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Myanmar

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PARKROYAL Yangon
PARKROYAL Yangon - dream vacation

33 Alan Pya Paya Road, Dagon Township, Yangoon, Myanmar, Yangon

Sedona Hotel Yangon
Sedona Hotel Yangon - dream vacation

No 1 Kaba Aye Pagoda Road, Yangon

79 Living Hotel
79 Living Hotel - dream vacation

79th St, between 29th&30th st, Chan Aye Thar Zan Tsp, Mandalay

Taw Win Garden Hotel
Taw Win Garden Hotel - dream vacation

45, Pyay Road, Dagon Township , Yangon

Shwe Nadi Guest House
Shwe Nadi Guest House - dream vacation

Lanmadaw Road Tait Gone Quarter Nyaung Oo, Mandalay region

Aung Mingalar Hotel
Aung Mingalar Hotel - dream vacation

Si Pin Thar Yar Road, In front of Shwe Si Gone Pagoda, Mandalay region

The Hotel at Tharabar Gate
The Hotel at Tharabar Gate - dream vacation

Near Tharabar Gate Nyaung Oo Township, Mandalay region

Bagan Thande Hotel
Bagan Thande Hotel - dream vacation

Bagan Archiological Zone, Mandalay region

Clover Hotel Yangon
Clover Hotel Yangon - dream vacation

7A, Wingabar Road, Bahan Township, Yangon

Amazing Bagan Resort
Amazing Bagan Resort - dream vacation

Nyaung Oo Township Mandalay Division, Mandalay region

Myanmar (??????????), or Burma, officially the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (???????????? ????? ???????????????????), is a country in Southeast Asia. It lies on the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea coast with Bangladesh and India to the west, China to the north, and Laos and Thailand to the east.

Regions

Cities

  • Naypyidaw (formerly Pyinmana) — newly designated capital of the country
  • Yangon (formerly Rangoon) — the economic centre, known for its pagodas and colonial architecture
  • Mandalay — former capital of the Konbaung Dynasty built around the Mandalay Royal Palace and main commercial centre of Upper Myanmar
  • Bago (formerly Pegu) — historic city near Yangon full of wonderful Buddhist sights
  • Kawthaung — beach town in the far south which is as much like Thailand as Myanmar gets
  • Mawlamyine (Moulmein) — capital of Mon State and the third largest city
  • Pyin U Lwin (Maymyo) — cool town which is a wonderful former British colonial hill station
  • Taunggyi — capital of Shan State in the heart of the Golden Triangle
  • Twante — a delta town that is famous for pottery

Other destinations

  • Bagan — an archaeological zone with thousands of ancient pagodas near the banks of the Irrawaddy River
  • Inle Lake — a large shallow lake good for beautiful boat trips, visiting floating villages inhabited by the Intha people, hiking, and also a source of excellent silk
  • Kengtung — between Mong La (on the border with China) and Tachileik (on the border with Thailand) in the Golden Triangle, known for the Ann (black teeth people) and Akha tribes and trekking
  • Kyaiktiyo — a gold-gilded rock sitting atop a cliff and a major pilgrimage site
  • Mount Popa — an extinct volcano regarded as the Mount Olympus of Myanmar, a green oasis high above the hot plains and an easy day trip from Bagan
  • Mrauk U — former capital of the Rakhine Kingdom
  • Ngapali — beach resort in western Rakhine State, spilling into the Bay of Bengal
  • Ngwe Saung — longest stretch of beach in Ayeyarwaddy (English: Irrawaddy) Division, white sandy beach and crystal clear water are the features of Ngwe Saung Beach
  • Pyay — a town on the Irrawaddy River midway between Yangon and Bagan, known for its archaeological site Sri Kittara, the ancient Pyu capital from 2 to 9 CE
  • Pathein — a river town in the Irrawaddy delta, known for manufacture of umbrellas, gateway to Chuang Tha and Ngwe Saung Beaches

Understand

History

Like most of Southeast Asia's countries, Myanmar's people and history is a glorious mishmash of settlers and invaders from all fronts. The Mon and the Pyu are thought to have come from India, while the now dominant Bamar (Burmese) migrated through Tibet and, by 849, had founded a powerful kingdom centred on Bagan. For the next millennium, the Burmese empire grew through conquests of Thailand (Ayutthaya) and India (Manipur), and shrank under attacks from China and internal rebellions.

Eventually, Britain conquered Burma over a period of 62 years (1824-1886) and incorporated it into its Indian Empire. It was administered as a province of India until 1947 when it became a separate self-governing colony. During the Second World War, Burma was a major battleground as the Allies fought the Japanese for dominance over Asia. The Burma Road was built to get supplies to China. The Thailand-Burma railway (the so-called "Death Railway") from Kanchanaburi in Thailand over the River Kwai to Burma was built by the Japanese using forced labour — Allied prisoners-of-war, indentured Thai labourers, Burmese people and other Southeast Asians. They had to work in appalling conditions and a great number of them died (estimated at 80,000) during construction of the railway. Large parts of Western Burma, particularly the hilly areas bordering India and the city of Mandalay, were severely damaged during the war.

While the Burmese independence fighters led by General Aung San initially cooperated with the Japanese to oust the British, with the Japanese promising to grant independence to Burma in exchange, it soon became apparent that the Japanese promises of independence were empty. The Japanese occupation was brutal, and many Burmese were killed, such as in the Kalagong massacre. General Aung San subsequently switched allegiance and helped the British win Burma back from the Japanese. General Aung San subsequently led negotiations with the British for Burmese independence after the end of World War II, and the British agreed in 1947 to grant independence to Burma the following year, though General Aung San himself was assassinated later in the year and never lived to see his dream come true. Independence from the British under the name Union of Burma was finally attained in 1948, and till this day, General Aung San is regarded by most Burmese people to be the father of independence.

The new union brought together various states defined by ethnic identity, many of whom had centuries-long histories of autonomy from and struggles against each other. In the interest of securing their collective independence from Britain, the tribes reached an agreement to submit to collective governance—with power sharing among the ethnicities and states—for ten years, after which each tribe would be afforded the right to secede from the union. The terms of this "Pinlon Agreement" were enshrined in the 1947/1948 constitution of the new Union of Burma. The new central government of the nation quickly worked to consolidate its power, marginalising and angering tribal leaders and setting off more than a decade of armed conflict. In 1961, more than 200 ethnic leaders from the Shan people, Kachin people, Red Karen, Karen people, Chin peoples, Mon people and Rakhine people met with ethnic Bamar (Burmese) central government authorities to draft a new form of government which would ensure the tribes both autonomy and self-determination within a federal system.

The new government was never formed. Nevertheless, up until Ne Win's coup in 1962, Burma was regarded as one of the most developed and fastest growing economies in Asia, and widely touted as a contender to be the next Japan. Military leader General Ne Win led a coup d'état which ousted the democratically elected government in 1962, and subsequently installed himself as leader. General Ne Win dominated the government from 1962 to 1988, first as military ruler, then as self-appointed president, and later as political kingpin. Under Ne Win's rule, widespread corruption and nepotism led the Burmese economy into a downward spiral from which it has never fully recovered. Pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 were violently crushed, with general Saw Maung taking over in a coup and installing the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) to rule the country, now renamed Myanmar.

Multiparty legislative elections were held in 1990, with the main opposition party - the National League for Democracy (NLD) - winning a landslide victory (392 of 489 seats). But SLORC refused to hand over power, instead placing NLD leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi (daughter of national hero Aung San) under house arrest, which she has endured for 14 of the last 20 years.

Today Myanmar, a resource-rich country, suffers from pervasive government controls, inefficient economic policies, and rural poverty. What was once one of the richest and most developed countries in Asia has since slumped into poverty due to widespread corruption. The junta took steps in the early 1990s to liberalise price controls after decades of failure under the "Burmese Way to Socialism," but had to reinstate subsidised prices on staples in the face of food riots, upon which the democracy movement grafted its agenda. The government called out troops and the rioters were defiant until the monks intervened: standing between both sides, they told everyone to go home and they did. The riots caused overseas development assistance to cease and the government subsequently nullified the results of the 1990 legislative elections.

In response to the government's attack in May 2003 on Aung San Suu Kyi and her convoy, the USA imposed new economic sanctions against Myanmar, including bans on imports of products from Myanmar and on provision of financial services by US citizens.

The summer of 2007 was marked by demonstrations against the military government which were again brutally suppressed. The demonstrations started in August, apparently in an uncoordinated manner, as a protest against a stiff hike in the price of petrol, but morphed into a more serious challenge to the government after three monks were beaten at a protest march in the town of Pakokku. The monks demanded an apology but none was forthcoming and soon processions of monks with begging bowls held upside down filled many cities (including SittweMandalay and Yangon). Yangon, particularly the area around Sule Pagoda in the downtown area, became the centre of these protests. While the monks marched, and many ordinary citizens came out in support of the monks, the world watched as pictures, videos, and blogs flooded the Internet. However, the government soon suppressed the protests by firing on crowds, arresting monks and closing monasteries, and temporarily shut down Internet communications with the rest of the world. This led the USA, Australia, Canada and the European Union to impose additional sanctions, some targeting the families and finances of the military leaders.

Following elections in 2010, Burma began a process of liberalisation that has led to a reduction or removal of sanctions by many nations including the United States. In 2012, Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to the Burmese parliament and allowed to travel to Europe and North America. Censorship of foreign and local news was also suspended.

In November 2015, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in the nationwide legislative elections and Htin Kyaw, a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi, became president. In April 2016, Aung San Suu Kyi took office as State Counsellor, a post equivalent to Prime Minister, making her Myanmar's de facto head of government.

Culture

Myanmar's culture is largely a result of some Indian influences intertwined with local traditions and some Chinese influences. This can be seen in the various stupas and temples throughout the country, which bear a distinct resemblance to those in northern India. As in neighbouring Thailand, Theravada Buddhism is the single largest religion. 89% of the population follows these Buddhist practices, and even some of the most remote villages will have a temple for people to pray at. Other religions which exist in smaller numbers include Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Animism and ancestor worship can also be found around the country, especially in the more distant, hill tribe regions.

People

The dominant ethnic group in Myanmar is known as the Bamar, from which the original English name of the country, Burma, was derived. Besides the Bamar, Myanmar is also home to many minority ethnic groups and nationalities which have their own distinct cultures and languages. In addition to the native ethnic minorities, Myanmar is also home to ethnic Chinese and Indians whose ancestors migrated to Myanmar during the colonial period, most visible in the cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Generally speaking, the regions in Myanmar are Bamar-dominated, while the states are dominated by the respective ethnic minorities.

In recent years, the government has come in for much international condemnation over violence against the Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine State, which borders on Bangladesh. The government does not recognise them as citizens of Myanmar, but claims they are Bangladeshis. Forced to flee to Bangladesh in large numbers, they are also considered foreigners in Bangladesh, and many have lost their lives trying to seek refuge and work in Malaysia. It is not fully clear how the NLD would like to handle this issue.

Generally speaking, most Burmese people are incredibly friendly and polite, and will do their best to make you feel welcome in their country.

Politics

Myanmar is a presidential republic, with the president, who is appointed by the legislature, serving as both head of state and de jure head of government. He and his cabinet form the executive branch. The legislature is composed of the bicameral Assembly of the Union, consisting of an upper Amyothar Hluttaw (House of Nationalities), and a lower Pyithu Hluttaw (House of Representatives). While a majority of the members of the legislature are popularly elected by the people, a quarter the seats are reserved for appointees from the military. Since the landslide victory of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in the 2015 election, as she is constitutionally barred from the presidency, she has since served as the de facto head of government in the role of State Counsellor.

Climate

Myanmar is considered to have 3 seasons. The hot season is usually from Mar–Apr. Temperatures then cool off during the rainy season from May–Oct. The peak tourism season is the cool season from Nov–Feb. Temperatures can climb as high as 36°C in Yangon in the hot season while in the cool season, noontime temperatures are usually a more bearable 32°C, with night temperatures falling to around 19°C. Mandalay is slightly cooler in the cool season, with temperatures falling as low as 13°C, while temperatures in the hot season can go as high as 37°C. Generally, Lower Myanmar, the area around Yangon, receives more rainfall than the drier Upper Myanmar (around Mandalay).

In the highlands such as Inle Lake and Pyin U Lwin, winter temperatures can fall below 10°C at night, while daytime temperatures tend to be very pleasant. Even in the summer, temperatures rarely climb above 32°C. Near the Indian border in Kachin State, there are permanently snow capped mountains.

Suggested reading

  • From the Land of the Green Ghosts by Pascal Khoo Thwe. A Cambridge-educated writer gives a touching account of his growing up as a Paduang-Hilltribe-Guyand in the difficult political environment before becoming a rebel himself. (ISBN 0007116829)
  • The Glass Palace by Amitav Ghosh. A novel that spans a century, from British conquest to the modern day. A compelling account of how a family adapted to the changing times; provides much insight into Burmese culture.
  • The River of Lost Footsteps by Thant Myint-U. Easily the most accessible history of Myanmar available. Read it before you go and you will marvel at how the once great and rich cities (like Martaban, Syriam, and Mrauk-U) have become the dingy and smoky villages of today. (ISBN 0374163421)
  • The Trouser People by Andrew Marshall. The author follows in the footsteps of Victorian explorer, Sir George Scott. This book looks at lost British heritage as well as the Burmese tragedies occurring in the present. (ISBN 0140294457)

Holidays

  • 4 January: Independence Day
  • January: Kayin New Year Day - 1st waxing of Pyatho
  • 12 February: Union Day
  • March: Full moon of Tabaung
  • 27 March: Armed Forces Day
  • April: Myanmar New Year's Holidays
  • July: Full Moon Day of Waso
  • October: Full Moon Day of Thadingyut
  • 19 July: Martyrs Day
  • November: National Day - 10 st waning of the moon of Tazaungmon
  • 25 December: Christmas Day

Get in

Citizens of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam may enter Myanmar without a visa for a stay of up to 14 days, while citizens of Singapore may enter Myanmar without a visa for a stay of up to 30 days. These visa exemptions only apply to travellers who enter by air, and are strictly not extendable. All other nationalities, as well as those who wish to enter by land, are required to apply for a visa in advance.

Travellers from many countries, including most Western countries are may apply for an E-Visa through Myanmar Immigration's web-site. Check the E-visa web-site for details on which nationalities this is available for. This service is available to those who are travelling for tourism or business, is valid for 90 days from the date of issue, and allows for a 28-day stay. In order to apply, you will need to upload a passport-sized colour photo, and payment is only accepted by credit card.

A Visa On Arrival is available for business visitors of some nationalities at YangonMandalay and Napyidaw airports. You will need to bring two passport-sized colour photos, and a letter of invitation from the company sponsoring your visa.

If either of the above does not apply to you, you will have to apply for a visa at a Myanmar embassy or consulate.

A same-day visa can be issued at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. To get the visa the same day, you must tell the visa clerk that you are leaving tomorrow. They will issue your visa later that same day by 15:30, valid starting the date of issue. There are also cheaper 48h and 76h - issue visas.

The easiest way to get the visa is to apply through a travel agency in your home country. The form is simple and requires an ID photo or two. In Bangkok (132, Sathorn Nua Road, Train Station: Surasak), it takes one, 2 or 3 business days (price varies). A standard application for a tourist visa requires: a completed visa form (available from the Myanmar embassy), a completed arrival form (again, from the embassy), a photocopy of the photo page from your passport, two passport sized photos, the applicable fee (810 baht/USD24). In Hong Kong, you can get the visa by applying between 09:00-12:00, and picking it up after 15:00 on the following business day (your passport, 3 passport photos, business card / leave letter from your employer or student ID if you're a student, and application fee of HK$150/USD19).

Tourist visas are valid for 3 months. The visa is valid for a stay of up to four weeks (from date of entry), although you can overstay if you are willing to pay a USD3 a day fee when you leave. Employment is not allowed on a tourist visa, and working without proper authorisation runs you the risk of being arrested and deported. Successful applicants will also be issued an "Arrival Form", which will be stapled into your passport and must be presented on arrival in Myanmar, along with your passport containing the visa sticker.

By plane

Myanmar's main international airport is located at Yangon, the largest city and main economic centre. There are regular scheduled flights from Yangon to several major cities in China, India and Southeast Asia. For travellers from outside the region, the easiest way to get into Myanmar will be to catch a flight from either Singapore or Bangkok, both of which have good connections to cities around the world, and are served by several flights into Yangon daily due to their large overseas Burmese populations.

Myanmar also has a second international airport at Mandalay, which is served by several flights from China and Thailand.

For a current list of airlines and destinations, see Airport of Yangon

By land

Myanmar has land borders with five different countries, namely China, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Laos. As of 2013, restrictions on foreigners entering via the Thai border have been lifted, and foreigners are free to travel overland from Thailand into the Burmese heartland provided their Burmese visa is in order. Entering Myanmar from the other land border crossings, though, is a different story. At the very least, you will need to apply for special permits in advance, and you may need to join a guided tour in order for the permit to be granted.

