CLIMATE & TIMES TO VISIT
It is possible to comfortably visit Burma during most of the year. November to February are cool and dry, therefore are the most frequently visited months, so advanced bookings are recommended if considering this period. The summer from March to May features high temperatures, particularly in Burma’s north. From June to September it is the wet season, where the Southwest Monsoon brings regular showers, which are especially heavy in the country’s south. Ngapali Beach is usually inaccessible during this period. The wet weather does not usually impact travel in Burma’s center, however itineraries may sometimes need to be altered
WHAT TO EXPECT
Burma is a beautiful, captivating country home to a diverse array of ethnic groups and some unforgettable sites and landscapes. Its relatively undeveloped nature means venturing out to rural regions is a rewarding and fascinating way to gain greater insights into the country and its people.
There are beautiful scenes from lush jungles to the Irrawaddy River, and beyond to the stunning coastline. Infrastructure in Burma is quite undeveloped, so you may encounter power cuts, uncomfortable road journeys or changes to your itinerary.
It is essential to ‘keep face’ in Burma and remain patient and calm in your dealings with people. A stay in Burma can be a magical experience, with warm, hospitable people, stunning sights and a greater understanding of this compelling country.
Exotic Burma (Myanmar) has been mostly hidden from the outside world for many years. Now that travel to the region, if done responsibly, has become welcome and encouraged, the wonders of this magical land begin to reveal themselves. Diverse in both landscape and culture, discover the winding Irrawaddy River, sandy beaches, pine forests or plains dotted with thousands of stupas.
Burma (Myanmar) is home to 135 ethnic groups, yet all the people of Burma (Myanmar) share warmth of heart and a welcoming smile. The colorful culture is strongly influenced by Buddhist beliefs, while past British rule has left the legacy of grand colonial architecture. This unspoilt land offers the adventure of the Asia of old.
A journey into Burma (Myanmar) is a journey into the Asia of days gone by. Visitors to Burma find that their ventures off the well-trodden tourist trail are rewarded with a wonderful, often touching travel experience rich in old-world atmosphere, natural beauty, culture and memorable encounters with its engaging people.
Burma is a country of great beauty and diversity, dominated by lush mountain slopes covered with alpine forests in the far north and steamy jungles in the south; broad flat plains in central regions like Bagan; the famous Irrawaddy River and over 1,929 km (1199 miles) of coastline boasting some of Asia’s most stunning beaches. The Irrawaddy is the country’s main waterway and the source of much fishing and farming activity, and village life. Your travels in the country will take in some of the gorgeous river and mountain scenery in the country, the extraordinary temple studded plains of Bagan, the tranquil villages around lovely Inle Lake as well as the famous cities of Mandalay and Yangon (Rangoon). While these are the country’s biggest cities, they are relaxed, at times sleepy – a far cry from the huge size and frenetic pace of many other cities in Asia! If you have time to stay a little longer, you may also trek through Pa-O and Intha tribal villages in the hills which rise above Inle Lake, experience one of the country’s charming former British colonial hill stations or relax on glorious Ngapali Beach.
The Burmese people are disarmingly warm and welcoming. They are both curious to learn about the places from which visitors to Burma have travelled and keen to share their views and the stories of their own country.
The travel industry is slowly developing in Burma. While the freshness and novelty of tourism in the country is why many people choose to visit Burma, one should keep in mind that facilities and services do not often match Western standards. Electricity cuts (blackouts) are common and traveling through more remote areas will involve bumpy road travel and the use of clean but basic accommodation.
Patience is something you must definitely bring with you when you travel to Burma. Lack of development, education and infrastructure, coupled with the laid back customs and lifestyle of Burmese Buddhism means things move at a pace much slower than both Western nations and even neighboring Asian nations. Expecting the same levels of services at hotels, restaurants and bars that you may receive back home will only leave you disappointed and frustrated. Patience and calmness is the best way to optimise your enjoyment of this magical country. Displays of emotion and anger are rare in Burma and considered taboo. It is this laid-back, care-free attitude which makes Burma so special and is one of the country’s many allures which draws travelers from around the globe.
