Before getting to the country you have to obtain a tourist visa. You can get it in three different ways. Apply for an online visa (50USD), apply in the closest embassy (in Berlin it costs 25 EUR) or get it in the embassy in Bangkok. For all approaches it can take up to three days. In Bangkok it costs 800 THB or if you want the same day visa it will cost you 1,490 THB. The embassy accepts visa applications from 9:00 to 12:00 but it always good to start lining up at least an hour before to get through the process quicker. When you enter the room, you get a number, application form (if you haven’t downloaded it yet) and you wait for your turn. If you have all the boxes filled in it literally takes 2 minutes at the window where they check everything and take the payment. Visa should be ready to pick up at 4pm.
Getting to Myanmar
You can get overland or by plane. Depends how much time you have and how much you want to see. Visa is valid for both. Overland takes about 20 hours from Bangkok to the border and then it’s up to you where you want to head next. The flight to Yangon takes just over an hour and it is reasonable cheap with Air Asia. Immigration goes really smoothly, you pick up your luggage and then you need a taxi to get to the city. There is a fixed price of 8000 MKK to the city centre. We looked for other tourists and we shared a cab together. It took us about 45 min to get to Chinatown at night. During the day it can take good 2 hours or even more as the traffic is horrible.
You would thing that Myanmar would be a cheap destination but it isn’t really. Food, public transport and everyday shopping is very cheap comparing to the Western prices, however accommodation, entrance fees can ruin your budget more than you think. So be prepared to have some more cash with you.
In Yangon we stayed in Chinatown which is probably the best place for backpackers and tourists in general. A lot of different types of accommodation, a lot of restaurants and entertainment. We tried two hostels there. The first one which was the cheapest on booking.com was called “20th Street Hostel” and it cost 6 USD per person per night. It was horrible, dirty and full of bags. My good advice is to avoid it. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the next day we moved somewhere else. The other hostel where we stayed was called “Traveller’s House” and it cost us 9 USD per person per night with included breakfast. The hostel was brand new, clean and run by very nice people. I wish we had gone there straight away. Definitely a good place to stay.
There are quite a few attractions in the city but two days is more than enough. A lot of them are a walking distance from the Chinatown. A good way to see the suburbs of Yangon is to go on the ‘circular train’. It costs 300 MMK and it takes almost 3 hours so take a lot of water with you and some snacks.
The main attraction in the city is the 2500 years old Schwedagon Pagoda which is a 99 metres gilded stupa and it dominates the Yangon skyline. It is the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar as it is believed to contain relics of the four previous Buddhas. Around the stupa there are many other smaller temples and places of worship. It costs 8 USD to enter and it is really worth it.
The best way to travel in Myanmar are the overnight busses which come in the luxury option. It means that you have more space and the seats are reclining which allows you to have some sleep and also save some precious time as well as save money on accommodation.
The overnight bus dropped us around 9 km away from our final destination. The moment you get off the bus there are taxi drivers offering you a ‘good price’ for their services. We decided to ignore them and walked away from the stop. To save some money we hitchhiked and the second car we waved at stopped and took us to the next town where our hotel was. We stayed in Inlay Palace Hotel in Nyaung Shwe. It was 15 USD per person per night with included breakfast. A bit expensive but the closer to the lake you stay the more you pay. You also have to pay a fee to entry the National Park which is 20 USD.
Inle Lake is the second largest lake in Myanmar. There are 70,000 people who live in four cities bordering the lake, in numerous small villages along the lake’s shore, and on the lake itself. Most transportation on the lake is traditionally by small boats and that’s also one of the tourist attractions. You can go on a half day boat tour around the lake and the villages. You will get to see how people live and trade there. Unfortunately there are a lot of tourist traps where they take you to local manufactures and try to sell you some wool, silver and other rubbish. Just be assertive or try to convince your driver not to take you to places like that. Overall it was an amazing experience and worth doing it.
There is a travel agency where we booked all the tickets and excursions. It’s on Yone Gyi Street by the Kuang San Thu restaurant. It is run by a lovely lady who speaks very good English. Don’t go anywhere else.
We were also advised to go and see the Burmese Puppet show. It wasn’t far away from our hotel so we decided to give it a go. The show lasted about 30 min and it was a mixture of different music and dances from all over the country. It is a family business where the generation after generation is learning how to master the art. At the end you can buy one of the puppets and in my opinion it was one of the best souvenirs I got from Myanmar.
From Inle Lake we took again an overnight bus and went to the ancient city of Bagan. From the 9th to 13th centuries the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan. During the kingdom’s height there were over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas and monasteries constructed. In the present days there are over 2,200 temples which survived that period. If you have been to Cambodia you could say it is a ‘mini Angor Wat’. We hired electric bikes and spent most of the day cruising around. The hire costs 5 USD per day. Also an entry fee to the temples is 22 USD.
In Bagan we decided to stay in a hostel believing we will find some cheap accommodation. The cheapest and at the same time the most famous hostel is called “Ostello Bello” and it costs 20 USD per person per night! You might find some cheaper options but they are not available on the Internet.
Mandalay was our last stop before the flight back to Bangkok. After seeing many pagodas and temples we didn’t even feel like exploring the city much. It’s like coming to Europe and visiting churches. After 5th one you have enough, unless there is something significant about it. Nevertheless, we went for a walk around the area, sent some postcards and had a nice dinner. We found a hotel for 8 USD per person per night but it wasn’t the greatest. Never ever get an accommodation with no air/con! It is a real struggle.
Currency – what to take with me?
You can easily change GBP, EUR, USD, AUD. The bigger notes you have the better exchange rates you will get.