  • Thailand - Four border crossings exist between Myanmar and Thailand at Tachileik/Mae Sai, Myawaddy/Mae Sot, Ban Phunamron/Htee Kee and Kawthoung/Ranong. As of Jan 2017, all four border crossings are open to foreigners, and there are no restrictions on foreigners travelling into the Burmese heartland from the latter three. From Tachileik, travel beyond Keng Tung is not possible overland unless you are on a guided tour with a special permit. No visa-on-arrival is available though, so ensure that your Thai (if required) and Burmese visas are in order. The Myanmar E-Visa is now accepted at all those land crossings except for Htee Kee for entry, and you may exit at all four border crossings with it.
  • China - Foreigners can enter Myanmar at Lashio via Ruili (in Yunnan), although a permit (as well as a visa) and a guide are needed. You will most likely need to join an organized tour, costing CNY1,450 as of Jan 2009. As of Apr 2009, it is impossible for foreigners to cross over from Ruili, even for the day, without first getting a visa in Kunming, e.g., for a tour group. Crossing in the opposite direction is more difficult to arrange and details are uncertain; however, it's possible to fly from Mandalay to Kunming, and there's even a Chinese consulate that issues visas in Mandalay.
  • India - A land border crossing exists between India and Myanmar at Moreh/Tamu. There have been confirmed reports of travellers crossing into Myanmar from India (and vice-versa), with their own transport as well as with permits arranged in advance. It is no longer required to have a permit to visit the Indian state of Manipur, but an MTT permit is required to enter or leave Myanmar at Tamu. This permit was readily available from MTT in Yangon (who will require you to book a tour guide) or a number of other agencies (who will not) for USD 80-100 per person. Most agencies required 20 working days to arrange the permit (but in some cases can do it faster), and could have it delivered to the border so that you do not need to return to Yangon to collect it. As of Jan 2017, this permit is only available for entry and exit through the same border. However, people have been able to enter from India and exit to Thailand nevertheless, however not the other way around.
  • Laos - The Myanmar-Lao friendship bridge connects Shan State in Myanmar with Luang Namtha Province in Laos.
  • Bangladesh - it is not currently feasible to independently cross the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Get around

Myanmar's infrastructure is in poor shape. As a result of the political situation, Myanmar had until recently been subject to trade sanctions from much of the western world, and this can cause problems for unwary travellers. Travel to certain regions is prohibited; for others, special permits must be obtained, and a guide/interpreter/minder may be mandatory - although whether these "guides" accompany you to look after you, or to keep you from going to places the government doesn't want you to see, is moot.

Restricted areas

Much of Myanmar is closed to foreign travellers, and many land routes to far-flung areas are also closed (for example, to Mrauk U, Kalewa, Putao, Kengtung). Thus, while travellers can travel freely in the Bamar majority Burmese heartland, travel tends to be restricted or circumscribed in other places. In theory, any tourist can apply for a permit to visit any restricted area or to travel on any restricted land route. In practice, it is unlikely that any such permit will be issued in a reasonable amount of time, or at all. Permit requests can be made locally in some cases (for example, requests for the land route to Kalewa can be made in Shwebo) but, in most cases, the request has to be made in Yangon. Requests to visit restricted areas must be made at the MTT (Myanmar Travel and Tours) office in Yangon (Number 77-91, Sule Pagoda Rd, Yangon). Applications for local permits can often be made at a local MTT office or at a police station. As of writing this, local permits are available only for the following places & routes:

  • Kengtung - Tachilek. This used to be straightforward but the availability is now uncertain.
  • Mrauk U Chin/ Zomi village tours. Easily available in Mrauk U, but must visit with a guide. Your hotel or a local tour company can arrange this for you.
  • Myitkyina - Indawgyi Lake. Easily available in Myitkyina but must travel with a guide. Your hotel or a local tour company can arrange this for you.
  • Shwebo - Kalewa. A permit is necessary if going by road. It is uncertain whether one is required if going by boat.

All other permits must be obtained in Yangon.

Permits for places like Putao are obtainable but need to be applied for well in advance

Myanmar is not North Korea, and you are free to walk around, go to shops and interact with the locals. However, with many of the more far flung places, and places restricted to foreigners, it is better to arrange your internal visa in advance.

Companies that can help with internal visas:

  • Asia Tours
  • Burma Travel Packages
  • Mr Myanmar Travel
  • Real Burma Travel
  • Remote Asia Travel
  • Travel Myanmar

By plane

The poor state of Myanmar's roads and railways make flying by far the least uncomfortable option when travelling long distances.

State-run Myanma Airways (UB), not to be confused with Myanmar Airways International (8M) "MAI" - is known for its poor safety record. Even locals prefer to avoid it whenever possible.

There are also three privately owned airlines serving the main domestic routes in Myanmar. They are Air Bagan (W9), Air Mandalay (6T) and Yangon Airways (YH). While more expensive, they are a safer option and would get you to all the main tourist destinations from Yangon or Mandalay.

The private airline companies are usually on time, and even depart early (10-20 min), so be on time and reconfirm your flight and flight time 1–2 days before departure. Sometimes the itinerary might be altered some days before departure (meaning that you will still fly to your final destination on the scheduled time, but with an added or removed in between stop, e.g., Yangon-Bagan becomes Yangon-Mandalay-Bagan). This usually only affects your arrival time. En route stops have only 10-20 min ground time, and if it is not your final destination, you can stay inside the plane during the stop.

Important for Yangon: Yangon International Airport serves all domestic flights from the old terminal building. This building is about 200 m further on the road than the main (new) Yangon International Airport building. When taking a taxi from downtown to the airport, mention to the driver that you are on a domestic flight so you'll not end up in the wrong terminal.

The table at right gives some sample rates for Air Bagan and Air Mandalay (Jan 2011) between most visitable places in Myanmar (note: these are high-season prices, and usually the fare in the opposite direction is the same price. Check for more up-to-date rates!)

By train

Myanmar has an extensive and ancient rail network. Trains are slow, noisy, rocking left and right, leaving extremely punctual but than often delay on the trip. Electrical blackouts are becoming rare but nonetheless never assume that air conditioners, fans or the electrical supply itself will be working throughout the whole journey. Most trains have upper class and ordinary class. Ordinary class has wide open windows, benches and can be packed with locals transporting their goods. Upper class has upholstered chairs, fans and is less crowded. Be careful putting your head out of the window as it is very likely to be hit by a branch. Vegetation grows so close to the tracks that you normally find a good amount of shredded leaves on the seats. Tickets are cheap and tourists pay the same price as locals. But note that tourists still cannot buy tickets on the train. At smaller stations, you may have to seek the stationmaster or use an interpreter to buy a ticket. Your passport is required when purchasing.

A journey on a train is a great way to see the country and meet people. The rail journey from Mandalay, up hairpin bends to Pyin U Lwin, and then across the mountains and the famous bridge at Gokteik, is one of the great railway journeys of the world. Trains in lower Mandalay, Yangon-Pathein and Yangon-Mawlymaing, are little communities of their own with hawkers selling everything imaginable. Sleepers are available on many overnight express trains, although in the high season you may want to reserve a few days in advance. Tickets go on sale three days in advance. At some stations there is a separate counter for advance bookings, or even a separate building (e.g. in Yangon). Food service is available on the express in both directions between Yangon and Mandalay.

Except for the new bridge and rail line that connects Mawlamyine to points on the west side of the Salween River, the rail network is exactly the way it was in British times. The most used line is the 325 km line from Yangon to Mandalay with several trains a day. It is the only double line in Myanmar, and also the only one that is competitive in time with buses. Note, that the fastest trains take 15 hr for the 385 km run, an effective rate of 25 km/hour. A second line connects Yangon with Pyay, 9 hr for the 175 km journey, with a branch heading off into the delta region town of Pathein. These tracks, the earliest constructed, are in poor shape. With the construction of the bridge across the Salween, it is now possible to go by train from Yangon to Mawlamyine , 8 hr for the 200 km journey, and on to Ye and Dawei. From Mandalay, trains continue on to Myitkyina in Kachin State, 350 km in 24 hr, and to Lashio. There are also rail connections between Yangon-Bagan and Mandalay-Bagan, but bus or ferry are better alternatives: the 175 km from Mandalay to Bagan takes 10 hr.

There is railway service between Yangon-Bagan. 16 hr, first class USD30, upper class USD40, sleeper USD50. (check new prices)

The adjoining table summarizes travel time and prices between some popular places in Myanmar. Note: Train tickets cannot be paid in USD any more.

By boat

There is also a large river ferry network. Both are to a large extent run by the government, although there are now some private ferry services. The trip from Mandalay to Bagan takes the better part of a day, from Bagan to Yangon is several days.

By bus

Buses of all types ply the roads of Myanmar. Luxury (relatively speaking) buses do the Mandalay-Yangon run while lesser vehicles can get travellers to other places. Fares are reasonable and in kyat and buses are faster than the trains. Many long distance buses assign seats, so it is best to book seats at least a day in advance. Because the roads are bad, avoid the rear of the bus and try to sit as far up front as you can. Long distance buses also have an extra jump seat that blocks the aisle and, because it is not well secured to the chassis, can be uncomfortable (which also means that there is no such thing as a side seat where taller people can stretch their legs). A window near the front of the bus is always the best option.

Even budget travellers will find themselves buying more tickets via their hotel or an agency rather than going to the bus company to buy it directly. Their offices are often located far from any tourist place and the cost of going there and back will most likely exceed the commission your hotel will get for selling you the ticket. Shop around and compare prices before buying your ticket as some vendors include a free pick-up from your hotel.

A scam about bus tickets seems to be currently popular in Yangon. While many make a stopover in Bago, they are told at their guesthouse or at the bus station it's not possible to buy tickets there in the direction to Mandalay. In a country where everything might be possible when it comes to transport, some people fall for this. Actually, this is not the case and tracking back to Yangon for a bus ticket up north is not necessary at all. Bago has a bus terminal with several bus offices. Buying your ticket at Bago might be slightly cheaper (depending upon your bargaining skills) and gives you more freedom for the rest of your journey.

The adjoining table summarises travel times and approximate fares between important tourist destinations in Myanmar. Most bus fares have gone up with the recent fuel price rises, so the fares listed are rough estimates.

By pick-up

Old pick-up trucks run everywhere in Myanmar, cheaply ferrying men, women, children, and monks from one place to another. The rear of the truck is converted into a canvas-covered sitting area with three benches, one on each side and one running along the centre of the truck (some smaller trucks have only two rows), and the running board is lowered and fixed into place providing room for six or more people to stand on (holding on to the truck frame). Pick-ups are ubiquitous in Myanmar and every town has a central point somewhere from where they depart to places both near and far. Tourists who go off the beaten track will find them indispensable because often the only alternative is an expensive taxi or private car.

The basics of pickups are fairly straightforward, wait till it is reasonably full before heading out. On well-travelled routes (Mandalay-Pyin U Lwin, for example), they fill up quickly and the journey is quick. On less well-travelled routes (Bhamo-Katha, for example), passengers arrive (early, usually around 06:00), mark their place, and then hang around drinking tea and chatting until the truck fills up. When the pick-up does get moving, it may linger or go out of its way in the hope of picking up more passengers. The inside of a pick-up can be hot and uncomfortable. Passengers, packed in like sardines, face away from the windows (which are tiny) and into the truck. Standing on the running board can be tiring and tough on the arms. The window side seat next to the driver is very comfortable and well-worth the little extra that you have to pay, so it is best to go early and reserve that seat.

By car

You can hire a private car and driver at reasonable rates to tour independently. The licensed guides at Schwedagon Paya in Yangon can arrange to have a driver with a car meet you at your hotel. Another way is to arrange for a car through a travel agency, though it can be quite expensive. You can "test" the driver and the car by driving around the city for 10 or 15 minutes. If you are satisfied, a departure date and time and per diem rates (inclusive of petrol) can be negotiated. Some guides are willing to travel with you to serve as interpreters.

Traffic moves on the right in Myanmar, but confusingly, Myanmar has a mixture of left- and right-hand-drive cars, with the majority of vehicles being right-hand-drive as a result of being second-hand imports from Japan or Thailand.

Road travel to tourist destinations is generally safe, although some roads may be rough. Highways are often 2-lane, and cars often pass one another recklessly. That being said, driving habits are not quite as aggressive as say, Vietnam. Allow two days to drive from Yangon to Bagan in fair weather. Pyay is a good stopover point. Allow a day to drive from Bagan to Inle Lake.

In cities, it is considered illegal to cross an amber light without stopping. Despite having crossed 3/4 of the way, you will be required to stop in the middle of the road and make your way back in reverse!

Accidents and fatalities are common. Night-time road travel is not recommended, and medical facilities are limited in rural areas. At government hospitals, bribes may be required for services. Make sure needles are new or carry your own. HIV is a major problem in Myanmar.

All taxis (and by extension all vehicles for transport of people and goods) have red/white licence plates, while private vehicles have a black/white. Tourist agency-owned cars have a blue/white licence plate.

By motorbike

In Yangon, riding motorcycles is illegal. Mandalay's streets, on the other hand, are filled with both.

By bicycle

In many places you can easily rent a bicycle for about MMK1500 per day to move around in your own pace: Bagan, MandalayInle Lake

On foot

Cars and pedestrians may not follow the established rules, and crossing the road can be difficult. Drivers will almost never yield to pedestrians, even on striped pedestrian crossings.

Talk

See also: Burmese phrasebook

The official language of Myanmar is Burmese (known by the government as Myanmar), a Sino-Tibetan language related to Chinese and hence tonal (word pitch matters) and analytic (most words are one syllable long). It is written using the Burmese script, based on the ancient Pali script. Bilingual signs (English and Burmese) are available in most tourist spots. Numbers often are also written in Burmese script. Much pronunciation is derived from another ancient language of Pali (at the time of Buddha).

There are also many other ethnic groups in Myanmar such as the Mon, Shan, Pa-O, Rohingya and many others who continue to speak their own languages. There is also a sizeable ethnic Chinese community mostly of Yunnan descent, most visible in the city of Mandalay, and many of whom speak Mandarin. Some areas are also home to various ethnic Indian communities who continue to speak various Indian languages.

Myanmar is a former British colony and many Burmese understand at least some rudimentary English. Most educated Burmese speak English, while in the main cities like Yangon and Mandalay, many locals will know enough English for basic communication. Hotel and airline staff, as well as people working in the tourism industry generally speak a good level of English.

See

Myanmar has not been on the radar of many travellers through Southeast Asia - they have been largely deterred by the country's volatile politics and restrictions placed on travel. But the political and travel situation has been improving notably since 2015. The country is a true, unspoiled treasure trove, and should capture the imagination of anyone interested in culture and history. Walking around Yangon brings you back to the time of 19th century British colonial rule. Sparkling-clean parks and temples stand side by side decayed colonial-style buildings and deep potholes. Its cultural and religious attractions, like the Shwedagon Pagoda, add to the city's feel of exoticism, as do the smiles of the locals. Every street corner brings something new—and a short ferry over the river even gives you a glimpse of rural life in the country. Cities of cultural and historical interest close to Yangon are Bago with its Buddhist sights, the delta town of Twante known for its pottery, and the pilgrimage site of Kyaiktiyo with its gold-gilded rock balancing precariously over a cliff.

It's definitely worth it to further explore the Bamar heartland. Unfortunately some outer fringes of the country are off-limits to foreigners, but it's always worth checking the latest situation with people on the ground as things move so fast that the Internet rarely if ever has correct information.

The former city of Bagan is a true gem, and gives a glimpse of what life in the 11th and 12th centuries here must have been like. Marco Polo described it as the "gilded city alive with tinkling bells and the swishing sounds of monks' robes". It is the largest and densest concentration of Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas and ruins in the world. Mrauk U is another one of those mysterious places—a sleepy village today, its crumbling pagodas and temples remind of the early modern period, when it was the capital city of an empire involved in extensive maritime trade with Portuguese, Dutch, French and Arab traders. Within daytripping distance from Mandalay is Inwa, another former capital where ruins remain to remind visitors of its former glory. Also don't miss Pyin U Lwin, a former British hill station with somewhat cooler temperatures.

The country has its fair share of natural attractions. Inle Lake is where the backpacker community resides, and it is one of the few places that is starting to feel like a tourist trap. Still, a trip to Myanmar is not complete without a boat trip on the lake. It has a unique vibe with tribes living in stilt houses and paddling their traditional wooden boats with one leg. The country's long southwestern coastline also has a few beaches, such as Chaung Tha and Ngapali. If you visit outside of the traditional holiday season, you might just have a beautiful white sand beach for yourself.

Do

Myanmar is an excellent country for trekking. Kalaw is a centre for trekking, and has miles and miles of trails through mountains and hill tribe villages. Kengtung is also known for its hiking paths to hill tribe villages, while Hsipaw has some great treks to waterfalls. Birdwatching can be done around Inle Lake.

Buy

Money

Myanmar's currency is the kyat, pronounced "chat". Prices may be shown locally using the abbreviation of K (singular or plural) or Ks (plural) either before or after the amount and depending very much on who is doing the sign writing. The ISO abbreviation is MMK. Pya are coins, and are rarely seen since their value has become increasingly insignificant with even the largest 50 Pya coin worth less than US$0.01.

Foreigners are no longer required to pay in US dollars for hotels, tourist attractions, rail and air tickets, ferry travel and for bus tickets. As of September 2015, foreign currency instability and the weakening kyat means that many venues will state prices in US dollars, even though it is illegal to quote prices in USD. Expat restaurants still often quote in USD despite actions from the Central Bank prohibiting excess dollar usage. It is illegal for a Myanmar citizen to accept (or hold) US dollars without a licence, but this law is mostly ignored and US dollars are generally accepted. Never insist though because it may be dangerous for the receiver.

Kyat cannot be legally exchanged abroad, though money changers in places with large overseas Burmese populations such as Singapore will often exchange anyway. Bring very clean, unfolded US dollars (or they will not be accepted by hotels, restaurants and money changers), and dispose of remaining kyat before leaving.

When exchanging dollars to kyats, be aware that even small imperfections can be cause to reject a note. Keep all US dollars in impeccable condition, and do not fold them.

Foreign currencies

Visitors do not need to bring a lot of cash when landing in Yangon, as there are now many ATMs accepting MasterCard and Visa cards at the airport [Mar 2014]. If you are in a hurry at the airport, there are lots of ATMs in Yangon. Look near shopping malls, big hotels, and banks. There are about 10 ATMs at the Shwe Dagon Pagoda. You still need to bring dollars though to pay for day to day expenses. US dollar bills must be new, unmarked and in pristine condition. Credit cards are increasingly accepted at hotels and upmarket restaurants.

