I didn’t really plan my Myamar itinerary, I was too busy planning how to get into Myanmar. I was coming in from Thailand and knew my options were to get a flight with Air Asia or go by coach across the boarder to Myanmar.
There was a slight problem with both of these options at the time.
I left on this trip that included Myanmar on 2nd January 2015. Less than a week before Air Asia flight 8501 crashed into the Java sea. There had been two crashes with Malaysia airlines in 2014 too, the flight that disappeared and the one that was shot down. My faith in asian airlines wasn’t therefore at its all time highest and seeing as how Air Asia were one of the ones that crashed I was trying to avoid flying with them at the time (the quantity of flights I have taken with Air Asia since is laughable, I have never flown with any airline more than Air Asia and probably never will).
So I wasn’t keen on the flight options but getting to Myamar by coach from Thailand is sketchy to say the least.
The road just across the boarder is so narrow that they only allow traffic in one direction, so there are set days of the week when people are allowed to go one way, and set days when they can go the other way. That would be fine, if it weren’t for the fact that ridiculously narrow road goes along a cliff edge. I can’t find the statistics I saw at the time but the amount of accidents that happen on the road are far more than anyone should really be comfortable with. So I chose to fly in the end.
Myanmar hadn’t been properly opened up to tourists that long when I went so it was hard to get visas at the time (you can now get an e-visa) and I applied for mine before I left the UK. It was only valid for a few months though so I had to enter by a certain date and then only had about a week once I got in. It’s such an incredibly beautiful country I’d really recommend leaving longer for you Myanmar itinerary that I did.
Since Myanmar (Burma) hadn’t been opened up to tourists that long when I went it still had a bit of a bad reputation. As such I was faced with lots of exclamations of “You’re not really going to travel there on your own are you?” before I went. Well, I did and it was great. I never at any point felt unsafe whilst I was in Myanmar. The country is really not that touristy yet, so it does mean a lot of places don’t have hostels and there aren’t as many backpackers to join up with but it’s incredibly well set up in terms of comfortable, efficient and cheap busses between towns and cities making it a backpackers dream to travel around.
Make sure you do check out the top tips section of this post below though as the money situation in Myanmar can be tricky.
I got my visa for Myanmar before I left the UK but you can get them the visa online for you Myanmar trip now.
Money – There never used to be any ATMs that accepted international cards in Myanmar. Although there are a few now there still aren’t enough that you can rely on being able to take money out during your time there. The general advice for going to Myanmar, and by far the safest approach, is to take as much money as you think you’ll need for the whole of your stay in dollars , and then a bit extra, to exchange when in the country.
You need to be really careful with what those dollar bills look like too. They have to be new and completely unmarked and un-crumpled. I am not exaggerating at all. I even knew this when I exchanged my money to dollars in Bangkok before I went into Myanmar so I double checked all of the notes I was given. They all looked absolutely fine to me and in accordance with that cirteria. And yet somehow still I ended up with 3 x £100 dollar bills that they refused to exchange for me.
Some hotels will accept payment in dollars too so where possible I did that and asked for change in Burmese Kyat, the local currency, to save the foreign exchange shop palaver.
Language – Hardly anyone speaks English and if you go to any of the local food stands there aren’t likely to be any signs you understand to tell you what food is available. That’s fine if you don’t mind what you eat. More challenging if you’re a vegetarian like me. My first day there I ended up having to walk until I found somewhere I could see a person eating a bowl of noodles to then point at it and hold up my finger to say 1. That’s how I ordered my first veggie meal in Myanmar. There was no other way.
You can do food tours in Yangon which could help with the language barrier as you travel afterwards as it will get you more used to the local cuisine and what your options are!
Spitting and red teeth/gums – In Myanmar it’s very common for people to chew paan which is a combination betel leaf with areca nut and usually tobacco. Chewing the paan creates red saliva therefore it tends to make people’s teeth look red which can be quite disconcerting the first time you see it. Rest assured this is just from the pan. Chewing paan also makes you produce more saliva hence the spitting that accompanies the activity.
