Actually you have no need to read this blog, travel in Myanmar is ridiculously easy these days. It is constantly adapting to the stream of tourists pouring in. Older blogs and information about travel here quickly becomes out of date. The super old rickety buses seem to have been replaced with more modern and sometimes luxurious buses. Not sure if the driving will ever improve but that’s all part of the fun right?
Visas are easy to obtain online for lots of countries, just fill out the form from here and then print off the sheet. Getting through border control was a breeze.
Cash V Card
ATMs are in all the major tourist towns, but they’re not 100% reliable as we and a lot of other tourists found out in Nyaungshwe. Cash is king here and you’re probably best to still have all, or a significant portion, your money in crisp US dollars (we found most places didn’t check the serial numbers but wouldn’t accept any notes that were bent) . You can get them changed easily at banks and some hotels will change them but normally at a really shitty rate (Euros and Singapore $ are also changed).
ATMs, when working, charge a US$5 fee. We withdrew Thai baht, got that changed to US$ and then got those changed to Myanmar kyat. Needless to say we lost out on a fair bit of cash!
Buses v trains v planes
The standard tourist route of Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle lake is fairly spread out and so some long journeys are inevitable. We ruled out flights due to cost and a fear of flying that would only have been aggravated by the poor safety record of a number of airlines operating in Myanmar. If we had the cash or are short on time then this is probably one of the best methods for whizzing around the country.
Busy train station:
We took one train between Yangon and Bagan. Previous bloggers had complained about it being the worst journey of their lives but we settled in, enjoyed some cold beers (2500 kyat) and actually managed to get some sleep. Yes it was bumpy (up and down and side to side) but the beds were pretty comfy and when the fan worked it actually wasn’t too hot*.
Countryside from the train:
Interesting track repairs:
The rest of our journeys have been on buses and have been a bit of a mixed bag. The bus from Bagan to Yangon (8500 kyat) took around 6 hours, it was pretty bouncy in places and was not air conditioned making for a pretty sweaty journey. On the plus side it picked us up and dropped us off directly to our hotel.
From Mandalay to Nyaungshwe for Inle lake we took a mini bus (13500 kyat) , this was air conditioned and it flew around the corners taking about 8 hours. This bus didn’t actually take us to Nyaungshwe as the travel agent told us but instead dumped us about 10km out of the town. We teamed up with the other backpackers and got a taxi for 2000 Kyat each.
Our final long distance journey was from Nyaungshwe to Yangon, this 10 hour bus journey was also the most expensive at 22000 kyat but it was also the most luxurious.
Definitely one of the reasons why Myanmar is not considered to be super cheap. We found Yangon to be a bit pricey but we stayed at the lovely Shannkalay hostel, where all the staff were super friendly and the beds were comfy. We normally booked our first night in advance, however we found that booking directly was significantly cheaper in some places (around 5-8 US$ per night). Apart from Bagan, where there was a pungent smell of sulphur in the room and a million mosquitoes, all of our accommodation was pretty nice. We averaged around US$23 per night, but like in most places you could probably get cheaper if you have the time to look for accommodation when you turn up.
Myanmar is a fascinating and friendly country, don’t be put off by older information about difficulties in travel. The whole main loop is set up for the lazy traveler. Unfortunately we were limited by time so couldn’t explore further but we will definitely be back.
*Disclaimer: after India my standards for trains is quite low.