This series of blog posts describes what you can expect if you decide to travel with kids in Myanmar, based on 5 weeks of travel in April and May, 2016. Use this series in conjunction with your favorite guidebook. I don’t provide specific hotels and activity locations, because every parent has their own budget and travel style and the country is large and wide-ranging.
I am a non-parent, but keen observer of local children. I realize that there are different styles of travel parents and address each:
- Parents who travel with western / developed world standards (vehicles with seatbelts and car seats for younger children).
- Parents who travel in the local manner (e.g. minibus without seatbelt).
When visiting Myanmar, do not expect the same resources that children have in a developed country. For example, preschools have play structures within fenced yards, but I never saw a play structure open to the public in Myanmar. Public schools generally have a soccer field. However, there is plenty of electricity for charging electronic devices, as well as cellular 3G signal and Wi-Fi.
Visa for Entry
A visa must be obtained in advance, if required for the country of your citizenship. Most citizens of countries outside a few in Southeast Asia are required to have a visa. Depend on how you plan to arrive, you may need a paper visa, although many border entry points now accept the eVisa. I wrote a comprehensive post on Visa Information, including how to stay beyond the 28-day visa.
Trip Planning: Tourist Sites and Weather
Visit during the high season of December to February, when the weather is most comfortable and the heavy rains are over. Many of the most well know locations are most beautiful at sunrise and sunset and involve a certain amount of walking, usually up some (or many) stairs.
Flights and well paved roads connect the most touristed areas saving time and long bus or car trips. Also, Western food is readily available in those places.
The tourist sites are breathtaking in size and history, including 3,000 stupas in Bagan, the Inle Lake landscapes, and the giant Shwe Dagon pagoda in the former capitol city of Yangon. From Mandalay you can most access a range of interesting places within an hour of the city, as well as Bagan (4 hours) and Inle Lake (5 hours).
Myanmar has recently become a ‘go-to’ country, and there are many guidebooks available in hardcover and Kindle. I prefer Rough Guide, since fewer people use it than Lonely Planet, so it’s easier to get away from the largest tourist crowds. Also, it provides some history, but not too much. Finally, for hard-cover book lovers like myself, it doesn’t weigh as much as some other books.
Note: The pictures of items will direct you to Amazon for details on purchasing. I would LOVE it if you would click on a link, no matter what you purchase. A tiny portion of your purchase price will then support this blog (no additional cost to you). Thanks!
Travel Styles in Myanmar
Parents Traveling with Western Standards
For anyone preferring western standards during their travels, I suggest remaining within the main tourist areas and major cities (Yangon, Mandalay Bagan, Inle Lake).
Parents Traveling ‘Backpacker’ Style
If you are comfortable traveling ‘backpacker’ style and transporting your child local style, i.e., on the back of motorbikes, pickup trucks, and on your lap or in a seat in vehicles without seatbelts, just like local children, then any age is perfectly fine. Picky eating shouldn’t be a problem, as white rice is always available. I’ll tell you all about the food and transportation later in this series.
Tips for Parents Taking Children to Myanmar
Is There a Good Age for a Child to Visit?
I expect that Myanmar is easier for parents traveling with kids aged 5 and above. Ultimately, this depends on your child(ren)’s maturity and flexibility, and your transportation method. This way you don’t have to carry your kid everywhere and they aren’t so wiggly on 4+ hour car/bus/train rides between locations. Also, without nap times you can venture further from your hotel, which is helpful, since most places you’ll want to visit are at least 20 minutes from your hotel. Most children age 11 are old enough to fully participate in site-specific activities such as sunrise at a temple in Bagan or a trekking experience in the Inle Lake area.
Vehicle Safety & Comfort
Never assume that any public vehicle (bus, taxi, train) has functioning seatbelts and air conditioning, so you should let your hotel know your requirements when you request your transportation reservation. If traveling on a tour this will likely all be taken care of for you, but you should confirm.
In a smaller hotel, ask hotel reception if they know of kids who would play with yours, and I expect that they would call their brother or sister to bring over their kids or send you to their family’s home. Everyone has a cell phone so it’s simple for people to reach out. However, it might be faster if you simply walked into any public place, like the street in front of your hotel, and smiled and waved at a nearby kid. Also, in any restaurant, I always saw a child either working or in the back room watching tv while munching on a cracker. Parents always encouraged their children to wave and say ‘hello’ in English when I passed by.
Any child can easily make friends playing with local kids, who are friendly and playful. Myanmar people in general are extremely friendly, accommodating, and eager to ensure you are happy. Daily, strangers on the street and new friends alike asked me “Are you happy?” If you have any questions or problems they will try their best to understand your gestures, find someone who speaks better English, or study your Burmese phrasebook until you are satisfied. Overall, the culture is among the most generous I have ever encountered.
Information from Other Sources
You can read here how one family enjoyed traveling in Myanmar with their 3 small kids, and how the author traveled with her family when she was a kid.
You can also read this family’s account (but keep reading my post, since this mom doesn’t have the cultural info that I write about) of traveling with a 2-year-old on a guided tour. I want to share these tips:
- The family could have selected fewer (2 or 3) locations to visit, to avoid being exhausted at the end of their 10 day tour. Perhaps Bagan (airport available) for 3 nights to see 3,000 stupas, Yangon (airport available, overnight or day bus to Bagan) for 3 nights to see the markets and temples in the old colonial capitol city, and Inle Lake for the remaining 4 nights, because it requires several hours of driving to arrive.
- Internet and Cellular Signal. Disregard the authors information regarding internet and take your unlocked mobile phone. Every month new places throughout Myanmar are getting 3G mobile phone service and all tourist cities are already connected. Wi-Fi signal is weak in all budget accommodation about half the time, same as in many U.S. hotels.
- Facebook. In five weeks of travel throughout the country, I met only one local person who did not have Facebook. Get ready to make a lot of Facebook friends!
Cleanliness and Clothing of Myanmar Kids
Myanmar children are clean and wear clean clothes nearly all the time. If your kids need additional clothing, purchase some ‘pajama’ outfits at a market. This is a a matching shirt and pants/trouser set that look like western pajamas. Boys wear them up to about age 7, while girls and women of all ages wear these outfits. Any older children, boys and girls, also wear a nice shirt with a longyi (a skirt similar to a sarong). 99% of the Myanmar children I saw were spotlessly clean. Their clothes are spotless; their feet are clean (I don’t know how they do it! My feet were always dirty from dust and walking barefoot in temples.); their faces are clean and often decorated with thanaka (a sun block cream made from a plant), and; their teeth are brushed.
Travel with kids in Myanmar is not difficult, if you understand the limitations you may encounter. I hope this series will help you plan the best time for your family visit. Please let me know if you have questions or have information to share with others by commenting below. Thanks!!
Travel with Kids in Myanmar (Burma), Part II. It covers activities!
Fish in Myanmar – a post on the culture of fishing, especially women.
A write-up of Mindat, Myanmar, where I met women with tattooed faces, who explained the culture to me.