Posted by: Gideon | November 13, 2011

Myanmar / Burma with Kids – Important tips and what you need to know.

THIS IS MY FINAL BLOG ON THE TOPIC OF MYANMAR /BURMA – THE BLOG ON BURMA/MYANMAR BEGAN IN AUGUST 2011 AND CONSISTS OF 29 ENTRIES.

LINK HERE TO THE FIRST BLOG ENTRY RELATED TO THIS TRIP.

Myanmar - a great family destination!

Myanmar is a country that you should be prepared for before you arrive.

Visas – we received ours easily and quickly from the Embassy in Canada. The country is doing whatever it can to encourage tourism so unless you are blacklisted for some reason, it shouldn’t be a problem.

Money – it is a cash economy. Take more than you think you need – we met people who were in danger of cutting their trip short because they were running short of cash. The best place to change money was the travel agency at the Summit Parkview Hotel in Yangon. I suggest changing as much as you can there.

Flights: To /from Myanmar: We flew Air Asia from Bangkok. Cheap, very efficient – you can do it all online. They emailed us to say they had canceled our return flight – one call to their office and we were rebooked on a flight that suited us equally well.

Flights within Myanmar: We flew Air Bagan and were impressed. Flights didn’t always leave on time, but that was the same for all the airlines. The flights themselves were quick, comfortable and went well. I believe the only really viable option with kids is to fly, but you do need the budget.

Buses: We were traveling with small kids, and the feedback we received on the ground regarding the buses was that they were tightly packed, long, uncomfortable and often a nightmare. We decided to skip bus travel completely. (We are often happy to travel on the buses when they are comfortable  – Turkey and Mexico are good examples).

Train – we planned to take the train from Pyin oo Lwin to Hsipaw – but it was canceled.

Hired car – we traveled extensively with hired vehicles and drivers – it worked really well in Myanmar, as it does in India as well. Most cars on the road in general are very old and in very poor condition. Tourist cars are in reasonably good condition and many have a/c (though not in the Inle region). The average age of a car in Myanmar must be at least 20 years old.

Roads: Roads are busy but much less chaotic than many other places in SE Asia. Some cars have the steering wheel on the left, others on the right. It’s bizarre . Often it will seem like your driver can’t see anything on the road ahead of him, but it all seems to work.

Food: On day 2 our kids decided they did not like the typical Myanmar (Bamar) curries. Myanmar is not a gourmet destination, but that doesn’t mean to say we didn’t eat well – we did, but we stuck to Chinese or Shan food (which is closer in style to Thai). I actually liked the Myanmar curries  – but was outvoted by the family! We had excellent Indian food in both Yangon and Mandalay.

Hotels: We stayed in midrange (typically 3*) hotels and we were very impressed by the quality of accommodation. Prices (especially in the monsoon) were excellent. Best of all was the management and staff everywhere – they really looked after us. Decent hotels have a/c and TV in the rooms.

Sports: In Myanmar the people are sports crazy. They especially love soccer, mainly British or European.

Costs: We found Myanmar to be  more expensive than in most of South East Asia in nearly all respects. Laundry in many hotels is ridiculously overpriced – rather, ask your guide to help you find a laundry elsewhere in the town or city you are visiting (families generate lots of laundry). Prices of goods are mainly in kyat, but in tourist areas/facilities/stores they’ll often be in USD as well. Make sure you have small USD bills for entry into monuments and pagodas. Bargaining in markets is commonplace.

Souvenirs and art: There is a lot to buy and prices range enormously. Lacquerware is outstanding, and best bought in Bagan (prices from $10 – $5,000). We bought great textiles in Mandalay – they were being exported to Thailand for sale to tourists over there. Gemstones and jewelry are outstanding. Art work is big as well – there are expensive art galleries i Yangon, and you’ll see artwork by local artists for sale everywhere. Remember, you need cash!

