I traveled to Myanmar (Burma) for two weeks and explored the central and northern regions, which were the main tourist areas of the country.

Two weeks would have been enough time to comfortably visit Myanmar’s “big four” destinations, which included Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle lake. I wanted to do a different itinerary and ended up visiting the first three and skipping Inle Lake.

Instead of the usual itinerary, I went aboard the scenic train ride Hsipaw, a rural town north of Mandalay, as my “off the beaten track” destination and squeezed in a quick peek of the golden rock pagoda in Kyaiktiyo.

Itinerary Rundown

  • Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand: Indochina Overland
Day 1 to 3
  • Yangon
  • Bangkok to Yangon Flight
  • In and Around Yangon
Day 4 to 7
  • Bagan
  • Yangon to Bagan Bus
  • In and Around Bagan
Day 8 to 12
  • Greater Mandalay
  • Bagan to Mandalay Bus
  • In and Around Mandalay
  • Mandalay to Hsipaw Train
  • In and Around Hsipaw
  • In and Around Mandalay Ancient Cities
    • Mingun
    • Amarapura
    • Sagaing
    • Innwa
Day 13 to 14
  • Kyaiktiyo
  • Mandalay to Kyaiktiyo Bus
  • In and Around Kyaiktiyo
    • Kyaiktiyo Golden Rock Pagoda
  • Indochina: Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar

Trip Date — October 2012

Pre-trip preparations

Myanmar flights

The main entry point to Myanmar by air was through Yangon and Mandalay. At the time of my visit, there were no “open” routes for tourists to enter Myanmar through any land border crossings from Thailand, Laos, or China and then land access to the main tourist areas. Flying was the only way to go.

I booked cheap flights, a year in advance, during AirAsia’s “big sale” promotion. I bought my “Bangkok to Yangon” flight for only THB880 (US$30) and a “Yangon to Kuala Lumpur flight for US$33.

With the itinerary that I planned, flying to Mandalay and flying out from Yangon (or vice-versa) would have been a better option. If only AirAsia launched flights to Mandalay sooner, I would have preferred to enter Myanmar via Mandalay instead.

I had no choice but to backtrack to Yangon at the end of my two-week trip.

Myanmar tourist visa

Myanmar immigration required all foreign tourists to apply for a visitor visa, even passport holders from ASEAN member countries. I applied for my Myanmar tourist visa at the Myanmar embassy in Vientiane, Laos. They gave me a 28-day tourist visa, 3 days after processing my application, which cost US$20.

Myanmar money

All ATMs in Myanmar did not accept withdrawal using foreign cards, which meant I had to bring all the US$ money I needed for the entire two-week trip. Traveling around South East Asia, I had previously used my BPI ATM card (dollar and peso account) to get cash.

Before departing from Bangkok, I withdrew Thai Baht and exchanged my money to US$ at a currency exchange stall. I wasn’t able to find ATMs offering dollar withdrawal, which would have been more convenient.

Before exchanging, I specifically told the lady to give me pristine dollar bills with the following specifications:

  • Absolutely “crisp” new bills with no bends, creases, marks, tears.
  • Printed after the year 2000, preferably after 2003
  • must not contain CB, BC or AB serial numbers

Currency exchanges at Myanmar are very strict about the condition of the US$ bills. I was told by all travelers I met that even minuscule or seemingly invisible marks could cause them to reject your dollar bills. So, I made sure to bring extra money. While in Myanmar, the bank did reject two of my hundred dollar bills. Luckily, most hostels only accepted US$ as payment and they were not so particular about negligible folds or marks.

Update: As of January 2013, ATMs in Myanmar started accepting foreign cards for withdrawal. Though bringing US$ bills were still needed to pay for accommodations, airport departure tax, some ferry tickets and admission fees.