20 Interesting Facts About Myanmar to Know Before Visiting

Visiting Myanmar Nothing Familiar Travel

Before visiting Myanmar we had done plenty of research, but still didn’t know exactly what to expect. The country is polarizing for a multitude of reasons, and has mostly stayed off the main tourist track in Southeast Asia until recent years. Over the three weeks we spent backpacking Myanmar we learned so much about Burmese culture and history. In this post we’ll give you an inside look into the daily life, new tourism, and share some facts about Myanmar from the perspective of two travelers experiencing it for the first time!

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20 Interesting Facts About Myanmar

1. Visa on Arrival

Let’s start off our facts about Myanmar with maybe the most important thing to know before you go! Even though it is called a visa on arrival you still have to start the process prior to traveling. Go online to the official Myanmar tourism website to fill out an application, upload a photo, and pay the entry fee.

This has to be done almost a week before arriving as it can take up to 5 business days to process. You can have it expedited if necessary, but it does cost an extra fee.

The general tourist visa is for up to 28 days and you must have proof of an onward ticket. Head directly to the government website to confirm this information as it can be different depending on which country you’re visiting Myanmar from.

City Streets Yangon

2. Myanmar Cuisine

Starting off our journey in the big city of Yangon, we had the chance to try some traditional dishes like Shan noodles and Mohinga fish soup. Yet it wasn’t until we got to Ngapali Beach where we’d have our favorite meals of our entire trip backpacking in Myanmar.

Here we dived into starters like tea leaf and avocado salad, then eventually discovered the incredible fish curries. The food in this country is filled with flavor and unique spices that are central to Burmese culture. Many people told us they didn’t love the food of Myanmar, but we urge you to taste it for yourself before forming an opinion!

Sampling the Best Food in Myanmar: Mohinga to Tea Leaf Salad

Mohinga Soup Myanmar

3. Betel Nut 

Something not nearly as appetizing, but huge in Burmese culture is the chewing of the betel nut. On your visit to Myanmar you’ll see women and men of all ages chewing the seed of the Areca palm tree. It’s typically wrapped in leaves, coated with lime, and sold from small stands on almost every corner of Myanmar’s cities and towns.

The effects are said to be similar to caffeine and tobacco just on a much more intense level. Don’t be concerned if you see the concrete streets stained with splotches of red… That’s just betel nut!

Burmese Culture

4. Friendly People

The people of Myanmar are the most generous and welcoming we’ve encountered anywhere in Southeast Asia, and frankly the world! From eating at restaurants to driving through the local villages, everyone was smiling, greeting us warmly, and going to great lengths to make sure we had a positive experience.

Myanmar tourism is still new so you can tell they are seeing the value and embracing it. However, it’s obvious to us that their kind nature was already a big part of Burmese culture before westerners arrived.

Visiting Myanmar Beach

5. Pagan Kingdom

Growing from a small village in the 9th century, the Pagan Kingdom gradually expanded to a dynasty that would rule present day Myanmar for over 400 years. In 1057, King Anawrahta successfully unified the region combining all the different city states. The group from the north brought along many changes tying into the Buddhist religion.

They built thousands of pagodas, libraries, temples, monasteries, and universities, which were essential in forming the Myanmar culture you see today. The Mongols eventually took down the Pagan Kingdom in the late 13th century, but its presence can still be felt all around the country.

Myanmar Culture

6. Prices When Visiting Myanmar 

Having already been all over Southeast Asia we were expecting backpacking in Myanmar to be fairly budget friendly. Not only were the accommodations cheap, but it seemed like you get more value here than other places.

Guesthouses with basic amenities like air conditioning and wifi were all very inexpensive, but it was prices of the tours that really blew us away. For instance, in Lake Inle we paid $15 USD for an 8 hour boat tour of the floating villages and temples, and in Ngapali Beach it was just $20 for a half-day snorkeling tour!

That’s a fraction of the cost of other countries, and they were some of the best activities we did. Whether you’re backpacking through the country or planning an upscale luxury holiday, know that your money will go far visiting Myanmar.

