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Myanmar 101 – 21 Essential Travel Tips for Myanmar

Your frequently asked questions on travelling in Myanmar, answered.

We have been asked a lot of questions about Myanmar since our trip back in October 2013 from fellow travellers.  As there is little information out there regarding travel in Myanmar, we have put together all our frequently asked questions and answers to those of you wishing to travel to Myanmar in 2014.

Travel Tips for Myanmar – Quick Links:

Understand Myanmar or Burma? Powercuts Language Climate Time Zone
Money Currency ATM's US Dollar Usage Travel Budgets
Communication Internet Access Mobile Phones International Calls
Staying Safe Eating Safe Security Situation Restricted Areas Vaccinations (Medicine)
Travel & Transport Entry Visa's Local Transport Places To See
Sleep Hotel / Hostel Guide

 How do you pronounce Myanmar? 

Me-Yon-Mar

 Is it Myanmar or Burma? Rangoon or Yangon? 

It can get a bit confusing with names in Myanmar, nearly everywhere has two names. The country is officially called Myanmar, but most people in the Western world know it as Burma. Cities that have two names are normally those that have a British imitation of their Burmese name e.g. Rangoon is the British imitation of Yangon. Generally you can say either version (locals even do!) and someone will know where you are talking about. Pronunciation is a whole other issue though.

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 What is the local currency? 

Travel Tips for Myanmar and Kyat Currency

Myanmar Kyat

The official currency of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar is the Kyat.

The basic unit is the Kyat. One Kyat is subdivided into 100 Pya. The Kyat comes in paper notes of 1, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000 and 5000 Kyat notes, and 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 coins. The Pya comes in coins of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 Pyas coins, and 50 Pyas notes.

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 Are there any ATMs? 

There are ATMs in the cities, but they are not as widely spread as in other countries so don’t rely on this being your sole source of cash.

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 Do I need a Visa before travelling to Myanmar? 

Travel Tips for Myanmar Visa Applications

Darryl's Myanmar Visa

Yes, you will require the standard tourist visa, valid for 28 days of travel within the country.  You cannot currently get a visa on arrival when flying into Yangon or Mandalay.  There is the option for border crossings, however most will not allow you access to the rest of the country. Be warned!!

We have written an in-depth guide on how to get a Myanmar visa in Bangkok.

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 Do I need US dollars? 

Yes, definitely. Although US dollars aren’t as widely used as a few years ago as more attractions now prefer Kyat, it is still important to have some dollars with you as some hotels and transport will only accept payment in dollars. Make sure your notes are in near perfect condition – no marks, no tears, and also preferably the newest notes. If your notes don’t meet the required standards they will be refused – these standards will vary from place to place.

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 Are there really power cuts? 

Yes. Myanmar really does have power cuts, that’s why you will see so many generators around. Even though it is getting better, it is still a good idea to have a torch on you. Sometimes it's just useful to take a torch with you at night as some of those streets have little to no lighting!  Most hotels / guesthouses in Yangon have 24 hour power now and in towns which have a power-plant nearby will usually have access to 24 hour supply too.  The worst experience we had was during our stay at Chaung Tha beach where electricity was only supplied between 6pm – 6am.

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 Will I be able to use the Internet? 

Yes, Myanmar does have the Internet and it isn't blocked like in Vietnam and China so Facebook and Twitter are not a problem. However, not all hotels provide WiFi, and those that do, don't always have the best connection. It can get very frustrating.

Travel Tips for Myanmar: Using a VPN can vastly improve your internet connection whilst travelling in Myanmar. Read our guide.

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 What is local Transport like? 

Myanmar Buses

Mr. Bean on our bus!

It's certainly not something you will have been used to, compared to neighbouring South East Asia countries. There is a single dual carriage-way road that leads north from Yangon > Naypyidaw > Mandalay which covers the overnight sleeper buses that transport most tourists between the main cities. Other than these roads, there is a mixture of half-paved roads and dust tracks.  Prepare for a bumpy ride!  Buses are a tourists best friend here, typical journeys of < 6 hours can cost between $6 – $10 depending on the route.  Brush up on your bartering skills, as this is needed to combat tourist surcharges.

