Places To See
This sprawling cultural centre is the most Burman of Myanmar's cities. It was the last capital of Myanmar before the British took over, and is the country's second-largest city, known for its bustling markets selling produce and handicrafts from all over northern Myanmar. Its nearby ancient cities (including Amadura), make great day trips.
Highlights in town include the ancient Rakhine Buddha image at Mahamuni Paya, and a walk up Mandalay Hill, with its spiralling stairways, temples and sweeping views. There are four 'deserted cities' nearby: Amarapura, Sagaing, Ava and Mingun. The 1.2km (0.7mi) teak U Bein's Bridge at Amarapura is the most appealing site for most visitors - and it's possible to hire a boat to get views from the lake. Mingin, accessible only by government boat, features an enormous, but half-finished, stupa.
Kyaiktiyo (Golden Rock)
The excursion to the incredible balancing boulder stupa, called Kyaiktiyo (or Golden Rock), is a must-do. The small stupa, just 7.3m (24ft) high, sits atop the Gold Rock, a massive, gold-leafed boulder delicately balanced on the edge of a cliff at the top of Mt Kyaikto. This is one of the most sacred Buddhist sites in Myanmar.
One of four ancient city sites around Mandalay, Mingun has a number of interesting features in a relatively compact area, including the massive brick base of an incomplete stupa called Mingun Paya; the Mingun Bell which, at 90 tonnes and 5m (16.4ft) in diameter, is the biggest hung (and uncracked) bell in the world; and the 1811-built vaulted shrine of Settawya Paya.
When to go?
Climate wise, the best season for visiting Myanmar is from November to February, when it rains least and isn't too hot. If you're hitting the hill stations or the Rakhine coast, try March to May, but bear in mind that Bagan and Mandalay are intolerable during these months (TS Eliot described April as 'the cruellest month'). The southwest monsoon starts between mid-May and mid-June, and brings frequent rains till October, peaking from July to September. The dry zone (roughly the area between Mandalay and Pyay) gets less rain than the rest of the country, though roads everywhere (particularly in the delta region south and east of Yangon) can become impassable. Rakhaing State bears the full force of the rains - often exceeding 500cm (197in) annually. Myanmar gets the least amount of visitors in May, June and September.
Travel Visa Overview
Entry into Myanmar requires a passport valid for at least six months from the time of entry. Citizens of Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, Bangladesh, China and Russia don't need visas. Everyone else does: 28-day tourist visas are issued; they cost
British style plug with two flat blades and one flat grounding blade
European plug with two circular metal pins
This diarrhoeal disease can cause rapid dehydration and death. Cholera is caused by a bacteria, Vibrio cholerae. It's transmitted from person to person by direct contact (often via healthy carriers of the disease) or via contaminated food and water. It can be spread by seafood, including crustaceans and shellfish, which get infected via sewage.
Cholera exists where standards of environmental and personal hygiene are low. Every so often there are massive epidemics, usually due to contaminated water in conditions where there is a breakdown of the normal infrastructure.
The time between becoming infected and symptoms appearing is usually short, between one and five days. The diarrhoea starts suddenly, and pours out of you. It's characteristically described as 'ricewater' diarrhoea because it is watery and flecked with white mucus. Vomiting and muscle cramps are usual, but fever is rare. In its most serious form, it causes a massive outpouring of fluid (up to 20L a day). This is the worst case scenario - only about one in 10 sufferers get this severe form.
It's a self-limiting illness, meaning that if you don't succumb to dehydration, it will end in about a week without any treatment.
You should seek medical help urgently; in the meantime, start re-hydration therapy with oral re-hydration salts. You may need antibiotic treatment with tetracycline, but fluid replacement is the single most important treatment strategy in cholera.
Prevention is by taking basic food and water precautions, avoiding seafood and having scrupulous personal hygiene. The currently available vaccine is not thought worthwhile as it provides only limited protection for a short time.
Several different viruses cause hepatitis; they differ in the way that they are transmitted. The symptoms in all forms of the illness include fever, chills, headache, fatigue, feelings of weakness and aches and pains, followed by loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, light-coloured faeces, jaundiced (yellow) skin and yellowing of the whites of the eyes.
There are 6 known types of viral hepatitis:A, B, C, D, E and G. G is not dangerous. A and E are passed on by the fecal-oral route of transmission; there is a vaccine. Seek medical advice, but there is not much you can do apart from resting, drinking lots of fluids, eating lightly and avoiding fatty foods. A and E cause an acute illness, but you will recover fully from it.
B and D are passed on via blood, saliva, semen and vaginal fluids. They can be passed on by close contact, sexual contact, and blood-to-blood contact. The symptoms of hepatitis B may be more severe than type A and the disease can lead to long-term problems such as chronic liver damage, liver cancer or a long-term carrier state. There is a vaccine.
Hepatitis C is only passed on from blood-to-blood contact. There is no vaccine.
This serious and potentially fatal disease is spread by mosquito bites. If you are travelling in endemic areas it is extremely important to avoid mosquito bites and to take tablets to prevent this disease. Symptoms range from fever, chills and sweating, headache, diarrhoea and abdominal pains to a vague feeling of ill-health. Seek medical help immediately if malaria is suspected. Without treatment malaria can rapidly become more serious and can be fatal.
If medical care is not available, malaria tablets can be used for treatment. You should seek medical advice, before you travel, on the right medication and dosage for you.
If you do contract malaria, be sure to be re-tested for malaria once you return home as you can harbour malaria parasites in your body even if you are symptom free.
