Nestled between India, China, and Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) is a destination full of ancient wonders, natural beauty, and rich cultural experiences. From the awe-inspiring temples of Bagan to the serene waters of Inle Lake, this country offers an unforgettable journey for every kind of traveler.
Why Visit Myanmar?
Myanmar is a land steeped in history, from the ancient kingdom of Bagan, where thousands of Buddhist temples were constructed between the 11th and 13th centuries, to the British colonial influence evident in cities like Yangon. A trip to Myanmar allows you to journey back in time and discover architectural marvels and historic sites that give you a deep understanding of the country’s past.
The landscapes of Myanmar are incredibly diverse and stunningly beautiful. Whether you’re cruising down the Irrawaddy River, trekking in the Shan hills, or watching the sunset over the Bay of Bengal, the country’s natural beauty is bound to take your breath away. Places like Inle Lake, with its floating gardens and stilt-house villages, showcase Myanmar’s natural allure.
Myanmar is home to a multitude of ethnic groups and cultures, each with its own traditions, festivals, and ways of life. From the devout Buddhist ceremonies to the lively street festivals, the country offers a rich tapestry of cultural experiences. Learning about the local customs, participating in traditional festivals, or even just walking through the local markets can offer profound insights into the lives of the Myanmar people.
By visiting Myanmar, you open the door to a world of enriching experiences that offer something for every kind of traveler. Whether it’s history, nature, or culture that calls to you, Myanmar has it all.
Best Time to Visit Myanmar
Dry Season – November to February
This is the most popular time to visit Myanmar, thanks to lower humidity and cooler temperatures. Tourist attractions are at their busiest, but the pleasant weather makes it an ideal time for outdoor activities like temple-hopping in Bagan or cruising on Inle Lake.
Hot Season – March to May
During these months, temperatures can soar to uncomfortable levels, particularly in the central regions of the country. However, visiting coastal areas like Ngapali Beach can offer some respite from the heat. This season also sees the Water Festival, known as Thingyan, which marks the Burmese New Year and is a thrilling experience if you don’t mind getting wet.
Rainy Season – June to October
The monsoon season brings heavy rains, particularly in the western and northern regions. While some rural roads may become impassable, this is also when the landscape is at its most lush and beautiful. Tourist sites are less crowded, and you’ll find that prices for accommodation often drop. Just make sure to pack waterproof gear and be prepared for changes in plans.
Each season offers its own unique experiences, making Myanmar a year-round destination depending on your interests. Whether you’re looking for sunny beach days, cooler trekking conditions, or fewer crowds, you’ll find a time that’s just right for your travel needs.
Top Destinations in Myanmar
Once the capital of Myanmar, Yangon is most famous for its remarkable Shwedagon Pagoda, a 2,500-year-old golden stupa that is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in the world. The city’s colonial architecture, bustling markets, and diverse street food scene also make it a must-visit location.
The cultural and religious heart of Myanmar, Mandalay is teeming with monasteries, pagodas, and ancient structures. One of the highlights is the U Bein Bridge, the world’s longest teakwood bridge, perfect for a sunset stroll. The Mandalay Palace and Mandalay Hill offer panoramic views of the city.
Bagan is an archaeological wonderland that boasts over 2,000 ancient temples and pagodas spread across a vast plain beside the Irrawaddy River. This destination is especially famous for its hot air balloon rides at dawn, offering a bird’s-eye view of the sprawling temple complex below.
This large, freshwater lake is known for its unique ecosystem and traditional fishing methods. Inle Lake is also famous for its floating gardens and stilt-house villages. You can take a boat tour to visit local craftsmen, explore the Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda, and witness the leg-rowing fishermen who have become a symbol of Inle Lake.
For those looking to unwind, Ngapali Beach offers pristine sandy shores lined with palm trees. It’s an ideal spot for relaxation, sunbathing, and seafood dining. The area is also great for water sports like snorkeling and kayaking.
The current capital of Myanmar, Naypyidaw, is a planned city known for its wide roads and grand government buildings. While it doesn’t offer the same historical allure as other destinations, it provides a different perspective on modern Myanmar.
Situated in the Karen State, Hpa-An is surrounded by stunning limestone karsts and caves. It is an excellent base for trekking, caving, and experiencing rural Burmese life. The Saddan Cave and Mount Zwegabin are popular attractions in the area.
Each destination in Myanmar offers its own unique attractions, from the historical wonders of Bagan to the natural beauty of Inle Lake. Whatever your travel interests, you’re sure to find something captivating in this diverse and enchanting country.
