MYANMAR TRAVEL TIPS
Mingalaba.This word of welcome is also a wish for good fortune and best signifies the warm welcoming nature of the people in Myanmar. Myanmar today remains one of the most mystical and magical countries on earth; a land of breathtaking beauty stretching from snow capped peaks (Mt Kahkaborazi is 5881m) and dense jungles of the Himalayas to the pristine beaches of the Bay of Bengal and rice fields of the Delta; in-between lie the glittering pagoda filled plains, ancient capitals and running throughout all, the mighty 2000 km long Ayeyawaddy River. The population of 53 million live mainly in villages and 100 different national groups are found within the country's borders; the Bamar are the majority group inhabiting the central zone whilst the Shan, Kayin, Kachin, Chin, Rakhine and Mon live in the mountainous areas or along the coast. Intrinsic to the country is Buddhism and daily life revolves around the family, worship at pagodas and festivals. Myanmar not only has a rich cultural heritage but also an incredibly varied fauna and flora; all this combined with an enchanting population make it one of the most fascinating and as yet undiscovered destinations in the world.
Myanmar has three international airports: Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw (Capital). Mandalay airport is located 45 minutes outside the city. International and domestic terminal are in the same building. Nay Pyi Taw airport international airport is located 25 minutes outside the city.
Yangon Airport is located 15 km (approx. 45 minutes) to the North of the centre of Yangon. The international and the domestic airport are not in the same building; they can be reached by local taxi or within walking distance of 5 minutes.
PASSPORT AND VISAS
Travelers are advised to obtain a visa in their home country prior to entering Myanmar. Specific advice on up-to-date requirements should be obtained from the consulate offices in your country.
- For general guidance, please note the following: Passport must have at least 6 months remaining validity at time of travel.
- Foreigners must always carry their passport whilst travelling.
Visa processing time is between 5 and 10 working days at most Myanmar Consulates or Embassies. Tourist visas are valid for 28 days. Some Embassies require a ‘confirmation letter’ which HA Travel can provide.
When you are travelling overland or by air, please ensure that your passport is in your hand luggage. NEVER pack your passport in your suitcase.
Yangon airport, Mandalay airport, Nay Pyi Taw Airport
The Myanmar government now allows that visas can be applied on-line for tourists arriving to Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay. Please visit the following website for on-line registration www.evisa.moip.gov.mm. Tourist visas will be allowed for a stay of 28 days. The current cost is USD 50 and will need to be paid on-line.
Visa on arrival
The Myanmar Government does not issue any longer visa on arrival for tourists.
Passengers arriving or departing on cruise ships: Visa must be applied through a Myanmar embassy or through the local ground handler.
There are no compulsory vaccinations but it is advisable to take precautions against malaria; we recommend seeking the advice of your doctor. Prescription drugs are not widely available and visitors should bring any required medication with them carrying them in their hand luggage. If carrying a lot of medicines, it is advisable to have a doctor's letter stating that medicines are required for personal use. It is advisable to bring plenty of mosquito repellent, particularly for use in the evenings. As Myanmar enjoys a tropical climate, sun block cream is recommended particularly for the boat ride on Inle Lake or the beach. A spare pair of glasses, if worn, is also advisable.
Medical assistance of international standard is not yet widely available. The following clinic is considered reliable for medical assistance:
SAMITIVEJ Clinic at Parami Hospital
60 (G-1), Parami Road, Yangon 11061
Tel: 95 1 165 7987
08:00 – 18:00
During your stay in Myanmar, you will be exposed to heat which can lead to dehydration. We highly recommend to drink electrolyte which is available at pharmacies.
The extent of insurance coverage in Myanmar varies widely to western norms. It is suggested that visitors consider short-term health and accident policies from your own insurance company prior to leaving home. Local hospital care is basic, any seriously injured tourist will require medical evacuation to either Singapore or Bangkok. As medical evacuations can be extremely costly, we recommend that you take out a comprehensive insurance policy that will cover the costs of a medical evacuation and subsequent medical care.