Taxi's are the most frequent form of transport around the main cities, which are moderately priced, around the same price as Thailand.  The smaller towns don't have taxi cars, these are replaced by pickup trucks / motorbikes / tuk tuks and in some cases rickshaws.

Travelling by Train in Upper Class in Myanmar

Upper Class Travel in Myanmar

Trains are very hit and miss.  Most of Myanmar has old tracks that were laid down almost a century ago by the British.  They are slowly building more tracks to access other parts of the country, however the new track laying isn't much different than railways from 100 years ago.  Trains run very slowly here, tourists visiting the country tend to use trains more for a scenic route, rather than a practical route. There are some great sights on some of the railway sections (Gokteik Viaduct), but be prepared for a bumpy ride.

Travel Tips for Myanmar: Make sure to upgrade yourself to Upper Class when travelling by train in Myanmar.  It costs only a few extra dollars and provides a more comfortable experience (if you can call it that!!).

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 What language do they speak in Myanmar? 

The majority speak Burmese, one of the oldest languages in the world due to it's roots from Brahmi script.  It is a very beautiful language and even the typography looks like art.  Many people do speak a little English, in fact I would say English is more widely spoken here than anywhere else in South East Asia (with exception to Singapore).  Even when there is a breakdown in language, you can make conversation easily enough with body language. Restaurants all have English as well as Burmese written on them, which makes the basics of travelling (Eating / Moving About) really straightforward.

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 What is the security situation like?  I heard there is a threat from terrorism in Myanmar? 

It is true, there is a threat from terrorism from minority groups in certain states (Shan).  This is starting to get much better, with the government becoming more transparent and integrative of the various ethnic groups than the military rule of previous years.  However, compared with other countries.. even Thailand.. There is less problems between foreigners and locals that happen.  The most recent violence was in Yangon and a few other cities in October 2013.  There were explosions that occurred at the Traders hotel in Yangon and a market street down the road from it.  Not to downplay the seriousness of this, but the bombs detonated were crude home-made devices that had a limited explosive radius, more like high-powered firework crackers.

In terms of safe travel for female solo travellers, the government have made a commitment to protect foreigners entering the country. Given the peaceful nature of the vast majority of Burmese people, you will never run into any troubles by travelling on your own.  Women in Myanmar are the modern breadwinners in many cases and run the house.  Women have a very inclusive part to play in family life and society.  This is why random violent attacks on women are very rare.

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 How much does it cost to travel in Myanmar? 

Travel Tips for Myanmar Budget and Cost Guide

Budget for Myanmar

Roughly, if you are a budget traveller who doesn't want to slum it in guesthouses, then $40 per day will cover most travellers needs. Roughly 40% of your budget will end up going on accommodation, maybe 30% on meals and the remainder on transport, attractions and sundry items.

Be sure to read our Daily Travel Costs Guide for Myanmar.  It offers travel tips for Myanmar and the daily costs of Accommodation, Transport and Meals.

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 Can I use my mobile phone in Myanmar? 

Simple answer to the common traveller, no.  Mobile phones are still a new introduction to the vast majority of the population.  Only in the last few years has the Burmese government started to allow regular people access to a SIM card for reasonable price.  There is simply not enough SIM Cards in Myanmar for everyone, but that will change over the next few years.

As an example from October 2013, the only option for tourists to buy a SIM card is from a black market seller, where they retail for around $100. Which seems very steep for a short term visit.  You can also rent a mobile phone from some shops, which works out much better value (should you need access to one).  There are also roaming agreements in place now (Thailand's AIS as an example), so this might be the best route to using your mobile phone in Myanmar.

Luckily though, free WiFi is becoming more widespread, so making communications back home isn't impossible.

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 Is it cheap / easy to make international calls? 

