Myanmar, still known as Burma to many, is fondlyreferred to as 'the Golden Land' because of the abundant use ofgold leaf on its temples and shrines. It is a country with a richdiversity of cultures, religions and languages - home to more than100 ethnic groups - and a history spanning over three millennia,reflected in some of Southeast Asia's most opulently adornedtemples. The majestic gold-plated Schwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, thetemple ruins of Bagan, and the mystical Mandalay are just some ofthe unique drawcards that bring visitors to Myanmar's well-guardedborders.
Myanmar is situated along the eastern coast of theBay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, and its northern borders stretchall the way up to the Eastern Himalayan mountain range. It bordersIndia to the west, China to the north, and Thailand and Laos to theeast. One third of Myanmar's perimeter is uninterrupted and largelyundeveloped coastline.
This scenic country has a rocky political past. Itwas a British Colony from 1885 until 1948, and since independencehas largely been ruled by a military dictatorship. However, Myanmarhas taken long strides towards democracy in the last few years.Certainly, this once secretive and isolated country hasenthusiastically flung open its borders to travellers, and althoughethnic conflict is still a problem, foreigners are seldom thetarget of this violence. In fact, Myanmar has one of the lowesttourist crime rates in the world, so travellers can relax in theknowledge that their trip should be trouble-free.
Myanmar has only recently emerged as an internationaltravel destination due to its internal politics, but the lovelybeaches, incredible historical attractions, snow-capped mountains,and jungle wilderness have already attracted lots of attention.Myanmar is one of the most authentic and unspoiled countries inAsia, an irresistible destination for travellers wanting toexperience the ancient traditions of the continent.
Myanmar is a perfect destination for those who enjoyoff-the-beaten track travel. The sightseeing in the countryincludes scenic wonders, religious sites, and many historicalattractions.
Thousands of ancient and intriguing temples, each one unique,await visitors in Bagan. The floating villages of Lake Inle can beexplored on a hired longtail boat to the beautiful double storiedgardens. The city of Mandalay draws visitors with its scenicsurroundings, royal palace complex and the Mahamuni Buddha. TheNgwe Saung coastline attracts people with its white sands andunspoiled beauty. The astounding Shwedagon Pagoda will blind youwith its golden plated domes, standing sentinel over the city ofYangon. Myanmar's many bustling markets will enchant visitors andthe country's sacred sites are excpetionally moving. These are justa few of the attractions that await visitors to Myanmar.
Shwedagon Pagoda is Myanmar's most famous sight, an iconiclandmark that stands as a highlight for any visitor to the region.The stupa is covered in gold plates weighing an estimated 52 metrictons and topped with a 76 carat diamond, as well as being coveredby many other jewels. The temple was built between the 6th and 10thcenturies, although the site atop Singuttara Hill has beenconsidered holy for over 2,500 years.
Also known as the Golden Temple, Shwedagon is the most sacredsite for Burmese Buddhists, and is a daily focus for worship.Relics of the Buddha are said to be housed in the stupa, along withmany other historical artefacts and great treasures. There arestairways at the north, south, east, and west and you can ascendusing any of these, or the elevator if you want to skip the climb.The southern entrance is the most used because it rises out of thecity; and the eastern stairway, although damaged by the Britishlong ago, is popular because it leads down to the bazaars, makingit a good exit point for prospective shoppers.
Shwedagon is a place of worship, prayer and meditation, and itis important to act with respect and keep noise levels down. Dressconservatively, with long pants and sleeves, and remove your shoeswhen entering the complex. Be discreet when using your camera.Sunset and sunrise are the most powerful times to visit thestupa.
Inle Lake, located at the base of steep green hills, isremarkable because of its inhabitants. Around 70 000 of people livearound and on the lake. Whole villages rest on stilts surrounded bywater, rather like a bamboo and teak Venice, where men steer rowingboats through water roads. The men have adapted a unique way torow, wrapping one leg around an oar and standing with the other,which frees their hands to fish at the same time.
