Myanmar, formerly called Burma, is a Southeast Asian country, bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. A multi-tribe country with 135 different ethnic groups, Myanmar has a population of about 54 million. Burmese is the official language and the Kyat is the country currency (1€ = 1.633,23 MMK as of March 22nd 2018).
A visa is required to enter in Myanmar for the majority of foreigner countries. It is now possible to apply for an e-visa. You can do it here. On the website you just need to fill in the application form and proceed with the payment. After some days you will receive an email with the approval letter you should print and present at the airport upon arrival. All tourist visas are issued for a stay up to 28 days and single entry. The cost of the e-visa is of 50 USD.
Regarding weather conditions, Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate with three distinct seasons: cool (from November to February, with light warm and dry weather); hot (from March to May, with very hot and dry weather conditions); rainy (from June to October, with mild temperatures but a high rainfall).
A SIM card may be easily obtained on arrival in Myanmar. The main telecommunication companies are Ooredoo, MPT and Telenor. In our case, we chose MPT. In the Yangon International Airport we bought a prepaid SIM card valid for 30 days and offering 12Gb of data for 22.000 MMK/13,47€. During our stay in Myanmar, we always had coverage and reasonable Internet speed, even while visiting less touristic places, such as Hpa-An or Mawlamyine. However, we were told Ooredoo is also a good alternative and it offers cheaper prices.
We found transportation a pleasant surprise regarding its quality and comfort. It is extremely easy to book tickets in hotels or tour stands and. In general, you just need to book the tickets one day before. Buses were the mean of transportation we mostly used, since we found it the cheapest and most convenient way to travel. For the most common journeys, between the most visited/kown places in Myanmar (Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Yangon) there are VIP buses options with very good conditions at reasonable prices. Sometimes, the boat or the train are also options to consider (for instance, from Bagan to Mandalay). For longer distances or to reach more isolated places, airplane might be the better alternative. Within the cities, tuk tuks are always a good option, but do not forget to always negotiate the price. In some cities, where Grab is available, we recommend the use of this service, since it tends to be cheaper (no need to bargain and you always get the fair price) and from our experience this service works pretty well. We used it several times in Yangon and also in Mandalay, although in the last city it was only available a beta version of Grab motorbikes.
From our experience, the people of Myanmar are the kindest and nicest in Asia. A country that has recently open its doors to tourism, it is still very authentic.
We spent 23 days in Myanmar. During this time we visited several places:
(E) Inle Lake
Detail city by city
Yangon (4 days)
Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is the largest city in Myanmar and it was the capital city until 2006. It is home to the most sacred pagoda, Shwedagon Pagoda, and it has the largest number of colonial-era buildings in Southeast Asia.
Arriving time: we arrived in Myanmar in the Yangon International Airport. We flew from Bangkok in a very cheap and quick Air Asia flight.
Sleeping time: we chose Four Rivers Youth B&B for our 4-night stay. Located in downtown, close to China Town, it offers good private rooms for a reasonable price. The breakfast is simple but it does the job.
Visiting time: in Yangon please make sure you did not miss the Shwedagon Pagoda, the most beautiful pagoda in Myanmar with unforgettable vibes. Try a visit in the late afternoon to enjoy the sunset and the beauty of this golden place at night time. The entrance fee is 10.000 MMK/7,35€ per person. Another amazing experience we had in Myanmar is the Yangon Circular Train. There is a circular train around Yangon, used by the locals everyday. If you are lucky enough, you can see some people selling or transporting their vegetables and fruits and very the most local experience ever. The best option is to catch the train at the Yangon Central Railway Station. The ticket price is local, only 200 MMK/0,12€ and the complete circular ride takes about 3 hours. Apart from these two, which were our favourite attractions of Yangon, we also recommend a walk in Kawdawgyi Lake. It is located close to Shwedagon Pagoda, so you cover both places on the same day. The entrance fee is of 300 MMK/0,18€, plus an extra fee for camera (500 MMK/0,37€). We also suggest a visit to China Town, particularly at night time, to enjoy the local environment and try some Chinese street food. Along the streets, you will find several traditional outside cafes where locals meet often to have tea. Finally, there is a smaller Pagoda, called Sule Pagoda. We did not visit the inside of this one (entrance fee of 3.000 MMK/1,84€), but it was beautiful at night time. Next to it there is a pleasant garden, Maha Bandula Park, surrounded by important buildings, the Yangon City Hall and the High Court.
