Backpacking in Myanmar: A Budget Traveler's Guide
Ever since Myanmar was known as Burma, I would constantly hear about how awesome it was through my parents. I always wanted to visit the place and when I finally got the chance to do so, I filed for a leave of absence for a week from work but the salary deduction was totally worth it. Let me tell you about my stay and the things I've learned in a nutshell to help you out with your future Myanmar trip as well.
Asia, specifically South-East Asia has been very popular to tourists over the past few years. I have visited Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia and other South-East Asian countries and I can confidently say that Myanmar is the most unspoiled place I've seen. It has so many natural resources and they really love preserving it. The locals respect their surroundings enough to make sure that it is clean and maintained. If you become a tourist here, you would be ashamed to litter even inside your hotel room.
I was on tight budget when I decided to go to Myanmar because I was just invited by a friend. I didn't really have enough cash saved for travel since I just came from Japan 3 months back. Mind you, cheap accommodation is difficult to find. Ever since Myanmar opened up to tourism, there have been a lot of hotels put up. Luckily, the group I went with were prepared.
One of my friends was smart enough to look for unlisted guesthouses because they are a lot cheaper. The less known a place it, the less expensive it will be. If you know anyone from Myanmar, it's best to ask them where you can stay. Double rooms would start at $10.00 per night. But just to be sure, prepare a budget of $15.00 per head especially during the holiday seasons. The secret is in booking ahead of time and looking for holiday discounts. You need to be ready for the crowd during holidays though.
You can avail of meals for as low as $1.00. I learned this trick from the past wanderlust adventures I've experienced. Every time you visit a country, make sure to go for their street food first. You can easily spot if a street food establishment is clean or not so health is not something you should be worried about. Don't prioritize eating at 5 star restaurants. Traditional food always comes from the street! It's so fun to walk around smelling different delicacies being friend or stewed. Most of all, it's really affordable. My tummy was already full by my 5th dollar of expense! I mean, can you believe that?
You will find this information very helpful once you visit temples and pagodas. Myanmar locals are very strict when it comes to their religious customs. It's important that you respect the places that they deem as sanctified. You need to remove all your footwear when entering their temples, even socks and stockings. Remove all headgear as well and if pictures are not allowed to be taken, you have to respect that rule. Myanmar locals are very respectful of their elders and children as well. This is a custom that you need to practice as well.
The people in Myanmar are raised to be helpful and polite. This is why you should be the same towards them. They appal clothing that isn't decent, especially in religious sites. They don't like being touched in the head. I have also learned that locals appreciate it if you take the time in learning their language. Do not disturb anyone who is meditating or praying.
Locals are very proud of their culture and they would love it if you would check out different shows and spots that boast their culture. They are welcoming and would happily assist you and answer all your questions regarding their rich history. It would be great if you could schedule your trip during a festival so you can participate! The dancing and music is just overwhelming.
There are many communities that you can help out in Myanmar. Some of these ethnic groups are really struggling and if you have time or resources to share for children or the elderly, go ahead and contact NGO's and charities. Do your research ahead of time so you know what you can bring to their table.
Things to Do and Places to Visit
Yangon - If you do your research, Yangon would be the first place that would pop up in search engines. It is a very big city and yet locals have managed to maintain its traditional aura. It's not yet that modernized and to tell you frankly, I hope they keep it that way. I am fan of the 1800's that's why I was in so much awe when I saw Victorian Buildings. It felt like a scene from a movie. This is where I got all my souvenirs for friends and family at home. The bustle of the markets is a great sound especially if you come across great buys. There are tree-lined parks that will just make you appreciate Mother Nature more.
Pindaya - This reminded me of The Last Air Bender movie. There are more than 8000 Buddha images. When I asked one of the locals to tell me the story about it, no one really knows how they got there. And this mystery even makes it more amazing. The caves are a sight to see and you'd feel some kind of divine intervention once you enter. I don't know if it's just me but it feels magical to be in this place.
Kyaing Tong Trekking - This is a place that was once famous for its narcotic drugs and guerrilla warfare. This is close to the Chinese and Thai borders. If you want to feel the culture of the ethnic minority groups, this is the place to go to. My friends and I were able to try out exotic traditional costumes in this area. There's a lot of trekking that you can do as well. This was the first place that I was able to try out inexpensive but delicious street food.
Irrawandy River - This river is known all over the world as one of the most beautiful and huge rivers in the whole of Asia. If you have the budget, you can go cruising here. We weren't able to do so because you had to book the place and arrange your tours.
Ngew Saung Beach - A trip won't be complete if you don't visit a country's beach. I have a collection of sunset pictures from different beaches and I didn't let Ngew Saung Beach pass. This was just near Yangon City so we didn't have trouble going to the area. The beach is surprisingly long, about 9 miles! There are many other beaches near the area as well. Small villages are all over the place. I enjoyed speaking with local fishermen regarding their culture and industry.
The Myanmar Culture is not like other civilized countries. Remember that kissing and hugging in public is not acceptable in Myanmar. You shouldn't use your foot or chin to communicate with people there or with your travel buddies because it is considered impolite. When you enter a Myanmar home, make sure that you take off your shoes. When children or other people ask for alms, do not do so. Begging and giving charity in the streets are not allowed. There are social organizations that are established for such purposes.
Also, if you are to buy souvenirs, please do make sure that you don't patronize wildlife products. Some locals use hunting animals as a means of income generation. They kill turtles and other wildlife creatures and sell their horns and shells. Let's not support this so we can continuously preserve the beautiful animals of the forests of Myanmar. There are other souvenirs you can buy at markets situated along beaches and Yangon.
I have the highest respect for the Myanmar culture. After my visit, I feel like everybody should visit the place at least once in their life. It's life changing to spend time in a country that practices great consideration with regards to their history and customs. You would rarely see unspoiled places like this. Despite their rapidly growing number of tourists per year, they still managed to preserve their culture. I'd go back to Myanmar in a heartbeat.
What was your backpacking experience like in Myanmar? Let us know in the comments.