Myanmar was off the itinerary for most travelers for decades because of the restrictions placed on travel by its repressive military governments, but the controls have been relaxed in the last 10 years and adventurous travelers are flooding back to discover the charms of old Burma. This Myanmar complete guide is just a taste of what you can expect to find in this amazing country.
But first, a word or two of caution because we don’t want you to be disappointed.
If you’re expecting to find the comfort, organization, and tourist infrastructure of Thailand in Myanmar you’re going to be seriously disappointed. Myanmar is still emerging from the wilderness as far as Western travelers are concerned and a lot of the tourist infrastructure is still being rebuilt or renovated. The standards tend to be much lower than in neighboring Thailand and the prices can be quite high by comparison even for basic accommodation.
How much money do I need to take to Myanmar?
You will need to take cash to Myanmar to cover all your expenses. How much money you need depends entirely on what you plan on doing whilst there. You need to do some travel planning and budgeting before arriving. Prepare a budget based on the type of hotel you are going to stay in; your food and drink expenditure; the cost of traveling around the country; the cost of tours and experiences such as a hot air balloon trip or bike hire; and any souvenirs you intend to purchase. I would recommend adding on at least a 20% contingency, as there would be nothing worse than running out of money. Information about hotel costs is now starting to become available on the Internet. I've also placed a link in the travel resources section of this article, to some of our Burma travel blog posts, which detail costs and exchange rates we found whilst recently there. Please note, that any hotel bookings and internal flight bookings must be made in US dollars. Most other things such as snacks, market shopping, and tours can be paid for in the local Burmese currency, the kyat.
What is the best currency to take to Myanmar to change into local money?
The most popular currency used by people traveling to Myanmar is the US $. Dollars are the only way to pay for certain things in Myanmar and you can easily exchange this currency in many places.
When obtaining your dollars before arrival you should ensure that they are in mint condition. I mean they should be immaculate, with no folds or any marks on the bills. Your currency will be painstakingly checked by every vendor or bank to ensure that they are in excellent condition. If not, they will refuse to accept the bill. The best thing to do is order brand new notes/bills, from where you plan to get your currency, just explain you're going to Burma, and they'll know the script.
Tips for changing your money in Myanmar
In some places the higher the denomination of the note (ie $100 bill as opposed to a $20 note), along with the quality and age of the note are used when negotiating the rate of exchange in kyat. Therefore, you may find that you get a better exchange rate by exchanging 1 x $100 instead of 5 x $20. We only took brand new, unmarked, US $100 dollar notes, and just exchanged notes as and when required, this worked very well.
Don't change too much money all at once as rates do vary from place to place. You can't take any kyat out of the country on your departure. You don't want to lose money and have to exchange kyat back into dollars.
Where can I change the currency in Burma?
Nearly all hotels offer currency exchange services. You probably won't get the best exchange rates, but sometimes this is convenient either late at night or on your arrival when the banks are closed. The rates aren't usually brilliant, but they're not terrible either and sometimes this convenience is a price worth paying.
The best rates are obtained from the banks and the official money-changing centers. In the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay, they are numerous so you won't have any problems. Just check a few out for the best dollar exchange rates for Kyat.
You'll probably be approached by illegal money changers, whilst on your travels around Myanmar. We wouldn't recommend changing money with these people.
where to stay in Yangon
Cheap places to stay in Yangon
Hostel 9 (Sleepin) in Lanmadaw Township is a good location in the city center and an easy walk to a big shopping center where you can buy almost anything you need. There are also lots of good places to eat nearby and it’s a short walk to Chinatown for even better options. This is definitely a backpacker hostel but it’s clean with decent rooms and bathrooms and they include a free breakfast. The staff is genuinely friendly and they run a bar in the downstairs area that’s a great place to meet and mingle with other travelers. It’s air-conditioned but can run pretty cold at times. You can get a bed here for as little as US$10 per night in a 10-bed dormitory but you’ll pay around US$25 a night for a double room.
Hninn Si Budget Inn on Botataung Pagoda Road is a simple but clean and cheap hotel on the east side of the downtown area. The staff is friendly and helpful and the owner (Mike) speaks good English. The rooms have air-con and range from 1-5 beds with shared bathrooms. The hotel has good wifi (but it doesn’t work all the time) and a good breakfast is included in the room rate. There are lots of good places to eat nearby (walk out of the hotel, turn left, and left again at the end for good street food).
Good mid-price hotels in Yangon
Alamanda Inn located in Bahan Township is a boutique hotel in a quiet residential neighborhood in the embassy district of Yangon. The colonial-style hotel is spotless and very nicely furnished with fans (better than air-con for sleeping in the tropics and free wifi. The room rate includes a healthy and complete breakfast. French-style food is also available for lunch and dinner in the covered outdoor restaurant. Room rates start at around US$70.
