Backpacking Myanmar is becoming more and more popular recently since the country is still considered to be less developed and thus “more real” than the well-known travel destinations in Southeast Asia such as Thailand and Vietnam. Although Myanmar is currently (as of 2019) certainly not completely untouched and non-touristic anymore, Myanmar is clearly different from the other countries of Southeast Asia. That’s why I definitely recommend a Myanmar backpacking trip!
In the following I will tell you more about the best Myanmar attractions and places to visit. Further, I will give you more tips, information and reasons for a backpacking Myanmar trip!
Myanmar Backpacking Tips: Everything you need to know!
Here I give you first some general information and travel tips for Myanmar, so that nothing can go wrong with your backpacking adventure!
Myanmar Safety: Is backpacking in Myanmar safe?
Unfortunately, Myanmar is currently in the media not exactly because of positive news. The Rohingya conflict overshadows the reporting on Myanmar and the number of visitors is currently suffering significantly from the crisis. Personally, I separate my travels strictly from politics (otherwise I would have probably skipped many countries in recent years) and just want to say so much that the conflict is very complicated and complex. However, you should know that the Rohingya Crisis as a tourist will not influence your trip. During my backpackig Myanmar trip, I have not once heard anything on the subject (and of course I didn’t bring it up either). The area where the Rohingya live or flee is located far to the west of the country and away from all the tourist destinations and attractions in Myanmar, such as Bagan or Inle Lake. Accordingly, the conflict will probably not affect your trip. It should also be said that I felt very safe during backpacking in Myanmar, by day and at night. The locals are very friendly and helpful and I know of no cases of theft or robbery. Of course, as always you should take care of your valuables, but in my experience I would describe Myanmar as a very safe travel destination. Keep in mind, however, that apart from the typical tourist trails, there are still some problems with the many different tribes and ethnic groups, which can lead to conflicts in (remote) parts of the country. These are however far away from any tourists.
Budget Myanmar: How expensive is Myanmar backpacking?
Myanmar is generally considered a cheap travel destination, but your budget for Myanmar should be slightly higher than for Thailand or Vietnam. Depending on your standard, I would probably roughly expect 30-40 € per day. Since many accommodations rent double rooms, you can certainly save some money if you are not traveling alone. Besides, there are hostels with dormitories in many places.
Here I would like to briefly show you an overview of the typical costs of a Myanmar Backpacking trip:
• Food: approx. 2-6 € (depending on the restaurant)
• Entrance archaeological zone Bagan: approx. € 14
• entrance fee for many temples and sights: about 3-5 €
• overnight stay in a guest house (double room): from about 18 €
• local bus trip Mandalay – Bagan: about 5 €
• a good night bus (JJ Express VIP): approx. 20 €
• Large bottle of beer: approx. 1.50 €
How’s the local food?
I didn’t know anything about typical food in Myanmar before visiting, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the Burmese cuisine! In most restaurants you will usually find a selection of Burmese, Thai and Chinese dishes.
These dishes are probably the most famous ones in Myanmar:
• Tea Leaf Salad: A very good, often spicy salad
• Try Myanmar Curry: In contrast to the Thai curries rather sour, often with onions and no coconut
• Shan Noodles: Tasty, thick rice noodles in broth with meat of your choice
Generally, the Burmese cuisine is not so easy to describe and different influences of South Asia (Sri Lanka, India) are clearly visible. I certainly enjoyed it!
How’s the transport around Myanmar?
The public transport network in Myanmar is already well developed and you should not have any problems getting around Myanmar. Here are the different options:
• Bus: The best way to move around in Myanmar is by bus. Here you have the choice between cheap minibuses and more luxurious long-distance buses. For short distance (for example, Mandalay to Bagan) there are only minibuses where you are crammed with little space. Those are cheap (about 5 €), but incredibly uncomfortable. Fortunately, the ride takes only 5 hours.
For longer distances I suggest using the JJ Express VIP bus. This is the best bus company in the country. Here you pay a few Euros more, but you will have comfortable seats that you can lean back far and even get snacks and drinks on the ride. Therefore, these buses are also good as night buses. The problem with the night buses is that you often arrive very early in the morning (around 5 o’clock) at the destination and then, of course, there’s nowhere to go and everything is closed. Here I would possibly ask at your hotel, if you can check in early. At the end I took the night bus for the leg Bagan – Inle See, but I did Inle Lake to Mandalay during the day. Everything has its advantages and disadvantages. Bus tickets can be booked through your hotel (best 1-2 days in advance), in advance at the bus station or online. I have used myanmarbusticket.com which worked well for me.
