Myanmar is experiencing a boom in tourism, with more than 3 million visitors a year, an increase from a few hundred thousand just a decade ago. By 2020, 7.5 million tourists are expected to arrive into the country annually, a reflection of how welcoming this area of the world is becoming. However, the trend also suggests that you should head to Myanmar as soon as possible, in order to beat the crowd and enjoy a more unspoiled landscape and calmer urban environments.
Before you go, though, it is important to recognize the uniqueness of Myanmar. Understanding the culture and environment will ensure that you pack everything that you need. Remember that this should all fit into a carry on sized bag of 35 liters or less. It’s not about packing more, but being smarter with the items you pick. Here are a few essentials to get you started.
Long Sleeved, Lightweight Shirts
A tropical location, Myanmar temperatures hardly drop below 70°F and can easily creep upwards to the mid 90s or higher. This means that the majority of your clothing should be lightweight and breathable. At the same time, however, it is important to stay covered to protect yourself from the sun and insects. Therefore, opting for a few long sleeved, but lightweight shirts is your best option.
Look at outdoor brands like Patagonia and North Face for high quality materials that are able to wick away sweat in the hot sun, while not absorbing any moisture from the humid air. These kinds of shirts are also wrinkle free and quick drying, so you can wash them often and keep your fresh look.
No matter where you are in the world, you need at least one warm item of clothing. Myanmar’s temperatures can drop at night and it is also a mountainous country, so it is likely you will sometimes be at altitudes which are significantly colder. Therefore, a warm item like a sweater or hoodie is a must.
However, day to day, you won’t need this extra layer. This means that it is important to find something which is thin and lightweight, which can be comfortably packed away the majority of the time. Again, it is a good idea to opt for high quality wear. Since you only need one, it is worth spending the money for the best product you can afford. Even a relatively thin and light hoodie will add ample warmth when wedged between a performance base layer and a jacket, just as long as it is made by a high quality brand.
Wide Brimmed Hat
People from cooler countries can often be surprised by the intensity of the sun in places like Myanmar. This is partly why one in five Americans develop skin cancer. If you know that you will be outside often - and in a country as beautiful as Myanmar, it would be crazy not to be - then protecting yourself is so important.
Sun lotion will be required, but also bring an appropriate hat. Baseball caps work well in one direction, but you will notice that seasoned travelers go for something more wide brimmed. They don’t look as bad as you think and will do wonders for keeping you cool during the day, offering a small, but permanent, amount of shade.
Quick Dry Underwear and Socks
Never underestimate the importance of underwear. This is your base layer that will keep all of your other clothes clean. Myanmar is a hot and humid environment, meaning that you will sweat. This will cause you to quickly feel sticky and uncomfortable if you are wearing cheap, cotton underpants.
Instead, opt for a merino wool or polyester, quick dry material. These will help to wick away the sweat, keeping you comfortable for longer. At the end of the day, throw your underwear and socks into the sink with a little soap and give them a good scrub. Wring them out and hang them. They will be dry, clean, and fresh to wear again in the morning. If you buy the right pair, you shouldn’t need more than one change of socks and underpants. Feel free to bring more if you don’t feel like doing laundry every day, but remember that buying quick dry materials allows you to pack less and travel light.
Packable Rain Jacket
You can expect plenty of rain during your trip to Myanmar. In the delta regions and near the coast, you will experience 2500mm of rain coming down each year. If you are traveling during the rainy season from May to October, then expect to get thoroughly soaked. For when the downpour does hit, equip yourself with a fully functional, waterproof rain jacket.
A hardshell jacket is the perfect protection from the rain, but can also act as a windshield or extra layer at higher altitudes. Once again, this is an item that won’t be worn at all times and is more likely to be in your backpack. Therefore, find a raincoat that packs down really small. Marketed as “packable” jackets, it is possible to find coats that come with a small bag, which compresses the clothing down as much as possible. Alternatively, it might pack into itself in the same way the Arcido ARO does. Either way, you can get a full-sized and fully waterproof rain jacket, that takes up a tiny amount of weight and space when in your bag. This is the perfect option for Myanmar, but keep it somewhere where it can be easily accessed since rainstorms can appear suddenly and without warning.
Myanmar does have plenty of lighting in the cities, but it is the natural side of this country that truly offers a magical travel experience. Out in the jungle and mountain trails, there will be no lighting at all, making it impossible to explore the incredible wildlife that Myanmar has to offer. You may be thinking that you will just head out during the day, but there a number of reasons to embrace a night time hike with a trusty headlamp.
Firstly, you will be able to watch the sunrise. A rising sun in Myanmar is one of the world’s most spectacularly beautiful sights, but in order to catch it, you will need to leave your accommodation while it is pitch black outside. Secondly, nights are significantly cooler, which is perfect for when you are exercising. Finally, there is always the risk that you might get lost and stay out longer than expected. So get yourself a headlamp and give yourself access to the magic of Myanmar in the dark.
If you are in Myanmar for more than a couple of days, then you will quickly become annoyed by the amount of insects. They are more or less unavoidable, but using repellant will keep the worst of them away from your skin. Mosquito bites leave you with a nasty itch, not to mention the fact that they can transmit diseases.
A decent bug spray should, therefore, be a part of your first aid kit. Bring enough for the entire trip and you should be fine. It’s a simple thing, but a few sprays throughout the day will make your stay significantly more comfortable.
Filter Water Bottle
Even in the most modern areas of Myanmar, the tap water is unfortunately not safe to drink. This can come as a shock for people who have only traveled to Europe and North America, but in many Southeast Asian countries, drinking bottled water is the norm. Of course, this leads to a lot of waste from plastic bottles. Even when recycling, the sheer volume of bottles is a major problem.
There is a simple solution: bring a reusable water bottle with a built-in filter. They are not that expensive and the filters can last a year before they need replacing. This will give you instant access to crisp, clean tasting, and 100% safe drinking water. Another benefit is that you will be able to fill up from any lake or river, giving you extra access to water when out on the hiking trails, many miles from a store.
Myanmar is a beautiful country with a rich and fascinating culture. It is well worth a visit if you get the chance. However, traveling there offers unique obstacles that you should be prepared for. Pack all the items on the list above to ensure a trouble-free stay, so that you can enjoy all that Myanmar has to offer.