Although there are now several open land borders between Thailand and Myanmar, the vast majority of visitors enter the country by air at either Yangon or Mandalay. There is also an international airport in Nay Pyi Daw, but the capital is of limited interest to tourists. The cheapest way to reach Myanmar from outside the region is to fly to a regional hub such as Bangkok or Singapore and then hop on a connecting flight to Yangon or Mandalay.
With much of the country still off-limits to foreign visitors due to ongoing ethnic conflict, forward planning is necessary when visiting Myanmar. Check the list on the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism website for the latest news on restricted areas. For major destinations in the country, the best option is usually to fly domestically. If you are on a budget, buses are faster and cheaper than trains, but don’t expect much in the way of comfort. Taxis are cheap and plentiful in Yangon, but be warned: The city’s traffic is reliably appalling and short journeys can take a long time, especially during peak hours.
Myanmar's cultural highlights are very much intertwined with the country's rich spiritual fabric. Buddhism is practiced by an estimated 89% of the population and the country is scattered with ornate pagodas and stunning temple complexes. The apex of this spirituality can be found at Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda and also at leading attractions like Bagan and the archeologically rich site of Mrauk U in Rakhine State. The country is well-known for its arts and crafts, which are also heavily influenced by Buddhism. Artisanal traditions include woodcarving, stone carving, turnery, painting, and lacquerware. The best place to sample contemporary Myanmar culture is in Yangon, the country's biggest city, which has a smattering of modern art galleries, museums, and venues for live music and DJs.
Myanmar’s colorful and lively festivals are based on the lunar calendar and can really enhance your trip if it happens to coincide with one. The most popular festival in the calendar is Thingyan, the annual water festival where locals take to the streets with water pistols and buckets of water as the temperatures soar. November is the date for the Fire Balloon Festival at Taunggyi, east of Inle Lake. At night, balloons are released with fireworks strapped underneath them—with predictably explosive consequences. Also worth catching are the New Year celebrations in Shan State, one of the country’s most ethnically diverse regions. Expect live bands, traditional dancing, and—on New Year’s Eve itself—fireworks and a party vibe.
After arriving on something of a whim, Duncan Forgan has been living and working in Bangkok since 2013. In a previous life he was a features writer for the national newspapers in his native Scotland, an editor of various travel guides in the Middle East, and a long-term freelancer in Vietnam. Now he prefers to discover new street food and to drive his motorbike around the sois. When he's not comparing venues for Isaan food, he writes and broadcasts for a variety of outlets worldwide on Asian travel, culture, and cuisine.