Here is a concise list of useful Burma travel and country information for people visiting Burma on tour, for business or an extended stay. If you would like a copy of this information, a printable version (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader) is available HERE.
Capital: Yangon (Rangoon)
Total Area: 677 thousand sq km
Population: 50 million
Official Language: Burmese
Time Zone: GMT+ 6½ hours with no summer time (daylight saving time); the whole country is in a single time zone.
A regular TOURIST VISA can be obtained by the traveller applying directly to an overseas Myanmar embassy. Asian Horizons can provide you with this service. More information can be viewed on line at: http://asianvisas.co.uk/
Arrival Procedures: After your passport is checked at the immigration desk, you will proceed directly to the baggage area. After collecting your checked luggage and clearing the customs inspection, you will go out to the arrival area where you will be met by your tour guide (if you are on an escorted tour).
Customs Procedures: As a basic rule-of-thumb, all valuable items brought into the country such as jewellery, cameras, electrical equipment, etc. should be declared upon arrival and subsequently brought out of the country upon departure. (In actual practice however, it is not necessary to declare cameras or computers or even jewellery). To further improve the cash flow for tourists, now a new regulation allows foreigners to bring in up to US$10,000 per person undeclared into Myanmar.
No International Airport Departure Tax: From July 2011 onward the $US 10 departure tax for international flights has been cancelled. Therefore Travellers no longer pay a separate departure tax as it is included in the ticket price.
CREDIT CARD & TRAVELLERS CHEQUE ALERT!! Although there has been an easing of US/ EU sanctions, credit cards and Travellers Cheques are still not widely accepted in Myanmar at most hotels or at any banks. Therefore, travellers should bring enough CASH for all expected expenses (USD or Euros are the easiest and larger bills get a slightly better rate). Bank notes which are old, torn or have marks are not accepted in Myanmar. Bring clean new notes from your bank. If using US Dollars, the new notes with ‘big heads’ not the older ‘small heads’ design as these are also not accepted.
ATM – From December, 2012 ATM machines are available in some areas (Yangon, Mandalay, Bago and Taunggyi). They can be used with DEBIT Cards of the following three companies – MasterCard, Cirrus, and Maestro. They cannot be used with credit cards yet, or with VISA (debit or credit), AMERICAN EXPRESS or others.
Currency – The Myanmar currency is known as the ‘kyat’ (pronounced ‘chaat’). The official rate has recently been dramatically changed and is now in line with real market rates. The kyat to USD dollar rate was set officially at 818 kyat to 1 USD. Major hotels and a few restaurants will charge in USD but most other expenses in Myanmar will be in kyats.
Exchanging money – Recently, the AGD Bank (Asia Green Development Bank) and the Kanbawza Bank have opened money exchange counters at the Yangon airport allowing the exchange of U.S, Singapore dollars and Euros. Each passenger can exchange a maximum equivalent of USD $2,000. A money exchange counter also has opened at Bagan-Nyaung Oo Airport and Heho airport. Rates will vary based on the real market, however these airport banks counters do offer very good rates of exchange.
LANGUAGE AND RELIGION
Myanmar people speak Burmese although quite a few can also speak English. The vast majority of Myanmar people (about 87%) are Buddhist with a minority of Christians, Muslims and Hindus. You can learn some useful Burmese phrases on our travel blog at: http://asianhorizons.co.uk/tours-of-burma-phrases-burmese/
Myanmar has three “seasons”: Hot Season – March to mid-May with average temperatures 25-38 C Rainy Season – mid-May to September with average temperatures 23-33 C. “Winter” Season – October to February with average temperatures 18-24 C. The main tourist season is during the Winter season, but it doesn’t rain much up-country and the travel season is now virtually all year long. In fact many prefer the rainy season for its lack of crowds and the cooler weather.
Myanmar weather forecasts: www.bbc.co.uk/weather/
WHAT TO WEAR
Light clothing is quite adequate for Yangon and most tourist spots all year round, although around the Inle Lake area and at other higher elevations the temperature may reach near freezing at night during the ‘winter’ season. Travellers should bring appropriate, warm clothing if traveling there.Myanmar has a conservative and largely Buddhist culture where suggestive or revealing clothing are not recommend (although swimwear is acceptable on the beach).
When visiting religious shrines and temples, modest dress is required. Easily removable footwear (such as sandals) is recommended as most temple grounds must be visited barefoot (sock should also be removed).
The sun is very strong in Myanmar so a high protection factor sun screen, hats and sunglasses are recommended, as is an umbrella for the rainy season. (May – September).
