myanmar is easy. You simply apply for it online. The application process is straightforward and easy to follow. A Myanmar visa costs $50 and can take up to three days to be approved.
However, I was approved in less than 4 hours. Several friends have had the same experience. Myanmar is tourist friendly and they welcome you with open arms.
Planning Your Budget
Myanmar is an extremely affordable country. At most local popular restaurants, a dish costs around one American dollar. Many bars offer famous Mandalay Mojitos for less than a dollar. Tourist-targeting places are a little more expensive, with single dishes or drinks ranging from $1 - $6.
Hotel prices also range wildly. On the cheaper end, you can get a hotel for as low as $11 a night, although I've found that $20 a night hotels are far better. These hotels are clean and friendly but might not provide shampoo and razors. You can find Western style hotels that do provide all the extras, but you should expect to pay close to Western prices.
Either way, Myanmar caters to all price budgets and therefore it is a matter of what you choose for your trip.
Best Options for Getting Around
Buses and trains are the best way to travel Myanmar on a budget. VIP buses are a little more expensive than trains, but much faster. Trains are cheap and spacious, but are slow and wobbly. The most I paid for a bus ticket was $12. You might be thinking that wasn't such a great deal but think again. That was for a 14-hour bus trip to another part of the country. No doubt, a very good deal. The most I paid for a train was $2.
What to Eat
Myanmar's food is delicious. The country's cuisine has a lot of Indian and Chinese influence. Personally, my favorite Burmese dishes are salads.
I can't think of any other country where I've ordered a salad for almost every meal. They have dozens of salads, and I never had one I did not enjoy. My personal favorite is the tea leaf, pennywort, tomato, and avocado salad.
How to Respect the Culture
Myanmar is a very polite country, and as tourists, it is our responsibility to adhere to their customs and be as respectful as possible. These customs include covering shoulders and knees for temples and learning to say "hello" and "thank you" in Burmese.
You should also always use your right hand when exchanging money or other items. For a left-hander like me, this proved tricky to remember, but it is very important.
Some of Myanmar's most touristy areas have entrance fees. It cost us $11 to visit Inle Lake and $20 for Bagan. The tickets are good for five days, and every foreigner must pay the fee. Carry the ticket on you, as tourist police will occasionally stop you and want to see your ticket.
Where to Go in Myanmar
Yangon – Your port of entry will most likely be Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city. Yangon is lovely and well worth lingering in for a few days. I highly recommend visiting Shwedagon Pagoda and spending an afternoon traveling around the city on the circular train. You should also wander the markets and restaurants on 19th Street.
Inle Lake – An incredibly scenic area, this massive lake has a ton of sites to explore: floating tomato gardens, water villages, one-legged fishermen, cat-filled temples, and giant pagodas. The most popular adventure at Inle is taking a boat tour. While boat tours will have a few sales stops, they are interesting and include all the major stops. Renting a boat and driver for a day is relatively inexpensive especially when compared to other country tours. The cost is only about $15.
Kalaw – Kalaw is another popular spot. While this city is small, it is a great base for a road trip to Pindaya or a three-day trek to Inle Lake.
Mandalay – Mandalay is Myanmar's second largest city, I didn't personally find Mandalay extraordinarily appealing, but others do. However, there are some excellent sites outside the city and a scenic train ride to Hsipaw.
Bagan – No trip to Myanmar is complete without a trip to Bagan. This massive temple complex extends for miles and miles. At its peak, Bagan housed over 10,000 ancient temples and pagodas. Nowadays, an impressive 2,000 remain standing. This is an incredible place for sunrises and sunsets. It is also a place famous for scenic hot air balloon rides if you can afford the price tag of $350 - $400.
Overall, Myanmar is a great country to visit. It is safe, exotic, and tourist-friendly, yet feels undiscovered, untainted, and with a lighter atmosphere than the rest of Southeast Asia.
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