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(Crime: cp ed.)
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The government punishes crime, particularly against tourists, severely; it has a hard enough time convincing tourists to go there due to its international reputation.
 
The government punishes crime, particularly against tourists, severely; it has a hard enough time convincing tourists to go there due to its international reputation.
  
Since 2005, [[Yangon]] and [[Mandalay]] have seen a barely perceptible rise in the very low level of street robberies. Several years ago, there were isolated bombings: 26 April 2005 in [[Mandalay]]; 7 May, 21 October and 5 December 2005 in [[Yangon]]; 2 January 2006 in [[Bago]].
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Since 2005, [[Yangon]] and [[Mandalay]] have seen a barely perceptible rise in the very low level of street robberies. Several years ago, there were isolated bombings: 26 April 2005 in [[Mandalay]]; 7 May, 21 October and 5 December 2005 in [[Yangon]]; 2 January 2006 in [[Bago]].
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=== Corruption ===
 
=== Corruption ===

Revision as of 15:16, 20 October 2009

[[File:noframe|250px|frameless|Myanmar]]
Location
[[File:LocationMyanmar.png|250px|frameless]]
Flag
[[File:Bm-flag.png|108px|frameless]]
Quick Facts
Capital Naypyidaw
Government Military dictatorship
Currency kyat (MMK)
Area total: 678,500 km2
land: 657,740 km2
water: 20,760 km2
Population 42,909,464 (July 2006 estimate)
Language Burmese (official), English, Shan dialects, Kayin, Mon, Chinese dialects (Hokkien, Cantonese), Hindi, Tamil
Religion Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2% (mostly Hindu)
Electricity 220V/50Hz (American and/or Central Europe plug)
Country code +95
Internet TLD .mm
Time Zone UTC+6:30

Myanmar (also known as Burma) is a country in Southeast Asia. It lies on the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea coast with Bangladesh and India to the west, China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east.

Contents

Regions

Map of Myanmar

States (pyi-ne):

Divisions (taing):

Cities

  • Yangon (formerly Rangoon) - the commercial capital, known for its pagodas and colonial architecture
  • Bago (formerly Pegu)
  • Mandalay - former capital of the Konbaung Dynasty built around the Mandalay Royal Palace

Other destinations

  • Bagan - an archaeological zone with thousands of pagodas near the banks of the Ayeyarwady River
  • Inle Lake - a large shallow lake good for beautiful boat trips, visiting floating villages inhabited by the Intha people, hiking, and also a source of excellent silk
  • Kengtung - a town between Mong La (on the border with China) and Tachileik (on the border with Thailand) in the Golden Triangle, known for its tribes, Ann (black teeth people), Akha, trekking, etc
  • Kyaiktiyo - a gold-gilded rock sitting atop a cliff and a major pilgrimage site
  • Mount Popa - an extinct volcano regarded as the Mount Olympus of Myanmar, a green oasis high above the hot plains and an easy day trip from Bagan
  • Mrauk U - former capital of the Rakhine kingdom
  • Pyay - a town on the Ayeyarwady River midway between Yangon and Bagan, known for its archological site "Sri Kittara", the ancient Pyu capital from 2 to 9 AD
  • Twante - a delta town that is famous for it's pottery

Understand

History

Like most of Southeast Asia's countries, Myanmar's people and history is a glorious mishmash of settlers and invaders from all fronts. The Mon and the Pyu are thought to have come from India, while the now dominant Bamar (Burmese) migrated through Tibet and, by 849, had founded a powerful kingdom centered on Pagan. For the next millennium, the Burmese empire grew through conquests of Thailand (Ayutthaya) and India (Manipur), and shrank under attacks from China and internal rebellions.

Eventually, Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1824-1886) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. It was administered as a province of India until 1937 when it became a separate self-governing colony. During the Second World War, Burma was a major battleground as the Allies fought the Japanese for dominance over Asia. The Burma Road was built to get supplies to China. The Thailand-Burma railroad (the so-called "Death Railway") from Kanchanaburi in Thailand over the River Kwai to Burma was built by the Japanese using Allied prisoners-of-war, indentured Thai laboureres(who eventualy became forced labour), and Burmese slaves as forced labour; they had to work in appalling conditions and a great number of them died (estimated at 80,000) during construction of the railway. Large parts of Western Burma, particularly the hilly areas bordering India and the city of Mandalay were severely damaged during the war. Independence from the Commonwealth under the name Union of Burma was attained in 1948.

General Ne Win dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin. Pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 were violently crushed, with general Saw Maung taking over in a coup and installing the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to rule the country, now renamed Myanmar.

Multiparty legislative elections were held in 1990, with the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - winning a landslide victory (392 of 489 seats). But SLORC refused to hand over power, instead placing NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest, which she has endured for 13 of the last 19 years.

Today Myanmar, a resource-rich country, suffers from pervasive government controls, inefficient economic policies, and rural poverty. The junta took steps in the early 1990s to liberalize price controls after decades of failure under the "Burmese Way to Socialism," but had to reinstate subsidized prices on staples in the face of food riots, upon which the democracy movement grafted its agenda. The government called out troops and the rioters were defiant until the monks intervened: standing between both sides, they told everyone to go home and they did. The riots caused overseas development assistance to cease and the government subsequently nullified the results of the 1990 legislative elections.

In response to the government's attack in May 2003 on Aung San Suu Kyi and her convoy, the USA imposed new economic sanctions against Myanmar, including bans on imports of products from Myanmar and on provision of financial services by US citizens.