Smaller tourist destinations also have ATMs now (Bagu, Hpa-An, et al.), but not so many. Make sure to carry a buffer outside of Bagan, YangonMandalay, and Inle Lake.

Also, some hotels in Yangon will do a cash advance on a credit card through Singapore. People have reported that hotels charge a commission ranging from 7% up to 30% and may need to see your passport to process the transaction. For US citizens, it is also possible to receive funds from friends or relatives in an emergencies through the US Embassy.

Especially on holidays and Sundays, all your necessary money should be changed at the airport as banks in town are closed. Money changers offer significantly lower rates (5-10% lower) for changing US dollars. The most hassle-free option is to change all your required money at the airport, as you can also change it back for a negligible fee. Look around different banks for the best exchange rate.

The foreign currency of choice in Myanmar is the US dollar, though you can readily also exchange euros and Singapore dollars in Yangon and Mandalay, but perhaps not beyond. Other options are the Chinese yuan and Thai baht. The best rates are in Yangon and Mandalay.

Be sure to bring a mix of USD denominations when visiting Myanmar because money changers will not give change and USD20, 10, 5 and one dollar notes are useful for some entry fees and transport.

Official and black market rates

Currency controls have been relaxed, and banks no longer exchange foreign currencies at the ridiculous rate they used to. Most banks accept US dollars, euros and Chinese yuan. Singapore dollars and Thai baht can also be changed at some of the larger banks.

Ensure that foreign notes are:

  • Unmarked: no stamps, anti-counterfeit pen, ink or any other mark on them at all. Pencil can be removed with a good eraser, but any permanent marks will greatly decrease a note's value and ability to be exchanged.
  • Fresh, crisp and as close to brand new as possible. Moneychangers have been known to reject notes just for being creased and/or lightly worn.
  • Undamaged. No tears, missing bits, holes, repairs or anything of that sort.
  • Preferably of the new design, with the larger portrait, and the multiple-colour prints. Although, old-style USD1 are still commonly traded.
  • For USD100 bills, have no serial numbers starting "CB". This is because they are associated with a counterfeit "superbill" which was in circulation some time ago.

USD100 bills give the best exchange rate at banks. Changing USD50 or USD20 notes gives you a slightly worse rate of MYK10-20 fewer per dollar.

Kyat banknotes The notes of MYK50, MYK100, MYK200, and MYK500 are most of the time in a horrible condition, but are generally accepted when making small purchases. The MYK1,000 notes are slightly better, and when exchanging dollars into kyat, check that the banknotes you receive are in a generally good condition. If the exchange gives you kyat notes in horrible condition, you can ask them to exchange them for notes in better condition.

Exchanging money

There are a number of tricks and scams running around Myanmar trapping tourists who are carrying US dollars. Sometimes, guesthouses or traders will try and pass you damaged or nonexchangeable bills in change. Always inspect all notes when making a purchase and request that the vendor swap any notes you think you will have trouble using down the track (this is perfectly acceptable behaviour for both vendors and customers, so don't be shy).

Some money changers will also attempt sleight of hand tricks to either swap your good banknotes for damaged, or lower denomination notes. Other reports suggest that the kyats may be counted and then somehow, some disappear from the table during the transaction. For example, after going through an elaborate counting process for piles of ten 1000 kyat notes, some money changers will pull some notes out as they count the piles of ten.

When changing money, be sure that, after any money is counted, it is not touched by anyone until the deal is sealed. Also do not allow your dollars to be removed from your sight until all is agreed; in fact, it is not even necessary to pull out your US dollars until your are paying for the kyats you received. It sounds extreme, but ending up in a country where you cannot access whatever savings you have, and having a good portion of your budget rendered useless (until you get to more relaxed changers in Bangkok) can really put a dampener on your plans.

Outside of Myanmar, kyat is almost worthless but do make nice souvenirs. Make sure to exchange your kyat before leaving the country

Until 2003, visitors to Myanmar were required to change USD200 into Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs) upon arrival. FECs are still valid tender but should be avoided at all costs as they are no longer worth their face value (although a one FEC note has good souvenir potential).

Credit cards and ATMs

There are plenty of ATMs all across the country accepting international Visa and MasterCard. The bigger and more touristic the place the more ATMs it has. Upmarket tourist places (hotels, agencies, restaurants) are already accepting credit cards (and will surcharge accordingly). So you can even pay with mastercard in a store in the middle of Inle Lake for purchases value more than USD100. But nonetheless paper money is the only way to pay in most places. If an ATM doesn't work simply walk to the next one. In case you are going to a remote area withdraw beforehand in a city. Usual withdrawal limit is MYK300,000 with a processing fee of MYK5,000. Beside the ATMs, there are places where cash can be obtained with a credit card, but the rates are extremely uncompetitive (with premiums certainly no lower than around 7%, and with quotes of 30% and more frequently reported). In case you run out of money, ask your taxi driver to drive you to the CB Bank ATM.

Travellers cheques

Travellers cheques are not accepted in Myanmar. The only exception might be some especially shady money changer, but be prepared to pay an astronomical commission (30% is not uncommon).

Tipping

Tipping is generally not practised by the Burmese themselves. However, given widespread poverty in the country, tips are certainly appreciated if you have been provided with exemplary service. Tips that are charged to a credit card almost never make it to the service staff, so if you wish to tip, make sure you hand it over in cash to the person who served you.

Costs

It's not possible to be comfortable on less than USD25/day (May 2013). Foreigners will likely be charged fees, including video camera, camera, entrance, parking and zone fees. Most managed tourist site charge for carrying cameras of any sort into the area. Double rooms with private bathroom are nearly always more than USD20, in Yangon a double room without bathroom costs USD20. Dorm beds are around USD10 (or USD8 if you accept to loose a lot of value) (Sept2015). While you cannot save on accommodation, you can save on food. Street food can get as low as USD0.30 for 2 small curries with 2 Indian breads, USD1 for a normal (vegetarian) dish. Even in touristy places like Bagan dishes cost under USD1 (vegetarian) and USD2 (meat). A draught Myanmar beer (5%) is around 600 kyat, a bottle of Myanmar beer (650 ml) is around 1,700 kyat, a bottle of Mandalay beer (6.5%, 650 ml) around 1,200 kyat.

What to buy

  • Antiques. Purchasing antiquities and antiques in Myanmar is at best a legal gray area with the 2015 passage of the new Antiquities Law, and often illegal for any item over 100 years old. Penalties include prison and fines. It is recommended to avoid purchasing antiques as a tourist, unless you're willing to get an export permit from the Ministry of Culture on your way out and you have enough knowledge to avoid the fakes. Also note that replicas and fakes are rife in Bogyoke market and other anitque stores frequented by tourists. It is against the law to export religious antiques (manuscripts, Buddhas, etc.)
  • Art. The Myanmar Art market has exploded, with local artists' works going for good values in Yangon and Mandalay. Visit the numerous galleries in Yangon to get a feel for available works. Art is often related to Buddhism and the difficult socio-political situation, as well as more traditional Victorian-influenced subjects like markets, old women smoking cigars, tribal members, and monks. There is a lot of cheap/mass-painted and derivative works at Bogyoke Market.
  • Gemstones. Myanmar is a significant source of jade, rubies and sapphires (the granting of a licence to the French over the ruby mines in Mogok was one of the causes leading to the Third Burmese War) and these can be obtained at a fraction of what it would cost in the West. Be warned, however, that there are a lot of fakes for sale amid the genuine stuff and, unless you know your gems, buy from an official government store or risk being cheated. Bogoyoke Aung San Market and the Myanmar Gems Museum in Yangon has many licensed shops and is generally a safe place for the purchase of these stones.
  • Lacquer ware. A popular purchase, which is made into bowls, cups, vases, tables and various items, and is available almost anywhere. The traditional centre of lacquer ware production is Bagan in central Myanmar. Beware of fraudulent lacquer ware, though, which is poorly made, but looks authentic. As a guide, the stiffer the lacquer, the poorer the quality; the more you can bend and twist it, the finer the quality.
  • Tapestries. Known as kalaga, or shwe chi doe. There is a long tradition of weaving tapestries in Burma. These are decorated with gold and silver thread and sequins and usually depict tales from the Buddhist scriptures (the jatakas) or other non-secular objects from Burmese Buddhism (mythical animals, the hintha, and the kalong are also popular subjects). The tapestry tradition is dying out but many are made for tourists and are available in Mandalay and Yangon. Burmese tapestries don't last long, so be warned if someone tries to sell you an antique shwe chi doe!
  • Textiles. Textiles in Myanmar are stunning. Each region and each ethnic group has its own style. Chin fabrics are particularly stunning. They are handwoven in intricate geometric patterns, often in deep reds and mossy greens and white. They can be quite pricey, perhaps USD20 for the cloth to make a longyi (sarong).

Eat

See also: South Asian cuisine

Burmese food is influenced by that of India and China, yet has its own uniqueness. Apart from Burmese food, other ethnic traditional foods such as Shan food, Rakhine food, and Myeik food are also distinct. Rice is at the core of Burmese food, and good vegetarian food is widely available. Burmese food is often extremely pungent. Similar to neighbouring Southeast Asian countries, fish sauce (???????? ngan bya yay) is a very popular condiment in Myanmar, and is widely used to flavour many dishes. Food is inexpensive at most restaurants (priced at MYK500-3,000 per item at most local restaurants, but can go as high as MYK8,000 at posh restaurants). There are many up-market restaurants in Yangon and Mandalay.

The majority of low-to-middle class restaurants use a cheap blend of palm oil for cooking. This oil may be unhealthy, and common roadside restaurants should be avoided if you are at the slightest risk for hypertension, heart disease, or other fat- or cholesterol-related conditions. Higher class restaurants may use peanut oil instead.

What to eat

  • Curry: Burmese people have a very different definition of curry than other countries. It is very spicy compared to Indian and Thai options, and although you may find it served at room temperature in cheaper restaurants, in a typical Burmese home all curry dishes are served hot. Burmese curry does not contain coconut milk, unlike its SE Asian counterparts, and has a large quantity of onion or tomato depending on region and cook's preference. Myanmar is the highest per-capita consumer of onions in the world. Quite often Burmese curries are cooked with lots of oil, much more than other regional curries.
  • Laphet thote (pronounced la-peh THOU): A salad of fermented tea leaves and a variety of fried nuts. It is commonly mixed with sliced lettuce, and is eaten with rice. The dish originally comes from Shan State.
  • Mohinga (pronounced mo-HIN-ga): A dish of rice vermicelli with fish chowder, usually accompanied by coriander and chilli powder. Its taste can range from sweet to spicy, and is usually eaten at breakfast. It is considered by many to be the national dish, and is widely available throughout the country, albeit in different styles in different regions.
  • Nan Gyi Thoke (pronounced nan gyi thou): A special dish of rice noodle salad with chicken sauce. It is mostly eaten in mid-Myanmar.
  • Onnokauswe (pronounced oun-NO-kao-sui): A dish of thicker noodles in a thick soup of coconut milk with chicken. It is served with a variety of condiments accompanying it, ranging from fried fruit fritters to solidified duck blood. "Khao soi"("noodle" in Burmese), often found on the streets of Chiang Mai, is derived from this Burmese counterpart. It is also comparable to the more spicier Laksa often found in peninsular SE countries like Malaysia and Singapore.
  • Shan food: The Shan are an ethnic group who inhabit Shan State around Inle lake, near the Thai border. Their food is marvellous. It can be found in Yangon easily.

Drink

Tap water in Myanmar is not safe to drink, likewise ice may be contaminated. Bottled water is readily available at many tourist sites. You can also safely drink from the many clay jars dotted around the country, or find safe drinking water in temples. Just look for the large steel tanks with cups tied to the spigots. Water in the clay jars is filtered and many Myanmar people use them. Owners of the jars fill them up with water as a way to make merit.

Similar to Chinese Tea, Yenwejan is usually provided free at restaurant tables. While not flavourful, it is boiled water, and so safe to drink (do not drink plain water - even in restaurants - unless it is bottled water). Dried tea leaves similar to Laphet thote's tea leaves (except these are wet) are added to the boiled water to give Yenwejan Be sure to order it with Laphet thote (Customary/Good combination).

Alcohol is frowned upon by conservative Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, but consumed widely, mostly among men. Myanmar Beer is most popular in the country. Other variants, including Mandalay Beer exist. However, many of such companies are government-owned and/or have links to the drug trade. Toddy juice (ta-YEI) is popular in central Myanmar, and is made from fermented palm sugar. An alcoholic drink popular in the Shan State is Shwe le maw, and is reportedly very strong. It is also possible to buy full strength Beer Chang imported from Thailand; exports to most countries are not nearly as strong.

Beware of alcoholic drinks served in the far northern states. The locals refer to it as alcohol which does not burn when lit, and it is widely suspected to be an opiate concoction rather than a fermented beverage.

There are a lot of nightclubs, including those attached to the five star hotels (e.g. Grand Plaza), and also local entertainment centres (e.g. JJs, Asia plaza).

Teahouses

Teahouses are important places of social gathering and popular throughout the country. They look like restaurants but if you watch closely you will notice that people are drinking a lot of Chinese tea (free), light brown tea and are mainly snacking. Some teahouses also offer simple dishes as fried rice or noodles.

Once seated they will expect you to order coffee but that's not what you should go for as it is almost always instant coffee. Order tea, a type of black tea with milk that differ in strength and sweetness:

  • bone mahn: balanced
  • cho seh: sweet
  • kyaw p'daung: sweeter
  • pan brown: bitter and sweet
  • jah hseent: light, with milk, not strong
  • pancho: strong
  • bow hseent: less strong
  • noe hseent dee: milk tea without sugar

Note that you will completely mispronounce the tea names (second and sixth are relatively easy) and people might not get what you want at all since it's rare for foreigners to order these teas. So it's better to ask your hotel or any local speaking English to write down the names in Burmese.

Since you are a foreigner they will assume that you want your tea sheh - special - which means it will come with condensed milk. It's also possible to order a tankie and so the tea will come in a big pot. A simple cup of tea costs between MMK200-400. Small snacks like samosas, cakes or sweet balls are readily available at the table. If not ask. At the end you will only pay for the number of pieces eaten. Foodies should check out the type of snacks before deciding on a teahouse. It is not impolite at all to bring your own food as long as you order at least something.

Sleep

While not as inexpensive as neighbouring Thailand, Myanmar has surprisingly good hotel accommodation at reasonable prices. Rooms with attached bath are available for under USD10 everywhere except in Yangon and with shared bath for anywhere from USD3–6 in most places. Almost every hotel licensed for foreigners has running hot water (though, in remote areas, availability may be restricted to certain hours of the day). Hotels, with a few exceptions, are usually clean. At the budget end, sheets and blankets may be threadbare and the rooms may be poorly ventilated. A few low-end hotels, particularly in Yangon and other large cities, specialize in cubicle rooms, small single rooms with no windows which, while cheap and clean, are not for the claustrophobic. Rates are quoted as single/double, but the rooms are usually the same whether one person or two stay in the room, making good hotels a real bargain if travelling as a couple. Except at the top-end, breakfast is always included in the price of the room.

Unfortunately, the recent tourism boom in Myanmar has left its infrastructure struggling to cope with the increased numbers of visitors. Hotel rooms tend to sell out really fast, and those in popular tourist destinations often sell out months in advance. As a result of the lack of supply, prices have also increased substantially in recent times. Needless to say, you should make your hotel bookings well in advance of your planned trip to Myanmar in order not to be stranded when you arrive.

Myanmar has a problem providing enough electricity to its people and power supply is severely restricted everywhere. In many places, electricity may be available only for a few hours each evening or, in some cases, only every alternate evening. If you don't want to spend your nights without a fan or air conditioning, ask if the hotel has a generator (most mid-priced hotels do). On generator nights, the air conditioning in your room may not work (the price is usually lower as well). Even if a hotel has a generator, there is no guarantee that it will be used to provide you electricity at the times you require, so be ready for blackouts at any time of day or night. Major tourist hotels in Yangon and Mandalay have near-uninterrupted electricity supply, but can cost anywhere from USD80–300 per night.

At the top-end, Myanmar has some excellent hotels including one or two great ones (The Strand in Yangon and Kandawgyi Palace Hotel in Yangon). The Myanmar government runs many hotels, including some beautiful colonial era ones (though not the two listed in the previous sentence). A percentage of all accommodation payments goes to the government, no matter where you choose to stay, and it is not possible to run a successful business in Myanmar without some relationship or payment arrangement with the military.

Work

Work in Myanmar for foreigners is hard to come by. NGOs and other aid groups operate in the capital and remote rural areas but may require specific skill sets to hire you. Another option is European and Asian companies, mostly operating on a small scale. Teaching English is feasible in private schools but many foreigners have reported unreasonable contracts, such as withholding pay and refusing to pay those who resign early. Skip entirely the education ministry, which only hires citizens with teaching certification. If you would like to work and assist Burmese refugees certain NGOs work in neighbouring Thailand

Stay safe

Crime

The government punishes crime, particularly against tourists, severely; as a result, as far as crime and personal safety go, Myanmar is extremely safe for tourists, and it is generally safe to walk on the streets alone at night. In fact, you are less likely to be a victim of crime in Myanmar than in Thailand or Malaysia. However, as with anywhere else, little crime does not mean no crime and it is still no excuse to ditch your common sense. As a foreigner, the most common crime you should be worried about is petty theft, so keep your belongings secured. Physical and verbal harassment towards foreigners is uncommon, even on urban walks near bars.

Since 2005, Yangon and Mandalay have seen a barely perceptible rise in the very low level of street robberies. Several years ago, there were isolated bombings: 26 April 2005 in Mandalay; 7 May, 21 October and 5 December 2005 in Yangon; 2 January 2006 in Bago.

