6 Tips for Backpacking Myanmar
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, is one of the least visited countries in Southeast Asia and for obvious reason. A few years ago, the question was "is it OK to visit whilst a military dictatorship is keeping the country’s democratically elected leader under house arrest?". More recently the question has been "Is it OK to visit in spite of the racially-fueled violence going on in the Rakhine State?". If you are going to visit, be prepared to form an opinion, or at least try to. You may very well get asked to justify your visit by indignant friends when you get back!
What’s travel in Myanmar like?
Incredible vast temple complexes, a rich and varied cuisine, a fascinating culture and wild landscapes add up to a place that oozes exoticism, making you understand why writers of the past have been so mesmerized with Burma.
If you are thinking of backpacking Myanmar, following tips will help you maximize your stay in this culturally rich nation with some of the most hospitable people you’re ever likely to encounter.
Although new hotels are popping up at an increasing rate, there is still a shortage of accommodation in the most popular destinations in Myanmar. Especially in high season (October to March), it’s a good idea to book well in advance to get the best options.
Earplugs or headphones are essential
Buses are faster and cheaper, but bear in mind that music videos or romantic films will be blared out at maximum volume from the on-board TV. While the other passengers may find it tremendously entertaining, you might feel differently; invest in some noise-cancelling headphones to keep your sanity.
Travel by boat
Buses may be the fastest mode of transport after flying, but boat routes conveniently connect some major destinations and allow tourists to travel in peace and see a slice of rural life on the riverbanks.
Internet becomes affordable
Since 2014, SIM cards have become much more affordable, and buying one means you can use 3G relatively cheaply. However, taking a guidebook with you is essential to make sure you’re never without accommodation and eating options, and you can find your way around without the internet.
ATMs are appearing in more cities and touristy areas, but you shouldn’t rely on being able to withdraw cash wherever you go, so bring plenty of US dollars. You can easily change dollars to kyat once you arrive. Food, drink and transport are paid for in kyat, while either currency can be used for more expensive services such as hotel rooms, treks and tours.
A dependable, easy and popular option is to go to food stalls serving an array of different meat which are grilled right in front of you. Yangon’s 19th Street and the night market in Nyaungshwe, by Inle Lake, both have plenty of fresh, appetizing choices.
The Burmese people are exceptionally welcoming, warm and friendly; don’t miss the opportunity to get to know your hosts while you are there.