Always carry clothing to cover up – there are a lot of Pagodas (tower structures usually built in memory of Buddha) in Myanmar. And, especially if you’re a woman, you need to be covered up when you go around them. Both shoulders and legs should be covered. Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon is the most respected pagoda in Myanmar. Make sure you don’t miss it.
Get a SIM – It’s really quick, easy and cheap to get a SIM card in Yangon. Just pop into any of the big phone shops and you can get one in minutes. That way if you need to communicate with any taxi drivers or your accommodation to let them know of delays you’ll easily be able to do so over What’s App.
There’s a great system of busses that go between all of the main areas of Myanmar. And there’s also a good train network too. I didn’t take the train myself and just went with the busses but it’s supposed to be a lovely experience.
Be warned for the busses they fill up quick and if you try to book the day before, frequently there won’t be enough space left on the busses for the next day. If you are told the busses are full at your hostel it’s worth asking where else you can find out about tickets as there are a lot of different bus companies and sometimes going to a different tour agent will allow you to find a bus that still has space.
Day Busses – Due to how quickly busses get booked up when I left Bagan to go to Inle Lake as I hadn’t planned my itinerary at all in advance I tried to book a night bus to go that evening or the next evening. They were full up for the next 3 days so I had to take a day bus. I didn’t really want to take the day bus as why lose valuable daytime time traveling when I could do it while sleeping and save on accommodation for that night too? In this case I had to take the daytime one though. And there were no VIP busses left (see below). The bus was uncomfortable, cramped and oh so sweaty. There was also some guy sat behind me the entire journey spitting out the window from chewing paan. So nice. Avoid the day bus if you can.
VIP Busses – My above journey would have been better even if had just been at nighttime so it wasn’t so hot but if you want to have a ridiculously comfy ride spend the extra couple of dollars and take a VIP bus. It’s so worth it.
The VIP busses have big comfy seats and only 3 to a row so there are 2 seats together and then one across the isle on its own. If you’re a solo traveler that solo seat for nighttime journeys is a thing of beauty. The seats also recline a long way back, come with blankets and they even give you a small pack of snacks (bring your own too though they won’t last long). Always leave a lot of leeway between arriving somewhere by bus and taking a flight (personally I’d ensure I have a night’s stopover).
The only thing to watch out for is that whether it’s a VIP bus or standard one the roads in Myanmar are a little sketchy and the bus may sway around corners or go into massive potholes at times. Just try your best to go to sleep and not watch how they’re driving so you don’t spend the entire time worrying you’re going to die.
Accommodation – Accommodation can end up costing more than usual in Myanmar due to the shortage of hostels although this is getting better year-by-year. When I was there for example there was only 1 hostel in Bagan and so they charged prices similar to what I’d usually expect for a hotel in Asia since they had no competition and all the hotels around were much more expensive. I think you can get dorm beds for about $10 a night now though and, as long as you’re not in Bagan ,a hotel room will be about $20-£30 a night.
Food – Local street food is just a couple of dollars as with most places in Asia. Restaurants will take it up to about $5 – $7 a meal. There’s a huge variety of wonderful Burmese food to try, just so long as you can work out how to order it without speaking the language of course (Top Tip: if you’re ever really stuck with translations either look for other people eating what you would like and point at their dishes or try google using the camera on google translate).
Myanmar Itinerary – 1 to 2 Week Route
See the map below for the Myanmar itinerary I’d recommend and the key reasons you’d want to visit each place in the list below. Click on any of the links for full details of that location, where to stay and how to get to the next destination on the list.
- Yangon – Shwedagon Pagoda, Chaukhtatgyi Buddha Temple aka The Reclining Buddha Yangon, Sule Pagoda, Botataung Pagoda
- Bagan – Bagan Old Town – Town of 2,000 Buddhist Monuments
- Inle Lake- Nyaung Shwe– Inle Lake, Hot Springs, Vineyard
Duration: One week
If you want to be a bit less rushed maybe leave 2 weeks for this Myanmar itinerary and add in Mandalay. That would give you a nice travel pace and good selection of things to do.
Click on each location for more information:
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