Name: Republic of the Union of Myanmar or Burma
Population: 51 million
Currency: Burmese Kyat
Time Zone: UTC+6:30
Myanmar or Burma is a country in Southeast Asia bordered by India to the west, China to the north and Thailand to the east. It lies on the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea coast. For a long time, it was not a touristic destination. In recent years, however, it has gained popularity among tourists. It is important to note that many areas in Myanmar are closed to foreigners, but many other major cities and attractions are ready to welcome you with arms wide open!
Myanmar has maintained its own traditions and culture through the test of time. Nevertheless, it has also gathered many other from its neighbor countries as well as from its British colonial period ( which lasted 62 years from 1824 to 1866). You’ll even find a myriad of traditional teahouses where you can enjoy a tea!
As the country slowly turns into a democracy, many changes have come along – censorship has relaxed and made space to new media, many sanctions have been dropped, importation is now allowed, international ATMs have risen and there is now even phone coverage and internet access available (though it is often quite slow). However, despite its recent modernization, the essence of the country still remains, making Myanmar a wonderful and authentic place to discover!
A trek through the Shan hills, a boat ride on Inle Lake, a day of relaxation at the Bay of Bengal’s beaches, a day of temple hopping in Bagan, a hike to the top of Natmataung Mountain, exploring the Shwedagon Pagoda and many more things await you in this wonderful country!
Myanmar’s climate is characterized by its strong monsoon influences. It receives a high amount of sun, rainfall and humidity. In general, Lower Myanmar (Yangon area) receives more rainfall while Upper Myanmar (around Mandalay) remains a bit drier as well as cooler.
The climate in the country is considered to have three main seasons:
Cool: October to February. After the rainy season, the country gets significantly cooler with average temperatures of 20°C to 24°C. This is the best time to visit Myanmar. Temperatures can go as low as 10°C during the night in the highlands area such as Inle Lake.
Hot: Between February and May. During this period, the country receives little to no rain. The average temperature ranges between 30°C and 35°C but sometimes rises above 40°C.
Rainy: From May to October. This season hits the entire country, including the coast, the mountains, and big cities such as Mandalay and Bagan. During this season, some roads get severely affected and become intransitable. The country has an average temperature of 25°C and 30°C in the rainy season.
The culture in Myanmar is influenced by Buddhism, its neighbouring countries: India, China and Thailand and some British influence from the colonization period is still present as well. Aside from its dominant ethnic group, known as the Bamar, there are also many minorities such as ethnic Chinese and Indians whose ancestors migrated to the country during the colonization periods. The largest religion in the country is Theravada Buddhism.
Burmese people are friendly, polite and incredibly hospitable. While in big cities, you will notice people wearing Longhi with lace blouses and a very peculiar makeup known as Tannaka paste, which is extracted from a tree that carries the same name. It is mostly used by women and children but sometimes also by men to protect against sunburn and it also has a cooling effect. Another typical garment is the Indian lungi, a sarong that is worn by both men and women. However, westernized clothes such as skirts and pants have become more common among the young in recent years.
-Lower your head to show respect when you pass in front of an elder
-Take of yours shoes and socks when entering a place, especially religious building grounds
-Move your head to the side when coughing or yawning
-Cover your shoulders and legs when entering a religious building if you are a woman
-Greet someone with a smile and a slight bow of the head. Remember that physical contact such as a handshake are not the norm in Myanmar and neither is pressing your palms together as it is done in Thailand or India
-Walk clockwise around Buddhist monuments (keep them to your right)
-Touch someone’s head: As in all Buddhist countries, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body and it is considered extremely impolite to touch someone’s head. Touching the head of a child is seen as a major offence and it is thought to affect the child’s well-being.
-Point your feet at someone. It is considered impolite and a major offense if down to a Buddha statue or image.
-Kiss or hug in public
-Walk on carpets
-Touch a monk if you are female. Similarly, men should never touch a woman in public, not even to shake hands.
Burmese cuisine is characterized by its use of fish products and its seafood, especially in coastal cities. A curious ingredient you will find here is ngapi, a sort of fish paste. Meat is also a main ingredient in areas that have no direct access to the ocean. Salads also play an important role in the gastronomy of the country and they generally focus on one main ingredient, be it noodles, potato, tomato, rice and even ngapi.
The national dish is called Mohinga and it is also considered a traditional breakfast dish. It is rice noodle and fish soup and, if you wish to try it, you will have no trouble finding it as it is prepared everywhere in the country.
It is important to understand that Myanmar is a country that has very recently opened its doors to visitors. For this reason, its infrastructure is slowly being built but is still far from perfect. The roads have greatly improved in recent years, but it still takes quite a while to travel by land. It is also important to keep in mind that some areas in Myanmar are closed to tourists or they might required a special permit to be accessed. However, it is possible to move around Myanmar independently via plane, bus, train and even boat.
Due to the long time it takes to travel by land in Myanmar, many simply choose to fly. All major cities have airports and a one-way flight will rarely cost your more than $100.
Since 2012, vehicle importation was legalized in Myanmar and thanks to this, the standards of travelling by bus has greatly improved. However, you will still find older buses running through Myanmar, so it is important to do proper research if lack of comfort is an issue for you. It is also important to note that the roads in Myanmar are developing and for this reason, it can take quite a while to get from one point to the other (to get an idea, a journey from Yangon to Mandalay takes roughly 10 hours). Scania is one of the most comfortable companies to travel with and the fares are quite reasonably priced. Unlike most countries, travelling by bus in Myanmar is, in general faster than travelling by train.
Myanmar’s rail network is extensive yet very ancient and its trains are slow and quite uncomfortable. Despite all this, travelling by train in Myanmar is a great way to experience the country, meet locals and see some breath-taking landscapes. Sleeper trains are available yet extremely uncomfortable due to constant shaking. In fact, most sleeper trains will make a four or five hour stop so passengers can get some sleep. In general, it is more comfortable and slightly faster to get around by bus rather than train. A journey from Yangon to Mandalay by train, for example, takes approximately 16 hours.
For more information on Myanmar check out the Myanmar Tourism Board website here.
Mandalay Monastery, Myanmar
Mandalay Monastery, Myanmar