01. ATM Myths
Myth #1: ATMs are as rare as penguins in Myanmar
While Myanmar doesn’t offer as much convenience for travelers as more popular tourist destinations like Vietnam or Thailand, searching for ATMs in the area is not that difficult a feat anymore. As an example, there has been about 50 ATMs in Yangon since May 2013.
You can find ATMs in the larger cities like Yangon and Mandalay. The most reliable ATMs are found in the Yangon airport. You will encounter a lot of off-line machines however so it is still advisable to carry extra cash with you. Carrying cash at hand is also advisable if you’re traveling outside the bigger cities.
Myth #2: ATMs charge an arm and a leg for withdrawals
The standard ATM fee is approximately 5,000 kyat or $5. There is usually a maximum withdrawal amount set at 300,000 kyat or about $300.
Myth #3: International Visa and MasterCard credit and ATM cards are not accepted in Myanmar ATM machines.
As of January 2013, ATM machines in Myanmar do accept international credit and debit cards with the Visa or MasterCard logos.
Back in February 2013, the EU and United States lifted sanctions resulting in more hotel and restaurant that accept credit cards.
Myth #4: You can only find ATM machines in the capital city.
While it is still difficult to find ATM machines outside larger cities, Yangon is not the only city where you can make withdrawals.
Myanmar’s largest bank, Kanbawza Bank (KBZ), states they are expanding their ATM network to about 300 machines, both in major and even smaller cities.
02. Booking Internal Flights
There are four privately owned airlines that offer domestic flights within Myanmar. These are:
- Yangon Air
- Bagan Air
- Air Mandalay
- Asian Wings
Given Myanmar’s rough roads, flying internally the safest way to travel within the country.
The government runs its own airline called Myanmar Airways (UB). Unfortunately, it has a lousy safety record so best to avoid flying it. Even the Burmese people avoid their government’s airline as much as possible.
The best way to purchase domestic flights in the country is through a reliable travel agent or through your hotel/guesthouse. While you can book some flights online, working with a travel agent is more reliable. Internal flights typically cost between $80 to 200.
Currently, e-tickets are not used in Myanmar so you will have to pick up your internal flight’s tickets. You can’t use e-mail and a booking number when you check-in at the airport.
Always reconfirm your flight 24 hours before your scheduled departure. Booking errors do happen given the travel agencies usually don’t have reliable or sophisticated software to track their bookings.
While it is possible to book your flight a day before you intend to travel, it’s advisable to book it at least three days in advance. In some cases like holidays, booking a day before your scheduled trip might not be possible.
Bring some sense of humor with you when traveling domestic in Myanmar. Expect flight delays and cancellation. Tourists can even expect to be bumped off flights if a high-ranking government official needs the seat. It’s all part of the adventure when traveling in this corner of the world after all.
03. Current Political State
For the last 40 years, Myanmar has been under the control of a strong military rule. Dissent has been known to be repressed by the government. Pro-democracy advocate Aung San Suu Kyi is the grand figure who fights Myanmar’s strict military rule.
Fortunately, since early 2013, freedom has been granted more and more in the region. Democracy is slowly being embraced in the Burmese political climate. It is not unheard of to run into local people discussing their government. Photos of Aung Sang Suu Kyi are openly displayed by private citizens and shops for the public to see. People have been able to stage a small number of protest against private businesses with no legal repercussions.
Another step forward for Myanmar’s political state is the relaxation of sanctions by the United States and the EU on the nation. After a period of isolation from Western countries, the US released sanctions on foreign aid given to Myanmar back in late 2011. Diplomatic, relations between the two nations resumed early 2012. After placing economic sanctions on Myanmar, the EU on the other hand suspended economic sanctions in 2012. This was mainly thanks to the pro-democracy party gaining 43 out of 45 seats in the 2012 elections. Aung San Suu Kyi was elected a member of the Burmese parliament that year.
Despite all the democratic growth, take note as of 2011, Myanmar still rates as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. It has a Corruption Perceptions Index of rank 180th out of 183 countries. It has a corruption rating of 1.5 over 10 with 10 being least corrupt and o being highly corrupt.
If you do choose to discuss politics with the locals, however, do so with discretion and avoid drawing attention to yourself. While freedom is gradually more accepted in Myanmar, democracy is still in its infancy and foreigners attract extra attention.
Myanmar currently has about 1,500 political prisoners. Travelers are advised to stay away from engaging in political activities. Myanmar is not the place to practice freedom of speech especially when it comes to criticizing the government. It is never wise to make members of the police or anyone else working for the government feel discomfort while in Myanmar. Do not take photos of government employees, buildings, and other properties.
04. Best Sunset Spots in Myanmar
Situated next to the Ayeyarwady River, Bagan is loved by tourists for its large number of Buddhist structures. In fact, Bagan has more Buddhist temples, pagodas, and ruins than anywhere. These beautiful 11th and 12th century marvels draw travelers to Bagan with their history and number.
