Myanmar, also known as Burma, has recently opened to the world for tourism after years under a military dictatorship. Adventurous travellers are the first ones who want to visit this unexplored part of the World and many have added this country to the popular route around South-East Asia.
Now that you have decided to discover this amazing country , we’ve gathered some essential tips and curiosities that we consider you should know before you start your adventure:
1. Best season to go
What should you take into consideration? Monsoon season is from June until November, you don’t want to be stuck on the rain, particularly north of the country where floods are very common.
The ideal season is from mid November until mid February especially if you are going to do trekking, after the monsoon landscapes are greener and jungles much dense.
From February on is very hot and can be very uncomfortable and dusty due to “half of the country under construction”.
If you don’t like crowds, particularly at tourist places, try to avoid December & January it is also when prices are at it’s highest.
2. Tourist Visa
Visa is required for any nationality unless you hold one of these passports:
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Philippines, Thailand (by air) or Vietnam, in which case you’ll be granted a visit without visa for up to 14 days.
For the rest of nationalities the validity of the visa is 90 days from the date of issue, but once in Myanmar it will allow you to stay in the country for a maximum of 28 days.
Getting a Visa is not difficult at all and you can choose between these options:
This is an easy and hassle free way to get your visa, but is only valid in you are flying into the country.
The price is 50 $, you have to fill the application and pay online. It takes up to 3 working days and when approved you’ll receive an approval letter that you must print and bring with you to airport immigration. Airports that accept E-Visas are Mandalay International airport, Nay Pyi Taw International airport or Yangon International airport. To apply for your E-Visa click here.
Visa application in Myanmar embassy in your country.
Note: Not every country has a Myanmar embassy to check yours click here
If your country has no embassy you can choose any of the other options E-Visa online or arrange your visa in a foreign country as we did in Bangkok!
The Myanmar embassy in London accepts visa applications in the office and/or by post. The cost is 14 Pounds .You can see more info in this link
Visa application in Bangkok.
We chose this option because our plane arrived in Bangkok and we wanted to spend some days there exploring the city so we planned to enter Myanmar by land through Mae Sot (Thailand border)-Myawaddy (Myanmar border).
How to get there
The embassy is addressed in 132, Sathorn Nua Road, very close to Surasak Bts train.
You can get there by BTS or taxi but if you are staying around Khao San road a cheap and easier way is to get on the orange boats in Chao Phraya, and get off at Sathorn stop. From there all you have to walk is 1 km, ask any local for Myanmar Embassy or the Catholic school which is next to it.
Depending on your money or how long you want to wait for your visa there are three options for you to choose:
- Same day Visa1.260 Bahts (35$)
- 1 working day after application1.035 Bahts (29$)
- 2 working days after application810 Bahts (22.50$)
What do you need?
- Passport (valid for six month at least)
- Photocopy of your passport
- Two passport sized photos (you can get it there)
Note : The embassy opens from 9 am till 12 am for applications,working days only. If you need any other info click here.
3. Currency and money
Myanmar currency is the Kyat; you won’t find them anywhere until you get to the border, where you can exchange some. Look out! Dollar notes should be crisp, any folding line and won’t be accepted, 2009 series or later.
The exchange rate is around 1,290 Kyats per Dollar but exchange seems to be fixed by government at 1,000 Kyat.
Dollar is used as an alternative currency but only for big purchases like hotel or historical sites. Small purchases must be in Kyats.
I would recommend you to spend all your Kyats while you are in the country as outside the country is useless money.
ATM’s have been introduced recently and are concentrated mainly in tourist areas but the exchange rate is worse than 1,000 Kyats plus 5,000 Kyats per transaction fee and your bank charges.
Main cash machines are KBZ bank and CB bank that accept Visa, MasterCard, Union pay and JB with a limit of 300,000 Kyats in one go. Our advice is to not rely too much on them, as sometimes are ‘temporally out of order’ or may be you are far from tourist places,therefore is best to have always some Dollars on you.
Before entering Pagodas or religious temples you must remove your footwear and never point or aim your feet at a Buddha, it is considered to be rude. In addition, women should dress conservative; there are signs in most temples explaining what it’s appropriate to wear. But mainly Knees and shoulders must be covered when visiting religious buildings.
Another tip about how to behave is never shake hands, take or give food with your left hand; they don’t have toilet paper, so that hand could have been used to “clean” not long ago. Try to learn few words in Burmese, at least Hi ‘min-ga-la-ba’ and thank you ‘cé-zú-tin-ba-deh’, it’s polite and they love it!
Although accommodation is a bit more expensive compared with the rest of South-East Asia is still affordable with an average of around 10,000 Kyats/10$ for double fun room in a basic guesthouse. The reason of higher prices is because of government taxes; also not all hotels are for foreigners, just the ones that pay a licence for it.
Are you thinking about couch surfing? Forget about it, it’s not allowed, neither is camping but if you are looking for something different you can ask monks for shelter in the monasteries, they will provide you with blanket and mat on the floor, some of them will even give you food. Donation is always appreciated.
