How to go to Myanmar ?

 

You will find here most of the practical information you need to prepare your trip :

   

Getting there & away ?

Air :

The only way to legally visit Myanmar is to fly to Yangon or Mandalay. The cheapest flight from Bangkok to Yangon is with Bengladesh Airlines (US$120 return) but they operate only on Sunday. There is a departure tax of US$10, also payable in FEC.

Land :

Land crossing is allowed at three places in Thailand but only for a limited time or up to a certain point only. They are therefore more a convenient way to renew your Thai visa than to explore Myanmar :

  • Mae Sai opposite Tachilek : It is now possible to spend up to two weeks in Burma, but in theory up to Kyaingtong only. The road from Kyaingtong to Taunggyi is reported too dangerous to be open to foreigners. Some travelers with a valid Chinese visa have made it up to China but it is not yet a recommended route. The limited trip cost US$18 and, in addition, you must change $100 into FEC. To spend the day in Myanmar cost US$5 or B250. See the locality for more details

  • Mae Sot opposite Myawaddy : day trip only. US$10 or B500. See the locality for more details

  • The three pagoda pass between Sangkhlaburi and Payathonzu : day trip only

It was also reported possible to enter Myanmar from China via the town of Ruili.  This wonder however would need to be arranged with a Chinese travel agent from Kunming and it may cost around US$100.  The 4 weeks visa can be obtained in Kunming for 85Y. One day pass to the town of Mu-se is apparently also available. 

 

Visa ?

The best place to get the compulsory 28 days Visa is the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok (in the south of town at 132 Sathorn Nua Rd). Open Mond to Frid 8:30 to 11:30 and 14 to 16:30. You usually have the visa ready in the afternoon by 15:30. It cost B800 + 3 ID photo for the basic tourist visa to use within a month from the date of issue. See Thailand's Travel Tips for more details. 

Visa extension ?

Difficult to get a reliable answer for this sensitive question : how long can you stay after your visa has expired ? 
- Travelers on the road : "We have been told by MTT we could stay as long as we want. You just have to pay $3 when leaving at the airport"
- In Mandalay's MTT : "It is no problem to stay up to one week more : just stay up to one week more. Before leaving, you will be charged $3 per day. If you wish to stay longer, you will have to apply in Yangon and there only. You should be able to get a 2 weeks extension for $45 minimum."
- In Yangon's MTT : "It should be no problem to overstay your visa by one month. Maybe longer but we do not know how long. You will be charged $3 per day. You could also apply for a two weeks' extension which cost $36 plus $2 for MTT's recommendation letter plus 2 photos"
- At Yangon's Immigration Office : "Two weeks overstay are no problem. After, you will need good reason. After 90 days, it will cost $5 per day". 
- And finally at the airport : "As long as you wish. If you overstay less than 30 days : simply pay $3 per day and give an ID photo for the "Departure Form". If you overstay more than 30 days, the cost will be the same plus an additional $3 and a photo for the "Overstay Form". All this is to be done before departure at the airport.

So, to summarize, overstaying is a big issue but a little problem after all.  Just sort everything out before leaving at the airport's immigration office and expect to pay US$3 par day. Applying for the 2 weeks' extension would be $4 cheaper but it will take at least 2 days and you need 3 copies of your passport number & name, 3 copies of the visa page, 1 copy of the FEC voucher, a document from the hotel or guesthouse and finally 2 photos. Not really worth the fuss is it ?

If you plan to overstay more than two weeks, it would be a good idea to check out the latest requirements & costs at the airport office upon arrival. Only them seem to know what is going on...

Backpacker's Tips :  Seb, France (July 05)
Better just overstay your visa. less headache than the official way. 3 dollars by day up to 90 days, add 2 dollars for the form. 

