Our top tips for travel in Burma
In this section we've brought together lots of useful practical advice about travelling in Burma. Choose a link from the left menu to jump to a section. Everyone travelling with InsideBurma Tours will of course receive our complementary Info-Pack and has the reassurance of 24/7 support from our offices around the region. Those of you taking a Small Group Tour will also receive on-the-ground assistance from your tour leader.
If there is anything we've forgotten, please drop us a line and we'll do our best to include it soon.
Burma visa information
Do I need a visa for travel to Burma?
Citizens of the majority of countries worldwide require a visa in order to visit Burma as a tourist.
Where and how do I get my Burma visa?
There are two options for residents of most countries, including the UK, US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and most EU nationals:
1. Arrange the visa in advance of travel via a Myanmar Embassy/Consulate in your home country
Visas can be obtained three months in advance of arrival in Myanmar. Please refer to the section below for detailed instructions and fee information.
NB/ Please ensure your passport has a minimum six months validity from the date of your departure from Burma.
2. Use the new online eVisa service
As of September 2014 a new online eVisa service has been introduced to replace the previous visa-on-arrival service. Please note this service is only available for arrivals into Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw International Airports. At this stage no land arrival point into Burma will accept eVisas, although there are plans to extend the programme in the future.
To obtain an eVisa visit the website at the following address:
You will be required to pay a processing fee of USD 50, which can be paid by credit card, and will need to upload a digital photograph in passport style. This photograph can be taken with a webcam or selected from your existing image library.
Upon completion of the process you will be issued with an eVisa approval letter by email, which you will need to print out and present at immigration at Yangon International Airport, where your visa will be stamped.
Applying for a Myanmar Visa in the UK
Please find below instructions for obtaining a visa from the Myanmar Embassy in the UK
Address: The Myanmar Embassy, 19a Charles Street, London W1J 5DX
A. General requirements:
- Valid PASSPORT (validity must exceed that of the visa by at least one month, although we strongly recommend due to some airline policy that this should be a minimum of six months).
- One completed APPLICATION FORM (available to download from the Myanmar Embassy website, or from us on request).
- Two passport PHOTOGRAPHS taken not more than one year ago, affixed to the application form, taken against a white background
- VISA FEE (see below)
- If you want your passport to be returned by post: please provide a pre-paid self-addressed special delivery envelope
B. Processing time:
- Normal Processing: 5 working days (please note this may be longer in busy periods so please leave plenty of time)
C. How to apply:
You can apply for a visa either in person or by post.
To apply by post:
- Post your application (including: passport, 2 x passport photos, application form, pre-paid special delivery envelope for the return of your passport(s), payment of related fees) by Royal Mail Special Delivery.
- Payment should be made by postal order payable in British pounds sterling only. DO NOT SEND CASH.
- More than one visa application can be submitted together in one envelope.
- More than one passport can be returned to applicants in the same envelope.
To apply in person:
- Arrive at the embassy between 10:00-12:00 Monday to Friday. No appointment is needed. The consulate service is closed after 12:00 and on the weekend.
- Submit all the required documents (see above) and pay the appropriate fee in cash.
- You will receive a receipt, which states the date your visa is ready for collection.
- A third party can submit relevant documents and collect visa on your behalf.
D. Visa fee
30 days, single entry: USD 20 (regular process takes 5 working days). This figure is correct as of June 2015.
Although there is some indication that cheques may be accepted we recommend for the sake of certainty that payment should take the form of a postal order.
Climate in Burma
Burma is a huge country, covering a great range of latitude and topography, from the Andaman coast to the foothills of the Himalaya in the far north.
The country has three principal seasons similar to many other parts of Southeast Asia. The Southwest monsoon starts at the end of May or beginning of June and lasts until the end of September. This season brings frequent and heavy downpours, mainly in the afternoon and evening especially in southern Burma. The rest of the country is considerably drier, however, and the central dry zone in which Bagan and Mandalay are located can be at their most pleasant and scenic during this time.
By October the rains are beginning to ease and temperatures are generally more comfortable, making the period until March the best time to guarantee dry and largely sunny days. In March temperatures start to climb, building up to the next rainy season at the end of May. Temperatures between March and May can be very hot averaging over 35c in some places.
For those heading to the beaches, the coast has two distinctive seasons: dry and rainy. Along the Bay of Bengal the rainy season is precisely that, and from June to September most resorts and restaurants in Ngapali and other popular beach destinations close down entirely and the flight schedule is severely limited. The dry season is delightful with sunny skies, warm ocean breezes, and temperatures around 30-34 Celsius during the day time.
