Myanmar destinations vary greatly due to the country’s geographic location; boasting lush, tropical forests, major rivers, coral-rimmed islands, Himalayan peaks and more. After recently emerging from decades of obscurity, Myanmar travel has burst onto the scene, and is fast becoming one of the most popular tour destinations in Southeast Asia. With centuries of ancient history waiting to be explored and dozens of unique destinations that are sure to captivate and astound you, Myanmar certainly has a lot to offer. However, the fledgling hotspot is a far cry from neighboring Thailand, and is much harder to conquer due to its noticeable lack of tourist infrastructure. That being said, new accommodations are popping up every day and the country is certainly gearing up for the influx of visitors it is receiving. In the coming years we see Myanmar becoming a real world-class destination.
Myanmar River Cruise
A Myanmar river cruise is arguably the best way to tour the Myanmar's destinations. Cruising the Irrawaddy is particularly advantageous as it would allow you to visit a number of sites without having to rely on Myanmar’s still underdeveloped infrastructure. What better way to explore the depths of Myanmar’s inner countryside than from the safety and comfort of a riverboat. The Irrawaddy river, home to the beautiful but critically endangered Irrawaddy River dolphin, offers the greatest number of options. If you spot one of these magnificent creatures be sure to snap a photo, as it is a pretty rare occurrence. As you glide along the water in the comfort of one of our luxurious river cruises, you will be able to experience Burmese culture first-hand, much of which has remained the same for millennia. Farmers tend to their fields, assisted by ox and yoke, while women hawk vegetables in the bustling markets, and children play on the banks of the river. All of this combines to provide visitors with an unparalleled panorama of authentic Burmese life. With accommodation being limited, as aforementioned, a cruise also provides the added benefit of relieving you of the worry of trying to find hotels and guesthouses each night. Simply unpack, stow your bags, and enjoy the country in your floating hotel for as long as you like.
If you think a cruise might be the right option for you, then the first thing you need to do is select which boat you want to travel on. We offer a range of options, starting with the comfortable and cheapest boat of the lot: Paukan 1947. This boat includes cosy cabins and an air-conditioned lounge where guests can relax with a drink and mingle. A breakfast buffet is served each morning on board the ship and traditional Burmese cuisine can be sampled for lunch and dinner.
Those looking for a boat of superior quality have two choices. The first is the Paukan 2007, which offer suites as well as deluxe and superior cabins, a sundeck and a movie room. Not only that, but if you need a bit of pampering, the boat also has a massage room. A small step up from this is the Paukan 2012, the cabins in which all offer stunning views over the water and provide sailors with a spectacular level of comfort. On both boats, guests will be able to delight their taste buds with authentic Myanmar cuisine as well as some Western dishes, for those missing home comforts.
While the three Paukan boats offer everything you need for a fantastic Myanmar river cruise, sometimes only the best will do and in that case you need to get yourself on board the Irrawaddy Explorer. One of the most luxurious boats on the river, this floating marvel has 28 opulent suites, each with floor to ceiling windows so you can wake up and fall asleep to the most perfect, uninhibited view of the river everyday. The boat also has a spa, fitness centre, writer’s lounge, and a marvelous dining room where gourmet meals, made with the freshest ingredients, are served.
Whichever option you choose, rest assured you will have one of the most incredible trips of your life. You will be taken along the river and given the once in a lifetime chance of seeing sights such as Yandabo, a terracotta potters’ village, the ancient pagodas of Bagan and the Hpo Win Daung and Shwe Ba Daung Caves. While the days are jam packed with excursions and sightseeing, the excitement doesn’t stop there. Evening activities include theatre and dance performances, traditional puppet shows and sumptuous banquets. If that does not convince you, have a look at our list of reasons to cruise in Myanmar.
Travelling overland in Myanmar is a little bit trickier than taking a river cruise, but it is far from impossible. Buses will be your best friends during your time here as they are ubiquitous and will get you pretty much anywhere for a few dollars. Journeys can last 12+ hours in some cases, however, so make sure you are wearing comfortable clothes and bring some earplugs or an iPod in case those outdated pop CDs they play become too overbearing. The majority of guesthouses will help you book bus tickets, or will at least be able to inform you of departure times.
It is important to remember that the internet in Myanmar is either painfully slow or completely non-existent, so be sure to book as much as you can before you arrive so you don’t need to waste your precious holiday time searching for a decent connection. You should also be aware that due to the lack of accommodation, the hotels and guesthouses that are operational fill up very quickly and way in advance during high season. Plan your trip carefully and make sure you’ve got your rooms reserved well in advance.