The people: The highlight of the whole trip was meeting the local people. They are the friendliest people we have come across anywhere, and that is saying a lot – we’ve met incredibly friendly people all over the world.

Weather: We went in the monsoon – and the weather did not affect us. It was sometimes very hot (in Mandalay) and sometimes wet (at Inle) but only for a few hours. Hiking was muddy though.

Health: Myanmar has a very poor reputation regarding health facilities. In addition to standard travel medical insurance, we took out evacuation insurance with International SOS, a global company with a presence in Myanmar. If you need to be hospitalised, you really are advised to go to Thailand. We took with a full medical kit, though we saw many pharmacies and I don’t think we would have had any problem in finding antibiotics etc. We needed to go to the International SOS clinic in Yangon – the facility was excellent, as were the staff. We felt in excellent hands, but even they told us that if our child had to be taken to hospital, it must be in Thailand. We took malarone as a precaution against malaria, but the clinic in Yangon said it was totally unnecessary. Make your own decision. We took insect repellant with us, and mosquitoes were common. We all experienced stomach problems at various times in our trip, though this seldom lasted more than about 24 hours (which is pretty normal for us on our trips in Asia). Make sure you have all recommended vaccinations.

Communications: Internet in Myanmar is often terrible. Connecting takes ages and email is dicey. Gmail seems to work fine, but we struggled otherwise. Also, many internet sites are inaccessible – including a lot of well known newspapers, magazines and news channels. It sometimes took us 20-30 minutes to log into gmail! As for cellphones – Myanmar is off the global network – it is impossible to be on global roaming there. Apparently it is possible to buy a local SIM card – we didn’t – we simply forgot about our cellphone during our trip. Local communications are fine – if you need to call anywhere in Myanmar, you should manage easily – just ask your hotel if you can use the phone (if there isn’t one in your hotel room).

Clothing – it’s often very hot so you don’t overdress. I wore shorts without any problems. Women may want to cover up a bit more. Kids can wear what they like. We wore flip flops or sandals about 90% of the  time – you tend to take off your shoes a lot. But take with proper shoes if you intend to do much hiking. Don’t forget bathing suits and hats. Shan hats make great souvenirs. Sold for $2 in Hsipaw and $10+ in Inle!

Cameras – You will be able to find memory cards, but we bought extra in Thailand before we arrived in Myanmar. The fact is, you can buy pretty much anything in Myanmar if you know where to look.

Coke etc – despite any economic boycott, you’ll find coke everywhere and snacks (chips, candies etc) are commonplace.

Getting around and services: Contact me for more info on how we planned our trip. If you are a solo traveller, you probably don’t need to do this much in advance – but if you are a family, I strongly suggest you have everything planned before you come. Contact me for more info in this regard.

Thanks for reading the blog so far – after Myanmar we moved on to Thailand and I’ll be covering our family trip there next.

(PS: I am now custom-designing trips to Myanmar. For more details click here).

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Responses

  1. Were you son’s gastric issue a result of the food and would you advise against traveling with younger children (4 and 9) given the poor health facilities in the country?

    • Hi

      Good question – we checked our son very thoroughly – initially in Yangon and then in Bangkok. The end result was put down to a virus – there was nothing bacterial involved, and he had been vaccinated against both typhoid and Hepatitis before our trip. So no, we could not attribute his illness to anything he ate in Myanmar.

      I think it’s fine to travel with kids aged 4 and 9 to Myanmar – it’s a far cleaner country than India, and many people take young kids to India – I took my youngest to India when he was 3! The hospitals in Myanmar do have a very poor reputation and I advise everybody to take out evacuation insurance so that if one needs hospital attention Thailand is only an hours flight away. But the clinics on the ground, especially those catering to expats are very good. We were particularly impressed by the International SOS clinic we used in Yangon. Modern facilities, the test results came back quickly, all medicines were available and we were looked after by a French doctor.