HEALTH & IMMUNIZATIONS
THE FOLLOWING IS GENERAL ADVICE ONLY. IN ALL EVENTS WE RECOMMEND YOU CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR ON FULL REQUIREMENTS:
While no immunizations are formally required, malaria prophylaxis is recommended. Typhoid, hepatitis, tetanus and Japanese encephalitis vaccinations are also recommended. Drink only bottled or boiled water and it is suggested that food not be purchased from sidewalk vendors. Insect repellent to prevent mosquito bites is recommended, especially up-country and in wooded areas to protect from Dengue fever. Travellers should also remember that temperatures in Myanmar are generally hotter than their home country and should pace themselves according to their fitness level to avoid any medical problems from over exertion, sun stroke or dehydration.
Insurance (medical): Hospitals with the standard of care most tourists are used to do not yet exist in Myanmar. If a Traveller were to become seriously ill or injured, they may need to be medically evacuated (‘med-evac’) to the nearest major medical facility, most likely in Singapore or Bangkok. It is strongly recommended that Travellers purchase insurance which will provide medical-evacuation coverage should they require it.
Rules of the Road: Traffic may well be the biggest physical danger you face in Myanmar so be alert when crossing city streets. With more and more cars coming on to city streets, especially in Yangon, it is more important than ever to take care when crossing streets as many drivers are inexperienced and drive too fast. In general Myanmar drivers expect pedestrians will make way for them. Below are some useful websites for more information on travel health advice:
The voltage throughout Myanmar is 220-230 Volts AC. Because the voltage may be inconsistent, valuable or sensitive equipment like stereos and computers should have appropriate electronic protection. Electrical sockets may be two pronged, usually able to take round or blade style plugs though sometimes you need a 3 prong adaptor.
Most 3* (and above) hotels provide conversion plugs but we recommend you take a universal adaptor able to fit any of these configurations for electronic items you carry with you.
Cameras, (including video) are permitted in Myanmar. Restrictions on photography include military facilities and any structure considered strategic – this includes bridges and train stations although may be only loosely enforced).
Mobile phones – Your mobile phone will not work in Myanmar unless you rent a SIM card to use. For GSM it is only necessary rent the SIM card. For CDMA it is necessary to rent a handset as well as the SIM card. You can rent them at the airport at the Yadanarpon Counter (09-410 10018) near door no. 2 at the Terminal 1 of the International arrival airport or there are many shops around town that sell them. You can ask you guide for assistance on where to rent them. The SIM cards enable users to call and receive both local and internationally. Users need buy a prepaid card and these cards can be ‘topped up’ when needed.
Internet and land lines – In hotels, guests should always check the rates before using IDD lines as the cost can be quite high at some hotels. In Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan overseas communication is fairly easy and usually at Inle Lake as well. Sometimes at the beaches it may be more difficult. There are some Internet Cafes in Yangon and Mandalay. Major hotels will have internet and email as well.
DOMESTIC AIRLINES IN MYANMAR
The quickest and most comfortable mode of domestic travel is by air. Modern ATR aircraft are used by the five private domestic airlines currently operating (Air Mandalay, Air Bagan, Yangon Airways, Asian Wings and Kanbawza Airlines). Air Bagan also uses Fokker 100 jets for some routes. There is a 20kg luggage limitation. When travelling up country excess baggage can be left until returning to Yangon. There are no domestic airport taxes to pay at the airports (they are already included in ticket price).
GRATUITIES AND TIPPING
No one should feel obligated, but it is common to tip drivers, guides, waiters at local restaurants and also usually hotel porters for good service. The following suggestions on tipping are meant as general guidelines. For exceptional service travellers may wish to give more.
Porterage at hotel: In general, if a porter carries the clients bags to the room, a tip of about US$.50 – $1.00 (about 500 – 1000 kyat local) would be appropriate, depending on size, weight, etc.
Restaurant tips: In general a tip of about 5–10 % is appreciated for meal service (in kyat). Some restaurants may add a service charge to the bill, in which case tipping is not normally needed.
Driver tips (including boats at Inle lake): The driver’s tip may be about US$ 2 – $4 per person per day (or in equivalent kyat) for individuals, couples or small groups (not including young children). For large groups, that is, more than 6 passengers, a tip of about US$ 1 – $ 2 (or equivalent kyat) per person, per day would be suitable. If the driver has an assistant, a tip of roughly 1/3 the amount given to the driver is considered appropriate.
Tour Guide: A fair average for tipping your tour guide is US$15 per person, day for individuals or small groups (under 6 passengers and not including young children). For larger groups around US$10 per person per day would be appropriate. Note: Tipping your guides depends entirely on your satisfaction with their services. Clients are not obliged to tip for poor service whereas for exceptional service, clients may wish to tip more.