Another big draw to the region are the breathtaking sunsets to witness. Here is a list of the most gorgeous sunset spots to make your Myanmar trip worth remembering for years to come:
First on this list must be the Shwesandaw Temple. It’s called the “sunset temple” with good reason. Tourists in large numbers breathe in the fantastic view of the Bagan sunset from this temple. Given the number of people who go out of their way to view this popular spot, make an effort to arrive early. The best view is found on the top level – an area that isn’t too spacious. Give yourself about 5 minutes to make the climb to the top level. It’s a relatively easy walk up the stairs.
If the top level is full or if you are afraid of heights, the next two highest levels offer a view that is just as spectacular. The crowd gathers as early as 4:30 in the afternoon. You can also take in the same view from nearby Shwe-Gu-Gyi.
The sunset view from the very well-preserved Shwegugyi Temple is just as magnificent as the view from the famous “sunset temple” or Shwesandaw Temple. The crowds don’t gather here as much. You can find the Shwegugyi Temple close to the front section of the Thatbyinnyu Temple.
North Guni Temple
If you detest crowds so much you would rather opt for a less magnificent sunset view in favor of a less densely populated area, the North Guni Temple is a great choice. You will have to find your way to the seventh floor through some hidden passages, however. A local guide can make the search easier.
02. Mandalay Hill
Mandalay is the second biggest city in the whole country. It’s second only to Yangon in size and used to be Myanmar’s capital. Today Mandalay is an economic and religious center.
Mandalay Hill is located near Mandalay. This popular tourist spot offers visitors spectacular views of Buddhist sites like pagodas and monasteries – plus sunsets you will remember for years. For 200 years, the area has been a major pilgrimage location for local Buddhists.
It’s easy accessibility will provide you a spectacular sunset view as well as a panoramic view of Mandalay city. Near the peak of Mandalay Hill, you will also be rewarded with views of beautiful pagodas and temples.
Things to See in Mandalay Hill:
In climbing Mandalay Hill to view breathtaking sunsets, you will first encounter two Chinthes by the stairway’s entrance. These are one of the many big leogryphs commonly seen guarding religious sites in Southeast Asia. You can also find the Chinthe on Myanmar’s local monetary notes, the kyat.
The pagoda on top of Mandalay Hill called Sutaungpyei or “wish- fulfilling” is an excellent spot for a wide view of the city of Mandalay. You can reach Sutaungpyei through four stairways. There is also a one-way road the public can use. The road ends with an escalator and a lift tourists can take to the pagoda.
Tourists will run into plenty of monks in Mandalay Hill, many of them eager to practice their English language skills with foreigners. Be wary of “fake monks” who offer their services as tour guides. They will ask for some form of payment. Real monks are not allowed to accept or handle monetary notes.
The lovely Shwenandaw Monastery is built entirely of teak Wood. Its intricate carvings make it worth seeing. The monastery was originally part of the royal palace and was moved to the foot of Mandalay Hill in the late 1800s. During world War II the original wooden royal palace was bombed and the Shwenandaw Monastery is the only major building that survived from the attack.
Also located at the foot of Mandalay Hill is the Sandamuni Pava which houses the largest iron Buddha statue in the world.
In the foot of Mandalay Hill tourists can see the world’s biggest book. It’s found in the Kuthodaw Paya which was built by King Mingdon in the 19th century. The complete text of the Tripitaka, Theravada Buddhism’s most sacred text, is contained on the 729 white stupas within Kuthodaw Paya.
05. Exchanging Money
While ATMs and credit cards are becoming more and more acceptable in Myanmar, cash is still king. It is important to carry some cash with you at all times. It’s pretty common to run into ATM machines that are off-line or places that don’t accept credit cards.
Most travel agents in the country only accept cash for purchases of domestic flights.
Exchanging your foreign currencies for the local currency kyat is one of the most important activities to learn when planning your trip to Myanmar.
What currencies are accepted?
The US dollar is accepted all over Myanmar for exchange. Thankfully, it is not difficult to exchange Euros in the major tourist areas. These include Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle lake.
Tourists can also exchange Thai Baht and Chinese Yuan.
Expect the exchange rates to be better for larger denominations. The British Pound usually gets a worse rate compared to those offered in other nations. It’s also more difficult to find money changers that accept GBP. Some large banks permit exchanging Singaporean Dollars. US dollars are given the best rate so this currency is over all your safest bet.
It is advisable to bring US dollars in various denominations. Don’t expect money changers to give you change.
Do I need to bring crisp dollar bills?
Yes. The rules aren’t as strict as those from years ago, but the crisper and closer to brand new your dollar bills look, the more chances you have of exchanging money with no hassles.
- Make sure your bills contain no writings or any other marks (stamps, pen marks, etc.).
- Bring bills that look as new as possible. Creases can result in the bills being rejected although this reason for rejecting bills is fortunately becoming less common.
- Your bills must not have any holes, tears or any damage at all.
- It’s safer to exchange bills that are newly minted compared to bills with older designs. The new designs of US dollars come with bigger portraits and multiple-colored prints.
