We spent 3 amazing weeks in Myanmar. It is such a unique country in Southeast Asia. We loved it so much we want to make sure you have all the information you need before heading in. That is why we created the below list of things to know before you go to Myanmar.
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One of the things to know before you go to Myanmar is country history. Before you head to Myanmar, we highly suggest to understand what has occurred in the country and the ups and downs it’s gone through.
A great documentary that depicts Myanmar’s past is “Burma VJ: Reporting from a Closed Country.” Having background on a countries past makes you appreciate or understand its current state.
Also, stay up-to-date on current events. When we were in Myanmar (Feb 2017), there was fighting going on in the north and south and that fighting inhibited travel in those areas for tourists. Myanmar is not a country that wants attention due to the current issues at hand, so the country tends to fall under the media’s radar.
1) ATMs / Money Changers
There are ATMs in popular tourist areas but they’re not as readily available as you may think. You may have to go on a hike to find one, but they are available.
When changing money or getting money from a changer, DO NOT, we repeat, DO NOT ask for small bills. You will get a stack of money a foot high. Work with 5,000 or 10,000 notes and get change from those bills as you go. Current Conversion to USD is $1 to 1350 Kyat
2) Cash vs Credit or Debit Cards
Cash is king! We had a near impossible time using our debit card at local shops, eateries and homestays. Granted, these were local places run by families so you may have better luck if you are staying in larger, chain hotels.
3) SIM Card & Wifi
Get a SIM card for your phone and download maps.me – a life saver when the wifi isn’t working. Wifi is available but SO SO SO SLOW and at times completely unreliable.
Myanmar is huge. Like look at it – it’s massive! So getting to and from places via overland travel takes time.
When planning your visit, you should allocate a full day for travel to move from city to city OR if you do not mind sleeping on a bus or train take one of these overnight options to save time. Things move slowly here and in some instances (our train ride to Bagan for example) takes hours longer than you are told.
5) Everyday Encounters
Men wear skirts and it’s fantastic. Join in and purchase a Longyi and you’ll be a hit and asked to get many, many pictures with the locals.
If you’re a smoker and constantly are looking for a lighter, Myanmar is your new best friend. In almost every restaurant, from the support beams are lighters tied to strings for anyone to use.
Like water in the states, tea is free and is on every table. So enjoy a cup with every meal.
Stereos & Singing
The Burmese are trying to bring back the 90’s trend of walking around with a large stereo blaring music. But instead of stereo’s, they use their smartphones. Prepare yourself to hear Burmese music streaming from phones in restaurants, on bus rides or just walking the street and hear Burmese music streaming from phones.
These people love to sing. And we’re not talking softly under your breath singing. We’re talking top of your lungs, from the bottom of our toes belting out songs, singing. It’s a for sure way to put a smile on your face and at the off chance, you know the tune, for sure, join in!
The red stains you see on the sidewalks and in people’s mouths, that’s from the Betel Nut. America has chewing tobacco. Burmese has Betel Nuts.
You’ll see men chomping away and spitting red laced loogies into the street. Yum. The betel nut is wrapped in betel leaves and stuck together with lye and laced with spices. For about 50 kyat (about 4 cents), you can stuff your pockets full. Fair warning, it’s awful and apparently addicting.
It may look like weird face paint to you but it’s an everyday “face lotion” for the locals. Tanaka is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark and water. For the woman, it’s a beauty statement.
For both men and woman, it’s used as a moisturizer as well as sunscreen.
STOP, don’t backhand the man! The smoochy sound you’re hearing is just the way the Burmese get each other’s attention. Think of it as when you do a head nod to a waiter to signal you need them – that’s what the kissy sound in Burmese means.
English Premier League
The Burmese go bonkers for it! Restaurants all have TVs that play every game and they’re packed with Burmese and tourist glued to the screen.
Be on high alert when walking home at night. Rats come out of the sidewalk holes and crevices and they. are. massive!
Anything you do in sneakers, the Burmese can do better in flip flops. For instance: jogging, laying concrete, breaking rocks and construction work…just to name a few
Everything and we mean everything closes at midnight – on the dot. The Burmese start trying to shovel you out of restaurants or bars starting at 11:30 pm so just beware that late night, nightlife is not an option here.
Hello, where you from? Maybe later?
“Hello, where you from” is the Burmese conversation starter and their way to say hello. It also usually means you’re about to get sold something.
“Maybe later?” For the love of your sanity, never under no circumstances agree to maybe later. Ha, they will remember your face and that you said “maybe later” to buy something from them and they will hunt you down and make you feel like an awful human being for promising them a purchase.
6) You Can’t Go Just Anywhere
This country still has areas that require you to have permits to enter. Also, there are areas that are just straight out of the question that you will not be able to get to.
If you’re looking to get off the beaten path in Myanmar, make sure the area you want to go to is approved for tourists.
7) Avoid Hotels
Stay at Guest Houses and Hostels instead. Hotels are expensive and tend to be more “government controlled” than they should. Meaning, more money goes to the corrupt government versus to a family run accommodation.
Myanmar has some amazing food for you to sample. Below are a few of our favorites and country favorites.
- Shan Noodles
- Mohinga (breakfast, fish soup)
- Lay Phet Yay (Burmese Tea)
- Pickled Tea Leaf Salad
- Great Indian and Chinese Foods
- They have an Indian Town and Chinatown in Yangon that you must make sure you check out. In Chinatown, BBQ fish is a must
- Deep fried delights
- Bein Moun (Burmese style pancake served sweet or savory)
- Mont Lin Ma Yar (deep fried dollops of rice batter tops with quail eggs, scallions, or roasted chickpeas.
9) Everyday Behavior
- Remove your shoes before entering a pagoda or holy site
- Cover your knees & shoulders before entering a pagoda or holy site
- Never point your feet at the Burmese or Buddha
- Don’t eat, shake or pass food with your left hand
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For more travel tips, guides and awesome travel shots, be sure to poke around our site, follow us on Instagram @wanderingstus, Pinterest and on Facebook. Oh, and if you have any questions, let us know in the comment section. We’re happy to answer. Or, just leave us a positive note!
– Lauren & Jesse Stuart (The Stüs)