20 September 2009

Top 10 Burma Travel Tips

Teenage monks atop Mt. Popa
1) You MUST fly in and out of Burma – no overland travel is permitted at all. The best deals are out of Bangkok with AirAsia.com – S and I were able to fly roundtrip for about 70 bucks CAD per person.

2) There are NO ATMs or real banks in Burma, and nowhere to cash traveler's cheques or do cash advances. ALL money must be brought with you in completely crisp, unmarked, unwrinkled PERFECT US dollars. Hundreds will get your best exchange rate. Change money at your guesthouse – the banks will give you an exchange rate literally three times lower (corruption yadda yadda.) There are a few US dollar ATM's at Bangkok Airport – one is past security once you check in, located at one of the pink exchange kiosks. This is non-negotiable. DO not head to Burma without USD.

3) Getting a visa is compulsory for all nationalities, and it must be obtained in advance. Most people elect to get theirs in Bangkok, and it is quite straight forward. The best directions I have ever found to anywhere – hands down – come via this link explaining how to get to the Myanmar Consulate in Bangkok. How thorough! How efficient! How positively A-type! Luh dis.
You will need:
  • *2 passport photos
  • *1 photocopy of your passport
  • *3 forms (all available day-of at the consulate) filled out, one of which is a detailed work history. DO NOT indicate any jobs involved in journalism/photography etc
  • *800 Baht
  • *A rough itinerary (they will grill you about where you want to go and why)
It will take 2 full business days – we dropped ours on a Wednesday and could only go to pick it up on a Friday. They will only do a rush if they deem in necessary.

4) The new, published in May 2009 Burma Lonely Planet is actually extremely useful. The rates and prices are dead-on and the recommendations kick ass. Seriously – for this one it is worth investing in the country-specific guide. (see note below)

5) Motherland Inn will meet and greet every single flight into Yangon – and what a treat this guesthouse is to stay at! Just go with them – the rooms are clean and the staff the absolute friendliest. The transfer is free (it would cost about 10 USD otherwise) to their close-to-centrally located Inn. Breakfast in included (put in an advance request the night before for Myanma foods, otherwise it is eggs and toast) and there is a big Western grocery store nearby (ask the staff) that sells Brie cheese for under 4 USD, as well as baguettes - perfect for the obscenely long busride to Bagan, Inle or Mandalay.

6) Bagan is amazing, yes – but it is murder hot. It is worth splashing out a bit more for a pool – we spent 18 bucks a night (our most expensive room by far) to stay at “Golden Express” (all of the horsecart guys know it.) Nice pool, buffet brekkie including omelette/crepe bar and air conditioning. Great value. Hire the same cart guy who drops you here for the following few days (you need one to tour the temples) the price is normally 10 USD for the whole day. Tip these guys well – they are struggling to eke out a living!

7) It is extremely important to remember that you are in a military junta-controlled country and though the people seem happy and smiley they are being oppressed, robbed and denied basic freedoms. Visiting Burma is important – but only if your motivation is to stay at locally run guesthouses, eat at local restaurants and avoid, whenever possible, government run businesses. This is quite difficult at times, because they really have their sticky fingers dipped into a lot of the economy (ie: your visa fees etc.) The Lonely Planet has quite a good list of dos and don'ts to ensure that your money is benefiting the average person and not a pork-fattened official. Read up and stay ahead of 'em!

8) Many people only have about two weeks in Burma – here is a great sample itinerary (It's what we did!)
  • 1 night in Rangoon (Yangon)
  • overnight bus to Mandalay
  • 3 nights in Mandalay
  • 3 nights in Bagan
  • 1 night Kalaw
  • 1 night at monastery between Kalaw and Inle (on trek)
  • 3 nights Inle Lake
  • overnight bus to Rangoon (Yangon)
  • 1 night in Rangoon
This worked really well for us! If you have a month a lot more become possible – just remember that distances of just a few hundred kilometres can take 10+ hours due to the terrible condition of the roads. Plan on night buses and a lot of patience.