This is what really blew our mind off when travelling to this country, Burmese people are incredibly nice to foreigners and this is the real deal of coming to Myanmar.
I should say this country offers beautiful landscapes, rich culture influenced by neighboring countries, a diverse cuisine, etc.… but this country outstands for its people unparalleled kindness. Burmese people are full of enthusiasm to meet foreigners, giving a warm welcome, as they thought they have been forgotten by the rest of the World. They love interaction with tourist and want to hear your opinion about their country, and above all, they want you to have an enjoyable time.
So don’t be shy! They are extremely friendly and always willing to help.
English language is not that rare in fact 5% of the population use it as a second language however you’ll still have to use your “sign language skills” from time to time!
7. Buddhism and monks
Buddhism plays an important role in Burmese culture. In fact, most festivals are related to Buddhism. For every 100 Burmese,one is a monk/nun, it doesn’t sound a lot but they are everywhere.
Monks have to shave their heads and they wear saffron colour robes, whereas female nuns wear pink ones. They leave the monastery early in the morning in their daily procession to houses and shops holding an alms bowl in order to receive donation, mainly food or money.
One of the most important ceremonies for a Burmese is Shinbyu, where boys around 10 years old dedicate his life, as a novice monk, to the monastery for a period of time. In the ceremony the novices dressed fine silk with golden decorations, the whole neighbourhood participate in the celebration with food, music and traditional dances. After that, they proceed for the procession to the monastery where the novices will stay, shave their head and wear the Buddhist robe. We were lucky to be invited to one of those ceremonies and lived the experience
Teashops are very popular across the country and without any doubt is a very important place in their culture.Men spent plenty of time at them socialising with others, therefore is a perfect place to have a nice chat with locals. Their typical tiny chairs and tables, and the sweet smell of fried dough and tea makes them easy to recognize . They are opened from 6am to 10pm, breakfast is the busiest time, and you should go early to get some fresh traditional sweet pancakes, chan kway, spring rolls and other snacks.
Do you like Tea? Don’t miss Tea ‘Lahpet’, it’s a black tea with evaporated and condensed milk, we got hooked! When you ask for a cup of tea don’t be surprise to see the whole table full of those traditional snacks and Chinese tea. Obviously, you will only pay what you have eaten. Food is also served and anything you ask for will be accompanied by free “all you can drink” Chinese tea.
A sad point to teashops though, is that children are widely seen working because parents struggle to support them and sending them to study is not affordable for most of families, unless they become a monk, in which case they can study for free.
Every evening after a hard workday the whole neighbourhood is out to enjoy the rest of the day. While women are busy grooming each other getting rid of lice, men play chinlone. It’s the national sport in Myanmar, over 1500 years old, and it is played with a rattan-cane ball. This sport can be played from two to several individuals, but ideal number is 6 players. It is played in a circle, with sometimes one player in the middle passing the ball among the team with the objective of keeping the ball on the air as long as possible. It is played mainly with feet although any other part of the body is allowed apart from hands. Once the ball hit the ground the game is over.
The aim is not wining or losing, is about the style of kicking the ball and the acrobatic way to do so and it’s what determines a good player.
I still remember playing with children wherever I had the chance but with a pathetic style compared to the experienced and admirable ability of the locals. Sometimes is hard to believe how they can do those movements!
10. Betel nut
Once in Myanmar you will be welcomed by kind smiling locals with red mouths and stained teeth, What is this red colour coming from? . We introduce you to the Betel nut: It’s an addictive chewing tobacco which most of Burmese are hooked to, it comes with the culture and Tobacco stalls are at every corner in Myanmar.
When we asked a local why it is used so widely he said “It’s good when you are tired, it gives you energy, like coffee”. So what is it really? , Basically is a mix of tobacco, areca nut and spices rolled and packed in a betel leaf. Chewing this betel packages creates more saliva that need to be spit and this is the reason of the red stains on the ground everywhere in Myanmar.
Yes, you read well! “Dogs”. There are many of them and look inoffensive during the day but you really need to be careful at night and specially on quiet streets. As soon as the night falls, these easy-going dogs are “transformed” into wolf packs and you will be seen as an intruder in their territory, to make the matter worse, as wolf packs, they have fights between them and the weak ones will hide around your legs for protection while the “Alfa male” attacks him.
Be aware that if you are beaten can be very dangerous, as street dogs have no vaccinations. We had a tricky situation with a happy ending in Inle-lake. But we highly recommend avoiding walks at night through quiet or back streets and getting a tuc-tuc if necessary.
Together with the red smiles from the betel nut , you’ll find faces painted on white-yellow colour. It is another distinctive feature on Myanmar culture: the Thanaka. This is a 100% natural cream or paste obtained after grinding pieces of wood from thanaka tree.
Burmese women have been using thanaka cream for more than 2000 years, and it is used as as a cosmetic (like we use foundation), it’s also known to be used against sunburn, as it has a cooling effect and something you should take advantage of, as the sun can be quite harsh!
If you need more info about accomodation and other costs while in Myanmar , check our post Costs of budget travel to Myanmar, where we give you a breakdown of our expenses!