- 4 January is Independence Day, which marks Burma’s independence from the British Empire in 1948. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 12 February marks Union Day, the anniversary of the Panglong Agreement in 1947, a historic meeting between ethnic minority leaders and the government. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 2 March is Peasants’ Day, commemorating the anniversary of revolutionary leader Ne Win’s coup in 1962. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 7 March is a public vacation honoring the Full Moon of Tabaung, an important Buddhist festival also celebrated in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 27 March is Armed Forces Day, a public vacation to recognize Burma’s military regime, the Tatmadaw. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 12-16 April is Maha Thingyan, a water festival marking the leadup to Burmese New Year, where water is thrown on each other on the streets. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 17 April is a public vacation to celebrate Burma’s New Year. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 1 May is May Day, honoring the economic and social achievements of workers. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 6 May is the Full Moon of Kason, the anniversary of the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha, celebrated by watering the Bodhi tree. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 3 July is the Full Moon of Waso, or the beginning of Buddhist Lent. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 19 July is Martyr’s Day, commemorating the assassination of Aung San, a revolutionary said to be the father of modern Burma, and several other cabinet members in 1947. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 29 October is the Full Moon of Thadingyut festival, marking the end of Buddhist Lent. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 28 November is the Full Moon of Tasaungmon, marking the end of the rainy season. It also holds religious significance. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 8 December is National Day, the anniversary of university students’ strikes in 1920. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
- 25 December is Christmas Day, a public vacation in Burma. Banks, public offices and some businesses will be closed.
HEALTH & FITNESS
Travelers to Burma should take the same health precautions as they would elsewhere in the region. Outside major centers medical facilities can be very basic. Some of the diseases known to exist in Burma include hepatitis A & B, typhoid, tuberculosis, malaria, Japanese encephalitis, diphtheria, dengue fever, tetanus, polio, rabies and HIV/ AIDS.
It is strongly advisable to take adequate preventative measures to minimize your risk of exposure to these and other risks. We strongly recommend that you consult with your doctor at least one month prior to travel for relevant health advice.
All travelers to Burma must possess a visa. A tourist visa which must be obtained from a Burmese embassy (Embassy of the Union of Myanmar) or consulate before travel. Please consult with the embassy in your home country for current visa application advice. For US residents we have partnered with CIBT visa service who can assist in obtaining a visa.
Applications usually have to be accompanied by a detailed itinerary for your trip and a letter from your travel agent confirming the exact details of your international flights into and out of Burma. At the time of writing, Burmese embassies in the US, Australia and the UK advise that at least 14 days are required to process a visa.
It is also essential that you allow time to send your passport to the embassy in your country and for it then to be returned to you. Therefore, it is strongly advised that you allow at least 45 days before your departure date to arrange your visa.
It is important to note that the Burmese visa situation is subject to change and you must be responsible for ensuring your visa is in order before you travel. We strongly suggest that you consult with the relevant embassies in home country for current guidelines.
The official unit of currency in Burma is the Kyat (MMK) and outside of Yangon and the big hotels this is the preferred currency. US dollars are also accepted widely as currency. The exchange rate varies widely between different places. The Kyat is a very fluid currency, so it is better to keep your money in USD and change it into Kyat as and when you need to.
Credit cards are not widely accepted. Hotels and some other businesses in larger cities are starting to obtain the facilities to accept credit card payments, but it is not a reliable service, a hefty service charge will apply (of 4%-10%) and the service can be withdrawn at any time. ATMs are now appearing in larger cities in Burma although these are not numerous and it is not uncommon to find them out-of-order. Traveler’s checks are not widely accepted.
Therefore, it is best to take all the money you will need for your journey in US dollars cash. When obtaining USD in cash for your vacation, you must be sure to ask for ‘pristine’ bills (i.e. new, clean, undamaged notes) issued after 2006.
It is advisable to keep receipts for any purchases as these may be required by Burmese Customs upon departure.
SAFETY & SECURITY
Burma is a relatively safe destination, although the usual safety precautions do apply. Petty street crime has risen in the cities in recent years, so it is best to take cabs at night rather than walk. Fares should be negotiated in advance with the driver, and you may also wish to show them your hotel’s business card so they are clear on your destination.
It is advisable to keep photocopies of essential travel documents such as your passport, credit card numbers and airline tickets in a secure place apart from the originals. You should also keep valuables in hotel safety deposit boxes if provided, wear minimal jewelry and keep cash secure to your body. Read our safety guidelines for further information.
