Myanmar Solo Travel – Should You Go?
Backpackers travel around Southeast Asia on their own all the time, especially in Thailand and Malaysia. But what about the less visited destinations such as Burma? Is Myanmar solo travel really a good idea? If you’re looking for an adventure and are planning on travelling to Myanmar alone, then you’re in the right place. This article describes everything you need to know about solo travel to Myanmar for both males and females. So, read on and feel inspired to visit this exotic destination in Southeast Asia.
Is Myanmar safe to travel solo?
Solo travellers to Myanmar tend to find it relatively safe. The majority of the population adhere to strict conservative Buddhism and crime against foreigners isn’t as high as other countries in the region. You can get around without too many difficulties and the Burmese often treat you with a lot of respect.
However, there are a few things to mention about travelling solo in Myanmar that you should know about.
The first is that, as you probably know, Burma is a developing country and poverty is very prevalent. This means that as you walk down the street with your gadgets, it’s going to attract attention. Crime may be quite low, but opportunistic theft still happens.
The next point is about the general safety in towns and cities. Roads tend to be in poor conditions and the driving standards are a lot lower than back at home. People drive fast and don’t stop to allow pedestrians to cross the road, even in the designated crossing areas. Essentially, you have to make a run for it or you’ll never get to the other side. This becomes significantly worse after dark as most of the towns and even major cities have poor street lighting. It’s always a good idea to get the contact details of your hotel or the number of your embassy if you’re backpacking Burma alone in case of an emergency.
The final point worth mentioning is that there are a number of restricted areas in Myanmar. These regions, including large parts of Shan State, are off-limits to foreigners. Civil unrest and conflicts are ongoing along the borders and the area has restricted access. You could find yourself in a lot of trouble if you enter the places that the government doesn’t want you to visit.
But, saying that, Myanmar is a safe place to travel alone. The locals tend to be friendly and helpful and you’re almost certain to meet like-minded backpackers along the way.
Solo female travellers in Myanmar
Now that you have the basic idea of how safe it is to visit, let’s take a more specific look at solo female travel Myanmar. If you’re a female travelling alone and have already been to other countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar won’t be much of a shock. Women find the country quite safe if they stick to the tourist trail. Some may experience stares by some of the men in the more rural parts of the country. But, this isn’t malicious or an indicator of something more sinister as it may be in India. More likely than not, it’s the curiosity of seeing a foreigner.
A female traveller to Myanmar should also take care to dress appropriately to avoid any unwanted attention. This includes covering the shoulders and not wearing short shorts or a mini-skirt. Myanmar is conservative Buddhist and female modesty is of paramount importance in their society. Follow their laws and customs if you’re lucky enough to visit their country. It’s probably a good idea to also avoid wearing clothes that may have more obscene images on them. And, remember that you need to cover your legs to enter temples and pagodas.
One of the most popular events on the calendar in Myanmar is Thingyan, or the Burmese Water Festival, that’s held over a few days in April. Tourists love to take part in the nationwide water fight and everyone is in good spirits. But, the men tend to drink heavily and some take drugs. This may increase the risks towards a single, foreign lady who’s out and about after dark.
The last point is of a more practical and hygienic nature. Don’t expect every toilet to be clean or to have any tissue. And, it may be more challenging to find certain hygiene products. Some solo females suggest that you make sure you bring the essentials along with you.
Backpacking solo in Myanmar
Having a solo trip to Myanmar will probably be a very rewarding experience. The country is full of mystical pagodas and a lot of unique cultures and a different way of life. Some people walk away with a very different perspective and find that the whole trip can be an incredibly spiritual experience.
If you visit here alone, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to meet and interact with the locals. Some can speak a little English and are always happy to talk to a tourist. A particular example of this is the young monks who hang around Mandalay Hill. As you walk up, they’ll approach you for a chat.
There are also lots of other tourists that travel to Myanmar who will hang out at the hostel or in the local bars. You’ll find it easy to meet new people and make new friends. This means that it’s unlikely that you’ll find yourself alone for long periods of time. Another way to meet people is by taking advantage of some of the cheaper day tours and if you arrange a shared taxi to cover the long distances.
