There is a lot of outdated Myanmar travel info floating around on the interwebs. I’m writing down my observations and lessons learned for the reference of anybody planning to travel to the country in the near future:
- US Citizens (and probably everyone else) must have a visa. I got mine in Bangkok and it was quite painless.
- The visa price was around $40 if I remember correctly. The Myanmar visa office opens around 8:30am, but you do not have to get there early. Arrive around 9:30 to wait in line and fill out your paperwork.
- Bring your passport (along with a copy of it), a copy of your flight tickets, and 2 passport photos.
- Leave your passport, along with your paperwork with them and come back between 3:30 and 5pm to pick up your visa.
- When you go to pick up your documents, go to the counter listed on your receipt. You don’t have to wait in the long line!
- You can also wait 2 or 3 days for your visa if you want to save a little bit of money.
- Bringing US Dollars is a good idea. You should have enough USD to cover all of your major expenses in country (lodging and flights). Make sure your bills look new, in high denominations (Benjamins or Grants) and are not ripped.
- Food, taxi rides and other incidental expenses can easily be paid with Myanmar Kyat (pronounced “jyat”). The exchange rate varies depending on who you ask. The best you’ll get is 1000 kyat to 1 USD. The higher denomination the bill, the higher the exchange rate.
- There are ATMs easily accessible in Yangon, Bagan and other destination towns. There may be some that don’t work but chances are you will have no trouble withdrawing funds in Kyat (the local currency). DISCLAIMER: I did notice that some people’s bank cards did not work at certain ATMs. I use Bank of America and there was only one ATM during my trip that didn’t work for me. I had no trouble finding another ATM nearby.
- The people in Myanmar are incredibly friendly and I felt very safe the whole time and did not have to worry about theft. I heard there is still some violence in the north of the country, however.
Lodging and Transportation:
- Flying in country is easy but there are also very nice air conditioned buses you can take for long trips as well. (Yangon to Bagan for example). The buses are cheaper but take longer, although going overnight can save a hotel room expense.
- There are no hostels, but there are guesthouses that range from $10 to $30/night. Hotels will run anywhere from $40 to $300/night depending on where you stay.
- For the most part, I did not feel the need to haggle a whole lot. There is sometimes a premium they charge to foreigners on the street, but it’s nothing like China. People tend to be fair here.
- Most of the men wear the traditional “skirt” called a longyi that they tie around their waste. The women often put sandalwood paste on their face to protect their sun from the skin and stay cool.
- Internet in Myanmar can be quite bad. If you find yourself needing to download a large file, you might be SOL (like me when I realized my phone was bricked and I needed to download a new version of iOS7).
- My AT&T GSM iPhone, which can roam in every country I’ve visited, did not have any service in Myanmar. Getting a SIM card there is quite expensive from what I have heard (~$100), but take that with a grain of salt.
- People drive on the right side of the road, but in most vehicles the driver sits on the right as well. It can be confusing at first.
- Do not touch people on the head in Myanmar. It is considered rude.
- Many men and some women chew betel nut, along with tobacco and lime (not the citrus). That is why you will see so many people with brown-stained teeth.
In general, Myanmar is a great country and a very unique place to visit. It is unlike the rest of Southeast asia and really must be visited to be understood.
Myanmar is not a tourist haven like Thailand. Don’t go there looking for wild parties and fun nights out. It’s a very culturally rich country with beautiful landscapes and people. Things are pretty low key and although I had fun traveling alone, it’s the kind of place that you might want to go with a friend.
If you have any questions, feel free to message me.
DISCLAIMER: I am by no means an authority on Myanmar and your experience in the country may be quite different than mine. Keep that in mind when planning your trip :)