Here you can read more about the history, culture, and practical information about travelling to Myanmar. The country is an undiscovered pearl in Southeast Asia, and not yet flooded by masses of tourists. This makes Myanmar an authentic destination. The country has a lot to offer to tourists: ancient temple cities and golden pagodas, but also breathtaking nature and a remarkably hospitable population. Visit the temples of Bagan and the lake of Inle, or travel through the country by train.
Facts and numbers
|Capital||Nay Pyi Taw|
|Religion||Buddhism (89%), Christianity (4%), Islam (4%)|
|Time difference||From GMT (London): 4.5 hours (summertime) or 5.5 hours (wintertime)|
|Flight time||12 hours|
|Plugs||Type C, D, F or G (travel plug required)|
|Tap water||Not safe to drink|
|Visa||Visa is mandatory|
The north of Myanmar borders China, the east Laos and Thailand. In the west, the country borders Bangladesh and India. Foothills of the Himalayas form the eastern and western borders of the country. Myanmar has a coastline of almost 2,000 kilometres on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. The country is divided into 7 states, 7 regions and one union territory, which in turns consists of 67 districts and 330 municipalities. The largest part of the population lives in the Irrawaddy valley, a fertile area between the mountain chains.
Myanmar has a long history; the first human settlements date from 13,000 years ago. In the second century B.C., the first city states emerged, which have been attributed to the Pyu people. Later, the south of Myanmar saw the Mon people rise to prominence, which was only definitively proved in the 10th century. From the middle to the end of the 9th century, the Bamar people, currently the largest ethnic group in Myanmar, created a city state which they called Bagan. Bagan steadily grew and annexed the surrounding states. King Anawrahta then founded the first Burmese Kingdom (the Kingdom of Bagan) after defeating the Mom and conquering the Irrawaddy valley. The kingdom of Bagan continued to grow, until it was attacked by the Mongols in the 13th century and fell apart into the small states.
In the 19th century, the country was colonised by the British and became a part of British India. After three wars with the British, which led to the complete subjugation of Burma to British rule, there was still a large degree of resistance against the British rulers and violent protests took place. The British colonisation had drastic consequences for the society; the British dominated community life in Burma. During the Second World War, the country was invaded by the Japanese, who occupied it to use it as a staging ground to conquer India.
In 1948, the Union of Burma was declared independent. This led to an unstable period with uprisings of different groups of people that wanted autonomy. In the following decade, various coups took place. From 1962 onward, the country was ruled by a military regime, also called junta, which had absolute power.
In 2007, protests started to occur against the junta, led by Buddhist monks, the Saffron revolution. The junta cracked down on the protestors and intervened with armed forces. The uprisings led to an end of the military regime in 2011, and a new constitution entered into effect. Thein Sein was nominated as the new president of Myanmar, the first in 50 years.
Since 2011, the political situation in the country has stabilised somewhat, although a number of serious conflicts are still going on. The Rohingya, an ethnic Muslim minority in the west of Myanmar, suffers systematic oppression, often being driven out of their homes. In 2017, many villages of the Rohingya were burned by military forces of the government, forcing some 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. The special envoy of the United Nations, Yanghee Lee, as well as many other human rights organisations are calling it a genocide. The government of Myanmar has denied this is the case.
The largest part of Myanmar has a tropical savanna climate. The country has three seasons: winter, summer and the monsoon season. Winter runs from the end of October until February, summer from March until the end of May, and the monsoon season from the end of May until the middle of October.
Best travel time
During the monsoon period, the country is plagued by heavy rainfall and certain parts of the country become hard to reach. At the same time, the rainfall creates beautiful landscapes with plenty of flowers and plants. In the summer, temperatures can rise to well over 35 Celsius, leading to a hot and oppressive climate. The winter (from October until February) is generally seen as the best travel time to go to Myanmar. The temperatures are between 17 and 24 Celsius and there is barely any rainfall.
The population of Myanmar is divided into almost a hundred different ethnic groups. The largest groups are the Bamar - also called the Burmans - (68%), Shan (9%), Karen (9%), Rakhine (5%), Chinese (3%), Rohingya (2.5%), Mon (2%) and Kachin (1%). Most ethnic minorities live in mountainous areas and have their own language and habits. Various minorities strive for more autonomy and oppose government influence.
The majority of the people of Myanmar are Buddhist. Buddhist influences can be seen in the architecture, with plenty of temples, pagodas and stupas. When visiting sanctuaries, observe the courtesy rules. Temples can only be visited on bare feet and with sufficiently covering clothing. In a pagoda or stupa, you need to walk clockwise. Also keep in mind that taking pictures of Buddha statues isn’t always appreciated. Open critique against Buddhism can even lead to a prison sentence.
