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 so this is important when considering your Myanmar itinerary. 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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).
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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