Our Myanmar Travel Experience


While in Chiang Mai, we decided that it made the most sense for us to head over to Myanmar (or Burma as it used to be known) when we finished our month’s lease.  We loved our trip to Myanmar, and this post will kick off a series of posts about our travels there.  Unlike much of SE Asia, there wasn’t a tremendous amount written about traveling to Myanmar, and during our research it quickly became obvious that much of the information out there was already outdated, so we’ve added our own observations based on our Myanmar travel experience for what to expect when you travel there.

I was aware that Myanmar is one of those places that many people don’t know much about. Before I visited I wasn’t sure what to expect. Kudos to my dad, Glen, for insisting that we visit, I’m not sure we would have otherwise. Like most people, when Aurelien and I were planning our trip, dreaming of all the places we wanted to visit in SE Asia, Thailand, Vietman, Laos and Cambodia were on the list. Myanmar didn’t seem like an option having been basically closed off  for so long.  Plus, I thought it was dangerous. Thankfully the opposite was true; Myanmar was a lovely country full of friendly people and beautiful scenery (We did hear that certain parts of the country are dangerous, but that is certainly not the case in the tourist areas).  Myanmar has been closed off from the rest of the world on and off for many decades and only in the past few years has it re-opened up to travelers. Because of it’s isolation from the rest of the world, Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, but you wouldn’t know it from visiting.  I saw much more obvious poverty during my travels in India.


The benefits of the increased tourism are pretty obvious (according to Aurelien, I find it sad that every country is turning Westernized).  As recently as May 2012, they didn’t have any ATMs  in the country (As noted in this great post about traveling to Myanmar in 2012), and most people used telephones from roadside telephone booths (actual telephones on a fold up table that is manned by someone) because cellphones were too expensive and computers were rare. As evidenced by our experience, things are changing quickly. I can’t imagine what it will be like in 10 years, and feel fortunate that we had a chance to experience Myanmar before the inevitable change that will most likely occur from Western influences and tourists.

First and foremost Myanmar has amazing people. They genuinely smile at you, they are happy you are visiting their country and they want to know where you are from. They also all wear thanaka (white powder) on their face. It is a sun protector but also have beauty benefits, making their skin soft and smooth. Some ladies have patterns like below, but most just apply it in a circle or over their entire face. Some men wear it as well.


Myanmar is also called the Golden Land, and now I know why. Myanmar has approximately 2 million pagodas (give or take 500,000) and twice as many buddha statues, many of them covered in gold leaf. Buddhism plays a big role in the life of the Myanmar people, in fact 90% of Myanmar people are Buddhist, so their pagodas are central to their lives. They go to pray and give offerings to Buddha.  There are big pagodas, small pagodas, some made of gold, and others of stone. Each pagoda has at least one Buddha statue and sometimes relics of Buddha.

Gold Pagado


Big pagoda

Getting to and around Myanmar

There are now many daily flights from across SE Asia into Yangon, Naypyidaw (the new capital), and  Mandalay.  Flights out of Bangkok are inexpensive and easy. We took Air Asia, which is almost always the cheapest option, yet flies safe, new planes to each city from Bangkok as well as other large regional cities such as Kuala Lumpur. Once inside the country, we managed to travel via boat ferry, plane, and train between our destinations.  We will describe our boat and train journeys more in other posts, so we will just comment on our experience booking the plane trip between Bagan and Heho (for Inle Lake).  Typically, most people will use agents to book tickets for them within the country, as most of the airlines don’t yet have online ticketing.  However I found that the agents don’t have access to all the flights, or charge you more than if you book directly through the airline.  This was certainly the case with our flight from Bagan to Heho.  We were quoted a price of $130 per person, but I had found an Air Mandalay one way flight only cost $83/person on their website.  Thus I booked it online.  However, I then received an email and was asked to go pay for the ticket at one of their ticket offices, which we found in all the places we visited.


