Myanmar was on my travel list for a long time and when we finally booked our flights to visit it, I couldn’t be happier. After backpacking to many touristy countries around southeast Asia (Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia and many more), Myanmar felt like a breath of fresh air.
With incredible temples, breathtaking scenery, friendly people and affordable prices, Myanmar is definitely any backpacker’s dream. We’ve traveled all around the country, from Yangon to Bagan to Mandalay to Inle Lake to Hpa An and Mawlamyine and loved every second of it.
Myanmar is still underdeveloped compared to its neighbor, Thailand, but this is the reason why I loved it. There is something about it that makes it authentic, fascinating and intriguing. I am sure that if you choose to visit it, you’ll end up wanting to come back!
If you’re planning to backpack Myanmar in 2019, here is everything you need to know.
1. Practical information
- Currency: Kyat ($1 = 1500 Kyats)
- Time: GMT +6.5 hours
- Capital city: formerly Yangon. The current capital city is Naypidaw since 2005
- Main language: Burmese
- Main religion: Buddhism
- Telephone code: +95
- Emergency numbers: Ambulance (192) Police (199) Fire (191)
2. Usual phrases in Burmese
A fact not many know is that the Burmese people talk a total of 111 languages. However, the official language is Burmese. Below are a few phrases that will be useful in your backpacking adventure around Myanmar.
- Welcome: kyaosopartaal
- Hello: min-ga-la-ba
- Thank you: cè-zù tin-ba-deh
- How are you?: k’amyà ne-kaùn-là?
- How much?: diha balao leh?
- Sorry: wun neh ba deh
- Yes: ho de
- No: ma ho bu
- Help: keh ba
3. Get your visa
Before embarking on your journey of backpacking around Myanmar, you will have to apply for visa. To do so, you will have to apply online on the government website. The cost of the Myanmar online visa is $50 per person and it only takes a maximum of 3 days until you get it. The visa is valid for 30 days.
After receiving your approval letter on your email, you will have to print it and bring it with you when entering the country. The process of applying is extremely simple and straightforward and you can find all the information you need on the official website.
Note: You can only get a visa on arrival if you are a citizen of Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. For any other nationalities, the visa on arrival is not available. For more information about the visa procedure, click here.
- Local currency: Kyat (it comes in 10,000, 5,000, 1,000, 500, 200 and 100 bills)
- Myanmar does not use coins
- You can find ATMs everywhere around Myanmar, including in airports.
- The ATMs accept Visa, Mastercard, China’s Union Pay and Japan’s JCB cards
- You don’t need USD. You can pay everything in Kyats
- If you want to exchange USD into Kyats, make sure that the bills are in mint condition, with no folds
- Most restaurants only accept cash
- Most hotels/ hostels accept credit cards but they usually have a 3% surcharge
- When leaving the country, make sure to exchange all your Kyats back into an international currency
5. When to visit
The best time to visit Myanmar is between October and February when the weather is warm and dry. The hot season is between March and May and you should avoid it at all costs unless you really like to feel your blood boiling.
The rainy season is between June and September. Although backpacking Myanmar during the rainy season is not recommended, I wouldn’t avoid it. We’ve traveled for one whole month during the rainy season and we saw rain for just three days. Maybe we were lucky or maybe the rainy season in Myanmar is not as bad as they say.
Note: you won’t find any hot-air balloons in Bagan during the rainy season
6. Where to go
- Why you should visit: amazing temples, great markets
- How many days: at least 2 days
- Things to do: take the circular train around the city, visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, Sule Pagoda, Bogyoke Aung San Market, Kandawgi Lake, Tooth Relic Pagoda.
- Recommended accommodation: Backpacker Hostel (clean, budget friendly, excellent location, great for backpackers)
- Further reading:
- Why you should visit: the land of 2,000 temples, hot air balloons
- How many days: 2 or 3 days
- Things to do: rent an e-bike and explore the temples, watch a sunset from the top of a temple
- Recommended accommodation: Crown Prince Hotel (huge rooms, clean, good breakfast, good location)
- Further reading:
- Why you should visit: amazing temples, incredible culture
- How many days: 2 days
- Things to do: day trip to Mingun, Taung Mingyi Pagoda, U Bein Bridge, Mahamuni Pagoda, Kyauk Taw Gyi Pagoda, Sandamuni Temple, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Shwenandaw Monastery, Mandalay Hill
- Recommended accommodation: Hotel Aurora (brand new hotel, excellent location, clean, budget friendly, delicious food)
- Further reading:
Backpacking Inle Lake
- Why you should visit: untouched nature, explore the local life around the lake
- How many days: 2 days
- Things to do: see the fishermen, see the Long Neck tribe, explore the floating villages, Inn Dein Pagoda, Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, Jumping Cat Monastery
- Recommended accommodation: Remember Inn (friendly owners, good location, excellent breakfast, huge rooms, budget friendly)
- Further reading:
Backpacking Hpa An
- Why you should visit: amazing caves, limestone mountains, rice fields, hiking
- How many days: 2 days
- Things to do: Kawtka Taung Cave, Saddan Cave, 1000 Buddha images, Kyauk Kalat Pagoda, Kawgun Cave, Yathaypyan Cave
- Recommended accommodation: Little Hpa An Boutique (good location, clean, good breakfast, budget friendly)
- Further reading:
- Why you should visit: off the beaten path destination, authentic culture
- How many days: 1 day
- Things to do: visit the biggest reclining Buddha in the world, Kyeik Than Lan Pagoda, Mahamyatmuni Pagoda, Mon Cultural Museum, Setse Beach
- Recommended accommodation: Golden Rose Guest House (clean, good location, friendly staff)
- Further reading:
For those of you who are on a budget, the best way to get around Myanmar is by bus. You can choose between VIP and Express buses but no matter your choice, all buses are modern and comfortable. Actually, I believe that long distance buses in Burma are the best in the entire southeast Asia.
