Myanmar is roughly diamond-shaped – with a long southeastern ‘tail’ – and extends 925km (575 miles) from east to west and 2,100km (1,300 miles) from north to south. It is bound by China, Laos and Thailand in the east, by Bangladesh and India in the north and by the Indian Ocean in the west and south. The Irrawaddy River runs through the centre of the country and fans out to form a delta on the south coast; Yangon stands beside one of its many mouths.
North of the delta lies the Irrawaddy basin and the arid plains of central Myanmar, which are protected by a horseshoe of mountains rising to over 10,000ft. To the west are the Arakan mountains and the Chin, Naga and Patkai Hills; the Kachin Hills are to the north; to the east lies the Shan Plateau, which extends to the Tenasserim coastal ranges. The Kachin range includes Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, Hkakabo Razi which reaches 5881m (19,295ft). Intensive irrigated farming is practiced throughout central Myanmar, and fruit, vegetables and citrus crops thrive on the Shan Plateau. Much of the land and mountains are covered by subtropical forest, although this coverage has been reduced by extensive logging particularly for teak.
Known as Burma while under British colonial rule, and still referred to as such by the UK and US governments as well as many pro-democracy campaigners, the area now known as Myanmar was populated through three waves of migration: by the Hmon people from what is now Cambodia; by Mongol people from the eastern Himalayas; and, finally, by Thais from northern Thailand. Starting in 1824, the British, driven by imperial ambitions and goaded by repeated border clashes, began the process of annexing Burma as part of British India. During WWII, the Japanese expelled the British from Burma and attempted to co-opt Burmese political support by offering nominal independence. General Aung San, who had originally sided with the Japanese, led an uprising against them and went on to guide the country to independence in 1948. He was assassinated the same year by men believed to have been working for a political rival. A military coup in 1962 brought to power Ne Win, who renamed the country the Socialist Republic of the Union of Burma and imposed a totalitarian dictatorship. In 1988, after years of bizarre policies, isolationism and chronic economic mismanagement, a popular uprising began with students and Buddhist monks to the fore. It reached its peak with a general strike starting on 8 August, but the military stepped in and brutally suppressed the demonstrations. Although Ne Win relinquished his official title as leader of the nation, he continued to exercise considerable influence. Ex-army General Tin Oo and the Western-educated liberal Aung Sang Suu Kyi, daughter of Aung San, led the principal internal opposition. After crushing domestic political opposition, the Ne Win junta – which had turned away from socialism – announced in 1989 that elections would be held. The main opposition movements campaigned under the banner of the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Aung San Suu Kyi who had been placed under house arrest, and won the 1990 election. The regime held onto power, however, and Suu Kyi remained under house arrest until 1995. During the early 1990s, the regime had become an international pariah. In 2000, Aung San Suu Kyi was once again put under house arrest and would remain that way for almost all of the next decade. The country’s turmoils continued with the 2007 Saffron Revolution, which began in response to massive increases in fuel prices. Monks and civilians were beaten, killed or arrested during the anti-government protests.
After general elections which were boycotted by the NLD, March 2011 saw Thein Sein of the Union Solidarity and Development Party elected as President of Myanmar. Although nominally civilian, the government remained under the sway of the military (which is guaranteed a quarter of parliamentary seats) and cronyism remained endemic. And although it reached peace deals with some ethnic minority militias, in parts of the country the government continued what has been described as the world’s longest-running civil war. The military continues to be implicated in atrocities against civilians. Nevertheless, the UN and governments including those of the US and UK praised Thein Sein for his reforms which included releasing some political prisoners, amongst them Aung San Suu Kyi who was released in 2010. In 2012 many of the international sanctions against Myanmar were dropped, but the same year Myanmar also made headlines as violence broke out in Rakhine State – directed against a Muslim minority (the Rohingya) by the Buddhist majority. In 2013 similar religiously-motivated riots occurred in the town of Meiktila. The NLD has been criticized internationally for failing to condemn the violence, and also for starting to work more closely with the government and the military. The next major political milestone for the country will come with the general elections in 2015. As things stand, Aung San Suu Kyi is ineligible to run for president because she married a foreigner, although there are hopes that the constitution will be changed.
Myanmar is a union of 135 ethnic groups with their own languages and dialects. The major races are the Kachin, the Kayah, the Kayin, the Chin, the Mon, the Bamar, the Rakhine and the Shan. The name Myanmar embraces all the ethnic groups.
Handshaking is the normal form of greeting, but only with the right hand; the left hand is associated with using the toilet. Full names are used, preceded by U (pronounced oo) in the case of an older or well-respected man’s name, Aung for younger men and Ko for adult males; a woman’s name is preceded by Daw. There are no inherited family names.
