Travel Tips For Myanmar

Here are tips for traveling in Myanmar. These are based on our experiences in these areas and are meant to help other travelers. We usually chose a more economical way to travel and tour, but there are cheaper options or much more expensive ones depending on your preferences. It is not a conclusive list on things to do or how to travel. This list is alphabetical. All information including prices is from Jan/Feb, 2018.

We do not have any arrangements with any companies, and any recommendations we give are based on our personal experience with them.

General Tips:

What to wear – Myanmar is a very conservative country and so it their dress. Women should wear long pants or skirts and shirts with sleeves. Knees and shoulders should always be covered.  Men can wear shorts and shirts with sleeves. Temple attire is very strict, men and women need to have their legs and shoulders covered. In addition, Myanmar can be very hot, so clothing should be light weight and breathable.

WIFI – WIFI is available at most tourist hotels, but it is not very reliable. The signal is usually weak and often crashes. A very small amount of tourist restaurants will have WIFI, and those are mostly in the larger centres.

SIM cards – SIM cards can be purchased at phone outlet stores. The coverage and speed are quite good. We used Telenor and it has decent coverage in the cities, but rural locations weren’t as good. The SIM card was 15,000 MMK and  included 5 GB. Extra data was 800 MMK for 500 MB. We used a lot more data here than other countries because WIFI was so poor.

Electricity – Blackouts happen often. Most tourist hotels have generators for back-up and often have flashlights in guest rooms.

Hotels – We set a price limit of 35,000 MMK. We increased that to 40,000 and still went over at times. You will pay more for worse quality hotels than in Thailand. The good news is that almost all tourist hotels in Myanmar include breakfast in that price.

Meals – We set a budget of 30,000 MMK for meals/day for two people. We increased that to 40,000 MMK and that seemed to be more accurate. We ate at decent restaurants so you could find cheaper options, including street food.  We also ate vegetarian and at times it was difficult to get enough protein. Vegetarian dishes are mostly vegetables. Most of our protein sources were eggs and peanuts. The larger and more touristy areas had tofu options in their menus and a few had lentils.

Buses – The main way to get around Myanmar will be bus or plane. Many buses have overnight routes, which are great for the long journeys. Make sure you get a VIP bus so you can stretch out and actually sleep. Some routes are only 6 hours though, and they still offer mostly overnight buses so you end up at your destination at 6 am or earlier. We did a combination of overnight buses, daytime buses and minibuses. All buses and minibuses keep the air-conditioning on high so bring extra layers. Overnight VIP buses provide blankets, but we still needed the extra clothes. We brought long pants, sweaters, and socks for overnight buses.

Motorbikes – We heard that motorbikes (other than e-bikes in Bagan) can not be rented to foreigners. We didn’t try, so couldn’t verify this.

ATMs – There are international ATMs in all parts of Myanmar that we visited. The problem is the maximum withdrawal was only 300,000 MMK and bank fees were high at 5,000 MMK per withdrawl. We ended up making more trips to the ATM than usual and therefore paid more bank fees.

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Bagan – The ancient temple city of Bagan is one of the most impressive sights in Myanmar. Beginning in the mid-12th century and continuing for over 230 years the kings built over 10,000 Buddhist structures. Today, 2,200 are still standing in Bagan’s Old City.

What to do in Bagan – Entrance to The Bagan Archeological Area is 25,000 MMK for 5 days. Your taxi will stop at the permit booth on the way from the bus station. We didn’t use a guide, but there are several available through your hotel or the many tour offices in town. Sunrise hot air balloon rides are an incredible, but expensive way to see the area. There are many reputable companies in town providing different levels of service.

Getting Around – Most hotels and many private businesses rent e-bikes and bicycles. We rented a 2-person e-bike from our hotel for 8,000 MMK and the next day 2 bicycles for 1,500 MMK each.

Getting to Bagan – Most buses are overnight to/from Yangon and arrive at 6 am. The cost is 25,000 MMK and it takes 9 hours. Bus tickets can be purchased from your hotel and include pick up, or you can purchase most on-line from the bus companies directly. Mini-buses to/from Mandalay are 9,000 MMK, it takes 6 hrs.

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Golden Rock (Mt. Kyiktiyo) – This precariously balanced boulder near the top of Mt Kyiktiyo is a very important site for Buddhists. It’s more that just the rock though, as the experience of the whole day is worth the visit.

Where to stay – Kinpun is the easiest place to stay in order to visit the rock. The Songthaews leave from the center of town throughout the day. There are a few decent hotels in town, most of which have their own restaurants. As well there are a few tourist restaurants in Kinpun.

What to do At Golden Rock –The entrance fee to Mt. Kyiktiyo is 10,000 MMK and is good for the whole day. Songthaews leave from the centre of Kinpun when they’re full.  They’re not difficult to find as the bus station for them is quite large. The songthaew drive is 2,000 MMK each way.

