Planning a route and sightseeing in Myanmar
Just because it’s on the map, doesn’t mean you can go there – there are still parts of Myanmar that are ‘closed’ i.e. tourists can’t go there; and other places you’ll need a guide to chaperone you. Check before you make plans. The availability of tourist buses is usually an indicator of whether an area is closed or not.
Getting off the beaten path is difficult – even within the ‘open’ parts, Myanmar’s developing infrastructure means that there are set routes you can travel and you’ll struggle to go any other way. I found this out after spending 2.5 hours trying to plan a route between two major tourist towns that should have been feasible but wasn’t because the transport links didn’t work that way. I had to go via Mandalay first, like all the other tourists. Of course, you can do go off route but be prepared to throw down +$100 for a private taxi. Work your sightseeing around the heat – Myanmar is famous for its sunrises and sunsets, which also corresponds nicely with staying indoors (perhaps for a nap or pool dip if you have one) during the mid-day heat.
Pack some ‘temple clothes’ – as a very minimum have knee covering and shoulder covering clothes (and not just a scarf) for visiting temples, of which Myanmar has many.
Speaking of temples, expect to go barefoot a lot…on seriously grubby floors. In temples where birds are nesting or monkeys and dogs hangout, you can expect to step in a lot of animal faeces while you’re exploring Myanmar’s temples. Socks aren’t permitted either so you just have to get used to it. I’d recommend some wash-down shoes (not Birkenstocks, like I wore) and a foot file will help you grate away the dirt at the end of each day.
Be a considerate temple visitor – most of Myanmar’s temples are places of worship, not just sights for tourists. Respect ‘do not climb/do not enter’ signs and keep your voice down – people will be praying. They don’t want to hear you have a discussion about where you’re going to eat dinner.
Expect to pay a tourist tax…ahem… ‘entry fee’ for Bagan and Inle Lake – this fee is charged to all foreigners and there’s no getting around it. The fees are: Bagan – $20; Inle Lake – $10.
Adjust your expectations for Yangon and Mandalay authors and poets have created an expectation of languishing colonial charm in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay. While it can be found (moreso in Yangon than Mandalay), it’s hidden beneath several layers of dirt and you the sights are carved up by several lanes of fume-filled roads.
The pavements in Myanmar – don’t expect to be able to walk on them.
Don’t expect to be able to walk on the pavement in Myanmar – they are reserved for parking motorbikes or pallets of deliveries. Obviously. You’re just going to have to get used to walking on the side of the road, getting beeped every few seconds ‘for awareness’. And speaking of roads, you’re going to have to cross by stepping out into a stream of traffic because official crossing points aren’t really a thing in Myanmar. The bad news is, you’re stepping out in front of cars, which can be more scary than the mass of bikes you’ll find in somewhere like Vietnam. The good news is, where the traffic is most dense, it is also at its slowest. Just be alert, step out and maintain a slow, steady pace. Or, as I once ready in a travel guide – look both ways and run like hell.
Maps.Me is your best travel friend – an app for iPhone, Android and other devices, Maps. Me has revolutionised travel – free, searchable, fully offline and integrated with GPS (even offline), you now have the entire world’s map system in your pocket. I’m not sure I’ll bother with paper maps again. But do download it when you have a solid wifi connection, i.e. before you arrive in Myanmar, .