Travels

9 Important things to know before visiting Myanmar

A trip to Myanmar is as exciting as it is mysterious. This country is so different from its’ South East Asian counterparts, it doesn’t even seem like its in the same region. (Only the weather gives it away.) Due to the stark differences between Myanmar and neighboring Thailand, there are quite a few things you should know before you go:

  • Tourism has just started developing

2012 was the first year that Myanmar was open to the general public. Because the country has only the been accessible for a few years, there is still a lack of familiar global entities in the market. Its honestly quite refreshing not to see a Starbucks every few feet! Because tourist infrastructure is still developing, quite often demand exceeds supply. Book well in advance, and expect hotel cost to be a little higher than neighboring regions.

  • Wifi is almost nonexistent

Internet access can be quite tricky within the Burmese borders. Although you can purchase sim cards at the airport, and various top-up places, wifi access still moves at snail-mail speeds. Cell phone connectivity will vastly surpass anything remotely similar on a laptop or tablet device. Even sending a basic HTML email can be laborious. It once took me over an hour to send a confirmation email!

Yangon Lake
Image Credits: Away We Stray

 

  • ATM’s are few and far between

Yangon has gone through heaps of changes in recent years, and there are many ATMs accepting foreign cards, however its hard to find the same convenience in Bagan or near Inle Lake. Similarly, in the weeks I spent in Myanmar, I didnt use my visa card a single time. Every transaction you make will be in cash, and if you can’t obtain enough from an ATM, you’ll need to exchange some. Unfortunately, any and all bills you bring into the country must be crisp, unmarked and unbent. (Yes, I’m serious) Most exchange places will refuse your bills if they have been folded or creased in any way.

  • Be wary of counterfeit currency

Myanmar

Image Credits : Away We Stray

Be very careful where you choose to exchange your dollars in Myanmar. Although some places might have a higher rate than others, make sure each place you exchange is a valid exchanging location. There are many places that might try to give you counterfeit bills for your foreign currency.

  • You will have to pay for government vouchers

The government charges a ‘foreigner tax’ to have the priveledge of visiting most historical landmarks. Expect to pay around $10 USD to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda, and similar prices for other temples in Yangon. In Bagan, however, you must pay a $25 USD fee up-front in order to access the area. Inle Lake is the same way. They will provide you with a small card as a receipt for your payment, and you may get asked to produce this receipt throughout your time in the historical areas.

  • You will need a visa (But can get a same-day in Bangkok!)

You will need to prepare your visa before you arrive at the airport. There are no Visa-on-Arrivals currently offered to foreigners. If you happen to be in Thailand and wish to catch a bus/place north, you can obtain a Burmese visa (same day) for approximately $40 USD. The cheapest way to get a Burmese visa is in person at your local embassy for about $30, but for a little more you can also acquire an e-visa.

After you have gone through the logistical process of preparing your trip, make sure you understand some of the more important characteristics of Burmese culture.

Cultural nuances

  • Myanmar people are devotely Buddhist

There have been cases of westerners visiting Myanmar with Buddha-head-tattoos deported or jailed. Other cases include a westerner who posted a photo of Buddha wearing headphones to his social media account, as an advertisement, who also received extremely harsh punishment for his faux-paus. Fortunately, the rules about the treatment of Buddha are quite simple:

  • Always take off your shoes

You will always go barefoot around temples and shrines, and often when entering businesses. It’s best to carry little wet-wipes to freshen your toes after a stroll through a religious monument.

Myanmar

Image Credits: Away We Stray

 

  • Never point your feet (or finger!) at Buddha

With over 80% of Burmese people being Buddhist, Myanmar is quite strict about their religious rules. Be careful to point your feet away from the statues of Buddha (during sitting, mostly). While it is technically considered blasphemous to point a finger at Buddha, recent years have made it less severe to do so. Keep in mind that you should gesture with an open hand, palm-up, to show respect. Always take a photo from below. Try not to step in front of a praying person. If all else fails, just keep a watchful eye on other templegoers’ body language, and do as they do.