  2. Hi Gideon,
    Great, informative blog!
    Did you end up hiking around Kalaw at all? (I saw your post on Thorntree).
    We are planning a a two week trip this August with two kids (7 & 9). Whilst they have no major issues with hiking (we live in Cdn Rockies), the wet/mud could be an obstacle. I see your posts on Kyaing Tong but this is too much travelling in a two week trip.
    Thanks
    Fiona.

    • Hi Fiona

      We hiked in Kyaing Tong and Hsipaw – we didn’t get to Kalaw. It was muddy at times, but my kids loved it anyway! We stuck to day trips, returning to our hotel at night.

  3. Hi Gideon, thanks for writing up this really helpful post. We are a family with kids aged 11, 8 and 2 travelling the world for a year (see fb.com/ouryearaway). Our penultimate stop was going to be Myanmar but because my wife suffers from a heart condition and occasionally needs urgent medical care, we are thinking of aborting mission! Her condition is called SVT which is essentially a short circuit of the heart where she experiences rapid palpitations, low blood pressure and extreme discomfort. We are told that if left untreated her body will eventually return to normal but have never left it long enough to find out – in previous instances she has been administered a ‘blocker’ drug in A&E. We are relieved to hear about the SOS services in Yangon, but as we plan to travel to Bagan, Mandelay and Inle, we are wondering if you know whether similar clinics exists in these areas? We have standard medical cover but plan to take out additional cover through SOS international, as you have advised. Many thanks, Danny

    • Hi Danny

      Thanks for the message.
      I’d advise taking out the extra insurance for sure. I really don’t think you want to end up in hospital in Myanmar if you can at all avoid it, and Bangkok is only an hour away by air from Yangon.
      As far as I know you’ll find at least one good expat clinic in Mandalay as well. I very much doubt there is anything in Inle – the town of Nyaung Shwe is very small and you’d be much better off flying to Yangon. Same goes for Bagan – Nyaung Oo is really a tiny place. Again, you’d much prefer to fly to one of the cities.
      The great thing about the insurance is that they will be able to advise you if you need help immediately. I haven’t heard of any other international medical company with any presence in Myanmar.

      • Hi Gideon,
        Many thanks for your reply and sorry for taking so long to respond. We’re actually now back in the UK after spending a wonderful 10 days in Myanmar and the remainder of our year away in Bangkok/HK. Thankfully we didn’t need hospital services in Myanmar although our youngest son picked up a nasty infection and had to be treated in Bangkok. Had we needed medical assistance in Myanmar we think we would have been fine in Yangon and probably Mandalay but not Bagan or Inle – as you alluded to. We took out additional insurance through International SOS on top of our standard medical cover. They reassured us that should the worst happen their local agents – I think they called them Alam Centers – would be on hand 24/7. Overall we felt we would have been looked after and really enjoyed our time in the country.
        All the best
        Danny

      • Danny
        Great to hear your report. Sounds like you had a really good time in Myanmar, and what a fantastic unforgettable year it must have been. I’m glad you felt reassured by my advice and I think taking out the SOS policy was a good idea – I did the same.

  4. Hey Gideon

    My friend and I are planning on going to Myanmar in December to shoot a doci on our adventure which will include volenteer teaching in under privelleged schools. We need to experience the best of Myanmar in terms of must sees as well as off the beaten track in two weeks. Can you suggest a rough guide of places to go? Or any advice regarding what we are going to do?

    Thanks
    Kind regards
    Tyler

    • Hi Tyler
      The route almost everyone does is Yangon – Bagan – Mandalay – Inle – Yangon. You could add Monywa in between Bagan and Mandalay, and a side trip to Hsipaw from Mandalay. From Inle go to Kakku. But even this might be a push in only 2 weeks. It’s the largest country in SE Asia so you can easily spend a month.

      Email me if you’d like more info.

      • Thanks Gideon for your prompt reply.
        Yes, after a bit more research we have come to realize that we’re better off sticking to the big 4 in our short stay, however we are doing the reverse of what the main route is, Yangon – Inle Lake – Mandalay – Bagan and back to Yangon. There simply isnt enough time to do some serious trail blazing.

