“The Golden Land” of Myanmar, also known as Burma, is home to many cultures that form a proud nation despite its isolation. It is a country steeped in Buddhist tradition that also reveres family and past royalty, and enjoys celebrating throughout the year. Kindness, generosity, and a welcoming spirit stand out among the 135 ethnic groups of Myanmar, and the country has retained much more of its culture relative to other developing nations due to its seclusion over the years. This is evident with its daily customs and the many pagodas found all over, but especially at Bagan. As the country strives to improve itself through political and economic reforms, it still maintains its rich cultural past. So travel with us and discover all that the Golden Land has to offer!
HISTORY AND CULTURE
Mainland Territory: 676,578 sq. km
Population: 53,582,855 (2017)
National Capital: Naypyidaw
The first of four pre-colonial ethnic groups in Myanmar dates back to the 1st century BC. The land’s scattered kingdoms were consolidated into the first Burmese Empire in the 11th century with its capital at Bagan during the country’s Golden Age. Two dynasties followed, with the most famous and fearless Burmese king, Alaungpaya, appearing in the 18th century. By 1885 the land was under the rule of Great Britain, who administered it as a province of India and changed the name of the country to Burma, after the Burman, or Bamar, ethnic group. The era of the Second World War gave rise to the nation’s still revered independence movement hero, Bogyoke Aung San, whose efforts saw fruition in 1948. The country’s name was then changed to Myanmar to reflect all ethnic groups living here.
Myanmar consists of many mountain ranges which run north-to-south from the Himalayas. The mountain chains divide Myanmar’s three river systems: the Irrawaddy, Salween (Thanlwin), and Sittaung rivers. The Irrawaddy River, Myanmar’s longest, is 2,170 km/1,348 mi. long and flows into the Gulf of Martaban. Fertile plains exist between the ranges, and the majority of the population lives in the Irrawaddy Valley.
The natural landscape of Myanmar includes mountains such as Hkakabo Razi, the highest peak in Southeast Asia, as well as rivers, tropical forests, plains, and pristine beaches.
Myanmar is divided into seven states and seven regions. Regions are predominately inhabited by the dominant ethnic group, the Bamar. States are regions that are home to particular ethnic minorities. Administrative divisions are further subdivided into districts, then townships, wards, and villages.
Burmese is the official language. Other recognized regional languages include Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin, Mon, Rakhine, and Shan. English is widely spoken in cities and tourist areas.
Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Indian 2%, Mon 2%, other 5%
Most nationalities are required to apply for a visa before entering Myanmar, and you will be refused entry without one. Myanmar’s immigration is very strict about this.
As of March 2018, 100 countries were eligible to apply for a tourist e-visa. The full list may be viewed here.
As long as the intended length of stay is less than the exemption period, passport holders from the following countries need not apply:
– Exemption period: Up to 14 days
Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam
– Exemption period: Up to 30 days
In order to apply, it will be necessary to complete your application online using the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population website found here.
The cost of the tourist visa is US $50; this will be valid for arrivals into Yangon, Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw international airports. It is now also possible to use the visa to travel overland via Tachileik, Myawaddy, and Kawthaung. Travelling overland from China and India will require special permission. If this applies to you, please contact us directly.
Before applying, you must make sure that:
– Your passport is valid for six months after the date of your departure from Myanmar.
– You have a color passport photo (4.8 cm X 3.8 cm) taken during the last three months. With this, don’t worry so much about the timescale; you just need to make sure the photo you submit bears a true likeness to your current appearance.
Other important information to note:
– The validity date of the e-visa approval letter is 90 days; you must enter the country within this time. (The approval letter is NOT the visa.)
– Immigration will issue your visa when you enter the country and it will be valid for 28 days.
– Technically, it is possible to overstay for up to two weeks at a cost of US $3/day (plus a $3 administration fee), but we recommend against doing this as it can cause problems with hotels. You’ll also need the exact change in pristine USD notes (Myanmar currency not accepted). The immigration staff also has a tendency to be unreasonable when it comes to matters such as this, so our advice would only be to attempt this in an emergency.
– The visa is only valid for single entry. Multiple entries will require multiple visas.
– Assuming no questions are asked, it can take up to three working days for the visa to be approved and processed.
– Once payment for the visa has been made, the fee in non-refundable.
– It will be necessary to settle the cost of the visa using a major credit or debit card (currently Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and JCB are accepted).
– Home stays are not permitted, so the application will need to clearly mention the name of a registered hotel or resort. This makes booking through websites such as Airbnb problematic.
– In the event you plan to enter Myanmar on a cruise, please contact us in advance as special permission will need to be arranged. E-visas are not accepted at any of Myanmar’s seaports.