Solo vs guided travel: what to choose
Choosing between an independent trip and joining an organised tour can be a tough decision for solo travellers. A guided tour is with other tourists, which means you’ll always have company. Independent travel gives you flexibility. Let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both types of trip.
Independent travel is a great way to explore a destination on your own terms. You make the decisions about where you want to go and how long you’re going to stay there. If you’re visiting Myanmar alone, this can be very rewarding as there are lots of interesting places to see and experiences to try. Another major advantage is that it’s a perfect way to travel on a budget. Taking the bus from one place to the next in Myanmar is quite affordable. And food and drink aren't too expensive either.
However, at the same time, some may find that they feel less secure in the more rural parts of the country. If you’re not familiar with being one of the very few foreigners in a rural area, it may feel a bit intimidating. In short, independent travel is more budget-friendly and gives you the flexibility, but some may not feel as safe.
Or join a tour?
A guided tour can take you to the different parts of the country as part of an organised trip. You simply fly into Myanmar and the tour company will arrange everything else from hotels to transport and the best places to go. This may be more suitable for a woman solo traveller who doesn’t have the backpacker mentality. You’ll also be accompanied by a knowledgeable guide and won’t have to plan as much.
Most guided tours favour domestic flights over spending long hours on an uncomfortable bus. It also gives you the chance to meet other travellers in a similar position to you.
But, a tour can be quite expensive and you’ll be looking at spending the same in a week as most independent travellers do in two months. Tours also have a more rigid itinerary, which gives you less flexibility to spend time in the places that interest you. The bottom line is that guided tours may be more suitable for some solo travellers who aren’t on a budget and just want to get an overview of the country.
Recommended itinerary for a solo traveller in Burma
Big Four: Yangon–Bagan–Mandalay–Inle Lake
The best Myanmar travel itinerary for solo travellers is to follow the typical tourist trail. This includes arriving in Yangon before heading to the ancient temples of Bagan, and then on to Mandalay and Inle Lake. It’s not advised to venture too far off the beaten track, especially if you’re a female as you may feel uncomfortable by the stares in more rural areas. You should also avoid the restricted areas at all costs to ensure that you have safe travel in Myanmar.
Most people arrive in Yangon, the former capital of Myanmar. This is a large and busy city with the world-famous Shwedagon Pagoda and lots of British colonial architecture. Tourists typically spend a few days exploring this city and you can find a number of hotels and hostels in the downtown district. The most common way to get around is by taxi, which is a safe method of transport for both solo male and female travellers.
[Bagan](/en/myanmar/bagan is the reason why most tourists want to visit Myanmar. The landscape is full of hundreds of ancient temples and places of worships in different states of ruin. You enter the Bagan Archaeological Zone (a 5-day mandatory ticket is about USD20) and can enter some of the larger temples. The tops of the larger ones also make a perfect place to see the sunrise and sunset.
Many visitors rent an electric bicycle to get around the town and temples. You can find guesthouses and hostels in Nyaung U and New Bagan with the first being more budget friendly. There are also day tours to the nearby Mount Popa, or the Mount Olympus of Myanmar, that’s a favourite of many solo travellers. Bagan deserves at least two full days to experience everything the region has to offer.
Mandalay is typically the next stop and is a sprawling city to the north of Bagan. The main attractions include the world-famous Mandalay Palace and the Mandalay Hill. One of the most popular activities is to take a day trip to visit the nearby former capitals of Burmese Kingdom. You can either take a tour or rent a motorbike and drive yourself if you’re brave enough. The city has quite a few bars and restaurants where you can meet other travellers. However, because the city is quite busy and full of hundreds of motorbikes, some travellers may feel a little less safe.
The final part of the typical itinerary is to spend a few days at Inle Lake. This is very relaxing compared to the other destinations and has a more rural feel to it. But, Inle Lake is a great place to come and see the more traditional side of Burmese culture.
Myanmar is a safe destination to visit as a solo traveller if you stick to the tourist trail and exercise normal precautions. If you’re not on a budget, a guided tour may be a good choice. Just remember to take care extra precautions after dark.