Travel into Myanmar has come a long way in recent years and is now fairly simple, although it may require one or two uncomfortably long bus trips if you don’t plan well.
Getting a visa
If you’re not from a Southeast Asian country, you will almost definitely need a visa. You can get one by going to the nearest embassy in your home country or by applying for one online. They are valid for 90 days after issue and let you stay in the country for 28 days.
If you get the visa online, you will only get a stamp in your passport and you will need to go straight to an airport in Myanmar. If you apply in person you can get a sticker and enter overland from Thailand. It is possible to get a next day visa at the embassy in Bangkok or a few other cities in Asia.
The visa will cost $50 if you get it before you leave home and the prices vary depending on which one you get at an embassy in Bangkok. It will be between $20 and $50 depending on how short notice it is.
The visas will usually require a passport photo to be accepted and do not require proof of travel plans if you get them in Bangkok. It may also be possible to get a visa on arrival at an airport in Myanmar.
Entry into the country
As of 2016 there are no direct flights into Myanmar internationally, and you will need a connecting flight from Bangkok, Hanoi, Singapore, or Kuala Lumpar. If you use a site like skvscanner.net, however, you will find that the work is done for you.
The three main airports for international flights are Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw. Flying is usually the most trouble free and simple way to get into the country.
Keep in mind that Myanmar is quite a large country unlike some of its neighbors so you will likely spend quite a bit of time travelling to get around it. Most people enter either in Yangon or Mandalay and then exit from the one they didn’t enter from.
Crossing overland is possible but difficult and considering you can get a flight from Bangkok to Yangon for as little as $30 one way is not entirely worth it. It might be worth saving your adventurous spirit for something more exciting than sitting on a bus for two days.
You can cross by land from China, India and Thailand, but Thailand is the most favored route. For China and India, you will usually need a special permit to cross but a standard visa to fly.
There are several places you can cross the Thai- Myanmar border, but not all of them will let you keep going into the heartland of Myanmar where most of the tourist attractions are. This is often because large parts of Myanmar are closed off to visitors and so you cannot simply go through them on a bus.
The best option is to cross at Myawaddy where you can catch a bus all the way to Yangon and the buses are regular and easy to catch (although regular is relative here as public transport in Myanmar is still not 100% reliable if you want to get anywhere on time). You cannot use an online visa to cross over the border and will need a sticker or visa from an embassy.
There is a lot to see in Myanmar so plan your time if you want to see most of what Myanmar has to offer. Most people will struggle to feel they’ve got the complete Myanmar experience in just a week so try to allow between two and three weeks to see the country. Of course you can only stay up to 28 days and extensions are the exception rather than the rule.
For most visitors the top three things to see are the city of Yangon (formerly Rangoon and Myanmar’s largest city), the circle of temples and Pagodas around Mandalay and Bagan, and the wondrous views and sites around Inle Lake.
Not only are those the main attractions but due to the limitations on where you can travel you might argue they are the only attractions you are easily going to see. Most itineraries will have you start at Yangon and finish up at Mandalay (or vice versa) as they are home to the two largest international airports and it creates a nice linear tour of the country.
Yangon can often be seen in two or three days and from there expect a trip up to Inle Lake or Mandalay to take you most of a day on whichever method you choose.
It is approximately a 10-hour bus trip from Yangon to Mandalay and the flight is 2 hours not including delays or getting to the airport – which can take up to an hour. Getting to Inle Lake from Mandalay will take you close to 10 hours as well depending on your method of transport. From Mandalay to Bagan will be another 8 hours.
Relatively cheap domestic flights are available at many of these destinations so consider where taking a bumpy bus or private taxi is going to cost you time versus the sights you get to see. If you are happier with Spartan sleeping conditions, consider taking a night bus and then getting the most out of your day.
Sleeping on the trains in Myanmar is difficult as they are often hectic and very noisy due to the ancient tracks. Not to mention the train takes longer than the bus.
Don’t worry too much about missing out on nightlife though as unlike some of Myanmar’s neighbors the bar and club scene is far less prevalent. The larger cities tend to close down early at around 10pm and you won’t find any of the neon- lighted trappings you might expect not far away in Thailand.
However, if you come at the right time of year there are plenty of fantastic festivals and cultural events for you to enjoy. (SUCH AS)