Myanmar

Myanmar is an exotic and compelling destination that features a wealth of cultural, sacred, spiritual and historic sites, as well as stunning natural landscapes and intriguing hill tribes. The country’s architecture is a wonderful blend of old-British colonial, amid ancient temples and a wide assortment of golden pagodas and stupendous stupas. Yangon, in the south of Myanmar, the nation’s biggest city and the capital until 2005, is home to the stunning splendor of the 334 feet high Shwedagon Paya. Also located in the south, is the odd spectacle of the precariously perched Golden Rock in Kyat Hi Oh (Kyaktiyo), one of the country’s most sacred Buddhist pilgrimage sites. Central Myanmar is home to the city of Bagan and its 4000 spiritual stupas on a site bigger than Angkor in Cambodia; hovering above them in a hot-air balloon to get a birds-eye view is highly recommended. . Also centrally located and one of the highlights of Myanmar is the vast natural wonder of Inle lake; take a boat-trip here to see fishermen rowing with their feet and some amazing floating gardens, where huge quantities of fruits and vegetables are grown. The countryside of Hpa Pa, consisting of rice fields surrounded by mountain and the colonial architecture of Mawlamyine, make this part of Myanmar a quiet and spiritual region. Located just outside of Mandalay city is the biggest teck-wood bridge in the world, the 1.5km long U-Bein bridge, that spans t across a lake from one village to another.

Embarking on a journey of discovery through the exotic cultural groups of Myanmar is hugely rewarding.  . With more than 135 ethnic groups spread across the nation and influences from India, Thailand and China, the country is a beautiful melting-pot of smiling, friendly people who are proud of their country. One of the best ways to discover ethnic groups is by travelling on foot between Kalaw and Inle on a 3 day trek among chili fields, corn fields, stunning landscapes and ethnic villages.

A valid passport with at least six months validity is required for entry into Myanmar.  All visitors, except citizens of Indonesia, Brunei, CambodiaPhilippinesLaosThailand (only by air) and Vietnam, need a visa to enter Myanmar. Prior approval is required for visas to Myanmar.

Visa requirements for Myanmar:

Passport required Return ticket required Visa required
Australian Yes No Yes
British Yes No Yes
Canadian Yes No Yes
Other EU Yes No Yes
USA Yes No Yes

Nationals not referred to in the chart above are advised to contact the embassy for visa requirements for Myanmar. A visa on arrival service exists, but it is only available to those needing transit visas, business visas or entry visas for participating in certain events or meetings. It is not suitable for tourists, since it requires additional supporting documents. Of the countries listed in the chart, only nationals of Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, the UK and the USA are eligible for the e-visa. Foreign tourists are generally admitted into Myanmar for 28 days with a visa online, and also for 28 days with a visa issued at a Myanmar embassy. The official cost of the e-visa is 50 USD and it requires one passport photo to be provided along with a completed application form. Please contact your local Myanmar Embassy for the most accurate information.

The national currency of Myanmar is the Kyat, it is available in 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000 notes. Bank notes below 50 Kyat previously existed (20, 10, 5 and 1 Kyat) but are not used anymore. Prices are often shown using the abbreviation of ‘K’, however the ISO abbreviation is ‘MMK’; these letters are usually placed before the numerical value (i.e. K500).

Until late 2012 there were few ATMs in Myanmar and it was impossible for foreigners to use them. This is changing and there are now ATMs accepting foreign MasterCard and Visa cards in Yangon, Mandalay and a few other locations. Only kyat can be withdrawn. It is generally unwise to rely entirely on ATMs since if your card does not work then you may be unable to obtain money in any other way. Euros are now also accepted in banks, but exchange can be time consuming. Express cards are slowly becoming more widely accepted. Note that many places, especially budget restaurants and accommodation, do not accept credit cards.

It is essential to ensure that any US dollars brought for use in the country – whether to be exchanged or spent – are recent issues (2006 or later) and absolutely pristine: any tears, folds or marks may lead to a note being rejected. High-value dollar notes usually receive the best exchange rate, but it’s also useful to have lower denominations to spend as hotels etc. may not have change. Euros are also exchanged at banks, and may be accepted at government-run museums, but are less useful when paying for hotel rooms or other expenses. Banks are open Mon-Fri 1000-1400, and sometimes Saturday mornings.

