Myanmar Fast Facts
The largest country in mainland South-East Asia, stretching over 2,100 km from the north, close to the foothills of the Himalayan range between Yunnan and Assam, to the south, alongside the Andaman Sea with a scattering of tropical islands, Myanmar’s vast territory and diverse climate offers multiple leisure opportunities.
The majority of visitors arrive by air at Yangon International Airport. Yangon’s international terminal offers basic facilities such as a restaurant, post office, duty-free shop and a currency exchange kiosk. The airport is located 15 kilometres from the centre of Yangon and taxis are in abundance.
Arrival and Departure information
Visitors need a passport valid for six months. Since recently, visa requirements have been fixed by the government to make it easier for visitors to enter the country. Numerous nationalities can qualify now for an e-visa via http://evisa.moip.gov.mm/, the official online visa approval. The procedures take no longer than 3 – 4 working days for tourist visas to get the approval.
A tourist visa’s validity expires 90 days after issue and only allows a 28-day, single-entry visit. Applicants no longer need to bring passport-sized photos for the process. Regarding visa extensions, at the time of the publication of this guide it was not possible to extend a tourist visa.
All the above information may change without prior notice. It remains the traveller’s responsibility to check visa requirements before traveling.
Office hours are usually Monday to Friday, from 9.30am until 4pm. Most shops are open every day with the exception of the famous Bogoye Aung San Market (or Scott’s Market) in Yangon which is closed on Monday, public holidays and on full-moon holidays, as are most markets in the country. Shopping centres in the country are often open until 9pm
Though the economy is rapidly modernizing following political reforms, banks and exchange facilities very rarely accept travellers’ checks and the banks are only just beginning to offer ATM services. Reports of customer complaints resulting from technical problems with ATM machines and faulty withdrawals can be common. Travellers who choose to use ATMs should carefully scrutinize online banking records to ensure that transactions are registered accurately
Although moneychangers sometimes approach travellers with an offer to change dollars into Burmese kyat at the market rate, it is illegal to exchange currency except at authorized locations such as the airport, banks and shopping malls, as long as they visually display a license. Don’t expect to change any rumpled or torn US dollar bills. Moneychangers accept only crisp, clean bills, and tend to only take the “new” US dollar bills with the larger full-frame heads.
Due to Myanmar’s tropical climate, we recommend light cotton clothing in order to remain comfortable while out and about during the day. Smart casual is the attire for the evening (Some hotels and higher-end restaurants impose dress codes so it is always best to check in advance with your Asian Trails guide). It is advisable to cover arms and legs in the evenings to protect against mosquito bites. An umbrella is a good idea in both the hot and rainy seasons as it will offer protection from the strong sun and the tropical downpours.
Tourists should respect a dress code at temples and palaces; visitors should not wear the following when entering these places: sleeveless shirts; sportswear; tights/leggings; shorts; short skirts; three-quarter length trousers; swimwear/beachwear; and shirts with offensive texts or images. Evenings in the hill stations and on Inle Lake can be quite cold so bring a sweater or other warm clothing if visiting these areas. This applies especially to the winter months between November and February.
Myanmar’s national currency is the kyat (MMK). There are 100 pyas in one kyat. Banknotes come in denominations of MMK10, 000, 5,000, 1,000, 500, 200, 100 and 50. US dollars are widely accepted throughout the country. Although the country officially still accepts 10 and 20 kyat notes, these are hardly used any longer.
All visitors over the age of 17 years can import the following without incurring a customs duty:
- 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco.
- One litre of alcohol.
- 0.5 litre of perfume or eau de cologne.
Do’s and Don’ts
Do’s in Myanmar
- Ask for permission before taking photographs of people or monks.
- It is customary to remove your shoes and footwear when entering a place of worship such as a pagoda or a temple, as well as someone’s home.
- If invited to dine in a family’s home it is polite to bring a small gift for the host such as fruit or dessert
Don’ts in Myanmar
- Don’t use your feet to point at someone.
- Don’t touch a person on the head.
- Don’t begin eating before an elder
- Women should never touch male monks or hand something directly to them.
