Tips For Travelling in Myanmar
Myanmar (also known as Burma) is quickly emerging as a top travel destination. Here’s what you need to know to visit this country that holds a difficult past and complicated present.
With the political changes going on in Myanmar over the last few years, the country has become one of the most exciting travel destinations. However, it still has its quirks when it comes to the actual nuts-and-bolts of travelling there. Here’s what you need to know for a trip to Myanmar.
When to Go
The high season for tourists is between November and February. This is when it rains the least and isn’t too hot. March through May tends to be unbearably hot. The monsoon rains usually begin in late May or early June.
Unless you are a passport holder from an Asean country, China, Bangladesh or Russia, you should obtain a visa before you go. You used to be able to apply for one online, but unfortunately that is no longer the case. Now the best way to apply is directly through a Myanmar consulate or embassy in your home country. It only costs US$20, is good for up to 28 days of travelling within the country (and can be extended once you are there) and is valid for 90 days from the date of issue. You need to make sure your passport is valid for at least six more months when you apply, and when you describe your occupation on the application you probably shouldn’t say that you are a journalist, photographer, writer, videographer, publisher or anything along those lines. If you need to do so, be creative.
The kyat, pronounced “chat,” is Myanmar’s official currency. There are now a few ATMs in Myanmar, but foreign ATM cards are still not accepted. Credit cards and travellers’ cheques are practically useless in Myanmar, as only a few high-end hotels in Yangon and Mandalay accept them. And they charge high commission fees for doing so. Hence, cash is king. Make sure to bring only crisp and clean U.S. dollar bills with you—even a slightly worn bill may be extremely difficult to exchange. Larger notes such as $100s or $50s will get better rates than $5s or $1s. Likewise, you get about a 10 percent better exchange rate in Yangon than in other places.
The roads between cities, even the major ones, can be pretty horrendous and may even be impassable during the rainy season. So unless you have lots of time and a very strong constitution, it is best to fly the longer stretches between major destinations. However, make sure to use one of the private airlines such as Air Bagan, Air Mandalay or Yangon Airways, and do your best to avoid Myanma Airways, which is run by the government. Myanma’s planes are known to be unsafe, and using them puts more money into the military junta’s pockets. Same goes for using what few trains there are—they are government-run and in pretty bad shape. It’s also possible to travel by riverboat for some long stretches that can make for interesting scenery, but if you are short on time beware that it can literally take days to get to your destination.
Yes, Myanmar definitely has its quirks when it comes to travelling, but these relatively minor inconveniences are greatly overshadowed by the experiences to be had while visiting this beautiful and exotic country.