Getting to Golden Rock – Buses leave Hpa-An in the morning for Kyiktiyo and take 2 ½ hrs for 3,000 MMK. Note that Kyiktiyo town is not the closest access to Mt. Kyiktiyo. From Kyiktiyo town it’s a 5,000 MMK per person taxi to Kinpun (20 minutes). To/from Yangon, buses cost 6,000 for 2 ½ hrs.

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Hpa-An is a small town, close to the mountains and has some interesting caves and mountain scenery.

What to do in Hpa-An – There are a few sights around Hpa-An, but most are not accessible without a vehicle.  There are a few places in town that offer tours. We used Soe Brothers. A full day tour was 5,000 MMK. It was basically a shared taxi rather than a guided tour, but it was the best way to get to all of the main sites. Highlights were: Kawt Goon Cave with the walls covered in ancient figurines, Saddan Cave and the kayak trip through part of it, and Kyauk Kalap’s pagoda perched on a tall, skinny pinnacle.

Hotels and Dining – Hpa-An has a good selection of hotels. There are fewer decent restaurants though, with the best situated along the river.

Getting to Hpa-An – Buses run to and from Kyiktiyo (near Golden Rock) for 3,000 MMK. We purchased our tickets from our hotel (Soe 1 and 2), who also flagged the bus down for us. You can also get to Hpa-An by boat from Mawlamyine. We took a boat for 9000 MMK. The boat tickets can be purchased from your hotel and includes hotel pick up. The boat ride is 3 – 4 hours depending on the tides.

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Inle Lake – We were amazed at the way the tribes, mostly Inda, have learned to live on and near the lake and its watershed. This is really a special place.

Where to stay – Nyaung Shwe is set up for tourists, having good hotels and very good restaurants for all budgets. It is also where boats leave from for lake tours.

What to do Inle Lake – Spending the day on Inle lake is a must. You’ll pass by the iconic balancing basket and net fisherman, floating gardens, and stilt house villages. Full day boat tours cost 25,000 MMK if you buy directly from the jetty. You can arrange from your hotel instead, but the price will be a little higher. Most hotels will rent bicycles to tour the country-side around the lake. It’s a good way to spend a half-day.

Hotels and Dining – Nyang Shwe has a large number of good hotels to chose from. They also have many good restaurants. They are really set up well for the tourist.

Getting To Nyaung Shwe – The buses don’t go directly to Nyaung Shwe. Your ticket will include the bus and songthaewrides to Nyang Shwe. From Mandalay you can take a daytime minibus for 15,000 MMK (7 hours). Cheaper overnight buses are available too, but you’ll arrive very early in the morning. From Yangon the overnight bus is 22,000 -28,000 MMK including hotel pick up. It takes 12 hours. You will want a VIP bus, so you can recline your seat and sleep.

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Kalaw to Inle trek – The trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake is a great way to see rural Myanmar. We did the 3-day 2-night option. You can also do 2-days 1-night where your guide will drive you part way. We used A1 Trekking Company, based in Kalaw and were really pleased with them. The cost was 95,000 MMK and included all meals and the boat transfer to Nyuang Shwe. If you have a bigger group, the price per person will decrease. For a full description of the trek click here.

What to do Kalaw – there are a lot of 1, 2 or 3-day treks. You’ll need a guide for most of them as the trails aren’t signed and there are no trail maps.

Hotels and Dining – Kalaw is a great town. There are a number of decent hotels for reasonable prices. There are also a number of good restaurants. They are set up well for tourists in Kalaw.

How to get to Kalaw– A daytime mini bus goes from Mandalay to Kalaw or Inle Lake for 15,000 MMK, takes 6 hours (7 to Inle) and includes pick up at your hotel. There are overnight buses too, but then you’d arrive very early in the morning.

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Mandalay – There are a few sites in Mandalay, but the best reason for coming here are to visit the towns south of the city.

What to do Mandalay and area – The entry fee to Mandalay’s Palace and most sites south of the city is 10,000 MMK.  Without your own vehicle the easiest way to see the sites south of the city (Amarapura, Inwa, Sagaing) is by private-taxi. The fee is 45,000 MMK. There’s also a Mandalay city tour private-taxi option for 35,000 MMK. We booked ours through our hotel.

  • Amarapura – We visited the largest teaching monastery at mealtime. That sounds odd, but you witness 2,000 monks march silently down the sidewalk to receive their meal and eat in silence. It really was a great moment. We came back to Amarapura at the end of the day to see the sunset behind U-Bein bridge. This is a must-see.
  • Sagaing – There are a number of temples on Sagaing Hill. The view of the hill from a far is the best part of Sagaing.
  • Inwa – There are only 4 sites in Inwa, but they are really interesting. You have to take a long-boat to the island of Inwa. The cost is 700 MMK per person. Once on the island most people will hire a horse and buggy, 10,000 MMK for 2 people. The island is very large so it would be very difficult to see it all on foot.

