Travelling to Myanmar is extremely exciting for anyone, but before you go, here are 11 things you should know before you go that will make your trip that little bit more special.
Hotels and restaurants say they have WiFi but you’ll learn pretty quickly that this doesn’t amount to much. If you can even connect you’ll be lucky to open up your emails.
Instead, pick up a local SIM card for $2 and purchase a data package. Data packages in Myanmar are very cheap and surprisingly fast and reliable. 4G has even reached Myanmar meaning that it is far easier to upload your photos, email loved ones and check up on your favourite sport via your phone.
You can purchase a SIM card at the airport but there are cell phone shops selling them all over the country.
Like many places in the world, you’ll always get a better deal if you pay with the local currency. In Myanmar this is the Burmese Kyat. The exchange rate as of January 2018 is $1 USD = 1,350 kyat. Be warned, money in Myanmar can be quite complicated. The larger hotels and restaurants will usually accept USD if that is all you have, but it’s unlikely that you will get a favourable exchange rate.
It’s impossible to purchase the Burmese Kyat outside of Myanmar. So we would advise bringing enough USD for 4-5 days of spending. Most importantly, it’s essential that the USD you bring into country is in prestine condition because otherwise it won’t be accepted at currency exchanges. These money exchanges you can find at the international airports, and also in the main city town centres.
It's also now possible to withdraw money from local ATMs, which you will find throughout the country (there are over 1,000 ATMs now in Myanmar). These will charge around $5 for each withdrawal, and have a maximum withdrawal limit of $225 per transaction.
Even more surprisingly, it's now possible to use credit cards at certain establishments, so even if you’re running low on cash, there are other methods which you can now exploit.
The easiest and fastest way to get a Myanmar visa is to apply for the Myanmar eVisa online. Apply online the week before and within 3 days your eVisa will be emailed to you. You just have to print it and show it at immigration. If you prefer, you can still visit a Myanmar embassy and apply for your visa in person. The price for a visa is the same no matter where you apply.
4. Burmese Belly
This is one of the most valuable pieces of advice we can give about travel in Myanmar: be careful with what you eat. There’s nothing worse then being out of action for a couple of days while on holiday, and unfortunately in Myanmar the risks are higher than usual.
Make sure you pack some rehydration tablets with you, stay away from restaurants that don't have many customers, and if you’re not confident about something you’re eating, stop.
5. Bring a Jumper
While the temperature in Myanmar can reach highs of 40 degrees and in some locations it’s rare for it to drop much below 20, other areas can get cold. Surprisingly cold.
Hsipaw and Kalaw in particular spring to mind. Both are in the mountains and the temperature at night can drop very quickly so a jumper is essential, whatever the season you visit in. If you’re travelling on the coaches as well, then the air-conditioning can get very nippy so having a jumper on you is not a bad idea.
6. Wearing a Longyi is the Norm
Everywhere you go in Myanmar you will see both male and females wearing a longyi. A skirt-like piece of cloth, similar in looks to a Scottish kilt, the longyi comes in all types of colours and is tied at the front into a tight knot. Make sure you try one on for size while you are in country and see what all the fuss is about.
7. Accommodation is Expensive
Unlike accommodation in some of its neighbouring countries, Myanmar is unfortunately quite pricey when it comes to hotels. If you’re looking for luxury accommodation, then you’ll be spending upwards of $250, while for middle ground hotels you'll be looking at paying a minimum of $100.
While the situation is improving, these hotels don’t always offer all of the amenities that you might come to expect from 3, 4 or even 5 star hotels elsewhere, so it’s worth checking reviews, and carefully checking what there is and isn’t. Check out our collection for a detailed break down on the hotels Thahara recommend in Myanmar.
8. Temples are Everywhere
It’s not just Bagan that’s filled with ancient temples. Literally the whole country is awash with magical stupas and pagodas. On the whole, the dress code for women entering these temples is quite strict so we’d advise covering up before you go. As for men, don a longyi and cover your shoulders to avoid offending anyone.
9. Getting Around
We’ve written a pretty comprehensive article about how to get around Myanmar, so go and check out that for our detailed run down. But there are basically four options for travelling around the country with the cheapest being buses, the quickest being flying, and the most adventurous being using the trains. Each has their pros and cons, but we’d certainly advise purchasing your transportation in advance.
Again, we’ve written an entire article about the culture of Myanmar, so we won’t go into too much detail here, but we’d really recommend finding out as much about the local beliefs and traditions. This will certainly make your trip that much more special to understand. From the way you should behave at religious sites, to what to do (and not do) in front of locals, it’s important to pay attention to the small things.
Finally, one of the things most of our customers come away saying is that everyone is so happy and kind. You will feel welcomed by wonderful smiles and a kindness that comes from the heart. Everywhere, kids and adults will wave and say hello and offer to help you if needs be. It’s pretty special.