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What you need to know about Myanmar
Population: Around 51 million
Capital city: Naypyidaw
Official Language: Burmese
Currency: Burmese Kyat
Myanmar, also formally known as Burma, is very rapidly getting a great reputation for travel. Myanmar is a country located in South-East Asia. It borders many other countries, such as India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand, as well as having a very long coastline in the western and southern regions. At last official count there were 51 million people living in Myanmar, from many different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Overall, Myanmar is known as a relatively conservative, largely buddhist country. Although it’s important to note that most Burmese are very tolerant of other religions and cultures.
In terms of tourism, Myanmar has made massive leaps forward in the last 5 or so years. Due to a long history of political turmoil and military rule, Myanmar has basically been isolated on the world stage, which meant trade sanctions and restricted travel. However, the change of government in the past decade, has ensured better times for the Burmese people as well as a strong thirst for tourism and opportunity.
For travellers, Myanmar is absolute gold. The country is safe, affordable, full of culture, and has a very interesting history. But best of all, the people are really friendly and willing to embrace travellers. Whether it’s group style travel or solo travel, Myanmar is great for both.
Most tourists tend to head to the hotspots of Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake, and while these places do live up to the expectation, there are many more great areas of the country to see. So to really enjoy Myanmar, we’d say that you should go for about 2 weeks. This will allow you plenty of time to get around and really enjoy the place. It can be quite slow and arduous to get around at times, so there is no point rushing it. If you have never been to Asia, you need to know that timekeeping and organisation is a little more relaxed, when compared to other areas on the planet such as Europe.
Best Places To Go
The busiest and most populated city in the country and a great place to spend a couple of days.
There are plenty of great sights to check out such as the Shwedagon Pagoda, but the highlight is enjoying the street food culture in Downtown Yangon. Check out our article on What To Do In Yangon for more great info.
Another great option for a day trip, is Mt. Kyaiktiyo. Also known as the “Golden Rock,” this place is very sacred to Buddhists all over the world and is considered a holy pilgrimage. We loved it there, and better still, there were barely any tourists.
For some handy info and tips on Yangon, read this article.
A very picturesque town located high up in the mountains. The lake is famous for the traditional fishing families who live there in bamboo floating houses. The area is also great for outdoor activities such as hiking and bike riding. We recommend a stay of about 4 nights, that way you can do some overnight hikes around the lake too.
Read our guide on Inle Lake here.
Unfortunately the place is growing in popularity which means the town is becoming quite westernised and modern, so it’s best to get there soon!
A hot and dry town in the centre of the country littered with magnificent ancient stupas and temples. It is worth staying about 3-4 nights so you can thoroughly explore the shit out of these temples.
Again this place is also crawling with many tourists, however this shouldn’t matter. There are literally thousands of temples to see over acres and acres of ground, so you are likely to be on your own for a lot of your sight seeing.
Mandalay is very hot, dry, multicultural and busy. The city itself is a little boring and ugly, except for Mandaly Hill. It is worth the hike up the hill at sunset or sunrise just to enjoy the views of the city.
There are also great small towns just outside Mandalay that are worth seeing such as Ava, Mingun, Sagaing and Amarapura. These can be easily seen on day trips. So a stay in Mandalay of about 2-3 nights should be plenty.
Other Places to Visit
Like we said, Myanmar is friggen huge and very diverse. So of course there are many other places worth a look. Some we have been to, others we haven’t.
Ngapali Beach: Resort style town on the West Coast great for relaxing.
Kalaw: Located very close to Inle Lake. This is a great place to either start or finish some overnight hikes. We hiked from here to Inle Lake and rated it highly.
Bago: A former ancient capital located within a couple of hours of Yangon.
Mrauk U: Another ancient part of Myanmar filled with a lot of interesting temples and pagodas.
Sittwe: Located in the North West of Rakhine State, Sittwe is a very cultural town full of both Muslim and Buddhist architecture. Due to the current conflict with Bangladesh, it might be best avoiding Sittwe for the time being however.
Handy Tips For Your First Time
Best time to visit: The best time to visit Myanmar is really anywhere between October and March. This will ensure mostly good weather and comfortable temperatures, as you are outside of the monsoon season. Keep in mind that November and December is usually peak tourist time, so expect bigger crowds and jacked up prices, especially in Yangon, Inle Lake and Bagan.
Getting around: Myanmar is a pretty big place so getting anywhere can take a long time. There are really two main options when going from city to city, these are by bus or plane. The bus is by far the cheapest option. Overnight buses can cost less than $10 and are easily booked last minute from small travel agencies in most cities and towns. However expect very long (hours and hours) and sometimes really uncomfortable journeys. Myanmar currently has some pretty shit house road conditions, although these are slowly improving.
If you are tight on time, then don’t hesitate to fly. Myanmar has a number of airline companies that all basically do the same route. Flights are usually at least 10 times the price of the bus, but you will save hours of time, which is sometimes needed on those short trips. From our experience, the airlines were excellent and very safe. Some of the airlines available in Myanmar include AIr KBZ, Asian Wings Airways, Golden Myanmar Airlines and Mann Yadanarpon Airlines.
Expenses: If you are one of those scabby tight arse type travellers that will walk for an hour to find a cheap restaurant, then we recommend you head to South East Asia. Compared to Europe, Myanmar is very very cheap, when compared to the rest of South East Asia, it is slighty more expensive. A meal at a local restaurant can be $5-10, while one litre of beer can cost around $1. A dorm in bed in a hostel is about $5-10 and a private room at a guest house is about $15-20. Although keep in mind, busier places such as Bagan and Inle Lake are a little more pricey and you might actually have to book at least a few days in advance during peak season.
Onwards Travel: Well you can pretty much travel onto anywhere else in South East Asia from Myanmar. Yangon and Mandalay airports connect with Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. There are also many land border crossings, which means onwards travel via bus is possible. Do keep in mind entering Bangladesh and India from Myanmar is definitely not recommended due to ongoing political unrest.
So there you have it, your first time guide to Myanmar! We hope you enjoyed reading “Best Places To Go In Myanmar: A First Time Traveller’s Guide.”
When will you be heading over for a visit?