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Quick Facts
CapitalPyinmana
Areatotal: 678,500 sq km
land: 657,740 sq km
water: 20,760 sq km
Population42,238,224 (July 2002 estimate)
LanguageBurmese (official), English, minorities have their own languages
ReligionBuddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Muslim 4%, animist 1%, other 2%
Governmentmilitary regime
Currencykyat (MMK)

Myanmar, also known by its old name Burma, is a country in Southeast Asia. It lies on the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea coast between India and Bangladesh to the east and Thailand and Laos to the west. Its northern border is with China.

Regions

States (pyi):

  • Chin
  • Kachin
  • Kayin (Karen)
  • Kayah (Karenni)
  • Mon
  • Rakhine (Arakan)
  • Shan

Divisions (taing):

  • Yangon Division (Rangoon)
  • Ayeyarwady Division (Irrawaddy)
  • Bago Division (Pegu)
  • Magwe Division
  • Mandalay Division
  • Sagaing Division
  • Tanintharyi Division (Tenassarim)

Cities

  • Yangon (formerly Rangoon) � A bustling city of 4 million, known for its pagodas and colonial architecture
  • Bago (formerly Pegu)
  • Mandalay � Former capital of the Konbaung Dynasty built around the Mandalay Royal Palace
  • Bagan
  • Mount Popa

Understand

Myanmar has been subject to rule by a military junta for much of the past 40 years. The country has a reputation abroad as one where political dissent is brutally crushed, as in the case of the frequent house arrests of democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi.When in Myanmar,don't insult the government and abstain from political activities.

Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her 60th birthday under house arrest on June 19, 2005 and October 2005 marked the 10th anniversary of her imprisonment. Her communication with the outside world is severely restricted. Burmese democracy groups have created a "Candles for Burma" campaign via which supporters worldwide can upload digital birthday greetings to the imprisoned leader here Bangkok, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. They operate an all-Boeing fleet. Indian Airlines links Yangon with Calcutta, while Mandarin Airlines links Yangon with Taipei.

Myanma Airways, not to be confused with MAI is known for its poor safety record, and should be avoided.

The most popular place to get a flight to Myanmar is Thailand. Air Mandalay connects Chiang Mai with Mandalay and Yangon. Phuket Airlines connects Bangkok and Yangon. Biman Bangladesh links Bangkok with Mandalay. Thai Airways International also have a Bangkok - Yangon and a Chiang Mai - Yangon flight. These flights start at 3500 baht one-way and are best bought from a travel agency in Bangkok.

By land

It is not currently feasible to independently enter or leave Myanmar across the borders with Bangladesh, India or Laos.

Foreigners can cross from China to Myanmar via Ruili, although a permit (as well as a visa) and a guide are needed. Crossing in the opposite direction is more difficult to arrange and details are uncertain.

The situation with the border crossings with Thailand is as follows:

  • Mae Sai - Tachileik: Foreigners can access this crossing from either side, and enter and/or exit either country here; no onward travel restrictions (other than those that apply to everyone, no matter how you enter); to get to Tachileik or Kengtung from the rest of Myanmar, a domestic flight must be taken (eg from Heho).
  • Mae Sot - Myawadi: Foreigners can only access this crossing from the Thai side; onward travel into Myanmar (ie beyond the border town) is not possible. USD10 fee if paid with USD notes; more (500 baht) if paying with Thai currency.
  • Three Pagodas Pass: 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 your passport is held at the Myanmar checkpoint.
  • Ranong - Kawthoung: Foreigners can access this crossing from either side, and enter and/or exit either country here; no onward travel restrictions (other than those that apply to everyone, no matter how you enter); access to/from Kawthoung is by sea (Myeik/Dawei & Yangon) and air (Myeik & Yangon). USD5 fee if paid with USD notes; more (300 baht) if paying with Thai currency.

Get around

Myanmar has an extensive rail network. However, the rail system is notoriously slow- running four to five hours behind schedule on the Yangon-Mandalay run for an express train is pretty standard. Sleepers are available on many express trains, although they must be reserved well in advance as they are typically taken up by tour groups. Food service is available on the express up and the express down between Yangon and Mandalay.

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.

You can also use buses to places you are allowed to visit, and pick-up trucks for shorter distances. Both are mostly payable in Kyat and expect to pay some extra for being a tourist. Remember, travel in Myanmar is slow.

Talk

The official language of Myanmar is Burmese (known by the government as Myanmar), closely related to Tibetan and Chinese. Myanmar is a former British colony, and as a result - and because English is still being taught in primary schools - many Burmese understand at least some rudimentary English.

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

Buy

Myanmar's currency is the kyat (abbreviated K). Pya are coins, and are rarely seen. Technically only kyat and FECs are legal tender, but US dollars (USD) and euros very widely accepted and often preferred, but in many cases, payments can only be made in USD notes. It is more sensible to use the black market to exchange USD to kyat.

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

Exchange rate

The official rate "floats" around a farcical 6 (yes, six) kyat to the US dollar [2] (http://www.xe.com/ucc/convert.cgi?Amount=1&From=USD&To=MMK). In reality, the true (so-called "black market") exchange rate [3] (http://www.irrawaddy.org) fluctuates considerably around both sides of the 1000 kyat to the USD mark. Learn the daily exchange rate from reliable persons.

Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs)

Visitors to Myanmar were previously required to change $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 - the resemblance to Monopoly money [4] (http://wikipedia.org/Monopoly_(game)#Popular_culture) is uncanny).

Credit cards

Due to EU and US sanctions, credit cards are not accepted anywhere in Myanmar. Because of a widespread banking scandal in the 2000s, many private banking companies were shut down. However, there are places where you can cash your credit card for a cut of around 7%. Large hotels such as Sedona, and the shops in Scott Market can help you.