One thing worth considering if you are planning on travelling overland through Myanmar is investing in a guide to accompany you. Not only you will be providing valuable employment for the locals, but you will also learn far more about the country than you ever would have done alone and you’ll go away brimming with fascinating nuggets of knowledge about this mysterious country. Quite often you can hire a guide who will also drive you around, allowing you to easily access the country’s best sights and learn all about them while you’re there. Or, for those seeking convenience over price, may utilize the services of a professional travel planner, such as ourselves!
Perhaps one of the best things about travelling in Myanmar is the vast number of exciting destinations the country has to offer. While many countries have one or two cities that boast the majority of the nation’s gems, Myanmar has about 10! If you only have limited time to explore the country then deciding where to go might be tough given how much there is to see and do. We’ve come up with five places that you absolutely should not miss while you’re there to help you create your travel itinerary.
First and foremost, everyone travelling through Myanmar should stop off in Bagan. This city truly is one of the most remarkable places in the world, and photos of it are plastered all over advertisements for the country. Bagan is home to thousands of ancient temples, stupas and pagodas and is best seen from a hot air balloon. The aerial view of the mist settling over the buildings is sure to leave you speechless.
2. Inle Lake
Inle Lake is the perfect place to relax and watch as the locals go about their daily life, fishing and tending to their livestock. Complete with stilted huts, crumbling stupas and fascinating monasteries, there is no end of things to gawp at here. Once you’re done watching, join in the fun by hopping in a canoe and exploring the lake or taking a stroll along the banks.
One of the most important things to know about Mandalay is that it was the last royal city before the British came and took over back in the 1880s. This fact provides context for a lot of what is located in this religious and cultural epicenter. Holy pagodas fringe many of the roads here, all of which are overshadowed, however, by the magnificent Mandalay Palace.
If you want a taste of city life whilst in Myanmar then Yangon is one of the top places to get it. The streets are lined with vendors hawking fresh produce in front of striking colonial buildings and there are plenty of pagodas to visit as well. Of course, nowhere in Myanmar is far from great swathes of natural beauty so if you need a break from the bustle, a day trip to the great outdoors is easy as pie.
Now for something completely different. Pindaya is an agricultural hub where local farmers use traditional methods to tend to their fields and water buffalo wander somnolently through the ponds. The most noticeable attraction here is the limestone caves, which play host to hundreds of images of Buddha in all shapes and size.
It is possible to travel in luxury through Myanmar, and there are more options coming online all the time. Myanmar has recently emerged from a rather traumatic political situation, and while things are improving, there is still a long way to go. What is important to know is that the majority of big hotels are run by Myanmar’s government, and the proceeds don't always trickle down to the population in an equitable way.
Nowadays, however, as citizens are given more freedom to own private businesses, accommodation options are expanding and people are opening up their homes as guesthouses. Naturally, these guesthouses will not be as fancy as the big hotels, but they are infinitely more ethical. Staying in local guesthouses is a great way to ensure your spending has a more direct impact on the locals who are in greater need of support.
By traveling to the country and investing your money in local businesses such as guesthouses and small restaurants, and by purchasing things from markets, you will be helping to improve the situation for the locals. Go there and spend your money but do so wisely.
Visas and Entry
For most people, the most practical visa is the eVisa. This can be applied for online and once confirmed will last for 90 days. Once you enter Myanmar, you can then stay for 28 days – if you can stay for the entirety of this duration we thoroughly recommend it, as Myanmar has plenty to keep you occupied for a month. The cost of the visa is 50 USD, which is quite reasonable, and is only valid for one entry into Myanmar. For multiple entries you must apply for multiple visas.
At present, holders of the eVisa can pass from three cities in Thailand into Myanmar. The border points are Mae Sai/Tachileik, Mae Sot/Myawaddy and Ranong/Kawthaung. In order to cross into Myanmar from India or China you must apply for a special travel package at least one month in advance and have a normal paper visa. For those flying directly into Myanmar, the eVisa is perfectly adequate.
You can apply for your Myanmar visa online but be aware that it can take up to three days to be accepted so do not leave this until the last minute. On the flip side, the visa is only valid for 90 days from the date of issue so don’t apply for it too far in advance or it might expire before you even get there. Generally, it is a good idea to apply 2-3 weeks before your trip so that you have enough time to resolve any complications. Be sure to print out your visa before you leave.
Overall, a trip to Myanmar is bound to be one of the most adventurous holidays of your life and it will be one of the best as well provided that you make sure everything is sorted before you go. As mentioned, tourism in Myanmar is a very new thing and they haven’t quite got it all worked out yet. Patience will be a virtue for you as you navigate through these unfamiliar waters. Don’t expect things to run like clockwork, and try not to get too flustered when things don’t go according to plan, this is all part of the Burmese experience. Open your heart and wear your best smile and you will win over the locals in no time and have the best trip of your life. For more information, please contact us or call Rainforest Cruises 1-888-215-3555.