Beware that it might get pretty cold inside the bus since the drivers always turn on the AC. Always bring a jacket with you.
Tip: If you want to save up money on accommodation, you can choose the night buses.
Firstly, you need to know that motorbikes are banned in Yangon – not even locals can drive them. In order to get around Yangon, I recommend using the Grab App (more about it below).
You can rent a motorbike in other areas around Myanmar but keep in mind that the law says that you need a drivers licence issued in Myanmar. Driving a motorbike in Myanmar is possible but you should do it at your own risk.
The cheapest plane tickets to Myanmar are from Thailand. You can either choose to travel to Yangon or Mandalay.
You can also travel inside Myanmar by plane. Mrauk, Ngapali, Inle Lake, Yangon and Mandalay are just some of the places that have airports. To check out for the most affordable plane tickets, click here.
Although you won’t find them all around the country, tuk tuks are pretty popular in Hpa An or Mawlamyine. You can rent one for the day and explore these cities. Renting a tuk tuk with a driver for one day in Myanmar usually costs 35,000 Kyats.
Taxi – Grab App
If you want to use the taxi in big cities such as Yangon or Mandalay, I definitely recommend using the Grab App. Download the app, set your destination and wait for your driver. This app always offers the best prices and is extremely convenient. You can use it in other countries around Asia too.
Most restaurants and all hotels/ hostels in the touristy destinations (Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake, Hpa An) have WiFi. Even though the speed is not excellent, it’s good enough to get by with daily tasks.
If you want, you can purchase a data SIM card (I used Teleonor) from the airport or other authorized stores.
Pro tip: We use a portable MiFi which is a small device where you can introduce your data SIM card. The device acts like a WiFi and you can connect multiple devices to internet while using one single SIM card. This device has saved us tons of money.
9. Food in Myanmar
Food in Myanmar is very cheap as long as you eat at local restaurants. Apart from being cheap, it’s also delicious! This means that as a backpacker in Myanmar, you’ll never be hungry. Below are some of the most popular dishes in Myanmar – they all cost around $2 or less.
- Burmese curry – you can’t go backpacking in Myanmar without trying the curry. A meal usually has chicken/beef/pork, rice, fried vegetables and soup. It’s really delicious and it only costs about $2
- Tea leaf salad – one of the most famous Burmese dishes is the lephet or fermented tea leaves. The pickled tea leaves are served with cabbage, tomatoes, beans and garlic
- Shan rice – this dish consists of rice cooked with turmeric and squashed into the shape of a ball with a topping of garlic oil. Yum!
- Mohinga – fish soup with rice noodles, sprinkled with deep fried fritters – you have to try it!
- Deep fried stuffed tofu – stuffed with cabbage, chilies and a special sauce, this tofu is absolutely delicious!
10. Backpacking Myanmar weekly and daily budget
Myanmar is definitely one of the cheapest countries we’ve visited in southeast Asia. The accommodation is cheap, transport is cheap, food is cheap, everything is dirt cheap. This is why Burma is one of the preferred countries by foreign backpackers. Backpacking Myanmar can be done with as little as $25 per person per day.
Below are the travel costs when backpacking Myanmar (per day):
- Accommodation: $10
- Food: $5 (3 meals)
- Transport & entrance fees: $5
- Others: $5
- Total daily budget: $25
Below are a few prices (as of 2019) to give you an idea about how much things cost around Myanmar:
- Bus: $10 for an 8-hour journey
- 1 meal: $2
- 1 day tour (for 2 people): $12 (Inle Lake), $20 (Hpa An)
- Shwedagon Pagoda entrance fee: $8
- Other temples entrance fee: $1
- Bagan entrance fee (for 3 days): $15
- Inle Lake entrance fee (for 3 days): $8
There will be days when you’ll have to pay for transport, there will be days when you won’t. Also, some extra expenses will be the entrance fees to sites such as Bagan and Inle Lake. Overall, a decent weekly budget for one backpacker is $175.