For everyday expenses, we recommend carrying a mix of US dollars and Kyat. For larger items or when the exchange rate works in your favour, use US dollars. For tuk tuks, local food stalls and small purchases, it’s best to use Kyat. Make sure you always have a stock of small notes so that you don’t have to worry about change especially in the countryside.

Myanmar laws do allow foreigners to rent and drive a motorbike themselves depending on the state and the city you are going. However, due to bad road conditions and often non-existent road signs, we highly advise against it. Also the traffic conditions may vary dramatically from what you are used to.

Hoi An Express employs some of the best Tour Guides in Myanmar and we specialise in arranging tours with a private driver and tour guide.  If you require private transportation only, without a Tour Guide we can also provide this, however please bear in mind that a Myanmar Driver is only a driver, not a guide, and unlikely to speak much English. Similarly, if you wish to hire one of our Tour Guides, but arrange your own transport, this is possible.

If arranging your own transport, for in-town transportation you have the following options;

There are no metered taxis in Myanmar, so you have to agree the price with the taxi driver before starting.

Motos (motorcycle taxis) and Cyclos: Also options, but bear in mind that the drivers of these usually speak little or no English and may not understand where you want them to go. It’s best to negotiate a price upfront, drivers tend to overcharge so be careful. There is no motorbike taxi in Yangon as the government has forbidden all kind of motorbike throughout the city.

Bicycle: Some towns are small enough to be toured by bicycle and most hotels and guesthouses have them for rent at reasonable rates.

The diversity of Myanmar’s ethnic groups, as well as influence from neighboring India, China and Thailand, is reflected in its varied cuisine. Savory and salty flavors are favored and a fondness for fermented fish paste and sauces is shared with its SE Asia neighbors. One of the best ways to sample the diversity of Myanmar food is to try a traditional Burmese curry. This multi-faceted meal is composed of a curry chosen by you, accompanied by numerous side dishes including; rice, pickles, salad, vegetables, soup, herbs and dips. This fabulous feast is usually finished off with a traditional Burmese dessert consisting of a jar of palm sugar or sugar cane chunks or pickled tea leaves with nuts. Tea leaves are in fact, one of the most favored ingredients of cooking in Myanmar; fermented tea leaves (Lephet) are eaten on their own as a snack, in a desert, or pickled and tossed with cabbage, tomatoes, peas, beans, nuts, garlic and chili in tea leaf salad (Lephet Thoke). Another way of getting a delightful introduction to the food of Myanmar is by trying a Tea shop meal. The dishes of Tea Shops depend on the ethnicity of the owner, ranging from amazing samosa or naan-bread, to dim-sim style Chinese food, all of which can be enjoyed with a sweet milky tea.

Food and drink provided in good quality hotels and resorts is safe to consume, but when eating outside of these establishments more caution must be taken to avoid contamination. As a general rule, only eat well-cooked meat; fish and vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled. Milk comes unpasteurized and therefore should be boiled; avoid dairy products which are likely to have been made from un-boiled mild; powdered or tinned milk is available and is advised. Tap water is not safe to drink (nor to wash your teeth with), but bottled mineral water is safe and readily available and free water should be provided daily at your hotel. Ice cubes in drinks are best to avoid it on street stalls or in country areas

Myanmar is a country that experiences 3 different seasons depending on the region and month:

From March to May, the temperature can go up to a scorching 40 degree Celsius and most of the land is dry. If you plan to visit during this period, the best places to go are the breezy beaches of the south and up in the cool confines of the northern mountains.

From May to October, monsoons will strike many areas of the country.  The strongest period of the monsoon season is from May to August when you can expect long periods of rain, particularly in the south, near Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta.

From November to February, the cool season brings purity to the air, and the humidity is at its lowest point. This is the perfect time to go trekking in the cool Mountains of the country and experience the local life.   During this season, it can be surprisingly chilly so don’t forget don’t bring a sweater.

The dates of the festivals and holidays of Myanmar are subject to change every year based on the lunar calendar.