To avoid getting ripped off or any problems associated with exchange money, follow these tips:
- Don’t deal with moneychangers you meet in the streets. While some may promise better rates, there are a lot of scammers in the streets who will shortchange you through sleight of hand tricks and more.
- Kyat money is useless outside Myanmar. You can exchange any kyat you have at hand for US dollars, Euros or Singaporean dollars at the airport when leaving the country.
- Always check the quality of the bills you receive in exchange. You have the right to refuse damaged notes the same way money changers reserve the right to reject money not deemed in good condition.
- The Yangon airport typically provides the best rates.
Above are what you need to pay attention to your Myanmar tours.
06. Culture Tips
Myanmar is a land full of friendly and well- mannered people. Most of them will make foreigners feel welcome.
Do however remember that it is a foreign country with a colorful and also painful past. There will definitely be cultural clashes if you don’t take into account differences between the Burmese and Western culture.
Here are some travel tips to remember so you can leave Myanmar with a smile and only the fondest memories:
- Myanmar is a conservative country with a conservative culture. Dress modestly at all times. Sleeveless shirts, short skirts, and shorts are not permitted in religious areas.
- The country isn’t the place to show your sweetheart your love through public displays of affection. Short and small kisses are fine but refrain from kissing for extended periods.
- Displaying aggressive or dramatic emotions is not a good idea. This includes expressing anger or passion overtly in public.
- Never pass an item over the head of a sitting elder. This is considered very disrespectful.
- Greet people with a friendly smile. Shaking hands is not the norm and many locals will not be used to such a greeting.
- Caucasians are typically called “bo”. This respectfully means “leader”. You may address older Burmese people by saying “U”, pronounced “oo” in “room. Men may be called “uncle” while women are commonly called “auntie”. Using “mister” and “miss” is also acceptable.
- Dress for the warm weather in casual t-shirts if you prefer but do avoid any clothing with images of Buddha or similar. This is seen as very impolite.
- The locals are very welcoming towards foreigners. Do return the cordial greeting and interact with the locals.
- It is never a smart move to talk politics in Myanmar. There are still a lot of public sensitivity towards several political issues and your best bet is to refrain from political topics altogether. If you must engage in political discussions, do it behind closed doors and never out in the open.
- Expect to encounter beggars regularly. Many beggars belong to begging syndicates. You are not expected to give but if you must, giving $1 will be considered very generous.
- Drivers in Myanmar aren’t the worst in the world. Don’t expect courtesy and safety on the roads however to match those found in Western countries.
- Monks aren’t allowed to touch women so, if you’re female, be careful about touching a monk’s hand while giving a donation for instance.
- Donate food instead of money to monks. They are not allowed to receive money.
- If someone of equal or higher cultural/religious status compared to you offers you an item, receive it by using your left hand to support your right elbow. Use your right hand to accept the object.
- The locals are very keen not to embarrass another. There is even a term for the fear of embarrassing others and it’s “anade”.
- Because of the Burmese people’s Buddhist beliefs, men are considered to be above women in local culture. It’s common to see husbands walking ahead of their wives in public. This however does not mean women in Myanmar aren’t independent or respected. You will find many women running their own businesses and working as doctors, teachers, scientists and many other respectable professions.
- Bartering isn’t as common in Myanmar as it is in many other Asian nations.
It is a rare traveler who can travel without immersing in the local cuisine with gusto. With delicious and inexpensive Burmese food available everywhere, visiting Myanmar will open your palate to an exotic world of food.
Traditional Burmese cuisine is derived from a combination of food from Indian, Chinese and Mon cuisines. Just like other Asian cultures, rice is a staple in the local diet. Vegetarians will have an easy time finding suitable food in the country as vegetarian dishes are extremely common.
Expect to see cafeteria-like eating when dining out. Majority of the restaurants are designed this way. Dining guests typically go to a counter to order ready-made food. You will of course also find restaurants where you will be served at your table but this is generally the case for the more expensive establishments.
What to Expect
It’s difficult to pinpoint a few generalized points about the food. Given the cuisine is an eclectic mixture of different influences, you will find Burmese food varies a great deal. Do expect however that many of the local dishes are cooked in plenty of oil.
It’s normal to be presented with a wide variety of dishes during one meal in a Burmese restaurant. Main entrees are served with several side dishes. Expect to be served soup to go with your curry, salad or fried main course. Lentil soup is commonly served in restaurants as well as a sour soup. You will also see a tray of vegetables served as a side dish everywhere. These are served with a selection of dips. Most of the dips have a seafood base, prepared with either fish or shrimp.
You can also find other side dishes, mostly vegetarian. Green tea is a preferred drink while dessert is usually pickled tea leaves mixed with sugar.
Here are notable Burmese dishes worth a try in your Myanmar tours:
- If salads are your thing, you’re in the right country. One of the most famous Burmese dishes is the ăthouq – a light salad made of vegetables or fruits. It’s mixed with fresh flavors of lime and onions as well as peanuts, roasted chickpea powder, and chilies.
- Other salads to try are the maji-yweq thouq and t’ămìn dhouq. The maji-yweq thouq is made with delicious young tamarind leaves while the tamin dhouq is a noteworthy dish comprised of rice.