Hpa-An (3 days)
Hpa-An is a less touristic town, located about 270 kilometres east of Yangon. It is famous for its mountain scenery and its religious caves.
Arriving time: we arrived from Yangon by bus (Mandalar Minn Express company). The journey took about 7 hours. Each ticket cost 12.000 MMK/7,35€.
Sleeping time: we stayed in Soe Brothers Guesthouse 2. The original hotel (Soe Brothers 1) is much less comfortable, although cheaper. We loved our stay here. Spacious and clean rooms and good tours provided. The breakfast was good.
Visiting time: Hpa-An is known for the beautiful temple caves. They are not located in the centre of Hpa-An, but around the town. The best way to explore them is on a day group tour. We went on a tour organized by our Hotel and it ended up being extremely cheap, only 5.000 MMK/3,18€ per person. During the whole day we visited: Yathae Pyan Cave (free); Kawt Goon Cave (3.000 MMK/1,84€); Kyaukme Kalaw Temple (free); Saddan Cave (entrance fee of 1.000 MMK/0,61€, plus additional 1.000 MMK/0,61€ for the boat); Kawt Ka Thaung (free). At some point of the day, the temples may look pretty similar to each other, but it still is a nice experience. Apart from this, we also climbed Mount Zwegabin, located about 10 km from Hpa-An center. We took a tuk tuk from the Hotel and started the climbing from the western side of the mountain, where there is the Lumbini Garden entrance. The other possible entry, on the eastern side, allows a quicker but steeper climb. The entrance fee was of 4.000 MMK/2,45€ per person. The climbing itself is not very pleasant, mainly because there is a lot of trash along the way. A lot! It took us about 1 hour and 45 minutes to reach the top, but we made a lot of stops as we met other people. We spent some time at the top, regaining energy, eating and talking to monks. The way down was much easier and we took about 1 hour and 10 minutes. During our stay in Myanmar it was always extremely hot, so our advice is to make sure you start climbing early in the morning, otherwise it will be too hot in the final part. In town, we recommend a walk in the Khan Thar Yar Lake, with a beautiful scenery at sunset time, followed by a visit to the local night time, which stays around that area.
Mawlamyine (1 day)
Mawlamyine, formerly Moulmein, is the fourth largest city of Myanmar.
Arriving time: to go from Hpa-An to Mawlamyine we opted for the boat (8.500 MMK/5,20€ per person, including the pick up in the Hotel). A bus drive is cheaper and quicker, but we heard it the boat ride was worth for the landscapes. We do not know the exact price for the bus ticket, but people told us it was cheaper than the boat. In the end, we did not find the landscape so beautiful as people told and it was too hot for a 4-hour trip in a very uncomfortable and small boat. For these reasons, we would have preferred the bus.
Sleeping time: we stayed in Pinlon Pan Motel, conveniently located next to the bus station. The breakfast was good.
Eating time: we had a pleasant meal in the restaurant of Hotel Cinderella. It is a small gem and it felt like entering into a small oasis where we ate some tasty pasta.
Visiting time: we only spent one day in Mawlamyine and for us it was enough to explore the main highlights of the city. A tuk tuk driver we booked in the hotel for 15.000 MMK/9,18€ took us firstly to We Kyauk Ta Lone. After a short climbing, we visited two temples at the top, although one is only accessible by men. The next stop was the Win Sein Temple, the biggest reclining Buddha in the world. From the outside is is an impressive building and it is also possible to visit the inside of the building. The conditions are pretty bad, but we enjoyed the visit. It felt like entering into a huge abandoned house. On our way back to the center of Mawlamyine, we visited Pa-Auk Monastery Meditation Center, our favourite stop. There we could witness some monks and other people meditating, in a very calm and peaceful environment. Finally, already back in town, we visited Kylie Han Lan Pagoda. The best was not the temple itself, but the view to the city. All of these points of interest were free of charge.
Kalaw (1 day)
Kalaw is a hill town, at 1320 meters above sea level and 50 kilometers from Inle Lake, which is famous for hiking and trekking.
Arriving time: we came from Mawlamyine on a night bus (Shwe Mandalar Express company) for 20.000 MMK/12,25€. It was a long ride of about 16 hours and the seats were not so comfortable. But of course we made it!
Sleeping time: we stayed in Thitaw II and it ended up being our favourite accommodation in Myanmar. Managed by a Belgian guy in his 40s, this hotel is cozy and perfect to spend some time relaxing. We regretted our short stay of only one night!