Begging

Despite traditional taboos against it, begging has become a major problem in the main tourist areas such as Bago and Bagan. Children and "mothers" carrying babies are often the ones who beg as they are more effective at soliciting pity. Note that most beggars are part of larger begging syndicates or just after easy money, as tourists are usually seen to be rich. In addition, the poor can always obtain food for free from the nearest monastery if they can't afford to pay for it, so begging is not necessary for their survival. If you choose to give, note that most Burmese earn only USD40 a month doing manual labour and so giving USD1 to a beggar is very generous.

Fake Monks

Theravada Buddhism is the main religion in Myanmar, and it is customary for monks to go on alms rounds in the morning. Unfortunately, there are also many bogus monks who hang out around the main tourist attractions preying on unsuspecting visitors. Be aware that alms rounds are solely for the purpose of collecting food, and that genuine monks are forbidden from accepting, or even touching money. Monks are forbidden from eating after noon, and are also not allowed to sell items or use high pressure tactics to solicit donations. Authentic monks are often found in single file lines with their alms bowls. If you see a single monk requesting money from foreigners he is a fraud.

Corruption

Myanmar is one of the world's most corrupt countries. Officials and other civil servants may discreetly ask you for a bribe, or invent issues (missing forms, closed offices, etc.) in order to get you to suggest one. Pretending not to understand or asking to speak to a superior may work. However, visitors of Caucasian descent are rarely targeted, while those of Asian descent (including South Asians and East Asians) may be forced to give bribes, but the brunt of the problem hits normal Burmese.

Westerners are very rarely asked for bribes, although most bribes are a US dollar or less, and requested by people earning as little as USD30/month.

Driving Conditions

The poor road infrastructure, and a mixture of extremely ancient vehicles on the country's roads are all what best describe the road conditions. However, driving habits are not very aggressive compared to say, Vietnam, which does make the safety of the roads comfortable for almost everyone. Although rare, youths sometimes compete against each other on the roads, which has led to some casualties over the past few years. Bus drivers are among the worst dangers, although this is somewhat less of an issue since 2010 due to new, very harsh penalties imposed on bus drivers involved in accidents.

Surprisingly, Burma has a mixture of both right-hand and left-hand drive vehicles, with the majority being right-hand drive but driving is generally done on the right side of the roads.

Unless you have experience driving in countries with poorly disciplined drivers and very shabby vehicles, avoid driving in Burma.

Civil conflict

Various insurgent groups continue to operate in the Mon, and Chin (Zomi), states of Myanmar, along the Thai and Chinese borders. Travel to these regions generally requires a government permit. The government also sometimes restricts travel to Kayah StateRakhine State, and Kachin State due to insurgent activity. However travel is entirely unrestricted to the districts of Yangon, Bago, Ayeyarwady, Sagaing, Taninthayi, Mandalay, and Magwe. Some areas that have been reported as closed have become open without notice, and areas previously regarded as open can become closed with no warning. In addition, local immigration offices may have their own interpretations of regulations.

Internet

The price of computers and a home internet connection is prohibitive, so most people surf at Internet cafés. However, recent mobile operator licenses have allowed many people in cities to go online for the first time. Facebook and Viber are the most used apps and services in Myanmar. The government records screenshots every five minutes from PCs in Internet cafés to monitor Internet usage. If you don't want your privacy violated in this way, save your surfing for Thailand or wherever you head next. And the Internet speed is terribly slow, so forget about YouTube or any video streaming.

Politics

Myanmar was under strong military rule for the past 40 years only ending in 2012, with a reputation for repressing dissent, as in the case of the previous house arrests of democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi. There used to be more than 1,500 political prisoners (sentences of 65 years and hard labor in remote camps were given to leaders of the Saffron Revolution). Some have been released in more recent times. When in Myanmar, abstain from political activities and don't insult the government.

Discuss politics, if you must, with people who have had time to get a feel for you. The danger, however, is primarily posed to those you speak with, and thus you should take care with their safety. Let them lead the conversation. Also, realize that many phone lines are tapped. And if you absolutely must wave a democracy banner in front of a police station, you'll simply find yourself on the next outbound flight.

However, in recent months, liberty in general has increased by a small but perceptible amount under the new government. A few politically critical articles have been published in government newspapers and a satirical film deriding the government's film censorship policy has been released, neither of which would have been possible in 2010. Returning visitors to Myanmar may find that locals have become ever so slightly more open to discussions regarding politics.

However, under any circumstances avoid doing things that might make the military or police feel uncomfortable, such as taking pictures of police and police buildings or vehicles.

Stay healthy

Hygiene in Myanmar may seem terrible to the average Westerner but it is possible to stay healthy with some basic precautions such as prophylactic medication, care choosing food and water, and antibacterial ointment. Never drink tap water. Restaurants are legally required to use ice made and sold by bottled water companies, so ordering ice is usually safe in major places. Always drink bottled water and check that the cap is sealed on, not simply screwed on. Diseases such as dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and malaria are endemic. Drug-resistant strains of malaria and tuberculosis are common in many areas. Hepatitis vaccinations are highly recommended and cholera oral vaccine is worthwhile. At the dinner table, Burmese use a spoon and fork, or their fingers when this is more convenient. You might feel better rinsing all of them before meals. Antibacterial wipes or alcohol hand-rub is a good idea at regular intervals.

As in any other developing country: "if you can't fry, roast, peel or boil it - then forget it".

HIV

The rate of HIV infections in Myanmar is high by Western and Asian standards (0.7% of the Population 2014).

Healthcare

Myanmar's healthcare system is poorly funded. If you should fall sick in Myanmar, you can visit the doctor in major cities for minor ailments such as coughs and colds. However, for more serious medical care, hospital conditions tend to be unsanitary and there is often a shortage of medical supplies. The only hospital that comes close to modern developed standards is Pun Hlaing Hospital, a privately owned hospital which is in a remote township of Yangon called Hlaing Thar Yar, and one should expect very high expenses there. Most of the hospitals are government owned, which means poorly funded. Most of the government officials and rich locals go to Thailand or Singapore for more serious medical treatment and hospitalisation, and you will be better off doing so too. Just ensure your insurance is in order as arranging to be airlifted in an emergency can be rather costly.

Respect

Modest clothing is highly appreciated everywhere except nightclubs, and practically required in religious places such as pagodas, temples and monasteries (of which there are thousands). Miniskirts, shorts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed in consecrated areas, where you also have to remove your footwear, so loafers and flip-flops that you can slip on and off at the entrance are preferable. Myanmar has some of the most stunning temples in Asia and you will be tempted to visit more than you think.

Burmese people generally do not engage in public display of affection, even among married couples, and it is generally considered distasteful and should be avoided.

Both men and women wear a longyi, a sort of sarong sold everywhere, and it is not unusual to see Caucasian foreigners walking around in them. They are wrapped in different ways for men and women, so find out how to tie yours. If you turn up at a temple in inappropriate dress, you can always rent a longyi for a pittance.

When receiving business cards, use your left hand to support your right elbow, and receive it with your right hand.

Tourists of Caucasian descent are commonly referred to as bo, which translates to "officer", a linguistic relic of colonization. Address elders with U (pronounced "oo", as in soon) or "Uncle" for men, and Daw or "Auntie" for women.

Generally speaking, despite the common negative perception of the government, most ordinary Burmese people are incredibly friendly and polite as long as you respect their local customs. Customer service is in general very good (some say better than in Thailand) but customer service staff are invariably poorly paid, so you might wish to tip service staff generously to ensure your money goes into the right hands.

Religion

Similar to neighboring Thailand, you will often see monks collecting alms in the streets in the morning (they are not allowed to eat after noon). Buddhism is taken very seriously in Myanmar, and it is customary for Burmese men to spend time living as a monk at least once in their childhood, and once more in adulthood. Their customs are similar to those of monks in Thailand. Most notably, they are not allowed to come into physical contact with the opposite sex, so women should be careful not to touch their hands if offering a donation. In addition, monks are also not allowed to touch money. Should you wish to donate to a monk, you should only offer food, as offering money to a monk is considered to be disrespectful in the local culture. Donations to monks have to be spontaneous, and monks are forbidden from approaching people to request alms, and neither do they hang out in tourist areas waiting for tourist donations. If you see a monk accepting monetary donations, or hanging out at popular tourist spots waiting for donations, he is bogus.

Avoid t-shirts with images of Buddhas or Buddhist imagery, which is considered highly disrespectful. Folks are forgiving about it, but one should not look like a bigger fool than is necessary.

Give generously at temples and monasteries but women are not allowed into some sacred areas—actually the restriction should cover only women in menstruation, but since it would be rude to ask and unthinkable to verify, they keep all ladies out. Remember that monks are not allowed to touch money, so all temple donations should be put into the designated temple donation boxes, and not offered directly to the monks.

You can also purchase little squares of gold leaf to apply to consecrated statues.

When praying or paying respects, it is important to ensure that the *soles* of your feet do not point towards the Buddha or anyone else. However, statues are arranged so that won't happen unless you get acrobatic about it. Tuck your feet underneath you when kneeling at shrines and temples.

Swastikas are commonly seen at Buddhist temples and are regarded as a religious symbol. They do not represent Nazism or anti-Semitism.

Connect

Telephone

Country Code: +95 International Call Prefix: 00

Phone numbers in Myanmar have the format +95 1 234-5678 where "95" is the country code for Myanmar, the next one, two, three or four digits are the area code and the remaining 6, 7 or 8 digits are the "local" part of the subscriber number.

International phone calls can be arranged at the Central Telephone & Telegraph Office at the corner of Ponsodan and Mahabandoola Streets in Yangon. International Direct Dial calls are also possible from most hotels and at many public call offices (often a phone in a shop), but they are expensive, e.g., a call to the US costs USD6–7 per min.

The MPTGSM mobile phone network is provided by the Myanmar Government's Post and Telecommunication agency. This works on the GSM900 band, so is visible to multi-band GSM phones. Roaming is available onto MPT's GSM 900 network, subject to agreements between operators; check with your operator before you leave to be sure. Unfortunately, MPT only has international roaming agreements with operators from a limited number countries and territories. Nevertheless, if your own mobile telephone can detect the MPT GSM network, then you may be able to buy a USD20 SIM card which will work for 28 days.

As of October 2014, Telenor and Ooredoo, two international companies, have entered the market. Sim cards are cheap and widely available (1500 kyats for a Telenor sim). Nevertheless, connectivity can still be limited to urban centres, Yangon and Mandalay in particular. Telenor seems to have a better connection and plans to improve nets massively in the next years. Although MPT has the widest coverage, it is also the most expensive.

Mail

International mail out of Myanmar is reportedly quite efficient, despite what some hotels might tell you. As elsewhere, there is always a risk if you send valuables as ordinary parcels. Use EMS for fast, and relatively cheap international parcels.

Internet

Internet is now widely and cheaply available in YangonMandalay, and Bagan, but more limited elsewhere. However access can be slow although now unrestricted. Rates are around 300 kyat/hour in Yangon and 1,000-3,000 kyat/hour elsewhere. Some hotels, although rare, allow free access to the internet.

Webmail: most free webmail providers used to be blocked, however as of 2015, no web sites are blocked. Myanmar has two ISPs, MPT and Bagan. Proxy sites are not blocked either. As of 2011, mobile data services are available. As of October 2014, even 3G works in many parts of Yangon and Mandalay. SIM cards are cheap at USD 1.50 and are available to visitors with a passport. Mobile internet is ridiculously cheap: MMK6 per MegaByte.

Hear about Myanmar as the Amateur Traveler talks to Dustin Main from SkinnyBackpacker.com about Myanmar (Burma). 

Blogger Jordon Cox’s long but thrifty journey home, travel photography with a twist, and a Wi-Fi versus wine conundrum

You can always trust National Geographic to pull together the kind of travel snaps that make you melt a bit inside, then stare longingly into space as you picture yourself adventuring in an unfamiliar land. The images shortlisted for its 2016 UK photography contest are no different, capturing polar bears in Svalbard, fishermen in Burma and dancers in India.

The photograph that caught our eye the most was Cindy-Lou Dale’s stunning, rainbow-hued shot of a fruit seller, taken from the balcony of the Nelson Mandela suite at the Soweto Hotel. The full selection of images can be seen on the National Geographic website and the winners will be announced at the Telegraph Outdoor Adventure and Travel Show on 13 February. @will_coldwell

Continue reading...

Kate in Senggigi

What does budget travel mean to you?

For some of my friends, it means downgrading to a three-star hotel instead of a luxury property. For others, it’s giving up their private rooms for hostel dorms.

Budget travel is unique to everyone. The broadest definition of budget travel is being financially conscious during your travels.

I asked my Facebook fans a question: how low-budget would you go? Hostel dorms? Couchsurfing? Never eating in a restaurant, ever? They had a lot of great answers and I’ve included them throughout this post.

Leon Nicaragua

Extreme Budget Travel

I define extreme budget travel — or what I like to call traveling “on the hobo” — as traveling while spending the least amount of money possible.

“I had some Couchsurfers come stay with me that are doing a long term trip with a $0 budget for accommodation. If they can’t find CS hosts they camp. One was sleeping in temples in Myanmar. He said his average is $5/day but oftentimes only spends $3. They also only hitchhike everywhere.” –Nathan

Accommodation? Free only. Couchsurfing or camping in their own tent or van. Possibly sleeping in churches, temples or mosques. Free lodging via working gigs. Hostel dorms if there’s no other option.

Transportation? Free or very cheap only. Hitchhiking or traveling in their own vehicle. If anything, an occasional bus ride or public transit.

Food? Cheap only. Supermarket fare or cheap street food. No restaurants, ever. Maybe an occasional takeaway kebab.

Attractions? Free only. In cities, walking around and taking photos, enjoying free museums and attractions. In the countryside, hiking and exploring. Forget about paying for a ticket.

How to get by? Working from time to time. WWOOFing, Workaway gigs, working in hostels or bars, busking, random gigs along the way.

And while there are occasional exceptions, the above is largely how extreme budget travelers spend their time on the road.

Here are some examples:

We Visited Over 50 Countries In Our Van Spending Just $8 Per Day

This is How a Guy Traveled Through Southeast Asia On Just $10 Per Day

I just came back from a 5-months travel. I’ve done hitch-hiked over 15 000km, and have been living as a homeless for pretty much 4 months.

Amman Skyline

The Pros of Extreme Budget Travel

Travel longer. See more. The less you spend, the more time you have to see everything the world has to offer. The price you would pay for a midrange two-week trip could grow into a multi-month extravaganza when traveling on the hobo.

Enjoying the same sights at a fraction of the price. Nobody charges you to walk through the piazzas of Florence, nor do you pay anything to enjoy the white sand beaches of Boracay. It feels awesome to look around and know that you paid far less than everyone else!

Expensive destinations aren’t off-limits. One thing I noticed was that extreme budget travelers don’t shy away from expensive countries. You find just as many extreme budget travelers in Norway and Australia as you do in Laos and India.

“Curiously enough it’s easier to spend less in expensive countries. It’s easier to say no to a $25 hotel room and camp, than to say no to a $5 hotel room and camp. In Europe I’d go camping and couchsurfing all the time out of necessity, but here in Asia I’d happily pay for accommodation, because it’s cheaper. But of course that adds up and in the end I pay more. I remember spending 6 months in the US and Canada and I spend $0 on accommodation. :D” –Meph248 on Reddit

Having more local experience. You’ll get to know locals more intimately, whether it means couchsurfing in locals’ homes, working with locals, hitchhiking with locals, or shopping at the local markets. Plenty of travelers will pass through the same town without having a conversation with someone who wasn’t a waiter or hostel employee.

The time of your life — on very little cash. You’ll have great stories to tell your kids someday!

“I did $5 a day while touring the Balkans for a month. I managed! -Free lodging and food by volunteering at a hostel (even had my own room at the top floor) -Free private beach access through a guy I was seeing -Free drinks every night at the bar across the street because the owner swore I was Serena Williams

That about covers all bases! Lol” –Gloria, The Blog Abroad

The possibility of extending your trip indefinitely. If you pick up enough paid gigs in between, you can keep on traveling forever. This especially works well if you pick up gigs, either officially or under the table, in high-paying countries like Australia.

Bay of Kotor, Montenegro

The Pitfalls of Extreme Budget Travel

Reduced safety. If you don’t have funds allocated for accommodation or private transportation, what happens when none of the Couchsurfing hosts in town appeal to you? What happens if your bus is delayed, you show up in Tegucigalpa late at night, and you can’t afford a cab to your accommodation?

Not having money for instances like these sacrifices your safety.

“I would never want to absolutely rely on couchsurfing for the whole of my trip. I couchsurf where I can but when I can’t find a decent host I book a hostel. I think when you get too desperate to couchsurf you end up pushing the safety limit a bit and staying with dubious people.” –Britt, Adventure Lies in Front

Just how bad can the result be? Read this heartbreaking post by Trish on Free Candie.

Missing cool activities and social events. You meet a cool group of fellow travelers and they’re all going whitewater rafting. They want you to join — but you can’t do that. And sure, you can walk across the Sydney Harbour Bridge if the $300 Bridgeclimb is out of your price range, but would you go to Leon, Nicaragua, and skip $30 volcano boarding? What about a $5 wine tasting in a Tuscan town? And even if it’s just a $4 hostel shuttle to the beach, which all your friends from the hostel are taking, you’re stuck on the much longer 25-cent local bus.

Less exposure to local cuisine. Yes, there’s fresh produce and markets and supermarkets can be their own adventure, but if you’re making pasta in the hostel every night, you’re missing out on one of the best parts of traveling — the food.

“As a student in EU having a long-term schengen visa on a third-world passport, I think I have hit the bottom after sleeping at airports, night buses, railway stations, common areas of hostels. taking pictures of food in local markets and then coming back to cook pasta in hostel kitchen :-(” –Anshul

No backup savings. In the event of an emergency — say, you need to fly home for the funeral of a dear friend — you don’t have the cash to do so. Most of the time, travel insurance will only reimburse you if it’s a member of your immediate family.