- If noodles are more your thing, try the moún-hìn-gà. It’s made of rice noodles immersed in broth (fish and shallot) and served with fried vegetables.
- Móun-di, another noodle-based dish, is comprised of thick noodles served with fish or chicken.
- Chinese-influenced noodle dish Oùn-nó hkauq-swèh is another favorite. It’s made of rice noodles and chicken with coconut milk used as the broth’s base.
- The much talked about laphet is another dish to experience. It’s made with fermented green tea leaves, shrimp, sesame seeds, fried peas, garlic, and peanuts. It has an interesting look that turns off some people but get past its appearance and you will be rewarded with a savory dish.
- Need some food and a caffeine kick? The leq-p’eq thouq, similar to the laphet, is made with fermented tea, nuts, tomato, lime, and cabbage. Students in the region love this dish when cramming for an exam because of the caffeine content from the tea leaves.
08. The Beauty of Inle Lake: Boating, Hiking and More
One of the most popular tourist spots in Myanmar is the Inle Lake. Inle Lake is found in the middle of Myanmar, just southeast of the second largest city Mandalay.
It’s a shallow lake measuring 22 km in length. Tourists will find various tribes in the area who call the lake home.
Entrance fee at the lake is $10 per visitor. The money goes to the Burmese government.
Expect to pay the fee in the bus on the way to the lake or when you enter by taxi if you’re coming from the airport.
09. How to Get There
The most convenient way to the travel to Inle Lake is by taking an internal flight to Heho, the nearest airport to the spot. It takes about an hour taxi ride from the airport to the lake.
The typical price for internal flights from Yangon to Heho is about $100 to $120. From Mandalay, flights to Heho will run you an estimated $80.
Expect to pay the taxi driver about 25,000 to kyat when traveling from Heho to Inle Lake. You also have the option of sharing the ride with other travelers so you can cut down on costs.
Speak to the guesthouse or hotel where you’re staying so you can book a taxi ahead of time. Doing so will usually cost you less than hiring a taxi on arrival. A taxi booked in advance will cost you an estimated 15,000 kyat. You can also book a taxi in advance when traveling from Inle Lake back to the airport. Booking with other travelers will save you even more money.
The cheaper option to travel to Inle Lake is by taking a bus. This is ideal if you can spare some comfort and time of course. Locals usually take the bus.
Buses have daily routes from Yangon to Inle Lake. It will cost about $20 to travel from Yangon and expect to spend 13 hours on the road. If you’re coming from Mandalay, set aside $12 and 9 hours for the journey. From Bagan, it costs about $10 but this is the most uncomfortable bus route compared to the ones coming from Yangon and Mandalay.
Take note buses are very cramped. Some passengers end up standing in the aisle during the journey. These are usually the latecomers – passengers picked up along the way.
There are also overnight buses available and they travel on the new road found between Yangon and Nay Pyi Taw. These offer less traveling times thanks to the new route and are not as cramped as the older buses traveling the original routes.
Noise-canceling headphones are perfect accessories for bus rides. The loud music and audio from the television usually playing on the buses are enough to rob travelers of much-needed rest.
10. Inle Lake Activities
Boating on the lake is a top tourist activity. This draws in a big crowd so do watch out for tour guides who try to sell you activities you don’t need or want.
One of the usual tourist traps are the shops that tour operators try to convince you to visit. Your boat tour may stop by a maximum of six shops, making tours last longer. To avoid these traps, tell your boatman you are not interested in visiting any shop. The items they sell are overpriced and most are available for less all over Myanmar.
You can take part in day tours that last about eight hours. These can be purchased from your hotel or guesthouse. Travel agents are also a good place to purchase boating day tours.
These boats have a five-person capacity. Hiring the boat for less than that will cost you more. Inform your hotel/guesthouse or the travel agent that you are willing to ride with others if you want to cut down costs.
You also have the option of hiring a boat right at the pier. This can cost less. It costs about 10,000 kyat for a half-day tour, 12,000 kyat if you also want to visit the floating market.
The most recommended Myanmar (Burma) tour is one that includes the southern part of the lake, and this costs 15,000 kyat.
Hiring a boat at the pier is the cheapest option because the boat operators receive a commission for taking the passengers to paying shops during the tour. The items sold at the shops are double in price when compared to other similar shops in Myanmar. These shops typically carry clothes, tobacco, and jewelry. We highly suggest you inform the boat operator you are not interested in visiting any of the shops so you can have more time touring the lake.
The weather in Inle Lake gets very hot on some months so be prepared by bringing an umbrella and hat.
Hiking is another highly recommended activity for tourists to do in Inle Lake. You can usually choose between day hikes or three-day hikes. The hiking is done in the hills around the lake. The three-day hike option involves hiking to Kalaw.
It’s advisable to hire a tour guide for your hike. It costs about 10,000 kyat per person for a day hike. Expect the day to begin at around eight in the morning, ending around sunset between four and six in the evening.