The summer of 2007 was marked by demonstrations against the military government which were again brutally suppressed. The demonstrations started in August, apparently in an uncoordinated manner, as a protest against a stiff hike in the price of gasoline, but morphed into a more serious challenge to the government after three monks were beaten at a protest march in the town of Pakokku. The monks demanded an apology but none was forthcoming and soon processions of monks with begging bowls held upside down filled many cities (including Sittwe, Mandalay, and Yangon). Yangon, particularly the area around Sule Pagoda in the downtown area, became the center of these protests. While the monks marched, and many ordinary citizens came out in support of the monks, the world watched as pictures, videos, and blogs flooded the Internet. However, the government soon suppressed the protests by firing on crowds, arresting monks and closing monasteries, and temporarily shut down Internet communications with the rest of the world. This led the USA, Australia and the United Kingdom to impose additional sanctions, some targeting the families and finances of the military leaders. Dialogue between the UN and the military government has stalled.

Despite international condemnation, Aung San Suu Kyi is presently imprisoned in Rangoon's Insein prison and being tried on charges of breaching the terms of her most recent 6-year period of house arrest (she was arrested in late May 2009, just days before expiry of her house arrest).

Climate

Cloudy, rainy, hot, humid summers (southwest monsoon, June to September). Less cloudy, scant rainfall, mild temperatures, lower humidity during winter (northeast monsoon, December to April).

Suggested reading

  • The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U. Easily the most accessible history of Myanmar available. Read it before you go and you will marvel at how the once great and rich cities (like Martaban, Syriam, and Mrauk-U) have been transformed into the dingy and smoky villages of today. (ISBN 0374163421)

Get in

To go or not to go?
Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar's opposition National League for Democracy, has in the past called for tourists not to visit the country, as this helps prop up the military junta and some infrastructure has been constructed using forced and child labour. On the other hand, pro-democracy advocates such as Ma Thanegi, and the vast majority of people in Myanmar, encourage tourism as a way of getting funds into local hands - despite the fact that the government will also derive some financial benefit. In addition, many feel that the presence of foreign tourists deters the government from the worst of its excesses.

In the end, the choice is yours. If you want to visit and avoid supporting the junta, then: avoid five star hotels, eat at local restaurants, and generally attempt to ensure that your money is going to locals, rather than large, partially government-owned enterprises. Remember that foreign corporations only can operate in-country as joint partners with the junta.


Visa / Visa Free Entry

Visa Free Entry

Visa-free entry is possible at some border crossings - however you must then exit Myanmar via the same border crossing, usually (but not always) on the same day that you enter, and fees apply (normally US$10).

Visa In Advance

For all entries, other than those where vise-free entry is possible, a visas must be obtained in advance by all visitors. While ASEAN and PRC nationals may have had visa-free access in the past, the Myanmar Embassy in Singapore declares that "all nationalities" must obtain visas before travel (9 April 2008). Some additional restrictions, requirements or conditions may be applied to applications - reports have included a need for a detailed itinerary, a detailed job history, etc. be prepared for some unusual questions (either on the forms, or from the Consulate staff) when applying for your visa.

A standard application for a tourist visa requires: a completed visa form (available from the Embassy), a completed arrival form (again, from the Embassy), a photocopy of the photo page from your passport, two passport sized photos, the applicable fee (810 Thai Baht - US$24 as at September 2009).

Tourist visas are issued for a single entry, valid for one month from the date of issue. The visa is good for a stay of up to four weeks (from date of entry). Successful applicants will also be issued an "Arrival Form", which must be presented on arrival in Myanmar, along with your passport containing the visa sticker. Ensure that the visa sticker, and arrival form have both been signed by the immigration officer before leaving the Embassy.

Visa On Arrival / Electronic Application

On top of applying for the entry visa through the Myanmar Embassy, tourists can also apply for "Visa on Arrival" which is created for tourists from countries without a Myanmar Embassy. However, this service is also applicable and recommended for tourists from countries with a Myanmar Embassy as the application process is convenient.

The application only requires information & scanned passport photo of the tourists which can be submitted electronically as compared to the need to submit passport with hard copies of application forms and photos at the Myanmar Embassy. However, the cost can be relatively high as the 14 day tourist visa can range from US$70 to US$100 or even more depending on the time notice provided.

This service was operated through government-operated website in the past, but you can now apply for it through travel agencies in Myanmar such as Magado Travel [1] which provides fast and reliable service.

By plane

The most popular place to get a flight to Myanmar is Bangkok, in neighbouring Thailand.

  • Thai AirAsia [2] has one daily flight from Bangkok to Yangon (from 2150 baht) and one daily return flight (from 1450 baht).
  • Bangkok Airways [3] has one daily flight from Bangkok to Yangon and one daily return flight, costing from 3500 baht.
  • Thai Airways International [4] flies Bangkok to Yangon and back 2-3 times daily from 3500 baht one-way (tickets best bought from a Bangkok travel agency).
  • Air Mandalay [5] flies direct both ways between Chiang Mai (in northern Thailand) and Yangon, and Chiang Mai to Mandalay (but no direct flights in the opposite direction) for about US$80.
  • Air Bagan [6] flies the Yangon-Bangkok route.
  • Silk Air [9] links Yangon with Singapore daily.
  • China Souther Airlines [10] links Yangon with Guangzhou twice a week.

By land

Hopping across the Thai border into Myanmar's border towns is easy, but crossing into or out of Myanmar proper by land varies between difficult and impossible.