- ‘The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh – a historical novel spanning a century, from the fall of the Konbaung Dynasty in Mandalay to modern times. It explores issues from the changing economic landscapes of Burma and India to national identity.
- Burmese Days: A Novel by George Orwell – first published in 1934, this novel explores the last days of British colonialism, with an emphasis on its dark side.
- Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin – a political travelogue chronicling a year spent traveling in Burma following in George Orwell’s footsteps, revealing the struggles of life in modern day Burma.
- Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norman Lewis – a colorful travel narrative written in the 1950s after the author explored Burma by any means possible, including hitchhiking on various transport modes.
- The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason – a fictional account of a middle aged piano turner commissioned by the British War Office to venture into the remote jungles of Burma to repair an army surgeon’s rare piano, exploring the country in the process.
- Letters from Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi – a series of 52 poignant letters written by Burma’s leading voice for human rights and democracy. Her letters reveal insight into the effect of political decisions on ordinary citizens’ lives.
Groups of six or more passengers travel in air-conditioned buses with 20-30 seats, while modern sedan cars and minibuses are used for smaller groups and in less developed areas. 4WD vehicles are used in regions with rough road conditions.
When exploring Burma’s fascinating sites and towns, you might use various modes of transport including bicycles, boats and your own two feet. Domestic flights are on the privately owned Air Bagan, Yangon Airways and Air Mandalay. It is possible to catch cabs, though these are unmetered. Although very affordable and readily available, you will need to negotiate your fare with the driver upfront.
INTERNET ACCESS & COMMUNICATION
Internet services are widely available in Burma and are usually quite inexpensive. You may experience intermittent telephone and internet connections, particularly outside major centers. Your cell phone may not operate in Burma, even if you have global roaming.
It is possible to make international phone calls from major towns and cities though these can be expensive. International direct dial is commonly available from hotels at an extra cost, and reverse charge phone calls can usually be made for a fee.
It costs slightly less to send international mail than from Western countries, and mail can take approximately 14 days to reach its destination. Any packages will be inspected by Customs staff at the post office prior to being sealed, and boxes are usually for sale if needed.
When leaving Burma there is a 10 USD departure tax which must be paid in USD cash (new, clean, undamaged bills) at Yangon International Airport. You should pay this prior to checking-in for your return flight. After payment, you will be issued with a receipt which will be requested at check-in and when continuing on to Immigration.
FOOD & DRINK
Burmese cuisine features influences from Chinese and Indian cuisines, with curries very popular and rice a common staple. Less spices are typically used in the curries, though more ginger and garlic are often added for flavor.
Specialties vary by region, and some can be quite spicy. Tasty dishes to sample include Mohingal, which is a fish soup with rice, and Oh-no Khauk Swe, coconut and chicken in a spicy sauce. There is also a delicious spicy vegetarian rice salad, Lethok Son and Mandalay’s famous ‘mee-shay’ noodles to try.
Aside from Burmese dishes, Thai, Indian and Chinese food can be commonly found at restaurants and in hotels, and there is an abundance of fresh fruit for sale in the markets. You should not consume the tap water in Burma, however bottled water is readily available and usually provided in hotel rooms for free.
Tipping is an accepted practice throughout Asia, yet is not considered compulsory. If you wish to demonstrate appreciation for great service, it is acceptable to tip, though not obligatory. At the start of your trip, your Western tour leader or local guide will collect a small amount of money (usually 50 cents per day) to cover tips for local service staff.
Compulsory tipping is not included on our trips, however we are sure you will be more than satisfied with service levels from Tourism Union Indochina representatives including tour leaders and drivers. The choice to tip, however, is entirely yours.
There are opportunities to swim in hotel swimming pools found mainly in the country’s more developed areas. You can also swim at the beach if venturing to Burma’s beautiful coastline on the Bay of Bengal. It is important to note that lifeguards do not patrol beaches and safety standards are different to what you are used to, so it is essential to monitor your personal safety and that of any children you many be traveling with.
As Burma has emerged from a relatively closed country to one firmly on the tourist map, we believe it is essential to engage in sustainable travel that benefits the local people as well as the environment. In Mandalay and Ava we incorporate horse-cart rides, which support their owners with income yet have a low impact on the horses. Learn more about our responsible travel approach.