- Keep public displays of affection to a respectful minimum.
- Don’t wear shorts, or revealing clothes.
Myanmar uses 220V and a combination of flat two-pin, round two-pin, or three pin plugs. Therefore, visitors are recommended to bring a universal plug adaptor for ease of use across the country. Power cuts can be quite common, especially outside of the big cities, but the larger hotels and resorts have their own generators for emergency electricity supplies.
Entertainment and Nightlife
As the country is still opening up to new tourism opportunities, the hotel bar is probably the most vibrant centre of nightlife in most places. Nonetheless, Yangon has an abundance of pubs, clubs and discos primarily located in five-star hotels. There are also entertainment plazas that include karaoke, fashion shows and traditional dance performances.
Local drinking establishments are called “beer stations” and these offer cheaper drinks, but they are not usually frequented by tourists. Mandalay has some satire shows and puppets. Theatre arts are also represented at night thanks to the Mandalay Marionettes. Nightlife in Bagan consists of going to riverside restaurants to watch the sunset over the Irrawaddy River. Tourists who wish to experience nightlife in Inle Lake can enjoy cultural shows at one of the various lakeside properties. These traditional events showcase the culture, customs and traditions of the people of Myanmar.
Myanmar’s favourable seasonal conditions, fertile soil and abundant water resources provides an abundant supply of food of a great variety all year. Rice comprises about 75 per cent of the diet and this is served with meat or fish, soup, salad and vegetables.
As with other South East Asian cuisines, an effort is made to balance the four primary flavours of sour, salty, spicy and bitter. Although these basics are relatively simple, one of the pleasures of eating an authentic Burmese meal is the sheer variety of dishes at a single setting. Having chosen a curry, fried dish or salad, a succession of side dishes will be served including soup, either an Indian-influenced lentil soup or dhal, or a tart leaf-based sour soup. A tray of fresh and par-boiled vegetables and herbs is another common side dish and these are eaten with various dips. Myanmar’s neighbours have greatly influenced its cuisine, especially India, China and Thailand.
The Chinese influence can be seen in some spice preparations. The Indian influence has led to the replication of many dishes, including curries, naan, biryani and samosas.
No vaccinations are required except for yellow fever if visitors are travelling from an area where the disease is present. Travellers should check with their doctor or a travel immunization clinic regarding the advisability of inoculation against typhoid, hepatitis, tetanus and Japanese encephalitis as well as Malaria prophylaxis.
Although medical facilities are being developed as the country opens up and enjoys more visitors, facilities can be limited in the more remote areas and it is essential to take out a good medical insurance policy before entering the country. This should cover the cost of a medical evacuation flight out of Myanmar – most likely to Bangkok – in the event of an emergency.
Myanmar has hundreds of privately run hotels and guesthouses licensed to accept foreigners with more coming on stream. Yangon, Mandalay and the other bigger towns have a good selection of western-styled properties with more and more global hotel chains represented. Check with Asian Trails to get the best deals through our online booking system and expert local knowledge, especially when travelling during peak holiday periods.
Medical facilities are limited in Myanmar, especially outside of the popular tourism destinations. It is therefore essential to take out a good medical insurance policy prior to travelling.
Internet provision has grown at a fast pace and has become as reliable as neighbouring countries. The country now has implemented 3G and 4G networks in the main urban areas and SIM cards are widely available. Connection times rarely are slow so the time of fast uploads and downloads has also arrived in Myanmar. The Internet is still subject to some regulations and access to certain websites is filtered or may be banned outright.
The national language of Myanmar is Burmese and there are an estimated 80 different dialects spoken across the country. The written script is based on ancient Asian characters. A legacy of colonial rule is a high command of English, especially among the older generations and city residents. As the country opens up to new opportunities, many of the younger generation are now also learning foreign languages, especially English.
Linguists have identified 110 distinct ethnolinguistic groups in Myanmar and the government officially recognizes 135 ethnic groups. The Burmese account for about 68 per cent of the population. Other major ethnic groups include the Kachin, Kayah, Shan, Karen, Arakanese or Rakhine, Chin and Mon. Asian Trails has a number of fascinating tours that take people to hill tribe villages to interact with these people.
