If you are the type of traveler who likes to wander away from the big crowds, you are most likely do the same as I : looking for the unique places minus the bunch of people.Bingo! Myanmar is what you’ve been searching for! Interesting enough, SE Asia is very busy travel destination, but some spots remain almost untouched. You might ask If there is anything wrong with this country. Yes and no. First of all, you must be aware that there is still an ongoing civil war and some areas are closed for tourists. There is also only 2 ports of entry you can legally enter the country: Mandalay or Yangon. And remember, you have to enter and leave from the same port. I had no desire to learn all the bureaucracy on this matter, so I simply followed the rules.
Do you need a visa to Myanmar?
Unless you are a SE Asia resident, you will need a tourist visa. Unlike most of the countries in Asia, you won’t be able to get visa upon arrival.
The simplest way is to apply online on Myanmar’s Government website. Here is the link https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/
It cost $50 (or $56 for expedite) and it will be emailed to you within 3-7 days. Make sure to print your eVisa! They will not accept it from your phone screen. Another important tip: bring 2 copies of your passport and 2-3 passport style photos. Even though it is not officially required you might be asked to provide it. Actually, from my own experience, I wasn’t asked for it in Myanmar but in Laos.
How to get there?
You will need to figure out your itinerary even before you apply to visa because you must mention the port of entry when applying for eVisa. Due to the country’s somewhat political instability I would not take a chance and mess with the rules clearly stated on the Government website. If you are stating in your visa application that you will be entering the country through Mandalay, you can not arrive to Yangon.
Check the prices for both main arrival points and pick one. I flew to Bangkok as it was the cheapest and biggest hub in the region. From BKK I took a short flight to Mandalay via Air Asia.
I was truly surprised about hotel prices in Myanmar. Remembering my previous trips to SE Asia region where you can easily find a decent centrally located budget hotel or home stay for as little as 10-12 USD per night. Here it was not the case. Also, I highly suggest booking ahead. Limited options, sold out rooms and hight prices will leave with little to none options to pick from. First time in my travel life I booked hotels as far as 6 weeks before arrival! I often travel spontaneously catching last minute deals, but I am glad I did not experiment with Myanmar. Out of curiosity, a week before my trip I checked hotels in my itinerary. Not only most of it was sold out, but prices doubled! If you travel in a group it probably would not matter much, but I am a solo traveler and like to stay on a budget. So, if you are on the same page, plan ahead.
What to wear? What is appropriate?
Myanmar is a very conservative and religious country. Locals definitely set the tone in a dress code. You would not want to stand out too much or draw unnecessary attention. Long sleeve cotton / linen top and same fabric pants is a perfect attire. Neck, shoulders, chest must be covered for both man and woman if you wish to visit the pagodas. And because pagodas are literally everywhere in Myanmar, you would miss out if you won’t be able to get in just because of your poor choice of clothes. I also wore a hat every day to protect my skin from blazing sun. Just SPF isn’t enough, as the blazing sun will burn your skin faster than you can reapply the sunscreen.
You will notice Burmese people proudly wear the national costume called longyi. It is a skirt like wrap around your body. These clothes ing worn by both man and woman. Made out of either cotton for daily were or silk and combination for special occasions. While visiting Awa, one of the ancient capitals on Myanmar, I stopped by the village famous for the most beautiful longyi. I watched the elderly ladies making the silk and sewing the fabrics. It looks so beautiful, I couldn’t resist trying it on. I shortly realized, it takes a lot of skills to learn how to wrap the longyi correctly so you won’t loose it on your second step lol Long story short, you will be better off wearing something you are used to. Also, the fabrics are quite heavy to bring it home as a souvenir.
Highlights of Myanmar
I left the country with a firm believe that Myanmar’s main treasure is not the cold, covering their endless pagodas. It’s the people. Humble, friendly, kind and so sincere, it will deeply touch your soul.
Their citizens are not rich financially, but they are incredibly rich with a true human values. I felt enlighten and happy. And this is the feeling Im going back for to SE Asia over an over again.