International calls can be made at phone stands that are dottted around most city / town centres across Myanmar.  You may think it's weird when you first get here that there are no dedicated phone boxes like at home. Instead locals use side stall phone stands to make a phone call.  International calls are very expensive ($5 per minute), so should really only be used in cases of emergencies.

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 How safe is the food to eat?  Do I have anything to worry about? 

Biryani in Yangon

Hmmmm Yummy Biryani!

You don't have to worry too much… For most restaurants and beer stations you will eat / drink at, the food is pretty hygienic.  That doesn't work so well for market stall foods.

Stay away from Ice Cream bars as well, as they don't use fresh milk most of the time which could disagree with you.  If you are on a bus and half-way through there is a food stop, the majority of the time the food is perfectly safe.  Just keep an eye on the locals, if they sit down and order food it's usually a good sign.

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 What is there to see and do in Myanmar? 

Temple in Bagan Area on Blue Sky

Fun to explore the smaller Paya's. Some which you can walk all the way up to the top of..

Myanmar is a perfect destination to visit if you're in to history.  There are literally tens of thousands of temples to visit, British colonial buildings to marvel over, ancient cities to walk around and plenty of cultural journeys you will encounter.  We recommend it!  Just don't expect a McDonald's or Starbucks anywhere, Myanmar is the least commercialised country in Asia and will continue to be that way for the foreseeable future.

We have written a series of guides on travelling around Myanmar, be sure to read our Budget Backpacking Guide to Myanmar before travelling out there!

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 What are the hotels / hostel accommodation like in Myanmar? 

You have various styles and quality scales in Myanmar to stay at, from cheap barebones guesthouses which can cost from $10 a night to 5* hotels such as Traders / The Strand in Yangon that cost upwards of $600 per night.

Generally speaking the less travelled areas will have the lowest standard of accommodation available where your room will be slightly larger than a single / twin bed with shared outside toilets.  In towns / cities such as Yangon, Mandalay, Pyay and Chaung Tha expect more towards typical South East Asia basic room accommodation with en-suite and rooms going from $25 – $50 per night (for 2 sharing).  Don't automatically assume 24 hour electricity / hot water from any of these hotels is consistent!

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 When is the best time to visit Myanmar? 

In terms of weather, our travel tips for Myanmar are travel between November – April.  As this offers you the most sunshine hours per day and with little to no rain. If you enjoy the heat, then March and April are the hottest months of the year, but be aware it is in the mid 30′s around Yangon. Burma has many festivals throughout the year, so if you are looking to travel and catch a glimpse of a traditional festival happening, you are likely to be travelling during at least 1. Here is a good website for finding out about the main ones.

Climate Data:

Month J F M A M J J A S O N D
Temp (c) 25 27 29 31 30 27 27 27 27 28 27 25
Rain (in) 5 2 7 15 303 547 559 602 368 206 60 7
Humidity (%) 62 66 69 66 73 85 86 87 85 78 71 65

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 Is it true most of Myanmar is still restricted for foreigners to enter? 

Yes, the majority of the country is off-limits to tourists unless you have a travel permit.  These permits are not easy to come by because of safety concerns in unsettled regions of Myanmar. The main attraction areas are all fine to travel through such as Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake, Bagan, etc..  But when you start straying towards the North, South, East and West areas of the central plains then you get closer to restricted zones.  We put a map together to show the general areas of which travel is not permitted without a local permit.

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 Which vaccinations / medicine should I take before visiting Myanmar? 

Read this guide for the latest recommended vaccinations and medicine you should take before travelling to Myanmar.  Below is the general advice given in the UK for travel to Myanmar.

Essential Vaccines:

  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)
  • Diphtheria-Tetanus
  • Polio
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Malaria Tablets (Malarone is the best)

Recommended:

  • Hepatitis B
  • Rabies
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 What time is it in Myanmar? 

Myanmar Standard Time (MST) is UTC+06.30. This means it is half an hour behind Bangkok time. Myanmar do not observe daylight saving time, so no need to worry about any changing clocks!

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That ends our frequently asked questions guide on Myanmar. If you have a question that has been left unanswered, please get in touch with us via the Comments section below.

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