Backpacker's Tips :  Lalita H., Thai (July 05)
The best way to go to the embassy of Myanmar in bangkok is to get off the sky train from Surasak station and walk down to Chongnonsi station. On the way to the Surasak station, on your right hand side, notice the Myanmar flagpost. The regular visa fee is 810 baht (app. $20) but you'll have to add 440 baht if you want it within 12 hours. My warning is do not go to the embassy late if you really want the visa in one day. You should arrive at the embassy at 8.30 am. And you have to understand that you have to wait in a very long queue for you visa application to be processed. Also, you only need 2' photos. The applicationform can be downloaded at http://www.myanmarvisa.com/downloadform.htm  The form here and at the embassy are likewise, so just fill it up and attach your photo. Another photo will have to be attached to another immigration document that is not provided in the download page. The embassy phone number is 02-233-2237 , 02-234-4789  


 

When to visit ?

The rainy season which last from Mid-May to October is to be avoided : June to September receives more than 400mm of rain with peaks in July at nearly 600mm.  This means it can rain all day long...

From the humidity point of view, the Water Splashing Festival (Burmese New Year) which occurs in April isn't too good either to visit the country.  It can be fun for a while but transports are crowded with local people before and after and cancelled during (at least the bus).  

December to February are the best months from the weather point of view but it is crowded. 

I would therefore recommend the hot season from March to May (most of the GH have air conditioning) or just after the rainy season. 

    Weather in Myanmar



How long ?

The 28 days of the visa gives enough time for a good tour. Considering the need to fly there and the US$200 (down from $300) exchange requirement, less time would be somehow a waste of money. At $3 the extra day, it may be worth extending a bit your stay if you fall in love with one place...

 

Money ?

Myanmar's currency is the Kyat but the government has designed a monopoly currency to control the flow of the traveler's dollars better : the FEC, Foreign Exchange Certificates. One FEC is worth one dollar. You can pay the guesthouses, the government transports and some shopping with them. They are also accepted by money changers like regular US$ notes, although the exchange rate is slightly (and slightly only) lower. See the Banknotes

As for the Kyat exchange rate,  you have the choice between the official rate at around K6 per dollar or the unofficial rate at around K350 per dollar. Difficult choice ? Shall you wish to finance the regime, you will have to find a bank which will take you seriously. Most will advise you to see money changers.  

From time to time, the government decides to punish a few money changers for the example. The unofficial rate becomes then slightly less attractive (maybe around K330 per dollar) and the touts becomes more discreet for a while. But the official rates remains fortunately off access. Indeed, even the government seem to understand that a bottle of water worth US$8 would scare tourists away...

Credit cards are now accepted in some upmarket establishments but at a fee of 6% per transaction. Traveler Cheques can be converted in the foreign exchange banks against a 2% commission. Both methods can be used to get your compulsory FEC. 

Backpacker's Tips : Michael Auburger, Germany (Dec 06)
Black market exchange rate for Euro in Yangon and Bagan: 1600 Kyat per Euro (1 note - 50 Euros) - October 2006
Black market exchange rate for Dollar in Yangon : 1300 Kyat per Dollar (small notes - 5,10,20 $) - October 2006
Credit cards are not accepted. There are no ATMs. Euro was more welcome than Dollar at every exchange.
Notes have to look new. Folded notes were no problem (money belt !). However remember: no torn notes !

Backpacker's Tips : Lai Nam Khim, Singapore (Dec 04)
Avoid changing money with the touts near Sule Paya. Don't be tempted by the high rates they quote. They will short change you through other means. I was trying to change K10,000. First they gave me 10 K500 notes! When I pointed out that it was K500 notes and not K1000, they unappolegetically said they will get some more money. They have this way of folding the money which makes it difficult to count. I insisted on counting the money myself. During the process, they tried to slipped away a few notes. All along they apply pressure tatics to hurry me and said that government officers are coming. My advice is to change in the hotels. Hotels are unlikely to cheat you because you are staying there. Further, you can take your time to count the notes.
Warning about people who have US $100 notes with serial numbers starting with CB. These are not accepted in most places because there have been counterfeit notes floating around starting with CB. Only some places in Yangon would accept it for a less favourable exchange rate. I only finally managed to get it used to pay entrance fee at Shwedagon Pagoda. Similarly, don't accept $100 notes starting with CB in Myanmar. They might be counterfeit.

