Formerly known as Burma, Myanmar is a country, which is rapidly becoming a very popular spot on many backpackers’ travel itineraries.
Until recently, Myanmar has been isolated under a military dictatorship and therefore, has only in recent times been re-opened to the public. As a result, this country is a lot less touristy than its South East Asian counterparts and still retains its wonderful culture and charm, which is unfortunately, so quickly dissipating in other countries.
Throughout my time in Asia, I met soooo many travellers who could only sing Myanmar’s praises.
‘It’s off the tourist trail, there’s ancient temples, there’s off the beaten track trekking and there isn’t a Pizza Hut’…
I soon realised I had to add it onto my trip – and I’m SO glad I did.
Here are 9 things to know before you plan your trip to this endearing corner of the world.
Getting a visa for Myanmar is extremely easy. You can either apply for an E-Visa online ($50) which tends to take a couple of days to be approved or, you can go to a Burmese Embassy and apply there (I believe the latter option is a bit cheaper however, I can’t find an exact price online).
You can fly into Myanmar or, enter via land at certain border crossings. I met a lot of people who entered through the Mai Sot border from Thailand who said it was as simple and easy as any other country in SE Asia.
In Myanmar, men wear sarong like bottoms called longyis. Similarly to lungis in India, these are worn to keep the locals cool and comfortable. They come in lots of different colours and patterns and are a great fashion staple to buy if you want to fit in with the locals.
When you travel in Myanmar you’ll notice a lot of the locals have rotten, bright red teeth. This is caused by the betel nut, which is mixed with tobacco in a palm leaf and chewed in the corner of the mouth as a pass time. In my opinion, it tastes foul and causes you to constantly spit a vibrant, blood-coloured substance. However, the locals love it and it seems to be a social habit ingrained in their culture (similarly to cigarettes for us).
When you arrive in Myanmar you’ll quickly notice that women and occasionally men wear a powdery yellow substance on their faces. This is Thanaka, a paste made from ground bark, which is worn as a form of protection from the sun as well as, for cosmetic purposes.
WiFi in Myanmar is… infuriating. It is extremely slow and takes forever to load anything. Therefore, if there is anything important you need to organise or book such as, flights whilst there, I’d recommend doing it beforehand.
Monks are everywhere in Myanmar – even more so than in its neighbouring Buddhist countries.
The devout monks range in age from around 5 and up and can be seen doing their alms rounds day-to-day (when they go around homes, shops and restaurant asking for offerings of food and donations).
In Myanmar, all boys must become a monk at least once in their lifetime. Therefore, it is very common for them to go to the monastery during their school holidays to devote their time to the Buddha. When we were in Myanmar, we witnessed multiple flamboyant parades of music, dance and decoration, which were sending the young boys off to the monastery.
Backpacking transport in Myanmar is not as well established as in other countries in South East Asia. Nonetheless, you can still get from A to B using buses, minibuses and trains very easily.
There are no sleepers and you may end up with bright lights and a crazy Burmese film blaring in the middle of the night but it’ll always be a journey to remember…
Burmese food is a delicious fusion of Indian, Thai and Chinese dishes. They eat a lot of chicken curries, chapatis, rice and BBQ skewers and team these with cold noodles, zesty tomatoes and crunchy tea leaf salads. Be warned: the Burmese like to use alottttt of oil in their cooking.