Tips for Visiting Myanmar (Burma) Safely

Jodi Ettenberg November 15, 2012 3

Myanmar has been in the news lately, and not all of it good. While the country has been heading toward a more democratic government, it has also come under fire for ethnic fighting in the outer provinces, which remain out of reach for tourists. There is much worth seeing and doing in Myanmar, but as travelers I think we owe it to the countries we visit to spend wisely, travel safely and try to learn as much as possible while we are there.

Leave that tank top in your suitcase

Myanmar is quite a bit more conservative than elsewhere in Southeast Asia and it’s wise to dress respectably – which means keeping your shoulders covered and no short skirts or shorts for the ladies. Women in the country where a version of the longyi, a long tube of fabric that is pulled tight and tucked into the side of your waist. Men do the same, except it is tied right in front of your bellybutton, twisted in on itself. I picked up a longyi when I was in Yangon and wearing it went a very long way toward meeting locals and being invited to eat with them. And many were happy to say “thank you for respecting our country.” Read more at legalnomads.com.

Eat curries at lunchtime and join locals in grabbing mohinga soup for breakfast on the street

Refrigeration isn’t constant in Myanmar, and while I am all for trying the local food, I tend to recommend grabbing the meat curries for lunch when they are freshly prepared, not when they have been sitting out for most of the afternoon in the heat. For breakfast, this is an ideal time to get to know locals: grab one of those teeny plastic chairs and sit down at the side of the road for some soup – you won’t regret it. Check out onourownpath.com for the carnivors and alittleadrift.com for vegetarians.

Take off your slippers

Take off your slippers, photo by Jodi

Remember that your shoes come off in houses and temples, and that you ought to never touch anyone on their head

These are rules that come from a deeply entrenched culture of Buddhism and are easy to keep in mind as you travel. Taking shoes off is specifically an issues that came up during British colonial rule (where many British refused to do so,) and there are signs like the one below in many cities, reminding you to take off your shoes before stopping into a holy place. Read more at san.beck.org.

Stock up on any medication you might need before visiting

While Myanmar is changing quickly, its medical system and pharmacies are still very underdeveloped compared to neighbouring Thailand. If you need any prescription medication, please be sure to stock up for the duration of your visit. I would also advise taking a dose of Ciprofloxacin or a Z-pack (both antibiotics for stomach infections) in the event you do get a stomach illness that will not disappear. A general first aid kit is a good option to keep with you as well! Read more about first aid kit contents on long term travel at legalnomads.com.

Don’t do an oxcart tour in Bagan – opt for your own bicycle (but bring band-aids!)

One of the most fabulous memory I have from my weeks in Myanmar was riding around the temples of Bagan at dawn. They are one of the most majestic sights in the country and well worth several days of your time. Unlike Angkor in Cambodia, you can access most of them on dusty roads with a rented bicycle. Flat tires will happen but your smile won’t waver.

Be aware that there is a considerable amount of ethnic fighting going on, so it is important to learn about the history of the country before you go.

This means being sensitive to what is discussed – certain ethnic groups remain at odds with others within the country, and it is wise not to get involved in a political discussion about the ongoing fighting. Further reading: The River of Lost Footsteps for a general overview of the country’s history and culture prior to 2000, and Reuters article from Andrew Marshall about the ongoing fighting in the Rakhine state.

Bring extra US Dollars (new, unworn, unbent) as Myanmar does not have working ATMs

There are plans to have one continuously functioning in Yangon, but it is not yet assured that you can withdraw. In a pinch, some hotels will allow you to charge to your credit card and withdraw that way, but will do so for quite an exorbitant fee. Best to bring US Dollars with you in case you need it, keeping it safely stowed, of course! Read more at onourownpath.com.

3 Comments »

  1. Lior Shafir April 22, 2013 at 11:21 am - Reply

    Very good tips !!
    I would like to emphasize that almost all the tips are still relevant today.. and especially the remark about considerable amount of ethnic fighting is still happening a lot.. mainly in northern Myanmar

  2. Jacky May 10, 2013 at 9:44 am - Reply

    I’ve recently returned from Myanmar. ATMs that dispense local currency with a Visa card are expanding. I was able to withdraw currency in Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay. However banks would not exchange my sterling pounds and dollars still have to be pristine… A great time to visit though, before it gets too touristy but expect ‘flaky’ infrastructure!

  3. Christine February 27, 2014 at 9:55 pm - Reply

    Visited Myanmar for three weeks at the end of last December. It was a wonderful experience. The people are most welcoming. Visits to schools and orphanages both planned and unplanned were inspiring experiences. It was a pleasure to take and donate clothing for children and basic first aid supplies. Hard currency donations also help to fund the provision of books for small libraries in schools. A welcome and vital need

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