Often referred to as the national dish of Myanmar, Mohinga is a delicious fish soup served with rice noodles. It’s a versatile dish that can be enjoyed at any time of the day and is often garnished with cilantro, lime, and fried onions. You’ll find variations of Mohinga throughout the country, each with its own regional twist.
Originating from the Shan State, this noodle dish can be served in soup form or as a salad. It features rice noodles, chicken or pork, and is flavored with an array of spices and condiments like soy sauce and garlic. Shan noodles are a comfort food staple in Myanmar, popular for their savory and often spicy notes.
Tea Leaf Salad
Also known as Lahpet Thoke, this unique salad combines fermented tea leaves with a mixture of cabbage, tomatoes, nuts, and peas. It’s a burst of textures and flavors, encompassing sour, bitter, and umami notes. Tea Leaf Salad is commonly served as both a dish and a ceremonial food during festivals and family gatherings.
This popular Burmese dish is essentially a meatball soup, often featuring a choice between pork, chicken, or seafood. It’s cooked with a host of aromatic herbs and vegetables, like garlic, scallions, and cilantro. Kyay Oh is especially popular as a comforting meal during the cooler months.
This is a spicy and crispy shrimp relish that serves as a condiment or a side dish. Made with dried shrimp, garlic, chili, and sometimes tamarind for tartness, Balachaung adds a flavor punch to rice and noodle dishes.
A popular dessert, Bein Moun is a Burmese pancake made from rice flour, coconut, and jaggery. It is folded into a half-moon shape and usually filled with sweetened shredded coconut or palm sugar. This dessert is commonly found at street markets and is a favorite during festivals.
Myanmar’s local cuisine is a blend of flavors, techniques, and ingredients influenced by the diverse ethnic groups that make up the country. Each dish offers a unique taste of the region’s rich cultural tapestry. Whether you’re a food adventurer or someone who loves classic comfort foods, Myanmar has a culinary experience waiting for you.
Activities and Things to Do
Hot Air Ballooning Over Bagan
For an unforgettable view of the ancient temples of Bagan, take a hot air balloon ride at dawn. As you float over the landscape, you’ll witness the temples and pagodas bathed in the golden morning light, providing an unparalleled panoramic view of this archaeological wonderland.
Trekking in Kalaw and Shan Hills
If you love outdoor adventures, trekking in the Kalaw and Shan Hills is a must. Ranging from day treks to multi-day hikes, these trails offer a chance to see remote ethnic villages, tea plantations, and beautiful landscapes that many tourists never get to experience.
River Cruising on the Irrawaddy
Traveling by boat along the Irrawaddy River offers a different perspective of Myanmar’s countryside. Many cruises include stops at smaller towns and villages, giving you the opportunity to learn about local life along the riverbanks. Plus, it’s a relaxing way to travel between cities like Mandalay and Bagan.
Scuba Diving and Snorkeling in the Mergui Archipelago
The Mergui Archipelago is a lesser-known diving destination that offers pristine coral reefs and a rich marine ecosystem. With its clear waters and diverse sea life, including sharks and manta rays, it’s an underwater paradise for diving enthusiasts.
Cycling Around Inle Lake
Renting a bicycle and exploring the area around Inle Lake gives you the freedom to visit local markets, monasteries, and villages at your own pace. It’s a great way to interact with locals and witness the traditional crafts and industries of the region.
Exploring Yangon by Circular Train
One of the best ways to see Yangon and its outskirts is by taking the circular train, a three-hour loop that takes you through various neighborhoods and rural areas. It’s a wonderful opportunity to observe daily life in Myanmar and capture some great photographs.
Visiting Local Markets
For a sensory adventure, visit one of the local markets where you can taste exotic fruits, haggle over handmade crafts, and soak in the vibrant atmosphere. Markets like Bogyoke Aung San in Yangon and Zegyo Market in Mandalay offer a range of goods and local produce.
Traditional Burmese puppetry, or Yoke thé, is an art form that has been passed down for centuries. Watching a puppet show can give you valuable insights into Burmese folklore, history, and social customs.
Whether you’re an adventurer at heart or prefer cultural and relaxing activities, Myanmar has a rich array of experiences to offer. Each activity provides a unique lens through which to discover the fascinating culture, history, and natural beauty of this remarkable country.
Practical Travel Tips
Before you travel to Myanmar, make sure you are aware of the visa requirements. Most tourists will need a visa to enter the country, which can usually be obtained online as an e-visa. Always double-check the most up-to-date requirements and processing times to ensure a smooth entry.
Local Currency and Payment Methods
The currency in Myanmar is the Burmese Kyat. While some places accept U.S. dollars, it’s advisable to carry local currency for smaller transactions. ATMs are increasingly available, but it’s best to withdraw cash in larger cities to avoid running low in more rural areas.