The hikes can be physically taxing and a typical day hike covers 20 km. You can of course always request your guide to adjust the trip based on your endurance and other personal preference.
There are some steep paths involved in the usual hiking routes and summer months get very hot. It’s important to bring lots of water since drinking water can be difficult to come by while hiking. Hiking shoes or boots are recommended.
The standard hiking trail involves hikes through forests, mountains and several villages occupied by local tribes. It’s a fantastic opportunity to see the locals and how they live.
There are other fun activities for tourists in or around Inle Lake. Consider the following:
- Rent a bike and explore Red Mountain Winery. It’s less than 5 km outside of town and offers a beautiful view of the sunset. Dine at the restaurant there. The menu includes local and foreign food. Wine tasting is also offered. It costs about kyat to try four different wines, a good deal.
- You can try your skills in the kitchen. Sue at Bamboo Princess 6/261 Aung Chan Thar Quarter Nyaungshwe offers Shan Cooking classes. You will be taught how to prepare Shan dishes. Classes begin in the morning and students can eat what they cook from the course during lunch. It costs about 15,000 kyat. Students can request for gluten-free and egg-free dishes. Be sure to make your requests while you’re booking in advance. You can ask your guesthouse or hotel to do the bookings for you or email [email protected]/ call 09 41010433.
- Visit the Hot Springs for some relaxation. You can rent a bike if you can manage to pedal on a moderately rough road for over 30 minutes towards the direction of the mountains. You will find the hot springs there and it consists of four swimming pools in an area made of concrete. It only costs $5 per person if you want to use the common pool or $8 to use the three private pools. The place provides a towel so no need to bring your own. It’s not the most natural looking spa but the bike trail leading to the hot springs is lovely and offers cyclists a chance to be around nature.
- Enjoy a wonderful cultural show by watching the Aung’s Marionette Puppet Show. It lasts half an hour and is a fun, whimsical and unique presentation. The show is also a great way to experience Burmese music. The show is scheduled every evening at 7 and 8:30, costing 3,000 kyat. The theater is located a few blocks away from the Golden Kite. Tourists can purchase lovely handmade marionettes with a starting price of 7,000 kyat.
11. Must-See Sites
Myanmar is a country full of world-class religious sites, exotic cuisines, one of the friendliest locals and more. Aside from the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay, here are other top places in Myanmar tourists should not miss:
- Putao. A former site of British Fort Hertz during the second world war, Putao is found in Kachin State. While it is a bit difficult to reach the area, nature lovers will find the journey worthwhile. The road to Putao is only accessible during the summer months. Tourists can travel by air to the location anytime of the year, provided there are enough passengers booked for the airlines to schedule the trip. Rare orchids grow wildly in Putao including a rare variety called Black Orchid. It is much cooler in Putao compared to most of the country. Some parts of the region are covered by snow all year.
- Bagan Temples. Bagan has the world’s most concentrated site filled with Buddhist temples, pagodas, ruins and other structures. This wide area houses these 11th and 12th century religious wonders.
- Mt. Kyaiktiyo. This sacred mountain is the place where local Buddhists make a pilgrimage at least once in their lives. It’s located in southeastern Myanmar, specifically in Mon State. The summit is the highest of the Paunglaung mountain range. The mountain is home to the Golden Boulder Pagoda, named after the spectacular golden rock that defies gravity. It’s about a four-hour ride to Mt. Kyaiktiyo if you’re coming from Yangon.
- Ngapali Beach. Located in Rakhaing State found in western Myanmar, this beautiful beach resort is the number beach to visit in the whole country with its serene shore, clear waters, palm trees, and luxuriously soft sand.
- Inle Lake. Located in the Shan State, this tranquil lake offers tourists a wide variety of activities from boating to dining and hiking. The local culture will offer you a different side of Myanmar compared to the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay.
- Ngwe Saung Beach. This beach stretches for about 10 miles and boasts gorgeous world-class waters and sand. It is slowly becoming more popular. The 5 hours it takes to drive to this location from Yangon are all worth it once you witness the beach’s beauty. It’s one of the longest beaches in Southeast Asia. You can see a magnificent view of Bay of Bengal from here, ideal for sunset viewings.
13. Top 3 Restaurants: Yangon, Mandalay, and Inle Lake
17 A 1st Street, West Shwegondaing, Yangon
Aung Thukha has been around for years and is a favorite for both locals and tourists. It offers authentic Burmese food through a wide variety of choices. Vegetarians and meat-eaters alike will find something to their liking.
The restaurant offers everything from succulent meat curries to savory vegetable dishes. Those who aren’t inclined towards typical Burmese food because of the rich oils will be delighted to discover the food here is less rich in oil with herbs adding most of the flavor.
Aung Thukha is a busy place for good reason. The customer service is great, with a staff that speaks decent English. The prices are very reasonable. It has a laid-back atmosphere and certainly a dining spot you don’t want to miss during your visit to Myanmar’s capital.