We got our visa at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok and spent extra money to get the same day visa because our flight departed over the weekend. We are not going to write up how to get the visa because we found an amazing resource that walks you through every single thing you need to know. It made the whole process easy and straightforward. Thank you Two Travelalohlics!  Of course there are other ways to get it as well, but considering we wanted to visit Bangkok anyway, this method was ideal.  Had we not arrived just before the weekend, we would have saved some money and waited a couple days to pick it up.


If you read online or in the outdated Lonely Planet book you will be told that there are no ATMs in Myanmar. That is now completely false. We found multiple ATMs in every city (Bagan, Inle, Mandalay and Yangon). The one place we couldn’t find one was Heho Airport (Inle Lake).  The other positive thing we found out is that the ATMs now seem to give you the actual exchange rate when taking out your money, something which previous travelers had commented was not the case. The one negative is that they charge 5,000 Kyat (the local currency, pronounced “chaat”), so we recommend taking out the maximum of 300,000 Kyat at once to limit the percentage of the fees.

When we landed in Mandalay, we exchanged money before leaving immigration and then saw ATMs in the airport outside of immigration.  The other note is that while the exchange rate for US Dollars, Euro’s, and even Singapore dollars is very competitive (less than 1% fee), they rip you off if you try to exchange Thai Baht.  I was only given 25 Kyat to a Baht, when the true rate is slightly over 30.  Thus I recommend exchanging any Baht you won’t use to USD in the Thai airport and then converting those USD to Kyat in Burma. It is important to note that we did also bring clean crisp US dollars (they won’t accept bent or dirty bills) in. We calculated how much we needed ahead of time and exchanged the money in Thailand. The trains, ferries, many hotels and Balloons over Bagan only took US dollars. Restaurants, tourist taxes and souvenirs all accept Kyat. We also booked ahead of time for most hotels on Agoda so we didn’t need to pay when we arrived.

Tourist Taxes

If you plan to visit any of the historic sites around Myanmar, you can expect to pay government tourist taxes at each one. We had to pay $10 each in Mandalay, $10 to enter Inle Lake district, and $15 in Bagan (it recently moved up from $10). These annoying taxes definitely added up, and frustrate me because that money went straight to the government and meant there was less in our budget for us to spend with the local people.


tea leaf

Food is simple, amazing, and cheap (albeit quite oily).  We can best describe it as a mixture between Indian and Thai food, though with its own distinct flavor.  We especially liked it because we found the food to be quite vegetarian friendly.  Perhaps this is more the case in the touristy areas, but we hadn’t been sure about this beforehand, so it was a welcome development.  One dish we were extremely excited to try even before arriving in Myanmar was the tea leaf salad, thanks to our experience at Burma Superstar, an Oakland restaurant we used to frequent when we lived in the Bay Area.  We also discovered a love for Myanmar style Parata’s (deep fried flaky bread made on the streets), Shan Noodle Soup, tea and Shan style Tofu (when its well made).  We’ll have more specifics in our future posts about the places we visited.


These tips are the main ones we remembered, but we would be happy to answer more specific questions from any readers that might be planning to go on their own Myanmar travel experience!  Below is a set of posts we are planning on posting in the next few weeks regarding more specifics about the places we visited in Myanmar.

1. Our Myanmar Travel Experience

2. Mandalay

3. Ferry Trip from Mandalay to Bagan

4. Bagan: Land of Temples

5. Balloons over Bagan

6. Inle Lake

7. The Slow Train from Thazi (Reversed)

8. Yangon


{This post is written by Annalisa and Aurelien}



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2 Responses to Our Myanmar Travel Experience

  1. nan white January 20, 2014 at 6:15 pm #

    we are in Ban Krud thailand,
    800 baht per nite on beach in bungalows so peaceful
    and enjoying your posts very much
    nan and nick

    • Anna-Lisa January 21, 2014 at 10:56 pm #

      Oh wow!! That sounds amazing. You found a really good deal. How long are you there? Enjoy!

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