WEATHER & HOLIDAYS
Myanmar has a largely tropical climate with three seasons: monsoon, from May to October; the cool season, from November to February; and the hot season, generally from March to April. Average daily temperatures in Yangon range from 18°C/64°F to 32°C/90°F in January during the cool season, and from 24°C/75°F to 36°C/97°F in April, the hot season. The climate in upper Myanmar in the higher altitudes is mostly temperate throughout the year, while lower Myanmar, especially in the delta and coastal regions, is humid.
Holidays and Festivals
– January 4 – Independence Day: Includes 7-day fair in Yangon
– February 12 – Union Day
– Mid-April – Thingyan, the Myanmar New Year Water Festival: This is a major 3-day celebration that takes place during the hot season. Some of the main activities include throwing buckets of cold water at anyone on the street. Theater, dancing, and singing are also featured.
– July 19 – Martyr’s Day
– September & October – Boat Races: At the height of the rainy season, these events take place all over Myanmar, most notably on Inle Lake.
– December 25 – Christmas
Food and Drink
Myanmar is known for its curry dishes, mostly with fish, chicken, prawns, or mutton seasoned with ginger, garlic, salt, onions, shrimp paste, and peanut oil. Light salads are made with fruit or vegetables and tossed with chilies, lime juice, and peanuts. Rice is the core of most meals. There is also an abundance of Chinese and Indian cuisine. Regional food can be tried at street and market stalls, but you must be careful with hygiene. Burmese are lovers of snacks, and you’ll find plenty of street stalls selling these toward the evening.
Tea is one of the most refreshing drinks in the tropics, or lemon/lime juice mixed with water. Sugar-cane juice is a popular street side drink, and stronger refreshments include orange brandy, lychee wine, white liquor or the local jungle liquor, fruit juice, water buffalo milk, and Mandalay beer.
Wi-Fi is widely available in the larger cities; most hotels, guesthouses, and some restaurants offer it and it’s usually free. Internet cafes are also available, but they’re often used for internet gaming. Internet access is even found in more remote towns such as Mrauk U. Be prepared for low bandwidth and power outages, particularly in the more rural areas.
Travelers are advised to be up-to-date on tetanus, typhoid, and polio immunizations. Bottled water is available throughout the country. Always keep hydrated as you are traveling in a warm humid region where you can lose fluids quickly form perspiration. There are still some issues regarding sanitation and tropical diseases, such as dengue fever in some periods of the year. Tap water will have passed through a treatment plant in most towns, however this is not guarantee of its purity. Bottled water is abundant and can be purchased anywhere in the country (foreign and local brands). Ice cubes served in drinks at established restaurants are not a problem as they are usually prepared from boiled or bottled water. Avoid eating raw (uncooked) vegetables for the first 2 days until your body adjusts to local cuisine.
Here is a short checklist.
– Bring some insect repellent (with DEET) as you are traveling in a tropical area. While traveling always remember to drink water as it will help you acclimatize to the tropical temperatures. Bring a cap or a hat.
– Bring medicine for your stomach in case food doesn’t agree or to treat diarrhea.
– Water from the faucet is used to brush your teeth, not to drink. Always drink bottled water if you are thirsty. Avoid drinking ice cubes when traveling in the rural area. Avoid eating fresh salads when you eat on the street. Fruits should always be peeled right when you eat them.
Currency and Banking
The local currency is the kyat, and US dollars are widely accepted. Visa and MasterCard are also accepted in hotels and in higher-end restaurants and shops. It is advised that you do not bring traveler’s checks as they are not accepted as in the past, and exchanging them can be a hassle and cost a fee of approximately 2%. Most hotels, domestic air tickets, train tickets, and entrance fees will be in USD, while souvenirs, street food, etc., will usually be in kyat.
Some general guidelines include:
– Make sure that any cash you bring is in as pristine condition as possible, as some places will not accept US dollars that aren’t crisp and wrinkle free. Banks in the US will usually accommodate requests for pristine cash, even if it has to be ordered (as long as they are given enough notice ahead of your trip).
– It is recommended that you bring all the money you plan to use into the country in cash, and use your Visa or MasterCard as backup. Visitors are advised to bring USD in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5, and 1.
– Larger bills (50’s and 100’s) are exchanged at a higher rate than smaller bills.
– In addition to USD, Euros and Singapore dollars are easily exchanged at the Yangon airport and Yangon banks.
– Do not exchange money on the streets, as you will likely be scammed.
– When departing Myanmar, you can exchange leftover kyat at a bank or airport.
– Again, do not bring traveler’s checks.
More businesses in Myanmar now accept credit cards but know that shops tend to add a 3%-8% fee, and sometimes more. Banks in Myanmar have partnerships with Visa and MasterCard, but at the moment Discover and American Express are not accepted. Call your credit card company to inform them of the dates of your travel to lessen the likelihood of your card being blocked while traveling.
