What to know when backpacking in Myanmar

Backpacking in Myanmar

As when I was searching for basic details about the country before I went solo backpacking in Myanmar, most of the articles I found were not completely up to date, so I hope to answer some of the most common FAQs and some other tips from my time there.

This is being written in Feb ’19.

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Visa on arrival

You can apply online for a visa at the official government site, there’s a fee of US $50 for a one month entry

Backpacking in Myanmar
Useful Phrases

I always find that the three most important phrases in any language when backpacking are:

Hello: Mingalaba

Thank you: Cezu Tin Ba Deh

How much?: diha balao leh?


Surely the most obsolete articles out there scare you that you must bring brand new crisp US $ dollars.

Partly true. If you come with cash, the Burmese people has this weird obsession that the notes must be absolutely perfect.

If the note has a tiny little crease it will not be accepted.

Backpacking in Bagan Myanmar

Fear not. You actually do not need to bring US Dollars.

There are now ATMs almost everywhere in the country where you can use your foreign card and get Myanmar Kyat (MMK). Nowadays MMK are accepted everywhere.

Oddly, compared to every other country I have visited. You get a very good exchange rate at the Yangon airport in case you need some quick cash for a taxi to town. I exchanged just a few bucks and then used an ATM in town.

Using ATMs

Check your card processing fees. I took as much cash as I could to avoid paying double fees.

Different ATMs have different limits, the highest limit I found was 600000 MMK which was enough for all my time in Myanmar, I exchanged the left over cash I had at the end of my trip at the Yangon airport for US $

Yangon Airport to City

Both the Airport and Bus station are far from town.

You can get local buses for 500 MMK although they could take a long time depending on traffic (I got mixed feedback from fellow travellers on this), and if you don’t know where your hostel is then you may end up a bit lost if you’re offline.

Backpacking in Myanmar
Backpacking in Myanmar

At Yangon airport you can connect to wifi for free. If you have not done it in any other of the SE Asia countries, download GRAB which works as Uber in this part of the world.

A Grab from the airport to downtown will cost less than US $4, find another backpacker if you’re travelling solo and split the cost!


In addition to the above, if you need to take more taxis, for example to the bus station, always request a “shared ride”, you will pay less and it’s highly unlikely that you will actually share the ride with anyone.

Getting a SIM card in Myanmar

I found Myanmar the cheapest place in SE Asia to get a SIM card.

In all other countries I rely on wifi at the hostels but as I was planning to go solo hiking in Myanmar I decided to get one just in case.

The price of a SIM card is only US $1 and each 1Gb of Data an extra $1.

Locals say that just over 5 years ago, a SIM card will cost a couple thousand dollars(!!!)

Yangon Free Walking Tour

Admittedly, Yangon was not one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been and the things to do in Yangon can be quite limited (you do have a few things to do in Yangon though!)

I did a Free Walking Tour that was advertised at my hostel and I recommend it for a quick introduction into the country. It was more political than religious so I really liked it! this was definitely a great way to start my backpacking in Myanmar adventures!

Backpacking in Myanmar
Betel Nut

When you first arrive to Myanmar you will notice lots of red stains on the ground.

They look like blood and I was initially confused into what these were. If it was blood I was in a pretty violent area!

Solo hiking in Myanmar
Trying Betel Nut

Later I learnt about Betel Nut, which is also consumed in parts of India. This is an addictive staple that is actually really harmful for your health and its recipe changes but mainly contains a betel leaf coated with limestone and areca nut. Then it can have chilli, tobacco or other ingredients.

You will constantly see people spitting huge mouthfuls of red into the ground. Disgusting if you wish.

I gave it a try when I was Hiking Solo between Kalaw and Inle Lake and it was a bit weird, not disgusting, just strange.

Solo hiking in Myanmar
Betel nut in the making
Night Buses

The night buses in Myanmar are not bad in terms of comfort. They’re super cold though so make sure to have a jumper nearby.

They also hand you blankets but sometimes they’re not enough. Most of them also give you water and make several stops, sometimes too many.

Most of them arrived at strange times in the middle of the night so make sure to prepare in advance, find some Hostels in Myanmar in advance when arriving at silly o’clock.

Some roads in Myanmar are not great, so even when you see places on a map seeming to be nearby you can count on being on the bus for a few hours.

You can book buses at all hostels or online with Easybook or 12Go.Asia

The buses in Myanmar seem to be accident prone.

I had 3 on different trips. In one of them it was actually scary that a tire blew out and the replacement tire was in worst condition than the exploded one! :s

Hitching a ride

Luckily none of the accidents were serious…

Some routes can be super twisty (the Hsipaw-Kalaw route is terrible) so if you get sick easily maybe look to get some motion sickness pills.


Although much slower than buses, the trains are pretty cheap.

I highly recommend taking the train from Mandalay to Hsipaw, beautiful scenery and the Gothic Viaduct is a really cool pass across the mountains! Some routes can be booked online with Easybook or 12Go.Asia

Train Mandalay to Hsipaw
Train Mandalay to Hsipaw

Backpacking in Myanmar is not much more different than the neighbouring countries when it comes to budget.

Accommodation is where the country is a bit more expensive but as a general rule I found the hostels to be really good, always with great breakfast (not just bread and butter as in Thailand).

These are some reference prices as of Jan ‘19:

Accommodation in Yangon: from 7000 MMK
Accommodation in Bagan & Hsipaw: from 12000 MMK
Beer: 2500-3000 MMK
Bottle of Burmese Wine at a restaurant: +25000 MMK
Train Mandalay-Hsipaw (upper class): 3950 MMK
Hiking tour in Hsipaw: 35000 MMK
Hiking tour Kalaw-Inle Lake: 30000-38000 MMK
Meals (at local restaurants or street food stalls): 1000-4000 MMK
eBike rental in Bagan: 5000 MMK

Are you ready to go backpacking in Myanmar? check out my Myanmar Adventures posts for more inspiration on your solo trip!

Have you got any particular questions? whether into how to do something or where to go backpacking in Myanmar, feel free to drop a comment! 🙂

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