MYANMAR (BURMA) - Info & Facts
Suggested length of stay
Myanmar is the largest of the mainland South East Asian countries and the distances between the tourist sites are deceptive. The length of time you spend here will really depend on how much time you are willing to allow. There is so much to see and do that inevitably you will kick yourself for not staying longer. You can take in the three major tourist sights of Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan in 7 – 8 days but there are so many more interesting places. Oasis recommend at least 10 -12 days, allowing you time to get to one or more of the more unusual destinations such as the serene Inle Lake, the Golden Rock (Kyaikhtiyo), the sleepy atmospheric town of Mawlamyine (Moulmein) or the ancient ruins in Mrauk-U. Surprisingly to some, Myanmar has one of the finest beaches in Asia, Ngapali Beach which also boasts some of the regions best accommodation.
Yangon 2 days, Bagan 2-3 days, Mount Popa 1 day, Mandalay 3 days, Maymyo 1 day, Inle Lake 3 days, Kalaw 1 day, Kyaikhtiyo (Golden Rock) 1 day, Maruk-U 3 days, Ngapali 4 days.
To go or not to go, the political question?
The decision of whether to travel to Myanmar should not be taken lightly. Whilst not denying that the military regime in Myanmar is illegitimate and there are many reasons not to travel to the country we at Oasis believe that tourism is one of the few ways that ordinary local people can directly improve their lot. Local people have told us that they want tourists even though the lawfully elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi has publicly called for tourists not to visit. Oasis, as far as possible, do not support government run initiatives, airlines, hotels, tour companies and we encourage our passengers to spend what money they can in independently run restaurants and buy handicrafts and souvenirs directly from the artisans rather than in government run stores. But, by the same token, no one can deny that a small portion of any money spent will inevitably end up in government coffers, but by comparison to overseas revenue from natural resources such as gas and oil the tourism income is relatively small. Myanmar is an easy country for international governments to pick on, let’s be honest there are many other (much more powerful) countries with equally corrupt and despotic regimes. In our opinion tourism helps to bring the country out of isolation and the more dependent on the tourism dollar the government becomes the less likely they are to do things to jeopardise this.
Essentially we believe decisions as to whether travel anywhere should not be made by tour companies but by travellers themselves. If you would like to discuss the pros and cons of travel to Myanmar we are more than happy engage, or if you would like any further information, from websites both “encouraging travel” and “discouraging travel” we are more than happy to provide these.
Modes of transport
Air travel is by far the most convenient, comfortable and time efficient way of travelling the huge distances in Myanmar. Safety records are good and the airports are efficient. Please note that most internal flights depart very early from Yangon so with transfer and check in time etc your hotel departure pick up will often be at 04.00 or 05.00, but at least this gives you the full day at your destination!
There are a number of journeys that can be made by train, some in old steam trains. We would only recommend day trips by rail as timetables and train standards are questionable and often liable to unexpected last minute changes. Overnight trains have a limited amount of sleepers and reclining seats and the standard is modest. Train tickets can be booked only up to 3 days in advance and therefore we can only confirm this service at the last moment. Please contact your travel consultant for further details on rail travel.
While urban roads are in reasonable condition, rural roads are generally unpaved and in bad shape. One notable fact about Burmese road transport is that while most of the vehicles have the steering wheel on the right, having been imported form the UK, the vehicles are required to drive on the right hand side of the road, as in the United States. Do not expect latest model cars, they are not available due to import restrictions on new cars. All cars come with a driver and no self-drive is possible.
The Irrawaddy and Chindwin Rivers are two of the main waterways in Southeast Asia and there are some wonderfully restored colonial ships that ply the rivers. Journeys last anything from 1 or 2 nights between Mandalay and Bagan to 20 night expeditions to exotic areas rarely visited by foreign tourists. A great day trip from Yangon is to Twante on a local ferry (2-3 hours) is a good way to see how local people live and travel (the ferry is very, very basic) and can be incorporated in to any visit to Myanmar. Inle Lake is always best explored by small private boats.
Myanmar has three basic seasons. The Cool Season runs October through February with average temperatures 20-24C, Hot Season - March through May with average temperatures 30-35C and the Wet Season - June through September with average temperatures 25-30C. However, the main tourist areas of Myanmar can be visited all year round regardless of the seasons, it is only the more remote and beach areas that become adversely affected. Even during the wet season, Yangon normally receives morning and afternoon showers while rainfall in Bagan and Mandalay is very low. The weather around Inle Lake and Southern Shan State is usually quite pleasant all year round but chilly at night from December to February.
Burma, renamed Myanmar by the current military regime, lies between Bangladesh and Thailand with coasts on the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal. It also shares borders with China in the Northeast, India in the North West, and Laos in the Southeast.