Isolation and discomfort. If you’re not comfortable in your accommodation, you have fewer options and may be far from the city center or tourist zone. If you’re limited with money, you can’t just pick up and leave — you might need to stick it out for at least a night.

“Ive couchsurfed once and they tried to convert me to their religion so i just left.” –Christipede

No alone time. If you’re a natural extrovert, this probably won’t be an issue, but traveling on the hobo requires you to socialize with lots of people on a daily basis, especially if you’re couchsurfing. If you’re an introvert, you’ll have difficulties carving out alone time to relax your mind. (Camping solo is one way around this, however.)

Mooching off others. Conversely, depending on others day after day can wear away at you. Sure, you can help cook and clean, or play music, and you know you’ll pay it back to other travelers someday, but you might get uncomfortable having strangers host and feed you for free on a regular basis.

“It’s funny. I’m open to going extremely low budget. As long as I can be self-reliant about it. Meaning I’d rather sleep (legally or semi-legally) on an abandoned beach or in a corner of a park than ask for someone’s couch. This is strange, I know, since the spirit of travel is tied so intrinsically into the good will of others. I guess I’d rather rely on others for their company (and their rum!) and then slip off to my tent for the night.” –Bring Limes

Resentment. Is this the trip you had in mind? Is this even the kind of trip you’d want? Wouldn’t you rather be in a nice hotel room, eating in restaurants, doing cool activities, and not having to work every now and then? After weeks of depriving yourself, over and over, you could end up feeling resentful. It might not be worth the savings.

“I feel like [extreme budget travel] would detract from the travel experience itself. If I was wrapped up in my head worrying about money and a budget the whole time it would take away from experiences. I certainly don’t travel luxuriously, but I choose to travel within my means without missing out on things.” –Megan, Forks and Footprints

Blue Night Shadows

A Lot of People Think They Can Do This

I’m an avid Redditor but don’t comment often. What makes me comments are posts like these:

“Me and my cousin are going on a trip in 2015 for 16 months around SE Asia. we plan on visiting 19 countries in that time: Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Sri lanka, Tawain, Thailand, Vietnam, Bhutan

We dont really know what months to go to the different countries and theres not much info online about it, so im asking you we kind of want summer all the time around. Also what places should we see in different countries? Im thinking that 12k USD will be enough for this trip? no including air fare, is that close to accurate?”

Oh God.

First of all, no, $12K will not be nearly enough. I really hope he meant $12K each, because even $24k for two would not be enough for a trip like that, especially with countries like Bhutan and Japan on the list. The only way it would be possible would be through extreme budget travel, and just the idea of traveling that way for 16 months makes me want to curl into a ball and hide.

I get emails all the time from travelers who want to travel as long and as much as possible, so they squish their budget down to the bare minimum. They tell me that yeah, they really want to see as much as possible, so they’re going to couchsurf and camp and they’ll be able to stretch their trip to as long as possible. I give them advice, wish them luck, tell them to buy travel insurance.

Some of them end up traveling this way — and have a fabulous, life-changing trip. Others end up miserable and return home much sooner than planned.

My worry about these travelers is that they won’t end up enjoying themselves on what should be the trip of a lifetime. I believe that far more people think they can handle long-term extreme budget travel than can actually handle this style of travel on a long-term basis.

It doesn’t help that traveling on the hobo is romanticized in popular culture, complete with scenes of waking up on a farm in Provence, harvesting olives all day, then having huge dinners with wine every night before hopping on a train to the next idyllic destination.

In short, it’s fun to travel on the hobo if you’re doing it for fun. It’s not so fun if you’re doing it because you can’t afford anything else.

Bike Lady in Ferrara

Special Concerns for Women Travelers

I feel like there needs to be an asterisk when talking about extreme budget travel as a woman. Just like there needs to be an asterisk with almost every kind of travel.

If you haven’t read Why Travel Safety Is Different For Women, please read it now.

In that piece, I talk about how women are attuned to the risk of sexual assault every minute of every day. It never leaves our minds, and each day we make dozens of micro-decisions for the sake of self-protection. For that reason, we need to be extra careful when it comes to extreme budget travel.

“extreme budget travel is a luxury that men can have I think. as a woman, I always need to have a little extra to get myself out of a bad guesthouse or take taxis rather than walk. I’m sure some women have managed it, but i wouldn’t feel safe on a low low budget. I usually budget $50/day with an extra $500/month of travel, although I rarely use it all. it gives me enough cushion to get a single room rather than share a dorm with just one man, etc.” –Lily

Camping alone or sleeping outside leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Staying in a sketchy guesthouse with a badly locking door leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Hitchhiking with strangers leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Taking public transportation in a rough city at night leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

Accepting food and drinks prepared by Couchsurfing hosts leaves us vulnerable to sexual assault.

That doesn’t mean that women can’t do extreme budget travel — I know women who do it and love it. I know that some take extra precautions, like carrying pepper spray and a knife. And even then, many of them have done so safely; most of them have only had a few scary but ultimately non-dangerous incidents, like I have.

But it doesn’t mean that the risk isn’t there. You need to evaluate that risk closely.

Kyoto Apartment

It’s Not For Everyone

If you want to try out extreme budget travel and you think you would enjoy it, go for it! I’m happy for people to travel in any way they’d like, as long as it’s not harmful to others.

There are plenty of people for whom extreme budget travel is a great choice. And they’re a surprisingly diverse group of people.

My issue with it is that I think a lot of people underestimate how difficult it is to live this way on a long-term basis. In short, it’s not for as many people who think it’s for them. So many people attempt it, burn out, and leave their trip with regrets.

Costa Brava Mountains

Short-Term Extreme Budget Travel

What if you only did the extreme budget travel thing for a shorter time? Say, for a two-week trip or just for a month or two out of a yearlong RTW trip? What if you just did it when you traveled in Australia and went back to spending more money in Southeast Asia?

I think that’s actually a very smart idea. This way, you get to try it out, reduce costs in the most expensive destinations, and see if you are interested in doing it long-term.

“I don’t mind dorms for cheap travel, although a few weeks is the max I could do that without at least a few nights in a private. I’m planning to couch surf and WWOOFing a lot in Japan, since I want to go for a while without spending thousands and thousands. I can’t live on that low though- it’s boring to only have enough to eat and stay in the hostel!” –Alexandria

Marigolds in Pienza

How to Maintain Your Sanity While Traveling on the Hobo

Don’t be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Walking a mile out of the way for loaves of bread that cost 20 cents less is the definition of insanity. Instead, reduce your big expenses like accommodation and transportation, or stick to cheap countries.

Travel slower. Spending more time in fewer destinations will majorly cut down your costs. When you spend longer in a destination, you’ll get to know the cheaper places, you’ll spend less time sightseeing, and your transportation costs will be lower.

Stick to cheaper regions — not just cheaper countries. Most people consider Thailand a cheap country but don’t take into account that the beach resorts in the south are MUCH more expensive than the rest of the country. Stick to rural, less-visited areas for lower costs. In Thailand, you’ll find the cheapest prices in the north.

Set up a separate bank account for splurges. Use it for special activities like seeing Angkor Wat, getting scuba certified, or having a restaurant meal in a fabulous food region.

Plan on getting private accommodation every few weeks or so. Just a few days in a room to yourself will make you feel so much better, especially if you’re an introvert.

Have a re-entry fund saved up and don’t touch it. This is money to cushion your return home. How much do you need? Depends on your situation. Some people like to have enough to secure a new apartment and pay for a few months of frugal expenses; others just need a thousand dollars or so. The choice is yours.

Don’t scrimp on travel insurance. Even if you’re committed to spending as little as possible, you don’t want to put yourself in a position where you weigh your health against saving money. Not to mention that it will save your ass financially in the event that you get severely injured and need an air ambulance to another country. I use and recommend World Nomads.

Leaving the Generalife

One Last Tip: Check Your Privilege

When you’ve been traveling on the hobo for awhile, there will be dark days. You’ll be down to your last few dollars and unable to eat anything but rice and pasta. You’ll be tired. You’ll be lonely. You’ll be treading water and you won’t know when you’ll earn enough to leave town.

This happens to all travelers. We all go through tough times, but extreme budget travelers are additionally vulnerable because of their lack of money.

Even when you’re at your lowest, it’s important to remember that you hold enormous privilege. You’re living this lifestyle by choice, and you’ve experienced far more than the vast majority of the world will ever be able to.

Don’t refer to yourself as poor. Don’t take food donations meant for the needy. And for the love of God, don’t compare yourself to the homeless.

Instead, practice gratitude each day. Be kind. Use what you’ve learned to create a better life for everyone you meet, both on the road and at home.

And if you choose to settle down for some time — whether it’s just for a few weeks or something more permanent — open up your home to vagabonds like yourself. Feed them, give them a place to sleep, show them your favorite spots in town. It’s time to repay the kindness that you’ve been gifted on your journey.

Have you ever tried extreme budget travel? Did you enjoy it?The truth about extreme budget travel

I’ve had a busy week since we last checked in. I prepped tons of content for the upcoming weeks, trained for an upcoming 5K run, answered a bazillion emails, had a blast for St. Patrick’s Day, oh… and went to Burma.

Unfortunately, no, it wasn’t for the two-week girl’s trip I was so excitedly planning this year — a post on why that trip got cancelled is still in the works — nor for the liveaboard I’ve been dreaming of joining for ages. It was for a visa run. A bureaucratic necessity for many living in Thailand, a visa run in the south consists literally of shuttling to the border, boating into the special district of Kawthaung, getting your passport stamped, boating back into Rayong, and going about your merry way.

The funny thing is you can’t actually enter Burma from Kawthaung beyond a small zone tightly surrounding the city, unless you’ve already obtained a visa for the country in Bangkok. But you can go in and get that stamp, paying Burma ten American dollars for the privilege. Not that I’m complaining. In my case that stamp bought me an extra thirty days in the country beyond my two already-extended visas, for a total of seven months altogether in Thailand.

I promised myself I wouldn’t do any visa runs this year as I’d rather take the excuse to do a weekend away in a neighboring country. But ah well. With so much on my plate and so little time left in Thailand, it seemed crazy to leave for any longer than a boat ride back and forth to Kawthaung.

Since I otherwise left my cameras up on the shelf this week, today’s snaps come courtesy of my ever-so-brief time in Burma. I hope you’ll enjoy.

Photo A

Burma Visa Run From Koh Tao

Photo B

Burma Visa Run From Koh Tao

Photo C

Burma Visa Run From Koh Tao

Photo D

Burma Visa Run From Koh Tao

Which photo is your favorite?

Note: If you’re wondering why I call the country in these photos Burma instead of Myanmar, it’s simply because on the island I currently live on in Thailand about a third of the population is Burmese, and they unequivocally refer to their home country as Burma. I just follow their lead.

Hello, 2017. You’re a sight for sore eyes.

You’re also, so far, a bit of a mystery. Since I started this blog, I’ve never kicked off a year with less travel on my plate. In a way, it’s thrilling — anything can happen! — and in another it’s a little scary. Can I really let a year pass by without ticking one of my dream trips off my list? For someone who often can’t fall asleep at night because they are so consumed by all the places in the world they still have yet to see, it’s kinda of a panic-inducing thought.

Travel Plans 2017

And yet I find myself quite content, settled back in Koh Tao with a bright and cheery little apartment, a faithful little motorbike and unpacked bag nestled in the corner of my closet. As I do weigh up options for the year, I’m torn as always between revisiting old favorites (oh hello, island I’ve been returning to for seven years and currently living on again) and big bucket list dream trips (oh hey there, diving in Mozambique, which I daydream about constantly yet have no plans to actually make a reality).

Anyway, last year’s post outlining my 2016 travels was fairly accurate — it will be fun to see how this one fares!

January-May // Asia

I state this with a pretty inordinate amount of pride for someone who makes a living as a travel blogger, but at the moment literally only like 14 out of the first 120 days of 2017 will be spent not in my bed here on Koh Tao. I need this for a lot of reasons, not the least of which being I am so backlogged on content here on Alex in Wanderland. I just need to lock myself away and furiously type until I’m caught up writing on all my trips! I’ve already nixed two opportunities to travel to new countries in the first quarter of this year, with this being one of my primary reasons.

So what will I be getting up to?

In January, I will spend just three nights off Koh Tao — a quick trip to Bangkok to see my sister off. (In fact, I’ve already come and gone!) I actually wasn’t planning to leave the island at all as I really just got here in December, but alas, I can’t say no to Olivia — nor can I turn down a weekend in one of my favorite cities in the world. In fact, what started as a fun fantasy over the years solidified on this quick jaunt into a very strong determination to rent an apartment in Bangkok for a month or two someday, and see what it’s like to experience one of my favorite places for longer than just a few days at a time. Maybe in the fall that will come to fruition.

Bangkok

I have some pretty exciting plans at home for the rest of the month, though, like a week-long aerial silks workshop with Flying Trapeze Adventures and all my favorite shows re-starting after their winter hiatuses (don’t judge).

In February, I’ll be taking my “big trip” of this Southeast Asia stretch. First, I’m cobbling together a big crew to take to Wonderfruit, a festival in the Pattaya countryside that I couldn’t be more excited about attending. Between the fanciful stages hosting musicians from around the world, the wonderfeasts by some of Thailand’s top chefs, and the workshops on everything from yoga to living a plastic-free life, I’m not even sure which aspect I’m looking forward to the most.

Wonderfruit(source)

After the festival, Ian and I are off to Penang, Malaysia — Ian has to go to process his Thai work permit, and I’m tagging along for fun (and to reactivate my own visa.) I’ve never been to Penang other than in transit and look forward to exploring the city of Georgetown and hiking in Penang National Park. I’m still fairly bitter that the direct flight to Penang from Koh Samui has been discontinued, but alas, I still want to go. Who knows, we might even tack on a few days in Bangkok in-between!

Penang(source 12, and 3)

In March, I currently have no plans to leave Koh Tao. Gasp! Now that you all convinced me to get PRK surgery I am considering blocking off a week to go to Bangkok and do it then, but I also might also put it off until the fall. Back on Koh Tao, there’s going to be a big new festival that I’m pretty excited about (if you haven’t sensed a theme for the year yet, you will soon!)

In April, I’ll pop over to Koh Samui for a few days to meet a friend and possibly attend Paradise Island Festival. Otherwise I’ll be on Koh Tao enjoying Songkran, Easter, and my last long stretch of stillness for a while.

In May, I have a one last little trip in the works before catching my flight to the US for the summer. It’s all in pencil now but it involves a river cruise, showing Ian around one of my favorite Thai cities, and (duh) more Bangkok. Fingers crossed it all works out!

Ayutthaya(source 12, and 3)

May-August // USA

I’ve fallen into a pattern of spending more and more time back in the US every year, however I have to be frank — our current political climate makes me want to spend less time there than ever before. I’m not being defiant or trying to make a statement. It’s just that my heart literally sinks out of my chest every time I think about home, and unless that starts to fade I don’t know how many consecutive months I can walk around with that heaviness. I’ve never felt more disconnected from the place that made me. I’m adrift. Here’s hoping some peace and clarity find me in this department in 2017.

That said, I have three confirmed weddings and one other up in the air, one confirmed festival and a few others on the back burner (wink wink, fellow playa fans!), and lots of family and friends I love dearly and need to catch up with, regardless of what else is happening around us. Here’s a peek:

In May, I’m flying to Florida for the wedding of one of one of my closest high school crew in Sarasota. I’ll also be visiting my girl Angie in Jacksonville, heading to Orlando for a bachelorette weekend I’m planning at Universal Orlando, and hanging with my two favorite aunts in Tampa. I’m obsessed with Florida and would be thrilled if time allowed for me to dip over to Miami to see my cousin Eric, do some diving, or maybe even take that road trip down to Key West I’ve been dreaming of… but allegedly there are only thirty days in this particular month, so we will have to see how flexible the time space continuum ends up being.

Florida(source 12, and 3)

In June, I’m going back to Bonnaroo. Even better? I’m bringing my mom and her boyfriend Miller! The two of them hit it off big time with blogger bestie Kristin this past summer, and we all vowed this would be our year for fulfilling Miller’s dream of making it to ‘Roo. A festival as a family affair? I can’t wait to try it.

In July, I’m going to Maine! This is actually the only new state and/or country I currently have on the docket for the year, which is kind of crazy pants. Another one of my dearest friends from high school is getting hitched in Harpswell, and I’m pining to turn it into an excuse for a full-blown road trip. At an absolute minimum I want to spend a few days in Portland and check out Kennebunkport — and if the calendar shakes out enough days for me, I’ll venture north to Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park, too!

Maine(source 1, 2, and 3)

In August, I’ll head to Chicago for my cousin Kirsten’s wedding (congratulations to the beautiful bride-to-be!).

Aside from those anchors, the summer is still fuzzy. Here are some maybes: I might be sticking around post-Bonnaroo for a bachelorette party in Nashville. I will most likely be in Martha’s Vineyard the first week of July for family time — and I’m also considering popping over to Nantucket for the Nantucket Yoga Festival! I may have another family wedding in Illinois before the year is out.

And then there’s Nevada. I may return to the playa — Burning Man is still very much on my radar. I may put into action the Nevada road trip I’ve had percolating for the last year or two (I need to see Britney’s revamped show, visit the Seven Magic Mountains art installation and camp in Valley of Fire National Park, stat) so if those came together it would be pretty perfect.

Nevada(source 12, and 3)

Also, some big changes are heading my way and while I’m not ready to discuss them publicly just yet, I might be popping down to Central America for a bit over the summer to let them percolate in private first. More details coming your way soon.

September-December // And beyond…

Nine months down the line is simply too far to predict with too much accuracy where I’ll be. This time last year, I could have never guessed I’d spend these months in the United Kingdom, Hawaii and Jamaica (content coming soon!)

