Myanmar was always at the top of my bucket list, ever since a group of my best friends from Shanghai visited and raved about how untouched and pure the country is compared to its many over-touristy neighbours in Southeast Asia.
I never got the chance to visit when I lived abroad in China, but when Qatar Airways announced new flights to Yangon in 2017, they ran a special launch promo offering $500 roundtrip economy tickets from NYC to Yangon via Doha, and I jumped at the chance to get a great deal and explore this slightly under-the-radar destination.
We visited Myanmar for 10 days in October 2017, kicking off our trip with 2 nights in Yangon, followed by Inle Lake for 3 nights and culminating with an extended 5 night stay in Bagan.
Note: if you’re looking for “backpacker-style” advice for visiting Myanmar, then this is not the post for you, as my travel philosophy is a combo of “affordable luxury” plus the “hey I’m on vacation, so I’m going to splurge!”
Myanmar requires all tourists to arrange for a tourist visa ahead of entering the country. You can easily apply online for a visa through this official Myanmar government website: https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/Tourist
Despite what many would lead you to believe (for financial gain) there is no need to pay a third party visa agency to handle this process for you, since the instructions are easy to follow. You can upload documents and images online through the site, and you can pay for your visa online with a credit card.
I suggest arranging for your visa as soon as possible, so in the unlikely event that you are denied, you have time to cancel any reservations made or check into appealing or resubmitting in time for travel.
I’d also recommend to not book any non-refundable travel until your visa is approved.
Looking back at my inbox, it only took 3 days from the time I applied online, for my approval and visa to be issued to me via email. Keep in mind that it is required for you to print and bring your e-visa document with you when you fly into/enter Myanmar.
Myanmar just recently opened up for tourism, and its tourism infrastructure is still in its infancy compared to nearby Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
There are very few 4 and 5 star accomodations, and because of that, they are in very high demand and get booked quickly. Similarly, popular tours — ex: hot air ballooning in Bagan — also fill up quickly, so if soaring over the temples at sunrise is on your bucket list then book sooner rather than later (see tip #3 for more info on this).
- Chatrium Royal Lake Yangon — 4 star hotel in Yangon that provided a nice place to stay and good value for the money
- Novotel Inle Lake Myat Min — This hotel was brand new at the time of our trip in October 2017, and we loved it! We got a free upgrade to the “floating” Superior Water Villa, which was super romantic and special for our pre-wedding Myanmar vacay
- Aureum Palace Bagan — You can’t beat an infinity pool overlooking the awe-inspiring 13th century pagodas and temples of Bagan, and this resort delivers “wow” factor and more. While the service and hospitality wasn’t as up to snuff as I had expected, the hotel itself was wonderful and I would stay there again in a heartbeat, even though it was a little pricey at $300+ a night.
- Amazing Bagan Resort — If you have to say something is “amazing” then most likely it’s not, which is exactly the case with this hotel. In order to save some money ahead of our wedding, I decided to stay 2 nights at ABR, since many of my friends who had been to Bagan had recommended this hotel. I should have known better, since I have a different travel style to them, and I thought this place was a dump. The room was clean and decently comfortable, but when I travel I am looking for great service and to be wowed, and this place had terrible service and had no character. Unless you have no choice but to pinch pennies, then I would avoid this place and hands down splurge on Aureum Palace!
We also dined at 5 star hotel The Strand Yangon (wish we had had enough money at the time to stay here — this hotel is gorgeous!) and La Planteur, which were both the best meals we had during our entire trip in Myanmar. La Planteur in particular is breathtaking — it’s an old colonial mansion that’s been converted into a restaurant — and the East meets West fusion cuisine is divine! You can make reservations online for La Planteur also, which is another feather in their cap of already top-notch service!
At the time, it was #1 on my bucket list to hot air balloon over the world-wonder temples of Bagan, and after doing some research, I learned that the balloons only take flight during certain seasons.