The country's central plains have wide, navigable rivers and form the country's main agricultural region. The central region is surrounded by steep highlands. The highest point, situated at the northern tip of the country, is the Himalayan peak of Mt. Hkakabo Razi, which at 5,881 m is the highest peak in Southeast Asia.
With the fabulous food in neighbouring Thailand, India and China you might expect Burmese food to have taken the best from these individual cuisines and adapted something quite special. Unfortunately not!! For anyone looking for a gastronomic delight Myanmar is not the place for you.
Local dishes include lethok son (a sort of spicy vegetarian rice salad), mohinga (fish soup with noodles) and oh-no khauk swe (rice noodles, chicken and coconut milk). The fruit from Inle Lake such as strawberries, tomatoes and avocados are very good. Chinese and Indian cuisine is offered in many hotels and restaurants. Tea is the most popular drink but beware the spices which are sometimes added, although harmless, can make your tongue turn bright red! Locally produced soft drinks are generally of poor quality and relatively expensive. Coffee is not common. Locally produced beer, rum, whisky and gin are generally available but if you like a “proper” drink….bring your own.
Never drink tap water. Bottled water is widely available and very cheap. However, please dispose of your plastic bottles responsibly.
A brief history
Human occupation of the area now known as Myanmar goes back at least approximately 5000 BC. Around the turn of third century BC, the Mon arrived and settled the Sittoung Valley before going on to establishing some of the earliest kingdoms in Siam. The Bamar peoples arrived from the Sino-Tibetan border area in the ninth century AD and quickly established themselves as the dominant power in the region.
The first Burmese empire as such was established by the Bamar leader Anawrahta in 1057. As the kingdom expanded the rulers went on to a period of pagoda building and the so called “Golden Age” of Bagan began. This lasted until 1287 when the Mongols invaded and sacked Bagan.
The second Burmese empire came about in the early 16th century, shortly after the Portuguese established a trade station at Martaban.
Around 1636 the British, Dutch and French established trading links with Burma and exploited the wealth of natural resources to their own ends. But in the first half of the 1800’s a series of wars resulted in the majority of the coastal areas being acceded to British control and by 1886 the British controlled the whole of Burma. This lasted until World War 2 when it fell, after a long struggle, to the Japanese. Following the eventual defeat of the Japanese Burma gained independence in 1948.
The democratic government was only in place briefly and in 1962 a military coup established a military government. In September 1988 following the democratic defeat of the ruling Junta by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party and the ensuing refusal of the rulers to relinquish power mass student demonstrations lead to another coup and establishment of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), which has ruled Myanmar since.
In 1989, the SLORC government introduced sweeping changes to replace colonial place names with words closer to the actual local usage. Thus, "Rangoon" became "Yangon" and the "Irrawaddy" River became the "Ayeyarwady" etc hence you may see references to the same place being referred to by different names.
Independent travellers require a prearranged visa before entering Myanmar. Visas can be arranged through Oasis visalink Service or directly with the Union of Myanmar Embassy.
Union of Myanmar Embassy
22 Arkana Street,Yarralumla, Canberra, ACT 2600,
Tel: 6273 3811; 6273 3751, Fax: 6273 3181.
Visas are valid for stays of 28 days and must be utilised within 3 months of issue. It is your responsibility to obtain the correct visa before departure. Oasis accepts no responsibility regarding the issue of visas.
Presently credit cards are not generally accepted in Myanmar so you should carry sufficient cash to cover your in-country expenses. Please check with our office if you need updated information before your departure. Banks are closed on Saturdays, Sundays and all public holidays. We recommend you to take US Dollars cash some in small denomination notes as change is often scarce. US Dollars are widely accepted throughout Myanmar and are easily exchangeable for the local Kyat currency.
Travellers Cheques are not accepted at present. Don’t worry too much about taking cash, generally speaking Myanmar is the safest country in Asia in terms of carry cash but obviously common sense precautions apply. Your travel consultant will be happy to advise you about this in the weeks before you depart.
Medical conditions within Myanmar are basic to say the least. Any essential medicines should be taken with you as they may not be available locally. Western standard medical services are only available in Neighboring Thailand. Visitors are advised to consult their personal physician as to what vaccinations are necessary before travelling to Myanmar. Always take sensible precautions such as thoroughly washing your hands before eating and not eating in places where hygiene standards are suspect or from street stalls serving pre-prepared food.
Ensure you have good medical insurance before you travel.
Australian Embassy, Myanmar
88 Strand Road
Telephone +95 (1) 251 810, 251 809
Facsimile +95 (1) 246 159
It is 220-230 Volts AC in Myanmar. Most international hotels (in the main tourist destinations) have their own generators. Other places may experience power cuts and voltage fluctuation on a regular basis.
Non-stop flight time Sydney – Yangon (Rangoon). There are currently no non-stop flights between Australia and Myanmar.
There are daily connections from Bangkok and less frequent connections from some other Asian flight hubs such as KL and Singapore.
Time difference GMT + 6.30 hours.