Updated: Jul 21, 2020
What can I expect from Myanmar?
Myanmar was our first real backpacking country when we started this trip back in April. We didn't know what to expect and didn't know anyone that has really been before, but decided to wing it. All we knew about Myanmar was that there are amazing, architecturally stunning temples that we have to go see. We ended up staying an entire month in Myanmar exploring the bottom to the top among which we found not only those magical temples, but cool cities and some of the kindest and genuine locals we've ever met. Myanmar is relatively new to tourism, opening its doors in 2013. You could say Myanmar is the Cuba of Southeast Asia in the sense that it still holds their traditions and cultures and is practically untouched by tourism.
Top Things to do in Myanmar
Wake up at sunrise and go temple hunting in Bagan
Go to the famous white pagoda Hsinbyume
Trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake
Capture locals praying at the Schwedagon Pagoda
Stay one night at a monastery to meditate
Rent a scooter and explore
Take a boat ride at Inle Lake and watch the fisherman
Cool off at Dee Dote Waterfall
Lay out at Dawei's untouched beaches
Typical Costs for Traveling Myanmar
Visa - You will need to apply for a Visa that you can get online. Visa takes up to 3 working days to receive but give yourself time just to be cautious and to not incur rushing fees. Myanmar e-online Visa = $50 USD
Accommodation - You won't find nearly as many homestays and guesthouses to stay at while backpacking Myanmar as you will other SEA countries. All the locals are very welcoming so you can find an affordable including free breakfast too. Homestays and Guesthouses range from $10-$15 USD per night and hostels can go from $5-$8 USD.
Food - Food is very affordable in Myanmar from $1-4 USD per meal especially if you stick to local dishes. If you want Western food, this will be more expensive with pizzas ranging up to $8+ USD.
Transportation - This part can be a bit tricky in Myanmar but you can go by bus or plane. To travel by flight, you can fly directly to Yangon or Mandalay, but to most cities once you arrive in Myanmar, you will need to take a bus. Keep in mind the obvious: flights are likely to be more expensive but less time consuming. Buses and overnight buses will vary depending from where you are traveling but all bus rides were less than $15 USD. Taxi rides were $1-4 USD at most for the two of us as well.
Excursions - Like any other country, excursions will be more costly than anything else but even so, Myanmar's day trips and entrance fees are very affordable. The most expensive entrance fee is for Bagan where you have to pay prior to entering the city. Bagan Archaeological Entrance Fee = 25,000 Kyat (~$16 USD)
Suggested daily budget – $30 USD per day. (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little but staying to local dishes, and using local transportation. We as a couple were to able to split costs which is super helpful when traveling. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
Eat local food - Local foods and street cart vendors are going to give you local prices most likely and its some of the best foods we have tried!.
Ride with a buddy - Not only is this safe in a foreign country but you will be able to split the costs.
Use local transportation - the day buses are hot but affordable plus you really immerse yourself in the culture. PS the night buses have AC so it's not too bad!
Room with a friend - Further south, there aren't too many hostels so it's very helpful to share a double room with a friend and again, split the cost.
Guide to Traveling Myanmar
Everything you need to know:
Our Travel Route - Entered from Mae Sot from Thailand. Mae Sot is the only entry border for tourists if going by land. We made a full circle from Hpa An - Mawalmyine - Dawei - Yangon - Bagan - Mandalay - Kalaw - Inle Lake - Hpa An - Back out to Mae Sot/Myawaddy border to Thailand
Currency - Kyat (~1,500 Kyat = $1 USD)
Religion and Culture - The religion in Myanmar is Buddhism. You will see thousands of pagodas in villages, cities, beach towns, wherever. There are also many monks in the country who are quite friendly. The locals are super friendly but most do not speak English. A lot of them have not seen Westerners before so it is very exciting for them and will be for you too so don't be alarmed if children, parents, grandparents, want to take a picture with you. Try to pick up a few basic words to communicate with the locals. (Hello = Ming-gala-bah).
Dressware - The country is very buddhist so it is best to cover up shoulders and some times below your knees for women and shorts and t-shirts for men. Since there are so many pagodas, you will most likely be in a religious and sacred area.
Seasonality - November to February are the coolest months but "high" in tourism. March to May is dry season but can be boiling hot! We went in late April/May and temperatures were at 40C+ everyday. It is okay to go because of low tourism but definitely be prepared for brutal weather. (Hottest country we have been to yet!) Monsoon season is from June to October. You will notice especially along the coast all the houses on stilts to prepare for monsoon season.
Top Places - If you are planning a trip to Myanmar but have limited time, we suggest you go to Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake.
Bagan for the amazing temples - rent a scooter for <$3 USD and drive around. You will have temples all to yourself and is perfect for sunrise/sunset.
Mandalay - the best temple we have seen is the Hsinbyume Pagoda. This is the big white temple with wavy stairs and also our featured photo. To get here, you will need to take a ferry to Mingun, here you will find this temple along with a few other really impressive ones. It is a MUST!
Inle Lake - floating village on water. This city is known for the fisherman using their stilts and paddles to catch their dinner for the day. Take a boat ride on the water to see floating gardens, long-necked ladies, and the jumping cat monastery (Note: there aren't jumping cats anymore..but still some cats).
About the Food - The local dishes consist of a mix of Thai and Bangladesh food so there are some really tasty curries and a ton of veggie options. One of our favorite Burmese dishes was the tea leaf salad or Laphet Thoke that you can only find in Myanmar. Tealeaf Salad is a combination of fermented tea leaves, greens, seeds and nuts enriched with a spicy, tangy dressing.
The Uncomfortable Side - If you have traveled in Asia before, these shouldn't be new but some things you need to know:
Be accustomed to squatting toilets and bringing your own roll of TP.
Power outages are common and happen a few times a day however, these only last a few minutes.
Tourism is new to the country so there will be a HUGE language barrier
Obvious, but Myanmar is not as developed as 1st world countries so do not expect to always have hot water (you won't need it anyway) or reliable electricity.
We were nervous to say the least to enter a super religious country as a lesbian couple. However, we realized that we adapted to the religious culture so this did not really affect us. We were conscious about PDA but I think being women, foreign, and the weather being so hot, we thought more about how we had to dress that day than anything else. There is a bit of intuition that goes on when traveling as an LGBTQ couple, there will be people you can tell or just get it and there will be others who don't notice or even think first about relationships. The locals were super genuine and kind. We never felt threatened, not even once. However, we stayed less "coupley" in this country to feel safe and respectful.
Myanmar exceeded our expectations in so many ways. Our boundaries were pushed but in a great way. We immersed ourselves into the culture and found a new mindset for where we came from and how we grew up. We observed daily routines and spent so much time talking to Burmese people that we felt apart of them. The temples are still some of the best we have ever seen. Spending such a long time in Asia, it is inevitable to be templed out but these are worth a visit. Myanmar had the most poverty we have seen from our trip but it ultimately set a tone and refined our attitude on appreciating the little things.