Myanmar travel tips & things we learned
1. When traveling from Thailand you will set your watch 30 minutes behind.
2. You will be able to pay in USD for hotels and big purchases. Yet, make sure you only have new bills without any stains, cuts, folds or anything else. Apparently the banks do not accept other than perfect bills and they will be closely examined. We were returned several “good looking” bills to us.
3. We read on many blog posts and even our friends living in Yangon told us not to eat the street food — it’s not as safe as in Thailand. You will spend more money on food but with not getting food poisoning.
4. Respect the local culture and cover your arms and knees even if you are not at a pagoda. Myanmar is more conservative than the surrounding countries.
5. Outside of bargaining prices the people and extremely nice and will help you in any situation. Be nice to them!
6. Myanmar and reliable WiFi are still not good friends.
7. There may be power outages so be prepared with a flashlight or a head lamp.
8. We booked our hotels on Booking.com a day or 2 ahead and it was fine.
9. Tipping is not necessary — in the cities your bill will already include a service charge.
10. Carry a spare toilet paper or tissues with you.
11. Burmese people chew a nut wrapped in a leaf (sometimes tobacco is added), which turns their mouth and teeth reddish/brownish. There will be lots of spitting on the ground.
12. As a former British colony you will see more signs, billboards and general information in English.
13. Burmese people drive on the right hand-side with driving wheels on the right side as well. Once British colonialism ended they decided to drive in the right side but they didn’t adjust their cars. Somehow this works for them!
14. In Yangon, give yourself plenty of time for traveling between places. The traffic here is terrible and it always takes at least twice the time Google maps estimates.
15. Bargain, bargain, bargain. Negotiate prices with all street vendors and taxi drivers. Always start at 1/2 of what they offer, but only bargain for stuff you are really interested in. For taxi fares, use apps like Uber and Grab to see what the going rate is — this will be your maximum rate to offer to the driver and they will take it. There are no taxi meters in Maynmar.
16. Rent an E-bike in Bagan. While cycling around sounds as a great exercise it’s not worth it — the site is huge and it gets tooo hot. You can also rent a horse carriage but that seemed very slow and long to us. We like going at our own pace and explore so we didn’t hire a local guide either.
17. Travel with JJ VIP bus — it’s very comfortable. We traveled at night to save day time plus we got to save on hotel rates. We recommend the night travel as the first choice for any road travel. On the way between Inle Lake and Mandalay we took a shared taxi (12 person can) and it was a wild drive through the mountains, more traffic, less comfortable and it’s not even quicker.
18. Don’t arrive more than 2 hours before your flight at the Mandalay airport. The international airport if tiny and the check in counters don’t open earlier than 2 hours before departures. You will end up waiting in the departure hall for hours (like we did).
19. Taxi rates in Mandalay are significantly higher than in other places in Myanmar. We paid 5,000 kyat for a 1-mile ride and that was a price after negotiating.
Day 10: November 15
Leti and her family leave the house early so we stayed behind to take care of a few thing- mainly much needed laundry and emails. Late morning we took a taxi to downtown Yangon to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda. I think being hot got a whole another meaning- it’s very toasty in Myanmar! Plus you have to cover your arms and legs when visiting the temples but it’s also customary to cover out on the streets- Myanmar is a more conservative country.
We read from many people, and also my friends warned us, not to eat the Burmese street food given the lack of sanitation and the danger of food poisoning. In Myanmar taxi meters do not exist so you always have to negotiate the price with the taxi driver- while it’s very cheap it makes everything very exhausting and a longer process.
In the evening we had a dinner with Lety and her family at an Indian restaurant. After dinner we rushed to the Yangon bus station to catch our overnight bus to Bagan. The station is faaar away from the city and the Yangon traffic is terrible. What was supposed to be a 30- minute ride took us 1.5 hours and we thankfully got to the bus at 7:59 pm.
We took the JJ VIP bus, which is known to be the best bus for tourist to take. The ticket costed around $18/person. The bus had leather reclining seat, we got a blanket, water and a few snacks from our bus stewardess.
Day 11, November 16
After a 10- hour bus drive we woke up in Bagan at 5:30am. After we dropped the backpacks at our hotel- New Park hotel in Nyaung-U- we rented an E-bike (electronic scooter) and rushed to the pagodas to catch the sunrise and the hot air balloons. We made it just in time!
Every foreigner has to pay a 25,000 Kyat fee to enter the site- out of which only 8% goes to the conservation and the people. The rest of the funds goes to the government.
After a short rest and breakfast back at the hotel (the hotels here will let you to your room as long as it’s available and you even get a free breakfast) we hopped on our scooter and drove around the 30-kilometer area filled with thousands of temples and pagodas. Bagan was once an UNESCO site and the government is petitioning to be back on the list.
While the Burmese people and very nice and good people, we are always bombarded with someone trying to sell us something. The constant bargaining makes it very hard and exhausting to tour the site and purchase some souvenirs. Today, we bought a few small things at one of the sites.
After riding around our bike we stopped at the Bagan tower where you can get a 360 degree view at the site- well worth the $5 admission fee. We thought it was a great alternative to the $400 got air balloon ride.
We stopped for lunch in a French-Asia restaurant Naratheinkha in New Bagan, which was delicious. For a snack we visited a tourist favorite coffee shop, DATE cafe, right around the corner from our hotel. For dinner we went to a Burmese restaurant Sanon, which trains and works with disadvantageous youth.