How do I get to Myanmar?
Unfortunately, from Europe it is not very practical to fly directly to Myanmar, as there are no real air connections here. The exception here is (for whatever reason) Milan – from there you can actually fly to Myanmar. However, most tourists will probably first fly to a major airport in Southeast Asia (such as Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Singapore) and book a flight to Myanmar (Yangon or Mandalay) from there. While the land border with Thailand was closed a few years ago, you can now also travel overland. However, I do not know many people who did that.
How are the locals in Myanmar?
The best in Myanmar are probably not the temples, pagodas and nature. It’s the locals! I found the Burmese incredibly friendly and open. While in more touristic countries in Southeast Asia, the locals unfortunately often try to scam tourists, I had (almost) no negative experiences in Myanmar. In fact, I was often surprised at how little I had to bargain and how honest the Burmese were when I asked for prices. Also, I found the locals to be very helpful and really happy that their country has finally opened up to the world.
Where do I sleep in Myanmar?
By now there are a lot of good and modern accommodations in every price range in Myanmar. While there are of course luxury hotels and resorts in the tourist centers, you will find very good and nice guesthouses for only $ 20 for two people. There are also more and more hostels in Myanmar that are especially suitable for solo backpackers. Although you do not have such a big hostel network here as in Thailand, you will find dormitories in every tourist destination in Myanmar. In general, I was really positively surprised by the standard of accommodation.
How do I get internet in Myanmar?
Good news! In Myanmar, a lot has happened in the last few years and internet coverage is now really good in the country. In every hotel and restaurant, I had good and fast Wi-Fi. However, I would recommend you to buy a sim card directly at the airport. There are different providers (I first had Telenor, then Mytel) and for just a few Euros you get several gigabytes of data. Like this, I had fast functioning 4G Internet almost everywhere.
How do I get the Myanmar visa?
You need a visa for your backpacking Myanmar trip. You need to apply for it in advance online and it costs a fee of $ 50. After a few days, your visa will be sent to you by e-mail. You have to print this and show it at immigration. This allows you to stay in Myanmar for one month.
Note: While this is the case for many nationalities, in the end, I can only speak for myself (German passport) and you should do some proper research regarding the visa situation for your home country.
How do I organize activities and tickets?
As always in Southeast Asia, I would not book any tours or activities online as the price here is usually a lot higher. In general, in Myanmar, you can conveniently organize and book a lot at your respective guesthouse or hotel, which worked well for me. I would probably buy bus tickets about 1-2 days in advance online or via the hotel.
How’s the culture? How’s the buddhism?
I have been to several Buddhist countries already. But nowhere has Buddhism been practiced as strongly as in Myanmar and the people here are very religious. Everywhere there are countless temples and pagodas, you regularly see monks on the street and while in other Buddhist countries (i.e. in South Korea or Japan) the focus of religion is more on personal enlightenment, in Myanmar, Buddha is actively worshiped, as you can recognize easily. In addition, people are also quite superstitious. As a tourist, it is important to respect the religion and faith. For example, you should only enter temples with covered shoulders and longer trousers (which cover the knees). I always had a sarong that I could wrap around my waist.
How’s the nightlife in Myanmar? Can I go partying?
Here you will probably be a bit disappointed. Unlike other countries in the region which are famous for their nightlife (such as Thailand or Vietnam), you will have very little chance to go partying in Myanmar. While in Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake the streets are empty after dark, there are some bars and nightlife in Yangon, especially in Chinatown (on the 19th Street). Although you can find beer everywhere in Myanmar, you should rather go to Bangkok or Hanoi if partying is your priority.
How long should I got backpacking in Myanmar?
Of course that depends entirely on you. The tourist visa for Myanmar is valid for one month and during this month you have ample time to travel around Myanmar. In general, I would say that you should spend at least 10-14 days to see the main attractions of Myanmar (this includes Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake and of course Bagan). If you want to see more than the typical travel destinations, you should plan about 3 weeks.
Best Places to Visit when Backpacking Myanmar
After all the travel tips and information about backpacking around Myanmar, I want to tell you more about the best places and attractions to visit on your trip. You will see that there is a lot to discover here in the country and you certainly will not get bored.