Tourists can hire a boat and guide to lead them through floatingmarkets and workshops making silks, cigars (cheroots), andjewellery. An impressive wooden temple on the water is also open tovisitors; bizarrely, the monks at the temple are famous for havingtrained cats to jump through hoops and perform tricks.
Visitors first arrive in the town of Nyaugshwe to a host ofriverside guesthouses and restaurants. Boat hire can be donethrough hotels or independently at the town's river. Expensivehotels on the lake can be booked in advance but more rusticaccommodation can usually be found without pre-planning. Dependingon the season the town can flood, making the concept of living onwater a little more practical than it first seemed.
The Bogyoke Aung San Market is a perfect place for tourists tostart their visit to Myanmar, not only because it is the best placein town to convert foreign currency, but becuase it gives an ideaof what the country has in store.
The official exchange rates of the Myanmar kyat is keptartificially strong by the government set rates. This has created alarge black market trade in the currency at a much better price fortourists. The best place to change currency is in the centraljewellery section of the market; most of the shops provide theservice and money exchanging hawkers line the area waiting fortourists. To maximize the rates it is best to ask several differentvendors and bargain hard. Be careful to count your money and do theexchange math yourself. Exchanging currency on the black market isrisky, but many travellers go this route.
Once you have converted money the market is a great place to buycrafts, art work, jewellery or antiques. Popular souvenirs includeBurmese cigars, and old Burmese currency, some of which was issuedin the curious but numerologically auspicious denominations of 35,70 and 90 kyat notes. Bogyoke Aung San Market is open daily fromabout 9am to 5pm and is centrally located in downtown Yangon.Locals will be happy to direct you if you get lost.
Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate and three seasons: thevery hot summer from March to May; the wet and humid monsoon fromMay to October; and the cold, dry winter from November to February.During the long rainy season it can rain almost daily, and typhoonsoccasionally occur in Myanmar between April and October. There isless rainfall in the interior than on the coast. It is a hotcountry, and the average daily temperatures usually reach around86°F (30°C) in the hot months, while the evenings are slightlycooler. During the winter season, average temperatures are around77°F (25°C) with evening temperatures dropping to 59°F (15°C).Coastal areas are usually much more humid, but slightly cooleroverall. The hottest and driest months are March and April, whentemperatures can rise as high as 110°F (43°C), with high humiditythrown in. Visitors should note that climate in Myanmar variesaccording to altitude and can be quite changeable.
The best time to visit Myanmar is between November and February,which allows you to miss the rainy monsoon season and the worst ofthe heat, which can be extremely oppressive. Myanmar is still afairly undiscovered travel destination so whatever time of year yougo, you are unlikely to have to deal with crowds of tourists.
The official currency is the Kyat (MMK) pronounced 'Chat'. Thebest foreign currency to travel on in Myanmar is the US Dollar. TheForeign Exchange Certificate (FEC) is a legal currency for visitingtourists that is usable in government shops and hotels. US Dollarnotes will not be accepted if they are damaged or torn in any way,or have pen marks on them. There is a big difference between theofficial and unofficial exchange rates in Myanmar; streetmoneychangers offer favourable rates at hotels and markets. Fewmajor hotels, airlines, shops, and restaurants accept credit cardsand ATM cards can rarely, if ever, be used. It is advisable tocarry cash.
Burmese is the official language, yet English is widelyspoken and understood.
Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. European plugswith two circular metal pins are most common.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Myanmar. A visa isrequired.
British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastsix months beyond the date of their arrival in Myanmar. A visa isrequired.
Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Myanmar. Avisa is required.
Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Myanmar. Avisa is required.
South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Myanmar. Avisa is required.
Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at leastsix months beyond the date of their arrival in Myanmar. A visa isrequired.
US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least sixmonths beyond the date of their arrival in Myanmar. A visa isrequired.
New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for atleast six months beyond the date of their arrival in Myanmar. Avisa is required.
