We all need a balance in our lives.
To me, one of the most important balances to have is being able to see all the important sights during travel while still having that element of surprise. It is the balance between the “Ohh, I’m glad to see this world-renowned structure” and “Wow, I did not know such beauty exist in this world!”.
If that makes sense.
There were a few times during my trip in Myanmar that I thought to myself “thank goodness my friend told me about this” or “I wish I had known this before”. In my sincere attempt to continue to be Myanmar tourism evangelist, I have compiled this list of good-to-know-before-you-go so you can maximise your trip without me spoiling much of the surprise the place beholds.
- Flip flops are the way to go. Forget about your sneakers or flats. By the end of my trip, I visited more than 30 temples and none of them allowed you to wear any footwear inside. Unless you have extremely patient friends who don’t mind to wait while you tie and untie your shoelaces and unless you want dirt-stained footwear as keepsakes from Myanmar, stick to the flip flops. One tip: bring a plastic bag to carry your flip flops around the temple since most places will ask for donation if you put your footwear at a cabinet outside the temple.
- Ladies, invest in longyis. They are pretty. And they will save you from having to wear trousers or jeans in hot weather. They also make you walk more daintily since they limit your movement, depending on how you wear them. They do have longyis for guys too, but most men can make do with their below-the-knee shorts.
- Change your money at the airport. Throughout our trip, the best rate we observed was at Mandalay airport (do shop around though!). Consolidate the amount that you want to change since USD 100 note offers the best rate and the smaller the denomination is, the worse off you are. We hardly found any money changers in Bagan save one at Nyaung U. (But maybe we just did not look hard enough). In town, go to the banks for the best rate.
- Carry small kyat notes around with you, especially in temples. After a while, you just won’t have the heart to shoo the kids away. They will follow you to all ends of the temple to sell you postcards, flowers for offering, etc. To clear my conscience, I tried to buy something from at least one kid each day.
- Shan food is amazing. This, you cannot afford to miss.
- Disguised cap cay in the food menu. Steamed mixed vegetable. Eel with Japanese tofu. Steamed chicken with rice. Stir fried vegetables. Don’t be deceived by the names. They all look and taste the same, like cap cay.
- Bring diarrhoea medicine. For someone who is always boasting that I have a strong third-world-country stomach, seeing 6 of my other country mates fell ill is a warning, even for me. You’ll be fine at most places though, just be sure to wash your hands every time.
- Land travel is possible. If you are worried about the reliability of local flights like me, we travelled by minibuses and this awesome inter-city bus from Bagan to Yangon.
- Buy lacquerware in Bagan. I always leave souvenir buying to the last minute, but if you are looking for lacquerware as souvenirs, Bagan is definitely the place to buy. It is cheaper and lacquerware is a Bagan specialty anyway.
- Finally, my personal favourite tip, smile a lot to the wonderful people there and say ‘Mingalabar!’.