Date Public Holidays & Special Events
January 4th Independence Day: The date celebrates Burma’s Declaration of Independence from Britain on January 4th, 1948.
February 12th Union Day: Memorial to The Panglong Agreement which pronounced full independence in internal governance and was the sole reason why the country achieved its centralized system of government.
March 2nd Peasants’ Day (anniversary of the 1962 coup): Commemorates the anniversary of Ne Win’s coup in 1962.
March 22nd Full Moon of Tabaung: Buddhist celebration during the full moon day according to the third Burmese calendar which falls in March. It is in this month that the country is at it‘smost colorful  and the best time to experience the spiritual traditions of the Burma people at Yangon.
March 27th  Armed Forces Day: Formerly Resistance Day (against the Japanese occupation in 1945).
 April 12th -17th Maha Thingyan (Water Festival) & Myanmar New Year Days: Celebrating the Myanmar New Year, this festival lasts for several days and is marked by major, good-natured water throwing. It is also a time of merit making, and older people go to temples for prayer and alms giving
May 1st Labor Day: Celebrates the international labor movement
May 2nd  The Kason Festival (Buddha´s Birthday): Representing the day the Buddha was born, the day He attained Enlightenment, and the day of His passing, this festival falls on the day of the full moon of Kason in the Myanmar calendar, in early May. Visits are made to pagodas to water the sacred Bo Trees – under which species the Buddha is said to have attained Enlightenment.
July 19th Martyrs’ Day: Commemorates the assassination of Aung San and several other cabinet members in 1947.
July 20th The Waso Festival: Commemorating the Buddha’s first sermon, this festival also marks the beginning of Buddhist Lent. Monks are given new robes and other requirements to tide them through the months ahead
October 17th Full Moon of Thadingyut (End of Buddhist Lent): Marking the end of Buddhist Lent, this festival, held on the full moon day of Thadingyut, lasts for three days during which houses and streets are festively decorated and illuminated. People crowd into their local pagodas to offer alms and make merit. Younger people also pay homage to their parents, elders and teachers..
October 18th – 30th Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda Festival, Inle Lake: Phaungdaw Oo Pagoda’s Buddha images are ferried from village to villages for people to pay homage. Fairs, dances, the leg rowers’ boat races and general festivities counterbalance the more austere ceremonial aspect. This is the biggest celebration in the Shan state.
October 20th Elephant Dance Festival: Though enacted in several towns and villages, the town with the best festival is Kyauk-se, 40km south of Mandalay. Two full size paper elephants, one black, one white, each with two men inside, dance through the town with much pageantry and ceremony
November 15th Tazaungdaing Festival: Held on the full moon day of Tazaungmon according to the Myanmar Calendar, this festival finds houses and public buildings decorated and brightly lit. Robes and other requisites are offered to monks with the special offering of Mathothigan – a robe that is woven in one single day – held on the eve of the full moon. Dedicated teams of weavers compete with one another to complete the robes, which are then reverently offered to images of Buddha.
November 25th    National Day: Anniversary of the first university students’ strike in 1920
December 25th Christmas Day: This Christian holiday celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.
December 30th Kayin New Year only:. A celebration by the Kayin communities in the Kayin State of Myanmar.

Potential dangers in Myanmar can seem quite daunting, however, few travelers actually experience serious sickness; traveler’s diarrhea is the most common ailment. Fortunately, most minor common illnesses can either be prevented with common-sense behavior or be treated easily with a well-stocked traveler’s medical kit. If you are feeling sick whilst in Myanmar, please let us know and we will do all we can to help get you better.

Myanmar is one of the world’s poorest countries and thus lacks reliable medical facilities, doctors, clinics, hospitals and medication, especially in rural areas. Hospitals in rural areas are pretty basic, if you feel unwell, try to see a doctor rather than visit a hospital. It is very important to have proper travel insurance which covers the cost of a medical evacuation (normally to Bangkok or Singapore).

If you need medication on a regular basis, please bring it from home. Pack medications in original, clearly labeled, containers. A signed and dated letter from your physician describing your medical conditions and medication, including generic names, is also recommended. Pharmacies in the larger towns are surprisingly well stocked and you don’t need a prescription to get your hands on a lot of medicines. Prices are cheap, but it’s important to check the expiry date, as some medicine may be out of date.

