Travel to Myanmar

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Myanmar

Only recently opened to the outside world after years of self-isolation, Myanmar, the land of golden pagodas, reveals a unique culture and beautiful scenery. In addition to monuments, pristine beaches, snow capped mountains and idyllic pastoral plains enchant visitors.

The word ‘mingalaba’ means welcome and good fortune, and typifies the good nature of the Myanmar, who, despite years of oppression and hardship, maintain the Buddhist creed of loving kindness. Almost 90% of Myanmar live in rural areas. Buddhism prevails but Christians, Hindus, Muslims and other religions, as well as spirit worship, are practiced.

The country is crisscrossed by several rivers which not only render the land fertile, but also make river cruising a delightful option. Popular alternatives to ground travel are river cruises from Yangon to Mandalay, or Yangon to Bagan.

Yangon – (formerly Rangoon) is the gateway to Myanmar.  It is a large city, and, due to its British influence, boasts tree-lined avenues, parks, Victorian architecture, as well as typical Asian accents such as bustling market stalls and pagodas. The most important landmarks are Scott’s Market – also known as Bogyoke Aung San Market - and the splendid Shwedagon Pagoda which is esteemed by both Buddhists and non-Buddhists.

Mandalay – located about 450 miles north of Yangon is the artistic and cultural heart of the country.  Mandalay was the last of the royal capitals and is currently the second largest city. Due to the influx of Chinese immigrants, Mandalay is also the economic hub of Myanmar.  In addition to its palace, monasteries and pagodas, Mandalay is famous for its traditional arts and crafts of gold, silver, silk, ivory, wood, marble and stone.  Mandalay is also a logistic gateway and has direct air links with Bangkok, Singapore, Kunming and Chiang Mai.

Bagan – was an ancient kingdom between the 11th and 13th centuries, during which time over a thousand Buddhist monasteries, pagodas and temples were built. The remains of many still survive today and draw visitors from all over the world.

Inle Lake – is an area of outstanding natural beauty and cultural diversity. The local people, called the Intha, have developed a unique, lake-encompassing lifestyle over the centuries. Houses are built on stilts in the lake, vegetables are grown on floating gardens, and the fishermen, with their iconic style of rowing with one leg while standing on the other, are the subject of many photos. A traveling market moves constantly around the lake completing a circuit every 5 days. The Intha women weave a linen-like fabric from lotus filaments harvested from the lake.  Indein Pagoda, built in the 13th century is not to be missed.

Katha – is the town where author George Orwell was stationed in the 1920s.  His years serving as an imperial policeman inspired his tragic novel Burmese Days.  Throughout Katha, colonial architecture, such as is seen in the British Club House, is well preserved. 

‘Burma,’ wrote Rudyard Kipling. ‘It is quite unlike any place you know about.’  Amazingly, over a century later this still holds true of the land we now call Myanmar. Although it is rapidly entering the modern world, it retains much that is charming and reminiscent of days gone by.

People

The population of Myanmar is about 52 million. The dominant ethnic group is the Bamar.

Language

Myanmar’s official language is Burmese. Other ethnic languages spoken in Burma include Shan, Karen, Kachin, Chin, Mon and Rakhine. English is also spoken, particularly by the educated urban elite, and is the secondary language learnt in government schools.

History

By 300 BC a rich civilization of people called the Mon already existed in southern Burma. Shortly thereafter a people called the Pyu settled in Northern Burma.  In 849, Bamar from China and Tibet arrived in Northern Burma and the city of Pagan, with Anawrahta as King, was founded.  The south was annexed and the first Burmese empire began.  The golden age of Burma was the 12th century, until the Mongols invaded in 1287.
The first recorded European to arrive in Burma was an Italian named Nicolo di Conti.  In the 17th century the French, British and Dutch made trading contacts.
The British conquered Burma in stages, fighting 3 wars and finally annexing it completely in 1886 and adding it to the colony of India. 
Burmese nationalism grew until, in 1932, there was a rebellion. In 1937 the British made Burma a separate colony from India and granted it a legislative council. 
The Japanese invaded Burma and captured Mandalay on 1 May 1942. The British re-captured Mandalay on 20 March 1945 and occupied Rangoon (Yangon) on 3 May 1945. However,  it became clear that the British could no longer hold onto Burma. In 1947 they agreed to make Burma independent. Elections were held in April 1947 and work began on drawing up a new constitution. Burma became independent on 4 January 1948.
During the 1950s Burma went through an economic crisis. In 1962, General Win seized power and announced that Burma would follow the ‘Burmese Way to Socialism’.  Socialism didn’t improve the peoples’ situations and demonstrations were held in 1987 and 1988. Win stepped down in July 1988 but the military continued to rule Burma. On 8 August 1988, a demonstration was crushed by the military. Thousands of people were killed, but the military government did agree to hold an election. The opposition rallied around Aung San Suu Kyi, but she was banned from participating in the election by the military and was placed under house arrest. The opposition won the election, but the military government refused to let the elected parliament take power.
The government’s use of forced labor resulted in International sanctions, and Burma remained a very poor country suffering from mass unemployment and high inflation.
In 2007 price rises prompted Buddhist monks to demonstrate and the long-suffering Burmese people flocked to support them. However the military government brutally suppressed the demonstrations. Many people were killed or detained.
In 2008 Burma was devastated by Cyclone Nargis, which killed tens of thousands and left many more homeless.
Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2010 and in 2012 she won a landslide victory in the elections. Aung San Suu Kyi is currently enjoined from ruling personally. Instead, she rules through a proxy.

Currency

The Kyat is the currency of Myanmar. It is often abbreviated as “K” or “Ks”, which may be placed before or after the numerical value.

Best Time to Travel

Best months to visit Burma are during its dry season from October to May. The cooler months from October to February are especially good. Rains come in June and last through September. Many beaches are closed during this time.

Health Requirements

No medications or shots are required for travelers from the US entering Myanmar,  however malaria is present in some areas, and you may wish to take anti-malarial medication. Please consult your travel clinic for their recommendation based on your personal health profile.

Visa Requirements

US passport holders may apply online for a tourist e-visa via Myanmar’s Ministry of Immigration and Population website: http://evisa.moip.gov.mm. The cost is currently US$50 (subject to change without notice).  Once your application is processed, you’ll be emailed a letter of approval to print out and give to the passport official on arrival at either Yangon, Mandalay or Nay Pyi Taw airports. No other ports of entry allow e-visas, please contact the Consulate for more information.

Tipping & Porterage

Tipping is expected and appreciated, Tipping Guidelines will be provided in your final Trip Packet.

Credit Cards

Myanmar is largely a cash economy. Visa and Mastercard are accepted at major hotels, American Express less so.  Cash is needed for shopping at street markets.

 

 

Money

Myanmar is largely a cash-based economy, with ATMs not easily found, and often not operational. There are currency exchange booths in airports and major towns.  Some services, such as train tickets and entrance fees have to be paid for in USD, while items purchased at markets and restaurants will require the local currency which is the Kyat.  Please note that things are changing so rapidly in Myanmar, that you should be prepared to pay in either currency. USD cash should consist of newer (post 2006)  flawless bills.  Bills which are torn or marked in any way will not be accepted.

Electrical Appliances

In Myanmar the standard voltage is 230 V. The standard frequency is 50 Hz. The power sockets that are used are type C / D / F / G. For information on plugs and voltage, please visit http://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/

Water

Tap water in Myanmar is not potable. Bottled water is widely available and inexpensive.


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Myanmar

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