Danuphyu Daw Saw Yee Myanma
29th Street, Yangon
Another old favorite is the Danuphyu Daw Saw Yee Myanma Restaurant, named after a famous Burmese chef. The place appeals to locals and tourists and has been a popular spot for years. You will find some English names on the menu or you can have a look at the food behind the counter and ask the staff.
The restaurant offers typical Burmese cuisine served with soup and dips, served in a plain but clean venue. Expect to see more tourists than locals in this establishment. The prices cost a bit more than what locals would spend but are still cheap by Western standards.
Feel Myanmar Food
124 Pyi Htaung Su Yeikthar Street, Yangon
Want to try a large variety of authentic Burmese food along with other Asian cuisines? Feel Myanmar is the perfect place. It’s designed in a lovely shack style, more stylish than the other Yangon restaurants on this list of top places to eat.
This spot appeals mostly to tourists and expats. A popular place for lunch, you can also order Thai and Chinese food here. The prices are higher and are meant to target tourists instead of locals but still come out very affordable.
While it’s not the most authentic Burmese dining experience, Feel Myanmar is clean and cozy. It provides a perfect place to relax and enjoy local and other Asian dishes.
A Little Bit of Mandalay
Aung Taw Quarter, 413(B), 63th Street
Situated on 65th Street, between 27th and 28th, is this charming and highly recommended Burmese restaurant. For tourists who shy away from the local food because they find Burmese cuisine too greasy, A Little Bit of Mandalay offers guests a chance to enjoy the dishes without the excessive oily touch.
A Little Bit of Mandalay provides a lovely setting in a traditional pavilion. The romantic setting makes it a great choice for those traveling with a romantic partner as well. Guests enter through a path lit with candles and decorated with paper umbrellas.
The restaurant closes early – before 10 PM – so arrive before 9 in the evening.
27th street, Mandalay
While it’s not exactly a Burmese restaurant (this place serves Thai cuisine), Rainforest should be a dining stop for any tourist. The service is excellent and the food is wonderful. Eating Thai will also give you a break from munching on the local food.
Local guides recommend this restaurant regularly to tourists so be sure to arrive before 7 if you’re coming for dinner as the place gets packed quickly. It’s located on 27th street, between 74th and 75th. Locals know where it is so feel free to ask around if you encounter some difficulties looking for it. It’s charmingly located above an antique shop in a quiet alley.
27th street, Mandalay
Another place to take a break from eating local Burmese food during your stay in Myanmar is in Marie Min Restaurant. This popular spot serves delicious Indian food and is an ideal stop for vegetarians. It also serves Burmese and Western dishes.
Situated across the popular Rainforest Thai restaurant, Marie Min is loved by tourists and locals alike. You can find it between 74th and 75th streets.
Yone Gyi Road, Nyaungshwe
If you find yourself touring Inle Lake, Lin Htett is a great stop to fill your stomach with wonderful Burmese food. It’s set in a simple and laid-back atmosphere and the prices are very cheap.
Salad-lovers will enjoy Lin Htett with its wide selection of salads. Meat-eaters will love this simple spot as the restaurant serves curries and other meat dishes too.
The main entrees are served in typical Burmese side, with a soup and several dips on the side.
Hospital Rd, Mingalar Qtr, Nyaungshwe
If you’re in the mood for either local Burmese or even Thai food after seeing Inle Lake, Green Chilli is a popular destination you shouldn’t miss.
Green Chilli is one of the newer dining establishments in the area and is set up in a more sophisticated setting compared to other restaurants in the city. The diverse Thai menu is something to savor. It is not for the bravest of tourists as the taste caters more to the Western palate which may be more bland than what Asian foodies prefer.
Indoor and outdoor seatings are offered.
“The Shan Restaurant” at the Viewpoint Lodge
Shan State, Inle Lake, Nyaungshwe
Located close to the main bridge and canal area, The Shan Restaurant is a must-visit. It’s the perfect place for lone tourists or those traveling in a group whose members have a wide variety of taste buds. The Shan offers local and foreign cuisines – something to suit everyone is right here.
You can order Asian, Tapas, and even organic dishes in this lovely place. The service is excellent and the setting quite charming. The Shan also has a wide array of drinks to choose from – from wines to teas and juices.
13. Betel Nut: Local Drug
One thing you’ll notice while traveling all over Myanmar are the red smiles on many of the locals. The reason? Betel nut.
Those who partake of this local drug find a hard time hiding their betel use. The teeth of heavy users are stained with a dark reddish color, brought on by years of chewing a nut popular in the region. Users chew on areca nuts mixed with tobacco.
These are wrapped in a betel leaf and chewed by the locals before the nut, leaf, and tobacco are all spat out.
What is Betel?
Also called Piper betle, betel is the leaf of a vine from the Piperaceae family. It’s closely related to kava and pepper. Betel is considered a mild stimulant and is also used as medicine in some parts of the world, namely Asia.
The betel plant is an evergreen and perennial creeper, with glossy heart-shaped leaves and white catkin. It originated from South and South East Asia.
A large study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2004 discovered that the plant is very popular in Southeast Asia, including Myanmar.
