No Room at the Inn – Or Do You Need Hotel Reservations in Myanmar?

I’d been warned for months to book Myanmar, the tourist “surge” was in full swing and the country was “full”. No room. Indeed I was even told I was irresponsible not to book in advance! Myanmar is in an unusual situation: tourists are arriving in numbers unseen for years, yet the government still requires that tourists stay in “licensed” hotels – you can’t stay in homestays, or with a friend, or indeed, in some actual hotels.

In the end we had serious issues exactly twice: Hpa-An and Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake)

Frankly I’m not organized to book a 28 day trip in advance, I have only the vaguest idea how long I want to stay in a place, particularly when I haven’t got there yet. I don’t know whether one of us will get sick, will want to hang out a particularly pleasant spot doing not much, or whatever. In short I like flexibility!

View from Hpa-An Hotel

View from Hpa-An Hotel

Round One – Hpa-An

So it during our first week –  we arrived in the town Hpa-An, apparently far off the tourist trail, with no reservations. In fact we hadn’t planned on getting there that day, but starting early had worked well at the pick-up truck from the market in Setse dropped us right in front of a bus departing within the 1/2 hour to Moulmein when we arrived at Thanbyuzayat.  Hence we had plenty of time to to take the 12 o’clock to Hpa-An

So arriving in Hpa-An I had one requirement – an air-conditioned room. That left us with 3 or 4 options. We hadn’t had a/c since leaving Yangon a week earlier, and the temperature seemed to hit the high 30’s every day accompanied with 100% humidity, the requirement for a/c and a decent night’s sleep was now urgent.

We arrived in the center of town, walked 1/2 a block dripping in sweat and arrived at the Parani Motel. Didn’t look like any motel I was familiar with, but a decent enough mid-range hotel. One problem they were full – in fact they had a very impressively detailed reservations board at the back of the counter and it was full too. However there was another hotel around the corner, around the corner might as well have been 10km away, the benefits of being with a partner for a while is that you know when he’s not walking one more step.

Could she perhaps telephone an alternative hotel to see if they had a room, no problem, of course she could.  They didn’t, neither  did any of the other tourist-licensed hotels  in town (six in total) – I refused to try the one that was 10km outside of town (note to Myanmar government, if you want tourists to stay at new hotels build them close to a town or at least a tourist attraction).

By now of course we had a chorus of about three helpers, all of whom checked that she’d tried each hotel. Even the non a/c one. Completeo, full, no room at the inn. Hmm, I smiled sweetly and we both dripped authentically and pathetically.

More Burmese discussion. I caught the English word “reservations”. Would Sir and Madam please take a seat, in front of the fan, we most certainly would. Would you like a glass of cold water, maybe two – thank you so very much.

The lady is on the phone again, and the second call we have a Bingo, one of those many block-reserved rooms  is not required, we have a bed an a/c for the night, indeed for the next two! $40 no problems, no worries at all.

Total time lost to not having a reservation: about 30 minutes.

Quality of the hotel we ended up at – just fine.

Room price – $40, at the upper end of our budget, but OK

Overpriced Hotel - Ngaungshwe

Not worth $70 night – Ngaungshwe

No room – #2 – Nyaungshwe Edition

So about 10 days later we had another variation – when we hit Nyanugshwe, at the northern end of Inle Lake. I hadn’t bothered booking, they’d been plenty of room in Kalaw our previous stop, and we were arriving early in the day, and at a very popular destination I figured there’d be more places than in the guide book. There are 15 hotels listed in the Lonely Planet, The shared taxi that we got from the bus stop, took us to about 10 of them and we called the others. Nope, nothing, nada. And although the taxi driver was very helpful, the hotels were not. That is not a good sign, that means they are overwhelmed with tourists with nowhere to stay. The options came down to two: the monastery, or a $70 at a place out of town. Now monasteries are a legitimate option for tourists to stay at. They seem to be the exception to the “no foreigners staying without the right paperwork” rule. Even female travellers can stay.  Although a donation is expected,  the thought of a night on the floor, was too much for my partner. And realistically we could afford the $70 place out of town. It was actually very tidy and pleasant  the service was perfect, and we got lifts over the 5km into town whenever we wanted them. There only customers though were people who had ended up in the same situation as us.

Having secured a room for the night, we then went back to town, and again I had went to at least 10 places before I found a place for the next day: Gypsy Inn, near the docks – highly recommended, the boats are noisy but stop at sunset.


One frustrating part was that the travel agents in town wouldn’t help, very difficult, everything full, they said. Yeah well I knew that already!

 Total time lost to not having a reservation: about a day between the hours searching, and the recovery time from too much walking in the noon-day sun.

Quality of hotel we ended up at – better than we’d normally stay at.

Room price – first night $70, Gypsy Inn 20,000k ($23)

Overpriced Hotel - Ngaungshwe

View of Ngaungshwe Docks from Gypsy Inn

Booking  Hotels in Myanmar – my Recommendation

You will find some of the more expensive hotels have their own websites – or you can use online booking engines: Agoda is the one I usually use in Asia.  Once you are in Burma though you’ll find the Internet very, very slow. The easiest way to make bookings if you want them is to ring from the hotel that you are at a couple of days in advance. We were either charged about 50c for this service, or nothing. Often the owner will make the call for you, though hotels that take foreigners generally have enough English for you to make the call.

We travelled in hight season: November 2013, and really,  I would travel without extensive reservations again. Book the first few nights and then book ahead by getting your hotel to call when you know your next destination, if you want certainty  But if that doesn’t work, just go, Burma’s worth the risk of no a/c , or sleeping on the floor.

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  1. Adam Pervez on January 15, 2013 at 5:33 pm

    Fabulous tips! I’m heading to Myanmar this weekend. I will bite the bullet and reserve a place in Yangon now, but I think I’ll gamble the rest of the time like you. And I’m completely down with staying in a temple with the monks – did that off the grid in Thailand and had a great experience.

    Thanks again!

    • Elisabeth Sowerbutts on January 15, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      Have an awesome trip – can’t wait to hear how it goes!

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