Formerly known as Burma during British rule and the first four decades of independence, the country's reclusive military rulers changed the official name to Myanmar in 1988. For many years, it was a difficult country to visit, as the regime shunned foreign visitors and a boycott campaign ensured responsible tourists stayed away. However, all this has changed with the release of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in November 2010. With her recent parliamentary victory in by-elections, the country looks set to see a tourism boom in the coming decade. Bagan will be set to rival the temples of Angkor as a must-see heritage destination in the region and beautiful Inle Lake is likely to become a popular ecotourism destination. As the world wakes up to this enigmatic, emerging country, there will be challenges ahead as demand initially outstrips supply when it comes to hotel beds and airline seats. However, for those willing to travel off-the-beaten-track or downgrade their accommodation for a unique experience, a visit to Myanmar will be a visit to an older, more authentic Asia.
Geography & Climate
Occupying an area of 261,228 sq km, Myanmar is bordered to the north and northeast by Tibet and China; to the northwest and west by India and Bangladesh; and to the east and southeast by Laos and Thailand. The country has a long coastline on the west facing the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea, part of the Indian Ocean. In the far north, the foothills of the Himalayas extend into Kachin State. Myanmar's climate is characterised by three distinct seasons. The rainy season extends from May to October. It is followed by a short, cool dry season from November to January, which develops into a hot dry season from February to May. Average daytime temperatures generally range from 25C to 30C, but can drop to 20C during the coolest months and hit 40C during the peak of the dry season. In the mountains of the far north, temperatures can drop to freezing in the winter and snowcapped mountains are visible from Putao.
Myanmar was under military rule from 1988 to 2010. Elections in 2010 saw the military step down, although they are still guaranteed 25% of seats in parliament. 2011 saw the start of dramatic political reforms that included the release of many political prisoners, the liberalisation of media restrictions and the participation of Aung San Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy in by-elections in early 2012.
Myanmar at a Glance
|Area:||261,228 sq km|
|Local Time:||GMT +6.5 hrs|
|Int. Tel. Code:||+95|
|Capital:||Nay Pyi Taw|
Population and People
Myanmar's population is about 60 million and expanding rapidly. Bamar or Burmans make up nearly 70% of the population, while a variety of other ethnic groups make up the rest. They include a diverse group of Kachin, Karen, Mon, Rakhine, Shan and Wa, plus a sizeable number of regional migrants such as Chinese, Indian and Thai.
Myanmar's national language is Burmese, also known as Bamar. English is the first foreign language among the wider population, although Chinese is also widely spoken in urban areas and Thai is quite well understood in Eastern Myanmar.
Myanmar's official religion is Theravada Buddhism. It was introduced in Burma from the 6th century, but was only adopted nationwide from the 11th century. It is enhanced by traditional animist beliefs and Brahmanist practices long imported from India to form a fusion religion. Nat worship or the worship of spirits is also very common in Myanmar. There are also sizeable minorities of Muslims, predominantly in the west, and Christians, scattered throughout the country but particularly in ethnic minority regions.
No vaccinations are required for entry into Myanmar. However, it is recommended that all visitors be innoculated against typhoid, tetanus, and hepatitis A and B. It is not wise to drink tap water. Prescription drugs are obtainable in urban areas. Precautions against malaria are not necessary for Yangon and Mandalay and other major urban areas, but are recommended when visiting remoter provinces. Travellers should consult their doctor or travel centre before leaving for Myanmar.
Rice and noodles are the staple diet for most Burmese. Local specialities include curries, a variety of soups, and traditional beef, pork and poultry dishes. Fresh seafood is also available and is especially popular with visitors travelling to the coast. Chinese, Indian and Shan cuisine are also common in Myanmar, as is a variety of western cuisine which can be found in abundance in Yangon and Mandalay.
All urban areas have minimum electricity (230 volts). Many places are equipped with private power generators. Most sockets found in hotels are French-style two-pin or British style three-pin, but larger hotels can provide an adaptor on request.
Myanmar offers a wide range of handicrafts, such as silverware, pottery and jewellry. Religious themes and scenes of daily life feature strongly in oil paintings and intricate carvings made from sandstone, marble and some of the country's tropical hardwoods. Perhaps most attractive to visitors is the exquisite lacquerware finished in Burmese patterns. Also popular are the colourful puppets. In true Asian tradition, open marketplaces are an integral part of Burmese life. These markets sell everything from mainstream and exotic foods, clothes and electrical appliances, to hundreds of longyi, the multi-purpose sarong worn by many Burmese women and men. Even for non-shoppers, the markets offer a fascinating glimpse of daily life and culture. Bargaining is possible in markets and with street sellers where no fixed prices are displayed.
There are currently two international gateways to Myanmar. Yangon International Airport serves the capital of Yangon and Mandalay International Airport acts as a popular gateway to the northern areas of Myanmar. Airlines currently servicing Myanmar include local carriers Myanmar Airways International, Air Bagan and Mandalay Air, as well as international carriers Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Silk Air, Malaysia Airlines, Vietnam Airlines, Air China, Air India, China Airlines, . There are also several budget airlines, including Air Asia and Jetstar Asia. Direct flights to Myanmar are available from Bangkok, Saigon, Hanoi, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, Kolkata and Taipei.
Domestic flights are available between Yangon and a number of provincial destinations. Most popular is the circular route through Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake, operated by Mandalay Air and Air Bagan. It is also possible to fly to Bhamo, Kengtung, Lashio, Mawlamyine, Myitkyina, Nay Pyi Taw, Pathein, Putao, Sittwe (for Mrauk U) and Thandwe (for Ngapali Beach). Hanuman does not recommend travel with Myanma Airways, both due to its safety record and government ownership. Air Mandalay is probably the best all-rounder, although Air Bagan also has a very modern fleet.
US$10 for international flights from Yangon or Mandalay, payable in cash on departure. There is no departure tax for domestic flights.
Passports & Visas
One-month tourist visas, costing US$20 and requiring one passport-sized photograph, are available through Myanmar embassies and consulates worldwide. Visas on arrival have been trialled on certain routes, including arrivals from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, as well as Guangzhou..
The Kyat is Myanmar's official currency (US $1 = 818 kyat), but US dollars are widely accepted.. International credit cards such as Visa and Mastercard are not widely accepted and ATMs are in short supply. It is advisable for guests to use US dollars cash for convenience, but only clean bank notes from 2006 onwards are acceptable. However, it is to be hoped that all this will change with the economic liberlisation and political reform process that began in 2011.
2012 Festivals & Public Holidays in Myanmar
|Independence Day:||January 4|
|Union Day:||February 12|
|Peasants Day:||March 2|
|Armed Forces' Day:||March 27|
|Water Festival or Thingyan (Myanmar New Year):||April|
|Kason or Buddha's birthday, enlightenment and nirvana:||April or May|
|International Workers' Day:||May 1|
|Taungbyone Nat Pwe, a major animist celebration near Mandalay:||August|
|Thadingyut, the end of Buddhist lent:||September|
|Tazaungdaing or festival of lights:||October|
|National Day, celebrating the start of the independence campaign in the 1920s:||October or November|
|Kayin New Year:||December or January|