April 11, 2016
10 Things to Know Before You Travel to Myanmar (Burma)
Myanmar is a large country in Southeast Asia that has recently opened its doors to tourists from around the world. It is bordered by Bangladesh, China, India, Thailand and Laos and has a rich culture influenced by all of its borders.
The United States began to lift economic sanctions on Myanmar in 2012 allowing more tourists to enter. I wanted to be one of the few people who can put Myanmar under their travel belt and wanted to share some key facts that everyone should know before traveling there.
Don’t Call It Burma Anymore
Burma was the old name for Myanmar. The name was changed in 1989 after a local uprising. In fact Myanmar is made up of multiple regions, only one is named Burma. Myanmar is a more unifying name for all the separate regions.
Burmese is the language and what the locals are called though.
Myanmar is difficult to get to by bus or train from the surrounding countries. The easiest way to enter Myanmar is by plane. I flew into Yangon International airport, the largest city and former capital. International airports are also found in Mandalay, another popular tourist destination and the capital Naypyidaw.
Once in a city like Yangon, local taxis are available at the airport. I asked the airport information desk about the pricing. They also arranged for a specific taxi to use outside so that I would not get into a wrong taxi.
The official currency of Myanmar is the Burmese kyat. One US dollar is equal to about 1200 kyat. Cash is always better than credit card but many places do accept Visa or Mastercard.
ATMs are available at the airport but I had a hard time withdrawing money and many cards don’t work.
I highly recommend bringing enough cash to spend in Myanmar and exchanging it at the many counters at the airport. Make sure the bills are crisp and don’t have many folds. I had a few 20s rejected. The 50 and 100 bills always get better rates.
Myanmar is made up of over 100 ethnic groups and the people of Myanmar look like it. The majority of people look like they could be descendants of India, China, or Thailand.
The People are Curious about other Cultures
As culturally diverse as Myanmar is they don’t see many different types of people. I had a hard time getting used to the stares. I was stared at the most in this country that I have ever been before. Clearly black people are rare. I had people touching my skin and my hair. Blondes were asked for pictures and to hold babies.
As uncomfortable as that experience was, I felt the most safe in this country. Myanmar is known to be very safe and the people are beyond welcoming. Smiles were everywhere and my safety or the safety of my purse was never in question (I cannot say the same for Vietnam).
Oh My Buddha!
Myanmar is devoutly Buddhist and most of the people devoutly practice.
Trips to the temples and pagodas are common. People often pray for their families and work life.
Paying homage to your birth corner is a common practice as well as ringing the pagoda bell.
Myanmar is extremely conservative as well. Shoulder and legs are usually covered especially in temples and pagodas. Many men wear the traditional skirts as common attire.
Monks can be found everywhere in Myanmar. My tour guides took me to visit a monastery where you can watch the monks eat lunch and offer them rice on the way to the meal.
All that Glitters is Gold
Traveling to Myanmar, I had my fill of temples and pagodas to visit. Myanmar is known as the golden country.
The temples and pagodas and the Buddha statues in them are plated with gold.
Be prepared with conservative clothing and shoes that are easily removable.
Yangon is home to the popular site, Shwedagon Paya, and is one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites. The gold and gems will definitely blind you during the day but the temple is quite a site at night as well.
Just outside of Yangon in Bago, I visited the Kambazathadi Golden Palace and we stumbled upon a wedding. They were also decked out in gold!
Another golden site to see is Golden Rock atop of Mt Kyaiktiyo. Locals believe this rock is balancing off of a cliff and by the laws of physics this rock should have fallen. According to Buddhism, the rock has been held in place by Buddha despite the earthquakes. I didn’t get the full site due to construction, but hopefully you visit at a different time.
I would remember to pack warmer clothes for the trip to Golden Rock. Being on top of the mountain is quite cool.
The trip to the top of the mountain was quite the experience as well. The backs of trucks were packed with 40 plus people. No seatbelts, no doors, no windows. I am thankful to have made it up and down alive!
Other popular cities to visit in Myanmar include Mandalay, Inle Lake and Bagan.
There is no shortage of markets in southeast Asia and Myanmar is no exception. Local markets sell delicious food, local fruit and vegetables as well as clothing and medicines. The market is busy and bustling!
Their Version of Makeup
I was curious about the brown clay like circles on the cheeks of many women walking around Myanmar. These circles were made of ground sandalwood, a popular tree in Myanmar. Women and men wear sandalwood on their faces as sunscreen. Sandalwood is used to make jewelry as well.
I am so grateful to have the time to visit this golden country of Myanmar. The people were so welcoming that I would love to return to see the other sites as well as the beach!
I hope you learned a few things about traveling to Myanmar and this inspires you to visit on your own. I am not sure how long this country will stay open to tourists, but they desperately want the tourism.
Is there a place that was previously forbidden and is now open to visit that you recommend?
Thank you for reading! Continue to follow my adventures in San Diego on Instagram and…Snapchat! I joined and am still learning. I wish I had it in Asia… oh well. Just follow now @thesensefullife.