Thailand:

  • Tachileik / Mae Sai - foreigners can access this crossing from either side, and enter and/or exit either country here. As of March 2007, travel beyond Kengtung to the rest of Myanmar is not possible, even with a valid tourist visa. Travelers wishing to exit Myanmar at Tachileik can only do so with a permit from the MTT office in Yangon.
  • Myawaddy / Mae Sot - foreigners can only access this crossing from the Thai side; neither onward travel into Myanmar (ie beyond the border town) nor overnight stays are possible. No visa needed; instead there's an entry stamp fee - US$10 if paid with US$ notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency. As of August 2009, only Thai baht is accepted.
  • Three Pagodas Pass (Payathonzu / Sangkhlaburi) - foreigners can only access this crossing from the Thai side; onward travel into Myanmar (ie beyond the border town) is not possible; entry/exit stamps are NOT issued here, and foreigners passports are held at the Myanmar checkpoint, where a fee is levied - US$10 if paid with US$ notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency. However, as of November 25, 2008, this crossing is temporarily closed.
  • Kawthoung / Ranong - foreigners can access this crossing from either side, and enter and/or exit either country here. If entering without a visa, maximum stay is 3 days / 2 nights, travel beyond Kawthoung is not permitted, and there's an entry stamp fee - US$10 if paid with US$ notes, more (500 baht) if paid with Thai currency. As of March 2007, the only way to continue onward from here appears to be by plane to Mergui or Yangon, although there have previously been ferries on these routes as well.

China - foreigners can enter Myanmar at Lashio via Ruili (in Yunnan), although a permit (as well as a visa) and a guide are needed. You will most likely need to join an organized tour, costing 1450 RMB as of January 2009. As of April 2009, it is impossible for foriegners to across over from Ruili, even for the day, without first getting a visa in Kunming, ie a tour group. Crossing in the opposite direction is more difficult to arrange and details are uncertain; however, it's possible to fly from Mandalay to Kunming, and there's even a Chinese consulate that issues visas in Mandalay.

India - a land border crossing exists between India and Myanmar at Moreh/Tamu. While there have been confirmed reports of some travellers crossing into Myanmar from India, with their own transport as well as with permits arranged in advance, the general consensus is that obtaining all the necessary permits is very hard. At the least, a foreign (a person who is neither a citizen of India nor a citizen of Myanmar) will need to get a Indian permit to visit the state of Manipur, and an MTT permit to enter or leave Myanmar at Tamu. Travellers may also need a permit to travel from Tamu to Kalewa, although there are unconfirmed reports that this is no longer required.

Bangladesh / Laos - it is not currently feasible to independently cross the borders between Myanmar and Bangladesh or Laos.

Get around

Myanmar's infrastructure is in poor shape. As a result of the political situation, Myanmar is subject to trade sanctions from much of the western world, and this can cause problems for unwary travellers. Travel to certain regions is prohibited; for others, special permits must be obtained, and a guide/interpreter/minder may be mandatory - although whether these "guides" accompany you to look after you, or to keep you from going to places the government doesn't want you to see, is moot.

Restricted areas

Much of Myanmar is closed to foreign travelers, and many land routes to far-flung areas are also closed (for example, to Mrauk U, Kalewa, Putao, Kengtung). Thus, while travelers can travel freely in the Bamar majority Burmese heartland, travel tends to be restricted or circumscribed in other places. In theory, any tourist can apply for a permit to visit any restricted area or to travel on any restricted land route. In practice, it is unlikely that any such permit will be issued in a reasonable amount of time, or at all. Permit requests can be made locally in some cases (for example, requests for the land route to Kalewa can be made in Shwebo) but, in most cases, the request has to be made in Yangon. Requests to visit restricted areas must be made at the MTT (Myanmar Travel and Tours) office in Yangon (Number 77-91, Sule Pagoda Road, Yangon, [11]). Applications for local permits can often be made at a local MTT office or at a police station. As of writing this, local permits are available only for the following places/routes:

  • Shwebo - Kalewa. A permit is necessary if going by road. It is uncertain whether one is required if going by boat.
  • Kengtung - Tachilek. This used to be straightforward but the availability is now uncertain.
  • Myitkyina - Indawgyi Lake. Easily available in Myitkyina but must travel with a guide. Your hotel or a local tour company can arrange this for you.
  • Mrauk U Chin/ Zomi village tours. Easily available in Mrauk U but must visit with a guide. Your hotel or a local tour company can arrange this for you.

All other permits must be obtained in Yangon.

By plane

State-run Myanma Airways (UB) - not to be confused with Myanmar Airways International (8M) "MIA" - is known for its poor safety record; privately-owned Air Bagan's last accident was an ATR-72 that was a write-off after aborting a take-off and overshooting a runway in Feb 2008 ( http://aviation-safety.net/database/record.php?id=20080219-0). AirMandalay [12] and Yangon Airways [13] offer good, regular services between the key tourist centers for reasonable prices - US$40-80. These tickets are easy to buy in hotels and travel agencies in all major cities in Myanmar.