In the last month, as I started to feel the pressure of writing this post and having basically nothing on the horizon — a lot of the above has come together in the last thirty days! — I started to think more about really prioritizing my dream trips rather than just waiting and seeing what the universe throws at me or what’s convenient, as I have fallen into a habit of doing. In fact, I recently started working on actually putting pen to paper and writing a comprehensive travel bucket list, which I may turn into a blog post soon.

So in that spirit, here is a sampling of some of my dream trips that feel feasible for 2017, which I may work on slotting in somewhere from June onward, en route back to my winter basecamp of Thailand.

• Uruguay: I just really want to go here. I don’t know why. I feel like Uruguay is usually an afterthought tacked on to trips to Argentina or Brazil but I’m completely captivated by this little country. Maybe it’s my obsession with tiny nations, maybe it’s my love for their famously humble ex-president, maybe I just like beaches and wine and yoga. Bonus! This would be a new country for me. However, Uruguay’s beach cities and towns have a fairly tiny window of action in December-March, and since I’m in Asia through May this would have to be a December trip.

Uruguay(source 12, and 3)

• Burma, Borneo and/or Brunei: It’s now been eight years since I first began traveling to Southeast Asia, and I regularly marvel that there is still so much I have yet to see. Including both the countries of Burma and Brunei (I still have Timor Leste still to visit as well, but I’m shelving that one for the moment) and the Malaysian state of Borneo. Eventually visiting every country in this region is important to me, and so I hope that either a trip to Burma or a joint trip to Borneo and Brunei is in order for late 2017.

• Jamaica:  I’ve had a Jamaica road trip on the noggin for a while now. My surprise trip here at the end of 2016 (more on that coming soon!) only made taking a big one feel more urgent. I want to rent a car, hit the open road, and explore the raw, soulful side of this island nation in a way that few get the opportunity to do. Unlike Uruguay, Jamaica is a place I’d be thrilled to travel in the low season, and so summer or fall might be the perfect fit.

Jamaica(source 12, and 3)

• Mexico: There’s a glaring un-scratched swath on my scratch-off travel map, and it’s Mexico. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to wait and really do justice to, but I’m starting to think I just need to start somewhere and dive in there and get hooked so I can keep coming back over and over again. It’s hardly unchartered territory, but The Yucatan Peninsula is calling me pretty loudly. Whale sharks of Holbox… here I come! And yup, this would be another new country to add to the list.

3-devide-lines

I have a lot of other dream trips rambling around in my mind — CONTINENT OF AFRICA HI I WANT TO BE IN YOU — but these are the ones that I feel I could realistically tackle right now given my current energy levels and priorities and desires, though clearly, a lot can happen in a year. I think I kind of need a lower-key year in order to get my house in order — lol JK I don’t have a house but it’s a thing people say right? — and get really whipped up into a travel frenzy again for some wild adventures in the future.

When I first began this post I fretted that you all might think it a bit boring. Now that I’ve put it together, I couldn’t be more excited about the year ahead! Festivals, weddings, and so many favorite old places to fall even further in love with.

Love 2017

Okay so now that I’ve dished… what are your travel plans for 2017? Which of these trips are you most excited to virtually come along on?

Looking forward to talking all things travel in the comments!

Photo: Pexels

Locals don’t ride cable cars around San Francisco and spend their days at Fisherman’s Wharf looking at the sea lions. Actually, we only do those things when out–of–towners visit. Here are 10 places locals actually spend time, so if you want to experience true SF life, make these stops.

Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.

Mission and Valencia Streets

 Mission CheeseSan Francisco, United StatesThe Mission has the most street art of any neighborhood in the country. Enjoy walking between murals with burrito stops at La Taqueria, a beer and cheese flight break at Mission Cheese, thrift shopping on Mission Street, and perusing hip boutiques on Valencia Street. Check out how the Mexican influences have meshed with recent gentrification and watch out for resident hipsters on bikes flying down the street.

The Mission has the most street art of any neighborhood in the country. Enjoy walking between murals with burrito stops at La Taqueria, a beer and cheese flight break at Mission Cheese, thrift shopping on Mission Street, and perusing hip boutiques on Valencia Street. Check out how the Mexican influences have meshed with recent gentrification and watch out for resident hipsters on bikes flying down the street.

Golden Gate Park Disc Golf Course

 Golden Gate Park Disc Golf CourseSan Francisco, United StatesYou’re not going to see locals posing for pictures at Alamo Square. Instead, head to Golden Gate Park, SF’s Massive green space. You’ll see lots of other tourists on bikes, but you’ll find locals playing disc golf (rent frisbees at Golden Gate Park and Skate) and picnicking in Hellman’s Hollow. Bring some competitive friends along and make a day of it.

You’re not going to see locals posing for pictures at Alamo Square. Instead, head to Golden Gate Park, SF’s Massive green space. You’ll see lots of other tourists on bikes, but you’ll find locals playing disc golf (rent frisbees at Golden Gate Park and Skate) and picnicking in Hellman’s Hollow. Bring some competitive friends along and make a day of it.

Ocean Beach in the Outer Sunset

This neighborhood is a little far and quiet out for most tourists to visit, but if you trek over, there are a lot of great spots. Eat some of the city’s best dumplings at Kingdom of Dumpling, brunch at Outerlands or Judahlicious, visit SF’s surf shops like Aqua, and browse shops like General Store, which is out of place in a mostly residential area. Lots of locals walk their dogs on the beach and surfers are always out, despite the cold water.

 JudahliciousSan Francisco, United StatesThis neighborhood is a little far and quiet out for most tourists to visit, but if you trek over, there are a lot of great spots. Eat some of the city’s best dumplings at Kingdom of Dumpling, brunch at Outerlands or Judahlicious, visit SF’s surf shops like Aqua, and browse shops like General Store, which is out of place in a mostly residential area. Lots of locals walk their dogs on the beach and surfers are always out, despite the cold water.

 OuterlandsSan Francisco, United StatesThis neighborhood is a little far and quiet out for most tourists to visit, but if you trek over, there are a lot of great spots. Eat some of the city’s best dumplings at Kingdom of Dumpling, brunch at Outerlands or Judahlicious, visit SF’s surf shops like Aqua, and browse shops like General Store, which is out of place in a mostly residential area. Lots of locals walk their dogs on the beach and surfers are always out, despite the cold water.

Kabuki Spa

 Kabuki Springs & SpaSan Francisco, United StatesMost visitors to Japantown eat ramen or sushi, roam the shops, and leave. Locals know that Kabuki Spa, right next door, is one of the greatest deals in town. Relax your muscles after days of climbing SF hills with a day pass to the steam room, sauna, hot tub, and cold plunge for $25. Go with some friends who don’t mind quiet and calm, or fly solo.

Most visitors to Japantown eat ramen or sushi, roam the shops, and leave. Locals know that Kabuki Spa, right next door, is one of the greatest deals in town. Relax your muscles after days of climbing SF hills with a day pass to the steam room, sauna, hot tub, and cold plunge for $25. Go with some friends who don’t mind quiet and calm, or fly solo.

Green Apple Books

 Green Apple BooksSan Francisco, United StatesThe Richmond District is the original Green Apple Books location. Roam thousands of used and new treasures and then go two doors down to another annex store. Take a book break and read over dim sum at one of many dim sum shops on Clement Street or Burmese food at neighboring Burma Superstar. Green Apple is also a great place to kill time when you’re on the waitlist for Burma Superstar.

You’ll lose track of time in the Richmond District’s original Green Apple Books location. Roam thousands of used and new treasures and then go two doors down to another annex store. Take a book break and read over dim sum at one of many dim sum shops on Clement Street or Burmese food at neighboring Burma Superstar. Green Apple is also a great place to kill time when you’re on the waitlist for Burma Superstar.

A 16

 A 16San Francisco, United StatesPricey but delicious Italian food, pizza and amazing wine selection. An SF favorite located on chestnut in the Marina.

Treasure Island

 Treasure islandSan Francisco, United StatesStuck right between SF and the East Bay, Treasure Island isn’t a destination most tourists (or even locals!) visit. But it hosts great art festival monthly, and music festivals annually. There’s also a lot of room to bike and a few wineries that are worth a visit. Visit before all the spooky former government buildings are knocked down to make room for commercial development. Take a bus over from the Embarcadero or drive. There’s no ferry, yet.

Stuck right between SF and the East Bay, Treasure Island isn’t a destination most tourists (or even locals!) visit. But it hosts great art festival monthly and music festivals annually. There’s also a lot of room to bike and a few wineries that are worth a visit. Visit before all the spooky former government buildings are knocked down to make room for commercial development. Take a bus over from the Embarcadero or drive. There’s no ferry, yet.

The Ferry Building Farmer’s Market

 San Francisco Ferry BuildingSan Francisco, United StatesEach Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, some of SF’s best produce, cheese, bread, and seafood purveyors set up shop at the Ferry Building. Locals pick up weekly produce, and wait way-too-long in line for really good rotisserie chicken. Dining with a view of the Bay is expensive at neighboring restaurants, but cheap when you grab picnic supplies from local farms and walk out back. #cheap-eats

Each Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, some of SF’s best produce, cheese, bread, and seafood purveyors set up shop at the Ferry Building. Locals pick up weekly produce and wait way-too-long in line for really good rotisserie chicken. Dining with a view of the Bay is expensive at neighboring restaurants, but cheap when you grab picnic supplies from local farms and walk out back.

The Tipsy Pig

 The Tipsy PigSan Francisco, United StatesThis Marina hot spot, with its cute outdoor patio lit by string lights, is perfect for Happy Hour and getting the night started. Tip? They are known for their Strawberry Fields, so you might as well do like the locals do and drink these forever (or you know, for the night) #happyhour #sf #bites #nightlife

Planet Granite

 Planet Granite San FranciscoSan Francisco, United StatesJoin local climbing buffs at one of the city’s best gyms, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Day passes are available for climbing and yoga. Work up a sweat and then cool down with a walk along Crissy Field or head into the Presidio if you’re looking for a long walk.

Join local climbing buffs at one of the city’s best gyms, with views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Day passes are available for climbing and yoga. Work up a sweat and then cool down with a walk along Crissy Field or head into the Presidio if you’re looking for a long walk.

* All photos by the author

Traditions still stand strong in Myanmar’s countryside, which has so far been relatively untouched by the outside world. Myanmar is often seen as one of the world’s most isolated nations. Although the Burmese government has eased its 15 year restriction on tourism, the country maintains its ancient traditions. According to an International Religious Freedom Report published in 2011, Myanmar is one of the most religious countries in terms of the proportion of monks compared to the income spent on religion, with almost 90 percent of the population practicing Buddhism.

My photography project started because of my interest in documenting the genuine nature of the country’s identity. Myanmar is a nation whose character is shaped from the practice of Buddhist traditions and culture, and is sustained by the faith of its people. The project focuses on the social life of the monks, who respect Buddhist norms and consider a simple way life as the ultimate goal of living.

Stepping into Myanmar’s soul would not be complete without an understanding of the prevalence of Buddhist spirituality. In Myanmar, there are thousands of Buddhist monuments — temples, monasteries, and stupas (a dome shape structure that traditionally holds Buddhist relics). Most of the time, stupas are utilized as shrines. It has become a habit for Myanmarese to visit the temple on a daily basis and they believe that the act of offering will earn merit and karmic reward in Buddhist faith.

My journey started from Mandalay with a visit to the Mahagandayon Monastery, the biggest teaching monastery in Mandalay and a home for more than 1,000 monks who come to master the monastic way of life from all over the world. I have never seen so many monks gathered in one place. They marched at 11 pm, for their last meal of the day… lunch. Each monk held a alms-filled container that was collected every morning from the community. Giving alms to the monks is a ritual to express the practice of cultivating generosity in Buddhist tradition.

In Myanmar, monks are seen as the nation’s most important religious and civil institution. “It’s not easy to become a monk” said Ko Ye, my guide. They are obliged to pray every day, throughout the day, to honor the teachings of Buddha. Every Burmese male is expected to complete a temporary monastic residence twice in his life. He then has the choice to return to a normal life or stay in the monastery. “But,” Ko Ye told us, “if you have a family member who become monk, it’s an incomparable honor.”

For poorer families, joining a monastery is a way for their children to escape poverty, become educated, and gain access to an honorable position in society. The same 2011 report stated that there are more than 400,000 monks in Myanmar. No wonder their red robes, shoeless feet, and shaved heads are instantly recognizable in every corner of the country.

From Mahagandayon, I drove up north toward Mingun Pathodawgyi Pagoda, one of the biggest unfinished pagodas ever built. A giant rectangular-shape 50 meters tall with large cracks splitting the great construction in two is dominating the landscape of Sagaing Region. Local folklore describes that King Bodawpaya, the man who began the construction of this massive pagoda, believed he would die if construction of the pagoda was ever completed. So, it was left unfinished. It still stands today, at 50 meters tall, with large cracks running down the sides.

Leaving Mandalay behind, I continued my journey to Bagan, an ancient city home to more than 2,200 Buddhist monuments. Some of them are still fully-functional as temples and the rest are remnants of sheer antiquity. The Ananda, Thatbyinyu, Dhammayangyi, and Swezigon temples are just a small number of these artistic masterpieces and emblems of Burmese culture. The entire Bagan Archeological area and monuments is simply breathtaking and majestic.

Yangon was my last stop. The former capital city of Myanmar is a hometown to the famous Shwedagon Pagoda, which has become the nation’s proudest symbol. A golden-gilded stupa reaching 110 meters tall, the Shwedagon Pagoda is a site of pilgrimage for Buddhist devotees and is known as the most sacred pagoda in Myanmar. It is believed that this pagoda contains some of Buddhist holiest relics such as Gautama ( Buddha’s hair strands).

Although the tourism industry has rapidly increased, the traditions of Buddhism are still upheld in everyday life in Myanmar. A simple way of life in line with Buddhist values remains the ultimate goal, and religious monuments labeled as an attribute of the county’s proudest symbol. Myanmar is place where myth, history, and religion combine in synchronized harmony, creating a culture distinct from the rest of the world. More like this: Check out these stunning portraits of Myanmar's people and culture

March is Women’s History Month, so what better time to celebrate some of the ladies who have shaped society over the years? Ampersand Travel have decided to do just that by illustrating some of the fierce females from around the world who have made a difference for women, and society as a whole. Of course, it couldn’t have been an easy battle to pick just ten leading ladies among the millions of wonderful women who have inspired, educated, and improved the world over the course of history, but we have to agree that the ten women Ampersand Travel have settled on are all pretty kick-ass.

Emmeline Pankhurst — England

10 inspirational women from around the world

Emmeline Pankhurst was a staunch supporter of women’s rights, her biggest fight being the suffragette movement to win women the right to vote. Pankhurst was known for her radical and militant tactics, including window smashing, arson, and hunger strikes. Pankhurst first founded the Women’s Franchise League in 1889 which fought to allow married women to vote in local election. In 1903 she helped found the more militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) which was the first organisation to be referred to as ‘suffragettes’. The group were notorious for their extreme campaigning which undoubtedly impacted upon winning women the right to vote. In 1918 women over 30 were given the right to vote. In 1928 Pankhurst died just weeks before women were given equal voting rights with men.

Marie Curie — Poland

10 inspirational women from around the world

She was a physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research into radioactivity, and was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize – and the only woman to win twice. Marie Curie’s most famous achievement was the development of the theory of radioactivity, which has become a key part of medical advancements and research. Marie Curie remains to this day a key inspiration for women in STEM, a field in which women remain underrepresented. The Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw remain to this day major centres for medical research.

Simone de Beauvoir — France

10 inspirational women from around the world

Simone de Beauvoir was an influential figure whose musings of feminism and existentialism has had significant impact on feminist movement and theory over history. De Beauvoir’s most-famous work, The Second Sex is a detailed analysis of women’s oppression and is credited as the start of second-wave feminism. De Beauvoir has said that the text was a look at “why a woman’s situation, still, even today, prevents her from exploring the world’s basic problems.” De Beauvoir’s other notable works include her novels She Came to Stay and The Mandarins.

Frida Kahlo — Mexico

10 inspirational women from around the world

Frida Kahlo has been heralded as a feminist icon and influence for her work and her depiction of women. Kahlo contracted polio aged six and suffered further trauma when she was in a bus accident in 1925 causing injuries to her leg and pelvis which left her infertile. Kahlo’s work explores her suffering and self-image — including her experience of miscarriage — which was a diversion from the traditional depiction of female beauty in art.

Rosa Parks — USA

10 inspirational women from around the world

Rosa Parks became a notable figure for civil rights when in 1955 — a time at which racism was rife in her hometown of Alabama — she refused to give up her seat on the bus for a white passenger. At the time the bus was segregated by race; when the ‘white section’ had filled up the bus driver instructed Rosa to give up her seat for a white passenger but she refused. The incident sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which lasted 381 days. Parks went on to be an iconic player in civil rights activism working with notable leaders including Edgar Nixon and Martin Luther King, Jr. She has received many honours for her work including NACCP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.

Aung San Suu Kyi — Burma

10 inspirational women from around the world

Aung San Suu Kyi is the first ever woman to serve as the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar and is renowned worldwide for her political work, human rights activism, and her attempts to bring democracy to Myanmar. In 1990 Suu Kyi won the national elections, but the dictatorial Government at the time refused to hand over power and kept Suu Kyi under house arrest for fifteen years. Since her release in 2010 she has continued to fight for democracy in Myanmar and in 2012 her party the National League for Democracy won 43 seats in the national by-elections. In 2015 she led her party to a majority win in Myanmar’s first openly contested election in 25 years.

