Friday, 11 January 2013

6 reasons why Burma is a little different from your usual backpacking destination

As backpacker you are used to certain things: showing up at a place, and not having too much trouble with finding accommodation; you know that everything's cheap and if you speak English you are able to communicate with everyone.
Burma is a country of lovely people, exotic culture and sights, still raw and undiscovered, but you need to prepare yourself for some differences from your usual backpacker destination.

1. Accommodation

There are more and more tourists in Burma, hotels are being built, but there is still lack of a good accommodation base. Most of the hotels and hostels need to be booked in advance - quite tricky, as they don't have mobile phones, calling Burma from abroad is close to impossible, and the internet is only available at the internet cafes.
We have been lucky so far. We found a hostel in Yangon quite quickly, but after a night in a private room with air con ($20 a night) we had to move to a dormitory. In Naugnshwe, near Inle Lake, we found a room quickly, but it was stressful - we arrived at 5 o'clock in the morning and first few hostels were fully booked. We heard a gossip that in Bagan people sleep in hotel lobbys as there are no places available. We will book in advance from now on. You can ask your hotel to make a reservation in a place you are going to.

The accommodation is also more expensive than anywhere else in Thailand. For a private room, without a bathroom, you are expected to pay around $20.
Cheaper accommodation can be dirty and a little rough.

2. Street food

Most of the street food in Burma is not safe to eat for a foreigner. As the Lonely Planet guide says it is for experienced stomachs only. You need to look for a western-look restaurant or bar. The food in places like this is more expensive, but it is also nice and you won't miss much from the taste.

3. No buckets - no fun

Alcohol is fairly cheap in Burma. Large beer costs about $2. However, there is no club culture here, and you won't see drunk locals nor foreigners.
The local bars are open for everyone, but people here lead quiet and peaceful lifes. They don't know western music and clubbing is as foreign to them as your white skin. If you want to party hard, it's better to go to Thailand.

4. No shorts, not tank tops

It is very hot here. Sometimes it can be unbearable, but it's better not to uncover too much flesh as it might be very offensive to the locals. Were light, long sleeved blouses, and longer shorts (down to your knees).

5. Communicating with others

Some people know basic English here, but most of the locals will only know few basic words. Asking for directions can be a really long process. You really need to be patient!

6. Another type of tourists

From my observations, people who come here want to find out about the culture, politics and history of the country. You won't find anyone who wants to sleep whole day and party through the night. You get up very early for breakfast, and go to bed early (usually tired with the day's activities). If you're looking for a place to let your hair down, again - go to Thailand.

I've been in Burma for a couple of days now, but these are just a few things I've noticed.
The people are lovely. They're not tired with tourists here, and they smile at you with a really beautiful and genuine smiles. The culture is rich and interesting, and people who look for more exotic places won't be disappointed. However, it is not a place where you stay in your hammock whole day, sipping beer. It is not for those who look for cheap accommodation and expect hot water, and comfy beds.
It is for those who can respect the people and the country and take the things as they are, without complaining.


  1. I wouldn't agree about street food- I ate good food there. But maybe I was lucky or you were unlucky :) Maybe you should try again?
    I think the prices of accomodation went up as Burma became more popular recently (probably that's why you need to book in advance now). 2 years ago at Inle Lake we paid $8 for double room with breakfast (in Bagan it was $15)

  2. Well, we were unlucky then, I guess.
    Yes, the prices went up a lot. You don't really have $8 rooms here anymore, unless it is a dormitory.. what a shame!

  3. Wow, I didn't realize the street food would be off limits! I figure by now I do have an experienced stomach, but, not something I'd want to risk either.

    1. Well, if you're an experienced traveller then it might be ok for you. I have stomach problems even if I don't travel, so it's always hard for me. I think you just need to be a little careful. It should be ok for you.