Before travelling to Myanmar, you read a lot of irritating information. The world here is changing quickly, and even our 2014 Lonely Planet is totally outdated. We would like to give anyone planning to travel here some useful information on the situation today:
We heard terrible stories about transportation in Myanmar. We were told buses and trains are uncomfortable and take forever. You should plan a lot of time to get from one place to another. So we expected the worst – and were surprised to find out all these stories were wrong. Burmese infrastructure is just as good/bad as in any other Asian country. To get to the main destinations like Mandalay, Yangon, Inle or Bagan, but also to the south, there are so many buses and trains. It only gets more difficult when you try to go to more remote destinations. Mrauk U for example is very difficult to reach, and you rarely get information on how to get there. Ngapali Beach can also only be reached from Yangon or by flight, which is why we skipped that as well.
Bus: You can chose between night and day buses, normal or VIP. We have tried everything. The normal bus doesn´t give you much space, but it is ok and they are still rather comfortable. We heard a lot of stories about people vomiting, and we thought it was because of the bumpy roads. Burmese people really do vomit a lot, but we think they just have terribly weak stomaches. But don´t worry, they are experts in vomiting into plastic bags and not disturbing other people too much. We also tried the VIP night bus, and it is better than any plane, with your own entertainment system in each chair to watch movies. For a 6 hour ride on the VIP night bus we paid about 7€.
Train: We took the night train from Bagan to Yangon which was supposed to take 17 hours. There is the ordinary class, which really is the German „Holzklasse“ with wooden benches which do not seem comfortable. Then there is the secondary class which has seat covers, but apart from that is similar to the ordinary class. We took the sleeper for around 12€ and it was really comfortable. We had our own entrance and a closed cabin for four people with our own bathroom. There are four beds and you can really sleep there. It was just so dirty that we didn´t really feel comfortable 😉 The train ride was really slow and shaky. We arrived with a 2 hour delay, which isn´t too bad for such a long drive.
A few days before arriving to Myanmar we started reading in detail about the country. We heard that almost everything needs to be paid in US Dollar, and they would only accept new bills from 2010 or later, which aren´t damaged. We didn´t know where to get these kind of dollar bills in Nepal or Bangkok, so we decided to go and see. We did not need dollar anywhere. We heard that starting from 2016, the government tries to strengthen their own currency and start banning dollars more and more.
Prices (Daily budget)
Myanmar is definitely more expensive than its neighbours, but this is just because of the accomodation. Food and transportation are generaly cheap. This is what we spent in four weeks in the country:
Accomodation average per night: 19€
Food per day: 14€
Excursions, trekking tour, entrance fees, bike rentals, etc.: 450€ (average 18€ per day)
Transportation: 160€ in total
Overall we spent around 55€ per day for two people. We always tried to spend as little as possible on accomodation and therefore stayed in some bad places, but apart from that we didn´t save money on anything.
Like most Asian countries, dressing appropriately is important. But here it seems to be more significant than anywhere else. With the NLD (National League for Demcracy) boycotting tourism for many years, the doors have just opened. The country is now encouraging individual travellers, who care for the country and its culture and history, to get to know Myanmar. They are still resistant to big tour groups. With its big neighbours like Thailand they have the best example of bad influences brought to the country by mass tourism.
Especially women should always cover their knees and shoulders, and even men shouldn´t wear shorts that are too short. Sandra experienced that here, especially in places with few tourists, people really stare at you when you wear too revealing clothes. Women always wear long skirts and at least t-shirts. It is really hard to stick to this in this terrible heat, but you must be aware of your own responsibility here.
The moment we write about this the information might be outdated again. There are so many changes that it is hard to find out what´s going on today. With our 2014 guide book, it was easy to see how much has changed already in the last two years. It is now possible to go all the way down to the most southern part of Myanmar, which two years ago wasn´t possible. You can also drive overland from Bagan to Mrauk U. The best way to find out is actually talking to other travellers, who might just have been to these previously closed places. Even locals can´t always tell you. Just to give you one example: Our trekking guide told us that Mrauk U was restricted due to a conflict with Bangladesh, so we skipped it. Later we found out that it is totally safe and one of the nicest places in the country, because almost no tourists come here.
Booking in advance
Before coming here, we were told that you should book everything in advance because the demand is higher than the actual hotel offer in the country. We never do that and we decided we would take the risk. We usually just booked a hotel one or two days in advance. It is difficult to give you an advise on this now. We have experienced that cheap places sell out quickly and depending on the destination it can get difficult. Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle were easy, there is so much accomodation here that you easily find a place. Beaches were more difficult, we couldn´t find cheap hotels at the beach when checking only 2 or 3 days in advance. For more details, please read our blog „finding a beach in Myanmar„.
In the southern part of the country we noticed that places really sold out quickly, and we sometimes had to travel to a city without a place to stay. Once there, we always found a place to stay. It is then just a question of price or comfort, you usually have to decide what you want 😉
The people here are some of the most friendly, welcoming, open-minded people we have met in the world. They are curious about tourists and even though they often do not speak much English, they approached us and tried to start a conversation. When you walk or drive by, people – especially children – wave and say hello, and are totally excited when you respond and smile at them. We were asked many many times to take a picture with people. If there is one reason to visit Myanmar, it is its people. Seeing people so open-minded and curious towards strangers, you wish the ignorant people in our world would be just a little more like this instead of fearing and hating anything and anyone they do not know.
Best place: Hpa-An & Trek from Kalaw to Inle
Best hotel: Backpackers Bed & Breakfast in Yangon and Aung Mingalar in Nyaung Shwe (Inle Lake)
Best restaurant: Paw Paw in Nyaung Shwe, The Moon in Old Bagan (Vegetarian) and San Ma Tau in Hpa-An for best Burmese-style curries. LinkAge – Social project inYangon helping young Burmese to become chefs; try the tea leaf salad.