Myanmar

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Introduction to Myanmar

Since 1988 Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) has been under the military rule of the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) - formerly known as Slorc - an abominable military junta. Prospective travellers should monitor events in Myanmar and weigh up the arguments in support of and opposition to travel.

Dissent is suppressed, and political prisoners are jailed for expressing their opinions. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi advocates boycotting all forms of travel to the country as a means of isolating the government and forcing reform.

Inside Myanmar, there are a number of people who support her stance. This pro-boycott group argues that much of the money from tourism goes directly and indirectly into the pockets of the very generals who continue to deny Burmese citizens the most-basic civil rights. However, others involved with Burmese politics, including many current or former members of the NLD, feel that a travel boycott of Myanmar is counterproductive. They maintain that tourism is not only economically helpful, but vital to the pro-democracy movement for the two-way flow of information it provides.

Caution

Bombs planted in two supermarkets and a Thai trade fair in May killed 11 and injured 150 in Rangoon. These attacks follow a similar blast at a market in Mandalay in April. As yet nobody has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Travellers should be wary of visiting places where large groups of people gather and monitor consular advice before considering travel in to the region.

The decision as to whether or not to travel to Myanmar is best made after an appraisal of the pros and cons of such a visit.

Reasons Not to Go; Aung San Suu Kyi has asked tourists not to; The government used forced labour to ready tourist-related sights and services; International tourism can be seen as a stamp of approval to the Myanmar government; The government forbids travel to many areas, particularly in areas inhabited by minority groups; It's impossible to visit without some money going to the military junta (visa, departure fee, tax on purchases); and Activists claim that tourism dollars fuel government repression directly.

Reasons to Go: Tourism remains one of the few industries to which ordinary locals have access in terms of income and communication; Vast majority of locals want you there; Human-rights abuses are less likely to occur in areas where the international community is present; The government stopped mandating foreigners change 200.00 into government notes upon arrival; The majority (possibly over 80%) of a careful independent traveller's expenses goes into the private sector; and Keeping the people isolated from international witnesses to internal oppression may only cement the government's ability to rule.

If You Decide to Go

In order to maximise the positive effects of a visit among the general populace, while minimising support of the government, follow these simple tactics:

Stay at private, locally owned hotels and guesthouses; Avoid package tours connected with Myanmar Travel and Tours; Avoid MTT-sponsored modes of transport, such as the Yangon-Mandalay Express trains, the MTT ferry between Mandalay and Bagan, and Myanma Airways (MA) flights; Buy handicrafts directly from the artisans, rather than from government shops; Avoid patronising companies involved with the military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings. Companies with solid links to the Tatmadaw (armed forces) are often called Myawadi or Myawaddy; Write to the Myanmar government and to the Myanmar embassy in your country expressing your views about the human-rights situation there.

Full country name: Union of Myanmar

Area: 671,000 sq km

Population: 45 million

Capital City: Rangoon

People: 65% Burmese, 10% Shan, 7% Karen, 4% Rakhine and Chin, Kachin, Mon, Chinese, Indian and Assamese minorities

Language: Burmese, Karen, Shan, Kachin

Religion: 87% Theravada Buddhist, 5% Christian, 4% Muslim, 3% animist

GDP: US$67 billion

GDP per capita: US$1,500

Annual Growth: 1.1%

Inflation: 30%

Major Industries: teak, rice, jute and illegal opium poppies

Major Trading Partners: Singapore, Thailand, China, Japan, India

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Traveler Facts

Visas: Entry into Myanmar requires a passport valid for at least six months from the time of entry. 28-day tourist visas are issued and cost 18.00.

Health risks: cholera, hepatitis, malaria, rabies, typhoid

Time Zone: GMT/UTC +6.5

Dialling Code: 95

Electricity: 230V ,50Hz

Weights & measures: Imperial



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Events

Festivals are drawn-out, enjoyable affairs and generally take place or culminate on full-moon days. There's often a country fair atmosphere about these celebrations, and they may feature stalls, pwes, music and boxing bouts. Independence Day on 4 January is marked by a seven-day fair in Yangon. Around the middle of April, the three-day Thingyan (water festival) starts the Burman new year. This is the height of the hot season, and it is sensibly celebrated by throwing buckets of cold water at anyone who dares venture into the streets. Girls chase boys through the streets, covering their bound victims in soot and parading them about; later, cows and fish are dressed up, adorned and set free by processions of dancing drummers. In October, the sober three-month Buddhist 'Lent' ends and the Festival of Light celebrates Buddha's return from heaven. For three days Myanmar is lit up by fire balloons and paper lanterns and families make offerings at the local pagoda.

