Backpacking is a great way to interact with the locals, get off the tourist trail, and get to be “in the action” compared to seeing it from a tour bus. If you have the time and enthusiasm, Myanmar (Burma), Asia’s emerging travel hotspot, offers great experiences for the independently-minded and adventurous traveler.
You will definitely need a visa before you enter the country. The Myanmar government wants to see, along with your passport, your flight and hotel information. At the moment, Myanmar does not allow a Visa on Arrival for tourists. A tourist visa will allow a 28 day stay with a possibility for an extension of 14 more days. Read on further to get some tips on cheap flights and accommodations.
When to Come
Since Myanmar is a tropical country, you’ll have to think ahead a little about your timing when coming here.
The hottest months are March to May (average temperatures 30-35 C), with little rainfall. Rainy season is from June to October (average temperatures 25-30 C) with varying rainfall depending on where you are in the country. And from about October until February Myanmar cools down to about 20-24 C on average.
What to Bring
Remember that Myanmar is a primarily Buddhist country. Because of that, aim for more conservative clothes – a good rule of thumb is to make sure you have something to entirely cover your shoulders, chests, and knees. (This applies to both men and women!) You may not need to wear this continually while exploring the country, but when you visit the many temples, you will be required to show respect to the conservative culture.
Definitely bring cash, as clean and crisp as you can find it. There are very few ATMs in the country. This is changing as Myanmar adjusts to the influx of tourism, but to be safe for now, just bring cash.
And please, a friendly reminder, leave your fancy watches and expensive jewelry at home. You want to blend in, not stick out, and make yourself a target for potential pickpockets!
How to get to Myanmar
Crossing over the border from a neighboring country like Thailand is not as easy as you might think. Each land border crossing point has its own unique set of restrictions and, most of the time, even if you can cross, you’re only allowed to be in Myanmar for a day or so.
The best way to get into Myanmar is to fly. The cheapest flights tend to be those from Thailand, Singapore and other nearby SE Asian countries.
Where to Stay
When you’re deciding on where to stay, if you were thinking about Couchsurfing, AirBnb, or camping, you’re out of luck for the moment. As mentioned earlier, the Myanmar government needs proof that you’ve booked hotel rooms in order for you to get your tourist visa.
Fortunately, Myanmar has plenty of budget options in most areas of the region. To help you out, here’s a list of some for you to check out.
How to Get Around
You might think you could at least hitchhike – but sorry, that’s illegal! The cheapest ways to get around are the usual: walk, bike, or public transit (including buses, trains, and river ferries).
Hiring taxis or even elephant coaches aren’t too expensive either. The taxi drivers here are some of the most honest, good people you will meet in the region.
Outside of Yangon (where it’s illegal), you can rent a motorbike as well. And if you really want to cycle through Myanmar, it might be better to bring your own bike – the bikes you can rent in the country usually vary in quality.
Unique Things to Do
Now for the ultimate reason you’re coming to Myanmar in the first place – to go on some special adventures that you couldn’t experience anywhere else.
You can dive with the “Sea Gypsies” of the Mergui Archipelago, become Indiana Jones or Lara Croft for awhile and explore the ancient city ruins of Mrauk U and Bagan, climb the Himalayas, trek through the Golden Triangle to deliver some medicine, try to find the last pygmy tribe in Southeast Asia, or finally say that you’ve biked down the Burma Road. (Look up an image if you don’t know what that is – then you’ll understand why it’d be an accomplishment.)
Another friendly reminder: many of these awesome expeditions need special permission or permits from the Myanmar Tourism authorities. Make sure you do your research before deciding which of these activities you want to do!
Final Things to Remember
Some final items to note is that this country is still growing in many ways – please be respectful and courteous to the locals and your fellow travelers.
Also, although the Wi-Fi in the country is continuously getting improved, it’s still not very dependable. The larger establishments will probably offer it but the farther off the tourist trail you go, the more likely you won’t have any means of internet. So make sure you have a paper (or pre-downloaded) map before you go exploring!