Courtesy and respect for tradition and religion is expected; for instance, shoes and socks must be removed before entering any religious building and it is customary to remove shoes before entering a traditional home (in modern residences this may not be observed any longer except in bedrooms). When sitting, avoid pointing the soles of the feet towards people or in the direction of Buddha images as this is considered offensive. Dress should be modest, so both men and women should avoid shorts cut above the knee (a few local men wear shorts, but really long trousers are more appropriate if you can tolerate them in the heat). Mini-skirts and tight or revealing clothing should not be worn.
Penalties for drug-trafficking range from five years’ imprisonment to a death sentence. Homosexuality is illegal, although Yangon does have a very discreet gay scene.
The official language is Myanmar (Burmese) but there are also many other dialects and languages. English is spoken in business circles and it’s possible to get by in English in major tourist areas, although a few words of Burmese are appreciated.
Parliamentary government took power in March 2011
Myanmar is 10 and a half hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time (EST).
230 Volts AC, 50 Hz. Plugs are of the round 2 or 3 pin type.
Myanmar has a monsoon climate with three main seasons. The hottest period is between February and May, when there is little or no rain and temperatures can rise above 40°C (104°F). The rainy season is generally from May to October, giving way to dry, cooler weather from October to February. The coast and the mountains see significantly more rainfall than the arid central plains, which include Mandalay and Bagan, and roads can become impassable during the rainy season in those areas.
Overall, the best months to visit are from November to February. The only notable downside (other than the fact that places are busy with other tourists) is that river travel can be slow as water levels are low, meaning that boats have to travel more slowly; this is particularly notable on long journeys as ferries cannot travel overnight for fear of being grounded on sandbanks.
CLOTHES TO WEAR
Lightweight cottons and linens are recommended throughout most of the year. A light raincoat or umbrella is needed during the rainy season. Warmer clothes are advised for cooler season and some evenings, particularly in hilly areas, on ferries or for trips on Inle Lake. It’s also a good idea to wrap up when travelling on buses, as the drivers tend to overuse the air-conditioning.
Entry & Exit Requirements:
The Government of Burma strictly controls travel to, from, and within Burma. You must have a valid passport with at least six months remaining validity and a visa to enter Burma. You should apply for your visa at a Burmese embassy or consulate abroad before you arrive in Burma. In Burma, you will be required to show your passport with a valid visa at all airports, train stations, and hotels. Security checkpoints are common outside of tourist areas.
On June 1, 2012, the Government of Burma announced a visas-on-arrival program in order to facilitate investment in the country. More information about the program can be found on the Embassy of Burma’s website. Please be aware that the rules regarding this relatively new program are complex and not fully codified. While certain classes of business travelers have reportedly been able to obtain visas on arrival under this program, Burmese Immigration Officials have refused entry to some travelers who believed they were eligible to enter the country without a visa. Until the Government of Burma further defines the program’s qualifications, travelers are advised not to consider the visas-on-arrival program a viable alternative to a visa.
Please also note that the visa-on-arrival program is not intended for tourists seeking tourist visas. Some local tour agencies prepare visa applications for tourists for a fee before the tourists arrive at Yangon International Airport. Tourists with pre-arranged visa applications must obtain authorization from the Burmese Ministry of Immigration in order to get a visa upon arrival.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian for the child’s travel. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may help you with entry/departure.
You can get information about entry requirements as well as other information from the Embassy of Burma’s website. The Embassy is located at 2300 S Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20008. Telephone: 202-332-4350. The Permanent Mission of Burma to the UN is located at 10 East 77th St., New York, NY 10021. Telephone: 212-535-1311 or 212-744-1271. Fax: 212-744-1290.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Burma.
Embassy of the U.S.A.
110 University Ave
Telephone: +(95) (1) 536-509, ext. 4240
Emergency Telephone: 09-512-4330, or +(95) (1) 536-509, ext. 4014
Embassy of Canada
9th Floor, Centrepoint Towers,
65 Sule Pagoda Road,
We highly recommend that you share your travel plans with your doctor so that you can best prepare for the endemic health-related challenges that confront travelers in Myanmar. Most medical facilities in Myanmar are inadequate for even routine medical care. There are very few medical personnel in Myanmar who are trained to U.S. standards. You should also know that, in an emergency, you would likely need to be medically evacuated to a hospital outside Myanmar. Medical evacuation from Burma is expensive and is transacted in cash. We strongly urge all travelers to secure medical evacuation insurance before going to Myanmar. Most pharmaceuticals on sale in Burma have been smuggled into the country, and many are counterfeit or adulterated. Travelers should consider Burmese pharmaceuticals generally unsafe to use and should accordingly bring adequate supplies of their medications for the duration of their stay in Myanmar. All travelers are advised to bring a complete and detailed list of regularly used medicine, and dosages, in case of an emergency. HIV/AIDS is widespread among high-risk populations, such as prostitutes and illegal drug users. Malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases are endemic in many parts of the country.