Burma or Myanmar?
The two names are used interchangeably, but what is the correct name of the country? Until the end of the 80s, the country was called “Burma”, but today “Myanmar” is the official name of the country. There is some controversy about this, however. Burma is the name the British gave to the country when they ruled over it. The name comes from the largest ethnic group in the country, the Bamar. In 1989, this name was changed to Myanmar by the military regime, to sever ties with the colonial era. In certain countries, the name Myanmar is institutionalised, but in others (such as the United Kingdom and the USA) the name Burma is still frequently used, precisely because the junta decided to change the name to Myanmar. The current state of affairs is that in the United States and the UK, both names are used interchangeably, sometimes even in the same sentence such as “Myanmar, also known as Burma”.
Money and currency
In Myanmar, people pay with the Kyat. 1 £ is currently equal to about 1,770 Myanmar Kyat. Life in Myanmar is very affordable for western tourists. However, the country averages slightly higher prices compared to other countries in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand or Vietnam. Hostels can be found for 10 USD a night, an average hotel room costs between 25 and 50 USD. A complete street meal can be had for 2 to 5 USD, and in a local restaurant for 7 to 10 USD.
The cheapest way to pay in Myanmar is to occasionally withdraw some money and using that to pay. For a long time, Myanmar was closed for tourists. Keep in mind that withdrawing money might not be possible in certain places. However, the large cities will almost always have cash machines. It is generally cheaper to withdraw money with a debit card instead of a credit card, as credit card companies charge higher fees for foreign transactions. You are still advised to bring a credit card in case the debit card is not accepted. Keep in mind that many banks have disabled withdrawing money outside of Europe as a safety precaution. Check before departure whether you need to activate your card for usage outside of Europe. This can often easily be done through your bankʼs website or app.
With the growing number of tourists to Myanmar, the infrastructure and transportation in the country is slowly improving. The most commonly used transportation method in Myanmar is the bus. Busses run between all major cities and other tourist areas, which are relatively cheap. Between certain cities, it is possible to take the train. The route from Mandalay to Hsipaw is known as a beautiful train ride with beautiful views. The tracks in Myanmar aren’t always in the best shape, however, and often it is faster to take the bus than the train. From Mandalay to Bagan, it is possible to travel by boat. Travelling by ferry is the most expensive of the three options (bus, train and boat), but also the most beautiful. In the large cities (bike) taxis are a good option.
Most travellers start their journey in Yangon (Rangoon) or Mandalay. Most sights are easily reachable from these central cities. A lot of travellers at the very least visit the temple complexes of Bagan, the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, the Golden Rock, Lake Inle and Mount Popa, a monastery on top of a volcano.
Travelling under the regime of the junta
Although the dictatorship of the junta formally ended in 2011, large parts of the population are still oppressed and many people live in extreme poverty. Many travellers avoid Myanmar because they don’t want to support the military regime. This is because most of the large hotels and famous sights are owned by the state. However, a trip to Myanmar can still support the local population by spending money at local restaurants, and purchasing locally produced goods.
Myanmar has strict visa requirements. This means that all British and European travellers need to apply for a Myanmar visa before departure. If all of the requirements are met, the visa can be easily applied for online, and a visit to the embassy will not be necessary.
Myanmar visa online application
Safety and health
Certain areas in Myanmar are not safe to visit for tourists. This concerns the north of the state Rakhine, the south of the state Chin, the entire state Kachin and the north of the state Shan. The Foreign Office advises against visiting these areas unless it is absolutely necessary. Armed ethnic groups are active in these areas. Furthermore, it is advised to avoid the border areas with Thailand and India, as incidents have been known to occur here. The tourist attractions as well as the most famous cities, such as Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan are in safe areas. Travellers generally will not need to worry here, provided they stay alert and avoid demonstrations.
Malaria occurs in Myanmar, so it is advised to take malaria tablets. Additionally, vaccinations against hepatitis A and DTP are recommended to all travellers. A vaccination against yellow fever can be mandatory if you are arriving from a country that has yellow fever. Depending on the length of your journey and the places you will be visiting, other vaccinations such as BMR, typhoid fever, hepatitis B, tuberculosis, rabies and Japanese encephalitis might be advised. Contact your physician or vaccination specialist for personal advice.
Keep in mind that same-sex relations are forbidden in Myanmar. There are laws against homosexuality, which can be punished with life sentences in prison.