It's taken a while, but Myanmar is opening up to foreign travelers, as internal political reforms are being reciprocated with the easing of international sanctions. Myanmar is still a bit of a hermit kingdom, though (U.S. sanctions are still in effect, prohibiting importation of goods and financial transactions from Myanmar); the country is far, far from being a modern one.
As a foreigner in Myanmar, you'll be looked upon with suspicion by the authorities; hotels are required to report your presence as soon as you check in, and prices are incredibly inflated for foreigners as compared to prices paid by locals.
If you feel this is a small price to pay for access to Myanmar tourist destinations like Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Bagan, then by all means, proceed.
A more complete backgrounder on the country of Myanmar can be found in these articles:
You might also be asking - am I supposed to call this country Myanmar or Burma? If you want to resolve the question, read this article: Is it Burma or Myanmar? - - About.com World News.
Myanmar Visa and Other Entry Requirements
Unlike most countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar's government monitors travel into and within the country. Foreign visitors need to show their papers, not just at airports, but also at train stations and their hotels.
Certain classes of traveler are strictly forbidden from entering (journalists are a favorite target), and access to Myanmar from most land-border crossings has been tightened except for package-tour groups who have received permission from the authorities.
To enter Myanmar, you need a valid passport with at least six months' remaining validity, and a valid visa for Myanmar. There is no "Visa on Arrival" scheme in Myanmar; one was set up in 2010, then suspended the same year. Apply for a Myanmar visa at an embassy or consulate abroad before going to Myanmar.
More information on securing a Myanmar visa here: Myanmar Visa - Entry Requirements and How to Get Your Visa for Myanmar.
Customs. Visitors over 17 years of age may bring these items into Myanmar without paying customs duty:
- 1 liter of liquor;
- 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 225 grams of raw tobacco;
- 0.5L of perfume or eau de cologne
Cameras, jewelry and electronics must be declared upon arrival, or else you might be prevented from bringing them out with you when you leave. Video cameras may be confiscated at the airport, only to be returned when you leave the country.
Unlimited amounts of foreign currency may be brought in, provided they are declared upon arrival. You may be required to change your imported foreign currencies to the local currency within a month of your arrival, if your visa permits extended stays. The following visitors are required to exchange about $300 upon entry:
- Expatriates from Myanmar on social visits
- Foreign embassy personnel and U.N. staff
Children under 12 years of age and members of organized tours are exempt from this requirement.
Contraband. The authorities have not been forthcoming with a complete list of contraband items, but generally speaking, pornography, firearms, religious materials, gambling equipment like cards and chips, reading material critical of the Myanmar authorities, and antiques are prohibited from entry and may be seized at the airport. Some problems have been reported with electronics.
Souvenirs may be subject to export restrictions; generally only souvenirs and jewelry bought from hotel gift shops may be brought out, as long as a receipt is provided at the exit. Souvenirs purchased from street vendors or other unauthorized sources may be confiscated before your departure.
The U.S. Treasury sanctions on Myanmar prohibits the importation of most goods from Myanmar into the United States. The ban covers gifts, souvenirs, and items for personal use. For more information, visit the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page.
Airport tax. You will be charged an airport tax of US$10 upon departure on any international flight at Yangon Airport.
Health & Immunizations in Myanmar
Unlike the rest of Southeast Asia, Myanmar's medical infrastructure is weak and may not be able to meet any special needs. If you have any conditions that require medication, bring enough medicine to last you for the length of your stay in Myanmar. Secure health and medevac insurance if you believe emergency care may be needed during your stay. (Read this article for more: Travel Insurance 101.)
The government has not been helpful in providing exact figures on the prevalence of certain diseases, but the evidence suggests that malaria, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and tropical infectious diseases are rife in Myanmar. HIV/AIDS is also prevalent in high-risk populations like prostitutes and illegal drug users. A brief avian flu flareup occurred in 2007.
More information on Myanmar-specific health issues are discussed at the CDC page on Myanmar and in the country's World Health Organization country profile. Bird flu avoidance is discussed more fully in this article: H1N1 Prevention Tips for Southeast Asia Travelers.
Safety in Myanmar
Internal threats, like political unrest and attacks by rebel Karen militia, may endanger visitors to Myanmar, although there have been no known incidents that specifically target Americans. It's up to you to exercise vigilance: avoid crowded places, any public gatherings, and areas that have a significant military presence.
American citizens may be detained and deported even on the merest suspicion of engaging in political activities within Myanmar. The situation for foreign detainees in Myanmar is not pretty - basic human rights are routinely denied to foreigners detained by Myanmar authorities.
Contacting the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar. The local embassy will extend help to American citizens in case of crime or arrest; local authorities may not be able to respond to any such emergencies.
You can visit the U.S. Embassy in Myanmar at 110 University Ave., Kamayut Township, Rangoon. The Consular Section telephone number is +95 1 536-509, ext. 4240; email email@example.com. You can also check the official site at http://burma.usembassy.gov.
The Consular Section is open from 8am to 4:30pm, with non-emergency American Citizens Services from 2pm to 3:30pm from Monday to Friday except on U.S. and Burmese holidays. The Embassy's after-hours emergency number is 09-512-4330, or +95-1 536-509, ext. 4014.
Myanmar shares the draconian attitude to drugs common in Southeast Asia. For more information, read: Harsh Punishments for Drug Use in Southeast Asia.
Myanmar Money Matters
The official currency in Myanmar is the kyat (MMK). The official exchange rate does not reflect the real value of the kyat, though - one US dollar is officially worth MMK 6.51, but is actually worth MMK 1280 on the black market.
The regular instruments of travel finance - ATMs, credit cards, and travelers' checks - are useless in Myanmar. Bring enough cash to cover your expenses during your visit. You may exchange currency at authorized locations like airport moneychangers, government stores, and banks. U.S. dollars are used for hotel bills and train and airline tickets.
Climate in Myanmar
Because of its geography, the climate in Myanmar, while largely tropical, varies greatly from region to region. Consequently, the best times to visit may vary from place to place. Keep the local climate in mind when planning your trip.
Myanmar's tropical climate revolves through three distinct seasons - a hot season from March to May, a rainy season from June to October, and a and cool season from November to February (the best season to visit). The rainy season occurs during the southwest monsoon, and unloads about 35 inches of rain on Upper Myanmar and about 200 inches in Lower Myanmar. Bagan and Mandalay receive relatively little rainfall compared to the rest of the country.
Choose a location below for the weather conditions in its vicinity.
Links labeled "NOAA" go to current weather forecasts made by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under the auspices of the U.S. government.
Links labeled "WWIS" go to current weather forecasts made by the World Meteorological Organization's World Weather Information Service, under the auspices of the United Nations.
Recommended Clothing: You can wear loose cotton fabrics all year, but bring warmer clothing when going up to the highlands. Bring rainwear and an umbrella if you're in town during the monsoons.