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Visiting Myanmar | A Brief Guide

Myanmar was closed to tourism for many years, but now it’s open again. People who have always wanted to visit this country now can, and there’s no time like the present to plan a trip and make those dreams come true.

Visitors can make their trip to Myanmar even better when they know what to expect in the country and how to act while they’re there. Knowing these things will make the whole experience go more smoothly and make their trip even better.

What to Expect: Entering the Country

Most visitors to Myanmar will need a visa to enter the country. There are a number of ways to apply for a visa. Some of them depend on where a traveler lives, where the nearest Myanmar consulate is, how long they want to stay in the country, and more. Visitors will need to make sure that they have the proper paperwork in place. Otherwise, they may not even be allowed to board a flight to Myanmar.

It is possible for some travelers to get a visa to Myanmar online. Visitors can check to see if they are eligible and follow the process outlined on the internet.

Rules and regulations regarding travel to Myanmar under the COVID-19 pandemic are subject to change at any time. As the pandemic changes, travelers may face new and different regulations regarding COVID health declarations, vaccinations, masking, and more. It is up to each traveler to make sure that they have everything in order before they arrive in Myanmar, or they may not be permitted to enter the country.

What to Expect: Travel

Myanmar is the largest country in southeast Asia, so getting around it may take longer than some travelers expect it to. In-country flights offer a great way to get around quickly, as the major tourist destinations in the country are no more than an hour apart. However, these can be more expensive than other forms of transport.

River cruises down the Irrawaddy River are a great way to see the countryside. Many of these companies have been running for years and are trustworthy. They also offer great service and know how to cater to international visitors.

Buses are also available, though they are not as regular or as regulated as they are in some other southeast Asian countries. Travelers who plan to get around by bus should make sure they have plenty of time for something to go wrong along the way.

Road conditions in Myanmar are more rugged than what most western travelers have experienced. Driving is, overall, quite safe, but it may be much slower and much more stressful than travelers expect it to be.

What to Expect: Lodging

Hotel accommodations in Myanmar may not be up to what western travelers would expect. They are generally clean and well-cared for, but visitors may not have air conditioning, television, or other amenities that they would expect in a hotel at home. Note that some hotels do offer these things, but it is by no means guaranteed.

Vacation rental websites offer apartments, homes, or rooms as well. These are often less expensive than hotels are, but the quality can vary quite a bit. Adventurous travelers or those who do not plan to spend much time in their accommodations may want to choose these options.

Hotel prices in Myanmar may seem like they are high for what travelers get. As more and more tourists visit the country, it pushes the prices up even though the accommodations don’t necessarily improve. However, it’s still possible to travel Myanmar on a budget, especially for visitors who plan ahead.

What to Expect: Weather

Myanmar is mostly tropical and experiences a typhoon/monsoon season between May and September. If travelers want to guarantee the very best weather, they should visit mid-November to mid-February.

While travel is still possible during the other months, flights and buses are more likely to be postponed or cancelled because of the weather. In addition, certain sites might be inaccessible or harder to access when the weather is bad.

If travelers find Myanmar warm, they should schedule their excursions early in the day. That way, they can see what they want to see and spend the warmest parts of the day indoors. No matter when visitors go to Myanmar, they should bring sunscreen and always have plenty of water. The heat and humidity combined can wreak havoc on their bodies, otherwise.

What to Expect: Safety

Myanmar is generally safe. Violent crime is low and, while there are stories of opium-trafficking and the drug trade, travelers who use common sense will not usually encounter these issues. 

Pickpocketing and purse snatching does occur in Myanmar. A few simple precautions can help visitors keep their belongings safe. These include keeping money and credit cards in internal, zippered pockets, not wearing flashy or expensive jewelry in public, and storing passports and other essential paperwork in hotel safes whenever possible.

Travelers should also be street smart. They should try to return to their hotels by at least 9 pm at night and avoid hanging out on the street or in remote areas alone. If they have to be out at night, they should travel in groups of two or more and pay attention to their surroundings.

