Tips for Backpacking Mysterious Myanmar

Tips for Backpacking Mysterious Myanmar

Myanmar (AKA Burma) is a country that was completely cut off from tourism until just a few years ago when it finally opened its borders to foreigners after decades of military-imposed isolation. Myanmar has as many charming beaches and ancient temples as Thailand and is a rich and extremely diverse culture, yet Myanmar still doesn’t get nearly the amount of tourists as the rest of SE Asia. The ancient city of Bagan has more than 2,000 temples, some of them over a thousand years old. Yangon can boast of the glistening Schwedegan Pagoda that encaptures the city with it’s magnificent glow. Myanmar is a country of undisturbed beauty, and one of the most fascinating things about going to Myanmar is that you’ll find that you’re one of the only Westerners there.

 

Feeding pigeons on the streets – These women do this to make money

 

In a way this is the magic of travelling to Myanmar, especially for those of you who want to totally immerse yourself in a culture that hasn’t yet been ruined by commercial tourism. Myanmar is like the opposite of Thailand, which is essentially the Disneyland of SE Asia. Here are some of my best personal tips for backpacking in this this alluring mystery of a country based on my personal experience.

 

1) Bring as much cash with you as possible

This is absolutely necessary, as most places in Burma won’t accept credit cards for payment. Also keep in mind that some foreign banks may not be linked with the ATMs in Myanmar. This happened in my case, and I wasn’t able to withdraw any money the entire time, forcing me to leave the country earlier than I’d planned. I was REALLY fortunate that the hostel I was staying in called 20th Street Hostel accepted credit cards as payment. This is a rare exception for Myanmar, since most places that aren’t five star hotels only accept cash as the form of payment.

 

Vibrant streets of Yangon, one of Myanmar’s biggest cities

 

2) If you’re staying in central Yangon, keep in mind that transportation is very limited

It takes over an hour just to drive to the bus station from the city center, and taxis charge a lot and will always try and rip you off, so your best bet is hopping on a local bus to get there. Ask at the reception at your hostel which bus number to take to get to the station and they should be able to tell you, otherwise you’ll end up spending a lot more than is necessary.

Unfortunately it’s not that easy getting around in Myanmar, and transportation is rather limited compared to other countries. Also most of the locals hardly speak a word of English, and this could prove a problem if you’re trying to catch a bus anywhere. The best way of getting around is either by walking or taking a local bus. As long as you know the correct bus number, the locals will be more than willing to help you in finding the right bus. Myanmar law doesn’t allow foreigners to rent motorbikes, so you’re stuck with limited transportation options. Cycle rickshaws hang around the streets of the cities, but these won’t get you very far.

 

3) There’s no Tourism infrastructure

Accomodation in Myanmar is very limited and isn’t budget friendly for your average backpacker. One reason for this is that it doesn’t yet have the tourist infrastructure so it has very limited budget hostels or guesthouses. Most of the hotels will cost you at least $18 per day. I managed to find one of the only hostels in Yangon called 20th Street Hostel. It’s not the greatest hostel I’ve ever stayed in, but it’s doable and the staff are pretty helpful and friendly. The hostel is located right in the city center so you can get to everything from there.

 

Man with huge needles sticking through his skin to celebrate Thaipusam Hindu festival, the day when the goddess Parvthi gave her son Lord Murugan a Lance to say evil demons, Yangon

4) Sight Seeing

One place that’s an absolute must visit if you’re staying in Yangon is the Mahana Meditation center. Go there and you will find yourself mesmerized by the haunting chanting and everyone walking around slowly in a trance state. Please also visit the Golden Rock temple at Mt. Kyaiktiyo. Once you get there the only way to get up the mountain is by truck (5,000 kyats round trip). Expect to be asked to pay a foreigner entry fee of around 6,000 kyats. The last truck leaves at 5PM so make sure you catch this, otherwise that’s the only way to get down the mountain aside from walking it. And lastly, don’t forget to see Schwedegan Pagoda in Yangon, one of the most beautiful temples in the world. It’s made of the most gold I’ve ever seen in my life.

 

Glittering Schwedegan Pagoda – It’s much more beautiful at night!

 

Tons of gold at the beautiful Schwedegan Pagoda

And lastly, a few more tidbits of advice. I highly recommend you bring a power bank with you. Myanmar is known for its frequent power outages, and only around 25% of people in the country have electricity. The power went out every day at my hostel for hours at a time. Also good to note, the street food in Yangon is safe to eat and delicious! I recommend trying the mini fried vegetable samosas. The flavors are popping and make your mouth water. Also do buy some traditional thanaka paste and put some on your cheeks. Not only does it act as a natural sunscreen, but wearing thanaka is seen as a symbol of beauty in Burmese culture.

 

Girl selling tasty veg samosas and wearing thanaka on her face, which is considered a symbol of beauty

I hope these tidbits of advice help you during your travels to this enchanting country called Myanmar! I’d love to know about what experiences you’ve had while traveling or living in Myanmar. Let me know what you think in the comments section or by sharing my article with the social media links. I’d love to keep giving you tips and advice so feel free to subscribe by email in the purple box below. And don’t forget you can follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram

 

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