Burmese Kyat current exchange rates
- 100.000 MMK = $47.60 or $1 = 2,100.68 Burmese Kyat
- 100.000 MMK = €43.73 or €1 = 2,286.96 Burmese Kyat
- 100.000 MMK = 37.49 British Pounds
- 100.000 MMK = 71.40 Australian Dollar
- 100.000 MMK = 64.26 Canadian Dollar
- 100.000 MMK = 496.59 Swedish Krona
- 100.000 MMK = 189.20 Polish Zloty
- 100.000 MMK = 1,061.74 Czech Koruna
- 100.000 MMK = 61,598.88 South Korean Won
- 100.000 MMK = 336.66 Chinese Yuan
- 100.000 MMK = 6,989.39 Japanese Yen
Language and Communication
The official language is Burmese. English is not widely spoken outside of tourist areas and larger cities, so learning a few basic phrases can be very helpful. Also, consider downloading a translation app for easier communication.
Health and Safety
Ensure that you have comprehensive travel insurance that includes health coverage. It’s also advisable to get vaccinated for common diseases like Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Always drink bottled or boiled water to avoid waterborne diseases.
Local Customs and Etiquette
Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, and it’s important to show respect for its traditions and religious practices. Dress modestly when visiting temples and always remove your shoes before entering. Public displays of affection are frowned upon, especially in rural areas.
Domestic flights are the quickest way to travel between major cities, but buses and trains offer a more budget-friendly option. For local transport, taxis and trishaws are commonly used, but always negotiate the price before starting your journey.
Internet access is becoming more widely available, especially in larger cities and tourist areas. However, speeds may be slower than you’re used to, and some websites may be blocked. A local SIM card with data can be a good investment for staying connected.
How to Get There
The primary gateway to Myanmar is Yangon International Airport, serving numerous international flights from major cities around the world. Another significant international airport is Mandalay International Airport, though it has fewer international connections. Direct flights from Europe or North America are limited, so most travelers will likely have a layover in cities like Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, or Singapore.
Border crossings from neighboring countries like Thailand, India, and China are also possible but come with their own set of requirements and challenges. It’s essential to have the proper visas and permits in place, and land routes may be subject to closure or restrictions, so it’s advisable to check the latest information before planning your trip.
While not a common method of entry for tourists, it is possible to arrive in Myanmar by sea. Some luxury cruises make stops in ports like Yangon, but these are generally part of larger Southeast Asian itineraries.
Once in the country, domestic flights are the quickest way to cover large distances. Myanmar has a developing network of domestic airlines that connect major cities and tourist destinations. Buses, trains, and boats are also available but may offer a less comfortable travel experience.
For ease of travel, consider using transportation services offered by hotels or reputable tour operators. These services can provide airport transfers, guided tours, and other convenient travel options, often at competitive prices.
While car rentals are available, driving in Myanmar can be challenging due to the different road conditions and driving customs. If you choose to rent a car, hiring a local driver is highly recommended.
- Myanmar Tourism Official Website – The official government site offers comprehensive information on travel guidelines, destinations, activities, and upcoming events.
- Lonely Planet’s Myanmar Guide – A trusted source for travel information, Lonely Planet’s guide to Myanmar provides valuable tips on what to see and do, along with suggested itineraries.
- TripAdvisor’s Myanmar Forum – This forum is a great place to ask specific questions and read reviews and recommendations from other travelers.
- Skyscanner – This flight search engine can help you find the best deals on flights to and within Myanmar.
- Booking.com Myanmar Hotels – This platform offers a wide variety of accommodation options, from budget hotels to luxury resorts.
- Go-Myanmar – This site provides detailed information about destinations, transportation, and practical tips for travel in Myanmar.
- Wikitravel Myanmar Page – An open-source travel guide that offers a grassroots look at what Myanmar has to offer, from popular tourist spots to lesser-known attractions.
- iVisa Myanmar – This service can streamline the e-visa application process, offering step-by-step guidance and support.
- XE Currency Converter – Useful for checking the latest exchange rates between your home currency and the Burmese Kyat.
- Myanmar Times – Stay updated with local news and happenings through this English-language newspaper in Myanmar.
Myanmar is a destination that offers something for everyone, from its breathtaking landscapes and rich history to its unique culture and delectable cuisine. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, a foodie, or someone looking to immerate yourself in a different culture, Myanmar promises an unforgettable experience. With practical travel tips, a range of activities to engage in, and numerous destinations to explore, your trip to this diverse and beautiful country is sure to be a rewarding one.