The basic principle of customs policy in Myanmar is that visitors should exit the country with the same goods and personal possessions that they brought in. Expensive Jewelry or electrical goods must be declared to Customs at the airport. Exports of antique and archaeologically valuable items are prohibited. To avoid any confiscation of goods not purchased in Myanmar, visitors must be sure they appear on their customs declaration form on arrival. Particular note should be taken of antiques purchased in other countries in the region which might possible be deemed of Myanmar origin. Also extra should be taken to declare lose gemstones and jewellery. Note that export of antiques, Buddha images and gems without an official dealer’s receipt, is strictly prohibited. Duty free allowance is 200 cigarettes and one liter of wine or spirits. Foreign visitors are allowed to bring up to USD 10’000 without declaration. Baggage will be X-rayed or inspected before arrival and departure.
CURRENCY AND EXCHANGE
The Myanmar currency is Kyats (pronounced "chats"). The following notes are in circulation 10000, 5000, 1000, 500, 200, 100. The lower notes under 100 are not widely in circulation any more. The current rate of exchange is approximately Kyats 1000 to USD 1 (as at January 2015). You can exchange foreign currency at the international airport in Yangon or at money changer counters in the down town area. Please note that only currency in perfect condition will be accepted throughout Myanmar. Notes with torn off corners, rips or scrawls are not accepted. Currently travellers’ cheques are not accepted.
Credit cards are now accepted at bigger hotels or restaurants. However do not take it for granted that you can pay everywhere by cards. We therefore recommend you to bring enough cash in USD currency to cover most of your personal expenses during your trip.
MasterCard, Maestro or Cirrus-branded card can be used to withdraw Myanmar currency Kyats at various ATMs available 24/7. The maximum withdrawal allowed is Kyats 300’000 (approx. USD 300) per transaction and 3 times withdrawal per day. ATM are relatively new in Myanmar, hence a certain tolerance is needed in case of malfunctioning of the machines.
LOCAL TIME & WORKING HOURS
Local time is GMT + 6.5 hours. Government Offices are open from 09.30 hours to 16.30 hours, banks from 10.00 hours to 14.00 hours from Monday to Friday. Shops are usually open from 10.00 hours to 17.00 hours, Tuesday to Sunday although new shopping centres are open 09.00 until 21.00 daily. Many museums, shops and markets will be closed on Mondays. Most shops will be closed on public holidays. Bogyoke (Scotts) market is open daily 10:00 hours to 17:00 hours, except Mondays and public holidays.
The great majority of Burmese are Theravada Buddhists. Buddhism still has great influence on the daily lives of Myanmar. Close family ties, respect for elders, reverence for Buddhism and simple native dress is common values practiced by most. 89% of the population are Buddhists with the remainder being made up of Christians (5%), Muslims (3%), Hindus (1%), Animists and other (2%). Myanmar accepts full freedom of worship for followers of other religion.
Myanmar has a tropical climate with three distinct seasons although the effects of the ‘’rainy’’ seasons vary
across the country:
- Rainy Season: June to September
- Cool Season: October to February
- Hot Season: March to May
Overall the best time to visit Myanmar is from end of October to middle of April. Yangon is very hot and humid during the ‘’hot ‘’ and ‘’rainy’’ season (June to September). Although Yangon and surrounding areas can have a lot of rain during the summer, upper Myanmar is rather dry the whole year round. The months of July - September can be very pleasant in Bagan and Mandalay as the air is clearer with less dust and the rainfall not heavy. The coastal areas should be avoided from May to end of September. In the Shan Hill and Mrauk U the temperatures at night during the winter months can be surprisingly chilly ranging from 0C to 8C.
There are approximately one hundred languages spoken in Myanmar with 65% of the populace speaking the official language called Myanmar. A wide variety of languages are spoken, especially by ethnic minorities, representing four major language families: Sino-Tibetan, Austro-Asiatic, Tai–Kadai, and Indo-European. In areas where tourists are travelling through, the English language is widely spoken and well understood, in particular by the elder population. HA Travel engages multilanguage guides speaking English, French, German, Russian, Thai, Chinese and Spanish.
Myanmar has 220-230 Volts AC. It is advisable to bring a torch/flashlight because power cuts can occur throughout the country. Myanmar uses the British 3 pin socket system as well as the round 2 pin system but as sizes vary, you are advised to carry a multi -purpose adapter. Power cuts are frequent particularly in the months April – September. However most hotels do have reliable power back up although this often does not power the air-conditioning to full strength. Some destinations (Ngwe Saung and Mrauk U) have no regular power supply and hotels operate with generators only.