By rail

Myanmar has an extensive but ancient rail network. Trains are slow, often delayed, and charge exorbitant prices from foreign travelers making buses a cheaper and faster alternative. Still, a journey on a train is a great way to see the country and meet people. The rail journey from Mandalay, up switchbacks and hairpin bends to Pwin U Lwin, and then across the mountains and the famous bridge at Gokteik, is one of the great railway journeys of the world. Trains in lower Mandalay (Yangon - Pathein and Yangon Mawlymaing) are little communities of their own with hawkers selling everything imaginable. Sleepers are available on many overnight express trains, although, in the high season, you may want to reserve a few days in advance (the Yangon-Mandalay trains now run in the daytime only, apparently because the government does not want trains passing Pyinmana at night). Food service is available on the express up and the express down between Yangon and Mandalay as well as on the Yangon - Mawlymaing run.

Except for the new bridge and rail line that connects Mawlymaing to points on the western side of the Salween River, the rail network is exactly the way it was in British times. The most used line is the 325km line from Yangon to Mandalay with several trains a day (this is also the only double line in Myanmar), and the only one that is competitive in time with buses (note that the fastest trains take 15 hours for the 385km run, an effective rate of 25km/hour!). A second line connects Yangon with Pyay (9 hours for the 175km journey!) with a branch heading off into the delta region town of Pathein. These tracks, the earliest constructed are in poor shape. With the construction of the bridge across the Salween, it is now possible to go by train from Yangon to Mawlymaing (8 hours for the 200km journey) and on to Ye (Ye is closed to foreign travelers). From Mandalay, trains continue on to Myitkyina in Kachin State (350km in 24hours) and to Lashio. There are also rail connections between Yangon-Bagan and Mandalay-Bagan, but bus or ferry are better alternatives (The 175km from Mandalay to Bagan takes 10hrs).

The following table summarizes travel time and prices between most visitable places in Myanmar (note: prices are approximate, check with more up to date and reliable sources!):

Train travel times and fares between important destinations
From To Time Ordinary Upper Sleeper
Yangon Mandalay 16 hrs US$15 US$30 US$40-50
Yangon Kyaiktiyo 6 hrs US$-- US$9 None
Mandalay Pyin U Lwin 4 hrs US$2 US$4 None
Pyin U Lwin Hsipaw 7 hrs US$2 US$6 None

By boat

There is also a large river ferry network. Both are to a large extent run by the government, although there are now some private ferry services. The trip from Mandalay to Bagan takes the better part of a day, from Bagan to Yangon is several days.

By bus

Buses of all types ply the roads of Myanmar. Luxury (relatively speaking) buses do the Mandalay-Yangon run while lesser vehicles can get travelers to other places. Fares are reasonable and in Kyat and, for the budget traveler, there is no other option because of the high price of train tickets for foreign nationals. Many long distance buses assign seats so it is best to book seats at least a day in advance. Because the roads are bad, avoid the rear of the bus and try to sit as far up front as you can get. Long distance buses also have an extra jump seat that blocks the aisle and, because it is not well secured to the chassis, can be uncomfortable (which also means that there is no such thing as a side seat where taller travelers can thrust their legs). A window near the front of the bus is always the best option.

A scam about bus tickets seems to be popular in Yangon currently. While many travelers make a stopover in Bago, they are told at their guesthouse or at the bus station it's not possible to buy tickets up there in the direction to Mandalay. In a country where everything might be possible when it comes to transport, some people tend to believe is. Actually, this is not the case and tracking back to Yangon for a bus ticket up north is not necessary at all. Bago has a bus terminal with several bus offices. Buying your ticket at Bago might be slightly cheaper (of course depending upon your bargaining skills) and gives you more freedom for the rest of your journey.

The following table summarizes travel times and approximate fares between important tourist destinations in Myanmar (Note: most bus fares have gone up with the recent gas price hike, the fares listed here are rough estimates):

Bus Travel times and fares between important destinations
From To Time Fare
Yangon Mandalay 15 hrs K15000
Yangon Kyaiktiyo 6 hrs K6000
Mandalay Pyin U Lwin 2 hrs K1500
Mandalay Hsipaw 5.5 hrs K4500

By pickup

Old Toyota pickup trucks run everywhere in Myanmar, inexpensively ferrying men, women, children, and monks from one place to another. The rear of the truck is converted into a canvas covered sitting area with three benches, one on each side and one running along the center of the truck (some smaller trucks have only two rows), and the running board is lowered and fixed into place providing room for six or more people to stand on (holding on to the truck frame). Pickups are ubiquitous in Myanmar and every town has a central point somewhere from where they depart to places both near and far. Travelers who go off the beaten track will find them indispensable because often the only alternative is an expensive taxi or private car.

The basics of pickups are fairly straightforward, wait till it is reasonably full before heading out. On well traveled routes (Mandalay - Pyin U Lwin, for example), they fill up quickly and the journey is quick. On less well-traveled routes (Bhamo-Katha, for example), passengers arrive (early, usually around 6AM), mark their place, and then hang around drinking tea and chatting until the truck fills up. When the pickup does get moving, it may linger or go out of its way in the hope of picking up more passengers. The inside of a pickup can be hot and uncomfortable - passengers, packed in like sardines, face away from the windows (which are tiny) and into the truck - and standing on the running board can be tiring and tough on the arms! On the other hand, the window side seat next to the driver is very comfortable and well worth the little extra that you have to pay, so it is best to go early and reserve that seat.

By car

You can hire a private car and driver at reasonable rates to tour independently. The licensed guides at Schwedagon Paya in Yangon can arrange to have a driver with a car meet you at your hotel.But,it is safe to arrange a car through a travel agency;the service fee thay charge is not too small though. You can "test" the driver and the car by driving around the city for 10 or 15 minutes. If you are satisfied, a departure date and time and per diem rates (inclusive of petrol) can be negotiated. Some guides are willing to travel with you to serve as interpreters.

