Five Things First Time Travellers To Myanmar Should Know
- Choose your airline wisely. About 11 different airlines are operating domestic routes in Myanmar. If you want to avoid having your flight suddenly cancelled due to a plane being unserviceable, choose an airline carrier that has a larger fleet.
- Exchange your dollars into Myanmar Kyat at your hotel or the local bank. Avoid exchanging your money at the airport or on the street. You'll be charged higher rates and stand the risk of being short-changed.
- Don't exchange all your dollars. In Myanmar, US dollars are used to pay for accommodation, domestic flights and some forms of transport. For everything else like food, tuk-tuk drivers and tour guides only take Kyat. If you're short on dollars, you can use Kyat to pay, but the locals tend to round up to the nearest 1,000 instead of using the official rate.
- Bartering is not a thing in Myanmar. Unlike other Southeast Asian countries, the price displayed is what you pay. It's unheard of to negotiate cheaper room rates or negotiate back and forth with street vendors.
- The internet is slow. As Myanmar is a developing country, the internet quality isn't great. If you do find a cafe proclaiming to have WiFi, it either won't work, or it's mind-numbingly slow.
Best Time To Visit Myanmar
The best time to visit Myanmar is during the dry season. From October to May, the whole country is accessible making travel through the region varied and rewarding.
If you're on a tight budget, visit Myanmar during its low season. From May to September, the crowds are thin, and hotel rates are low. However, it is also monsoon season, and you'll have to contend with the daily showers. The rains can make some roads impassable, limiting where you can travel to a certain degree. The good news is that Mandalay and Pyay are a dry zone and your holiday won't be a complete downpour.
From December to February, Myanmar sees the least amount of rain. The temperatures are also much more manageable, making it the most popular time to visit the country. If your travel dates fall during this period, make sure you book your accommodation and transport well in advance.
Another thing to keep in mind is Thingyan, the Burmese New Year Festival. It takes place in April, and for those three days, all forms of transport are booked solid. Either plan ahead to avoid this busy time or book everything in advance if you want to experience the cultural festivities.
The former capital of Myanmar is the core of spiritual life in the country. It's home to the beautiful Shwedagon Pagoda, colonial buildings and bustling markets.
While most travellers tend to stay in the historic downtown area, make sure you explore further. Go for a barbecue in Chinatown, visit the shores of Lake Kandawgyi and marvel at the giant Buddha statue at Kyauk Taw Gyi.
Founded in 1857, Mandalay is one of Myanmar's youngest cities and the last Royal Capital. While many of its buildings were destroyed during World War II, it's recovered and become the cultural capital of the country.
Head here if you want to witness Myanmar's traditional performing arts, visit the old royal palace or see the holy pilgrimage site of Maha Myat Muni Paya.
If you have a passion for Buddhist pagodas and stupas, Bagan is your mecca. In the 11th century, the city contained 13,000 and today; thousands are still standing.
With so many temples scattered across the landscape, seeing Bagan by air balloon has become increasingly popular. Book your flight for sunrise to watch the day break over 26 square miles of holy Buddhist sites.
Top Attractions in Myanmar
The Golden Rock is one of Myanmar's most incredible sights: A golden pagoda sitting on top of a boulder that looks like it's about to fall off the cliff.
Legend has it that the boulder stays in place through a miracle of Buddha. It's also believed that the pagoda contains a single strand of his hair.
Located five hours from Yangon, it's a popular pilgrimage site for Buddhists. Once there, it's a long walk to the Golden Rock, but you'll be rewarded with panoramic views and beautiful Buddha shrines.
The Shwedagon Pagoda is the most sacred site in Myanmar. The 2,500-year-old building is located in Yangon and believed to contain important religious relics from Buddha himself.
The stupa is covered in gold leaf and 4,531 diamonds. While it's not known when the temple was first built, it's believed construction stated in the 6th century by the Mon.
If you plan on visiting Shwedagon, you'll have to follow the dress code. Make sure to wear long pants and an elbow-length t-shirt. Entrance costs USD 6 and the pagoda is open seven days a week from 4:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
One of the most unique Buddhist monasteries in Myanmar is Taung Kalat. Built on top of an extinct volcano, it takes 777 steps to reach its summit.
Along the way, you'll pass troops of Macaque monkeys. Be careful if you take any food with you, the monkeys are known to steal treats and other shiny trinkets from visitors.
Once you've reached the top, you'll be able to see a panoramic view of the ancient city of Bagan in the distance. And if you're lucky, you may even spot one of the hermit monks who visit the monastery occasionally.
Located in the city of Mandalay, the Shwenandaw Monastery is one of the most significant historic buildings. It is all that remains of the Royal Palace built by King Mindon.
After the king died, his son moved it out of the palace as he believed his spirit haunted the building. Years later, it became a monastery.
Today, the gold that once covered its exterior has disappeared. Inside you'll find teak carvings representing Buddhist myths and other wonderful examples of 19th century Myanmar architecture.
To get in you can buy a Mandalay archaeological zone ticket. It's valid for a week and will give you access to many other sites around the city.
For a unique cultural experience, visit Inle Lake. The enormous body of water is home to 70,000 people with many having built floating homes on the water.
Visit here, and you'll get a chance to meet the indigenous Intha people. There are also guided boat tours which allow you to see the homes, their fishing technique in action, and shop from floating souvenir stores. The trips include a visit to the market, several pagodas and small workshops.
Nearby the lake you'll also find a few wineries, an abundance of hiking trails and the beautiful Htat Eian Caves.
Major International Airports in Myanmar
- Mandalay International Airport
- Yangon International Airport
- Naypyidaw Airport