Is it possible to travel in Myanmar on a low budget?
Before we answer this question, you first need to consider what a low budget means to you. You shouldn’t have any difficulty planning your Burma trip with a daily budget of around USD50 (excluding flights). However, compared to nearby countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, the costs of travelling in Myanmar are much higher. This doesn’t mean that travelling on a low budget to Myanmar is impossible. Just expect things to cost a little extra, especially when it comes to arranging accommodation.
Budget travel in Myanmar: independently or on a packaged tour?
Independent travel is always more budget friendly than packaged tours. You may have to do more planning, but your bank account will thank you later on.
The first reason for this is that you have the choice of where you want to go and where you want to stay. A typical hotel or hostel costs between USD20 and USD40 per night. Additionally, budget travellers will get around by taking advantage of the bus, rather than the more expensive domestic flights.
Compare this to an organised tour where most things are included in the package. Expect a typical seven-day tour of Myanmar to cost in excess of USD1500 whereas an independent trip may cost around USD500 or less. Travelling independently is the best way to see Myanmar on the cheap.
Top budget itineraries
This section looks at a few of the best destinations for the top budget itineraries in Myanmar.
Yangon is the first city on most tourist’s itinerary. Several flights arrive at Yangon International Airport and the city is an interesting place to visit. Cheap hotels and hostels are found in the downtown area and there are lots of places selling local food.
Bagan is the next stop. You do have to pay an initial fee of about USD20 to enter the archaeological zone, but it's worth it for what you’ll experience. When you’re inside, a few of the larger temples have an additional entrance fee, though most of the smaller ones are free to enter. Rent an electric bicycle and explore some of the lesser-known temples. Nyaung U is the best place in Bagan to find budget accommodation. And if you simply walk away from the centre of the village, you can find cheaper local restaurants.
Mandalay is another great place to visit for budget travellers. Hotels and hostels with reasonable price are found all throughout the city as well as a number of relatively inexpensive bars and restaurants. One of the best free things to do is to walk around the walls of Mandalay Palace and watch the sunset over its moat. In terms of travel costs, Mandalay does feel more expensive than Yangon.
Inle Lake is another top place to visit. You'll have to pay a fee to enter the village and it can be quite inconvenient to reach. If you fly in, the airport is far from the lake and taxi prices are high. However, when you do arrive, accommodation is quite affordable.
Other popular destinations include visiting Kyaiktiyo to see the Golden Rock Pagoda and Hsipaw. The first is a large golden pagoda that appears to be perched precariously on the edge of a cliff. Hsipaw is a small town in northern Myanmar, but the main attraction is the train ride from Mandalay that has some of the best scenery in the world as it goes through Goteik Gorge.
Best cheap hostels/hotels in Myanmar:
Hostel The SAT
This hostel has private rooms rather than the traditional dormitory with a shared bathroom. Wi-Fi is free and a good breakfast is served every morning. The location is a few kilometres from both Sule and Shwedagon Pagoda. Prices start at around USD20 per night.
- 15th street @ Downtown Yangon
Downtown Yangon hotel costs around USD30 per night for a small, comfortable room with free Wi-Fi and breakfast. You have your own private bathroom and air conditioning to help you through the stuffy nights. The hotel is in a good location and just over a kilometre from Sule.
Hotel Yadanarbon Bagan
You can stay at Hotel Yadanarbon Bagan for between USD25 and USD30 per night, which includes breakfast and air conditioning in your room. This is located in New Bagan and is near the temples, bars, and restaurants.
- Sky View Hotel
Sky View is a relatively new hotel that’s conveniently located in Nyaung U and is a short distance from Old Bagan. Free Wi-Fi and breakfast are included for around USD30 a night. You can also rent bicycles from the hotel.
Bed & Breakfast ABC Backpacker @ Golden City Light
This hostel is in a good location and a bed in the dormitory costs as little as USD19 per night including breakfast. You can rent bicycles and motorbikes from the hostel too. Most travellers recommend this as a clean and comfortable place to stay.
- Golden City Light Hotel
The hotel costs around USD25 per night for a private room with your own bathroom and breakfast. Free Wi-Fi is offered in the hotel along with bicycle rentals. Travellers say the Golden City Light is in a good location and near bars and restaurants.
