Myanmar Holiday Planning Guide
Closed to Western travelers for most of the 20th century, Myanmar draws an increasing number of visitors with its gilded pagodas and elaborately decorated temples. Visitors looking for sun and sand opt to vacation on Myanmar's many isolated beaches, ideal for escaping the modern world and kicking back with a drink and a book. In the cities, savvy shoppers easily find bargains on high-quality textiles, antiques, traditional tapestries, and precious stones. A well-rounded Myanmar itinerary also includes a few leisurely activities, like drinking tea at a cozy teahouse, enjoying a hearty meal at a family-run eatery, and pausing to contemplate at a centuries-old Buddhist shrine.
Places to Visit in Myanmar
Regions of MyanmarMandalay Region
: This area teems with various religious and natural sites, such as ornate pagodas and stupas, Buddha sculptures, powerful waterfalls, scenic botanical gardens, and exciting hiking trails.Sagaing Region
: This region is gradually becoming an eco-tourism hub, thanks to its protected reserves, wildlife sanctuaries, and national parks. Shan State
: Largely rural, this area introduces tourists to diverse tribal villages, gold-colored Buddhist temples, wildlife reserves, and vibrant markets selling hand-woven products and lacquerware. Yangon Region
: The nation's most developed region takes the top spot on most Myanmar itineraries thanks to its grand markets, preserved colonial buildings, and famous pagodas.Mon State
: The cradle of the Mon civilization remains an excellent destination to explore one of Myanmar's most prominent war memorials. Rakhine State
: Known for its cultural and ethnic diversity, this state boasts a variety of both Buddhist and Islamic structures, as well as ancient cities and beach resorts.
Cities in MyanmarYangon (Rangoon)
: Myanmar's commercial hub boasts an impressive collection of colonial architecture, decaying monuments, awe-inspiring Buddhist temples, and contemporary markets and restaurants. Mandalay
: This vibrant city contains bold architecture, exemplified by ornate pagodas, mosques, and markets hidden amid hectic streets.Naypyidaw
: The nation's capital includes wide boulevards and an impressive parliament building, along with lots of retail chains, markets, gardens, parks, and sculptures depicting important Burmese historical figures.Bago
: A market town suited for one-day trips from Yangon, Bago draws visitors with its historical relics and monuments, grandiose palaces, Buddha statues, and restored architecture.Bagan
: Once the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, which laid the foundation for the ascent of Burmese culture and language, Bagan is now an ideal destination for history buffs on vacation in Myanmar. Taunggyi
: This major trading city offers quick access to natural attractions, such as caves and lakes--it also houses bustling markets offering an abundance of goods imported from China and Thailand.
Nyaung Shwe: Although small, Nyaung Shwe attracts swarms of backpackers coming to explore the nearby lake and wetlands.
Popular Myanmar Tourist AttractionsShwedagon Pagoda
: Hailed as one of the holiest sites in Myanmar with an alleged tradition of over 2,600 years, Shwedagon Pagoda features an iconic steeple, encrusted with precious stones. Bagan Temples
: This Burmese version of Angkor Wat features over 2,200 lavishly ornamented Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries, best explored by bike or horse-drawn cart. Mandalay Hill
: One of the most prominent pilgrimage destinations for many Burmese Buddhists, this Myanmar tourist attraction offers some of the best views in the area. Sule Pagoda
: This luxuriously decorated octagonal structure remains one of the most popular places to visit in Myanmar, its most famous feature an enshrined strand of the Buddha's hair. Inle Lake
: Situated in an unpolluted mountainous area, this lake attracts adventurous tourists with its endemic wildlife and floating market. Mount Popa
: At the top of this 1,518 m (4,981 ft) dormant volcano you'll find over 200 brooks and springs, hiking trails, and gilded stupas. Ananda Temple
: This well-preserved masterpiece of Bagan architecture displays stone-carved facades, murals, stuccos, and gilded statues, and remains a remarkable example of local craftsmanship.Yangon Circular Train
: Enjoy views of the city from different angles by taking a three-hour locomotive-pulled train ride, a great way to begin your tour of Myanmar. Golden Palace Monastery (Shwenandaw Kyaung)
: This example of 19th-century Burmese architecture boasts intricately carved facades, teakwood doors, screens, a four-tiered roof, and sculptures depicting various Buddhist legends. Bogyoke Aung San Market
: A bazaar with over 1,600 shops in a vibrant colonial building, this Myanmar attraction offers handicrafts, jewelry, paintings, lacquerware, hill-tribe textiles, spices, and foodstuffs.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Myanmar
Cuisine of Myanmar
Myanmar is known for its eclectic range of dishes, thanks to people of different nationalities residing within its borders. Compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, Burmese cuisine is considered less spicy and often served with fresh ingredients.
As with most countries in the region, expect to eat lot of rice during your Myanmar holiday. It is the most used ingredient, usually accompanied with vegetables, meat, fish, and soup.
Myanmar's most popular breakfast meal is rice noodles in fish soup, but it is also available for purchase in restaurants throughout the rest of the day.
Rice noodles with soup and chicken curries can be found almost everywhere, but it is best to try them in Shan State
, where the dish originated.
Teahouses are a big part of Myanmar's social and culinary culture. Teas are typically served hot, sweet, and milky.