Emergency Phone Numbers

Police Medical Fire
199 192 191

Please find advice below on what to do before and during your trip to Myanmar to prevent and treat sickness. Please bear in mind that this advice is a general guide only and does not replace the advice of a doctor trained in travel medicine

Vaccinations

The only vaccination required by international health regulations is a yellow fever vaccination for people coming from an area where yellow fever can be found. However, it’s advisable to consult a doctor a few weeks before leaving home for up-to-date advice on inoculations. Vaccinations recommended by The World Health Organization (WHO) for a trip to Myanmar are; Typhus, Cholera, Hepatitis A&B, Tetanus, Rabies and Polio

Personal medical kit

Minor sickness and ailments such as; travellers’ diarrhea, heat exhaustion, sunburn, prickly heat and fungal rashes, are more common than major health problems whilst traveling in Myanmar and can often be self-treated by over-the-counter medicine.  Whilst you can buy over-the-counter medicine here (and we can help you with this), we recommend that you bring a personal medical kit with a few items from home.  Recommended items include;

  • Antibacterial cream
  • Antihistamine for allergies
  • Antiseptic for cuts and scrapes,
  • DEET-based insect repellent
  • Diarrhea ‘stopper’, e.g. loperamide
  • Rehydration solution (for diarrhea)
  • First-aid items, such as scissors, plasters (such as Band-Aids), bandages, gauze, safety pins and tweezers
  • Paracetamol
  • Steroid cream for allergic/itchy rashes, e.g. 1% hydrocortisone
  • Sunscreen

Taking precautions to prevent risk of sickness

Minor sickness and ailments such as; travellers’ diarrhea, heat exhaustion, sunburn, prickly heat and fungal rashes, are the most common health-related problems whilst traveling in Myanmar. Some of the most common travel ailments/sicknesses in Myanmar can be prevented through taking precautions;

Travellers’ diarrhea

Often caused by consuming unclean food and water from local eateries, ways to avoid this include:

  • Only eating freshly-cooked food
  • Only eating peeled fruit and cooked vegetables
  • Avoiding shellfish and buffets
  • Choosing to eat in busy restaurants with a high turnover of customers
  • Drink only bottled water, ice added to drinks in resorts and cities is usually safe, avoid it elsewhere.

Sunburn & Heat Exhaustion/Heatstroke

The sun is strong in Myanmar, sunburn can even happen on a cloudy day, take the following precautions;

  • Always wear at least Factor 30 Sunscreen when you are outside
  • Wear a hat
  • Reapply sunscreen after swimming
  • Avoid being in direct sunlight between 10am and 3pm
  • Avoid strenuous activity outside between 10am and 3pm
  • Keep well-hydrated by drinking plenty of water

Mosquito bites

Mosquito bites are a common ailment in Myanmar whilst not usually a serious problem, there is a risk of contracting Dengue or Malaria depending of the areas you are going.

Dengue: The fatality rate for Dengue is less than 0.3%, symptoms include high fever, severe headache, pain behind the eyes and body ache (joints, muscles, bone).  See a doctor immediately if you have these symptoms. The treatment is to rest and take paracetemol, don’t take aspirin, it increases the risk of hemorrhaging.  There is no vaccine available, the mosquito that carries dengue can bite both day and night; therefore constant insect-protection is important.

Malaria: Yangon, Mandalay and most other major urban areas in Myanmar do not have Malaria; visitors on short trips to the most popular places do not need to take medication. The most serious symptom of malaria is fever; other general symptoms include headache, diarrhea, cough or chills.  Diagnosis is made via a blood sample.  There are various anti-malarial medications; seek the advice of your doctor before you travel about whether you need to take one.

Avoidance of mosquito bites is the best strategy for preventing the risk of contracting Dengue or Malaria.  The following precautions should be made;

  • Choose accommodation with air-conditioning, or fans and mosquito nets/window screens
  • Sleep under a mosquito net
  • Impregnate clothing with permethrin (insect repellent) in high-risk areas
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET on all exposed areas of skin. Citronella can be effective but must be applied more frequently
  • Wear long sleeves and trousers/pants
  • Use mosquito coils
  • Spray your room with insect repellent before going out at night

Treatment of common health problems

Travellers’ diarrhea: The most common problem amongst visitors, this can simply be caused by the change of diet and will settle down after a few days; drink plenty of water, avoid dairy and taking rehydration solutions is recommended. Gut-paralyzing drugs such as Lomotil, Imodium or Loperamide are just temporary stoppers and don’t deal with the cause of the problem, but do give some relief for long journeys.  80% of travellers’ diarrhea is a result of bacteria and is best treated by antibiotics which can easily be obtained via a visit to the doctor.

