Known as the golden land, Myanmar is a paradise to discover a rich diversity of culture. Bordering India, Bangladesh, China, Laos, and Thailand this culturally blessed land has equally awe-inspiring landscapes to appeal to every taste. From snow-capped mountains in the north, exotic beaches in the south and west, mountainous plateaus and virgin jungles in the east, desert plains, and vast deltas will leave a lasting impression that will amaze you!
Myanmar has many different faces and is certainly offering something special for any traveler to whom traveling is more than staying at a beach resort. It is a country with a very rich culture, unspoiled nature and, to some visitors’ surprise; it’s also a country with a genuine friendly population who very much want to be in contact with foreign visitors. People are open-minded, easy-going and interested to learn more about anything.
It’s the people that make a country, and that’s certainly the case for Myanmar.
Hundreds of ethnic tribes have been living in the area for thousands of years and many have continued their centuries old, local way of life till now. This diversity is generally celebrated (Myanmar has official public holidays for almost every world religion) and sometimes joked about, with some healthy feeling of “competition and envy” for the better food/costumes/jewelry or other cultural differences from the different states. Myanmar people (the ethnic Burmese, called Bamar, as well as the Chin, Kachin, Kayin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine and the Shan) LOVE to try the food from other states (Shan and Rakhine food is very popular in Yangon). Whenever people travel through the country, they will always bring food from the area they visited as a present for family and friends who stayed at home. If you want to make friends with the Burmese during your trip to Myanmar, bring some typical food or candies from your hometown! Whichever place you visit in Myanmar; you can be ensured to find a truly friendly population that is eager to welcome you in their native town.
The birds and natural beauty will impress nature lovers during a boat trip through the Moeyungyi Wetlands (about 2.5 hours’ drive from Yangon). Inle Lake is a natural inland lake on a high plateau, and blessed with an abundance of wild life and biodiversity. Kalaw is certainly the elephant conservation camp recently set up with the aim to protect elephants and to educate the local population about reforestation possibly the highlight of your trip in Myanmar will be washing and feeding of the elephants here.
Myanmar has 3 different seasons: winter (mid Oct – Feb), summer (March – May) and green season (June – mid Oct). These seasons are very similar to the seasons in Thailand. Every season has its own advantages and disadvantages to travel:
March – May (summer)
The whole country can be hot (especially in the afternoon – around 35 degrees
Celsius) so you’re advised to plan sightseeing more in the mornings and evenings.
Landscapes are a bit dry – excellent time to visit the beaches and to visit higher
parts of Myanmar (Shan state for example).
November – February (winter)
The most popular season for tourists to travel because of the lower temperatures (evenings in the mountains can be cold – 10 degrees Celsius) while the chance for rain is less (although November 2013 saw more rainy days then July or August of that year). Daytime temperature is around 30 degrees Celsius. A good time to visit any place in the country but it can be busy at the major tourist locations – if you have the choice we suggest you to avoid the months of November and February when it can be very busy everywhere.
June – mid October (green season)
The temperatures drop (till about 25 – 30 degrees Celsius) and the scenery is green. Sightseeing is not too hot and not too dusty. A perfect period to visit Bagan, Mandalay and Shan states (Hsipaw, Kyaukme, Pyin Oo Lwin, Kalaw, Inle Lake) where it isn’t raining a lot (mostly a short shower at the end of the day). Avoid the beaches in this period (it’s raining more at the coast and most hotels are closed in this period). Yangon can get quite some rain as well so it is better to spend just 1 or 2 nights here. Sightseeing is great as there aren’t many other tourists around yet – it’s Myanmar at its best! There are in this period on average less than 10 rainy days a month upcountry: weather base website – Myanmar. This is the period we generally advise our closest friends to come and visit as it’s an excellent period to visit Myanmar.
Current Time & Date:
GMT +6.30 hours, the Gregorian calendar is used throughtout Myanmar and the lunar calender is used for religious perposes, Buddisit ceromonies and festivities.
Currency: Kyat, not exchangeable outside Myanmar
Burmese is the most widely spoken official language of Myanmar. Burmese language is spoken throughout the country along with over hundred other languages and dialects! Some basic English is spoken by people as some words (like counting) are widely used amongst Burmese people. Travelers generally don’t have too many problems in basic communication, as there is always somebody near who is willing to help (and find somebody who speaks English) or somebody who is eager to meet foreign visitors.
Food & Drinks:
All water should be regarded as being potentially contaminated. Water used for drinking, or making ice should have first been boiled or otherwise sterilized.
Bottled water is available throughout the country. Avoid dairy products that are likely to have been made from raw milk. Only eat well-cooked meat and fish, preferably served hot. Vegetables should be cooked and fruit peeled. Myanmar food is traditionally eaten with steamed rice using either the fingers or spoon and fork (chop sticks are sometimes used for Chinese food or noodles). In the countryside, people will all eat family style; sitting on the floor, sharing a few dishes. Traditional Myanmar food consists out of 1 or 2 curries (not very spicy), a lot of steamed rice and some pickles or salad as well as fish paste. The traditional food out of the centre of Myanmar can be a bit greasy; make sure you also try the food of all the different states like Shan food, Rakhine food or mix with Chinese, Indian or Thai food.
Here are some favorites:
– Chicken or Pork curry, a traditional Myanmar curry, which comes with a strong curry taste and is very similar to an Indian curry with a layer of oil on top. Mix it with a lot of rice. In Myanmar traditional families they believe is that a guest should be always served the best and richest food hence a bit of extra oil is added!
– Mohingar is the national breakfast dish and can be found in the streets and at market stalls as well as some hotels. It is a fish soup with vermicelli mixed with ingredients like lemon, coriander, boiled egg, banana stem or crispy fried beans. Try it – it’s delicious!