In early 2006 throughout 2007, and again in early 2010, brief avian influenza outbreaks resulted in the death of domestic poultry and some wild birds. In December 2007, the World Health Organization and Burmese Ministry of Health confirmed Myanmar’s first case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus. If you travel to Burma and other South Asian countries affected by avian influenza, we caution you to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any other surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. There were no reported human cases on H5N1 in Burma during the 2010 outbreaks.
Please note: Some medications may not be permitted in the country. Please check if the medication you are bringing is permitted in the country you are visiting.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-800-CDC-INFO (1-800-232-4636) or via the CDC website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website at http://www.who.int/topics/infectious_ diseases/en/. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
BANKS & CURRENCY
Myanmar Currency is Kyat (MMK; symbol K) = 100 pyas. Notes are printed in denominations of Kt1,000, 500, 200, 100 and 90 pyas. Coins are in denominations of Kt1, and 50, 25, 10, 5 and 1 pyas. Kt100,000 is called a lakh and Kt10 million is called a crore.
Kyat is pronounced like chat in English. To fight the illegal business and hinder the financial power of dissident groups, currency denominations are sometimes declared invalid without prior notice. Limited refunds are normally offered for certain sectors of the population.
Tourists are required on arrival at Yangon International Airport to exchange at least US$200 into FECs (Foreign Exchange Certificates). Any unused certificates out of this amount will not be converted (though FECs in excess of US$300 may be reconverted on departure). This requirement is waved for visitors on a package tour; however, if they wish to spend extra money in Myanmar, they are allowed to exchange US Dollars for FECs.
FECs, which are printed in China, are Myanmar’s second form of lawful currency and are issued by the Bank of Myanmar especially for tourists. They are printed in denominations equal to US$20, 10, 5 and 1. Payment for FECs is merely accepted in US Dollars. One US Dollar is 1 FEC. FECs may be changed for Kyats at governmentally authorized banks, hotels, bureaux de change, and Myanmar Travel and Tour offices. FECs can be widely spent anywhere in Myanmar.
Cash payments in US Dollars are also accepted; however, only at establishments like airlines, hotels and railway stations that have an official license authorizing them to accept dollars.
Wherever possible, it is a good idea to exchange US Dollars for Kyats rather than FECs because FECs normally provide a poorer exchange rate than Kyats. However, traveler’s cheques in US Dollar can only be changed for FECs and not straightly for Kyats unlike cash in US Dollar. Since large notes may be hard to exchange, it is advised to carry small change. In addition, Euros are accepted by all banks and currency exchange bureaux. Major hotels and supermarkets accept Diners Club, Visa, JCB,American Express and MasterCard. Check with your credit or debit card company for information on merchant acceptability and other services, which may be available.
Traveler’s cheques are widely accepted. To avoid paying extra exchange rate charges, it is advised that tourists should take travelers cheques in US Dollars or Pounds Sterling.
It is illegal to import and export local currency. There are no import limits on foreign currencies; however, amounts must be declared on arrival and the declaration certificate kept safe – on departure, foreign currencies are checked with the amounts declared on entry declaration. The frequent customs checks at Yangon airport aim to hinder illegal activities. Therefore, it is extremely necessary to keep all receipts in order to account for money spent while in Myanmar.
Banking Hours: Mon-Fri from 10am till 2pm
International Dialing Code is +95.
Cell Phone Usage:
Please contact your cell phone provider to determine whether your contract includes coverage in the country you are visiting. Depending on your contract you may have to add international services and/or country specific services.
Food & Drink:
The regional cuisine balances spicy, sour, bitter and salty flavors; it can be quite hot but rarely as much so as Thai food. Common local ingredients include fish, seafood, chicken and vegetables spiced with onions, ginger, garlic and chilies,
served with rice or noodles. When going out to eat, most locals will pick Chinese restaurants since they make Burmese meals at home. Indian cuisine is also well represented particularly in Yangon, while major tourist areas usually have a selection of places doing passable Western food.
- Lethok son(a sort of spicy vegetarian rice salad).
- Mohinga (fish soup with noodles, the national dish).
- Oh-no khauk swe (rice noodles, chicken and coconut milk).
- Shan khauk swe (aka Shan noodles, a dish originating with the Shan minority but popular around the country; rice noodles either in broth or dry, usually with chicken).
- Athoke (various ‘salads’ served cold, although they are rarely vegetable-based).
- Curry (a wide variety of curries which are traditionally accompanied by a selection of side dishes like ngapi (fish paste) as well as rice and soup).
- Lahpet (a tasty dish based on fermented tea leaves, usually eaten as dessert and considered to be a key part of Myanmar’s culinary heritage).
