Plan a First-time Trip to Myanmar
Myanmar (Burma) has become a new Asian destination with its unique culture, visitor attractions and the special character of the Burmese people. Travelers have a chance to interact with the humble locals, to immerse themselves in the traditional Buddhist atmosphere and to have an excellent experience devoid of large tourist crowds.
Planning a trip to Myanmar is full of great challenges, as the country’s earlier decades of isolation from the outside world have led to a lack of adequate infrastructure. Let us do the work for you. The Asia Highlights team is committed to helping you have a memorable trip and hassle-free experience.
Why Visit Myanmar
Take Easy Photographs
Photograph the stunning sunrises and sunsets, whether from the top of Mandalay Hill, or reflected in the water in front of U-Bein Bridge, silhouetted against the sky; photograph the transparent surface of Inle Lake, a hot air balloon flying over thousands of temples, or the center of the most sacred golden Shwedagon Pagoda.
Simply walking through the streets, visitors will quickly notice the country’s characteristic sights — monks and nuns walking in lines around the streets to receive local residents’ alms bowls, male pilgrims applying good leaves to the Buddha image, or tourists taking a horse cart ride to explore the ruins. You’ll have ample opportunities for beautiful pictures.
Communicate with Friendly Locals
The real charm of a country resides in its people. Visitors who have been to Myanmar will not forget the sincere smiles of the locals, their warm and selfless help, their optimism in the midst of difficulties, and their firm belief that good things will happen.
Communicating with locals may be the greatest joy and gain during your trip. Having been cut off from the outside world for so long, locals are delighted to share their lifestyle and welcome visitors with their warmth.
Experience the Religious Atmosphere
Myanmar may be the best destination for experiencing Buddhist atmosphere, as the Buddhist faith permeates every aspect of local people’s lives.
In Myanmar, the monks are highly respected. A boy must be a monk once in his life. Although the ceremony of becoming a monk will often cost a family a few years' income, they still think it is well worth doing this big thing once in a lifetime. Locals can live frugally, but will spare no effort to save money to buy a gold leaf to gild the Buddha.
Read more on Top 8 Things to Do in Myanmar
Observe the Old-World Charm
You will be lucky to see how a Southeast Asian country was 30 to 40 years ago. Although undergoing economic development, Myanmar maintains its old-world charm, with ancient relics, traditional customs and historical architecture.
Avoid the Tourist Crowds
Compared with other Asian countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, the cost of a Myanmar trip might be 20% to 50% higher and the experiences it offers are very different, which may explain why Myanmar is not the most popular destination.
Be Guided by a Knowledgeable Guide
A knowledgeable local guide will help you make the most of your time here, as the guides are well-trained and understand clients well. Our clients are generally satisfied with their service and touched by their genuineness.
What You Need to Know Before Planning
Myanmar is Big and Needs More Time to Connect the Dots
For the largest country in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is relatively laid-back in its infrastructure; such as airports, highways and railways. People usually get around Myanmar either by air or overland.
Flying is most economical time-wise, though it’s not the most budget-friendly. All the major tourist destinations are within an hour’s flight of each other, and nine airline companies (updated 21st Feb, 2017) connect them. It’s therefore possible to roam around the country within 10 days.
Taking long-haul coaches offers special experiences, but can be very costly time-wise.
Bear in mind that Myanmar is big and not that easy to get around, at least not as easy as Thailand, and this will help you decide how you want to travel. At the same time, it is not wise to wear yourself out or waste too much time commuting. Thus, your personal interests and physical condition should be taken into consideration.
When to Go
Myanmar has clear distinctions between seasons. The best time to travel is between October and April, blessed with lovely weather and beautiful landscapes. From May to September, typhoons ravage the coastline and severe rainfall and heat inland makes it hard to travel. Thus the concept of high and low seasons fits neatly here.
Not only does the weather define your trip but also the destinations themselves. For example, you are more likely to gain a great sunrise view over Bagan during the high season than at other times of the year; in the low season, however, you will have no access to Ngapali Beach, for flights are cancelled due to heavy rainstorms.
Once you have Myanmar on your bucket list, plan ahead and set aside your vacation time for it.
How Much Myanmar Costs
The cost of a Myanmar trip falls into three big parts: hotels, transportation and guides.
Travel time also costs, especially in relation to hotels. During the high season, it is common to spend USD90 to 120 per night for a 4-star hotel and more for 5-star. This is at least double the price during low season. It’s better to book ahead.
Means of transportation will greatly affect your bill. There is no business class or first class for domestic flights so the airfares are mostly contingent on the different routes, and range from USD70 to USD180. Car and chauffeur rental, local bus, trains or boats may be better, budget-friendlier options. For example, a 10-hour long-haul bus from Yangon to Mandalay costs only USD10.
Compared with solo adventure, a guided Myanmar trip may not seem so competitive cost-wise. Nevertheless, it may be essential to have a guide if you want to peel back the layers of the country’s religious, laid-back outlook and discover something different.
