It took me a good while to justify the trip to Myanmar. I had meant to go before, but things kept getting in the way. Moreover, I had heard less than ideal things about the place: it was expensive, public transport was terrible and relatively unsafe, power cuts took over the place on an all-too-frequent basis. And then there was dysentery. I knew people who had gotten it, and I wasn’t keen to become one of them.
But beyond the logistics of it that made it sound so complicated, it was overrated for another reason. Everyone who has been to Myanmar goes to the four same places, so the thought of making a trip that thousands of others had done before me wasn’t the most appealing.
So, despite these reservations, I decided to book the trip. It might be one of the best things I’ve done, travel-wise. Visiting Myanmar shattered so many of the preconceptions I had about the place.
Under Two Weeks Will be All You Need
I had low expectations of the trip that I didn’t allocate much time to Myanmar – but it turned out to be enough! Here is my itinerary:
Fly into Yangon from Bangkok or Chiangmai
Yangon – 4 nights
Bagan – 2 nights
Inle Lake – 2 nights
Mandalay – 1 night, then fly back to Thailand
You need 4 nights in Yangon because you need to allow yourself plenty of time to apply for a Thai visa.
Bagan only needs 2 nights – you can see everything in this amount of time. Plus, it was more than enough with all the dust and tourists.
Mandalay didn’t offer as much to see or do, which is why I only stayed one night, before flying back to Thailand.
You Can Apply for your Visa Online
If you’re someone who is always looking for the most convenient way to do something, or you’re a procrastinator and always run out of time for the important things, applying for your visa online will save you a whole lot of hassle.
Applying for your visa online definitely makes the whole process easier in Chiang Mai – back in the day you had to travel down to Bangkok and go to the Myanmar embassy to apply.
All you have to do is visit MyMyanmarVisa.com, take your passport photo, and pay $50. Mine got approved within three days, so it’s become easier and more convenient.
It’s Not as Expensive as You Think
One of the biggest preconceptions about Myanmar was that I was going to be spending between $50 and $100 a day. It turns out this wasn’t the reality at all.
Surprisingly, even though accommodation was easily the dearest part of the trip, it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. I paid on average $35 per night for accommodation that was clean and had hot water and Wi-Fi. This wasn’t even the cheapest you could go when it comes to accommodation – there was more affordable out there, that probably would have still been okay.
One of the best things about booking my accommodation is that – like the visa – I was able to do most of it online. I had heard that you couldn’t book much accommodation online and that you had to wait until you were in the country to make a call but I managed to book most of the housing I used online. I used Travelfish to find all of my accommodation.
It turns out the public transport system is better than I thought – I used it exclusively. It was reasonably priced as well. I paid $18.50 to ride from Yangon to Bagan, for example – definitely not breaking the bank.
A slight downside to the places I visited is that they’re so touristy now that it seems like you’re continually paying an entrance fee for everything you do. In Yangon, the majority of entrance fees were $3 – which isn’t too bad, but it adds up – and then Bagan was $15 while Inle Lake was $10.
It was a bit of a hit and miss with the events. Some are affordable, and some are insanely priced. A full-day cruise plus a sunset cruise on Inle Lake cost $15, which is reasonable.
Exchange Your Money Before Getting into the Country
Because the ATM’s can be a bit dodgy, I recommend taking cash with you into Myanmar. Take US dollars and always be prepared by taking more than you think you’ll need. It’s worth mentioning when you get your money changed that you’re going to Myanmar, and make sure all your notes are pristine.
They can be fussy when it comes to taking your money – even if it has a fold or a smudge, they might reject it. Keeping all your cash neatly together in an envelope is a safe way of making sure it stays in excellent condition.
I paid for accommodation with US dollars, but almost everything else I paid for was in Kyat. You can change your money within the guesthouses where you’re staying, but just remember that they might only have small denominations.
Buses Are the Way to Go
It amazed me how nice the bus rides were – this is the way to go when it comes to transport. The VIP buses are fantastic: the seats are spacious and comfortable. Plus, you get a free meal and water bottle with your trip. I booked through JJ Express – one of the best companies to book through. It’s worth remembering to book a few days in advanced.