Eating time: during our short stay, we could only experience a delicious Mexican restaurant called “Picasso”. In our hotel it was possible to order meals from this restaurant and eat on the cozy common area of the hotel. What a blast!
Visiting time: the main reason that made us visit Kalaw was the famous trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake. The standard trekking is during 3 days/2 nights, including two stays in local families houses or monasteries. The first day is more dedicated to nature, trekking around a lake and green landscapes. The second and third day is more focused on the local villages and its people. We opted for the short version, a 2 days/1 night trekking. The main raison was related to the fact that during dry season the landscaped is not so green and therefore the first day in nature would not be so worth it. After some research, we decided to go with Ever Smile company because it was one of the cheapest and still offering a good service. The total cost of the trekking was of 32.000 MKK/19,59€, including accommodation in a local family house, food, local guide and luggage transportation from Kalaw to the hotel in Inle Lake. Drinks were not included, as well as the entrance fee in Inle Lake, which costs 13.500 MKK/8,27€ per person. To be honest the trekking was not so spectacular and we spent just a few hours with local people, less than expected. However, if you have time is something we recommend doing. Apart from this trekking, Kalaw also offers other trekking alternatives around the area. We did not try, but we heard good experiences from fellow travellers we met along the way.
Inle Lake (4 days)
Inle Lake, a freshwater lake known for its floating villages and gardens and considered to be one of the most tourist highlights.
Arriving time: Inle Lake was the final destination of our 2-day trekking from Kalaw.
Sleeping time: we chose ABC Hostel for accommodation. A cheap choice with good environment. Although it is not very central, it is walking distance to the main restaurants in town and it is also possible to rent bicycles for a very reasonable price (1.000 MKK/0,61€ for the whole day). The breakfast was good and they offer free food during the day, which was cool! You also have free typical Myanmar cigars and free coffee/tea.
Visiting time: the best way to explore the beautiful Inle Lake is on a boat trip. Our hostel offered a one-day tour, from 8am to 6pm, for 7.000 MKK/4,29€. The tour includes many stops around the lake: manufacturing of silver, boats, silk, cigars, interaction with the Neck Woman tribe, floating villages, the amazing Shwe In Tain Pagoda (do not miss this one!), a monastery, the famous fishermen, among others. We also recommend another boat tour at sunrise time to see the fishermen in the lake. Nowadays, more than fishermen, these people are showmen that do amazing acrobatics on the boat in the exchange of some tips. Check out our photos of this special moment! Apart from the lake experience, we also recommend a wine tasting session if you are fan of wine. If yoYou can visit the Red Mountain Estate Vineyards & Winery and try two red wines and two white wines for 5.000 MMK/3,06€. The best way to reach the Winery is by bicycle, since the path from town to there is quite pleasant.
Bagan (4 days)
Bagan is an ancient city located in central Myanmar and home to the world’s largest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas and stupas.
Arriving time: we took a night VIP bus from Inle Lake using the Full Moon company. Each ticket costs 17.000 MMK/10,41€. Much more comfortable than the one we did from Mawlamyine to Kalaw and also shorter (9 hours).
Sleeping time: we stayed in New Park Hotel, located in Nyaung-U. There are three main areas in Bagan: Old Bagan, New Bagan and Nyaung-U. The hotels are typically located in New Bagan and Nyaung-U. After visiting New Bagan, we preferred our choice of staying in Nyaung-U, given the good offer of restaurants and its proximity to Old Bagan, where the majority of the temples are located.
