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“The first time is always the hardest.” For many aspects of life, you will relate to this; especially with regard to traveling. Going to a strange country for the first time, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by anxiety about the unknown.
No matter whether you are an experienced traveler or have just been issued with your first passport, you will need some help planning your first trip to Myanmar(Burma).
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.
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 low 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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, or with just one easy click, start creating your own trip.
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