Sin Yaw Guesthouse
Sin Yaw Guesthouse offers private rooms at affordable prices starting at USD20 per night, which also includes breakfast. The guesthouse is in the town of Nyaung Shwe that’s a short walk from the lake.
- Inle Star Hotel
This hotel is in Nyaung Shwe and for around USD20 per night, you’ll get a comfortable private room with air-conditioning and free Wi-Fi. All rooms have a flat-screen TV and free toiletries. Most travellers recommend Inle Star and consistently give it a high rating on TripAdvisor.
- Thuwunna Bomi Mountain View Hotel
Most hotels in Kyaiktiyo aren’t as budget friendly as other parts of Myanmar. This is one of the more affordable resorts in the region and for USD40 a night you can get a comfortable room with good views of either the garden or mountain.
- Hotel Lily Home
Hotel Lily Home offers rooms with breakfast that starts at $25 per night. Rooms are comfortable and have air conditioning and an on-site restaurant serves both Asian and European food. There’s also a tour desk and a fitness centre making it excellent value for money.
Top tips for budget travel in Myanmar
Anyone who’s backpacking Myanmar wants to get the most value for their money. And the good news is that there are a few tips and tricks to help cut the costs – read, pack, go!
- Use overland transport only
This first tip is the best way to cut your daily cost in Myanmar by about 50%. Domestic flights start at around USD80 per person up to more than USD130. This means if you plan to fly from Yangon to Bagan to Mandalay to Inle Lake and then back to Yangon, you’ll end up paying at least USD600. Buses, on the other hand, leave the major cities and cost no more than $20 for a relatively comfortable journey.
- Don’t visit every temple in the country
Honestly, once you’ve been inside a few temples, the charm and excitement start to wear off. Most look similar and are nice places to visit, but when you’re faced with steep admission fees, it may not be worth it. For example, in Yangon, most fees are at least $5 to go inside some of the larger ones with Shwedagon costing USD8. If you want to visit the temples, explore some of the more low-key ones.
- Be savvy with booking flights to Myanmar
One of the biggest costs is actually getting to the country. There are regular low-cost flights from other countries in South East Asia including Thailand and Vietnam. Some of the airlines also have regular promotions. The best money saving tip is to research to find the best flight. If you’re visiting from further afield such as Europe or the United States, you may be able to find a cheaper flight to Bangkok and then get a direct flight into Myanmar from there.
- The restaurants along the main stretches are for tourists
In some parts of Myanmar, such as Bagan and Inle Lake, several bars and restaurants are clustered along the road. As you walk past, they may look like locally owned places where the locals will go themselves. However, most aren’t. If the menu has an English translation, the price is probably more than double or even triple of what you could find elsewhere. Walk a little further away from the main stretch or ask the receptionist at the hotel to recommend where they eat. A few extra dollars per meal can quickly add up.
- Change your money in Myanmar
Getting your hands on Myanmar Kyat can be challenging if you’re not already in the country. You can find some of the local currency in neighbouring countries, but the rates aren’t exactly the best. When you visit Myanmar, bring new notes in one of the major currencies such as USD or Euro. Exchange office at Yangon International Airport offers a reasonable rate. If the notes are old or even have a fold in them, they probably won’t be accepted. Make sure you bring new notes to Myanmar.
- Find budget friendly transport
Using a taxi every day to get from one attraction to the next quickly adds up after a few days. Whilst getting a taxi is relatively cheap, if you rely on them all the time, the cost skyrockets. You can get around the city by using the public bus in Yangon and Mandalay. It’s also possible to rent a bicycle or even a motorbike is some parts of the country. This gives you freedom and saves money on taxis.
- You need to bargain
Pretty much everything in Myanmar has a price that’s negotiable. Taxis don’t use meters and souvenirs and gifts on the markets hardly ever have price tags. It’s quite rare for a local of Myanmar to openly try to rip off tourists. And most of the time, they’ll only try to charge an extra couple of dollars above the asking price. One of the general rules of thumb is to offer to pay something about 20-30% of what they initially asked. You should also expect to agree on a price quickly.
Myanmar is an attractive place to visit as a budget traveller. Daily costs shouldn’t exceed more than around $50 a day (excluding flights) and it’s easy to find bargains and travel comfortably as an independent traveller. Just don’t expect it to be quite as cheap as the rest of Southeast Asia.