Bagan’s sprawling plain full of ancient temples is among Southeast Asia’s most iconic images, and just one reason why Myanmar should be on everyone’s travel bucket list. Others include the sights and smells of main city Yangon (formerly Rangoon), the floating farms of Inle Lake, and the picturesque old royal capital of Mandalay. If you’re thinking about a visit, take a look at our mini guide to everything Burmese, from money to language – even what to buy as a souvenir when you’re there.
Before you book a trip, be aware that many countries in the wake of the 2021 military coup in Myanmar are advising citizens to avoid travelling there on account of ongoing civil unrest and potential armed conflict. Also, if you’re weighing up a visit, read the differing viewpoints about who your tourist dollars might benefit. Some experts fear any tourism can only help the military junta; others argue that responsible tourism is desperately needed to provide employment and money for needy Burmese.
Population: 55 million
Religion: Approximately 89% of the population is Buddhist; Hinduism is practiced mainly by Burmese Indians
Emergency numbers: 192 (ambulance), 199 (police), 192 (fire)
- Myanmar is one of only three countries in the world that has not adopted the metric system of measurement. (The others are Liberia and USA.)
- Many Burmese people avoid cutting their hair on a Monday, Friday or their birthday.
- The Taukkyan War Cemetery contains almost 7,000 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War, 867 of them unidentified.
- Thanaka is a yellow paste used by Burmese people as sunscreen, makeup and insect repellent. It’s made by grinding the bark, wood or roots of a thanaka tree with a small amount of water.
- Chewing betel nut, mixed with spices and sometimes tobacco, is a national past-time.
- 13-16 April – Thingyan. Celebrating the Myanmar New Year, this festival lasts for several days and features lots of good-natured water throwing.
- October – Full Moon of Thadingyut, the end of Buddhist Lent, features three days of festivities, with houses and streets illuminated and decorated. Dates vary from year to year.
Hot spots and itineraries
Popular destinations include Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle Lake, Kyaitko and Moulmein. There is one World Heritage Site, the Pyu Ancient Cities; but as many as 14 are on the “tentative” list for possible inclusion.
Some itinerary ideas:
- “The Big Four”: Yangon – Mandalay – Bagan – Inle Lake
- South: Yangon – Kyaikto – Moulmein
Staying safe and healthy
Myanmar has quite a few nasty snakes, including cobras, kraits and the Russell’s Viper, one of Asia’s deadliest snakes. So, be sure to wear the right footwear and keep an eye out for critters at all times. Dengue and malaria are also a problem in Myanmar; take adequate precautions against both of them. Finally, always check for the latest COVID-19 updates and restrictions.
While you’re there, please don’t…
- Step over any part of a person.
- Sit with your back towards Buddha’s image.
- Point a finger straight in a person’s face.
- Take a photo of someone without asking permission first.
Before you go, read…
- From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe – an autobiographical account of the author’s upbringing in a remote tribal village in Myanmar and his journey from his strife-torn country to Cambridge.
- The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint U – regarded as the best recent account of the country.
- Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin – a journey through Myanmar based on the life, work and travels of Orwell.
Before you go, watch…
- Beyond Rangoon – John Boorman’s 1995 drama film about an American tourist (Patricia Arquette) who gets caught up in Myanmar’s 8888 Uprising.
- Burma VJ: Reporter i et lukket land – a 2007 documentary about protests by Myanmar’s population of monks.
They said it…
“Htan pin te, le hmat ya deh” (“If you climb the coconut tree, you’ll just get more work”) – Burmese proverb relating to how a person’s best intentions can often be exploited
“Come you back to Mandalay, Where the old Flotilla lay. Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay? On the road to Mandalay” – Rudyard Kipling, in his poem Mandalay
“What you’ve got they can’t deny it. Can’t sell it, can’t buy it. Walk on, walk on. Stay safe tonight.” – U2’s Bono in “Walk On”, a song dedicated to Aung San Suu Kyi
Do I need a visa?
All visitors to Myanmar will need a visa and should make an online appointment for a visa application at the Myanmar embassy. Writers, journalists, editors, film producers and photographers have traditionally had trouble obtaining visas, though this has apparently changed recently. For more information, visit myanmarembassy.sg.
How long will it take me to get there?
Myanmar is three hours from Singapore. It’s 6.5 hours ahead of GMT and 1.5 hours behind Singapore.
What’s the money situation?
Myanmar’s national currency is the Burmese kyat. The use of credit cards and travellers’ cheques is very limited (highend hotels only) so it’s advisable to have enough US dollars to fund your entire trip. You can exchange US dollars for local currency at banks and hotels; try to make sure that the bills you bring over are in excellent condition.
When’s the best time to visit?
The monsoon season lasts from May to October, after which temperatures are cooler between November and February before things heat up again between March and April. The climate in the higher altitudes of northern Myanmar is temperate throughout the year, but humid in lower Myanmar, along the coastlines and around the delta region, which includes the capital, Yangon.
What’s the lingo?
Burmese. Here are some phrases to get you started:
- Hello: Min ga lar par
- What is your name? Na mal bal loe kall lal?
- My name is __: Chun ma nan mae ma __ ba (female); Chun daw nan mae __ ba (male)
- How much? Be lau’le
- Thank you: Kyei zu tin ba de
- Yes: Hoke kae
- No: Mah hoke
Last but not least
Is there anything I should know about meeting the locals?
Greetings depend on the genders of those who are meeting. It’s usually a combination of a handshake, a wave, a nod and a smile.
What’s a must-try dish?
Aside from the national dish, mohinga, try to sample the salad called lahpet thoke; made from pickled tea leaves and roasted peanuts, it’s a great bar snack to enjoy with hot tea or cold beer.
What should I buy as a souvenir?
Burmese lacquerware and silverware; sand paintings from Bagan; a kyeezee (a type of bell).
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