Road travel to tourist destinations is generally safe, although some roads may be rough. Highways are often 2-lane, and cars often pass one another recklessly. Allow two days to drive from Yangon to Bagan in fair weather. Pyay provides a good midway stopover point. Allow a day to drive from Bagan to Inle Lake.

In cities, it is also considered illegal to cross an amber light without stopping. Despite having crossed 3/4 of the way, you will be required to stop in the middle of the road and make your way back in reverse!

Accidents and fatalities are common. Night-time road travel is not recommended, and medical facilities are extraordinarily limited in rural areas. At government hospitals, bribes may be required for expedient services. Make sure needles are new or carry your own. HIV is a major problem in Myanmar.

By bike

In Yangon, riding motorcycles and bicycles is illegal. Mandalay's streets, on the other hand, are filled with both.

On foot

Cars and pedestrians may not follow the established rules, and crossing the road can be difficult.

Talk

The official language of Myanmar is Burmese (known by the government as Myanmar). A majority of Burmese pronunciation is derived from the ancient language of Pali (at the time of the Buddha), but the language is a Sino-Tibetan language related to Chinese and hence tonal (word pitch matters) and analytic (most words are one syllable long).

Myanmar is a former British colony, and as a result - and because English is still being taught in primary schools - some Burmese understand at least some rudimentary English. In fact, you may find more English spoken in Myanmar than in Thailand.

Burmese use the Burmese script, based on the ancient Pali script. Bilingual signs (English and Burmese) are available in most tourist spots. Numbers often are also written in Burmese script.

See

Do

Buy

Unfunny money
In a misguided attempt to fight rampant black marketeering, the Myanmar government has an unfortunate habit of declaring notes to be worthless: this happened for the first time on May 15, 1964, when the 50 and 100 kyat notes were demonetized. On November 3, 1985, the 20, 50 and 100 kyat notes were demonetized again and replaced with new kyat notes in the unusual denominations of 25, 35 and 75, possibly chosen because of dictator Ne Win's predilection for numerology; the 75-kyat note was introduced on his 75th birthday.

Only two years later, on September 5, 1987, the government once again demonetized the 25, 35 and 75 kyat notes with no prior warning, rendering some 75% of the country's currency worthless. A new series of 15, 45 and 90-kyat notes was issued, incorporating Ne Win's favorite number 9. The resulting economic disturbances led to serious riots and eventually the 1989 coup by General Saw Maung, The post-coup notes come in more normal denominations from 1 to 1000 kyat, and this time the old ones remain legal tender... so far.


Myanmar's currency is the kyat (abbreviated K), pronounced "zhet". Pya are coins, and are rarely seen. Foreign travelers are required to pay in US$ for hotels, tourist attractions, rail and air tickets, ferry travel, and sometimes for bus tickets as well, and are technically required to pay in kyat for most other transactions (trishaws, pickups, tips, food, etc.). According to the law, it is illegal for a Myanmar citizen to accept (or hold) dollars without a license but this law is mostly ignored and dollars are generally accepted. Never insist though because it may be dangerous for the receiver. FECs are still legal tender but are rarely seen.

Kyat cannot be exchanged abroad. Bring US$ cash, and dispose of remaining kyat before leaving.

Foreign currencies

Visitors must bring enough cash with them to cover their entire visit, as there's no easy way to get more without leaving the country. However in an emergency, some hotels in Yangon will do a cash advance on a credit card through Singapore. People have reported that hotels charge a commission ranging from 7% up to 30% and may need to sight your passport to process the transaction.

The currency of choice in Myanmar is the US$ nationwide, though you can readily also exchange euros in Yangon and Mandalay but perhaps not beyond. Other solid options are the Chinese Yuan (CNY) and Thai baht (THB). Your best rates would be in Yangon and Mandalay.

Be sure to bring a mix of US$ denominations when visiting Myanmar because money changers will not give change and 20/10/5/1-dollar notes are deliciously useful for some entry fees and transportation.

Official and Blackmarket Rates

Never exchange money in a bank or at the airport as the rates are excruciatingly uncompetitive: the official rate "floats" around a farcical 6 (yes, six) kyats to the US dollar [14] while the going street rate fluctuates considerably around 1000 kyat (1050 Kyat to the US$ in September 2009 in Yangon, slightly less in Mandalay), and dissident newspaper The Irrawaddy [15] is a good source for recent exchange rates. Exchanging money on the black market is only theoretically illegal: ask in any farmers' market, jewelry shop or travel agents.

Check Your Banknotes

This cannot be stressed enough. A good number of travellers find themselves in possession of a small fortune in worthless bills (at least, worthless when dealing with Myanmar moneychangers) due to their condition being less than perfect.

Ensure that your banknotes:

  • Do not have any marks, stamps, anti-counterfeit pen, ink, or any other mark on them at all. Pencil can be removed with a good eraser, but any permanent marks will greatly decrease a bills value and ability to be exchanged.
  • Are fresh, crisp and as close to brand new as possible. Moneychangers have been known to reject notes just for being creased and/or lightly worn.
  • Are undamaged. No tears, missing bits, holes, repairs, or anything of that sort.
  • Are, preferably, the new US Dollar designs, with the larger portrait, and the multiple-color prints. Although, old-style US$1 are still commonly traded.
  • If carrying US$100 bills, notes with serial numbers starting "CB" may not be accepted. This is because they are associated with a counterfeit "superbill" which was in circulation some time ago.

