Can I travel to Myanmar?
Can I travel to Myanmar?
‘Can I travel to Myanmar (Burma)?’ is a question I have been asked more often in recent months, so I thought I would give my readers an update on the current touristic situation. The brief answer is ‘yes’, but with limitations.
Many countries have advisories against travel to Myanmar. Some countries have a categoric ‘do not travel’ policy, whereas others advise that travel to the touristic highlights of the country, including Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Ngapali Beach is possible. Check your respective country’s travel information for the latest updates.
Most readers will be aware that a military coup in February 2021 changed the political landscape in the country and put the army in charge. I will not comment on politics in this article, a Google search on Myanmar will bring the interested reader up to date.
On a recent trip to Yangon and Bagan, I gathered first-hand travel information which I would like to share with you in this story.
I encountered a small number of international tourists during my journey, mostly regional travellers visiting the country for a religious (Buddhism) purpose and some southern Europeans, since it is their peak travel season.
Domestic tourists were the largest group of travellers, with many hotels having pivoted to providing services to domestic tourists. Asian Trails’ Myanmar team handled a small number of international tourists this year who enjoyed their visit and gave us positive feedback.
Is it safe to travel to Myanmar? Our offices in Myanmar constantly monitor the safety situation and perceive that travel to Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake, Yangon and Ngapali Beach is safe.
For tour operators, travel agents and OTAs considering resuming travel to Myanmar for their customers, the below technical details will outline the key possibilities, along with some restrictions.
Entry restrictions to Myanmar have been lifted. E-Visas are readily available and proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or negative COVID test are not necessary. Current regulations make it mandatory for tourists to have international travel insurance coverage, including for COVID-19.
Logistics are a challenge and limit travel options, particularly domestic flights. Currently there are only two flights per week between Yangon and Bagan on Fridays and Sundays. There are no flights between Bagan and Mandalay and between Mandalay and Heho (Inle Lake). Daily flights operate between Yangon and Mandalay, as well as between Yangon and Heho. Daily flights also operate seasonally between Yangon and Ngapali Beach. There is one weekly flight from Bagan to Heho on Fridays and one weekly flight from Heho to Bagan on Sundays.
To travel between Bagan and Mandalay, the only option is to drive which takes about four hours. No boats are operating on the Irrawaddy River between both destinations at the moment. To get from Mandalay to Heho, the only possibility is also to drive which takes about six hours.
Luxury boutique hotels in Yangon have not yet re-opened. Internationally branded properties such as Melia, Pan Pacific and Parkroyal are fully operational and offer quality rooms as well as a choice of F&B outlets.
In Bagan, Mandalay and Heho, the choice is limited to locally managed properties. We offer a selection of clean, good quality local hotels with full facilities. Electricity cuts occur daily, often for hours, however, all hotels we use operate generators. Generators might not run for 24 hours but these will be operated during night hours and often also at lunch time. Besides breakfast, all hotels serve dinner and on request lunch as well.
In Yangon there is a large choice of restaurants. Up-country the choice is limited, but at all locations we are able to contract restaurants that serve local meals of good quality.
At all locations we contract private transport with qualified and experienced drivers. English speaking guides as well as French, German, Spanish and Italian guides are readily available, and we also offer Mandarin, Korean and Japanese guides on request. Hot air balloon flights over the temples of Bagan will resume in October.
Internet is available at all locations, but this is slow and patchy, with the exception of Yangon where communication is easy and relatively fast.
With these logistical challenges, travel to Myanmar is not easy but it is doable and recommended to the seasoned traveller. Logistically, the easiest option is to fly internationally into Yangon on a Wednesday, spend two nights, then travel for two nights to Bagan, fly back to Yangon on a Sunday, with a same day afternoon or evening international departure. A visit to Mandalay with a direct flight from Bangkok or via Yangon is also an easy option.
Under these conditions, why should I travel to Myanmar? Travellers will be welcomed with open arms and a genuine smile by a local population that is desperate for tourism to restart. Life is tough for the Myanmar population – and my readers remembering what it was like to travel to Myanmar 25 or 30 years ago may experience a sense of déjà vu!
It is that feeling of being alone amongst the temples of Bagan; of enjoying a boat ride on Inle Lake with few tourists around; or of exploring a local market without the crowds that will remain in their memories forever.
With the army in charge, some of my readers will raise the question whether tour fees paid to us go to support the military regime. It can’t be denied that domestic airlines are joint ventures with the military or their supporters, and entrance fees are managed by the regional governments, but all other services are provided by private suppliers be it hotels, restaurants, transport companies, guides and all other services. We do not work with hotels or other suppliers that are owned by the military, directly or indirectly. Our tour fees directly benefit local people.
Asian Trails has not closed any offices in Myanmar and continues to keep its experienced and loyal management and staff in employment. Some have been assigned duties to support other Asian Trails offices in order to keep all employees in work. We are ready to welcome your guests.
Please contact Asian Trails Myanmar for any questions you may have. They will also be pleased to send you itinerary suggestions and quotations.
Chief Executive Officer, Asian Trails