The High and Side Effects
Users of betel nut get a high, similar to one from nicotine or ingesting high levels of caffeine. It gives an addictive stimulating effect that comes with a rush of euphoria.
Are there side effects? Yes. Chewing on betel nut can lead to oral cancer and other oral diseases. The leaves of the plant, while providing medicinal relief as an antiseptic and a mouth-freshener, do contain carcinogenic components, especially when chewed with tobacco.
In the same study conducted by the World Health Organization, reports showed that the number of patients diagnosed with oral cancer in Asia are significantly higher when compared to those in other continents.
In other studies, patients with oral cancer in some areas were asked about their betel chewing habits. In all of the research, patients who reported heavy use of betel made a very large sample from the list of oral cancer sufferers. Studies also showed that oral cancer was most common in the areas where betel was common.
Betel Use and Myanmar
It is estimated that over half a billion people in the world chew betel nut. It’s in the top four most used drug, next only to cigarettes, caffeine, and alcohol.
In Myanmar, you can even see children chew the plant. It is popular with vehicular drivers in the country. The effects of betel give them a more alert mind, especially useful for long drives.
The Consumer Protection Association in
Myanmar (an NGO) has made recent efforts to inform the Burmese public about the dangers of chewing betel. Majority of the organization’s campaign, however, revolves around educating the public about the dangerous pesticide found on the leaves, as opposed to informing people about the carcinogens naturally found in the nuts.
14. Bagan Temples: Best Way to Get Around
For travelers who enjoy visiting temples, Bagan is a wonderful place to visit. It’s located in central Myanmar, by the banks of the Ayeyarwady River. Here you will find the biggest concentration of Buddhist structures in the world.
The beauty of Bagan’s temples is found in the way they have aged over the centuries. Dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries, these Bagan Buddhist temples, pagodas, ruins and more have been aged gracefully by the sands of time. They acquired a lovely reddish coloring that turns gold under the touch of the Burmese sun.
Tourists will love the other spectacular images Bagan has to offer. There is a gorgeous skyline, antique statues that proudly showcase Burmese religion and culture, monasteries with intricate woodcarvings, wonderful flora and fauna and more.
How to Get There
There is a five-day pass offered to tourists for 16,000 kyat. You can buy the pass in main tourists sites all over Bagan. Talk to your guesthouse or hotel. You can also purchase Bagan maps for 1,000 kyat. The larger hotels offer maps for free.
To fly in from Yangon to Bagan you can choose from these airlines that offer this internal flight route:
- Air Bagan
- Asian Wings
- Myanmar Airways
From Mandalay to Bagan you can fly carriers:
- Air Mandalay
- Air Bagan
After getting in New Bagan airport, the car ride to Bagan takes about 20 minutes and you can expect to pay about 8,000 to 10,000 kyat. If you made hotel bookings, ask about free airport pickups. Some moderately priced, and of course the priciest hotels, offer this as a free service.
You can comfortably ride buses from Mandalay for 14,000 kyat to 16,000 kyat. The trip lasts about six to seven hours. There are plenty of bus routes for travelers with three minibuses per day leaving for Bagan and two couches.
If you’re coming from Yangon, expect it to be less comfortable than the ride from Mandalay. The trip will cost about 15,000 kyat. The road is paved and modern but the buses play loud music during the whole trip. Take note that if you’re leaving Yangon for Bagan at around 7 PM, the bus will arrive at about 3 AM.
Each day a ferry taking the Ayeyarwady leaves Mandalay to head to Bagan. The ride lasts nine to ten hours typically and will cost you about $43. While not the fastest way to get to Bagan from Mandalay, the boat trip does offer lovely views in some parts of the journey.
There is a slower – much slower actually – ferry that travelers can take. It costs about $ 10 but lasts as long as 18 hours. A lot of locals take this trip instead of tourists.
From Yangon, you can take a train to Bagan for an overnight journey. It leaves at around 4 PM and arrives before noon the following day.
The luxury car will cost you about $40 while cheaper fares will go for a few thousand kyat. The train isn’t modern but it is relatively comfortable, if not somewhat bumpy.
From Mandalay, you can take a train as well. Two trips leave daily and you can buy the tickets at the train station. It costs about $6 to 10 and expect the trip to last about seven to ten hours. This can be a crowded trip so be prepared to feel cramped.
Getting Around Bagan Temples
Given Bagan temples are the main tourist draw in Bagan, you need to look at your options to get around and make the most of your trip.
Here are different ways to see the countless Buddhist structures:
- Horse carts that come with a hired driver can be rented for 10,000 to 15,000 kyat per day. Expect these, however, to be noisy and uncomfortable because of the bumpy ride they provide. The plus side to this option is you will be sheltered, rain or shine. It’s not very comfortable so a halfday rental is the best choice if you feel you want to rent one.
- You can rent a bike in some hotels and this will cost you about 2,500 to 3,000 kyat a day. This is more recommended for touring nearby areas however and not for seeing the Buddhist structures as a push bike will have to cover a wide area – a physically exhausting endeavor.
