a sunset over a lake with a few buildings

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!”

a large gold and white building with a palm treeDon’t forget to apply for a visa

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.  

a street with cars and buildingsBook hotels, tours, restaurants, etc. as soon as you can

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). 

a group of buildings with trees in the backgroundWhile visiting Myanmar we stayed at:

  • 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!

a sunset over a lake with a few buildingsIf you want to hot air balloon in Bagan, book your trip accordingly!

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. 

a man on a boat with a netDomestic 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!

contactless credit cardATMs are plentiful and credit cards are “widely” accepted

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! 

Final thoughts

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.

Ceci Sutcliffe

Ceci Sutcliffe is a wanderlusting avgeek and self-professed points and miles junkie. After working in the credit card industry for over 4 years, where she launched one of the most popular premium travel...

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  1. Sorry, but I just can’t travel for pleasure to a country in the middle of committing genocide against millions of innocent people.

  2. I travelled to/in Myanmar in 2016. Domestic flights are readily available to book online and pay via credit card. PNR/PDF receipt etc all send automatically via email.

    Aureum is controversial.

    Modern restaurants took cards, ATMs easily accessible, you could pay for activities in USD when I stayed as for example I paid my hotel transfer in USD. Obviously the more local options were cash only establishments.

    Either an international plan or picking up a local sim at the airport is recommended as internet was still subpar in areas.

    If you go to Bagan, download the map of the pagoda so you know which to go to and where you are.

  3. Very shocking how many places accept CC. For breakfast find yourself a good tea house. If going to isle lake and Bagan from mandlay. Just rent a Moto. They don’t enforce the ban on foreigners on bikes around the lake or old Bagan anymore.

  4. Why are you promoting a destination that engages in rampant ethnic cleansing and genocide? The Myanmar army is engaging in “killings, rapes and gang rapes, torture, forced displacement and other grave rights violations” with the tacit support of the population. 700,000+ Rohingya people have been displaced. In 1941 you’d be recommending Nazi Germany. This is a new low, even for you. I hope you find the decency to remove this post and write about why we SHOULDN’T visit that criminal state.

    1. Save your moral preaching for some political blog. If you do not want go there is up to you and no need patronizing others. I was lucky to travel there in 2009 when just very little tourist went there, no ATM, no mobile phones, internet access only trough VPN in internet caffes. It was amazing. Now not so, at least for me, but there are still places off beaten path i hope visit one day.

      1. Incredible. The mental gymnastics you are pulling there are simply incredible. By giving them even 1 dollar, you are funding genocide. Is it AMAZING when they burn down the homes of villagers? Is it AMAZING when they murder thousands of people just because they are different? Is systematic and organised rape and gang-rape AMAZING? Is it AMAZING that hundreds of thousands of people are now displaced? I’m REALLY SORRY my moral preaching and patronising is getting in the way of your GENOCIDE TOURISM.

  5. I have visited Myanmar 4 times and spent 4 months there travelling more than 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometres) in that time. I love the country and most of the people and want to love them all and return for a 5th/6th/.. visit.

    My last visit was 2018 and that was a very difficult decision for me as the Tatmadaw were ramping up their attacks on Rohinga for a lot of spurious reasons. Having completed that visit, I am now 100% convinced that I will not visit again as there are just too many people in the country who believe that anyone who is not of the Bamar people and is not a Buddhist has “no value” – in my view, shades of Europe in the 1930s. The government denies the oppression but I would counter with the comment that it takes a lot of oppression for 700,000 people to decide they are safer being a displaced person in another country than staying in their home. The Rohinga Muslims are not accepted as citizens and so have no access to Identity Cards which means they have no access to government provided services like schools and medicine.

    The “no value” judgement is not just aimed at Muslims but at Christians too.

    I know that I have not told the whole sorry story but the bones are there and the free press will fill in the gaps.

    The whole point of me responding to this article is to ask you not to go.

    Yes the good guys will suffer along with the bad but if we all do nothing and carry on as if there is no problem things will continue to go from bad to worse. It is an unfortunate reality that money has more power than words to power change.

  6. I agree, I’m usually pretty understanding of the destination, but this seems egregious.

    As my favorite blogger, one that’s consistently shown an attention to high quality and objectivity, I must say I’m pretty disappointed.

    It seems all roads lead to tunnel vision

    1. Jake,

      Very sorry to hear that. I never like to disappoint anyone. At the same time, China is oppressing millions of muslims, women don’t have rights in other countries and there’s a level of hypocrisy to virtually every destination. I think the ethnic cleansing that occurred was atrocious, but almost every Southeast Asian country has suffered such hardship and we don’t say a word. The Lao people were bombed inadvertently during Vietnam, yet they welcome us with open arms.

      Everyone is on their own to choose their destinations and while I understand and respect your objections, I am just trying to help create a resource that people can get information and make those decisions for themselves. All the best, Gib.

      1. Good points. Thank you Gib. If someone wants be a ethical traveler please do but do not try to force your view on the others. I do not agree what happened with Rohingas as well but those things are not always black and white. While been there during a military regime people literally thank me to come and i supported the small local guest houses.

  7. Hi Gib – whilst I agree with much of your response to Jake, I do feel the need to take you to task over ” I am just trying to help create a resource that people can get information and make those decisions for themselves.” First up, the simple thing is that much of the basic information has changed since 2017, the date the article is mostly related to and the most important thing is that there is no mention that anyone should look at the political situation before deciding whether to visit or not.

    As to much of the world discriminating against parts of its population, that is true BUT discriminating against the ladies is not comparable to ethnic cleansing and Vietnam was 40 years ago and as you say Laos was a mistake rather than deliberate. In Cambodia and China the “cleansing” was aimed at anyone who was educated or prepared to speak up against the Pol Pot/Mao Tse Tung regime. I am also aware that there are examples from Africa but they too were “40 years ago”.

    Whilst the persecution of the Uighur Muslims is a disgrace, it is not a form of “cleansing” that is forcing almost a million people to move country nor, as far as I am aware, are they being deliberately suppressed with live ammunition. In the case of the Uighur the “cleansing” is in the format of knocking the religion out of them in re-education/detention centres. Not that I am supporting that, just pointing out that their situation is more than a little different from the 700,000 Rohingya who now find themselves in the Bangladeshi refugee camps.

    Life is not perfect or even good in many parts of our world but I would like to hope that reviewers would point out the warts as well as the glittery things – and this article does not do that. Said review barely scratches the surface as it relates to just 10 days in 3 tourist hot-spots. Would you really ask someone to decide on a visit the US of A based on a review written after a 10 day visit to Miami, Washington and Boston?

    1. Those are the three of the main spots tourists are allowed to visit. Large portions of the country were restricted to foreigners even prior to recent events.

  8. Spend your money wisely and it goes to the local people. Local people that will benefit greatly with your income directly to their hands.
    The government atrocities are miniscule compared to China yet you don’t start all this holier than thou on the ‘Best places to get drunk in Shanghai’ blogs.

    Go – but just put some thought into it. Beautiful country with beautiful people.

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