→ Experiencing a Full Day Boat Tour on Inle Lake in Myanmar

Facts about Myanmar - Nothing Familiar Travel

7. British Colonization

Due to its prime location between China and India, Burma became an important piece in European colonialism. The first real contact came when the Konbaung Dynasty attempted to expand into British controlled India in 1784. There would go on to be many more battles between Burma and British India throughout the 19th century with attacks provoked by both sides.

In 1824, the Brits took Upper Burma, and in 1886 they expanded into the lower part of the country. Eventually the entire territory would be part of British India and their colonial empire. It wouldn’t be until 1948 that Burma would finally gain its independence from the British.

8. Thanaka in Burmese Culture

From your first introduction to tourism in Myanmar you’ll notice the paint-like coating on peoples faces. Thanaka is widely used throughout the country by men, women, and children. You might be surprised to know that the thick paste is actually made from tree bark!

Besides protecting you from the sun, it’s also packed with vitamins that enrich the quality of your skin. You may not find thanaka at the stores as the locals often make this distinct part of Burmese culture themselves. Nonetheless, at least now you know the story behind this popular face cream!

Nothing Familiar Travel Myanmar

9. Beautiful Beaches

We mentioned the beaches briefly before, but they truly deserve their own section in our facts about Myanmar article! While backpacking Myanmar we traveled to Ngapali Beach in south Rakhine State. What we thought would just be a couple days quickly turned into over a week in paradise.

Ngapali features 3km of practically untouched sand, and is blessed with some of the clearest water we’ve ever seen. Although fancy hotels have already been constructed with the advent of Myanmar tourism, it didn’t seem overcrowded. We’ve been to a lot of nice beaches in Southeast Asia, but this may have been the most amazing!

Ngapali Beach in the Rakhine State

10. The Capital of Myanmar isn’t Yangon

Most people begin their journey in Yangon as it’s the countries biggest city and holds an international airport. After getting lost in the maze of markets and seeing a spectacular sunset at the Shwedagon Pagoda, we were shocked to find out it wasn’t the capital!

In 2006, the government actually named Naypyitaw as its new administrative headquarters. This was one of the facts about Myanmar we weren’t expecting especially after learning the cultural and historical impact of Yangon. It seems very strange, but then again New York City isn’t the capital of New York is it?

Streets of Yangon

11. Aung San Suu Kyi

A name you will undoubtedly hear as you dive into Myanmar tourism is Aung San Suu Kyi. Her story is very deep, but to put it simply she’s one of the main politicians credited with helping to weaken the military’s power. For her efforts (which included being placed under house arrest for over 15 years) Aung San won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990.

She now holds the position of State Counsellor which is similar to the Prime Minister in other parts of the world. The once heralded author and humanitarian has become quite controversial recently as Myanmar was forced onto the international stage with the Rohingya Conflict.

12. Myanmar Tourism in Wet and Dry Season

Before visiting Myanmar you should know the country has two very different seasons. Wet or monsoon season in Southeast Asia typically lasts from May to October where you can expect heavy rainfall.

Dry season is from November to April where the temperature spikes and brings much nicer weather. We traveled here in January and experienced the perfect climate for beaches and exploring. It does get very hot in peak dry season so it’s best to plan on visiting Myanmar before the month of March.

SEA Dry Season

13. From Burma to Myanmar

One of the most interesting facts about Myanmar we initially wanted to know was how the country had recently changed its name. It’s not something you see so often in modern day society so this was quite intriguing to us. In 1989, the military run government changed the name from Burma to Myanmar after thousands were killed in the infamous 8888 uprising.

Once the military took power from the General Ne Win government the name change was considered an important movement to include all ethnic groups while still retaining Burmese culture. It also was seen as a way to separate Myanmar from its colonial past with the British.

Streets of Yangon

14. Cruising on E-Bikes

With new tourism in Myanmar has also come fresh modes of transportation. At many popular sites like Bagan and Ngapali Beach you’ll find an environmentally friendly alternative to what’s used around most other countries in Asia. Electric bikes are rented everywhere and can be used for 40km or more as you explore.

These silent bikes aren’t exactly speed demons, but they certainly get you around town. Just remember to have them charged completely up before you leave your hotel. We almost had to push our e-bike back a couple times!