Check out the most beautiful temples in Myanmar.
11. Myanmar dress code
People in Myanmar dress conservatively. Both women and men wear similar clothes: a t-shirt or blouse and longyi (cylindrical cloth which is worn as a skirt). Of course, you don’t have to wear the same clothes as Burmese people do.
I’ve found Burmese people pretty open-minded when it comes to how tourists dress. You can wear anything you like as long as it’s not too revealing (extremely short skirts, crop tops, etc.).
12. Language barrier
As long as you’re visiting touristy places, you won’t have any problems getting along with English. Locals love practicing their English skills and most of them speak basic English. If you’re planning on getting off the beaten path, you might find it harder to communicate with local people but as long as you choose to use the sign language, you’ll be fine.
13. The locals
You can’t just backpack Myanmar without noticing how friendly and welcoming the Burmese people are. They’ve helped us with directions when we seemed lost even though we didn’t ask for help, they’re not trying to scam tourists, they’re always happy and eager to talk with you and they’ll help you anytime.
One time, it was pouring rain outside so we decided to go inside a vegetable market to find shelter. We stopped in front of a local lady who was selling clothes and longyi. Without talking to her or asking her anything, she removed a part of her merchandise from the table in order to make room for us to sit while waiting for the rain to stop. We just couldn’t believe it. She wasn’t even speaking English but we thanked her using the body language. It’s the small things that make you fall in love with a country and the locals are certainly the main reason why I loved Myanmar so much.
I felt extremely safe during my entire one-month trip to Myanmar. You shouldn’t worry about petty crime as the locals are friendly and there are almost no tourist traps or scams. Out of all the countries I’ve visited in Asia, I think I’ve felt the safest in Myanmar.
Locals might stare at you from time to time and might even come and ask you to pose with them for a photo but this is only because they are curious. After all, there are not many tourists in Myanmar.
15. Must have items – what to pack
- Hippie pants – they are comfortable, you can wear them over your short pants when visiting the temples, they protect you from sunburn when riding an e-bike in Bagan. These pants are a must have when visiting Myanmar.
- Travel water bottle – say no to plastic! This travel water bottle is perfect to keep you hydrated while exploring Bagan on a sunny day.
- Backpack – you can’t go backpacking Myanmar without a sturdy backpack! This backpack is the one I’m using for over one year of backpacking around southeast Asia. It’s spacious, comfortable and sturdy – it’s the perfect backpack!
- Microfiber towels – these are just perfect for backpacking. They are compact and absorb water instantly. Don’t use bulky towels when you can have this awesome microfiber towel.
16. Travel insurance
Always buy a travel insurance! Although Myanmar is a safe country, accidents happen and you want to be covered!
Even if you’re traveling for a few days, you should always travel with insurance. Take it from someone who saved up tons of money due to travel insurance :). I always rely on my World Nomads insurance but there are plenty of other options too. Just pick one!
17. Tips & tricks
- If time is on your side, don’t over plan your trip. Go with the flow, and decide your next destination on the go. This way, you can spend more time in the places you love 🙂
- Talk with the locals. They are extremely friendly and they will be happy to practice their English
- Whenever you can, walk. You’ll discover interesting places and you’ll have the chance to better experience the local life
- Drink tea. The tea in Myanmar is unlike any other tea I’ve tasted. I’m not gonna spoil the surprise but you should definitely try it
18. Interesting facts about Myanmar
- Fishermen on Inle Lake are famous for fishing while standing on one leg. This technique allows them to fish and row at the same time.
- Although the capital city is Naypyidaw (since 2006), there are actually few people living here. The city has a 20-lane highway and all the infrastructure needed for millions of people but only 900,000 people actually live there.
- The beauty of Shwedagon Pagoda is known around the world but few know that the top of the pagoda is tipped with 5,448 diamonds and 2,317 rubies. On the very top of the pagoda stands a 76 carat (15 g) diamond. Also, the entire stupa is covered with gold plates. Quite a sight!
- Both women and men wear thanka on their faces. The yellowish-white paste is made from ground bark and is used for its cooling sensation and as a protection from sunburn.
- Locals wear a cylindrical scarf named longyi. There are different patterns for women and men.
- Bagan has the world’s largest and densest concentration of temples. Watching the sunset here is one of the most beautiful sights around the world.
For more tips & tricks about Myanmar, I recommend reading the Lonely Planet Myanmar Book. It’s full of useful information and interesting facts.
I hope you’ve found this guide about backpacking Myanmar useful. If you have any questions, do not hesitate to let me know in the comments sections below.
May the travel bug bite you!
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