When Exchanging Money/Making Purchases With US Dollars

There are a number of tricks and scams running around Myanmar trapping tourists who are carrying US Dollars. Sometimes, guesthouses or traders will try and pass you damaged or nonexchangeable bills in change. Always inspect all notes when making a purchase and request that the vendor swap any bills you think you will have trouble using down the track (this is perfectly acceptable behavior for vendors and customers, so don't be shy).

Some moneychangers will also attempt sleight of hand tricks to either swap your good banknotes for damaged, or lower denomination bills. Other reports suggest that the kyats may be counted and then somehow, some disappear from the table during the transaction.

When changing money, be sure that, after any money is counted, it is not touched by anyone until the deal is sealed. Also do not allow your US Dollars to be removed from your sight until all is agreed. It sounds extreme, but ending up in a country where you cannot access whatever savings you have, and having a good portion of your budget rendered useless (until you get to more relaxed changers in Bangkok) can really put a dampener on your plans.

Is it safe?
So, you're traveling around carrying 100s, if not 1000s, of dollars stuffed into your pockets in a country where most people subsist on a few dollars a day. Everyone around you knows that if they could get their hands on the money in your pockets, they'll be set for life. What, you may ask, are the odds that someone will try to relieve you of your money? The answer: almost nil. There have been almost no instances of a tourist being mugged and only the rare pilferage. Myanmar is an extremely safe country for travelers. Some say it is because of the nature of the people. Others say it is because the punishment for robbing from a foreigner is draconian. Actually, it's the Buddhism: you do not take what is not given you, which is stricter than "Thou shalt not steal" because it rewords as "Thou shalt not help thyself, even in the home of dear friend." Whatever the cause, your money will be safe!


Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs)

Visitors to Myanmar were previously required to change US$200 into FECs upon arrival, but this was abolished in August 2003. FECs are still valid tender, but should be avoided at all costs as they are no longer worth their face value (although a one FEC note has good souvenir potential).

Credit cards & ATMs

Due to EU and US sanctions, credit cards are rarely accepted in Myanmar. There are places where cash can be obtained with a credit card, however the rates are extremely uncompetitive (with premiums certainly no lower than around 7%, and with quotes of 30% and more frequently reported). An exceptionally small minority of up-market hotels accept credit card payments (and will surcharge accordingly).

Some ATMs can be found in large cities, but these are purely for locals and cannot be used for withdrawing money.

Travellers cheques

Travellers cheques are not accepted in Myanmar. The only exception might be some especially shady money changer - but be prepared to pay an astronomical commission (30% is not uncommon).

Costs

It's quite possible to be comfortable on less than US$20/day. Foreigners will likely be charged fees, including video camera, digital camera, entrance, parking, and zone fees.

What to buy

  • Precious stones Myanmar is a significant miner of jade, rubies, and sapphire (the granting of a license to the French over the ruby mines in Mogok were one of the causes leading to the Third Burmese War) and these can be obtained at a fraction of what it would cost in the West. Be warned, however, that there are a lot of fakes for sale amongst the genuine stuff and, unless you know your gems, buy from an official government store or risk being cheated. Bogoyoke Aung San Market in Yangon has many licensed shops and is generally as safe place for the purchase of these stones.
  • Lacquerware A popular purchase in Myanmar is lacquerware, which is made into bowls, cups, vases, tables and various items, and is available almost anywhere. Beware of fraudulent lacquerware, though, which is poorly made, but looks authentic. (As a general rule, the stiffer the lacquer, the poorer the quality and the more you can bend and twist it, the finer the quality.)
  • Tapestries Known as kalaga, or shwe chi doe, there is a long tradition of weaving tapestries in Burma. Burmese tapestries are decorated with gold and silver thread and sequins and usually depict tales from the Buddhist scriptures (the jatakas) or other non-secular objects from Burmese Buddhism (mythical animals, the hintha and the kalong are also popular subjects). The tapestry tradition is dying out but many are made for tourists and are available in Mandalay and Yangon. Burmese tapestries don't last so be warned if someone tries to sell you an antique shwe chi doe!
  • Antiques Myanmar is probably the last unspoiled market for antiques and, with a good eye, it is easy to pick up bargains there. Old Raj coins are the most popular (and have little value except as souvenirs) but everything ranging from Ming china to Portuguese furniture (in Moulmein) can be found. Unfortunately, the Burmese antique sellers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and, increasingly, the bargains were probably made the day before in the shop-owners backyard! It is against the law to export religious antiques (manuscripts, Buddhas, etc.).
  • Textiles Textiles in Myanmar are stunning. Each region and each ethnic group has its own style. Chin fabrics are particularly stunning. They are handwoven in intricate geometric patterns, often in deep reds and mossy greens and white. They can be quite pricy, perhaps US$20 for the cloth to make a longyi (sarong).

There is also a wide variety of beautiful silverware and jewellery as well as textiles, including gorgeous silks and handcrafts such as wooden carvings, silk paintings and stonework.

Some items may require customs permits.

Eat

Burmese food is a blend of Chinese, Indian and Mon influences. Rice is at the core of most Burmese food, and good vegetarian food is widely available. Burmese food is often extremely pungent. Food is inexpensive at most restaurants (around 500-1500 kyat), but there are many upscale restaurants in Yangon and Mandalay for upmarket food.

