Essential tips for planning Myanmar travel

Now that I’m back from my Myanmar trip I’d like to share a few tips for planning Myanmar travel that I learnt along the way. To make sure you have the best Myanmar trip you can in this very special south-east Asian country!

When to travel to Myanmar

Compared to Europe the weather in Myanmar is hot all year around but there are variations depending on the season. From November to February is the optimum time because while still very warm it is less humid than other times of the year (they call it winter). It is a tropical monsoon climate so there is high rainfall during the monsoon season from June to October. Between February and June the humidity and heat gets very intense.

The weather conditions also vary depending on where you are in the country – it is a large country that covers a range of climates. In the south around Yangon it is still very hot and sweaty even in winter. Around Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake the climate is drier and it gets cooler at night during winter but I still found it quite warm enough during the day.

Bagan sunset, Myanmar

 Booking flights and accommodation in Myanmar

The supply of accommodation rooms is still fairly limited in Myanmar so during the peak season (Dec-Jan) it is advisable to book your accommodation in advance. I booked everything online myself a few months ahead and was generally very happy with the standard of (mid-range) hotels.

View from Mt Poppa Resort Myanmar

Bus and train travel in Myanmar is slow and uncomfortable but inexpensive and with intrinsic rewards. Rail fares can only be purchased three days in advance. The ticket office is often at the station, although in Yangon it is in a separate Myanmar Railways Ticket Office on Bo Gyoke Road.

If you don’t have much time you will probably consider flying between some destinations. Flights on the domestic airlines are not (yet) based on a dynamic pricing model. That means flights are the same price on any day of the year. There are a number of domestic airlines and I had no problem booking a flight only a few days before departure.

One slow travel method I recommend is by boat – on the Ayrewaddy River between Mandalay and Bagan. This is a very pleasant and relaxed day watching life go by on the river banks. Food is provided and it was easy to book a ticket on a Malikha river boat online ahead of our trip to Myanmar.

Initially I had though to use an agency to book  my travel arrangements in Myanmar and approached an agency called Let’s Go Myanmar. However, because they only way to pay is by credit card or bank transfer the extra fees proved exorbitant and were not always disclosed. When I protested most of my money was refunded but I ended up about $25 out of pocket. I should have just booked things independently from the first!

Schwedagon Pagoda Yangon Myanmar

Always carry cash

Another tip for planning Myanmar travel is that you will need to always have cash on hand while travelling. There are few ATMs outside the main centres. Bring clean US dollars or Euros (we were also able to change GB Pounds in some places) to the country and exchange for kyats (pronounced chats) at the airport moneychanger booths. We got the best rate at the tourist information desk at the international airport in Yangon. Carry a range of kyat denominations if you can (for example it is useful to have some 1,000 kyats for taxi fares and small purchases), while not wanting to travel with a great wadge of notes in your pocket!

Essential packing for Myanmar

Packing for a tropical climate like Myanmar requires loose, cool clothing, including quick-dry travel garments. Take care how you dress in Myanmar as showing your legs or shoulders is not culturally acceptable. Consider what season you are visiting. I travelled to Myanmar in the dry ‘winter’ season and packed travel trousers and below-the-knee skirts, as well as loose tops and t-shirts. Bring a warm layer for cool evenings in places like Inle Lake.

Other essential items to pack for Myanmar travel include sunscreen, insect repellent, a torch (for unexpected power outages and villages with limited electricity), earplugs (for bus journeys or traffic noise), hand sanitiser or wipes and a good first aid kit. You can read my advice on travel first aid kits here and I took a full range of first aid items because outside of Yangon Myanmar’s health system is very basic. More travel packing advice can be found here.

Inle Lake gardens and houses Myanmar

Staying healthy and travel vaccinations for Myanmar

Make sure your Hepatitis A and B vaccinations are fully boosted and that you have had a tetanus vaccination within the last 10 years. A typhoid vaccination is recommended (these only last 3 years). Check a world malaria zone map in case you are going somewhere an anti-malarial prophylactic is advisable. We visited Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake and none of these areas are malarial. The other vaccination to consider is rabies but if you will not be spending a lot of time in rural areas in close contact with stray dogs this may not be necessary (the rabies vaccine is a series of jabs and only gives you extra time to get treatment if you are bitten).

Be careful about hygiene while you travel in Myanmar. None of the Wandering Kiwi family got sick but other people I met had suffered from ‘travellers’ diarrhoea’. I carry baby wipes and hand sanitiser and try to be vigilant about cleaning hands before eating.

Anya Ahta restaurant night Yangon Myanmar

Bargaining in Myanmar

We found the lack of ‘hassle’ refreshing in Myanmar, especially compared to places like India or Morocco. A little bargaining is acceptable but it was very low-key so please don’t be a cheapskate. Think about whether the price you are asking will cause the trader to lose money. Guidebook prices quickly become out of date in fast-developing countries like Myanmar. Try to know how much you should be paying for e.g. a taxi before you ask the driver for the price (before you get in the car).

Indein market sellers Myanmar

Independent travel in Myanmar

As mentioned above, I travelled independently in Myanmar and found it very easy to arrange my transport and accommodation ahead of the trip. However, I did book some day tours – a food tour in Mandalay and a cycling tour in Inle Lake – both with Grasshopper Adventures. I find tours like this invaluable in terms of getting off the tourist track and being able to have conversations with local guides.

Travel with Kids in Myanmar

We travelled in Myanmar with our eight-year-old daughter and had a wonderful time. We didn’t meet many other travellers with children, however, and it has to be said there are not many attractions specifically for children in Myanmar. That makes it all the more appealing from my point of view. What an experience to travel in a developing country where there are no fun rides or resorts. The local people absolutely loved our daughter and in the end she found all the attention a bit too much, so be aware that people will constantly be wanting to take ‘selfies’ with your child!

I hope you find these tips for planning Myanmar travel useful and that you have a great trip. It is a wonderful destination!

By Natasha von Geldern

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12 thoughts on “Essential tips for planning Myanmar travel

  1. Nicky

    We loved Myanmar, or Burma as some of the locals insisted we call their country! We managed to book everything just a few days in advance, but agree with you that the boat from Bagan to Mandalay is a great way to travel! Thanks for sharing your informative article!

    Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      That’s interesting, I met locals who insisted that Myanmar is more appropriate because it reflects all of Myanmar, whereas Burma reflects both the period of colonial rule and only one ethnic group (the Bamar). Thanks for your comment!

      Reply
  2. Uliana

    Very useful tips. I don’t see many posts about Myanmar on the internet and maybe that’s why this country seems so mysterious to me and therefore even more interesting. Hope to go there one day 🙂

    Reply
  3. Gabby

    Are these your photos?? They’re absolutely gorgeous. The lighting in each of them seems to glow! I also love that you took your daughter, my parents took me everywhere as a kid and it made me into the traveler I am today 🙂

    Reply
    • Natasha von Geldern Post author

      These are my photos so thanks! I’m thrilled to hear that your childhood travel experiences have made you into a lifelong traveller. I didn’t travel at all as a child but have been making up for it ever since. I am interested to see how my daughter turns out 🙂

      Reply
  4. Samantha

    I’m sad I won’t be able to visit Myanmar before leaving Asia. I heard from friends that it’s the best country they visited with the nicest people!

    Reply
  5. Becky the Traveller

    I’ve visited a few places in SE Asia but still haven’t visit Myanmar, you’ve definitely tempted me and I am thinking when I can fit it into my travel plans for this year. Love how detailed your article is too, really helpful 🙂

    Reply

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