From city to sea, Myanmar’s corner of Southeast Asia contains no shortage of experiences for curious travelers to enjoy. In urban areas, such as Yangon or Mandalay, the country’s historic Buddhist pagodas charm visitors with intricate architectural features, while packed street market stalls attract locals and travelers alike.
With much of the country’s southwest coast hugging the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea, life on the water is just as much a part of Myanmar’s culture as is life in the city. The Moken people have built a community on the waters of Mergui Archipelago, where they fish for meals, reside in boats or beach huts, and captivate a worldwide audience with their sea nomad lifestyle.
Though urban sites and coastal wonders tend to dominate most Myanmar travel itineraries, visitors should not overlook the in-between moments. The Burmese countryside possesses its own cultural experiences that allow travelers to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.
Just off the south coast of Myanmar, hundreds of tiny islands dot the Andaman Sea. With turquoise waters lapping against soft beaches and tropical birdsong humming from palm trees, the Mergui Archipelago is any traveler’s haven. Visitors will revel in the chance to stroll along beaches, spot marine wildlife playing amongst the reefs, and learn about local Moken culture.
A trip to the Mergui Archipelago is best experienced via boat. Tour companies usually shuttle travelers from island to island on multi-day sailing excursions and cruises. With meals, activities, and room to wander, travelers can enjoy a perfect blend of guided sightseeing and solo exploration.
Myanmar’s cities are home to gorgeous pagodas, historic sites, and bustling street scenes. Multi-day tours of the country’s urban hubs often include stops in Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. In Yangon, tours guide travelers through the packed stalls of Bogyoke Market or offer lessons in local history and culture via a visit to the National Museum of Myanmar.
On city excursions, it’s common for travelers to go pagoda hopping. Not to be missed is Mandalay’s Sandamuni Pagoda, whose distinctive design attracts visitors from all over the world. Further up the Irrawaddy River, the town of Bagan serves as the gateway to Old Bagan, where more historic temples and ancient sites have been preserved.
About six hours outside of Mandalay, Inle Lake offers a popular escape into Myanmar’s countryside. Accessible via the town of Nyaung Shwe, travelers will typically transfer to Ywama to base themselves along the lakeshore. From the floating market to the floating gardens, the village doesn’t shy away from aquatic living.
While the floating market attracts plenty of overnight visitors, taking a multi-day tour to Lake Inle reveals the site’s deeper wonders. Boat tours to remote shores with knowledgable local guides give travelers a chance to explore more remote villages and water-dwelling pagodas. Along the ride, you might spot an Intha fishermen demonstrating the local one-legged rowing technique. Other countryside tour offerings include multi-day trekking through the rural areas nearby Lake Inle or in Shan state.
Planning Your Trip
While it’s tempting to book a flight to Myanmar and let your wandering spirit determine your journey’s path, there are just a few more details that travelers should prepare in advance. Your overseas experience will be greatly influenced by time of year and other factors.
Best Time to Visit Myanmar
In tropical climates, such as that in Myanmar, the summer season yields uncomfortably high temperatures. For that reason, most travelers elect to visit Myanmar during the winter, from November through February, when the temperature will run about 15-20 degrees cooler.
To avoid high volumes of fellow travelers, the monsoon season is an alternative time to visit. From May to October, you can explore in cooler weather and wait in shorter queues. If you go this route, just be sure to invest in a waterproof suitcase and appropriate rain gear.
What to Look for in a Tour to Myanmar
For tours to Myanmar, the most fulfilling experiences will include a blend of activities that highlight the distinctive parts of Burmese life and culture. Too much of one thing can tire a traveler out, so devoting a trip solely to something like city excursions may leave leave you feeling exhausted -- and the trip incomplete.
Rent a bike to explore deeper in Myanmar’s countryside, go snorkeling with ocean critters in the Andaman Sea, and try mohinga, a traditional Burmese dish, in a Yangon restaurant. Find a tour that will embrace the country’s diverse activities and encourage participants to try every single one with curiosity and enthusiasm.
Typical Tour Cost
If you’re looking for a tour that has your itinerary covered from the moment your plane lands to when you take off for home, then most Myanmar expeditions will cost in the low thousands. For instance, you’ll pay around $1000-$2000 for a 10 to 14 day excursion. Keep in mind, tour fees usually don’t cover flights. Simple day tours that you independently organize in-country may be just $50-$100 per day.
Luckily though, for trips to Myanmar, extra expenses outside of tour costs will be greatly reduced. Compared to the United States, Myanmar’s average restaurant bills are over 50% lower. Since the overall cost of living is similarly reduced, meals out and souvenir purchases won’t drain your wallet.
Packing Tips & Gear Rental
For a trip to Myanmar, pack like it’s spring or summer, even if you’re traveling in the “winter.” Temperatures this time of year typically run in the 70s (Fahrenheit), but a pair of pants and warmer shirt will be nice to have on hand in case of a rogue chilly day. Other Myanmar essentials include bug bug repellent and sunscreen.
If you have some outdoor activities in your itinerary, it’s best to bring as much of your own gear as possible. Bike rentals are extremely popular in Myanmar, but there’s not much else on loan for travelers. Don’t forget your rain jacket, especially for travel in the monsoon season, and coat your sneakers or boots in some waterproofing spray before you depart.
Other Tips for Travel in Myanmar
A tourist visa is required for travel to Myanmar. Acquiring one online on Myanmar’s immigration site is a fairly simple process, and applicants can expect turnaround within three working days. While your visa will be good for 28 days, keep in mind it’s only good for a single entry. If you plan on hopping over to a nearby country and returning, you’ll need to get another $50 visa.
To visit some religious sites in Myanmar, you may need to wear attire that covers your knees and shoulders. In some cases, you may also need to remove your footwear for entry. As such, be sure to pack shoes that are easy to slip on and off.
Health & Safety
If you intend to travel to Myanmar, there are a couple of health considerations you’ll need to have sorted out in advance. Visitors should make sure they’ve received their vaccinations for Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Additionally, you may also need extra shots or medication depending on what’s in your itinerary.
Malaria pills or rabies shots are sometimes recommended for certain regions of the country. If Myanmar isn’t you’re only destination and you’ll be traveling from a nation with risk of yellow fever, proof of the relevant vaccination will be needed for entry.
With the lowest travel advisory issued by the U.S. Department of State, Myanmar should treat you well, as long as you don’t leave any bags unattended or reach out to pet a stray dog. However, Myanmar is unique in that specific areas are designated as containing higher threats to safety, even though the country as a whole is classified as safe to travel.
Conflicts in remote villages between military personnel and opposition forces yield potential hazards, like land mines. While it’s unlikely that tour companies will lead travelers to possibly dangerous areas, if you plan on doing some deeper exploration on your own, be mindful of Myanmar’s complicated political climate.