In Myanmar, standard electrical outlets are 230V/50Hz. Consider purchasing a universal combined plug adapter/voltage converter such as this. Here’s another photo of a Myanmar adapter kit:
Traditional handicrafts in many forms and price ranges, from decorative to functional uses, are available in Myanmar. Probably the most famous item here is lacquer ware, from trays, boxes, and cups to folding tables and room dividers. Beautiful silk weaving is available and can be custom made into clothing for men and women. Jewelry, such as Myanmar’s famous pure and world-class “royal jade” are available along with precious birthstones, sapphires, and rubies of varying quality (be very careful when purchasing gems not to be scammed – buy only from reputable merchants). Gold embroidery, gold leaf, and tapestries are also popular items, as are stone and wood sculpture, teak wood furniture, antiques, and marionettes based upon traditional folk music and dance.
DO'S & DON'TS
– Do remove your shoes when entering temples and homes.
– When shaking hands, do so with your right hand, while touching your right elbow with your left hand.
– Do not wear revealing clothing when visiting temples.
– Do not take photos of people without their permission.
– Do not pose with, sit on, or take photos of Buddha images.
– Do not touch anyone on the head.
– Do not point your feet at anyone or anything.
Emergency Travel and health insurance is not included in our tour package. This is an important requirement when you travel with us for your safety and peace of mind in the unexpected event that you need urgent international standard care. You should buy travel insurance in your country as it will be more convenient for you to deal with any claims and adjustments upon your return home. AIG, Allianz, or John Hancock have good travel coverage and respond very quickly to emergencies. We do not endorse any one travel insurance company but suggest you consider www.travelguard.com, as past clients of ours have had good experiences with them in times of need. Also, check with your insurance provider to see if they cover:
1. emergency evacuation during your travels, and
2. emergency airlift to an international hospital or provide professional medical care to transport you home. The cost alone for airlifting a person home can cost up to the 100’s of thousands of USD. Travel more safely with fewer worries.
A packing list is often a forgotten part of the planning processes, but it’s one of the most important steps to ensure an enjoyable vacation. Here are some important reminders from our travelers’ experiences:
– Your passport should have at least 6-months validity from the date of departure on your trip.
– Check your visa requirement to your destination. Check the entry date on your visa and validity of the visa.
– When possible book e-tickets. If you happen to lose your ticket you can always print your ticket online.
– Always make extra copies of your passport and keep it separate from your original.
– Make a copy of your travel insurance and emergency contact information. It’s best to have those numbers entered in your mobile phone.
– Call your credit card company to inform them of the dates of your trip so that your charge card won’t get blocked by your card company because of a foreign charge. This will also protect you in the event your card is stolen and you have fraudulent charges on your account. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted as opposed to Amex.
– Make sure your tour operator knows of any allergies you may have.
Electronics or gadgets
– If you have a 3-pronged plug you will need to bring an adapter to change to 2 prongs (flat and round). Most countries will have plugs for 2 prongs.
– Make sure your electronics can take 220 volts as this is standard in most countries.
– Sometimes it’s a good investment to bring a backup mobile phone where you can use a local SIM card for calls. It’s much cheaper than using your regular mobile phone and paying for roaming calls.
– Don’t forget your charger for your electronics and check to see if they are compatible with 220 volts.
– Bring small pocket solar calculator to convert exchange rates.
Clothing & Miscellaneous
– Know where you are traveling and the weather you should expect. Traveling to a tropical area you will expect to see mosquitoes, so bring some long sleeve shirts and long pants for evenings.
– Traveling to Asia it is frowned upon to wear shorts that are 6 in. above the knee, especially when visiting temples or places of worship. Wearing a dress is fine if you plan to dress light. But again, when visiting temples please make sure dresses are no more than a few inches above the knee with a shirt or blouse covering your shoulder. Revealing shoulders is frowned upon.
– Head cover to protect from hot tropical weather
– Insect repellent with DEET
– Stomach medicine
– A good book for those occasional flight delays
Tipping in Myanmar is not customary, but it is appreciated. Amounts are often rounded up due to the lack of small denominations. In more upscale restaurants a tip of 5-10% is recommended. In other places, leaving small change or a dollar is enough. Taxis and trishaw drivers usually don’t expect a tip. Guides and drivers of rented vehicles do expect a tip. For guides, 2-5 USD per person per day is customary, drivers 1-2 USD. As with anywhere else, the amount you tip depends upon the level of service you receive.
Before 45 days, no charge tours.
45 to 30 days prior arrival date: 5% of the total price
29 to 15 days prior arrival date: 10% of the total price
7 days to the day of arrival: 50%
3 days to the day of arrival: 100%