Myanmar travel infrastructure is still in its infancy, but should quickly catch up with other river cruise and tour destinations we offer. This means that travelers planning tours through its relatively unchartered waters must be a bit more thorough when planning their trip. Knowing what you’re in for before you arrive in the country is a sure-fire way to avoid encountering too many issues during your travels, and will make for a stress-free vacation that will hold a special place in your heart forever. For some, planning a holiday is almost as exciting as actually being there in person, but for others, it can be a nightmarish process that keeps you awake at night. If you fall into the latter category, never fear! We have devised the perfect Myanmar (Burma) travel fact-file, which will provide you with everything need to know before you go, whether touring overland or aboard a Myanmar river cruise.
Travel Options in Myanmar (Burma)
There are two ways to see Myanmar – by land or by water. If you choose to go by water then you might want to book yourself a Irrawaddy River Cruise. We offer a number of different boats, each with its own level of comfort and luxury and all providing top quality food for guests to feast on. One of the benefits of a river cruise is that you do not need to worry about booking accommodation, which can be a challenge given the country’s sparse Wi-Fi. Another advantage is the viewpoint from which you will see the country. Rather than vistas of endless dusty roads, you will get panoramic views of Myanmar’s spectacular waterways and the thick, beautiful swathes of natural beauty that fringe their banks.
The itinerary of the river cruises has been tailored to make sure that its on-board guests get to see the very best of the country along with plenty of examples of authentic Burmese culture. Theatre and dance performances fill your evenings after days spent on guided tours of traditional villages, discovering secret caves and gawping at magnificent temples and pagodas. River cruises in Burma boast an action packed timetable, but enough time to relax so that you don’t get worn out by day 3. The river cruise options will show you Myanmar in a unique and fascinating way.
Irrawaddy River Cruises in Myanmar
If you would rather keep your feet on terra firma and don’t fancy traveling by boat, it is easy to see the country from the comfort of solid ground. You will, however, have to be a bit more organized, and book things as early as possible. Once you’ve got all your flights to Myanmar, hotels and buses booked you can breeze through your holiday caring for nothing but where your next meal will come from. Myanmar is a tricky country to conquer but it is far from impossible, especially given the nation’s rapid modernization thanks to it being thrust into the international travel spotlight. Be prepared to spend hours sitting on rusty buses as they bounce over potholes to get to Myanmar destinations. The journey might not be comfortable but the scenery is sure to take your mind off your aching body. Myanmar is a destination for those seeking adventure and beauty, so if that’s what you’re after, get ready to have the holiday of a lifetime.
Myanmar doesn’t quite have the same culinary reputation as its neighbors Thailand, India and China, but that doesn’t mean it’s not mouth-wateringly good place for tourists to sample local fare. Taking inspiration from its surrounding countries, and incorporating traditional Burmese flavors, every meal you have in Myanmar is sure to be a taste sensation. Soups, noodles, rice and an abundance of coconut are staples in the Burmese diet and most meals are accompanied with some kind of meat, usually pork, chicken, mutton or beef.
One of the most popular and unusual dishes you will find in Myanmar is fermented tea leaves. This curious concoction is usually eaten as a dessert but can also be found in salads and a variety of other dishes. You will also find plenty of fish throughout the country, particularly near the lakes and rivers (obviously). Travelers should also be aware that Myanmar is a haven for vegetarians as there is a plethora of rice and vegetable dishes, all served with a myriad of exotic spices.
Keep an open mind when traveling in Myanmar, the more adventurous you are prepared to be with your diet, the more you will get out of your experience in this exciting country. On the flip side, be wary of the not going overboard on the food front. People from Myanmar have grown up eating street food and local cuisine, so their stomachs are well adapted to the different flavors and spices. You, however, might find coping with some of the foods a bit more challenging. Pace yourself and don’t be afraid to go for plain rice or noodles if you’re starting to feel a bit iffy. It goes without saying that one should travel with basic over-the-counter stomach medicines, and its probably a good idea to bring along a dose of antibiotics to be on the safe side.
There is not much of a tipping culture in Myanmar, given that very few locals earn enough to be able to just give their money away. That being said just because they don’t do it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Leaving a dollar or two on top of your bill in a restaurant will make a huge difference to the daily salary of your server so don’t be afraid to be generous.
Due to the fact that Myanmar was completely tourist free up until a few years ago, the level of English spoken throughout the country is noticeably lower than in almost every other Asian country. The official language is Burmese and while you are unlikely to be able to get fluent before your holiday, it is useful to learn a couple of basic phrases that will help you win over the locals and maybe even get you out of some sticky situations. There are plenty of resources online that can help you with this. Also, do not underestimate the power of body language and even illustrating what you are trying to say on paper.