Obiageli Ezekwesili — Nigeria

10 inspirational women from around the world

Obiageli Ezekwesili is known worldwide for her role in leading the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, however Ezekwesili was already a notable leading voice in Nigerian politics as co-founder of Transparency International, former Federal Minister of Education, and Vice-President of the World Bank’s Africa division. Ezekwesili has openly criticised the local government’s handling of the 200+ missing schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram. Her #BringBackOurGirls campaign brought global attention to the issue in Chibok and trended worldwide with many powerful celebrities lending their support to the campaign. Over 20 of the missing girls have since been found, Ezekwesili continues her campaign work to find the other missing girls and remains a notable voice in women and human rights.

Li Tingting — China

10 inspirational women from around the world

Li Tingting has organised and participated in numerous high-profile campaigns in China to raise awareness of gender and LGBTQ inequality. In 2012 Tingting arranged a demonstration to raise awareness of domestic violence by wearing a blood-splattered wedding dress in the streets of China. In 2015 Tingting and four other female activists, known as the ‘Feminist Five’ were detained on the eve of International Women’s Day for their plans to protest against sexual harassment on public transport — which is all too prevalent in China. Their arrest sparked an international outcry and the women were released after 37 days. Tingting is openly homosexual, in a country where LGBTQ discrimination remains widespread. While same-sex marriage is not legal in China, Tingting held a wedding ceremony with her partner in 2015 and refuses to deny her sexuality. Tingting remains hopeful that same-sex marriage will become legal in China within her lifetime.

Laxmi Agarwal — India

10 inspirational women from around the world

Laxmi Agarwal was the victim of an acid attack — a crime which predominantly targets women in India — aged just 15, at the hands of an older man whose marriage proposal she had refused. Deciding the attack wouldn’t ruin the rest of her life, Laxmi decided to use the experience to help other acid attack victims and launched a social media campaign called Stop Acid Attacks. Her petition to curb acid sales garnered 27,000 signatures and was successful in leading the supreme court to order that the sale of acid be regulated and acid attacks become easier to pursue in court. Laxmi is now the director of Chhanv Foundation which is dedicated to helping the survivors of acid attacks in India, and in 2014 she received an International Women of Courage award from Michelle Obama.

Malala Yousafzai — Pakistan

10 inspirational women from around the world

Malala’s fight for human rights rose to the forefront when aged 11-12 she wrote a blog for BBC Urdu — under a pseudonym — about her life under Taliban occupancy. Malala then became the subject of a New York Times documentary and began giving interviews about her experiences. Malala survived an assassination attack by the Taliban in 2012 and has since moved to the UK. Her fight for human rights has become an international movement, having set up her own charity; co-authored a book; inspired an Oscar-nominated documentary and been awarded the first ever Pakistan National Youth Peace Prize; the 2013 Sakharov Prize, and the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize. More like this: Meet history's most badass woman adventurers

Photos: Themis

WHEN I WAS A KID I saw travel as an opportunity for adventure and hedonism. It was a chance to try new things, to learn a bit about the world, to absorb a bit more life. But I did not travel with anything resembling a conscience. Travel was something that was earned through hard work — it was a reward, it was something the world owed me.

Then, when I was a senior in high school, I went to El Salvador and saw poverty for the first time. Shortly after that, I traveled to Brazil, South Africa, India, and China. I saw shanty towns and starving children. I saw horrors that had been hidden from me in the suburban United States. And I met people in all of these places who were still kind to me. I started questioning things I’d always taken for granted — the idea that poor people were poor because they were lazy, the idea that people living in poverty were somehow fundamentally different from me — and my life started to change.

My experience isn’t remotely unusual — it’s extremely common for travelers to leave one person and come back another. And a lot of the time, the people that come back end up changing the world. Here are four of them.

George Orwell

george-orwell

Photo: Monsterspade

Eric Blair was a middle class kid in turn-of-the-century England when his family decided he ought to go serve the Empire in Burma. Blair had an innate sense of fairness, and he began to chafe against the injustices of the imperial system. So he quit and became a writer. From there, he moved back and forth from London to Paris, living in abject squalor in order to better understand poverty. He wrote two influential books describing the life of the poor under the pen name George Orwell — Down and Out in Paris and London and The Road to Wigan Pier.

When Blair went to Spain to cover the Civil War, he put down his pen and picked up a gun. A lifelong socialist, Blair was appalled at the brutality and the propaganda of both the fascists and the Stalinists. This would influence his two greatest known works, Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm. His became the best known voice to speak out against totalitarianism in the 20th century, and his name is basically a catchphrase for anti-totalitarianism today. Who knows what we would have lost if he’d stayed at home?

Che Guevara

Photo: Vurter

Ernesto Guevara was born into a relatively well-off family in the Argentine city of Rosario. He’d grown up in a left-leaning family, but he himself said that the period in which he became a revolutionary was when he and his friend Alberto Granado took a year to ride a motorcycle through South America. Along the way, he met the continent’s outcasts, poor, and indigenous, and he came out of the journey totally changed.

Guevara wrote about his experiences in the seminal travel book The Motorcycle Diaries. He became a leftist revolutionary, and eventually joined a group of anti-imperialist Cuban’s led by Fidel Castro. “Che,” as he became known (after a popular Argentinian word), would become Castro’s right hand man, and would be a major force in converting the nationalist Cuban leader into a full-blown Marxist. Guevara’s legacy is checkered at best — his tactics were brutal, and he became a full-blown executioner when the revolutionaries took Havana. But his face became the face of 20th century rebellion, and the fact that he changed the world is unquestionable.

Siddhartha Gautama

Photo: Lidealista

Siddhartha Gautama’s early life is the stuff of myth — he was born around 2600 years ago into a life of luxury. He was a prince, and his father made sure that he was given every luxury imaginable, and was sheltered from even seeing any suffering. But when Siddhartha began traveling beyond the walls of the palace, he began to see suffering — aging, disease, poverty, and death — and he became convinced that material wealth wasn’t the key to life.

He renounced his birthright as king and he became a wandering monk. One day, while traveling, he sat down underneath a Bodhi tree and meditated until he became enlightened. After that, he was known as the Buddha — “the Enlightened One.” The religion founded around his teaching, Buddhism, is now the world’s fourth largest faith.

Malcolm X

malcolm-x

Photo: Ricardo Cardenas

Malcolm Little was born into a poor family. His father was murdered by white supremacists when he was young, and Little was shifted around foster homes until he fell into a life of drugs and crime. After being arrested for a robbery, he was sent to jail, where he began to educate himself. He converted to the Nation of Islam, rejected his last name and replaced it with an X, and quickly became the most influential voice for black power in America.

Malcolm X’s early teachings were controversial to say the least. He was a black nationalist, and did not believe in integration or cooperation between the races. He was an unflinching critic of white supremacy, and was often (with some good cause) accused of being a bigot towards white people himself.

It wasn’t until he left the Nation of Islam and went on the hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage, that Malcolm X began to change. On the hajj, he saw people of all races cooperating and treating each other with dignity and respect. And he began to temper some of the anti-white rhetoric (while still furiously denouncing American racism). We unfortunately did not get to see enough of the man he would’ve become after this change — he was murdered by members of the Nation of Islam in 1965.

Solo travel has taught me about various cultures, people, and myself. It’s made me realize my capabilities and limits, and that people are innately kind, sometimes just misunderstood. I’ve gained many new friends along the way, most with interesting stories. It’s when I’m alone that the human need to connect comes out. Solo travel has taught me to be more open and spontaneous.

My favorite subjects to shoot are people and places. I walk a lot and sit and watch, and because I’m alone my schedule is completely flexible. It’s by traveling slowly that I get to interact with people in candid, more honest situations. 1

Shwedagon Pagoda

Shwedagon Pagoda, which is believed to contain relics of four enlightened Buddhas, is in Yangon. At 99 meters, the tip of the gold-plated stupa is designed with thousands of hanging diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. The complex is huge with numerous satellite temples and Buddha statues. Just before sunset, I was surprised as volunteer sweepers lined up in two rows to clean around the stupa. At dusk, Shwedagon gleamed at its brightest, its light undisturbed against the dark blue sky amidst the busy shadows of people.

2

Interesting religious practices

Myanmar has quite a few interesting religious practices which I've never seen in other temples. In this picture, a lady reached for a cup of water and poured it on the mosaic-covered animal statue in front of a seated Buddha (and sometimes poured on the Buddha statue itself) which signifies good luck and good karma. In the background, the main Buddha appeared with lights of red, green, and blue emanating from its head, which is sometimes animated.

3

View from Pyathaya Pagoda

Probably the most famous town in Burma is Bagan. Divided into Old and New Bagan, it's most famous for its 11 AD ancient temples, and stunning sunset and sunrise view of these 3000 temples scattered in luscious forests and grasslands. This view was from the top of Pyathaya Pagoda and it offered a good spot with lesser tourists and more space. The sun touched the tips of the temples, their silhouettes of triangular forms became more prominent, their varying sizes and distances gave a stunning gradation of hues of orange. Everything else in the horizon appeared soft.

Intermission

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4

Kakusanda Buddha

Considered the "grace" of Bagan, the Ananda Temple houses four standing Buddhas, the tallest and the most sophisticated I've seen in Bagan. Reaching up to the ceiling, these gold-colored Buddhas were carved in a shapely manner rather than angular. Here, the Kakusanda Buddha had a wall mosaic of intricate vine patterns made of glass which shimmered like diamonds inside a dusty old treasure chest. Devotees pay their reverence by kneeling and bending their heads to the floor, a common sight at every Buddha statue.

5

Thanaka 'makeup'

A mom smiled holding her “busy” son with wooden statues of deities and Buddhas in the background. These souvenirs are sold at the entrances of a few famous temples in Bagan. The flesh-colored smear-like paint on her cheeks is called Thanaka 'makeup', a popular and effective sunscreen (also considered beautiful) for girls made from the bark of Thanaka tree. I tried it, and it was more effective than the chemically produced sunscreens.

6

Sunrise in Bagan

A morning visit to the temples. We watched the sunrise in Bagan and headed to nearby temples afterward. Temples in Bagan are dim but the light from the sun is always interesting. Here, a boy who had probably just finished worship holds a rolled-up mat and looks at the day ahead.

7

Mt. Popa

Close to Bagan is Mt. Popa, a 1518-meter volcanic rock on top of which sits a white monastery with gold stupa. From afar, it looked rectangular and cut like a cliff, and appeared similar to Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka. Climbing to the top was made convenient by the roofed staircase, but the numerous souvenir stalls on the way up made the vibe very touristy. The monastery was not much of a beauty, but the 360° view of the lush forest from the top was the highlight of the day -- so were the menacing monkeys playing on the stairs.

8

Fisherman on Inle Lake

Another "must-see" for cultural education is Inle Lake. Stretching 11 miles, the lake is made of Intha villages composed of stilt houses. As we traversed from one village to another, we witnessed the unique way of local fishing: Fishermen stood at the edge of the boat on one foot, the other directed the paddle as one hand supported it, and the other hand held the bell-shaped bamboo net.

9

Market at Inle Lake

The village markets at Inle Lake sold various products like parasols, weaved materials from lotus plant, silver wares and rice wines. We took the lake tour for a whole day, which took us to the vibrant market where Pao people, in traditional red turbans and black tops, were selling cabbages, dried fish, beans and tea leaves -- among other items -- weighing them manually by balancing two rusty saucers tied by a string. This woman was putting tea leaves in a container when I approached and, as she probably noticed me taking photographs of her neighbors, she proudly held out her tea leaves to the camera.

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10

School lunch

Further south on the lake, we visited a matchstick-like school beside a monastery for novice monks. Childhood memories filled me as we watched a kid reciting in front of the class, and kids with their tin lunchboxes hurriedly gathered at the terrace and ate together. It was heartwarming, the highlight of the lake tour for me. I would have joined them if I had brought lunch with me!

11

Back to school

After their lunch, we went to the wooden monastery where novice monks resumed classes. The kids referred to their books, some already worn out, and the room was filled with soft chanting.

12

Kids playing soccer

Outside the monastery, the kids and the novices were playing soccer. Hearing the chanting while watching this simple slice of life was peacefully enjoyable. We were the only visitors.

13

Gold neck coils

One particular village at Inle was unpleasantly memorable because of the controversial ‘human zoo’ practice of using long neck ladies from the Karen tribe for photo ops in the souvenir shop. Their necks wrapped with layers of thick gold coils were a unique beauty, but using them for attraction isn’t empowering. There were three Karen ladies on standby, and one of them instantly went for a scripted weaving activity when we arrived. These are the gold coils used by the ladies on display.

14

Lotus scarf making

Never have I heard of a scarf made 100% from lotus stems which, when broken, releases fibrous material. We went into a room full of weavers, watched as their hands and feet moved so fast that the clacks of wood and bamboo they used was like a symphony. The final product, the lotus scarf, looked rustic and beautiful in its natural light brown color.

15

Local hospitality

After the educational boat tour on the lake, we trekked for 20km in the mountains of Kalaw using a GPS. We had not planned where to have lunch when we passed by a big house where a grandmother was outside. Most people don’t speak English in this part of the town so I mimicked eating, hands to my mouth, and touched my tummy. She seemed to understand, smiled at me, and pointed up to her house. They cooked noodles with leafy vegetables for us and sipping the hot soup with tea was very satisfying. We were recharged.

Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Admire Shwedagon Paya's sheer size and mystical aura, visit the water-bound temples on Inle Lake, or float over Bagan's temple tops in a hot-air balloon; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Myanmar (Burma) and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Myanmar (Burma) Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - including customs, religion, history, art, literature, cinema, music, architecture, politics, landscapes, wildlife, cuisine Over 60 maps Covers YangonMandalay, Bagan, Kayin State, Thazi, Kalaw, Pyin Oo Lwin, Hsipaw, Shwebo, Mrauk UMyitkyina, Central Myanmar, Northern Myanmar, Eastern Myanmar, Southern Myanmar, Western Myanmar and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma), our most comprehensive guide to Myanmar (Burma), is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet's Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide.

Authors: Written and researched by Lonely Planet, Simon Richmond, Austin Bush, David Eimer, Mark Elliott and Nick Ray.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Myanmar (Burma)

DK

DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Myanmar (Burma) will lead you straight to the best attractions this beautiful country has to offer.

Explore Myanmar's mesmerizing temples, miles of pristine beaches, and welcoming culture. Experience Yangon and Mandalay, and cruise on the Ayeyarwady River—all just a short flight from Bangkok.

Discover DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Myanmar (Burma).

   • Detailed itineraries and "don't-miss" destination highlights at a glance.    • Illustrated cutaway 3-D drawings of important sights.    • Floor plans and guided visitor information for major museums.    • Guided walking tours, local drink and dining specialties to try, things to do, and places to eat, drink, and shop by area.    • Area maps marked with sights.    • Detailed city maps include street finder indexes for easy navigation.    • Insights into history and culture to help you understand the stories behind the sights.    • Hotel and restaurant listings highlight DK Choice special recommendations.

With hundreds of full-color photographs, hand-drawn illustrations, and custom maps that illuminate every page, DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Myanmar (Burma) truly shows you this country as no one else can.

Series Overview: For more than two decades, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides have helped travelers experience the world through the history, art, architecture, and culture of their destinations. Expert travel writers and researchers provide independent editorial advice, recommendations, and reviews. With guidebooks to hundreds of places around the globe available in print and digital formats, DK Eyewitness Travel Guides show travelers how they can discover more.

DK Eyewitness Travel Guides: the most maps, photographs, and illustrations of any guide.

Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) (Travel Guide)

Lonely Planet

#1 best-selling guide to Myanmar (Burma)*

Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Be dazzled by Buddhist architecture in Yangon, explore Bagan's amazing plain of ancient temples, or hike to the floating gardens and markets of Inle Lake; all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Myanmar and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) Travel Guide:

Colour maps and images throughout Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sight-seeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss Cultural insights give you a richer, more rewarding travel experience - history, religion, politics, cuisine, environment, wildlife, architecture, responsible travel, festivals, sport, traditional crafts, dance, theatre, music, literature, cinema Over 60 maps Covers Yangon, Southern Myanmar, Bagan, Central Myanmar, Yangon-Mandalay Highway, Temples of Bagan, Eastern Myanmar, Inle Lake,  Mandalay, Northern Myanmar, LashioMyitkyina, Western Myanmar and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet Myanmar (Burma) , our most comprehensive guide to Myanmar, is perfect for both exploring top sights and taking roads less travelled.

Looking for more extensive coverage? Check out Lonely Planet Southeast Asia on a Shoestring guide.

About Lonely Planet: Since 1973, Lonely Planet has become the world's leading travel media company with guidebooks to every destination, an award-winning website, mobile and digital travel products, and a dedicated traveller community. Lonely Planet covers must-see spots but also enables curious travellers to get off beaten paths to understand more of the culture of the places in which they find themselves.

*Best-selling guide to Myanmar. Source: Nielsen BookScan. Australia, UK and USA

Greetings from Myanmar: Exploring the Price of Progress in One of the Last Countries on Earth to Open for Business (Kindle Single)

David Bockino

In just a few years, Myanmar has gone from destitution, dictatorship, and isolation from the international community to being hailed “World’s Best Tourist Destination”—a seemingly impossible transition that led David Bockino, in 2015, on a search to find out exactly what happened, and how. Traversing the country, he encounters a pompous Western businessman swindling his way to millions, a local vendor with a flair for painting nudes, and long ago legends of a western circus. Sensitively written and expertly researched, Greetings from Myanmar: Exploring the Price of Progress in One of the Last Countries on Earth to Open for Business is the story of a flourishing nation still very much in limbo and an answer to the hard questions that arise when tourism not only charts, but shapes a place as well.David Bockino is an assistant professor in the School of Communications at Elon University. He was born and raised in New York and currently lives in Durham, North Carolina with his wife, son, and daughter. More information available here: www.davidbockino.com.Cover design by Evan Twohy.