Visitors should talk to their doctors about any vaccines that they need to get before traveling to Myanmar. While yellow fever, dengue fever, and malaria are all present in the country, they are more common in rural areas. Necessary vaccines will vary based on where a traveler is going, what they will be doing in Myanmar, and current health advisories, etc.

What to Expect: Social

People in Myanmar are friendly and love interaction with visitors, even if they don’t share a common tongue with them. Return their smiles and work with them to communicate. It’s almost always worth it to make the connection, and travelers may find themselves making quite a few friends along the way.

Most people in Myanmar are Buddhist and take the practice of their religion seriously. Honor this by covering all shoulders and legs when visiting religious sites and by treating monks well. Don’t take their pictures without asking first and never touch them unless given explicit permission.

If travelers make friends with locals and are invited to dine with them, they need to make sure that they eat and eat heartily. Meals in Myanmar are usually served community-style, with a bunch of dishes on the table and everyone eating at once. This may feel unusual for travelers, but participating is a great way to make friends and get to know some locals.

Myanmar Cultural Tips

There are a few more things that travelers should know before they get to Myanmar.

  • Always sleep under a mosquito net. Visitors may need to bring their own net or purchase one upon arrival, as a lot of guesthouses and hotels don’t use them. These nets allow visitors to avoid getting bitten and getting malaria, dengue fever, and yellow fever, but they also keep other bugs away while resting.

  • Don’t touch someone’s head. This is probably a good travel rule in general, but it is particularly true in Buddhist countries. The head is considered holy and it is disrespectful to touch it without permission.

  • Remove socks and shoes in any holy place. When visiting temples, shrines, etc., remove both shoes and socks as an act of respect. Many of these places will have a row of small cubbies or boxes where visitors can store their shoes and socks for free.

  • Dress conservatively in holy places. This goes for both men and women. Shoulders and legs should be covered. Visitors who are not appropriately covered will be asked to purchase a sari (for women) or a longyi (for men) so they can cover themselves up.

  • Never point with the feet...especially at a Buddha. The feet are the lowest, dirtiest parts of the body in Buddhist culture. Travelers should pay attention to where their feet are pointed at all times, but especially in holy places, as pointing with the feet is considered an insult.

  • Both internet and mobile service are available in Myanmar, but they may be spotty. Visitors need to be prepared for the wi-fi to cut out, for their phones to not work in certain areas, and to have other forms of communication available if they need them. Travelers who want to use their mobile phones in Myanmar should talk to their service providers before leaving.

  • Many locals chew betel nuts. This is a form of tobacco that is addictive and produces quite the buzz. People who chew these nuts often spit out a red liquid, and travelers will see stains from this on sidewalks, streets, and more.

  • Do not talk about politics. Myanmar has been through some difficult political times over the past generations. While things are opening up now, these are still difficult for many locals to talk about. Unless someone offers to explain the situation to a traveler or share their own story, it’s best to simply not bring it up.

  • It’s worth it to learn a few Burmese words. Even if all a traveler can say is, “Please” or “Hello,” making the effort to begin language-learning will endear them to the people they encounter. They may also find themselves the recipients of informal language-lessons.

  • Cash is best. Travelers should talk to their bank before they visit Myanmar, to ensure that they will be able to use the ATMs there. While a few of the larger places will take cards, it’s easier and safer to use cash. Travelers may need to get cash each day, as they shouldn’t carry more than they might need. The Myanmar currency, kyat (pronounced “chat”) is not available outside the country, so ATM access will be essential.

  • Painted faces are common. Many of the Myanmar people paint their faces with a yellow cosmetic called thanaka. This is most commonly seen on women and children, but men may choose to use it, too.

Visit Myanmar Soon

Now is a great time to start planning a trip to Myanmar. No matter where travelers are from, they can enjoy this beautiful country and everything it has to offer. If visitors start planning now, it won’t be long before they are enjoying Myanmar in person and getting to know everything that it has to offer.

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