Normally a tour guide’s wages double during the high season, and may rise to USD200 per day. You can either choose to have one guide who will accompany you all the way; or stationery guides at each destination, different guides with different personalities and angles. The former option doubles the price.
Lower Your Expectations
Most guidebooks and travel websites boast about Myanmar as a once-in-a-lifetime destination, and this attracts more and more travelers thirsty for unique experiences. It is important, however, to keep in mind that Myanmar first opened up just a few decades ago and it is definitely not a luxury destination.
Allow yourself to be shocked the first time you land at an airport that is just one tenth of the size of Central Station in New York; and learn to get used to occasional power cuts in remote areas (cuts don’t happen a lot in big cities); also, flip-flops and skirt-like pants (local name longyi) are what local people perceive as an Armani suit, so don’t feel offended to see your tour guide in such attire.
You might have been traveling a long time, but this first trip to Myanmar is bound to be a totally new experience. No, it will not be exactly like the last trip to Thailand, or that spring break in Florida. It will just be Myanmar, so hopefully you can accept it just as it is. Better just lower your expectations a little bit, try a little bit harder to understand, and your vistas will be greatly broadened.
The best itinerary for a first Myanmar tour is 7-9 days visiting - Yangon-Mandalay-Bagan-Inle Lake-Yangon. You can also take the tour beginning with Yangon to Mandalay (like Yangon-Bagan-Inle Lake-Mandalay), then continuing on to Thailand (Bangkok/Chiang Mai) or China (Kunming), or vice versa.
When to travel, how to travel and how much time and money you are going to spend on your first trip to Myanmar… After the answers to all these questions have been clarified, an outline of your trip emerges and now you only need to fill in the blanks.
Where to Go for First-timers
Certainly you will want to include as many must-go places as possible for your first trip to Myanmar. Don’t be overly ambitious, however. Consider this first trip as testing the waters; you should take it nice and slow. Only by allowing yourself more time at one destination can you learn more about the country itself. And don’t forget, as diverse as China is, Myanmar also deserves a comeback trip.
Generally speaking, a round-trip with 4 major destinations for a first trip can never go wrong. The four major destinations we recommend are as follows.
Yangon: the former capital and still-important religious center, both the start and finish point for a Myanmar trip. 2 days should be enough for Yangon.
Bagan:widely-known for its pagoda complex, offering the best sunset views and the chance of a hot-air balloon flight. It’s a must-visit place for photographers. 1 day is a must and 2 days would be better for Bagan.
Mandalay: a place for learning about the history of the ancient kingdom. It’s also a major center for studying Buddhism. We recommend 2 days in Mandalay, with a side trip to Amarapura or Mingun.
Inle Lake: a vast lake surrounded by mountains and decorated by floating villages, characterized by the unique lifestyles of 5-day markets and floating gardens. Allow yourself a 2-day break in this heaven-sent retreat, and another 1 or 2 days to trek around Kalaw.
If your vacation plans fall between October and April, consider Ngapali Beach for a great escape. The beach can be reached via a 1-hour flight from either Inle Lake or Yangon. 90% of the hotels are built on the beach.
There are not many night clubs or snorkeling-tour-selling agents, simply just soft white sand, palm trees and ocean breeze. The beach has been crowned as the best beach in Myanmar, as well as one of the Top 25 in Asia.
For more ideas on travel times and destinations, refer to Nine Days in Myanmar.
How to Get in and out
Most visitors arrive in Myanmar at Yangon International Airport or Mandalay International Airport. Flying from other continents, travelers will use a transit city, as there are no direct flights between major western cities and Yangon. If you have been to other countries in SE Asia, we suggest for the sake of convenience that you transit through a city where you’ve already been.
For example, Bangkok has over 10 daily flights to Yangon and both of Bangkok’s airports are easy to get around, even without a tour guide. Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Singapore, Ho Chi Minh City and Guangzhou can all be the entry or exit ports of call for your first trip to Myanmar.
Never been to Asia before? Then it may be better to spend one extra day in the transit city, to help ease the effects of jet lag.
Do I Need a Visa for My First Trip to Myanmar
For most westerners, the answer is yes. Citizens of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Vietnam and Thailand have the right to visa exemption for 14 days, but are only permitted to enter via the international airports of Yangon and Mandalay. People of other nationalities should apply for a Myanmar visa, either online or via a Myanmar embassy.
For more information on visas, continue to read Myanmar Visas and How to Apply for.
All Myanmar tours designed by Asia Highlights include a Myanmar E-Visa; we will complete all the application formalities with the information you supply.
Where to Stay
Most hotels in the big cities were built between the 1950s and the 1990’s. In recent years, more backpacker hostels, boutique hotels and international hotels have wedged their way into Myanmar.
Location certainly matters. For your stay in Yangon, choose a hotel near the Shwedagon Pagoda, which is the heart of the city; for Bagan, your first trip will be only 3 days and it will be better to stay near Old Bagan, as you will have the chance to witness the pagodas waking up at sunrise; spend your nights near Mandalay Palace, the center of Mandalay city; you can’t miss a night in a room with a lake-view by Inle Lake, so the best idea is to stay in Nyuangshwe or somewhere else around the lake.
