I visited Myanmar for 2-3 months between July and September 2014 as I had secured an internship in Yangon in Real Estate Investment. While working and staying at the office's HQ in Sedona Hotel, I also had the opportunity to travel around Myanmar. The places I visited in Myanmar include Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Taunggyi (Shan State).
Some Tips before You Go...
Getting Around Yangon
The public transport networks are not developed yet. I got around Town via taxi. Taxi fare is inexpensive, and taxis are in abundance, especially in downtown area. However, it is also very common for taxi drivers to scam tourists because the taxis in Yangon do not use an electronic meter.
Notes: A typical trip from Sedona Hotel o Chinatown, Downtown (25-40min drive depending on traffic) would cost me 2,500- 5,000 kyatts. That's USD $ 2.50-$4. It shouldn't cost you more than 2,000-3,000 kyatts for a 10-min drive within the downtown area. Of course, these are just estimated costs. Without a taxi meter system, it really is very difficult to gauge how much a journey is supposed to cost.
Contrary to common thinking that Myanmar is a very dangerous place, I actually felt really safe throughout my trip in Myanmar. Like any place in the world, use common sense and avoid dodgy areas. Keep to the main downtown area in Yangon and try to walk in groups at night. My Burmese friends also advise me against taking taxis on my own as a solo female traveller, especially at night.
Best Time to Go?
Myanmar has 3 main seasons:
1) Cold (October/ November-February)
2) Hot (Feb/ March-May)
3) Rainy (May/ June-September)
The peak season for tourists to visit Myanmar is during the Cold Season. The weather during this time is cooling and comfortable (20+ degrees celsius). However, this comes with the trade-off of meeting plenty of other tourists there,.
I visited Myanmar during the rainy season. Even though it was raining most of the time in Yangon (I'm talking about heavy downpour for 3-6 consecutive days), I still had a good time. Some places in Myanmar, like Bagan in Mandalay, are naturally drier, and do not experience as much rainfall. In fact, during my time in Bagan it was sunny and cloudy. Of course, the weather varies year to year.
One word of advice from my Burmese friends though, is that they do not recommend travel in Myanmar during the hot season as it gets unbearably hot and humid.
Most nationalities would require a visa to enter Myanmar. Check with your local embassy.
To my Singaporean friends, YES you have to apply for a visa too.
Burmese is the local main language. Most people living in Yangon (and especially those in the tourism industry) will be able to speak very basic English. As you go further out from the city centre or go to the smaller villages, most people there would not be able to speak or understand English.
Do learn the basics such as:
Mingalabar - Burmese Greeting for “hello”/ which literally means something like “ wishing you auspiciousness”
Kyay-zu Tin Par Tel - Thank you; Pronounced “Je-zu din bar de”
Yar Bar De – As you like; their way of saying “OK” or “Go ahead”
Nay Kaung La – How are you?
Twae Ya Dar Wan Da Bar De – Nice to meet you
Culture and Dressing
Although Myanmar (and especially Yangon) is more liberal now in terms of dressing, it is still more respectful to dress conservatively in this predominantly Buddhist country.
Please note that all Pagodas in Myanmar observe a strict dress code: no spaghetti tops, no shorts, no short skirts, no berms.
Some pagodas might provide Longyis (Burmese wrap-around skirts) for you if you do not arrive in the appropriate dresscode. Others might require you to purchase longyis from a local stall before you will be allowed to enter. They are not expensive.
People there are generally honest, but beware of scams, especially in touristy areas and with sneaky taxi drivers.
FYI my millenials, 3G and Wi-fi connection is pretty slow throughout the country
This happens very frequently in Myanmar towns and cities, and especially when it rains.
Domestic Travel: Overnight bus, train or flight?
This is obviously the fastest way of getting around Myanmar. However, tickets are very expensive and can start from 100-200 USD for a one-way ticket.
My Burmese friends strongly advise against this mode of transport, saying that it is extremely unreliable and inefficient. They always joke how your 'overnight' train might turn into a 2-day train ride!
This is the slowest, but cheapest mode of transport.
I highly recommend JJ Express (bus service provider) for all your domestic travel. All my journeys with JJ express were really enjoyable, afforable, and comfortable. I have taken some other bus rides with other service providers in Myanmar... and trust me when I say... IT WAS TRAUMATISING.
JJ Express is a sort of affordable semi-luxury coach providing journeys between all major towns and cities in Myanmar for both locals and tourists. Expect reclinable seats, footrests, TV screen in front of each seat, and (proper) highway stops with restaurants and clean toilet facilities.
Most domestic bus journeys depart from Yangon at Au Mingalar Bus Terminal, which is about an hour's drive away from Yangon City Centre. You can get there via taxi, where you can expect to pay a taxi fare between 5,000 (local price)-12,000 kyatts (depending on how well you can haggle).
In terms of timing, overnight buses to Bagan/ Inle Lake/ Mandalay etc are 9-hour long overnight buses which depart from Yangon at 6/7pm.
More details here, including making a booking and bus schedule.
Have fun in Myanmar! x