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Best time to Visit

Climate wise, the best season for visiting Myanmar is November to February, when it rains least and isn't too hot. If you're hitting the hill stations or the Rakhine coast, try March to May - on the other hand, Bagan and Mandalay are intolerable during these months. Myanmar is least crowded in May, June and September.



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Currency / Costs / Approx. Spending

Currency: Kyat

Meals

Budget: K12-18

Mid-range: K18-60

High: K60-90

Deluxe: K90+

Lodging

Budget: K10-18

Mid-range: K18-60

High: K60-120

Deluxe: K120+

Myanmar's compulsory exchange requirement, which compelled foreigners to change US$200 dollars to FECs (Foreign Exchange Certificates) upon arrival in the country, was scrapped in September 2003. As travellers' cheques cannot be changed into the local currency, and there are no ATMs, cash is the only way to go. US dollars give the best exchange rate.

Costs will vary depending on whether you use officially approved hotels and transport or take the increasingly available opportunity to arrange your own. US$2 a day will get you a room in a budget hotel.If you're travelling very cheaply, you can get by on about $10 a day. If you want your own bathroom and a choice of restaurants, budget $25-30 a day. Flying or taking express trains would add about $5 a day to that budget. If you want to stay somewhere fancy, you can pay anywhere between $25 and $300 a night.

Tipping is not really part of the Burmese culture, but 'presents' are. A minor bribe will get you a long way with Burmese bureaucrats. Money isn't necessary - cigarettes and pens will speed things up a bit, foreign t-shirts will work miracles.

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Attractions

Yangon (Rangoon)

Yangon lies in the fertile delta country of southern Myanmar on the Yangon River. Although the population hovers around 4 million, the city seems so full of trees and shade that some neighbourhoods are practically jungle, giving it a totally different feel from other Asian cities of comparable size.

At night, Yangon's wide boulevards come alive with hordes of stalls selling delicious food and piles of huge cigars. If you can close your eyes to the decay of the old colonial architecture downtown, you'll probably agree that this is one of the most charming cities in Asia.

Bagan

This bewildering, deserted city of fabulous pagodas and temples on the banks of the Ayeyarwady is one of the wonders of Asia. Bagan's period of grandeur stretched from the 11th to the 13th centuries, and an enormous number of magnificent buildings were constructed here. The city was sacked by Kublai Khan in 1287 and never rebuilt. There are some 5000 temples, the most interesting of which are Ananda, Thatbyinnyu and Gawdawpalin.

Bago (Pega)

During the Mon dynasty, Bago was a fabulous city, a major seaport and capital of lower Myanmar. The city was destroyed by the Burman in 1757 but partially restored in the early 19th century. When the Bago River changed its course and cut the city off from the sea, Bago failed to return to its previous grandeur. Sights include the Shwemawdaw Pagoda, which dominates the town, the Hintha Gone Pagoda and the 55m-long (180ft) reclining Shwethalyaung Buddha.

Mandalay

This sprawling cultural centre is the most Burman of Myanmar's cities. It was the last capital of Myanmar before the British took over and is the country's second-largest city, complete with bustling markets of produce and handicrafts from all over Upper Myanmar.

Highlights of Mandalay include Shwenandaw Kyaung, the sole remaining building of the once extravagant moated palace; Mandalay Hill, with its spiralling stairways, temples and sweeping views; and the ancient Rakhine Buddha image at Mahamuni Paya. There are four 'deserted cities' nearby: Amarapura, Sagaing, Ava and Mingun. Mingun is the most appealing of the four; not only are there some wonderful monuments in various states of disrepair, but just getting there is half the fun. The boat ride from Mandalay is a treat.

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Disclaimer: We've tried to make the information on this web site as accurate as possible, but it is provided 'as is' and we accept no responsibility for any loss, injury or inconvenience sustained by anyone resulting from this information. You should verify critical information like (visas, health and safety, customs, and transportation) with the relevant authorities before you travel.

Sources: CIA FactBook, World FactBooks and numerous Travel and Destinations Guides.

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