9)Do not miss the Moustache Brothers in Mandalay, Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon (although its 5 USD entrance fee does go to the government,) Inle Lake's Jumping Cat Monastery, a trek, the ancient villages of Mingun, Sagiang and Amarapura (near Mandalay) and Bagan's temples.

10) Internet can be sporadic (and is controlled by the government – at some computers there are problems logging on to gmail and facebook) and international phone calls are obscenely expensive, if the phones are working. Let your family know that you may be out of touch and unreachable – they can contact your embassy in Yangon if there is an emergency at home (your guesthouse registers you with local authorities each night.)

Burma is an unbelievable place to visit – well worth an addition on to any Southeast Asia travel itinerary. Enjoy!

(Click here to read all of my entries on Burma.)

****NOTE - this was written in 2009, and still holds true for the most part. However, as the junta loosens their control on the people of Burma, more and more tourists are visiting - which means that the 2011 Lonely Planet is outdated when it comes to accommodation pricing.  Expect to pay 50% more than the guides state, simply because the demand is higher than the supply - check the Thorntree forums for up to date advice. And you know what - that's still cheap! So go. Before all of the crowds. You won't regret it!

Lovely young ladies and their thanika


Pat said...

Why not write an article for a travel magazine? These are great tips!

Anonymous said...

I believe you're coming to the Philippines, right? if you have any questions just im me carl_francis17@yahoo.com

GotPassport said...

Hi there- This is a very impressive post on Burma, my home country. Thanks for sharing it and bringing attention to Burma.

Violet Dear said...

@Carl - Thanks! I will be there in a few days! What part of Philippines are you in?

James said...

Hi Violet how was the food?Was it good cause I'm thinking of taking a trip and the food needs to be good lol.

Violet Dear said...

@James - Well, Burma is not really a foodies destination.... That said, there are some amazing Indian, CHinese and Burmese options. The Burmese curries are great, but the food in general can be a little repetitive.

There are also some interesting foods around Inle Lake. And you must try the roti shack in Mandalay! (In Lonely PLanet)


*jean* said...

i love your blog but thought you might like to know that your google ad below this post is "asian girls for marriage" "6000 profiles available".....doesn't seem to match your intentions????


coupon guy said...

That article was very helpful especially the money tip.. i had the same problem in Japan I'd lose 1-5 dollars on every purchase I made ):

Violet Dear said...

@Jean - I know! I have sent them emails about this - it seems to depend on what country you are in when you look at it. Sigh....stupid google ads!

*jean* said...

aha! different ads today...i just wasn't sure that you knew...sad, really

i still love your blog!!!

Violet Dear said...

@*jean* Thanks for pointing it out though- Google is a huge, trusted name - this is bad behaviour on their part. I have emailed them about it = you should to. Everyone should!

a.d.f. said...

I loooooooove your blog. End of story!

Anonymous said...

The American Company Fortinet Inc. is enabling the Burmese Government to censure access to the Internet in Burma.

Violet Dear U have opened our eyes, and your kind, wise and understanding words give us hope for another day.

Thanks little sister...

sacooo3 said...

Hi Violet,

This entry was extremely helpful for my upcoming trip to Burma! I was planning a very similar itinerary to yours since i have about 2 weeks to travel as well. I have question concerning the amount of USD to bring with me before I get into the country if I have a similar itinerary? Thanks!

chris said...

Thanks for this post.i'm planning to go to malaysia next year and from there i'll fly to yangon.i'm just worried about the dollar bills because what if get the ones that are not crisp and new....

LAKSHMI said...


thank you so much for your great tips
very useful for my trip to burma in december 2012


thank you

visting canada in May 2012 looking forward to a great holiday

Lutchmee Maharaj
South Africa

John Hickson said...

Just spent a few weeks touring Myanmar as part of around the world trip. Highlights of our travel trip were Bagan and Inle Lake. Burma was a magical destination. You can see our travel photographs at our travel blog

Richard Finley said...

Wow the info posted above just shows the effect of Burma's isolation i guess. But it just added to its mystique and i am very excited and ready of my travel to Myanmar.

Anonymous said...

Really cool article and a great introduction to Burma. That has made me even more keen to go, also enjoyed this article: http://www.travelindochina.com/blog-articles/welcome-to-burma/