Backpacking Myanmar:Practical Tips for First Timers

Myanmar today is quickly becoming a popular travel destination amongst Pinoy Travelers. Myanmar is VISA Free for Filipino tourists. And just recently, the City of Bagan, Myanmar’ cradle of civilization and one of the world’s richest archeological treasures, has been named as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

General things to know for Myanmar first timers (plus other practical tips based on personal experience),

  1. FLIGHT. We do not have direct flights yet from Ph to Myanmar. I took a flight from Manila to Bangkok (3.5 Hrs.) and another flight to Mandalay City,Myanmar (2 Hrs.). Metro Manila is 1 hour and 30 minutes ahead of Myanmar.  My flight details are given on the next article.
  2. IMPRESSION. The country was under five decades of army-imposed hibernation during the later half of the 20th century. As it recently opened its doors to the world, Myanmar is relatively new to the tourism industry; though international standards naman ang facilities nila. Hotels are very good. Intercity transportation is established. Airport to City public transportation is well arranged. Myanmar is a mass of land that sits between India, China and Thailand. The Country is divided into 17 provinces. Mandalay, Bagan and Yangon are key cities, with the later as the biggest and most developed. Yangon, I say, is comparable to Ho Chi Minh, or Cebu. Cebu is actually a bit more advanced, I think, in terms of business and mercantile.

    Downtown Mandalay

    Downtown Yangon with the Sule Pagoda as the prominent landmark.

  3. UNIQUE EXPERIENCE. As dominantly Buddhist, Myanmar offers sacred temple experiences, historic cities and traditional ways of life that is totally different from ours. And unlike SG or Hongkong, konte lang Pinoy overseas workers in Myanmar. Relatively rare chance to hear tagalog during your stay. Spending days in Myanmar, you can safely say “Ayyy! Nasa foreign country talaga me! “.
  4. COMMUNICATION. Not everyone speaks english. Though personally, I did not encounter any communication problem. Most signs have a translation in english. Sim card for open line phones are also available upon arrival. Ph-booked pocket wifi’s also work well in city centre but expect to have little to no signal beyond the metro. Internet connection (Data Sim) is OK. Ph levels lang the speed. or slightly better.
  5. BEST TIME TO GO. Myanmar is hot all year round. Best time to go is during the cooler months from October to February. March and April are the hottest months and that is when I went. Awow! Brayt! Kung alam ko lang. lol. Yun kasi mura na ticket, that I bought on promo months before. My travel days, particularly in Bagan, scorched over 40°C.
  6. VISIT DURING A FESTIVAL? Myanmar reveres to its religious roots quite strongly as they celebrate Buddhist new year (Thingyan Water Festival) in the middle of April. During this time, locals flock Bagan pilgrimage sites to worship. As in, daming tao! Intercity public buses and trains, government offices cease operation for 3 to 5 days. Most tour agencies even take a break. Wala rin Hot Air Balloon Tours, which Bagan is popular of. Sakto, my booked dates fell on this, which greatly affected my Itinerary. Haha! Brayt again! So if you plan do an intercity travel with limited days, it is best not to go during the festival; or at least spend the whole 4 days in a single city. Hotels and most restaurants however, stay open to serve.
  7. STRICT DRESS CODE. Myanmar is a land of temples and pagodas. Bagan alone has more than 2000 in one cluster. It is quite expected that visitors will do temple hopping in a day. Myanmar is strict  with dress code and “no shoes” policy before entering. Modest outfit is a must. You’ll be asked to rent a sarong if you are wearing shorts. It is also best to wear slip ons or prepare a pouch for your footwear, which you shall be taking off several times; including socks. The concrete foot path gets scorchingly hot. Sometimes, you have to step on bare ground with sharp pebbles. In Mount Popa, I climbed 777 steps on foot. Hassle, but it is part of the overall travel experience for the books. Bringing wet wipes and alcohol is highly suggested. Climbing to the top of the pagoda is strictly prohibited.

    At Shwedagon Pagoda. Its good that most foot paths here are made of Marble, which does not absorb much heat compared to concrete.

  8. FOOD. Food in Myanmar is relatively affordable. Standard restaurant prices are comparable to Manila or probably a bit cheaper. Cheap food/street food options are also available. Local dishes are not complicated. Mostly rice meals, noodles  and lots of vegetarian options (because Buddhism) with practical influences from neighboring India, China and Thailand. Myanmar food is not as spicy as I expected. Their meat curry is not the usual-very fragrant meat dish that I am used to. Will be discussing more on food on the next articles.
  9. International food choices are available. But they do not have a single branch of Mcdonald’s today. I don’t know why. They do however have KFC in the big city of Yangon, but it is not popular to locals.
  10. Water however, isn’t cheap and free. Most restaurants do not offer service water. Sold by bottle talaga. The hostel where I stayed in Bagan do not have water dispenser. I bought pa from the market. 
  11. TRAVEL ROUTE. Most travelers start at Yangon and up. I, however, entered Myanmar via the Northern City of Mandalay. Bagan is 5 hours away by tourist bus. After Bagan, I took the overnight public bus to the Southern City of Yangon. It took me +10 hours. Overnight bus was pleasing, with international standard seat sizes and is reclinable. Intercity train is available and is actually cheaper, but is expected to take longer time. It was unavailable during my visit because of Thinyan Festival.
  12. TRANSPORTATION AROUND BAGAN. As the most popular site, I spend most of my days in Bagan. Getting around the city is mainly by tuktuk or Motorbike. Public Taxis are scarce.  Tourists can rent electric-charged motor bikes at at low price (around 250-400 Pesos only per day).  Will be discussing more of this on the itinerary blog post.

    me trying to be pretty despite the scorching heat

Follow up blog posts on Myanmar on these links.

6 Days in Myanmar: Sample Itinerary for First Timers 

Focus Bagan : Unesco World Heritage Site – uploading soon

Focus Mandalay : The Burmese Old Ways – uploading soon

Yangon Tour in Less Than 24 Hours – uploading soon

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3 responses to “Backpacking Myanmar:Practical Tips for First Timers

  1. Pingback: 8 Best Spots to See in Bagan | Biyahe ni Josemanuel·

  2. Pingback: One Day in Mandalay:A Photoblog | Biyahe ni Josemanuel·

  3. Pingback: Day Tour Around Yangon and the Shwedagon Pagoda | Biyahe ni Josemanuel·

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