You can only balloon in Bagan from October through mid April, since during the summer season of late April to September it is too hot for the balloons to fly.
Thank goodness we had already booked our trip for late October, or I would have been seriously disappointed!
After extensive research, I decided to book my once-in-a-lifetime hot air balloon tour with Oriental Ballooning, since they had the best safety record and also had great reviews online in terms of tour guide hospitality and service.
Even though OB was a tad pricier than the other companies, I believe it was worth the extra money, since OB carried less people in each basket — so I had plenty of room to take pictures and was not squished or on top of the other passengers — and the pilots were also super knowledgeable about the history of Bagan, which really brought the tour to life that much more.
Domestic flights in Myanmar are safe, affordable and a much faster and more comfortable way to travel the country
All of my friends who had visited Myanmar had traveled around by buses, but I was not feeling spending 12+ hours on an overnight bus to get from A to B, when I had limited time in Myanmar.
When I initially started Googling internal flights in Myanmar, I got a lot of links popping up telling me how “unsafe” civil aviation was in Myanmar, and they were pushing people into the direction of taking buses instead of planes because of this.
After more and more research, I learned that Myanmar aviation pre 2016 did have some skeletons in its closet, but as of 2017 when I was traveling the country, that Myanmar airlines were up to code and global standards. Because of this new information, I decided to book flights from Yangon to Heho-Inle Lake, Heho-Inle Lake to Bagan, and Bagan to Yangon, in order to avoid hellishly long bus rides across the country.
I am so glad I did, because every single domestic flight we were on in Myanmar was on a brand new plane, the service was great, and the pilots were professional and well trained — we didn’t have a single problem and we got to each destination in less than an hour versus 8+ hours on old, stinky buses.
Booking domestic flights did prove a challenge at the time, since in 2017 domestic Myanmar flights were unbookable online, so I employed the services of Mayflower Travel to help me pre-book all of my internal flights. They were very professional, responsive and helpful, and they made sure I got booked on flights that best fit our travel schedule. They had all of my tickets bundled and sent to me, so that I had no trouble at the airport with checking in or boarding.
Most importantly, they also let me pay by credit card versus having to pay in cash upon arrival in Myanmar, which was another great perk or working with them versus another tourist agency.
Per a quick Google Flights search it looks like domestic Myanmar flights are still unbookable online today, so if you’re also looking to fly vs. bus when traveling Myanmar, then I highly recommend you reach out to Mayflower to help you to seamlessly book your internal airfare!
When I first started researching for our trip to Myanmar, I must have been reading some outdated posts, because everyone was saying that there were no ATMs, credit card use was non-existent, and that you need to bring tons of pristine, crisp US dollar bills with you in order to pay for things in Myanmar. That being said, if you do decide to bring US currency with you, back in 2017 it was very true that the US dollars had to be in perfect condition — not a single crease, fold, tear, etc. — or locals would not take your money.
Personally, we found that ATMs were plentiful and in working order, that all the hotels we stayed at took US credit cards, and that most of the restaurants we ate at and stores we shopped at took US credit cards as well.
I am glad that I didn’t carry a crazy amount of US cash with me, because it always makes me feel paranoid, since I am afraid I am going to lose it!
Though a trip to Myanmar may feel overwhelming to plan, I personally found it to be a fairly easy, beautiful, charming, and totally mystifying place to visit. My must-see places to go to in Myanmar are the:
- Shwedagon and Sule Pagodas in Yangon
- Boat tour of Inle Lake to see the Kayan (long-neck) women of the Ywama village
- Bagan archaeological zone
- Hsinbyume Pagoda Mingun in Mandalay — we didn’t make it to Mandalay ourselves, but my friends who traveled here said this pagoda is breathtaking!
Overall, Myanmar is safe and locals are super friendly and kind — their love for life will envigorate you and it is infectious. We didn’t have any issues during our trip, and I highly recommend visiting Myanmar while it’s still up-and-coming, and before it becomes a popular, on-the-beaten-path tourist destination.