Myanmar is unlike any other destination in the world. Anyone following the beaten path across Southeast Asia will find the country distinctly different than neighboring Thailand and Laos. If Buddhist temples and pagodas are of interest, Myanmar serves them up in a seemingly endless capacity. There’s ancient and almost bewildering Bagan, busy and vibrant Yangon, and the old capital of Mandalay to explore. Head north and discover some of the friendliest people in some very remote villages and hill towns. Hike mountains, explore lush landscapes, and poke around in places that have seen two millennia pass by. Forget ATMs, fast food, and even telephones. Myanmar is definitively on the road less traveled.
Myanmar’s economy is one of the least developed in the entire world, with economic sanctions imposed from Canada, the United States, and the EU. Precious stones such as pearls, sapphires, rubies, and jade bring in much revenue for the country’s regime. Almost all of the world’s rubies come from Myanmar, prized for their brilliant hue and purity and hailing from the Mogok mountain area, also called the “Valley of Rubies.” Shopping for gems in Myanmar can be tricky business; it is well known there are endless human rights violations committed against workers mining rubies and other gemstones and most countries stay away from them. Most gems in Myanmar are bought by Thai middlemen who take them home to have them cut and polished and then sell them to large businesses and tourists.
Best Time to Travel
The best time to travel to Myanmar is between November and February; the least amount of rain falls, offering drier, less humid conditions. The intensity of heat felt between March and May can be unbearable and it’s not likely you’ll see many tourists strolling through Yangon visiting temples and pagoda. In the capital, temperatures often rise up to 104ºF (40ºC) while areas surrounding Mandalay and Bagan inch even higher than that. Throughout Shan State there are many lovely hill towns and villages to visit where cooler temperatures offer some respite. Around the middle of May through mid-June, the southwestern monsoon amps up. Rain is frequent but not constant. This is an ideal time for river cruises, especially for intrepid tourists who enjoy digging deep into Myanmar’s most remote river valleys. During the monsoon, prices reflect the dive in visitors, with very cheap accommodations, tours, and other amenities available.
Most visitors traveling to Myanmar do so by air and land at the international airport in Yangon. The most common way to fly in to Yangon is via Bangkok. A trip focused on Myanmar can mean investigating flights from cities like New York or Toronto, and which quickly illustrate how expensive the journey can be. The best bet, no matter where the departure point, is to check return fights between Bangkok and Yangon which most often will yield the cheapest fare. There are no trains or buses connecting any neighboring country to Myanmar. The only overland route offering continuous passage is from Ruili, China. All other overland borders open and close sporadically.
Though there are banks available for currency exchange, tourists are mainly advised to bring in newer US dollars without tears, rips, or folds when traveling in Myanmar. As a wholly pious country, Myanmar’s Buddhists are exceptionally modest so one will draw much unwanted attention if not covering up and wearing plain, clean clothing. Women are advised to avoid showing too much skin; refrain from wearing tank tops, shorts, short skirts, and other such clothing. Most visitors tend to have experience in under developed countries but even so, Myanmar poses a different challenge as it is ruled by a military regime, which runs an extremely tight ship. Booking a tour with a reputable tour company eases the difficulty that can come with traveling within the country. English is not widely spoken and it can therefore be tough to get around. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that the Burmese people are some of the kindest, charming, and most helpful in the region. Though travel can be hard, the rewards are very well worth the learning curve.
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