All foreign passengers to Myanmar must hold confirmedreturn/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation fortheir next destination. They will also require a tourist visa,which is valid for 28 days. Note that applications for visaextensions are not possible once in Myanmar; however, a fine of USD3 per day overstayed, can be paid at Immigration upon departure.Foreign passengers are only allowed to travel to/from Myanmar byair or sea, and will be required to convert a minimum of USD 200into local currency upon their arrival in the country. Note that ayellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Myanmar,if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through aninfected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passporthas at least six months validity remaining after your intended dateof departure from your travel destination. Immigration officialsoften apply different rules to those stated by travel agents andofficial sources.
Vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B are recommended forall travellers. Malaria is common in Myanmar, especially during therainy season (May to October) and visitors are usually encouragedto take anti-malaria medication, although there is no danger if youare only visiting the cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Travellersfrom yellow fever infected areas require a vaccination certificateto enter Myanmar. If you will be spending a lot of time outdoors inrural areas you should also consider getting vaccinated for rabiesand Japanese encephalitis.
The tap water should not be drunk unless it has been boiled,filtered or chemically disinfected.
There are basic medical facilities in Yangon (Rangoon) andMandalay, but in general medical facilities in Myanmar are poor andevacuation is recommended for serious medical cases. Payment incash is usually required before any treatment. Comprehensivemedical insurance is advised.
The Burmese offer their help freely and genuinely, and don'texpect much in return, though gratuity is greatly appreciated.Tipping 10 percent on a meal is considered quite generous. Porters,drivers and tour guides expect a small tip.
Due to the ongoing risk of armed conflict, travellers areadvised to avoid some parts of Myanmar, including most of thestates of Rakhine and Kachin and the north of the state of Shan.Special care should be taken in border areas; there are only ahandful of legal crossing points. While Myanmar does boast one ofthe lowest crime rates in the world, violent political protests arestill common and should be avoided at all costs. Visitors are alsoadvised not to take any photographs of the police, military, ordemonstrations.
The monsoon season is June to September in the southwest ofMyanmar and December to April in the northeast, and flooding mayoccur. Severe weather often also precedes monsoon season.
It is rude to step over any part of a person or touch an adulton the head, and hugging and kissing in public is frowned upon.Most Burmese families don't wear shoes in their homes and ifvisiting it is advised to remove shoes before entering the house.Monks should be treated with respect, even if they are children,and women should not speak to or touch monks. Religion practices,beliefs and sites should be treated with respect; insultingreligion is a prosecutable offense in Myanmar. Homosexuality istechnically illegal but the law is seldom enforced.
Business hours are generally 9.30am to 4.30pm from Monday toFriday. Lightweight suits are recommended during the day andjackets are needed for top-level meetings. Most commercial businesstransactions will be conducted in English. Business cards inBurmese script can be useful. It is important to maintain trust,honesty, and friendship in a business relationship. Favoursreceived, such as a reference, should be repayed later in thefuture.
The international dialling code for Myanmar (Burma) is +95. Theoutgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code. The areacode for Yangon (Rangoon) is (1) and Mandalay is (2). Internetcafes are widely available in Mandalay and Yangon and publictelephone booths can be found on nearly every street corner as wellas at railway stations and airports; however, international callsare expensive. The government has been known to monitor and censorinternet usage and some websites may not be available.
Two bottles of liquor, 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars, and halflitre of perfume are allowed per person. Valuables includingjewellery, cameras, electronic equipment, etc, should be declaredat customs upon arrival. Purchases of locally bought goods mayrequire receipts upon departure.
Myanmar Tourism Website: www.myanmartourism.org
Embassy of Myanmar, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 3323344.
Embassy of Myanmar, London, United Kingdom (also responsible forIreland): +44 (0) 20 7499 4340.
Embassy of Myanmar, Ontario, Canada: +1 613 232 9990.
Embassy of Myanmar, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 3412557/2556.
Embassy of Myanmar, Canberra, Australia (also responsible forNew Zealand): +61 (0)2 6273 3811, 6273 3751.
United States Embassy, Yangon (Rangoon): +95 1 536 509.
British Embassy, Yangon (Rangoon): +95 1 370 865.
