Traveling to Myanmar has never been safer, convenient and accessible – it has been opening up to foreign visitors in recent years, with many traveling to this alluring land for its picturesque pagodas, temples and lakes. After decades of harsh military rule, Myanmar is currently undergoing a period of transition to develop itself. With that in mind, it’s likely that many will find the lack of developed infrastructure annoying.
This post is a part-travelogue, part-guide to help people who are interested in traveling into Myanmar plan for their trip. While I strive to be as comprehensive as possible, there will be missing details here and there and I will add them into the post based on feedback and comments. Many are still using travel agents for their trip, and I am here to share how you can plan one without paying ridiculous commissions. We spent a total of $950 per person for a week-long trip to Myanmar (Yangon-Bagan-Inle Lake-Yangon) inclusive of all spending, accommodation and flights. While some of you might baulk at the high price, you mkillust understand that this is already much cheaper than travel agencies (they cost at least $1600 exclusive of spending!) and Myanmar imposes a lot of tourist tax that goes to the government.
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Myanmar requires all visitors to have a Visa, including members of ASEAN states like Singapore. To make a Visa, you’ll have to visit this online portal and schedule an appointment for Visa processing and collection. A total of $35 application fee plus $10 processing fee is required per person. You will send your processing request in the morning between 8.30am to 12pm and collect it at the embassy in the afternoon between 4.30pm to 5.30pm. This Visa allows you to stay in Myanmar for 28 days, extendable by 14 days.
Flying into Myanmar from Singapore should be easy, with many airlines (including budget ones like Jetstar) flying into the Yangon. We flew Jetstar at about S$250 per person for a morning flight — flight duration is 3 hours and Myanmar has a time difference of 1.5 hours behind Singapore; so you merely ‘lose’ 1.5 hours on the flight there.
P/S: You could also choose to fly into Mandalay or Naypyidaw, the capital city.
In the past, hotel rooms fill very fast as Myanmar becomes an increasingly popular tourist destination. As more hotels were built over the recent years, I had no trouble booking my hotels about 2-3 weeks before departure. It is best to pay for your hotels in advance to avoid complications and the language barrier when communicating with hotel staff. Most Burmese speak simple conversational English but have trouble understanding complex sentences and words. In any case, we booked via Agoda (you can use any major booking websites like Booking.com) and a decent 3-star twin room hotel with breakfast should cost about S$30-50 per night. You can also use overnight buses to save on accomodation which we did for our first night – more details later.
4. Bookings (Internal Flights, Buses)
We also settled our internal flights and buses before departure for a peace of mind. Flying from place to place in Myanmar can be done through an internal flight, train or bus. We booked our internal flights via OWAY (you can use any booking portal, do shop around), and they issued us e-tickets (in PDF format – do save it for offline use) for our flights. Note that internal flights are not cheap, they come at around US$80-110 depending on destination – so you might want to factor this into your budget consideration.
To save on one night’s accommodation and one internal flight from Yangon to Bagan, we took an overnight bus with Joyous Journey (JJ) Express, which offers VIP seating (i.e. leg rests, blanket, food) at US$19 per person. It’s an 8-hour bus journey on the highway, leaving Yangon at 8pm and reaching Bagan at 5am in the morning, just in time for sunrise.
P.S: The bus journey is moderately comfortable and safe. You get 3 rest stops along the way, so you don’t really get a peaceful, uninterrupted night’s sleep. Nonetheless, for US$19, it’s a steal compared to paying US$90 for a flight, not forgetting hotel as well. There are other bus companies offering the same route, at possibly a lower price, so do shop around.
5. Weather / What do I Pack?
The weather in Myanmar is extremely hot, with temperatures above 40’C in Yangon in the day especially in the middle of the year. I am not kidding you – the temperature is so high that sometimes you wouldn’t want to leave your hotel. Choose your traveling period wisely, as it is usually much cooler towards the end and start of the year. Although scorching hot temperatures may seem like a bane for traveling, the humidity level is lower than Singapore.
Bring along light, airy clothing during the summer months and also long pants/jeans that cover the knees if you’re going to visit pagodas and temples during your visit. This will save you US$8 if you’re rejected entry and have to buy clothing to cover them. A jacket is recommended for overnight buses, planes and an early morning boat trip on Inle Lake.
6. Currency/How Much to Change?
Myanmar accepts US-Dollars (US$) at major hotels or Kyat (K, pronounced like ‘jiat’) in daily spending. A rough conversion I use is 1000K = US$1 = S$1.35, although rates at the airport are more like US$1 = 1150K. Do change a fair amount of Kyat for daily expenditure such as bottled water and meals. US-dollars are accepted usually for entry fees to pagodas and temples.
I strongly recommend picking up a 3G SIM card from the Airport from major telcos (e.g. MPT, Oredoo) as WiFi in hotels is terrible and unreliable. You will not be able to use WiFi reliably at almost every hotel due to infrastructure issues, which is already well-known by locals.
We picked up a 1.35GB 3G-SIM for 8500K (1500K registration fee + 7000K for a 1.35GB 3G data plan). A cheaper option you can consider if you don’t need so much data is 3000K for 550MB. They will do the installation for you on the spot and they have nano/micro-SIMs for sale. Activation takes less than 5 minutes but the queue for this might get a little long since there’s only one small counter for this service.
8. Is Myanmar Safe?
In short, Myanmar is generally safe – safe enough for walking in the dark at night, not getting robbed in the day and safe enough from natural disasters. However, tap water is not potable and it is recommended to drink from bottled water whenever possible. At temples and pagodas, you can find water dispensers offering filtered water via reverse osmosis, similar to NEWater. I’ve tried them and I think they are fine. They are safe to drink but if you want to spend money on bottled water (250-400K for 1L) for a peace of mind, that’s perfectly fine too.
Spending a week in Myanmar – one of the least-developed Southeast Asian country – has been one of my most memorable trips to date. While it is no doubt that the unforgiving weather might have dampened our spirits once in a while, the beautiful country, friendly people and inspiring journey will continue to live in my mind and heart. Myanmar offers some of the best in Southeast Asia in terms of people, food and sights. If you can forgive the developing infrastructure, language barrier and expensive tourist taxes, you’ll be in for a really good treat.
To those who are interested to read more of my travels, my 19-day trip from Singapore to Hanoi can be found here. If you want to see more photos, visit my Instagram page here or Facebook page here.