Myanmar Travel Guide 2016: Up-to-date information about travelling in Burma

Philip Harbour

Myanmar is in the midst of rapid change and print publications struggle to keep up with the pace. Flymya, Myanmar's leading travel portal wishes to provide travellers an updated travel guide, complete with tips from our travel experts who have experienced the Golden Land first-hand. You can thank us later!

Insight Guide: Myanmar (Burma) (Insight Guides)

Insight Guides

With its glittering pagodas, timeless countryside, and gracious people, Myanmar (Burma) is an extraordinarily beautiful destination, but one that was isolated from the rest of the world until very recently. With tourism growing rapidly and ongoing development as the country opens up, there has never been a better time to explore Myanmar. Following on from our best-selling, award-nominated re-launch in 2013, the 2015 Insight Guide Myanmar (Burma) has been comprehensively updated by an expert author to help inspire and inform travelers wanting to discover this fascinating country.After a inspirational Best Of Myanmar section, the country’s rich past and cultural heritage are described in a series of lively essays. Contemporary aspects of Burmese life – the changing political situation, the economy, food, architecture, wildlife – are also covered in depth. The Places chapters describe all the sights that should be seen – from the incomparable temples of Bagan, serene Inle Lake, the lost world of Mrauk U, and the beaches along the Bay of Bengal to the fascinating cities of Yangon and Mandalay. Detailed, high-quality maps throughout will help you get around and travel tips give you all the essential information for planning a memorable trip, including our independent selection of the best hotels and restaurants.

Burma Superstar: Addictive Recipes from the Crossroads of Southeast Asia

DESMOND TAN

From the beloved San Francisco restaurant, a mouthwatering collection of recipes, including Fiery Tofu, Garlic Noodles, the legendary Tea Leaf Salad, and many more. Never before have the vivid flavors of Burmese cooking been so achievable for home cooks.

Known for its bustling tables, the sizzle of onions and garlic in the wok, and a wait time so legendary that customers start to line up before the doors even open—Burma Superstar is a Bay Area institution, offering diners a taste of the addictively savory and spiced food of Myanmar. With influences from neighboring India and China, as well as Thailand and Laos, Burmese food is a unique blend of flavors, and Burma Superstar includes such stand-out dishes as the iconic Tea Leaf Salad, Chili Lamb, Pork and Pumpkin Stew, Platha (a buttery layered flatbread), Spicy Eggplant, and Mohinga, a fish noodle soup that is arguably Myanmar’s national dish.

Each of these nearly 90 recipes has been streamlined for home cooks of all experience levels, and without the need for special equipment or long lists of hard-to-find ingredients. Stunningly photographed, and peppered with essays about the country and its food, this inside look at the world of Burma Superstar presents a seductive glimpse of this jewel of Southeast Asia.

Myanmar (Burma) (National Geographic Adventure Map)

National Geographic Maps - Adventure

• Waterproof • Tear-Resistant • Travel Map

National Geographic's Myanmar (Burma) Adventure Map is designed to meet the needs of adventure travelers with its detailed and accurate information. This map includes the locations of cities and towns with a user-friendly index, a clearly marked road network complete with distances and designations for roads/highways, plus secondary routes for those seeking to explore off the beaten path. Adventure Maps differ from a traditional road map because of the specialty content they include. Each map contains hundreds of diverse and unique recreational, ecological, cultural, and historic destinations — outside of the major tourist hubs. National Geographic Adventure Maps are the perfect companion to a guidebook.

Myanmar is a country with a varied landscape. From the highest peak, Hkakabo Razi, in the Hengduan Shan mountains on the border with China to the lowlands at the mouth of the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar has almost every imaginable environment. Myanmar is bordered on the east by China and Thailand and on the west by India and a small section of Bangladesh. This crossroads of cultures has made this newly opened country a true adventure destination.

The map covers the long history of Myanmar in great detail. Over the centuries the capital of Burma has moved from Bagan in 1044 to Mandalay and finally to its current location in Yangon (Rangoon). The north side of the map includes the most mountainous area of Myanmar on the doorstep of the Himalayas. It also includes the old royal capital of Mandalay. The south side of the map includes the current capital of Yangon as well as the long border with Thailand and the hundreds of islands of the Myeik Archipelago.

Every Adventure Map is printed on durable synthetic paper, making them waterproof, tear-resistant and tough — capable of withstanding the rigors of international travel.

Map Scale = 1:1,480,000Sheet Size = 25.5" x 37.75"Folded Size = 4.25" x 9.25"

Exercise a high degree of caution; see also regional advisories.

The decision to travel is your responsibility. You are also responsible for your personal safety abroad. The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians abroad very seriously and provides credible and timely information in its Travel Advice. In the event of a crisis situation that requires evacuation, the Government of Canada’s policy is to provide safe transportation to the closest safe location. The Government of Canada will assist you in leaving a country or a region as a last resort, when all means of commercial or personal transportation have been exhausted. This service is provided on a cost-recovery basis. Onward travel is at your personal expense. Situations vary from one location to another, and there may be constraints on government resources that will limit the ability of the Government of Canada to provide assistance, particularly in countries or regions where the potential for violent conflict or political instability is high.

Political situation

The political situation is volatile and there is always a possibility of civil unrest. You may find your security unexpectedly at risk. Exercise caution, avoid concentrations of police and security forces, avoid gatherings and remain informed of current issues.

Inter-communal violence

Inter-communal violence occasionally occurs. Attacks against religious buildings, shops and homes have taken place in several areas, including the regions of Bago and Mandalay, resulting in injuries, deaths and displaced persons. Curfews and restrictions may be imposed on short notice.

Crime

Bomb explosions have occurred throughout the country, including in major cities. A number of small bombs have detonated in Yangon (Rangoon), Mandalay, and surrounding areas since October 11, 2013. Further attacks could occur at any time.

Violent crime against foreigners is rare but does occur. There is also a risk of street crime, such as pickpocketing and mugging. Ensure that your personal belongings, passports and other travel documents are secure at all times.

Transportation

Travel is restricted outside major cities to designated tourist areas only. Permission from local authorities is required to visit certain areas. Military checkpoints on roads are common.

The general condition of automobiles does not meet minimal international standards. There is a combination of both left-hand and right-hand drive vehicles in use throughout the country. Driving can be hazardous, especially after dark. Drivers have little regard for traffic regulations and do not follow safe-driving practices. It is common for pedestrians and livestock to walk on roads. A driver involved in any accident with a pedestrian is always at fault and is liable to be detained.

Public transportation within Burma, including air, rail and sea travel, often does not meet international safety standards. Railway equipment tends to be outdated, and fatal accidents have occurred. Boat and ferry accidents causing deaths are common. Vessels may be in poor condition and overloading is a common problem.

Consult our Transportation Safety page in order to verify if national airlines meet safety standards.

General safety information

Tourist facilities are adequate in Bagan, Inle LakeMandalay, Ngapali Beach, Yangon and Taunggyi, but limited elsewhere. Good hotel facilities exist in Naypyidaw, but transportation is limited. Foreign tourists rarely visit Naypyidaw and may be viewed with suspicion. Foreigners can expect to pay several times more than locals for accommodations, domestic flights and entry to tourist sites throughout the country.

Telephone services are unreliable in Yangon and are difficult to find in other areas. Long-distance calls can be extremely expensive. There are Internet cafés in Yangon; identification is required, access to certain websites is restricted and records of which websites users have visited are kept. While some websites were unblocked in 2011, many remain inaccessible. Electronic communications, including email, may be monitored by local authorities.

The presence of police and security forces is likely to increase in Yangon and elsewhere in Burma on significant dates, including the anniversary of demonstrations led by monks to protest for political reform (September 26) and the anniversary of the 1988 uprising (August 8).

Landmines are a danger, particularly in border areas.

You are encouraged to register with the Embassy of Australia in Yangon in order to receive the latest information on situations or events that could affect your safety.

Swimming

Exercise caution at beach resorts in Ngwesaung, Chaungtha and Ngapali as there are strong underwater currents and riptides. There are no lifeguards and drownings have occurred.

Scuba diving

Exercise caution when considering diving excursions in Burma. Rented diving equipment may not meet internationally acceptable safety standards and may not be maintained adequately.

Trekking

Tourists trekking in remote parts of the country have experienced difficulties with military authorities, even after obtaining prior permission.

Health

Related Travel Health Notices
Consult a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic preferably six weeks before you travel.
Vaccines

Routine Vaccines

Be sure that your routine vaccines are up-to-date regardless of your travel destination.

Vaccines to Consider

You may be at risk for these vaccine-preventable diseases while travelling in this country. Talk to your travel health provider about which ones are right for you.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a disease of the liver spread by contaminated food or water. All those travelling to regions with a risk of hepatitis A infection should get vaccinated.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a disease of the liver spread through blood or other bodily fluids. Travellers who may be exposed (e.g., through sexual contact, medical treatment or occupational exposure) should get vaccinated.

Influenza

Seasonal influenza occurs worldwide. The flu season usually runs from November to April in the northern hemisphere, between April and October in the southern hemisphere and year round in the tropics. Influenza (flu) is caused by a virus spread from person to person when they cough or sneeze or through personal contact with unwashed hands. Get the flu shot.

Japanese encephalitis

Japanese encephalitis is a viral infection that can cause swelling of the brain. It is spread by the bite of an infected mosquito. Risk is low for most travellers. Vaccination should be considered for those who may be exposed to mosquito bites (e.g., spending time outdoors in rural areas) while travelling in regions with risk of Japanese encephalitis.

Measles

Measles occurs worldwide but is a common disease in developing countries, particularly in parts of Africa and Asia. Measles is a highly contagious disease. Be sure your vaccination against measles is up-to-date regardless of the travel destination.
 

Rabies

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system spread to humans through a bite, scratch or lick from a rabid animal. Vaccination should be considered for travellers going to areas where rabies exists and who have a high risk of exposure (i.e., close contact with animals, occupational risk, and children).

Typhoid

Typhoid is a bacterial infection spread by contaminated food or water. Risk is higher among travellers going to rural areas, visiting friends and relatives, or with weakened immune systems. Travellers visiting regions with typhoid risk, especially those exposed to places with poor sanitation should consider getting vaccinated.

Yellow Fever Vaccination

Yellow fever is a disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Travellers get vaccinated either because it is required to enter a country or because it is recommended for their protection.

* It is important to note that country entry requirements may not reflect your risk of yellow fever at your destination. It is recommended that you contact the nearest diplomatic or consular office of the destination(s) you will be visiting to verify any additional entry requirements.
Risk
  • There is no risk of yellow fever in this country.
Country Entry Requirement*
  • Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required if you are coming from a country where yellow fever occurs.
Recommendation
  • Vaccination is not recommended.
  • Discuss travel plans, activities, and destinations with a health care provider.
Food/Water

Food and Water-borne Diseases

Travellers to any destination in the world can develop travellers' diarrhea from consuming contaminated water or food.

In some areas in Southeast Asia, food and water can also carry diseases like cholera, hepatitis A, leptospirosis, schistosomiasis and typhoid. Practise safe food and water precautions while travelling in Southeast Asia. Remember: Boil it, cook it, peel it, or leave it!

Travellers' diarrhea
  • Travellers' diarrhea is the most common illness affecting travellers. It is spread from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.
  • Risk of developing travellers’ diarrhea increases when travelling in regions with poor sanitation. Practise safe food and water precautions.
  • The most important treatment for travellers' diarrhea is rehydration (drinking lots of fluids). Carry oral rehydration salts when travelling.

Insects

Insects and Illness

In Southeastern Asia, certain insects carry and spread diseases like chikungunya, dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis, lymphatic filariasis, and malaria.

Travellers are advised to take precautions against bites.

Dengue fever
  • Dengue fever occurs in this country. Dengue fever is a viral disease that can cause severe flu-like symptoms. In some cases it leads to dengue haemorrhagic fever, which can be fatal.  
  • Mosquitoes carrying dengue bite during the daytime. They breed in standing water and are often found in urban areas.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. There is no vaccine available for dengue fever.

Malaria

Malaria

  • There is a risk of malaria in certain areas and/or during a certain time of year in this country.
  • Malaria is a serious and occasionally fatal disease that is spread by mosquitoes. There is no vaccine against malaria.
  • Protect yourself from mosquito bites. This includes covering up, using insect repellent and staying in well-screened, air-conditioned accommodations. You may also consider sleeping under an insecticide-treated bed net or pre-treating travel gear with insecticides.
  • Antimalarial medication may be recommended depending on your itinerary and the time of year you are travelling. See a health care provider or visit a travel health clinic, preferably six weeks before you travel to discuss your options.

Animals

Animals and Illness

Travellers are cautioned to avoid contact with animals, including dogs, monkeys, snakes, rodents, birds, and bats. Some infections found in some areas in Southeastern Asia, like avian influenza and rabies, can be shared between humans and animals.

Avian Influenza

There have been human cases of avian influenza ("bird flu”) in this country. Avian influenza is a viral infection that can spread by contact with infected birds or surfaces and objects contaminated by their feces or other secretions.

Avoid unnecessary contact with domestic poultry and wild birds as well as surfaces contaminated with their feces or other secretions. Ensure all poultry dishes and eggs are thoroughly cooked.


Person-to-Person

Person-to-Person Infections

Crowded conditions can increase your risk of certain illnesses. Remember to wash your hands often and practice proper cough and sneeze etiquette to avoid colds, the flu and other illnesses.

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV are spread through blood and bodily fluids; practise safer sex.

HIV

HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) is a virus that attacks and impairs the immune system, resulting in a chronic, progressive illness known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). 

Practise safe sex while travelling, and don’t share needles, razors, or other objects which could transmit infection.

Remember that HIV can also be spread through the use of unsterile medical equipment during medical and dental procedures, tattooing, body piercing or acupuncture. Diseases can also be spread though blood transfusions and organ transplantation if the blood or organs are not screened for HIV or other blood-borne pathogens.

Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by bacteria and usually affects the lungs.

For most travellers the risk of tuberculosis is low.

Travellers who may be at high risk while travelling in regions with risk of tuberculosis should discuss pre- and post-travel options with a health care provider.

High-risk travellers include those visiting or working in prisons, refugee camps, homeless shelters, or hospitals, or travellers visiting friends and relatives.


Medical services and facilities

Medical services and facilities

Medical facilities are available in Yangon (Rangoon) but are very limited elsewhere. Doctors and hospitals may demand immediate cash payment for health services. Serious injuries may require medical evacuation. Foreign prescription drugs are often counterfeit and are unsafe to use.

Keep in Mind...

The decision to travel is the sole responsibility of the traveller. The traveller is also responsible for his or her own personal safety.

Be prepared. Do not expect medical services to be the same as in Canada. Pack a travel health kit, especially if you will be travelling away from major city centres.

You are subject to local laws. Consult our Arrest and Detention page for more information.

Laws

Penalties for possession, use or trafficking of illegal drugs are strict. Convicted offenders can expect imprisonment or a death sentence.

Political activism (including the dissemination of printed materials), protests, demonstrations and unauthorized assemblies are not tolerated in Burma. 

Freedom of speech and political activities are highly circumscribed, and the Burmese government is very sensitive to any expression of opposition to its rule. Foreigners criticizing the regime in public may be arrested or detained.

You must show your passport and valid visa at the airport, train stations and hotels.

Customs officials strictly limit what is brought into the country. Customs regulations are restrictive and rigorously enforced. Baggage may be searched upon arrival. It is illegal to enter or exit Burma with religious materials. Foreign currency in excess of US$10,000 must be declared upon arrival; failure to do so could result in imprisonment. In the past, importation of communications equipment such as mobile phones and laptop computers has been restricted. Laptop computers have been taken from tourists and held at the airport until their departure. Customs regulations on prohibited imports and exports are often unclear and can change. Further advice regarding imports and exports should be sought from the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

A permit is required to purchase or possess cultural or archaeological artifacts. It is illegal to export gems. Foreigners have been arrested, searched and imprisoned for attempting to take Burmese gems out of the country.

Photography of scenes or people that could be considered politically sensitive such as military installations, security personnel or demonstrations is prohibited. Offenders could be arrested, deported, and have their equipment confiscated.

Missionary activities and the importation of religious materials are illegal without the written permission of the Burmese authorities.

Homosexual activity is illegal.

International Driving Permits are not recognized in Burma. It is illegal to drive without a Burmese driver’s licence.

Culture

Exercise common sense and discretion in dress and behaviour, particularly when visiting religious sites. Dress conservatively and respect religious and social traditions to avoid offending local sensitivities.

Money

The currency is the kyat (MMK). U.S. currency is widely accepted; however, only new and undamaged bank notes are accepted. Other foreign currencies are not normally accepted. Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs), which have the same face value as the U.S. dollar, are issued by the Burmese government. FECs can be exchanged for MMKs or used in place of cash to pay for goods and services where FECs are the accepted form of payment, although such places are increasingly rare. There are a few official currency exchange offices in Yangon, including one at the Yangon International Airport. It is illegal to exchange currency at unauthorized locations. Neither FECs nor MMKs can be converted to any other currency.

Carry enough cash to cover all of your expenses while in Burma. Credit cards are rarely accepted. Debit cards and traveller’s cheques are not accepted. There are no internationally linked automated banking machines (ABMs) in Burma. Neither cash advances via credit or debit card nor cheque-cashing services are available.

Climate

Burma is located in an active seismic zone.

The rainy (or monsoon) season extends from June to September in the southwest and December to April in the northeast. Severe rainstorms can cause flooding and landslides. Typhoons usually occur between April and October. These storms can result in significant loss of life, extensively damage infrastructure and hamper the provision of essential services. Keep informed of regional weather forecasts, avoid disaster areas and follow the advice of local authorities.

In 2011, heavy monsoon rains caused isolated flooding in many areas of the country and flash flooding that killed hundreds of people.

Consult our Typhoons and Monsoons page for more information.