Backpacker's Tips : Vivian Leeman, Belgium (May 04)
The comment on the mandatory exchange of 200$ for FEC is no longer up to date. As of September 2003 this requirement has been dropped by the Myanmar government. On the flip coin, currently you can not use VISA, AMEX etc ... anywhere. The above two rules seem to change every so often.

Backpacker's Tips : Franck Bertagnolio, France (May 02)
The exchange rate in Yangon on mid-may 2002 was approx. 750 Kyats for 1 US$ (after a fever burst of 900 Kyats during the few weeks before the Lady was set free. Don't ask me why! It was not even mentioned in the newspaper and the BBC was jammed the following day...). Inflation is going fast and all prices in Kyats given in your website have to be double roughly speaking. Prices in US$ are still relevant.

 

How much ?

Once there, Myanmar is one of the cheapest country to visit in Asia. But you need to fly there and there are a few conditions to respect in order to enjoy the excellent quality / cost ratio :

- You do not exchange $200 for one week stay
- You select the sights worth your dollars and find back-way entrances to a few others 
- You avoid the government's expensive boats or trains 
- You visit during the low season

Without beer ($1) and eating often at food stalls or local restaurants, count on less than $2 per day on food. Good accommodations in low season vary from $2 to $5, including breakfast. Entrance fees cost from $2 (museum) to $10 (Bagan) with averages at $4 but it is possible to skip quite a few... As for transport, count on $4 to $6 for a typical night on a bus but $16 plus for boat or upper class trains...

Altogether, traveling sober but comfortably for one month, I spent in LS an average of $7 per day. Add $2 more per day to play safe in HS.

But it could very well become more expensive in the future : if the government decide for example to prioritize tourism over backpacking or if the economy gets out of control...

See Passplanet's Cost Table for more details.

See also how to avoid spending too much on the regime in Travel Tips


Health ?

There are some health hazard in Myanmar but it is basically a safe country to visit if you follow your common sense regarding food (avoid uncooked anything) and water (limit your consumption to boiled or bottled water)

Malaria do exist and some travelers were  recommended a prophylaxis treatment. The problem however is usually limited to rural areas off access to foreigners, in particular the extreme North. Personally, I would not take anything and certainly no Larium. But then, it is me...

Dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis may also happen but the risk is limited. 

    Latest Health Recommendations

 

Danger & Annoyances ?

There is little danger traveling in Myanmar if you stick to the open area and do not carry a billboard inviting to throw the government out. There are however quite a few annoyances :

The military's regime, obviously ! But we do not wish to deal too much with politics at Passplanet : it is always too easy to criticize from the outside and the government already has plenty of critics at home anyway. See travel tips on how to avoid financing the junta. 

Having to pay big hard currency bucks for attractions, most of it going straight to the government's coffer. But here again : who pays for the restoration of the monuments, the roads, schools or hospitals ?

The cost for government transports (boat & trains) plus the fact that you are not always allowed to travel on private buses. 

The price difference with local people. The train is for example about 10 times more expensive on ordinary class. This however should guarantee you a seat while locals may have to stand up... As for private pick-up or short distance buses, price is usually twice as much but some will try to get more. In Yangon's zoo, it cost $5 for foreigners but K25 for local people. This is 67 times higher ! The difference is actually even larger with temples as it is free for the local people (it is true that they are the one who fill up the numerous donation boxes)

The overnight prices change. Shall the government decide to change the rules, a festival approach or the oil becomes more expensive and traveling will becomes more pricey overnight . At the time of writing, it was real cheap to visit Myanmar. But what will happen after the end of April, when all government workers will have their ridiculous monthly salary multiplied by 5 up to $25 ? The government will certainly increase the price of the oil to finance its measure and this could lead to dangerous inflation...