Travellers are advised to prevent mosquito bites at all times. The main messages are: wear light-coloured clothing; wear long trousers and long-sleeved shirts; use mosquito repellents containing the compound DEET on exposed areas (prolonged overuse of DEET may be harmful, especially to children, but its use is considered preferable to being bitten by disease-transmitting mosquitoes); avoid perfumes and aftershave.Use a mosquito net impregnated with mosquito repellent (permethrin) - it may be worth taking your own.
This is a fatal viral infection. Many animals can be infected (such as dogs, cats, bats and monkeys) and it's their saliva that is infectious. Any bite, scratch or even lick from a warm-blooded, furry animal should be cleaned immediately and thoroughly. Scrub with soap and running water, and then apply alcohol or iodine solution. Medical help should be sought promptly to receive a course of injections to prevent the onset of symptoms and death.
Also known as enteric fever, typhoid is transmitted via food and water, and symptomless carriers, especially when they're working as food handlers, are an important source of infection. Typhoid is caused by a type of salmonella bacteria, Salmonella typhi. Paratyphoid is a similar but milder disease.
The symptoms are variable, but you almost always get a fever and headache to start with, which initially feels very similar to flu, with aches and pains, loss of appetite and general malaise. Typhoid may be confused with malaria. The fever gradually rises during a week. Characteristically your pulse is relatively slow for someone with a fever. Other symptoms you may have are constipation or diarrhoea and stomach pains.
You may feel worse in the second week, with a constant fever and sometimes a red skin rash. Other symptoms you may have are severe headache, sore throat and jaundice. Serious complications occur in about one in 10 cases, including, most commonly, damage to the gut wall with subsequent leakage of the gut contents into the abdominal cavity.
Seek medical help for any fever (38°C and higher) that does not improve after 48 hours. Typhoid is a serious disease and is not something you should consider self-treating.
Re-hydration therapy is important if diarrhoea has been a feature of the illness, but antibiotics are the mainstay of treatment.
There are three distinct seasons: the cool, dry winter from November to February; the unpleasantly hot summer from March to May; and the wet, humid monsoon from May to October - also not terribly pleasant. Generally, year-round daytime temperatures average 30°C (86°F), dropping slightly at night. During the cool season, however, you can expect temperatures between 25°C (77°F) and 15°C (59°F). Coastal areas are usually cooler, but more humid.
History and Culture
Pre-20th Century History
Myanmar's prehistory begins with the migration of four groups into the country: the Pyu from either present-day Tibet or India, the Mons from what is now Cambodia, the Mongol Burmans from the eastern Himalayas, and the Thai tribes from northern Thailand. The 11th-century Burman kingdom of Bagan was the first to gain control of the territory that is present-day Myanmar, but it failed to unify the disparate racial groups and collapsed before Kublai Khan's Tartar invasion in 1287. For the next 250 years, Burma remained in chaos, and the territory was not reunified until the mid-16th century when a series of Taungoo kings extended their domain and convincingly defeated the Siamese. In the 18th century, the country fractured again as Mons and hill tribes established their own kingdoms. In 1767, the Burmans invaded Siam and sacked Ayuthaya, forcing the Siamese to move their capital to Bangkok.
The British saw their chance to invade in 1824, and then again in 1852 and 1883. Burma became a part of British India and a major rice exporter. Indians and Chinese arrived with the British to complicate the racial mix.
In 1937, Burma was administratively separated from British India and there was nascent murmuring for self-rule. The Japanese drove the British from Burma in WWII and attempted to enlist Burman support politically. The Burmans were briefly tempted by an opportunity for independence, but a resistance movement soon sprang up. In 1948, Burma became independent and almost immediately began to disintegrate as hill tribes, communists, Muslims and Mons all revolted.
In 1962, a left-wing army revolt led by General Ne Win deposed the troubled democratic government and set the country on the path of socialism. The Burman economy crumbled over the next 25 years until, in 1987 and 1988, the Burman people decided they'd had enough. Huge demonstrations called for Ne Win's resignation, and massive confrontations between pro-democracy demonstrators and the military resulted in 3000 deaths in a six-week period. Several puppets were appointed by Ne Win and then a military coup (believed to be instigated by Ne Win) handed control to General Saw Maung and his State Law & Order Council (Slorc). The new leader promised elections in 1989.
The opposition quickly formed a coalition party called the National League for Democracy (NLD), under the leadership of Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of assasinated independence hero Bogyoke Aung San (still openly revered). In 1989, the government placed Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. Despite her imprisonment, the NLD scored an overwhelming victory at the polls.
The junta prevented the elected party leaders from taking office, then went about the brutal business of quashing Karen rebels and engaging the private army of drug baron Khun Sa. Reports of Khun Sa's 'house arrest' at a cushy villa in Yangon, with personal aides, luxury cars, a military escort and a hotel and real estate empire, has given rise to suspicion of a smacked-out peace deal between the government junta and Khun Sa's Heroin Inc.
Secret talks with the government through a United Nations negotiator led to Suu Kyi's release in May 2002. However, in May 2003 she was arrested again.
Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt drafted a seven-point 'roadmap' to 'disciplined democracy' in September 2003. It was dismissed as a diversion by the US, which, along with the EU and Japan, tightened sanctions against Myanmar following Suu Kyi's re-arrest. Efforts to bring both parties back to the table continued with a constitutional convention in May 2004, although its legitimacy was undermined due to an NLD boycott. The replacement, a few months later, of Khin Nyunt as prime minister was taken as a sign of ongoing unease at the top levels of the junta.
However, in late 2004, Khin Nyunt was removed from office in a surprising take-over from hard-liner Soe Win, who promised he'd continue Khin Nyunt's program.
The capital was moved to Naypyidaw, 460km (300mi) north of Myanmar's largest city and former capital, Yangon, in 2006.