E-Bikes Used by Myanmar Tourism

15. Cheroots

Another staple of Burmese culture you’re bound to come across are the green cigars known as Cheroots. What makes them different from Western cigars is that they’re rolled with thanal-phet tree leaves and dried wood seasonings. They’re also coated with honey, pineapple, or whatever sweet flavor you’d like!

We had the opportunity to see how they’re made firsthand on our Inle Lake boat tour, and it was quite the experience. You’ll see these unique cigars smoked everywhere while backpacking Myanmar, as a close second only to betel nut chewing.

Cheroots Burmese Culture

16. Endless Pagodas and Temples

If you’re visiting Myanmar then you already know one of the big draws is the many historical and religious landmarks. Exploring the endless pagodas, temples, and monasteries was a highlight our time in the country. In fact, in Bagan alone there are over 2,000 of these special places of worship.

One of the most incredible days we had backpacking in Myanmar was waking up early in the morning for sunrise in Bagan. Riding our bikes through the pagodas as the hot air balloons flew over us was such a special moment!

16 Bagan Travel Tips For the Ancient Heart of Myanmar

Pagodas and Temples in Myanmar

17. Tea Houses

While you may not find much great coffee on your visit to Myanmar, they more than make up for it with their lovable tea houses. These places of gathering are important to Burmese culture and tea is sipped by the locals daily.

We had plenty of cups visiting Myanmar, but our favorites were green, ginger, and milk tea. This is perfect before or after any meal and will become an essential part of your Myanmar tourism journey.

18. Buddhism in Myanmar

Our Myanmar facts article wouldn’t be complete without addressing the role that Buddhism plays in the country. From the pagodas to the hundreds of monks we saw every day it’s obvious how much the religion means here. Buddhism dates back over 2,000 years in Myanmar culture, and today it makes up 90% of their population.

Legend has it that there are even relics from Gautama Buddha like strands of hair inside some of the pagodas in Yangon. Make sure to dress and act respectfully when entering the temples on your visit to Myanmar.

Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar

19. Rohingya Conflict

As amazing as backpacking in Myanmar is you can’t gloss over the fact that there’s a very serious conflict going on. Specifically in the north of the Rakhine state there has been news of genocide by the military targeting the Muslim minority.

The violence has reportedly gotten so bad that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people have fled across the border into Bangladesh. When deciding on participating in Myanmar tourism you should do your own research from an ethical perspective and decide what’s right for you.

20. Transportation to Use Backpacking in Myanmar

In Myanmar all the tourist sites and cities are relatively close to each other. You’ll just have to figure out if you’re going to take a flight or overnight bus. For example, flights from Yangon to locations like Bagan and Inle Lake were only about an hour away.  Bus routes were between 8 and 12 hours which still isn’t too bad if you’ve traveled elsewhere in Asia.

Having the two options is great because when backpacking Myanmar on a budget as you can take the inexpensive bus, while flights are more suitable for travelers on a tight time frame. If you do plan on visiting Myanmar and going off the typical tourist route it is possible. Just know it will be more a little more difficult to find your way around!

→ How to Plan Your Travels Through Myanmar: Buses vs Flights

Visiting Myanmar Flight Information

Have any questions about Burmese culture, or want to share your own interesting facts about Myanmar? Leave us a comment below!

Safe Travels,
Brigitte & Jake

Where in the world are we? Follow our daily adventures on Instagram @nothingfamiliar


Travel Planning 

 Flights: We always find our cheap flight deals using Skyscanner. That’s how we flew from Norway to Poland for under $20 USD, and Thailand to Vietnam for less than $50! 

 Transportation: 12Go is what we use to book ferries, trains, buses, and transfers while traveling through South East Asia! 

 Accommodation: Compare competitive sites for hotels such as Booking.com and Agoda. Also, Hostelworld should be your go-to source if you’re traveling on a budget. 

Tours: Check out Get Your Guide for thousands of activities around the world. From food tours to skip the line entry passes! 

 Travel Insurance: Never travel abroad without being covered. We’ve been using SafetyWing for the last few years on the road and they are there when we need them.

 Packing Lists: Find all the inspiration you need with our Amazon packing lists. Including our electronics and camera gear, must-have medical items, and long flight essentials

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