Myanmar does have a small number of ATMs; however these do not accept foreign issued cards.

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).

Foreign currencies

Visitors must plan carefully and bring enough cash with them to cover their entire visit, as there's no easy way to get more without leaving the country.

Never exchange money in a bank or at the airport as the rates are excrutiatingly uncompetitive.

Western currencies are best exchanged in Yangon, however rates for everything other than USD (and to a lesser extent euros) are poor, hence it's best to convert to USD before entering Myanmar. Both USD and euros can easily be exchanged in most cities; sterling can be exchanged in Yangon and Mandalay, possibly in Bagan.

Foreign currency (including USD) must be in good condition. Torn bills are virtually impossible to change, and the same sometimes applies to notes which have been written on, otherwise marked, or even repeatedly folded. When getting currency from a bank to take to Myanmar, request new notes. Some $100 bills with certain serial number prefixes (especially "CB") are sometimes regarded as suspect, so it may be better to take $50 or smaller denominations.

Costs

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

What to buy

A popular purchase in Myanmar is lacquerware, which is made into bowls, cups, vases and various items. There is also a wide variety of beautiful silverware and jewelry as well as textiles, including gorgeous silks and handcrafts such as wooden carvings, silk paintings and stonework.

Avoid giving money to beggars in Yangon and Mandalay (as painful as it might be to refuse them) but do buy handcrafts from street vendors and be generous at temples and monasteries. Definitely bargain! It's expected virtually everywhere, even in some of the nicest hotels.

Some items may need customs permits, but hiding them well in luggage will help avoid problems.

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.

Drink

Mandalay Beer. 'Toddy juice', hta yei is popular in parts of central Myanmar. It is made from fermented palm sugar. Popular in the Shan State is shwe le maw, reportedly very strong.

Sleep

Accomodation is readily available in many tourist locales throughout Myanmar. Hostels and cheap hotels are available throughout the country. World-class hotels are available in Yangon, Bagan, and Mandalay. World-class resorts are available in many resort cities along the coastline and in Inlay Lake.

Internet access is available in many of Yangon's hotels, but are more expensive and heavily censored. Hotels often provide complimentary breakfast.

Learn


Work

Stay safe

Crime

Myanmar has a dangerous reputation, but it is generally quite safe for the visitor. You are likely to have your passport checked often, but that should be the extent of your hassles with the government. In the areas of the country you are permitted to go to, the chance of you being a victim of crime is remote.

Since 2005, there has been an increase in street violence (particularly robberies), in major cities such as Yangon and Mandalay. In May 2004, there was a series of bombings that took place in Yangon, in which many were killed. Zegyo Market in Mandalay was also the site of a bombing in 2005. An explosion occured in late 2005 in front of Traders Hotel in Yangon. Security has been heightened at many hotels and offices.

Various insurgent groups continue to operate in the Shan, Mon and Karen States of Burma, along the Thai and Chinese borders. Travel to these regions is generally not permitted by the Myanmar government without a permit.

On the road

Road travel to tourist destinations is safe, although some roads may be rough. Highways are often 2-lane, and cars often pass one another. Accidents and fatalities are common. Night-time road travel is not recommended, and medical facilities are limited in rural areas. At government hospitals, bribes may be required.

In Yangon, riding motorcycles and bicycles is illegal. Cars and pedestrians do not follow the established rules, and crossing the road is difficult. It is best to follow the locals when crossing the road. Mandalay's streets are occupied with mainly motorcycles and bicycles.

Stay healthy

Tap water is not safe in Myanmar, as is ice. Always buy bottled water. Tropical diseases such as Japanese encephalitis have occured. Drug-resistant strains of malaria and tuberculosis are common in many areas. Hepatitis vaccinations are highly recommended. At restaurants, always use a new pair of chopsticks. If chopsticks are not available, ask the server to boil the utensils in water.

Follow the old rule "If you can't fry it, stir it, peel it or boil it - then forget about it"

Respect

The people of Myanmar are very conservative in their dress and behaviour and you should pay special attention to respecting their Buddhist traditions wherever you go, but particularly in temples and monasteries (of which there are thousands). Shorts and sleeveless shirts are frowned upon and in fact, are not allowed in shrines, temples and monasteries. Short skirts are also not recommended. You must also remove your shoes in these locations, so the easiest thing for a tourist is to dress like the locals!

The Burmese commonly refer to tourists of Caucasian descent as bo, which translates "leader", as a sign of respect.

For both men and women, this means a longyi, or wrap skirt similar to a sarong that you can purchase everywhere. They are wrapped in different ways for men and women, so find a local who can show you how to tie them. Also recommended are flipflops (called slippers by the locals) that can be easily slipped off and left at the temple entrance.

Also avoid t-shirts with images of Buddhas or Buddhist imagery, which is considered highly disrespectful.

Give generously at temples and monasteries but be aware that most will not allow women to enter some of the more sacred areas. You can purchase gold leaf that is applied to Buddha statues, but again, women are generally not allowed, so don't make a fuss and respect this tradition!

When praying or paying respects, it is important to ensure that your feet do not point towards the Buddha or towards people. Do not point to images of Buddha. Tuck your feet underneath you when kneeling at shrines and temples.

Contact

International mail out of Myanmar is reportedly quite efficient. International phone calls can be arranged at the Central Telephone & Telegraph Office at the corner of Ponsodan and Mahabandoola Streets in Yangon.

Access to the Internet is very limited. Internet cafes exist in Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and many other places that are frequented by tourists, but access is extremely slow and many sites are inaccessible. All common webmail providers are blocked.