Closure of tourist sites can occur at short notice on public holidays and our Asian Trails guides will give guests advice about this situation. The dates of national and religious holidays change every year.
The most obvious choices are air, bus and car hire but for a more romantic and scenic way to travel in Myanmar, look no further than trains and boats. Invariably, if you take public transport services – as opposed to luxury boat cruises – these are both slow and unreliable, but they give a leisurely and fascinating view of the country and allow visitors to interact with the locals. Taxis are inexpensive and plentiful in most towns and cities.
Cycling and walking are popular activities in some rural locations and the scarcity of traffic makes this option even more attractive. Asian Trails can help with all travel arrangements, be it airport transfers, car hire, or river cruises.
Buddhism is the dominant religion in Myanmar with nearly 85 per cent of the population followers of this faith. An appreciation of Buddhism and its history in Myanmar is advantageous for visitors wishing to better understand the mind of the majority of the population. The monastery is the traditional focal point in Myanmar and every Buddhist boy in Myanmar is expected to spend time as a monk.
Major cities, such as Yangon, have some of the most ornate and important Buddhist temples on the planet. Other religious faiths include Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and followers of animist faiths.
Myanmar is a safe country to visit. However, never leave bags unattended and always maintain a firm grip on cameras and shoulder bags. Leave expensive jewellery at home and always use hotel safety deposits boxes or in-room safes for valuables.
The historic Bogoye Aung San Market, a major tourist attraction in the former capital, is the best place to visit for authentic souvenirs. The indoor trading complex is a diverse space that offers the best opportunity to buy a wide variety of goods selling antiques, handicrafts, clothes, jade jewellery, paintings, lacquer ware, wood carvings, tapestries, silverware, brassware and silk and cotton fabrics. Set in a large colonial building built in 1926, the facility was previously known as Scott’s Market after James George Scott, the British civil servant who was notable for introducing football to Myanmar. The name was later changed to Bogyoke Aung San Market in honour of national hero General Aung San.
Be sure to use your utmost bargaining ability as the traders start their prices high when selling to tourists. After browsing the abundance of stalls, a food court in the centre of the market offers delicious local cuisine. The market is situated in the centre of the city on Bogyoke Aung San Road, just a short walking distance from the Sule Pagoda and the Sule Shangri-La Hotel. It is closed on Mondays and public holidays.
The country has an abundance of markets in both the major tourism destinations as well as smaller towns that offer fantastic handmade local products and excellent souvenirs. Prominent among these are traditional crafts such as lacquer ware which is of a very high standard in Bagan. Other recommended buys are wood and stone carvings, bronze pieces, rattan, silver items, traditional silk longyis and hand-woven textiles
Please double check with your mobile provider for any roaming agreement with Myanmar.
Myanmar is GMT + 6.30 in winter and + 5.30 in summer and does not operate a daylight-saving system.
Tipping for good service is not expected but is always appreciated in a country where average annual incomes are a fraction of the majority of countries. It is customary, though not compulsory, to tip tour guides and drivers at the end of a tour. Always tip hotel and station porters who assist with bags.
It is not safe to drink tap water but purified bottled mineral water is available everywhere. All hotels provide a complimentary bottle of local mineral water per person in the room. Ice cubes in drinks are generally okay in good standard hotels and restaurants but it is best to avoid them on street stalls or in rural areas. Some minor stomach problems are always possible when travelling in exotic countries so it is advisable to bring a supply of anti-diarrhoea medicine.
The country has a tropical climate with three distinct seasons. The cool season runs from November to February when it is dry; the hot season from March to May with average temperatures in the 30s (86F); and the rainy season from May to the beginning of October, when frequent short rainstorms are prevalent. For those heading to Myanmar’s expansive 2,000-km long coastline, the coast has two distinctive seasons. During the rainy season (April-September) many resorts and restaurants scale back operations and some close down entirely. In contrast, the dry season offers sunny skies and average daytime temperatures of between 30 (86F)-to-34 Celsius (93F).
Emergency Contact Numbers
For the emergency services – police, fire and ambulance – dial 199.
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