Please be aware that Burma is in the northern hemisphere so it is also winter from November to February. You will need warm clothing for early mornings everywhere, and especially for higher areas like Shan State (Kalaw, Inle Lake, Pindaya, Kengtung, Putao). The hotels in these areas are generally NOT equipped with heating or fireplaces so be prepared for some colder nights!
The currency in Burma is the kyat (pronounced 'chat') and comes in notes of 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000 kyat. As in many countries of the area, the US Dollar is the most useful currency to carry but we recommend for travellers to exchange some money into kyat. In many local restaurants and shops, kyat is the only method of payment allowed.
The Burmese Kyat (MMK) rates against most major currencies are as follows as of early 2015:
1 Australian Dollar AUD 850 MMK
1 British Pound GBP 1,650 MMK
1 Euro EUR 1,200 MMK
1 United States Dollar USD 1,100 MMK
Getting money in Burma
US Dollars are the best currency for exchange in Burma, though the Euro is becoming more popular, especially in Yangon. The exchange rate in Yangon is generally better than upcountry and the larger the bill, the better the rate (ie a 100 USD notes gets you 2% more Kyat than a 50 USD notes). To avoid issues make sure you bring only new, pristine notes, as dirty, crumpled or torn notes will often not be accepted.
There are official exchange counters offering a better rate than the black market. We recommend changing your currency here as you are issued a receipt, the service is monitored and there is no chance of being ripped off. Your guide can assist to direct you to any of these places. In Yangon there are several in Scott Market and in the downtown vicinity, open daily from 09.30 - 16.00 with a break midday for lunch.
Two additional counters are open at the Yangon International Airport in the arrival lounge. Here clients have the ability to return any leftover currency at the end of the trip. Note that the airport counters frequently run out of money by 15.00 so this service currently is best for morning arrivals only. All locations accept US Dollars, Euros and Singapore Dollars.
Credit / Debit cards
Although some upscale restaurants and hotels do accept credit cards (surcharge of 3-8%) we don't recommended relying on this service. The internet often shuts down during the day making payment by card impossible.
ATMs are now quite widespread across the country, and can be found in all but the more remote destinations. Mastercard is more widely accepted than Visa or other providers, but please be aware that the service can still be somewhat temperamental. For this reason we would not suggest relying entirely on this method, and certainly don't wait until you're down to your last 100 Kyat before trying to make a withdrawal.
Traveller's cheques can not be used in Burma at this point in time.
In conclusion we recommend bringing a good float of USD with you from home, supplemented by debit/credit cards to withdraw cash from local ATMs. A good selection of low denomination USD bills (USD 1 and 5) are very useful for tipping and bargaining purposes. If you have any questions or concerns about the best place to get currency, please ask your guide - they will be able to recommend the best local option.
Vaccinations against a range of diseases are required for Burma, as with much of Southeast Asia. Please consult your GP and visit http://travelhealthpro.org.uk/country/156/myanmar-burma for details of the recommended vaccinations for the particular regions you will be visiting on your trip. Anti-malarial medication is also often recommended for visits to Burma.
Power and plugs
Burma uses 220v with two round-pin or flat-pin plugs. Plug adaptors are sometimes available at hotels, but we recommend bringing them with you - they are readily available in electronic stores at international airports worldwide.
Internet and mobile phones
Burma's technological infrastructure has improved rapidly over the past few years. International roaming is available in Burma and with roaming enabled most UK SIM cards will work. 3G coverage is fairly reliable in urban areas, however be warned that roaming costs charged for Burma can be extremely high so please do check with your mobile service provider before travelling. Many visitors choose to buy a SIM card when they arrive (approximately 1500 Kyat - about £1). This can then be topped up as and when needed.
If your own phone won't work, a mobile phone can be rented at Yangon Airport for the following rate:
5 days - 50 USD
10 days - 70 USD
15 days - 90 USD
20 days - 110 USD
25 days - 130 USD
This comes with some credit, which can subsequently topped up at various places around the country.
Many hotels in Burma claim to offer complimentary wi-fi internet access, but in reality the antiquated infrastructure across the country means the service is very limited, particularly outside of Yangon. In some hotels a weak signal may be available in the lobby, but to avoid disappointment we strongly suggest not expecting to have regular access to the internet whilst in Burma. The one exception to this tends to be the high-end international-standard hotels in Yangon, where a tolerable service is usually available. New investment is arriving in Burma, however, and we expect this situation to change rapidly over the coming months and years, so enjoy the novelty of being inaccessible while it lasts!