Shopping in Myanmar
Unlike Thailand or Vietnam, Myanmar isn't big on grand malls and shopping centers, but that doesn't mean you cannot find exquisite things to purchase.
Bartering is very much an acceptable practice, so if you have the skills to negotiate a good price, you will have a pleasant shopping experience during your Myanmar vacation.
Lacquerware is best purchased in Bagan
. Note that genuine lacquerware is usually engraved--fakes are generally just painted.
Low-priced gemstones, such as jade, rubies, and sapphires, can easily be found throughout Myanmar. The best rubies available can be found in Yangon (Rangoon)
. Even there, you should beware of street vendors selling fake stones. Mandalay
is best known for embroidered tapestries, with delicate gold and silver threads. These items are ideal gifts, or souvenirs of your trip to Myanmar.
The country is also a famous producer of "longyi," patterned cloth made of fine materials and worn by both genders. It too is a good souvenir--other options include coconut masks, woodcarvings, folk dolls, leather bags, and silk textiles.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Myanmar
Interesting Facts About Myanmar
Myanmar and Burma are two names for the same country
Both men and women in Myanmar use traditional make-up called "thanaka," which has been used for over two millennia
Confusingly, drivers in Myanmar operate right-hand steering cars in right-hand traffic
Myanmar is home to the Padaung tribe, a popular sub-group of Karenni people known for their long necks and brass coil necklaces
Myanmar is one of three countries (along with the U.S. and Liberia) which hasn't adopted the metric system
Things You Should NOT Do in Myanmar
Understandably for a Buddhist country, Myanmar etiquette is all about respect for others.
Use both hands in handshakes, and keep in mind that many local women may prefer a smile and a nod to a more intimate, hand-touching greeting.
Avoid elaborate displays of affection, especially intimate kisses, in public.
Use the right hand for eating--the left is used for personal hygiene.
Dress appropriately when visiting religious sites. Avoid revealing garments, making sure your legs and shoulders are completely covered. Shoes, and sometimes socks, are usually removed before entering a temple or mosque.
To avoid insulting the local religious sentiments, refrain from snapping photos of the Buddha statues--or, ask for permission to take a picture.
Haggling is considered an acceptable practice, but your Myanmar vacation will be a more pleasant one if you only do it in markets, not shops.
Holidays & Festivals in Myanmar
Most of Myanmar's holidays revolve around religion.
In January, during the Manaw Festival, the Kachin people in Kachin State
honor the gods to ensure a good harvest. They dress in vibrant costumes adorned with jewelry and beads, and organize sporting events followed by dancing and music.
Also known as the Water Festival, the New Year is marked in April and attending it is considered one of most entertaining things to do in Myanmar. It involves ritual water throwing, so prepare to get soaked.
Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival is the biggest event at Inle Lake
. Held in October, it includes exciting boating races.
Each November you can attend the picturesque Hot Air Balloon Festival, during which locals create small paper balloons and release them to illuminate the night sky.
Another important festival held in November is Tazaungdaing Fullmoon Festival. This religious event revolves around giving alms to monks, donating clothing to the needy, and spending an introspective night at a local temple.
Useful Myanmar Travel Tips
Common Greetings in Myanmar
Although Myanmar was a British colony, only about 5 percent of the population speaks English. Get past the language barrier during your trip to Myanmar by learning a few useful, basic phrases in Burmese.
Hand shaking is a common way to greet someone--women may prefer a not and a smile (wait for them to proffer their hand if you're not sure what to do). Greeting monks or nuns is done by either bringing the palms together or bowing.
Climate of Myanmar
Myanmar enjoys a tropical monsoon climate with three main seasons.
The hottest time of the year is between February and May, when there is almost no precipitation and temperatures soar above 40 C (104 F).
The period from May to October is considered the rainy season, which can also bring destructive cyclones. The coast and mountains receive significantly more rainfall than the central arid plains--in the affected areas, many roads become inaccessible.
The best time for a holiday in Myanmar is between October and February, when the weather is dry and cooler. The only downside to visiting during this period is that river travel can be slowed and ferries may be banned from sailing overnight, as water levels drop significantly.
Transportation in Myanmar
Some remote destinations in Myanmar are only accessible by boat or airplane, but most major tourist sites can be reached by railway or road.
That said, the infrastructure demands patience and a certain acceptance of discomfort--consider them an authentic part of your Myanmar tour.
Buses offer a frequent and reliable way to get around. The speed of travel depends on the state of the road. If you choose to take overnight bus trips during your Myanmar holiday, you may save a bundle on accommodations.
A private car offers flexibility and freedom, which can be expensive perks. Some destinations may require a certified driver and guide--it's a good idea to gather necessary info before setting off to the more remote locations.
Traveling by train ensures possibly the best chance to mingle with the locals and enjoy great views. Trains also provide a leisurely way of travel, but many can be uncomfortable and slow--if you're not in rush and wish to save on transport, go with this option.
Tipping in Myanmar
Tipping is certainly not a requirement in Myanmar, but hospitality staff and tour guides may expect a small reward for their efforts.
Burmese people appreciate small gifts. Pens, perfumes, foreign T-shirts, and cigarettes are all considered acceptable presents.
Note that gifts will be initially refused out of politeness, but be persistent if they are well deserved.