Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Current Travel Tips For Burma

With the borders reluctantly officially more open to tourism than ever, I was in Burma for 10 days in February, and after doing loads of reading and research online for the latest information, I thought I would post and collate my knowledge and experience to help anyone else about to visit.

Burma is a place that I fell in love with - the people are the gem of the country, with their kind-hearted nature and friendliness. There is so much to see, and I really only touched the surface, but felt like I got a great look at Mandalay and surrounds, Bagan, Inle Lake and the hillside villages of Kalaw, before finishing off with a couple of nights in Yangon.

To start off, you can get your visa on the same day, whilst in Bangkok. Follow the directions I have linked to over in this post from when I went to get mine, and you can't miss. Finding the Embassy is a little tricky, but those links are spot on - I wouldn't have found it without them! If you have a flight booked, or are insistent about why you need it on the same day - I was heading to Chiang Mai the next day, and so had no time before my flight to return to pick up my all important little blue book with it's new sticker - but many people needed a print out of a flight booking for this.

I got a flight into Mandalay from Bangkok, avoiding the need to complete the loop between Yangon and the central destinations. But it's also not possible to cross the border overland from Thailand, so this was the best option I found.

Be prepared for the overnight buses. It seems to be the easiest way to get from place to place. I did look at the train from Kalaw to Yangon, but given that it takes all day and a night, I ran out of time after my trek. The buses are comfortable enough, and stop a couple of times for a rest break, although the karaoke or music video obsession of bus companies and SE Asia is alive and well here too. Be warned!

There were no ATMs for foreign cards that we saw anywhere in Burma, although there were a couple reportedly in Yangon in construction or advertised as coming soon. This means you need to carry the amount of money you need for your stay in with you, in crisp US dollars. Even airline offices do not have credit card facilities, so you need to think about what you might be doing, and how you could be getting around, and how much you may want or need to spend on accommodation.  Change the US dollars into kyat (pronounced “chat”) when you can, because the locals have trouble exchange them. Hotels may take US dollars, but smaller notes would be better for them. Any note in bad condition, even an edge folded, makes things difficult for a local to move it on, so keep them in good condition or you may be stuck with currency you will not be able to use.

I budgeted on $100US per day, and actually did not spend that much in the 10 days I was there. In the bigger towns like Yangon accommodation was more expensive, unless your standards are very, very low. Mine are at times, but the cheap options in Yangon that I saw were just not ok for a girl on her own, nor did they smell very good!

We paid $30 per night for the nicest place we stayed in, which was on the water at Inle Lake, and away from the crowds and tour groups. It was perfect to have this place as a resting point at this stage of our travels, and felt so authentic as the family running the guesthouse lived in the adjoining house, and cooked and served us in their restaurant on their decking.

I paid $60 for my room in Yangon, the most I paid, which was a pretty new hotel near Sule Pagoda.

Food is cheap, and transport around town is too – the quoted price from a taxi/horse cart/rickshaw driver is usually spot on, so try not to be too aggressive with any bartering. It's not actually needed.
The fermented tea salad, as a snack, is so yum!

One of the best things I noticed when travelling around was the Burmese's ability to be two steps ahead of you in terms of what you need. When we grabbed a cart down to the river in Bagan, our driver guessed what we were up to, and talked to a moto driver along the way, who took off down to the river and set up a boat with chairs and a guide for us. The keenness to help and ensure you have a great trip, and also the anticipation of your needs, is all part of the Burmese charm. I hope they don't lose that with the avalanche of tourism on it's way!

We had read that there was no internet, but there is some, more in Yangon, but many of the guesthouses offer it, if you really need it. It was kinda nice, thou
gh, to travel like we all used to, with research and interacting with people for recommendations and advice.

It's safe! I mean, if anything happens to you as a tourist there are rumoured to be heavy penalties to the locals from the government - the throw back of the military rule and their quest not to make the international news for any more bad reasons, I am sure. But even without that, I never had any bad feelings wandering around when I was travelling on my own, taking the usual precautions of course. And it's an easy place to travel. We spotted families with young children getting around Bagan, all riding bikes to explore the temples - it's perfect for that! What an amazing experience as a youngster! Archaeologists in the making, surely!

Lastly, now, there are so few tourists there right now. In many places, we were only a handful of foreigners around. So go now and enjoy this new but old destination, before all this changes!


  1. another travel option that Aaron my son loved was the 3 night/4 day boat trip Pyay-Bagan. Met some wonderful people, got lots of great pictures and a real change from the buses

    1. Ohhh, looks awesome! Thanks for sharing Barb!

  2. Love the post. I also fell in love with the country! Absolutely love the photo of the monk!

    1. Thanks so much!
      He was a cutie, for sure!


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