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When I travelled to Burma (Myanmar), I didn’t really know what to expect. I had been travelling alone for a while and always try and exercise caution, but during my solo travel in Burma I always felt safe. In fact, I received a hearty welcome everywhere I visited!
1. Tale #1 – Ngwesaung
After travelling on a night bus to Ngwesaung (a beautiful beach area a bit like Ngapali), I arrived at around 3am and with no hotel reservation. I had, a bit naively, assumed that there would be lots of choices and I could quickly find a place to lay my head. But as the driver dropped people off at their resorts, he soon realised realised that I had nowhere to go and every time he made a stop, he dropped in to ask if they had a room available.
Everyone slowly disembarked from the bus and I was the only one left. So in this big 55-seat coach we kept visiting each beach hotel (basically one long road) to find a room. The last stop was a bunch of beach bungalows that just happened to have one free.
Despite it being my poor planning, he waved me off like it was no trouble at all!
2. Tale #2 – Mandalay
In Mandalay I was staying at a business-type hotel. I asked at reception about excursions. It wasn’t really their thing, but the receptionist knew a man, who knew a man, that was free that day…
We agreed that he would take me around the old cultural sights of Mandalay, including the U-Bein Teak Bridge, Jade Market, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Bagaya Monastery. He even climbed Mandalay Hill with me! The tour was very reasonable and I bought him ice creams and tea in places (and gave him a nice tip too). As well as telling me about the history, he told me bits and bobs about his life, including growing up as a monk.
3. Tale #3 Ogre Island (Mawlymine)
On Ogre Island, near Mawlymine, I did a group day excursion. While we were wandering down the road, we passed a little party and the guide explained that they were celebrating a child’s birthday. None of them spoke English and we didn’t speak Burmese but we were all curious about each other, so there were about ten people all talking to each other through one guide!
Much to my surprise, they insisted on feeding all of us even though they didn’t have a huge amount of food. So we sat down on these little plastic stools while all of the kids ran around us, curiously looking at the foreigners who had invaded their party. Before leaving, we all put some donations in an envelope and gave it to the Dad. We felt so welcomed, and it was a truly memorable experience.
Top tips for solo travel in Burma
1. Meet local people
I would recommend anyone doing solo travel in Burma to go on as many cultural immersion tours as possible. As I said, meeting the local community was one of my favourite experiences. Rather than travelling to tick off sites to see and take pictures, in Burma you really have the opportunity to interact with people everywhere you go. What’s more, they’re genuinely happy to see you! Burmese people tend to travel in groups, so they are likely to be curious about solo travellers – more chance to get chatting.
2. Don’t be afraid to travel on the ground
Don’t be scared of travelling between cities using trains, boats or cars, rather than flying if you have time. Travelling between Bagan and Mandalay by boat could be a trip highlight! Going overland you get to see so much in the beautiful countryside and rural villages.
3. Be safe
Wherever you travel, in any part of the world, exercise caution. It’s common sense. But Burma has low crime rates and friendly people, so you don’t need to keep your guard up. If it makes you feel more comfortable, there are a lot of female guides, and you can ask your hotel to arrange taxis etc. (it’s not recommended, and may cause confusion, if you flag one down.)
4. USD or Kyat?
Kyat (pronounced chat) is the Burmese currency, butI highly recommend bringing plenty of USD too. $1’s are great for tips and the bigger notes are perfect for getting the best exchange rate. Make sure the bills are crisp and 2010+. I tended to pay for hotel stays or big expenses in USD and food, trains and small expenses in Kyat.
Happy solo travelling!
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