Getting around Mandalay – There are plenty of tuk tuks and taxis, especially around the Palace. You can rent bicycles from most hotels, but traffic is really busy with very few traffic laws. We decided not to rent bikes.

Getting to Mandalay – Mini-buses to/from Bagan are 9,000 MMK and take 6 hours. You can go directly to/from Yangon (VIP bus 20,000 MMK, 10 hrs) and Inle Lake or Kalaw (15,000 MMK, 7 hrs).

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Mawlamyine – There are some colonial houses here, remnants of the British, but they are all in disrepair. The most famous site here is Kyaikthanlan Pagoda. It was the inspiration for Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Mandalay’.

Hotels and Dining – We found a couple of acceptable restaurants near the waterfront.  There are a few decent, hotels in town as well. This is not a high tourist destination.

Getting to Mawlamyine – Buses leave from Yangon bus station. The trip is 6 hours for 12,000 MMK.

Getting Around – Tuk tuks can take you anywhere in Mawlamyine for 1,000 MMK (eg bus station to the river). Motorcycle taxis will take 2 people without luggage for 1,000 MMK per person.

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Mrauk U –  During the 15 – 18th century Mrauk U was the wealthiest city in South East Asia. During this time the Rakhine kings built a beautiful palace and many pagodas, zedis and temples. Today many of those buildings are gone, but 200 still remain.

Safety – Mrauk U is close to the border with Bangladesh. With the Rohingya disturbances and the way it has been portrayed on the news, many people are afraid to visit. In February 2018, when we went, Mrauk U was very safe and very far from any unrest. When it becomes unsafe, the Myanmar government closes this area to tourists. Hotels throughout the country will be able to let you know.

What to do in Mrauk U – The temples are the main draw. We hired a private guide with a car for a day for $50 US. We felt it was worth it to learn the history of the area, understand the temples, and see areas that we wouldn’t have found on our own. We found our guide, Hla Thein, on Facebook and he was excellent. You can easily visit the main sites with out a guide. Visitors are required to by a multi-day Archeological Zone pass for 5,000 MMK.

We used this same guide the following day to visit the Chin Tribal Villages. The only way to get there is with a guide. The fee was $30 US each if we took a motorcycle taxi to the jetty (20 – 30 min.) and $70 US total to take a car. This included the return boat ride which was 1 ½ hours to the first village. There are no fees at the villages, but it’s customary to leave a small tip (1,000 MMK) with each tattooed-face lady when you take a picture.

Hotels and Dining – There are few restaurant options in Mrauk U for tourists and most are at the hotels. We did eat once in town at Cherry Pit, which was decent. Look for a hotel with a restaurant. There are some decent hotels in town, but they are quite pricey.

Getting to Mrauk U – It’s on the east side of the country and is more expensive to get to, but it’s worth the effort. From Yangon or Mandalay, you can fly to Sitttwe ($240 US return from Yangon) or bus directly to Mrauk U (24 hrs from Yangon or Mandalay), (16 hrs from Bagan). From Sittwe you can take a public bus for 5,000 MMK, minibus $20 US, or speed boat for $20 US all take between 2 – 3hrs. Public buses leave early in the morning both ways. Minibuses will leave at any time when they are full. The public ferry wasn’t working when we were there, and rumour is it hasn’t been working for a long time. The speed boat leaves Sittwe at 2 pm, and leaves Mrauk U at 7 am.

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Yangon – The capital of Myanmar is a large city with a lot of traffic congestion. We didn’t stay very long here and are glad about that decision.

Hotels and Dining –  Hotels in Yangon are typically high cost for poor quality. There are a lot of restaurants to chose from, especially close to Shwedagon and in Chinatown.

What to do Yangon;

  • Shwedagon Pagoda – The entrance fee is 10,000 MMK for the whole day with multiple entries. There are 4 entrances to Shwedagon. Northern and Western Gates are the nicest. We also went at night and took pictures from Western Gate.
  • Kandawgyi Lake – A few blocks from Shwedagon is Kandawgyi lake. Along the south side of the lake is a wooden boardwalk that has nice views of the pagoda’s reflection on the lake. There are a couple of restaurants and coffee shops here, some were just being built so it may be a good destination in a few months.
  • Chinatown – There are many old colonial buildings in Chinatown and other areas in the downtown area. Most are quite run-down, but hint at what it may have looked like years ago.
  • Bago – An hour and a half north of Yangon is the historic city of Bago. Today most of it’s ancient temples have been renovated and are as glittery as the modern ones.

Getting Around Yangon – Taxis, tuk tuks and rickshaws are easy to find. You can also use GRAB as a much cheaper option to taxis. Tuk tuks cost 2000 MMK from Shwedagon to Chinatown. The airport and bus station are at the north end of the city. It will take 1 ½ – 2 hours to get to either from Chinatown and cost 10,000 MMK.

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