We recommend bringing lightloose fitting cotton clothes with pale colors as they tend to be cooler. Myanmar still has very traditional customs and it is not appropriate to wear shorts, Bermudas or miniskirts. Since shoes and socks have to be removed for all visits to pagodas and temples, we recommend wearing sandals or other slip-on shoes which are easy to put on and take off. When visiting temples or other religious monuments, visitors should be modestly dressed - it is very important that knees and shoulders are covered and ladies should not wear shorts or bra-less T-shirts in such places. Hats and sunglasses are strongly recommended. Formal style clothes i.e. jacket and tie are not required. A sarong with its multi uses is a very useful item to bring. If travelling to Inle Lake, the Shan Hills, Rakhine State and Putao particularly during the Winter season the nights can be chilly due to altitude hence it is advisable to bring a warm layer for the evenings.
It is advisable to drink only bottled or purified water.
POST AND COMMUNICATION
Postal service in Myanmar to date is unreliable; letters and postcards to overseas sometimes do not reach their destinations. Most hotels have IDD lines, but calls are expensive with average costs of a call to Australia, Europe and USA approximately US$ 5 per minute. Public phones that use pre-paid phone cards or call-back systems are not available in Myanmar.
Limited internet access is available at some hotels and cafes as well as small internet shops. Connections are unreliable and extremely slow.
Myanmar has its own cell phone network and cell phones from other countries do not have access yet. The Myanmar SIM cards are different from the 'normal' SIM cards which are used all over the world. Standard size SIM cards can be purchased at Yangon International airport for US$20 and US$50 cards and are also available at some shops. Please check with hotel reception or your tour guide for assistance. These SIM cards can be used for both International and domestic calls, one month validity and can be refilled. However you need to check if your hand set will be compatible to the card. You might need to rent a local hand set (available at Yangon International airport). We cannot guarantee to be able to purchase a CDMA SIM card and good connection handset due to supply difficulties. Reception throughout the country can be difficult. WIFI is available in certain hotels and restaurants.
Myanmar is particularly renowned for its lacquer ware, precious stones and jewelry. Lacquer ware is available most notably in Bagan but also in Mandalay and Yangon. Precious stones and jewelry can be purchased from any of the approved shops and government shops that populate Yangon, Mandalay and all other major towns and cities. The silk weavers, tapestry maker, carvers of wood, ivory and stone, silversmiths and bronze-casters are largely based in Mandalay. Bargaining is essential for all souvenirs shopping, if travelers are to obtain reasonable prices. Possible price reductions of up to 30% are not uncommon.
Jewelry is generally not up to international standards for design and workmanship and buyers should check that 'gold' is not, in fact, gilded silver. All gem and jewelry purchases should be made through a government-authorized dealer, who must issue an official receipt, which is required for export of such items.
Please do not buy antiques or religious statues, since the origin is doubtful and they cannot be exported. Visitors are advised to ignore touts who may approach them to exchange foreign currency, or to sell gems of dubious quality as such offers, although apparently attractive, are breaking strict laws.
Tipping is quite common in Myanmar today. Only at very simple restaurants do waiters not expect tips. Where a porter or waiter gives special service, a small tip is always welcome. Regarding drivers and guides, the amount tip is discretionary and should only be given for ‘good service’. As an extremely approximate guideline, which should be adjusted taking various things into consideration, such as the sophistication of the guide, size of the group and duration of drive or tour, the following would be applicable:
- 2 -3 persons in a car: USD 3-5 a day for a driver and USD 8-10 a day for a guide
- Group of 10-20: USD 0.50 per person for a driver and USD 1 per person a day for a guide
FOOD & DINING
There are many good restaurants in Yangon, which serve quality food at reasonable prices. There are restaurants offering Thai, Chinese, European, Italian, Indian and Burmese cuisine. Eating at the street restaurants can be a wonderful Asian experience but is not recommended unless an experienced guide has recommended the restaurant. Throughout upcountry Myanmar, the choice of food is limited to Burmese and Chinese. In Yangon and Mandalay there are now many noodle and coffee shops and Yangon has a good choice of fine dining experiences.