        Thanks again for your help, and will contact you if the need arises

      • Sounds good Tyler. It doesn’t matter what direction you do the main route in. It’s often decided by the flight availability anyway.
        If you have any questions before you go, just ask!

  5. Hi we are planning a trip to Myanmar in July 2013. We are traveling with 3 kids (9, 7 and 2 1/2) would we need to fly from Yangon to Bagan and then get a driver from Bagan to Mandalay?
    Would we then fly from there to Inle and drive down or are these distances to far to drive?
    THANKS
    Heather

    • Hi Heather

      I’d be happy to discuss further, but essentially, you should look at flying to Bagan, driving to Mandalay and flying on to Inle. It is possible to drive it all if you have enough time, but roads are not great and accommdoation on the way will be sketchy, so with three small kids, I think flying works really well.

      Gideon

      • THANKS!!!

  6. Hi Gideon,
    Thanks for the very informative blog post. We are investigating the possibility of a visit to Burma at Christmas time 2013 for 2 weeks with 2 children aged 4 yo and 6 yo. I’ve not yet investigated anything in terms of where to go and what to see because I wasn’t sure whether it’s even feasible but your blog inspires me to now plan in earnest. We would like to see a mix of natural and cultural sites and we don’t want to move on to new accommodation every day. We are concerned about Bagan Air because of it’s safety record. I was wondering whether private car + driver is an option so I’m glad that you covered that. Considering the points that I’ve mentioned, what would you recommend that we do? Thanks in advance.
    Alexandra

    • Hi Alexandra

      Burma is fantastic for kids. There are no specific kids “activities’ to speak of, but it is such a friendly and interesting country that I think all kids will love it – mine certainly did.
      It is definitely feasible. In two weeks, you could visit Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle and spend time at the beach – something we were unable to do as we were there during the monsoon season (July/Aug) when beaches are effectively closed. There are plenty of more off the beaten spots too.

      Bear in mind that Burma doesn’t have enough quality hotel rooms to accommodate the high season demand, so you should plan your trip sooner than later. I travelled on Air Bagan, but it is true that they recently suffered a crash and luckily there are at least 3 other airlines to fly with. I would still definitely fly from place to place and use a car and driver at each destination.

      If you are looking for help in putting the whole trip together, that is what I do.

  7. Hi Gideon,
    Thanks for all the info on the blog so far.
    We are tossing around the idea of heading to Myamar with 3 kids in tow… 2, 4 and 6 years… If we go this year it would be around June and I would be early into my 3rd trimester for babe #4… Are we crazy? Better of leaving it until a year or so later?
    Wondered your thoughts?
    Obviously would only consider this if like previous pregnancies I was fit and well.
    Emily

    • Hi Emily

      I’m not so sure. Kids will be fine, especially if you have a dedicated van and driver etc. But hospitals are a no-no in Myanmar – you dont want to go near – and being in the 3rd trimester – I think you want to think again. If you need a hospital you’ll have to be evacuated to Bangkok. I’d say wait a while.

  8. I just stumbled upon your blog entry while researching Myanmar travel with kids. Fantastic advice! Thanks! In the past few years, we have traveled throughout Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Indonesia with our 6 year old and 4 year old. But since November 2012, we’ve added twins to our gypsy clan. What do you think? Would we be totally nuts to go to Myanmar with four kids in July, two of then being only 8 months old then, or is it do-able?

    • Hi Cindy

      I guess the question to ask is, how old were your kids when you went to Indonesia etc. If they were really little and you managed fine, then Myanmar should be no different. It’s relatively clean and people are great and will go out of their way to help you. But you’ll be carrying lots of stuff! Essentially you can do it – just a question of how hard you want to work! Get a van with a driver to take you around, and two hotel rooms. Email me for me info.


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