In 2012 Myanmar opened its doors to tourists. Since then a lot has changed and things seem to keep changing rapidly. For 2016 Myanmar expected a 25% increase in tourists compared to the year before. People are finding out that tourism is big business, but can the country cope with the increasing amount of visitors? A lot of the information I found from bloggers about Myanmar is outdated. Many people visited in the time there were no ATMs available and you could only fly into the country. This makes planning my trip a little bit tricky and at the same time it makes me incredibly curious. Will I still find the Myanmar described in the stories I read? Or will I find hordes of tourists fighting to get a bed in the cheapest accommodation? Is it still authentic? Do the people still like the steady flow of tourists? I guess I will find out soon enough.
Most people can now apply for a tourist visa online here for 50USD. With this visa you can spend 28 days travelling around the country. The easiest way into the country is by flying into Yangon, Mandalay or Nay Pyi Taw International Airport. A few land borders with Thailand have opened up as well though; at Tachileik, Myawaddy and Kawthaung. I read that the land borders can still close unexpectedly, so I’m sticking to the easier option of flying into Yangon. Today I’ll leave Thailand. I’ll have dinner in Yangon! I’ve only met a handful of people that had Myanmar on their travel itinerary or had been there already. Those who had been there were super excited about the country and all they say is ‘You’ll love it!’.
Myanmar does have ATMs and most will accept either visa or mastercard. This makes travelling a lot easier. I remember visiting Cuba with a stash of Canadian dollars that I could exchange when I needed CUCs. You never feel quite safe when you’re carrying all your savings in cash. For Myanmar I’ve taken some crisp, clean USD bills for emergency situations, but with some planning and taking money out in the bigger towns, I should be alright. The dollars have been hiding in a book for a month now, so that they would stay pristine. I’m very curious if I will need them at all.
When it comes to safety, Myanmar appears to be a very safe country, even if you travel solo. However, there are some restricted areas and some areas which are questionable, even though they are open to tourists, due to conflicts. One of the highlights of my travel plan is a trekking from Hsipaw in the Shan state. The conflicts have nothing to do with tourism, but if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time… The military has gotten involved in the conflicts and things like land mines are used in the mountains. According to my government, the whole train line to Hsipaw and the village itself are just in the safe zone, but fights could get close to popular tourist destinations. I think I will consider doing a 2 day trek instead of a 3 day trek so I won’t get as far into the zone where there is more risk. Hopefully the local guides will be able to shed some light on the whole situation.
The same problem goes for the Sittwe/Mrauk U area. There were conflicts here in 2012. Even though the government of Myanmar allows tourism to this area, many other governments are still advising against it. It is hard to find recent official information about the situation, but I find many reports from travellers who haven’t had any problems recently. I guess I have a lot of plans and ideas, but will have to see how it all goes when I’m there. I’ve read a lot about Myanmar’s history and learned what it used to be like. I am really curious to see what it’s like to travel around there now and how much of the past can still be seen. Right now I have more questions than answers. It is going to be an adventure. After 30 days in Thailand, in areas that are well adjusted to tourists, it is going to be a big adjustment. I guess I’ll find all my answers soon. Myanmar, I’m on my way!