A tip: the price difference between 3-star and 4-star hotels is just USD20 per night, but the latter may have free wifi and 24-hour hot water. You can’t have fun if you don’t sleep well. When you make your bookings, consider stepping up a bit to a higher-ranked hotel.
For more information, please refer to Top Accommodation in Myanmar.
Is it safe to visit Myanmar? This is a question often asked by visitors. The answer is ‘yes’. The law-abiding population and their loyalty to Buddhist practice have ensured that Myanmar is a safe place to explore.
Such news as the bombings in Yangon, the opium trade in the Golden Triangle area, the civil unrest in some rural areas and the flight incidents may leave the impression that Myanmar is not that peaceful. But it’s unfair to classify Myanmar as unsafe from a tiny fraction of incidents occurring there.
Taking an airplane is the best way to get around in Myanmar, especially if time is limited. Although some private airlines were involved in some safety issues in the past, now incidents are few. We usually arrange flights with airlines such as Air KBZ for our clients, to ensure a comfortable flight experience.
For travelers with enough time, taking a cruise and sailing down the Irrawaddy River is a good way of getting from Mandalay to Bagan. The river cruises have operated for years, and have good safety records.
Taking a car can be quite bumpy due to the country's poor road conditions; but no worries, it’s safe.
Visiting Myanmar is generally considered safe. Violent crime is rare and the levels of crime generally are low. Travelers can have a good experience by practicing common-sense and caution.
Although most Myanmar people are helpful and friendly, take precautions against pick-pocketing. Don’t carry large amounts of cash or wear too much jewelry. Leave valuable things in the hotel’s safe.
Another tip is not to stay in the streets late at night or hang about in remote areas. The lighting system does not work well. We suggest you go back to your hotel before 9 pm.
For more information on safety, please refer to Is It Safe to Travel to Myanmar.
The medical standards and services in Myanmar are considered to be among the lowest in the world, but healthcare is expected to improve.
The country’s most decent medical facilities are in Yangon and Mandalay. Local hospitals in small towns may only provide basic healthcare service. Medicines are in short supply and nurses are inadequately trained.
We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance before starting your trip, take all necessary vaccinations, and bring any prescribed medicines.
For more information about healthcare, please refer to How to Stay Healthy in Myanmar.
The biggest challenge when planning a trip is lack of adequate information and difficulties in communication.
Travel information is not updated to keep up with current circumstances. Most travel services, such as booking internal flights, hotels, cruise cabins and day tours, cannot be booked through online websites. Though some operators do support online service, the process is far from seamless and cancellations are not easy to make.
This may explain why a travel agency plays an important role in helping clients to achieve their travel plans. Agencies have access to rich resources and are able to use them well. Visitors only need to pay a service fee for the agency to work for them and cover their backs.
For example, internal flights may be changed or cancelled a few days or even a few hours before departure, and the flight status is not updated online. In this situation, a travel agent will help you out by informing you accordingly and changing the itinerary.
Or if you are on a family holiday and have special needs for a hotel room, an agent will help communicate with hotels to obtain an appropriate room.
With Asia Highlights you’ll be in good hands
Go with a Group or on a Private Tour
The biggest pro with going on a group tour is that you will probably save a lot of money. Some travel agents surely do a decent job of packing affordable accommodation and the country’s highlights together at a good price. In the realms of individual attention, cultural understanding and deeper exploration, however, they might not be so good. Be prepared to make compromises.
Private tours can also be big savers, in terms of time and energy spent searching on your own. Decisions on hotels and destinations may seem pretty straightforward, but dot-connecting in Myanmar is a difficult job even for experienced travelers.
For instance, some airlines do not accept individual bookings online and cancellation and delays can be announced at the last minute just before you board. You may need a problem solver. And that is what we are good at.
Brevity is one of the bonuses a private tour may offer. Personal attention and care will be available the entire trip, as we assign you a tour guide for your first trip to Myanmar, who will learn to become your friend, one who knows your needs and is a facilitator of your exploration.
Asia Highlights aims to promote positive development in the areas we visit. In Myanmar, we cooperate with local companies which have a strong sense of responsibility to help travelers understand the local culture better.
We make sure your tours are led by knowledgeable guides and young staff members, looking to develop their careers. We handpick local restaurants to ensure a taste of authentic Myanmar cuisine and sometimes arrange cooking classes in restaurants.
The hotels we recommend are owned by individuals or some international chains; we try to avoid those owned by government associates. We encourage visitors to make their purchases at locally-owned businesses.
See how we do responsible travel in Myanmar.
Tailor-make Your Own Trip to Myanmar
Myanmar’s innate charms entice more and more travelers and there is no better time than now to give free rein to your wanderlust with a first trip to Myanmar. You can browse through our pre-designed itineraries about Myanmar as inspiration, or with just one easy click, start creating your own trip.