Heat exhaustion: Symptoms include; feeling weak, headache, irritability, nausea, sweaty skin, fast weak pulse.  Rest and cool down in a room with air-conditioning and rehydrate with water and rehydration solution or by adding a teaspoon of salt per liter of water.

Heatstroke: More serious than heat exhaustion, symptoms appear suddenly and include; nausea, weakness, confusion, temperature of over 41degrees and even collapse and loss of consciousness.  Rest in an air-conditioned room and seek medical help.

 

Myanmar is generally a safe destination, but the usual common sense safety and security precautions apply, particularly in the biggest cities at night (Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan), where it’s important to never leave your belongings unattended. Although there are currently not a lot of cases of pick pocketing and stealing from tourists, it is wise to be discreet with your possessions, especially electronics.

To ensure your safety we recommend you use tuk tuks or taxis to get around at night, rather than walking, and with the aid of a hotel address card to show drivers.

During your time in Myanmar, always keep a photocopy of your passport, airline tickets and credit card numbers. These copies should be kept in a safe place and separate from the originals. You should keep valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes wherever possible.

The national language of Myanmar is Burmese. English is becoming more and more common, especially in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan.

Myanmar language basics:

Hello  min-ga-la-ba

My name is…  cǎnáw … ló k’aw-ba-deh

What is your name?  k’amyà ne-meh beh-lo k’aw-lèh?

Yes  aainn

No  hin. in:

Thank you  cè-zù tin-ba-deh

Excuse me  wùn-nèh-ba-deh

Goodbye  bhine

Where is…?  …be na: ma le:

toilet  ein tha

hotel  hou te

How much is this?  diha balao leh

Very expensive  zei: mya:de

Internet access:

The internet coverage in Myanmar is very poor. Some hotels have Wi-Fi with a low-speed connection. Most  restaurants, bars and cafes don’t offer Wi-Fi. Internet cafes can be found in all the biggest cities and are cheap (US$0.50-US$1/hour).

Mobile Phones:

Myanmar uses the GSM mobile system; Telenor is one of the largest operators. Pre-paid SIM cards are widely available (USD1 and up).

Tipping for good service is not expected but always appreciated in Myanmar. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Hotel and station porters should also be tipped a small amount for their troubles

Meeting & Greeting:

  • Greetings between Myanmar people are dependent on the relationship/hierarchy/age between the people
  • The traditional greeting is a bow combined with a bringing together of the hands at chest level (similar to bringing hands together for prayer)
  • With foreigners, Myanmar people have adopted the western practice of shaking hands
  • .The simple rule is to respond with the greeting you are given

Communication:

  • Smiling in Myanmar is situational and can have many meanings; it may mean a person does not understand what has been said, they are nervous or even irritated
  • Showing emotions is considered a negative behavior. Anger, impatience or frustration should be hidden as it would lead to a loss of face
  • It is a good idea not to speak with bravado, which may be interpreted as boasting
  • Avoid prolonged eye contact; in Myanmar culture, indirect eye contact is a form of respect and direct eye contact is usually only made with social equal

Don’ts:

  • A big no-no in Myanmar and in most of Southeast Asia is to touch anyone on top of the head, except maybe for very young children.
  • It is not considered polite to point your feet at anyone and especially not at a Buddha statue or a monk.
  • If entering a temple, ensure that you sit cross-legged to avoid offence.
  • In temples men should wear long pants, so no hairy legs poking out, and women should avoid any clothing that exposes the shoulders.
  • Avoid handing anything to anybody with your left hand.
  • To pass things politely, touch your left hand to your right elbow and pass the object with your right hand.
  • It is polite to remove your shoes before entering someone’s house and obligatory in a temple.
  • Myanmar people of different gender do not kiss or hug in public. Public displays of affection are not culturally appropriate in Myanmar and will probably be considered offensive.
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