What to eat

Because the Burmese cuisine is a medley of many regional influences, it has many characteristics. Seafood is more common along the coastline, while preserved meats are more common in inland areas. Many Indian, Chinese, and Shan dishes are served throughout the country. Some dishes to try are:

  • Mohinga (pronounced mo-HIN-ga) is a dish of thin noodles in a curried soup (orange in colour). Its taste can range from sweet to spicy, and is usually eaten during breakfast.
  • Onnokauswe (pronounced oun-NO-kao-sui) is a dish of thicker noodles in a thick soup of coconut milk. Often added is chicken, and it has a strong taste and odour.
  • Laphet thote (pronounced la-peh THOU) is a salad of fermented tea leaves and a variety of nuts. It is commonly mixed with sliced lettuce, and is eaten with rice. The dish originally comes from Shan State.
  • Mee swan (pronounced mee-SUAN) is a Chinese dish of noodles in a broth, served with herbs and little meat.
  • Palata (prounced pa-la-ta) is an Indian bread (parata), which is fried and served with sugar for breakfast, or with curried meats for lunch and dinner.
  • Shan food The Shan are an ethnic group who inhabit Shan State around Inle lake, near the Thai border. Their food is marvelous and spicy. It can be found in Yangon if you search.
  • Curry Myanma people have a very different definition of curry than other countries. It is very spicy compared to Indian and Thai options, and although you may find it served at room temperature in cheaper restaurants, in a typical Burmese home all curry dishes are served hot. The Burmese curry does not contain coconut milk, unlike its south-east asian counterparts, and has a large quantity of onion. Myanmar is the highest per-capita consumer of onions in the world.

Where to eat


  • Black Canyon Coffee Found in Mandalay (Next to Sedona Hotel) and in Yangon (next to International Hotel) offers Air-conditioned dining and wonderful Starbucks-style coffee for all those yearning for a quality caffeine shot in this country.
  • Mac Burger Due to US sanctions American corporations aren't allowed to do business in Myanmar. However, this Yangon McDonalds knock-off is the closest you'll get. Mind the roaches.

Drink

Tap water in Myanmar is not safe to drink, likewise ice may be contaminated. Bottled water is readily available at many tourist sites.

Tea(Yenwejan) is usually provided free at restaurant tables. While not flavourful, it is boiled water, and so safe to drink (do not drink plain water - even in restaurants - unless it is bottled water). Be sure to order it with Laphet thote (Customary/Good combination).

Alcohol is frowned upon by conservative Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, but consumed widely, mostly among men. Myanmar Beer (lager) is most popular in the country. Other variants, including Mandalay Beer exist. However, many of such companies are government-owned and/or have links to the drug trade. Toddy juice (ta-YEI) is popular in central Myanmar, and is made from fermented palm sugar. An alcoholic drink popular in the Shan State is Shwe le maw, and is reportedly very strong. It is also possible to buy full strength Beer Chang imported from Thailand; exports to most countries are not nearly as strong.

Beware of alcoholic drinks served in the far northern states. The locals refer to it as alcohol which does not burn when lit, and it is widely suspected to be an opiate concoction rather than a fermented beverage.

There are a lot of nightclubs, including those attached to the five star hotels (eg Grand Plaza), and also local entertainment centres (eg JJs, Asia plaza).

Sleep

While not as inexpensive as neighboring Thailand, Myanmar has surprisingly good hotel accommodation at reasonable prices. Rooms with attached bath are available for under US$10 everywhere except in Yangon and with shared bath for anywhere from US$3 to US$6 in most places. Almost every hotel licensed for foreigners has running hot water (though, in remote areas, availability may be restricted to certain hours of the day). Hotels, with a few exceptions, are usually clean though, at the budget end, sheets and blankets may be threadbare and the rooms may be poorly ventilated. A few low-end hotels, particularly in Yangon and other large cities, specialize in cubicle rooms - small single rooms with no windows - which, while cheap and clean, are not for the claustrophobic. Rates are quoted as single/double but the rooms are usually the same whether one person or two stay in the room, making good hotels a real bargain if traveling as a couple. Except at the top-end, breakfast is always included in the price of the room.

Myanmar has a problem providing enough electricity to its people and power supply is severely restricted everywhere. In many places, electricity may be available only for a few hours each evening or, in some cases, only every alternate evening. If you don't want to spend your nights without a fan or AC, ask if the hotel has a generator (most mid-priced hotels do). On generator nights, the AC in your room may not work (the price is usually lower as well).

At the top-end, Myanmar has some excellent hotels including one or two great ones (The Strand in Yangon and Kandawgyi Palace Hotel in Yangon). The Myanmar government runs many hotels, including some beautiful colonial era ones (though not the two listed in the previous sentence). Many large five-star hotels in Yangon and Mandalay are run by friends of the government or by people with connections to the drug trade. Socially conscious travelers may want to avoid these two types of hotels.

Work

Work in Myanmar for foreigners is hard to come by. NGOs and other aid groups operate in the capital and remote rural areas but may require specific skill sets to hire you. Another option is European and Asian companies, mostly operating on a small scale. Teaching English is feasible in private schools but skip the education ministry, which only hires citizens with teaching certification.

Stay safe

Crime

The government punishes crime, particularly against tourists, severely; it has a hard enough time convincing tourists to go there due to its international reputation.

Since 2005, Yangon and Mandalay have seen a barely perceptible rise in the very low level of street robberies. Several years ago, there were isolated bombings: 26 April 2005 in Mandalay; 7 May, 21 October and 5 December 2005 in Yangon; 2 January 2006 in Bago.

