Myanmar is an incredible place to visit, we spend a month backpacking Myanmar and found it to be one of the most authentic and eye opening countries to visit in South East Asia. But many people also have concerns about travelling to Myanmar such as visas, border crossings, affordability, politics and safety. We have to admit that before we visited Myanmar we were a little bit apprehensive and didn’t know what to expect. But what we found was an incredible country and such a rich and unspoilt culture and some incredible places to visit in Myanmar. So we decided to put together this Myanmar guide to prove that backpacking Myanmar is something every visitor to South East Asia could consider.
Backpacking Myanmar: Budget accommodation and travel
Many of the people I spoke to before visiting Burma expressed the opinion that Myanmar is an expensive place to visit for the region. It is fair to say it is more expensive than the rest of South East Asia but it is also cheap compared to many area of the world still. It is entirely possible to backpack Myanmar on $25 ( £29 / A$34) a day per person. So don’t let money stopping you seeing all the amazing places to visit in Myanmar.
Presently Hostels are still not as common as in the rest of the region, but being one of the real off the beaten track places to visit in South East Asia its not surprising. But many more hostels are popping up, especially in the popular places to visit in Myanmar such as Bagan, Yangon, Inle and Mandalay. In many other places around the country guest houses and homestays are great options on a budget.
Other costs in Myanmar are very reasonable and more in line with the rest of South East Asia. Street food and local places are very cheap and the food in Myanmar is some of the best we’ve ever had. Imagine a combination of Thai and Indian! Bus travel is also very affordable, whereas internal flights can be very expensive.
How to be responsible when visiting Myanmar: Making a positive impact
The politics situation in Myanmar is complicated and changes from day to day. Many people have expressed the opinion that Myanmar should be boycotted due to the corruption within the government and accusations of genocide. I totally respect that opinion, however if you are responsible when you visit Myanmar you can make sure that you have a positive impact on the people of this wonderful country. By boycotting Myanmar you risk punishing the everyday people who rely on tourism for their income and plunging them into even more poverty whilst they are at the same time victims of the government regime. You will also miss out on the amazing places to visit in Myanmar too.
Some of the best tips for responsibly backpacking Myanmar are:
* Avoid expensive establishments such as hotels and restaurants which are usually government owned
* Be aware who your money is going to: Stay at local establishments, eat at privately owned places, buy at markets from local vendors.
* Be a force of good when backpacking Myanmar: Tourism here is having a great impact on the people of Myanmar, locals have more rights to trade privately and need support in order to make it work. Some hostels and guest houses might be a little rustic, but supporting local business is the best way for your visit to have a positive impact.
Money in Myanmar: Using ATM’s, US dollars and Myanmar Kyat.
Myanmar might be one of the most off the beaten track places to visit in South East Asia and many people have concerns about managing your money and having access to money in Myanmar. However, after spending a month in Myanmar we had no trouble with money in Myanmar, but you should consider a few things:
* ATM’s are a lot more commonplace in Burma than expected: In the most common places to visit in Myanmar such as Bagan, Yangon, Mandalay and Inle, there are plenty of places to withdraw cash. In more remote places you might struggle finding ATM’s and should always carry cash. You should also be aware that fees for withdrawing from foreign accounts can be quite high so it’s best to get money out in larger chunks.
* The local currency in Myanmar is Kyat but also US dollars are common. In general you will pay less if you pay in $, but people expect the bills to be in pristine condition and even a fold might result in it being turned away. If you want to use Dollars you should try to get them before you arrive. However, we only used local currently and had no issues whatsoever.
* Some of the most incredible places to visit in Myanmar also come with an entrance fee for foreigners, prices are advertised in $ but can be paid in Kyat.
Myanmar travel guide: Visas, border crossings and airport arrivals
Travelling to Myanmar overland IS possible but the situation can change day to day and the border regions are some of the most unstable. You should inquire close to your travel time to see what the situation is.
Our advice for our Myanmar guide is to arrive in the country via one of the airports. Air travel across South East Asia is cheap and affordable especially from hubs such as Bangkok. Arriving into one of the main airports means you are much less likely to encounter any trouble entering or leaving the country.
Most countries require a visa for Myanmar and this should be done before you arrive. You can get an e-visa online from the government website and this costs $50 and lasts 28 days from your date of entry and is valid for 90 days after issue. With this visa you can enter via select airports or land borders from Thailand. The process is quick and easy, you will need to upload a photo and print off your confirmation once it goes through.
Myanmar travel guide: Using the local buses to get around the country
Backpacking Myanmar is easy with the local and affordable buses. Like must of South East Asia these can be uncomfortable and LONG, but they are also inexpensive and cover the most popular places to visit in Myanmar. Booking buses can be done direct at the bus stations or the tiny huts that are used as offices by the bus companies, but it is more common to book through your accommodation which often makes it a lot easier. Booking or finding timetables online before you arrive is not common so ask at your hostel or guest house for advice.
The buses in Myanmar are also often very cold, the locals love to ramp up the AC to prepare to bring some layers!
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Myanmar guide: Going off the beaten track in Myanmar and interacting with locals
Unfortunately getting truly off the beaten track in Myanmar is hard as many areas of the country are off limits and require extra permits that can be almost impossible to get. But on the other hand Myanmar itself is one of the most off the beaten track places to visit in South East Asia and just by being here you are guaranteed to experience some of the most authentic culture and genuine people in the region.
If you are looking for some great off the beaten track Myanmar destinations that are also quite easy to visit then places like Kyaikto (Golden Rock Pagoda), Hap-An, multi day trekking in Kalaw and Hsipaw. The trekking we did in Myanmar has to be one of the best experiences we’ve ever had whilst travelling, we walked from Kalaw to Lake Inle over 3 days, staying in small villages with local people, it is definitely one of the most incredible places to visit in Myanmar.
Backpacking Myanmar: Is it safe to visit Myanmar
Myanmar is often in the news and is portrayed as a war torn country. However if you stick to the regions that visitors are permitted then it is in fact one of the safest countries to visit in South East Asia. Myanmar gets far less visitors than the other countries in the region and as a result scams are also far less common. It’s a refreshing attitude when often feel like you have a $ sign floating above your head in places like Thailand and Vietnam. Here the locals are much more interested in why you are visiting and want to show you the best of their country. But you should always be sure to have travel insurance wherever you visit.
The best time to visit Myanmar
Like the rest of the region Myanmar has a dry and a wet season and is also starting to get a high season too. The dry season runs from October to May. From March to June it can get very hot and dusty and the high season is between November and February. March is often considered to be the best time to backpacking Myanmar. After June the wet season starts and lasts until September.
Myanmar destinations: Places to visit in Myanmar
Some of the best Myanmar destinations are:
* Bagan: For the incredible temples
* Hsipaw: For beautiful trekking with local tribes
* Kalaw: For amazing trekking and local life
* Hpa-An: For the monasteries and local life
* Lake Inle: For the beautiful lake and incredible stilt houses and local fishermen
* Mandalay: For the incredible U Bein Bridge
* Yangon: The colonial former capital is home to the Shwedagon Pagoda and interesting local life
* Kyaikto: For the inspiring and breathtaking golden rock pagoda
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