The exchange rate fluctuations. The constant change of exchange rate is often too fast for the touts to keep track of : you are quoted a price which sounds good in the street, follow the guy and learn 20mn later that, sorry, the rate has changed again. Off course it is always down... Shopping for money changers is always safer than being targeted by one. 

The difficulty to prepare an itinerary in advance (at least outside the tourist triangle) as the travel allowances change with the wind : areas, roads or buses may or may not accept you. This was for example the case with Pathein at the time of visiting : the area was open but buses were not accepting foreigners. The only way to go was the expensive government boat...

The numerous passport / ID check up on some roads. From Thandwe to Pyai, we were for example controlled 4 times, including at 3am ! And on the way to Mawlamyine, the wake up control was at 4:30...

The thickness of your belt after conversion of some of your FEC into Kyat. Indeed, you need FEC only to pay for hotel rooms & government transport.

The guesthouses with an English name but not the license to welcome you. In some places, like Thandwe, there is simply no place for you to stay : you are directed toward more expensive Ngapali !

The administrative procedures to buy a train or boat ticket, check in a GH or do any other official stuff. It really help you memorize your passport number however...

The inflexible bus prices if you stop on the way. From Pa-an for example, it cost the same (K600) to go to Kyaiktyo (3 hours) or to Yangon (12 hours) 

The Betel chewing & spitting local people (men & women). The color of their teeth is definitively their problem but the color of your shoes if they spit too close... When not chewing, the men smoke... Even some statues smoke ! The noise before spitting isn't too nice either but it is a good warning. 

The megaphone prayers and usual wake up at 4am.

Not being able to ride motorcycle as a tourist. This indeed would allow you too much freedom. But in some places like Pyai, you are also not allowed to use bicycles. This would indeed prevent you to spend money on local transports...

Having local people test your pilosity or come real close (and not only in local transport). If you can not stand physical contacts, hire bodyguards and stay home !

The "yes yes" people who answer you but have not a clue of what you are talking about. The same happen with some local who approach you offering their help but forgot that their English is very poor. Anyway, as a whole, you will always find help from an English speaking friendly guy. 

If a girl, not being allowed to some parts of temples.

The general incompetence of the officials : difficult to get reliable information in Myanmar ! The good side of this is that it gives you a golden argument toward flexibility : "But MTT told me it was allowed" is a claim that should be accepted by everyone. The bad side of this is that it often takes months for a new authorization issued by Yangon to reach the concerned area : roads might still be closed by the local landlord well after the official opening...

The internet ban : it is impossible to have access to the net while traveling in Myanmar (you can send e-mail in a few places) so tell your friends that you are going to another planet for a while (not such an unpleasant change actually). How long will this radical ban last ? Local people have access to CNN or TV5 (French) via the satellite, can get numerous western papers and are (for what I have experienced) quite free to discuss politics with westerners so one might wonder what is the point ? Well, probably to avoid a huge discussion between politically mature locals on what is going on in their country. As it is the case with the universities (some re-opened in July 2000) , the government is apparently scared of any means which would allowed lots of educated people to meet and discuss freely. Of course, some people working for the government have access to the net : they actively promote the country as a tourist destination and often insult any article which is not 100% propaganda... 

Not reading Myanmar's alphabet, which also includes numbers. 

The danger of riding a bus with the wheel on the right side even so the circulation is also on the right side...

 

Backpacker's Tips :  Tina Nuding, Germany (May 05)
Checking your e-mail account in Myanmar is only a problem if you are on hotmail, yahoo or gmx. Just find a place with internet acess and get yourself an new adress at a not government blocked site. I got an adress at "lissamail", sending and receiving e-mails wasn't a problem like that. 


Notwithstanding the above, let's remind you that 98% of the backpackers we asked said they liked Myanmar, that 88% would happily come back and that 100% would recommend it around ! See Why Go for more details...

 


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