No Power Cuts
Despite everything I had heard about the frequency of power cuts, I didn’t experience any while I was there. It wouldn’t have been the end of the world if there had been a couple. However, it was still a pleasant surprise not even experiencing a single one.
The Internet Was Good
The only place that the internet was terrible was in Bagan. Apart from that, it was surprisingly pretty good. While the speed wasn’t the fastest I’ve experienced, it did the job. Plus, we were in really touristy areas so it would have been slowed down by all the people using it.
Free Breakfast With your Accommodation Isn’t Worth It
It might be tempting to book accommodation based on the promise of a complimentary breakfast, but from my experience, it’s not worth booking it for this reason only. The free meals that came with all of my accommodation were terrible – you’re much better the venture out and find something hot, local and authentic instead.
It Wasn’t Too Touristy
Naturally, because I was headed to the places that everyone else likes to visit, I had expectations that they would be crowded with tourists. In fact, it was relatively easy to escape the crowds when I had had enough.
While the touristy areas were crowded, I didn’t have to walk far to get away from them and experience it with a little space of my own. However, when everyone is in one place, this means that other parts of the same area will be nice and quiet.
When everyone was riding in boats on Inle Lake, I was able to make the most of the relatively peaceful streets of Nyaung Shwe – where most of the accommodation is anyway.
I Avoided Getting Sick
Getting sick was one of the things I was most afraid of – the last thing you feel like experiencing on what’s supposed to be a fun-filled traveling adventure is being sick. I wasn’t even that careful with the food I ate – fruit and meat were consumed on almost a daily basis.
There are some things to remember though which might help prevent it. Try and have soup whenever you can, and eat the street food instead of going to restaurants. This isn’t fool-proof, but it worked for me.
Yangon Is Awesome
Yangon is hot and colorful. One of the things I loved most about it was that there weren’t any scooters – they’re illegal in Yangon. However, the traffic was still chaotic so be wary of that.
The colonial architecture reminded me of being in Penang, while the incense reminded me of Kathmandu.
I experienced Yangon’s circle line – which is only 19 cents for a three-hour ride! We trained past lush fields of grass, lots of factories, and chaotic marketplaces that can be found right in the middle of the train stations. When our train came in, they had to move out of the way.
Yangon is hot – I can’t say that enough times. But it was beautiful – from the Pagodas to the golden stupas that gleamed and shimmered in the scorching sun.
Bagan is so Much Fun
One of the highlights of my trip, except that two nights was enough – especially if you’re not a crowd person.
If you want to get away from all the tourists, I would recommend renting an electric bike. You can cover a lot of ground with an electric bike and go out to the areas that aren’t as touristy.
The best part about seeing Bagan like this is having areas to yourself, and experiencing more of it than if you were just walking. Worth hiring an electric bike to look at the sites and get yourself around a bit more of Bagan than you might have expected.
Inle Lake was one of the places that surprised me most regarding my preconceptions. A lot of people I had talked to about it had said to avoid it as they thought it was super touristy. This was not my experience with it.
I tried to get around and see as much of Inle Lake as I could, from having a ride on the lake at sunrise to visiting factories and getting to see the Jumping Cat Monastery. I was surprised at how enjoyable all of this was, and it wasn’t too overcrowded – there was hardly anyone else on the boat with me at the beginning.
You can see everything you want to in the time I did Inle Lake, but if you’re going to take your time, there’s more to be done. Overall it was a beautiful, fun-filled experience and I’m glad I spent two nights here.
The biggest thing I learned from traveling to Myanmar is: don’t judge a book by its cover, or by what you hear about it. It’s easy to form preconceptions about a place before you’ve even been there, based on what other people have to say about it.
But if you take the plunge and choose to go and experience it for yourself, you’ll quickly find that a lot of those preconceptions are wrong. I can’t wait to do it all over again, so highly recommend the place. Go to Myanmar!