– Kya oh is a kind of noodle soup mixed with vegetables and generally chicken or pork. It is an excellent dish for lunch.
– Ohno Kaukswe is one of the favorites in Myanmar and often served for breakfast. It is a thick coconut soup with rice noodles and chicken (as well as onions, rice crackers and a bit of coriander).
– BBQ chicken, pork, fish and seafood can be found at many street stalls and are often accompanied with glasses of Myanmar draft beer.
– Shan noodles: a delicious dish originally from Shan state (each city in Shan state has it’s own taste) but nowadays readily available in the whole country. The bowl of noodles comes with a sauce of meat and vegetable and can be ordered as a salad or as a soup.
– Let Pet Thoke (pickled tea leaves salad) is a very popular traditional snack served with sesame, peanuts, dried shrimps, garlic and chili.
1 January New year’s Day
4 January Independence Day
2 -10 January Kachin Manaw Festival (Kachin State Day)
19 – 25 January Ananda Temple pagoda festival
12 February Union Day
8 February Chinese new year
23 – 24 February Mandalay Mahamuni Pagoda Festival
23 February Htamane (Harvest Festival)
15 February – 20 April Minbu, Magway Shwe-set-taw Pagoda
2 March Peasants Day
17-24 March Pindaya Shwe Oo Min Festival
21- 23 March South of Taungyi Kakku Pagoda Festival
22-24 March Yangon Tabaung Festival
27 March Armed Forces Day
13-16 April Thingyan (Water Festival)
20 April Mont Popa festival
15 – 27 April Shwemawdaw Pagoda Festival
01 May May Day (Worker’s Day)
21 May Full Moon Day of kason
19 July Martyr’s Day
19 July Full Moon Day of Waso
11 – 18 August Taungbyone Nat Festival
26 August Yadana Gu Nat Festival
2 – 19 October Festival of Phaung Daw Oo
15 – 17 October Thadingyut (Festival of Lights)
15 – 16 October Dancing elephant Festival
31 October – 15 November Shwesigon pagoda Festival
09 – 14 November Taunggyi Balloon Festival
13 – 15 November Tazaungdine (Festival of Lights)
24 November National day
23 – 29 December Festival of Alo daw Pyae Pagoda
25 December Christmas Day
31 December New Year’s Eve
Most important: be aware that there are ATM machines in Myanmar but they only accept Master card and Visa CREDIT CARDS (no debit cards). You will have to bring cash as well. US Dollars, Euro and Thai Baht are easily exchanged into local currency around the country at money exchangers and banks. Make sure the notes look brand new without any writings on them and make sure they are not torn, faded or in anyway not looking brand new, otherwise they won’t be accepted. The Kyat is the official currency of Myanmar and is available in notes of 10.000, 5.000, 1.000, 500 and 200 as well as some smaller denominations, which are often dirty, torn and not worth a lot. The last few years the Kyat has been hovering between 900 to 1200 Kyats to the US Dollar – ask your hotel or your guide about the current exchange rate on arrival and also where to exchange. There are more bank exchange counters opening all over the country, including on arrival at the airport and those counters usually give the best exchange rate.
Generally it’s best to pay everywhere in Kyats. Cash USD are only accepted in hotels. The Kyat is not freely convertible, which means that you can’t buy any Kyats outside of Myanmar, and so any Kyats you leave with can’t be exchanged anywhere else. The FEC (Foreign Exchange Certificates) are abandoned since 1 April 2013. In theory it is possible to exchange Traveler’s Cheques at the National Bank in Yangon. However, in practice it is slow and costly. We advise you to bring cash US Dollars and/or Euros and to change these into Kyats in any main tourist area while traveling through the country. One last remark on the dollar notes: any denomination is OK (50 and 100 USD notes are most popular). Just make sure they look brand new and check the serial number does NOT start with “CB” as these are not accepted either.
Health risks in Myanmar include: cholera, dengue fever, hepatitis, Japanese encephalitis, malaria, rabies and typhoid. We strongly recommend you to visit either your personal physician or a travel health clinic 4-8 weeks before departure. Up-to-date advice should be sought before deciding whether these precautions should include vaccination, as medical opinion is divided over its effectiveness. Malaria risk exists throughout the year in the whole country, except in bigger towns such as Yangon and Mandalay. Medical facilities with western standards are very limited in Myanmar and practically only exist in Yangon. Many doctors have been educated in Europe (especially in the UK) but have limited access to modern medicines and limited updated knowledge on medicine.
Visitors of all nationalities need a visa in order to visit Myanmar. You can apply for this visa at a Myanmar embassy in or near your country. Please contact the embassy for more details. The visa for Myanmar is valid for 28 days and occupies a full page in your passport. The visa expires 90 days after it is issued so don’t apply too early. Please make sure you have enough pages in your passport. The passport has to be valid for at least 6 more months. Different embassies have different rules to apply for a tourist visa. Generally you will need 2 or 3 photos and enough cash to pay for your visa (at most embassies it’s 30 USD). Some embassies will ask you to come in person to apply for the visa or they will ask for your CV (to check where you have been working in the past) and they might ask for your planned travel itinerary. It usually takes about 3 days to get your visa. It is also possible to arrange for an eVisa for Myanmar. The procedure takes at least 5 working days. Travelers show interest for the online visa at the official website of the Ministry of Immigration and Population (http://evisa.moip.gov.mm/). NOTE: this only applies for arrivals at Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Mandalay airports.
International Airports: Yangon and Mandalay are Myanmar’s major international airports although both are connected to major Asian cities; Yangon is currently the most connected, with direct flights to Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur.