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Burma_myanmar for beginners

The country in a nutshell


Burma's currency is the kyat (pronounced 'chat'). For the past few years, its tended to trade at around 970 kyat to US$1. Money changers are now well regulated and fair; there is no longer any need to find a black-market money changer. International ATMs are spreading across the country, but are not always reliable — access in main tourist areas such as Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake should be possible. Credit cards are gradually gaining popularity, but are mainly only used in high-end hotels and restaurants.


For the average traveller, Burma is quite a safe country. Petty theft may occur but violent crimes against foreigners are practically unheard of. Most confrontations come from a lack of respect for cultural norms, such as wearing footwear and non-conservative clothing at religious sites. TourismTransparency.org has put together a great book of cultural do's and don'ts that everyone should read. In some parts of the country, armed conflict between the central government and ethnic groups persists; these areas either require special permits to visit or are completely off limits, making it nearly impossible to accidentally find yourself there. Foreigners at no stage have been targeted, but do keep to the main lines of transport around the far north, both in Shan and Kachin States.


Most police will not speak much English, though the tourist police should be of more assistance, in busier areas where you can find them. Currently the tourist police have no nationalised number, but you can ask your accommodation for the local number or the Myanmar police can be reached at 199.


When the World Health Organisation (WHO) last ranked Burma's system against other countries, it took position 190 out of 190 countries for its "overall health system performance". If you can help it, get treated outside the country; Thailand's world-class healthcare is a short flight away. It is highly recommended that you have travel insurance that has evacuation coverage. If you are going to do any trekking or bicycle tours, or anything with a degree of risk, this option is practically a necessity.


Myanmar's transport system can be a little rough but should get you where you're going. High-quality buses are beginning to be used by big bus companies and run routes between the main tourist sites, but otherwise you'll find the buses much less impressive -- they can be anything from adequate to rough. Trains are commonly late and extremely bouncy, but they too are being upgraded with new imports. Domestic flights can be cancelled or rescheduled for no other reason than a lack of enough passengers, so make sure that you don't count on flying into a city the same day you depart on an international flight. A local travel agent will be able to give you the best options for flights.


The visa system is evolving. As of mid-2014, there are no landing visas for any country. All visas must be arranged beforehand through an embassy, travel company or Burma-registered business. Tourist visas on arrival (VOA) through a travel agent have been accepted at some times since late 2013, but there have been months where this option is not available -- contact your nearest Burma embassy or a travel agent to find out if this is available at the time of your travels.


The national language is Burmese, which uses a non-Roman script and has three main tones. The basics can be easy but grammatical structure is difficult to learn, though there are tall-tale signs that revolve around the ending of sentences. If a sentence ends in 'deh' or 'meh' it is a statement. If it ends in 'bu' it is a negative (or 'no'). If it ends in 'la' or 'leh' it is a question. Many people do speak English, and well, but many will speak none. In some states you will find the locals using a different language as their mother-tongue, and sometimes they will not speak Burmese at all. For good free online audio lessons, try John Okell's Burmese By Ear


There are three seasons: hot, rainy and cool. Late February to June is hot season, and no matter where you come from in the world, you will find it very hot. Yangon gets especially steamy as it has a high humidity level throughout the year. Rainy season happens from June until October and can be pleasant if you are north of Yangon, but the monsoon from Yangon down through the south can bring a relentless amount of rain and flooding. Cool season, from late October to February, is by far the most pleasant time to visit, as you will find little rain or sweat to keep you wet.

Burma is overall one of the least developed countries in Southeast Asia

Due to political reasons and sanctions, for nearly 50 years, Burma has only truly begun to see an influx of international visitors recently. Yangon is the most developed city in the country, but even there black-outs and floods are common. Burma is not a destination for those seeking luxury and smooth service,  but it's a top spot for those who seek to experience local flare and adventure.

Burma, the golden land

Burma is rich in history and culture. The locals are very friendly, the country is very safe to travel around, and the sights can be stunning. Prices can be high, especially when it comes to accommodation, and the value for dollar can be poor compared to other countries such as Thailand. There is much to experience off the tourist trail, and getting off the trail is well worth the effort and time required, though this can obviously be difficult for those on a tight schedule. The most popular destinations are getting busier, but still do not compare with the high volume of visitors other destinations in more mainstream countries see. It is easy to see that the most popular cities and sights will not have the same vibe in the next five years; now is the time to get a true rich taste of this golden land.

  • Pa-O


    You won’t stay long in western Shan State without coming across the ubiquitous Pa-O people, who are the second largest ethnic group in Shan State, after of course the Shan themselves ... Read more.

  • Akhu


    A proposed visit to a village of the Akhu minority near Kengtung caused a bit of confusion to begin with. “Yes, we know the Akha, we’ve seen lots of their villages in Thailand and Laos. ... Read more.

  • Enn


    The Enn highlanders are one of Burma and Shan State’s most fascinating ethnic groups. ... Read more.

  • The Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival

    The Taunggyi Fire Balloon Festival

    Set by the Shan State capital of Taunggyi, the annual Fire Balloon festival is quite the event, drawing hordes of people from the surrounds and a trickle of foreign travellers. ... Read more.

  • Should you book in advance for high season travel in Burma (Myanmar)?

    Should you book in advance for high season travel in Burma (Myanmar)?

    We’ll keep this post short and to the point: if you’re on the “greatest hits” loop in Burma (Myanmar) ie Yangon -> Bagan -> Mandalay -> Inle Lake -> Yangon, and are travelling between November and February, then the answer to the question of whether you should book in advance for high season travel is most likely a yes. ... Read more.

  • When’s a good time to visit Burma?

    When’s a good time to visit Burma?

    When’s a good time to visit Burma (Myanmar)? The question slips easily off potential visitors’ tongues but… there is no easy answer. ... Read more.

  • A local-style Burmese meal

    A local-style Burmese meal

    Burmese food can be placed into three broad categories: Chinese, Indian and Bamar, or ethnic Burmese ... Read more.

  • A selection of classic Burmese dishes

    A selection of classic Burmese dishes

    Burma has a rich, varied and unique cuisine but perhaps due to a paucity of foreign visitors over recent years, Burmese food is little known outside of the country ... Read more.

  • Burmese food: A brief introduction

    Burmese food: A brief introduction

    Burma’s food reflects the population’s highly varied ethnic mix: Bamar (ethnic Burmese), Chinese, Bengali, Tamil, Nepalese, Shan, Mon, Kachin and so on. ... Read more.

  • Burma’s thanaka paste

    Burma’s thanaka paste

    You’ll maybe even notice thanaka paste on your way into Yangon from the airport ... Read more.

  • ATMs in Burma (Myanmar)

    ATMs in Burma (Myanmar)

    Expats and backpackers exhaled a collective sigh of relief in February 2013 when we all spotted the first Visa ATMs being placed around Yangon. ... Read more.

  • SIM cards in Burma

    SIM cards in Burma

    SIM cards are the bane of communications in Burma/Myanmar. Charged with politics and lacking simple infrastructure, it’s no wonder that landline phones still sit on fold-out tables around Yangon (Rangoon) footpaths, with attendees charging you telephone booth prices. ... Read more.

  • Eating in Burma

    Eating in Burma

    Thailand has pad thai and tom yam; Vietnam is known for pho; so what dish puts Burma on the culinary world map? With a wide range of cultures and ethnic groups all living in the same area plus a history of being colonised, food in Burma is sometimes hard to pin down and categorise. ... Read more.

  • Know Before You Go: Burma

    Know Before You Go: Burma

    Burma. Just the name conjures up all kinds of images, from glittering, golden pagodas, to despotic, totalitarianism regimes ... Read more.

  • Nat Pwe in Taungbyone, Burma

    Nat Pwe in Taungbyone, Burma

    The week-long Nat Pwe in Taungbyone is the largest spirit festival in Burma (Myanmar), with tens of thousands of people attending the week-long celebrations around the full moon in August ... Read more.

  • Should you go to Burma (Myanmar)?

    Should you go to Burma (Myanmar)?

    So we're just back from our first trip to Burma/Myanmar -- a trip we waited 20 years to do ... Read more.


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