The people of Myanmar have adapted well as the country transforms from colonial rule to military rule to now, a society with more freedom where the people and government balance control.
My recent travel to Myanmar opened my eyes to many things that are happening in the country. Myanmar reminds me of my childhood days in Thailand. Myanmar, like Thailand years ago, is developing into a vibrant country that is opening up to outsiders. I feel that with advancements in communication and technology, Myanmar will not take as long as Thailand did to become a major player in the tourism industry.
These are my top tips for visiting Myanmar:
The current political climate in Myanmar- Don’t let it deter you from visiting!
If you are looking into a trip to Myanmar, you are likely aware of the conflict in Rakhine State and the flow of refugees over the border into Bangladesh. We are wholeheartedly hoping for a speedy resolution to this conflict in which everyone will be able to live in peace.
This region of conflict in Rakhine State is located on the remote Northwest region of Myanmar, close to the Bangladesh border. It is quite far away from the peaceful main tourist areas of Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake.
One thing I hope everyone keeps in mind is that the emerging Myanmar tourism industry is an important way for the country and its’ people to emerge from many years of isolation from the outside world. Although challenges remain, tourism is helping thousands of people from Myanmar to improve their living situation by providing solid and stable work. Also, cultural and social exchange benefits everyone!
Myanmar is part of the ASEAN Member States
This association, which includes most of the other SE Asian Countries, strives to promote peace, progress, economic development, and social equality throughout the region.
Go before others discover Myanmar
I visited Cambodia in 2010 and again in 2015. In that 5-year time span, Angkor Wat transformed from a rustic and austere site to something that is incredibly overrun with tourists. It has become a circus.
Go now to Myanmar before the lovely pagodas of Bagan, Mandalay and the incredible religious and cultural sites throughout the country become saturated with visitors and loses its’ true feeling of tranquility.
When to go?
Busy/High season: Occurs during the “cool” weather months (November to March). This is when the weather is drier and the heat is not unbearable.
I traveled to Myanmar during the “shoulder” season: September-October. I usually prefer to travel during the shoulder season as the weather is not terrible, there are fewer tourists visiting the same iconic sights, and the prices for everything are more affordable. For me, this is a winning situation!
Myanmar Visa is simple to obtain
You need a visa. Myanmar is by far one of the easiest country to obtain one. You can go directly to the e-visa website. I did and received an approval within 24-hours for a visa valid for 90 days. If you go this route, remember to bring a passport size photo of yourself.
Or, you can obtain a visa on site with one of the visa agents at the Yangon airport upon your arrival. Double check with the Myanmar Visa website on the exact fees and other requirements.
International Flights into Myanmar make the country easily accessible
A brand-new airport in Yangon was built last year by a Singaporean company. This facility supports many international flights arriving on a daily basis. When I was searching for flights to Yangon from Los Angeles, I had a choice of 4 different carriers offering easy 1-stop connections through their respective hubs.
I was very impressed with the airport’s efficiency and offerings. Going through customs was a breeze. On my departure, I was shocked by the variety of upscale duty-free shops and the number of food outlets open.
Currency- What is accepted?
The only currency accepted are the Kyat (local Myanmar currency) and crisp, unmarked US Dollar bills. I brought brand new $5 bills with me on my recent trip and found it to be incredibly useful. I also brought $20 dollar bills. The $20 dollar bills that were marked or wrinkled were not accepted. From my experience, the small US dollar bills are the most useful currency to use besides the Kyat or credit cards.
ATMs- Useful and Available
ATMs are becoming readily available. It is the ideal way to obtain local currency with the best exchange rate and lowest transaction fees. They are located at the airport and at locations throughout the country.
Credit Cards- Useful and more accepted
Credit cards are accepted at the higher end hotels and also at more “Westernized” storefronts. For example, I bought a number of items that I found intriguing and wanted to take back with me to use in the States at a local grocery store in Yangon (City Mart Supermarket ). The store is promoting the use of credit cards and I was rewarded by the store giving me a coupon(Kyat) for savings for my next visit by simply paying with a credit card.
Bonus Tip: Be sure to use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees!
Internet- Availability increasing
The internet exists in Myanmar. You just have to know where it is! Like most other countries in SE Asia, you can get free WiFi access at higher end hotels and at local restaurants/ cafes. Also, some businesses offer complimentary access. When I was in Yangon at City Mart Supermarket, I was able to get onto the internet via my Facebook account (now I know a little bit on how Mark Zuckerberg/Facebook grows their global footprint!)
SIM Cards- Not useful (currently)
Forget about it! I purchased one for my unlocked IPhone 5 and used it with little to no success. Frustration! This is because the cellular connection is poor throughout most areas of the country. I recommend using free Wi-Fi when you are able to.
Communication- Much easier than I expected!
English is widely spoken in the more common tourist areas. However, if you’re like me and like to venture out to more “local’s” spots, be prepared to mime. It works! And it leads to a great time engaging with local residents.
Bargaining – It’s expected!
When you go to a local market, be prepared to bargain. It’s important to know this is a common occurrence and if you don’t, the vendor will be insulted. To many travelers, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s part of the experience of travelling to another country and adhering to their traditions. Just do it.
Preparing to depart Myanmar from Yangon International Airport
Be sure to print out your airline ticket/ boarding pass from your hotel. It will help avoid with any potential confusion at the departure airport. I had a challenging time printing out my departure ticket prior to the airport, I was lucky enough that there was an agent that spoke excellent English and helped me with my baggage being overweight and ticket issues.
Remember to balance your packing and try to avoid overweight luggage. There’s currently not a system in place for payment of overweight bags.
Our Tips for our luxury clients:
Work with a Travel Advisor who knows and understands Myanmar for the best travel experience possible.
Myanmar is a wonderful country and has become my favorite destination in SE Asia. Since I recently explored the country in-depth, I’m confident and know the current tourism industry in Myanmar. The tourism infrastructure is not established like Thailand or Vietnam. However, I do have the amazing connections in Myanmar to help you get all that you want out of this potential trip of a lifetime! Contact Us for inquiries and additional details!