Visiting time: to enter in Bagan, and similarly to Inle Lake, you have to pay a fee of 25.000 MMK/15,31€. the best way to explore the temples of Bagan is with an e-bike. In our hotel we could rent an e-bike for 7.000 MMK/4,29€ from sunrise to night time. The battery is enough to drive around the temples in Old Bagan and New Bagan. In case you return to the Hotel during the day, the staff can charge the battery for you. The best plan is to have no plan. Just wander around the temples, stop to explore a bit more if you feel like doing it. The only rule is not to miss both sunrise and sunset times. Although nowadays most of the pagodas are forbidden to climb, there are still some secret spots to enjoy these moments every day. Sunrise is the most special moment, because of the color of the sun and the balloons coming up to the sky. We would risk to say we witnessed one of the best sunrises of our lives during our stay in Bagan. Sunset is also beautiful, although we were not very lucky with the weather. To discover the secret spots you can ask local people around the temples and they will show you the spots and ask you a tip for that. To facilitate your task we share our favorite spot for sunrise and for sunset. Both have stairs to the top and enough space to be seated. But make sure you go early because both places tend to be crowded with other tourists. A very touristic activity in Bagan is the air ballooning ride. It is a very expensive attraction, but most visitors tend to do it, since this one in a lifetime opportunity. It was our case and we did not regret our decision! There are three companies in Bagan offering this service: Balloons Over Bagan, Oriental Ballooning and Golden Eagle Ballooning. The prices are similar between the three. After some research we opted for Balloons Over Bagan, since this is the oldest and more experienced company. There are two type of tickets: standard (12 to 16 people on the balloon, transfer from an to the hotel and some food before and after the flight) and premium (only 8 people on the balloon, transfer from and to the hotel and a full breakfast in the end). The standard service costs around 310 USD, while the premium service costs 420 USD. We recommend you to buy the tickets in a tour stand instead of the company stand, since the tour stand can provide you with a discount, especially if you buy other services at the same time. In our case we bought in Ever Sky stand, located next to Balloons Over Bagan office. Apart from temples, pagodas and stupas, Bagan has also another attraction, Mt Popa. A volcano located about 50 kilometres from Bagan center. The climb is very easy, with stairs until the top. The real challenge are the monkeys, that are all over the place trying to steal your food and that sometimes can be quite aggressive! The transportation can be done in a shared van for 8.000 MMK/4,90€.
Mandalay (3 days)
Mandalay is the second largest city in the country, considered to be the economic and religious hub of upper Myanmar.
Arriving time: we took a VIP bus from Bagan to Mandalay using JJ Express, the most luxurious bus company in Myanmar. The trip was short, about 4 hours, and each one of us paid 9.300 MMK/5,69€.
Sleeping time: we chose Four Rivers Mandalay, the same chain we stayed in Yangon.
Eating time: in Mandalay we did not try many restaurants. The only one we recommend is “Nova Coffee House”, offering good western meals.
Visiting time: in Mandalay there is a combo ticket that allows the entrance in some attractions of the city: Shwenandaw Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Mandalay Palace, entrance to the ancients cities of nearby Amarapura and Inwa, among others. It costs 10.000 MMK/6,12€ per person and that can be bought at most places that require it for entry. However, in some of these places no one checks your ticket. In our case, only in Shwenandaw Monastery we were asked the ticket. Mandalay is a big city and the attractions are spread across the city and its surroundings. We decided to be focused on a specific area on the first day. We started to visit Shwenandaw Monastery, followed by Kuthodaw Pagoda and Sandar Muni Pagoda, which are located nearby. The last two pagodas contain the the world’s largest book. In the afternoon we visited Mandalay Hill, which is also around that area. The entrance fee is 1.000 MMK/0,61€ and it is commonly visited an sunset, given the beautiful view at the top. On the second day we visited Mahamuni Pagoda, a temple that houses the most highly revered Buddha image in the country. The two other attractions are located in Amarapura: Maha Gandar Yone Monastery and the famous U-Bein Bridge. The monastery should be visited around 10:30am to see the line of Buddhist monks collecting the food in their bowls. The bridge is often visited at sunset. It is nice to have a walk on the wooden bridge and stop in a cafe to enjoy the sunset and take some nice pictures.
Best of Myanmar
In case we had to choose our top 3 in Myanmar, according to our experience in this country, we would vote for:
Boat tour in Inle Lake - it was, for sure, the highlight of our stay in Myanmar! We could experience the deep traditions of the lake and its magical environment.
Air ballooning and sunrise in Bagan - we were very excited about these both experiences and it was not a disappointment. The ballooning was a one in a lifetime experience and the sunrise was just terrific;
Meditation center in Mawlamyine - it turned out to be a surprise for us. Out of the most touristic route, we discovered an interesting city, and particularly the meditation center was a special place.
What we will not miss next time
Myanmar has some much to explore and we know that we not miss the next places on our next visit:
Hsipaw - a beautiful trekking destination that can be reached from Mandalay by a train long journey famous for its landscapes;
Ngapali Beach - Myanmar’s premier beach destination. Unexplored white sand, clear water and tropical climate... What else could we ask for?;
Mrauk-U - an archaeologically town with hundreds of temples and pagodas. Contrarily to Bagan, this place is not widely known by tourists, receiving only about 4.000 foreigners per year.
Hope you enjoy this guide we created based on our experience in Myanmar. In case you have any questions, please contact us by email (email@example.com).