  • The head is the most holy part of the body

Never touch a person, especially a child on their head. Its considered the holiest part of a person, and must be treated as such. Also be careful about using the feet or the left hand to point an object out to another, as these are thought to be dirty parts of a person.

  • Travel clockwise around a temple/pagoda

It’s customary to travel clockwise, not counter-clockwise around a temple. Though not a strict rule, you might get strange looks if you happen to be going against the flow of traffic!

  • Men wear skirts

When visiting Myanmar, you will notice a lot of men in “skirts”. Local leg-wear is called a “Longyi”. Most men and women still hold tight to their traditional dress. (and why not? Longyi’s are super comfortable!) In fact, you might be required to wear one at a temple if your pants are not long enough.

  • Smooching sounds abound!

When at, or passing by a restaurant, you will probably hear the sound of someone blowing a kiss. This is not a cat-call, but rather this sound is used to get a servers’ attention!


This is a guest post written by Cassy at AwayWeStray.com. Cassy is a full-time trouble-maker blogging about the imperfect realities of world travel. She can either be found drowning her sorrows behind a bottle of Pinot or working off the hangover climbing a mountain. Come waste time together, it’s not like you had anything better to do, anyway.

13 Comments

  • Reply
    Carl
    January 8, 2017 at 3:20 AM

    I was in Argentina last year and they also have a tricky monetary policy. ATMs everywhere but it was a better deal to bring (as you say- crisp) cash and do the local exchanges.

  • Reply
    Brianna Simmons
    January 8, 2017 at 7:53 AM

    Fantastic tips for visiting Myanmar. Especially useful are the cultural respect tips.

  • Reply
    Tamara Elliott
    January 8, 2017 at 11:00 AM

    Sometimes it’s nice to be somewhat off the grid- provided you’ve planned for it! Great tips here for those thinking of travelling to Burma!

    • Reply
      Nikita Raikwar
      January 8, 2017 at 11:01 AM

      Well thank you so much 🙂 we are glad you liked it ..

  • Reply
    Jenna
    January 8, 2017 at 4:10 PM

    Love the photo of the hot air balloons–so gorgeous! Myanmar is such an intriguing country. I would love to visit sometime–thanks for the tips! I never realized that you couldn’t point your feet or finger at Buddha or that you should travel clockwise around a temple!

  • Reply
    Veronika Tomanova
    January 9, 2017 at 11:03 PM

    Hi Nikita, thanks for collecting interesting things about Myanmar. I had no idea that head is considered the holy part – I guess thins can bring a misunderstanding. And men in the skirt? cool:)

    • Reply
      Nikita Raikwar
      January 9, 2017 at 11:06 PM

      Thank you Veronica for taking the time out to read my post. Well yes Asian cultures can be bizarre yet beautiful in its own way!

  • Reply
    Mansoureh
    January 10, 2017 at 4:43 AM

    Great tips. I did know nothing about the country. You cover the most important things everyone needs to know for a trip. I think there are some places where are not same. Am I right?

    • Reply
      Nikita Raikwar
      January 28, 2017 at 9:24 PM

      Yes. True That. Some destinations have different guidelines to follow.

  • Reply
    Vicky and Buddy
    January 10, 2017 at 9:07 AM

    I’ve been wanting to go to Myanmar ever since I wrote a report about it in elementary school. You’ve listed so many useful tips here and I know they’ll come in handy whenever I finally get to visit. Although I’m glad that it isn’t swarming with tourists yet, I do hope their wifi gets a little better!

  • Reply
    Kerri
    January 10, 2017 at 2:59 PM

    This is such a great article, mainly because there are tips here that are new to me and really, really useful. I would love to visit Myanmar, and the sooner the better I think before it changes too much.

  • Reply
    Shobha
    January 11, 2017 at 3:15 AM

    wow! this is fascinating. The crisp notes would be a serious problem for me… I’m always crumpling bills in my wallet. Who has time to put them in neatly?? Apparently everyone in Myanmar :-))

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