Backpacking Yangon, Myanmar
Yangon (formerly Rangoon) is the largest city in the country. Your Myanmar backpacking tour will probably start in either Yangon or Mandalay. While Yangon is a typical Asian city with lots of traffic, noise and people, I really enjoyed the city. Yangon has some of Myanmar’s coolest sights to visit, and it’s fun to walk the narrow, lane streets and watch the locals in their daily lives. Most of the hostels and accommodations are located in Chinatown. Here you also have a cool location for dining, sightseeing and bars. Do not miss the famous Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. This is incredibly impressive, huge and not for nothing one of the best Myanmar attractions. You get a good impression of the everyday life of the locals by setting yourself in the Circular Train that slowly drives through Yangon and the surrounding area. In about three hours you can see the real life rush past you here. Generally, I would recommend you to spend about two days in Yangon.
Visiting the temples of Bagan
The archaeological area around Bagan is definitely the most famous sight in Myanmar. Here you will find over 2000 temples, pagodas and ruins and it is a lot of fun to explore and discover them. Essentially, Bagan can be described as one single huge attraction! Take at least 2-3 days to explore Bagan. Read more about the best places to stay in Bagan here!
Backpacking Inle Lake, Myanmar
Inle Lake is one of Myanmar’s most popular places to visit for backpackers. The reason for this are the fishermen who acrobatically balance on the boats and thus make a great photo opportunity, which is famous throughout the world. However, there are other attractions to discover as well! The best way to explore the lake is by boat. Depending on your negotiating skills, for 8-15 € per day you can rent a small motorboat with a private driver, which takes you to the sights and attractions around the lake.
However, a word of caution: Unfortunately, Inle Lake degenerates more and more to the typical tourist trap. Normally your driver will take you to countless shops where you first have a short tour (for example, in a weaving factory, a silversmith’s shop, a tobacco factory) and of course you have the opportunity to go shopping extensively. There are some really cool places to see on Inle Lake, such as the Floating Villages and Markets and the Indei Stupas. However, since your driver gets a commission for your purchases, he will probably prioritize the shops rather than the sights.
I recommend you to make it clear at the beginning what interests you and what you want to see and what not. I have had a very negative experience here, as my driver simply refused to drive me to many interesting spots and I had to discuss extensively. Other travelers were luckier than me. But be careful and clear on what you want to see.
For a boat trip around the lake you need a full day. If you have a second day on Inle Lake, rent bikes and explore the area.
Exploring Mandalay and surroundings (Mingun)
The old royal city of Mandalay, like Yangon, has an international airport and chances are you will sooner or later be in Mandalay on your Myanmar backpacking itinerary. Personally, I was not the biggest fan of Mandalay. I somehow missed life here. The city is very much under construction and it’s hard to get around on foot, I’ve had trouble finding restaurants on the street in some parts of the city, and after dark the streets are empty and you can not find any shops open after 9pm. Nevertheless, a (short) visit to Mandalay is well worth it as there are some cool things to see. In the center of the city you will find the (replica of the) Mandalay Palace. Northeast of it are located a variety of temples, pagodas and other attractions, such as the Kuthodaw Pagoda and the Kyauktawgyi Paya Temple. Here you are also right next to the Mandalay Hill, which you can climb on foot at sunset for the nice view on the temple on top of it. Very nice (but now also very crowded) is a visit to the long U-Bein bridge in the south of the city for the sunset or sunrise.
I also recommend that you take a boat for half a day to Mingun on the other side of the river. Here you will find the great Hsinbyume Pagoda as well as several other temples and the famous Mingun Bell.
I would not plan much time in Mandalay. In 1-2 days you have seen the sights here.
More places to visit and see when backpacking around Myanmar
The above destinations are probably the most famous places for a Myanmar backpacking itinerary. However, there are many other attractions to discover in the country! If you like hiking, you can go on a multi-day hike from Kalaw to Inle Lake. Here you pass through great nature and other travelers were thrilled about it. From Yangon, you can also visit the famous Golden Rock. If you like to hike, you should not miss Hspiaw. If you have enough of the sights in Myanmar and would like to have some beach vacation on your backpacking tour, I recommend the Ngapali beach. You will not get bored in Myanmar that fast!
Conclusion about Backpacking Myanmar
I hope I could give you an overview of the attractions and destinations in Myanmar as well as the important travel tips. As you can see, there is a lot to see and to discover. I hope that you enjoy your Myanmar backpacking trip and I wish you lots of fun!