- Htanyet (jaggery, unrefined palm sugar eaten at the end of a meal).
- The avocados by Inle Lake are excellent; look out for creamy avocado shakes.
- Delicious fruits are available in the markets, whole or in pieces, and food stalls appear on the corners of most large towns.
- Many towns have night food markets where it’s possible to fill up cheaply between around 1700-2100. Restaurants rarely stay open much later than 2200.
- Tea is a popular drink; the spices that are added to it can make the tongue turn bright red.
- Green tea (provided free in many restaurants).
- Black tea (drunk with milk and sugar in teahouses, which are important social hubs where a range of cheap snacks are also sold).
- Locally produced beer, rum, whisky and gin are generally available.
- Coffee (usually sold in instant form except for in a few Western-style cafes).
Western-style nightlife is almost non-existent outside of Yangon, where there are a few bars and nightclubs (many of them connected to high-end hotels) catering primarily to expats and wealthy locals. Much more common throughout the country are beer stations, essentially restaurants which place more of an emphasis on drinking than on food. These usually have at least one beer on draught, which is cheaper than buying bottles, and serve barbeque or Chinese dishes, or sometimes both. Beer stations tend to have a predominantly male clientele, and sometimes have entertainment such as ‘fashion shows’ or karaoke.
Cultural events are quite rare, although local rock and pop groups (particularly the ubiquitous Iron Cross) are popular. Yangon is the best bet for tracking down this kind of entertainment. Mandalay has a handful of nightly cultural shows aimed at tourists, covering traditional dancing, marionettes and a mix of slapstick and political satire called a-nyeint. The main English-language proponents of a–nyeintare the Moustache Brothers, two of whom have served significant jail time for mocking the military junta and don’t go easy on the current quasi-civilian government. There are many cinemas in Yangon and Mandalay, some of which show English-language films. In other towns and cities there may be a cinema or two.
Myanmar’s cities are not shopping destinations on a par with regional favorites such as Bangkok or Singapore, but there are still some bargains to be found. Souvenirs include jewelry – some of the most interesting being made from petrified wood or from jade – plus art and handicrafts such as marionettes, Buddha figurines and tapestries. Laquerware is available throughout the country, with the Bagan style particularly popular with tourists, although quality and prices vary significantly. The plainer styles of Shan state are also worth seeking out. The western town of Pathein is known for its handmade parasols, which are sold throughout Myanmar.
A good place to shop in Yangon is Bogyoke Aung San Market, open Tues-Sun 1000-1700, which sells luxury items, handicrafts, foodstuffs, clothing, jewellery and consumer goods. Yangon also has several large shopping centers, including the modern Junction Mall which has facilities such as a cinema and a rooftop swimming pool. Due to sanctions, major international brands have largely been absent from Myanmar although this may change as the country opens up.
Mandalay is known as the cultural capital of the country and is therefore a good place for traditional handicrafts. One unusual gift from Mandalay is the gold leaf which is applied to Buddha images at pagodas, which you can see being pounded on 36th Street. There’s also a large jade market in Mandalay, although you really need to know what you’re looking at if you want to bag a bargain. The glitziest shopping centre in Mandalay is Diamond Plaza, which has a large supermarket in the basement.
Outside of these two cities the options are significantly more limited. Artists in Bagan sell their work direct to tourists or through touts, however, and boat trips on Inle Lake usually include visits to workshops making things like cheroots (basic hand-rolled cigars) or silver jewelry.
Shopping Hours: Mon-Sun from 0900 till 1700
Baggage rules for international and domestic air travel have changed much in recent years, differ from carrier to carrier and these days even may cover your on-board bags. Checking luggage may cost a separate fee or may be free depending on your personal status with the carrier. We therefore encourage you to read your ticket’s small print and/or contact your carrier for exact rules.
Gratuities are not included as a part of our service. However, we would like to reiterate that tipping is NOT mandatory and is entirely at your discretion, based on your level of satisfaction for the services that you have received. Having said that, most service providers do expect gratuity. We are pleased to provide you with the suggested guideline, that you may use at your discretion.
There is no public laundry on the streets. Laundry services are available in hotels and cruise ships, usually through the floor attendant or housekeeping. One-day dry cleaning and pressing services are also offered at some better hotels.
PHOTOS & VIDEOS
In some countries you must refrain from photographing sites such as Military bases and industrial installations. Also be aware of cultural sensitivities when taking pictures of or near churches and other religious sites. It is always courteous to ask for permission before taking photographs of people.
USE OF DRONES
The use of drones is being legislated by many countries. In some cases drones are already forbidden and their unauthorized use may carry severe penalties. If you plan to travel with a drone please contact the embassy or consulate of the country you wish to visit.