Day-to-day living costs
As with most countries in Southeast Asia, if you choose to go local life can be delightfully inexpensive in Burma, but once you head to upmarket hotels or restaurants prices don't look much different from back home. Eating out in Burma is generally reasonable, and this helps keep costs down. Taxis, tuk-tuks and cyclos are also inexpensive, but check with your hotel or guide what they suggest as reasonable as a certain amount of negotiation is often required to get the best rate. This principle applies to the purchase of most tourist souvenirs - there is less haggling in Burma than in other places in the region, but it is still part of the fun.
As a rough guide we recommend USD 25-50 per person per day as a good amount to cover basic costs on a 2 week trip. This should cover your meals, a couple of drinks, local transport and any entrance fees. What this won't cover are significant souvenir purchases, or meals at the more upmarket hotels or restaurants. Please be aware that drinks onboard cruise vessels can be pricey, and corkage will be charged for BYO unless you are discrete!
Every day prices
- Soft Drink (Pepsi, Fanta etc) 800 Kyat
- Bottled water (33ml) 300 Kyat
- Loaf of bread 800 Kyat
- Litre of milk 1500 Kyat
- 500ml local beer bottle 1000 Kyat
- 500ml local beer draft 1000 Kyat
- Taxi (per car for 1km) 1300 Kyat
- Pineapple (per Kg) 3000 Kyat
- Simple restaurant lunch 4000 Kyat pp
- Street food in cheap local restaurant 5000 Kyat pp
- Meal in upmarket restaurant from 15000 Kyat pp
Of course, as in every country you can pay a LOT more for food if you like. Some of the top restaurants in Yangon, especially in the high-end hotels, can be comparable in price with similar establishments in European and US cities. However, if your tastes are not too extravagant then there is no reason to spend large sums on your meals.
Burma is not a dangerous country, but the usual precautions regarding valuables should be taken, especially in the bigger cities where pick-pocketing and bag/camera snatching is not uncommon. Keep large amounts of money out of sight and consider using a money belt; in your hotel room keep your valuables locked in the room safe and when out and about keep an eye on your bag and other personal effects.
Burma is also a safe country for women to travel in and there is a low risk of being assaulted in any way. Most areas are safe to walk alone at night but as always it is best to be with another person.
A guide to public transport in BurmaBurma is a constantly evolving area of southeast Asia, with its popularity rising to the likes of Thailand for visitors and as a result its transport and in-land travel is coming on leaps and bounds.There are a few options for travelling around Burma, some are incredibly comfortable and some are better for those roughing it with backpacks.Whichever you choose, you're sure to find an option suitable for any person and budget.BusesIn general, buses are they cheapest way to get around Burma, they run often and are fairly reliable (public transport has delays in Burma, just like anywhere else).The bus system connects all major cities in Burma, their routes are also leisurely and allow you to appreciate the scenic beauty, as well as get acquainted with the locals.It's also possible for you to book a private hire bus and if you prefer to do this, the easiest thing to do is ask your guest house, hotel or tour company to book it in advance for you.By doing this, you can have a handy pick up service straight from your hotel and although private hire buses are more expensive, they are also more comfortable with reclining chairs, blankets and air conditioning.TrainsTrains are a strange one when it comes to getting around Burma, on one hand they tend to travel to areas that aren't reachable by the road, which is useful.However, they are not the most comfortable way of travelling and it isn't unknown for travellers to experience 12 hours worth of delays.On the other hand, they are yet another way to see more of Burma's beauty, that you wouldn't see otherwise. If you don't mind a bit of adventure, you may find the rickety ride rather appealing.By airTravelling into Burma by air is the only way to arrive comfortably, from the airport to one of the towns should cost between K8,000 - K12,000 (£4 - £6).With regards to travelling around the country, much of Burma is reachable via inbound flights and it has a very busy air service. There are daily connections to Yangon, Mandalay, Heho, Nyaung U and Thandwe.Cycling, walking and other options?As activities for exploring, cycling and walking are popular options for visitors and locals alike, however they're not recommended as a practical way to get around the whole country.Motorbiking and hiring a car (by yourself or with a hired driver) can be a convenient option for you to get between different destinations.Larger towns also have horse carts, ox carts, vintage taxis and thoun bein (Burmese versions of tuk-tuks) for you to get around.For a truly authentic method of transport try one of the Japanese-made pickup trucks, which follow most necessary routes and will also take you up to Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo, a must-see for anyone visiting Burma.