Corruption

Myanmar is one of the world's most corrupt countries. Officials and other civil servants may discreetly ask you for a bribe, or invent issues (missing forms, closed offices, etc) in order to get you to suggest one. Pretending not to understand or asking to speak to a superior may work. However, visitors of Caucasian descent are rarely targeted, while those of Asian descent (including South Asians and East Asians) may be forced to give bribes, but the brunt of the problem hits normal Burmese.

Again, Westerners are very rarely asked for bribes. Then too, most bribes are in the order of a US dollar or less and requested by folks earning as little as US$30/month.

Civil conflict

Various insurgent groups continue to operate in the Shan, Mon, Chin (Zomi), and Karen States of Myanmar, along the Thai and Chinese borders. Travel to these regions is generally requires a government permit. The government also restricts travel to Kayah State and Rakhine State due to insurgent activity. However travel is entirely unrestricted to the districts of Yangon, Bago, Ayeyarwady, Sagaing, Taninthayi, Mandalay and Magwe.

Internet

The price of computers and a home internet connection is prohibitive so most people surf at Internet cafés. Web-based email websites such as Yahoo! or Hotmail can be accessed in savvy cafés. The blocking is because Myanmar Telecom sells email addresses and free web-based email address suppliers cut into their bottomline. The government records screenshots every five minutes from PCs in Internet cafés to monitor Internet usage. If you don't want your privacy violated in this way, save your surfing for Thailand or wherever you head next.

Politics

Myanmar has been under strong military rule for the past 40 years, with a reputation abroad for repressing dissent, as in the case of the frequent house arrests of democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, heir to one of the nation's largest landowning families. When in Myanmar, abstain from political activities and don't insult the government.

Discuss politics, if you must, with people who have had time to get a feel for you. Also, realize that many phone lines are tapped. And if you absolutely must wave a democracy banner in front of a cop shop, you'll simply find yourself on the next outbound flight.

Avoid doing things that might make the military or police feel uncomfortable, such as taking pictures of police and police buildings or vehicles.

Stay healthy

Ice and tap water are a gamble. Always buy bottled water and check that the cap is sealed on, not simply screwed on. When in doubt, shop at City Mart, a reputable local food retailing chain. Diseases such as dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and malaria are endemic. Drug-resistant strains of malaria and tuberculosis are common in many areas. Hepatitis vaccinations are highly recommended but unvaccinated travellers have survived after suffering no more than the odd case of diarrhea. At the dinner table, Burmese use a knife and fork, or their fingers when this is more convenient. You might feel better rinsing all of them before meals.

As elsewhere: "if you can't fry, roast, peel or boil it - then forget it".

Respect

Mrauk U, the old capital of Rakhine in Myanmar

The people cover their arms and legs; they are also courteous and considerate and low-key dress is highly appreciated, particularly in temples and monasteries (of which there are thousands). Miniskirts, shorts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed in consecrated areas, where you also have to remove your shoes, so prefer loafers and flip-flops that can slip on & off at the entrance--Myanmar has some of the most stunning temples in Asia and you will be tempted to visit more than you think.

Both men and women wear a longyi, a sort of sarong sold everywhere. They are wrapped in different ways for men and women, so find out how to tie yours. If you turn up at a temple in inappropriate dress, you can always rent a longyi for a pittance.

Also avoid t-shirts with images of Buddhas or Buddhist imagery, which is considered highly disrespectful. Folks are forgiving about it, but one should not look like a bigger fool than is necessary.

Give generously at temples and monasteries but women are not allowed into some sacred areas--actually the restriction should cover only women in menstruation, but since it would be rude to ask and unthinkable to verify, they keep all ladies out.

You can also purchase little squares of gold leaf to apply to consecrated statues.

When praying or paying respects, it is important to ensure that the *soles* of your feet do not point towards the Buddha or anyone else. However, statues are arranged so that won't happen unless you get acrobatic about it. Do not point to images of Buddha. Tuck your feet underneath you when kneeling at shrines and temples.

Tourists of Caucasian descent are commonly referred to as bo, which translates "leader", as a sign of respect. Address elders with U (pronounced "oo", as in soon) or "Uncle" for men, and Daw or "Auntie" for women.

Contact

Telephone

International phone calls can be arranged at the Central Telephone & Telegraph Office at the corner of Ponsodan and Mahabandoola Streets in Yangon. International Direct Dial calls are also available at most hotels and at many public call offices (often a phone in a shop), but they are expensive, e.g. a call to the US costs $6 to $7/min.

Mail

International mail out of Myanmar is reportedly quite efficient. As elsewhere, there is always a risk if you send valuables as ordinary parcels.

Internet

Internet is now widely and cheaply available in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan, but more limited elsewhere. However access is very slow and many sites are inaccessible. Rates are around 1000 kyat/hour in Yangon and 2000-5000 kyat/hour elsewhere.

A list of proxys to circumvent blocks can be found at proxy.org [16].

Webmail: all free webmail providers are blocked, however many Internet cafés circumvent this - jot down the workaround in case it's still unknown in the next café you visit. If one Internet café can't connect you, the next one probably will the next day.

As of May 2006, the following workarounds worked:

  • Gmail - use mail.google.com - secure access doesn't seem to have been blocked. If blocked, bypass it through www.polysolve.com.
  • Yahoo - use wap.oa.yahoo.com - the WAP (mobile phone) gateway, which gets you the basic interface.

Myanmar has two ISPs, MPT and Bagan. Proxy sites are blocked by MPT, but may work with the Bagan ISP.



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