- There are unfortunately no motorbikes you can rent in the Bagan temple areas but a great alternative is an electric bicycles or e-bike. These are offered for rent in many establishments in town and will cost you about 6.000 to 8,000 kyat per day. You can negotiate for a cheaper deal if you are willing to rent an e-bike for more than one day. An e-bike will definitely allow you to cover more ground than a regular bicycle and will also make carrying items like your camera and water bottle easier. The speed of the -bikes will also allow you to make it to sunset viewings on time. Make sure you get on a test ride on the bike before committing to rent it. Check the brakes, headlights and current charge before you leave the shop with the e-bike.
15. Safety Travel Tips
Myanmar is generally a safe country to visit. You can never be too cautious, however, even in your own home city. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind during your Burmese adventure:
- Since temples are one of the main draws of Myanmar, make sure you bring shoes and clothes that are appropriate for the trip. Sticking to the dress-code allowed in temples (no shorts, sleeveless tops, short skirts) will save you time and keep unwanted attention away from you. Plus Myanmar is a conservative country. You do not want any more attention on yourself than necessary due to your attire and behavior.
- Pests like mosquitoes, rats, and snakes can be quite common in some parts of the country. Be prepared with the proper first-aid medication at all times. If you can’t put together a kit to medicate snake bites and don’t plan to travel in more remote areas where snakes are common, at the very least bring mosquito repellent.
- Sunsets at the temples are one of the most beautiful sights in Myanmar. A flashlight or headlamp is a very handy item to bring when walking back in the dark after the sun goes down.
- Sunscreen is a must against the hot Burmese sun.
- Don’t start political discussions. Myanmar is more open now and democracy is slowly spreading its fingers everywhere. Old habits and culture still die hard though and it’s best to be safe than sorry.
- The air can be dusty in some cities. If you suffer from any respiratory illness, bring appropriate medications. Everyone should bring something to cover his face with when it gets too dusty.
- The sun can be very harsh in this region. Always bring a hat with a wide brim. Compact travel umbrellas are also a great item to bring to protect you from both the sun and rain.
- Tourists sometimes report beehives hiding in corners in less popular temples. Make sure you always travel with a first-aid kit that includes over-the- counter allergy medication.
- Always stay hydrated. It’s easy to ignore dehydration signs while traveling, especially when you’re distracted by the beautiful exotic sights of Myanmar. Bring a bottle of water with you at all times, refill this bottle whenever it runs empty. The country can get very hot and, if you’re like most tourists, you will be doing a lot of walking in Myanmar to see the sights. Also, there aren’t a lot of buildings that have air- conditioning in the nation, not even most banks. Wear light clothing as well to fight off dehydration and other consequences of heat.
- Respect Buddhist customs. Don’t touch the heads of any local and never point at anything using your feet, especially people and religious icons or structures.
16. Best Time to Go
Some months in Myanmar can make tourists experience scorching heat while certain months will bring you and your travels serious downpour. Knowing when to go should be part of your Myanmar (Burma) tours and travel planning.
The most popular months for tourists in Myanmar are November, December, January and February. These are the months that see the least rain and the weather is relatively temperate.
Just like the rest of Southeast Asia, the hottest season occurs during March, April, and May. Travelers can expect Yangon to have a scorching temperature of 40°C. Mandalay and Bagan’s temperature can record even higher than this. If you travel during these summer months, the Shan State is the cooler region.
After the intense heat of the months March to May, the heavy rain begins. The monsoon begins around mid-May and ends mid-June. Tourists can see regular rain between May all the way to October. July, August, and September also experience plenty of rain. Rakhaing State experiences the most rainfall in all of Myanmar.
Important: Some tourist destinations are closed off during the wet months. Ngapali Beach is one of them because the heavy rain and wind can get real tough and poise a threat to visitors.
The areas that get the least amount of rainfall during the wet season are found between Mandalay and Pyay. Some roads are off-limits because of heavy downpour.
17. Tourist Visas
Always check with the embassy of Myanmar since, as with most nations, visa requirements are subject to change regularly.
Search for the contact number of the Burmese embassy online so you can ask for the updated list of requirements and rules. The official website of the Burmese embassy in your country should also provide you updated information.
The validity of a tourist visa to Myanmar expires after 90 days from the day it was issued. The country allows a 28-day stay and a single-entry is all that is currently offered. There are no multiple-entry tourist visas, only business visas can be offered for multiple entries.
A tourist visa costs about $20 to $35, depending on where you apply for a tourist visa. It typically costs more in Western Europe. Be sure to bring three passport-sized photos taken within the last few months. The more recent the photos, the better.
Other visa options include a 28-day business visa. This costs about $30. Former citizens of Myanmar can apply for a 28-day special visas for the same amount. The special visas can be given an extension that lasts three to six months. Filing for an extension will have to be done in Yangon. Myanmar does not permit its citizens to have dual citizenship.
For those interested in a multiple-entry visa, a business visa application will have to be submitted. This will cost about $150.
Myanmar used to offer an e-visa service and ‘meditation visa but these are no longer allowed.