As a general comment Burmese Food is a meeting point between the spicy Thai cuisine and the Indian spice ‘curry’ base. Rice and noodles are the stable dishes usually served with a variety of side dishes ranging from meat or fish, salads, vegetables and a lentil soup. Myanmar food often is served at room temperature (never hot).
SAFETY & SECURITY
Myanmar is still considered a safe country to travel around. However we strongly advise to keep valuables at all times locked up: during the day in your hand bag, and during nights in the safety box of your rooms. Do not leave valuables in the vehicles unattended.
Begging is not widespread in Myanmar and visitors are requested not to encourage development of this practice by giving money or sweets to children. If travelers wish to contribute to, say a village community, gifts should be directed to the local schoolteacher or headmaster. Contributions can also be arranged through recognized local charity organizations.
Photographing of Airports, Railways Stations, Wharves, Police Stations, Military Installations, Bridges and Government Offices are generally not allowed. Please use discretion when photographing people, especially with tribal people, who may have superstitions against this. For close-up shots, always ask first.
Most airlines now include the international and the domestic airport tax in the ticket.
Accommodation standards in Myanmar still vary widely, especially in quality. During high season the hotels with character are in huge demand getting booked up many months ahead. New and refurbished hotels meeting international standards are available in Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, Ngapali Beach and Ngwe Saung Beach. HA Travel cannot guarantee specific hotel requests and upcountry reserves the right to substitute accommodation for the best available alternative standard when a first-choice hotel is not available. Clients are advised that accommodation in remote locations can be very basic and simple.
Occasionally, according to the Buddhist lunar calendar and traditions, recitation of monks at monasteries or pagodas occur all over the country. Especially, during the 3 months Buddhist lent (June to October), Patthana recitation of monks can be heard non-stop, day and night for a week. These recitations usually are broadcast with loud speakers in order to spread to every direction. People believe that reciting the Patthana, or hearing its recitation will impart certain blessings such as warding off dangers & spirits, curing illness, attaining prosperity or success, or being guarded by angels. The loud noise from monasteries can be a disturbance during the night for the hotels nearby especially in Bagan and Inle Lake and Golden Rock.
The Pagoda festivals are also very common in Myanmar. They are usually held during the full moon days and can last from one to three weeks. Evening entertainments, music, dances and night markets until midnight take place with many people enjoying the festivities. It is advisable to carry ear plugs as some hotels which are nearby these festivities are disturbed by the noise.
HA Travel does its utmost to provide the best available cars and buses. As the import of new vehicles as well as spare parts is very difficult and extremely expensive, most of the tourist cars used are second hand vehicles, sometimes older than 20 years. Recently the regulation has changed and imports of new cars are now permitted to some extent. In the near future, there will be more luxury cars available for tourists.
In remote areas, however, air-conditioned vehicles may not always be available and travellers should be advised that the quality of roads vary throughout Myanmar from reasonable to bad.
Traffic is getting more and more congested in Yangon, Mandalay and driving in the cities can be slow and delays happen due to long waiting time at traffic lights. We recommend respecting the timing indicated by your tour guide for sightseeing or transfers. High vigilance and attention is needed when crossing streets.
No taxis in Myanmar use meters and the fare must be negotiated before the beginning of the trip. Public buses offer a cheap albeit crowded alternative to taxis; the challenge is finding out where the bus is going.
RESTRICTED AREAS AND OVERLAND BORDER CROSSINGS
Large parts of Myanmar are open to foreign visitors. Access to some remote or border areas (India and China), however, is still subject to government permission. In such situations HA Travel will endeavour to obtain the necessary permits. Allow one month for procurement of such permits.
The special permit, which will be arranged by HA Travel where applicable, is only the permission to cross the border but not the actual visa. The Myanmar visa must be stamped into the clients' passports prior to their arrival at the Myanmar border.
The following border checkpoints are currently open for tourists:
- Muse / Ruli (Yunnan China)
- Tachilek / Mae Sai (North Thailand) Kawthaung / Ranong (South west Thailand)
- Myawaddy / Mae Sot (West Thailand)
- Kawtaung / Ranong (South Thailand)
- Tamu (East India)