Classique Inn is located on Golden Valley Road in Bahan Township, right in the center of Yangon. This boutique colonial-style hotel with well-furnished rooms is located in the embassy district and is decorated with teak and traditional Burmese lacquerware. The neighborhood is quite up-market but there are not many choices around for restaurants the hotel does have a nice terrace area where they serve French-style food and coffee. Room rates start at around US$85.
Luxury hotels in Yangon
Belmond Governor’s Residence is the hotel you want to choose for the most luxurious experience in Yangon. Located in Dagon Township, this colonial-style hotel still offers a colonial-style guest experience from the cool lemongrass-scented face washers on arrival to Myanmar set lunch in the dining room and club sandwiches on the terrace. The hotel is almost 100 years old but it has been well-maintained and wears its age like a badge of honor. The rooms are very well appointed with king-size beds, double vanities, robes and slippers in the cupboard, and nice products in the bathroom. There’s also a bottle of delicious Prosecco and a tray of fruit in your room when you check-in. Room rates are around US$285 per night.
The Strand is a five-star colonial hotel built by the Sarkies Brothers in 1901 that has been meticulously restored with huge airy rooms with vintage fittings, teak flooring and furniture, a cafe, and a bar. Its location in Strand Road tells a story and the elegance it portrays starts right from the moment you’re picked up from Yangon airport and checked in by the hotel’s butler. Your huge room has a king-size bed, a sitting area, and a washroom, and each floor has its own butler. The shower is a bit small but this is an old, remodeled hotel so you have to expect some limitations. Good wifi and a great breakfast served from 4 AM round off the amazing experience of The Strand. Room rates start at around US$285 per night.
Best Places to See in Myanmar
Myanmar is an alluring country that differs from many other destinations in Asia by its timeless charm. From north to south, it treasures some amazing archaeological sites, beautiful waterways as well as pristine islands which have no human footprint.
Since 2012, when Myanmar opened its door to the world, visitors have had chances to explore more of its highlights which also means it is difficult to put all the spectacular sites into just 1 holiday.
This short list of best places to see simply suggests some notable natural and cultural wonders that you should delve into in Myanmar:
It is no doubt that your trip to Myanmar is incomplete without visiting Yangon. This city has a stunning mixture of East and West.
While downtown, numerous British Heritage buildings reflect beautiful its rich history, the new area of Inle Lake witnesses the invasion of skyscrapers.
Yangon is also home to vibrant markets where you will find the signature of Indian, Chinese, and Burmese cultures.
Do not miss the appetizing street foods in Yangon!
Hauntingly Beautiful Bagan
There is a certain reason why Bagan is highly recommended for any Myanmar Tour even for a short time. This imaginative destination has some 2,500 pagodas and temples. Each of them has certain history remaining from the 11th century.
Bagan is also home to fascinating traditional workshops, the most notable is lacquer ware products.
When photographers come to Bagan to seek fabulous shoots during the sunrise, leisure travelers will be tempted by a horse cart ride, a pleasant river cruise, or a grateful puppet performance.
Picturesque Inle Lake
If you want to capture the contrast in the landscape of Myanmar then Inle is an ideal place for that. This second-largest lake in the country offers unique floating gardens, and stilt villages that do many workshops from lotus weaving to blacksmith. The best way to marvel at the beauty of Inle is probably taking a long-tail cruise.
Inle however, has not only that. Its ethnic diversity is one of the main attractions. The area is home to Padaung, Pa-O, and Inthar tribes. Amongst them, Inthar people are more familiar with travelers thanks to their special rowing technique with only one leg.
The best time to explore Inle is October and November when it turns out to be festive with PhaungDawOo events.
Ancient Capital of Mandalay
Known as the last capital of Burma Kingdom, Mandalay houses not only 1 ancient capital but 4 including Sagaing, Mingun, and Inwa. When all the tourists flock to the remarkable Royal Palace, Ubein Bridge, or Royal Monastery, Mandalay is also famous for its Gems market, Tapestry, and golden leaves industry.
Mandalay for sure has many interesting sights to make you occupied for at least 2 days. To make your travel extraordinary, hook on a motorcycle trip to hit the road to PynOoLwin. If you want to adventure further, rent a boat to spot Irrawaddy Dolphin. Cultural enthusiasm will be captivated by the Moustache brothers or a dance at Mandalay Hill Resort.
Mergui Archipelago – the Hidden Gems
Tucked away by the border of Thailand, Mergui is the last jewel of Myanmar Tourism. Stretching from Kawthaung port to Dawei peninsula, Mergui is home to over 800 islands including amazing diving points.
This seducing area is still out of the tourist radar due to the fact that transportation is still not developed but this fact will change soon. It is now the best time to embark on a Mergui Tour to indulge in the pristine water, swimming in the lake-in-island of Horse Shore, and kayaking through the mangroves of Lampi national parks.
To see Mergui like no other, it is advisable to book a set departure for 8 days with some local tour operator or charter a private yacht. The trip will allow you to embrace even the far islands with cascading waterfalls.