When talking about the best places to visit in Asia, the name “Myanmar” is surprisingly rarely mentioned. Unlike countries such as Vietnam or even Cambodia, Myanmar, or Burma, does not attract as many international tourists.
The occasional backpacker can be found traversing its rugged roads, but the vast masses of loud tourists one sees in places like neighboring Thailand are a lot less prevalent in Myanmar. However, the country has some impressive sights to offer the adventurous tourist. Coupled with a modern electronic visa system, it’s only a matter of time before Myanmar will start to match its neighbors in terms of visitors.
Watch out for the climate (AND NIGHT/DAY TEMPERATURE EXCURSIONS)
Traveling to Myanmar is best done during the winter and early spring months. This might sound counterintuitive, as traditionally holidays take place in the summer. However, summers in Myanmar can be absolutely scorching, with temperatures approaching 40 degrees Celsius. This also comes with high humidity, which can quickly become uncomfortable.
Furthermore, the monsoon season falls roughly between June and October. This means heavy rainfalls which can lead to natural hazards such as floods and mudslides. Therefore, November to March is generally seen as the best months to visit Myanmar. The temperature is comfortably warm, and there is little to no rain.
But even during the hot summer months in places like Bagan, the night temperatures can go down pretty quickly so be prepared with warm clothes for the night!
Will the government give me any trouble?
Most likely not. While the military regime was officially toppled in 2011, the country still has a relatively authoritarian government. However, it also understands that tourism is an increasingly important source of income.
They will therefore do their best to make tourists feel comfortable. There are a few things you should avoid doing, however. Don’t take pictures of military or government buildings. Likewise, taking pictures of police officers or soldiers is not appreciated. These areas are generally not that attractive to tourists to begin with, which means few will ever face this issue.
TOP 5 SIGHTS YOU CAN’T MISS WHEN VISITING MYANMAR
Myanmar has some of the most brilliant sights to enjoy and explore in all of Asia. One could fill an entire book with the various temples, shrines and mountains in the country, but most tourists agree that the following 5 highlights can’t be missed.
The Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon
You’ve likely seen this towering construct on postcards and tourist guidebooks. The Shwedagon Pagoda is over 100 metres tall, and is made of bricks covered with gold plates. The temple is the largest Buddhist structure in Myanmar, and one of the largest in the world. At night, the bright lights that shine on the gilded building give it a golden glow, a truly breath-taking sight no tourist should miss.
The ancient city of Bagan
This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to one of the largest gatherings of temples you’ll see anywhere in the world. It has over 2200 temples. The region offers guided tours to explore the ancient history of this temple complex. An increasingly popular way for tourists to see the area is by hot air balloon, allowing you to peek down at the myriad of pagodas and temples rising up into the air.
Few places capture the rustic splendor of Myanmar as Inle Lake. The lake is quickly becoming one of Myanmar’s most popular attractions. Tourists can climb aboard one of the small boats and sit back as they are guided through the calm waters. You’ll find entire villages made of wood bordering both sides of the lake. One of the main drawing points is the local cuisine, which you won’t find anywhere else in Myanmar.
Have you ever wanted to feel like an explorer from the movies? Naypyidaw offers the closest thing to it. The city is officially the capital of Myanmar, though most people are more familiar with Yangon. It functioned as a home for the military government, and was created in record time.
This means that it has some of the most modern buildings you’ll find in Myanmar, including massive malls and fancy hotels. A the same time, most of the city is empty. This means largely abandoned roads and empty buildings. It’s definitely an experience you won’t easily find elsewhere.
The famous 777 steps that lead to the Popa monastery is a famous location in Myanmar. The area is popular with pilgrims, who climb to the peak to present offerings and to pray. It’s also (in)famous for the large amounts of macaque monkeys. They are quite bold, and won’t hesitate to snatch a banana from your hand if you’re not careful. Many people, therefore, bring extra snacks when going to Mt. Popa to feed the local monkeys.
Don’t forget your visa
As mentioned at the start of this article, Myanmar has an advanced digital visa system. This means that the Myanmar visa can be applied for entirely online. No visits need to be made to the embassy, and you don’t need to pay extra once you land in Myanmar. Everything is taken care of before departure. Virtually all (western) travelers headed to Myanmar need a visa. When you apply for one online, you receive what is known as an “approval letter”.
This isn’t the actual visa itself, but a statement that you qualify to enter the country. On arrival in Myanmar, the visa will be stamped into your passport free of charge if you have this approval letter. Print it, and keep it somewhere safe. The visa is valid for 90 days, and you can use it to stay in Myanmar for a maximum of 28 consecutive days.
Enjoy this beautiful land before it’s too late! It remained in my memories as one of the most fascinating Asian countries. Full of contradictions but also home to so much history and beauty. Not to be missed!