Canadian Embassy, Yangon (Rangoon): +95 1 384 805.
South African Embassy, Bangkok, Thailand (also responsible forMyanmar): +66 2 659 2900.
Australian Embassy, Yangon (Rangoon): +95 1 251 810.
New Zealand Embassy, Yangon (Rangoon), currently has no phonenumber but can be reached by fax: +95 1 230 5805.
The shining jewel of Yangon's many attractions is SchwedagonPagoda, the golden temple visible throughout the city and an iconicsight emblematic of the country and its strong Buddhist influence.Other major attractions include the 2,200-year-old Sule Pagoda,Little India and Chinatown, and the vibrant night markets includingBogyoke Aung San Market, which is also arguably the best place tochange money. Inle Lake is lined with gardens and luxurious villas,providing a cooling distraction at sunset, when locals and visitorscan enjoy the views. Other popular attractions in Yangon includethe Taukkyan War Cemetery, a beautifully maintained graveyard andmemorial to those who died fighting the Japanese is World War II,the Musmeah Yeshua Synagogue and Old Jewish Cemetery, and theKyaikto, or Golden Rock, which is a glorious landmark.
The city has seen a big increase in tourists recently, andinfrastructure is improving to accommodate visitors, but one hopesYangon won't lose its charm and off-the-beaten track appeal as itbecomes more popular. It is a safe and exciting city to explore,though it still retains its off-beaten-track appeal.
Bagan is an ancient city dating back to the 9th century that washome to the first kingdom of a unified Myanmar. A seeminglyimpossible collection of thousands of temples and monumentsscattered over a vast plain, the buildings range in condition fromruined to resplendent, although many retain the power and majestytheir devout designers intended. Most of the structures were builtbetween the 11th and 12th centuries, when Bagan was the capital ofthe First Burmese Empire. Regrettably, many temples have sufferedunder the government's poor attempts at restoration, but othershave been well-preserved by organisations like UNESCO.
The temples can best be viewed via bicycle which allows forindependent exploration as bike trails link all the temples. Thisattraction still feels relatively undiscovered and allows visitorsto fell that they are the only ones exploring a temple. Each isthoroughly unique so one can spend days exploring and remainenthralled. Sunset is prime time in Bagan as locals and visitorsalike head for the highest temples to enjoy the magnificent sunsetsover the stupa-dotted plain. Another popular way of seeing thetemples is from the air, in a hot air balloon.
This beautiful 10-mile (15km) palm-lined beach is almost free oftourists. A small touristy village has materialised on the beach'sparallel road, with craft stalls selling cheap trinkets anddelicious seafood. At low tide a small island appears which you canwalk to and around.
Package tours can arrange transport and hotel, but the beach iseasy to get to from Yangon without pre-arrangement. The bus stationnext to Yangon's train station sells tickets for the five to sixhour ride to the lovely coast. However, passengers should be waryof being passed off to smaller buses and charged again. Ngwe Saungis not yet thronged by the crowds of tourists it deserves, andthose who like their beaches remote and pristine will love thiscoastline. It is a popular excursion from Yangon, and many chooseto stay one or two nights to enjoy the lovely beaches.
Mandalay is Myanmar's second-largest city and the former royalcapital of the Burmese kingdom. A good place to start a visit is tohike up the 780-foot (240m) stairwell to the top of Mandalay Hill,a holy site with an ornately decorated temple with a Buddha statueoverlooking the former capital city and far-reaching flatlands.Dominating the city's centre are the 150 year-old palace grounds ofKing Mindon and King Thibaw, with an adjacent temple andsurrounding moat. For local travellers the Mahamuni Buddha is oneof the most important pilgrimage sites for Buddhists inMyanmar.
Aside from sightseeing, shopping is Mandalay's major pastime. Ajewel market, where visitors can watch craftsmen shape gems, isworth a visit. Crafts such as monk's umbrellas, gold leaf, ornatefurniture, and lacquer-ware are made and sold within the city.Motorbike taxis are avalible, as are trishaws which aretraditionally used in rural Myanmar.