Generally speaking, women traveling alone or in a group are unlikely to encounter any problems among the locals in Myanmar. The country is predominantly Buddhist and therefore its people are big advocates of peace and respect. That being said, it is always a good idea, wherever you are in the world, not to draw too much unnecessary attention to yourself. Local women dress conservatively so by doing the same you will blend in better. No-one will scold you for wearing tiny shorts and a crop top but just know that you will probably be stared at and maybe even hassled by some of the local men. Also, access to many important cultural and religious sites is subject to dress code. Exposed legs or shoulders may mean you are not able to enter.
One of the most exciting things about visiting a new country is getting the opportunity to explore its local markets. Myanmar has a lot to offer in this department, so make sure you pack light and have enough space to take some souvenirs home with you. Hand-woven silks and textiles are cheap to buy and make great gifts, as do the various bamboo lacquerware bowls, vases and jugs.
The majority of what you will find on offer throughout the country will be handmade so be prepared to pay a decent price for it. Of course, you are expected to haggle when you buy things from markets and street vendors. Try and enjoy the experience so that you don’t get ripped off with tourist prices, but don’t go in too hard either – chances are they need those few extra dollars more than you.
Money in Myanmar
The official currency in Myanmar (Burma) is the Myanmar Kyat, but US dollars are also widely accepted, and are often used to pay for larger expenses such as transport and accommodation. The economy in Myanmar is heavily cash based, so don’t rely on your credit card while you are there. The best thing to do is to have a stash of cash on you at all times, preferably in smaller denominations. (although not so big that you become a target).
When it comes to withdrawing money, foreigners might struggle to find an ATM that will accept their foreign card. This can cause serious problems if you run out of money. The easiest thing to do is to stock up on enough cash to see you through the entire trip before you get there. However, this can be a bit of a security issue. We advise you try and distribute it through various pockets of your luggage, clothing, shoes, backpacks, etc. so as to minimize the chance of all of it being stolen at once. Thankfully, Myanmar is known for having a low crime rate thanks to its Buddhist culture that says karma will catch up with you.
If you are planning on taking a wad of foreign currency with you (and we suggest you do - US dollars being the preference), make sure you take new design bills with bigger heads on them, rather than the old bills as these are sometimes rejected. It is also essential to make sure that your money is as close to perfection as possible. This means no tears, stamps or marks on the notes – you don’t want to give the vendor any excuse not to accept your cash. We have a comprehensive Myanmar Burma Travel Guide if you want to read further.
Health & Safety
As mentioned previously, safety in Myanmar is not too much of an issue thanks to its low crime rate. The one thing, however, that travelers might have issues with is food safety. Food hygiene standards in Myanmar are very different compared with the US and Europe, and it isn’t uncommon for street food to have been out all day in the sun while flies have swarmed around it. There is no hard and fast rule for how to stay safe other than to use your common sense. Perhaps the best practice is to eat food that is freshly cooked and served piping hot; such foods may be safer than those on a buffet that have been sitting out for hours. If you see food that looks like it has seen better days, you’re better off avoiding it altogether. Similarly, if a restaurant looks particularly run down and you suspect the food might make you unwell, go somewhere else.
The tap water in Myanmar is not drinkable so be sure to stock up on bottled water whenever you can. With this in mind, it is best to avoid eating fruit that you cannot peel as it might have been washed in unclean water. For the same reason, try not to eat salad or any vegetables that haven’t been cooked. Ice cubes should also be avoided as these are often made using tap water and could make you sick. Another precaution to take is with meat – make sure it is thoroughly cooked and served hot. Remember that the health services in Myanmar are dramatically inferior to what you will have back home and getting sick could be a disaster.
It will come as little surprise to know that Myanmar does not have an abundance of accommodation options at its disposal. This is because it simply has not needed to have such a thing up until very recently. There are new hotels and guesthouses popping up all over the place but rooms are still quite limited. This means that if you are a big group or you are planning on traveling in high season, you should book your accommodation well in advance as rooms fill up quickly. The last thing you want on your holiday is to be stranded in a village somewhere without anywhere to stay.
Having been plagued by a corrupt regime and still bearing the visible scars of a government with an ulterior motive, Myanmar can be a challenge for travelers. On the one hand, we want to stay somewhere comfortable and clean – this is our holiday after all – but on the other hand, quite often the big, fancier hotels are owned by the government. It might not be ideal, but staying in guesthouses run by local people is the most ethical and colorful way to travel around this fragile country, as you will be investing the money in local communities and experiencing first hand how the tiny middle class is struggling to emerge.