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Everything you need to know before you travel to Myanmar

Myanmar (Burma) is a country that feels like it has been lost in time, with the country offering the visitor a completely different travelling experience to other South-East Asia countries. Traveling around the country will open your senses to a traditional and gentle land of intrigue and culture. The Burmese men still wear the traditional lungi (sarong) and the women (men as well) decorate their faces with a yellow paste called ‘Thanaka’ which not only is a natural sunscreen but also used as decoration.

Burma, Myanmar or Republic of the Union of Myanmar borders with Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh. With a land size of 676,578 square kilometres and a population well over 50 million, which makes Myanmar the world’s 25th most populated country. When visiting this will surprise you as the country does not feel over crowded at all, in fact you get the complete opposite feeling as you travel on a Burmese adventure.

The country holds so many secrets that await to be opened by intrigued tourists. From the fascinating city of Yangon where you could take a walking tour and at various points, close your eyes and once opened you feel that you could have gone back in time to 1920’s London due to the incredible architecture. To the thousands of temples in Bagan that were mostly built during the 12th to 13th centuries; Inle lake and is magical charm and picturesque setting on water. Mandalay with its fascinating day tours that take you back in time to Burma’s lost era. Not only this but you have hidden beaches that many tourists will never find as well as mountain hill tribes where you can go in search for traditional villages and tattooed ladies that time has forgotten.

Money, Expenses & Credit Cards

Although the official currency of Burma is the Burmese Kyat, the US dollar is the most used currency. However, notes will need to be in pristine condition with no folds, stamps, stains, writing or tears. On top of this dollar bills must not be issued after 2006. Not having the right kind of bills could potentially lead to financial trouble within the country. We strongly recommend that you do not exchange money at the airport. The best places to exchange money in Rangoon is the Bogyoke Aung San Market or in your hotel.

Only over the last year has the use of credit cards been introduced to Burma. Burmese banks will now accept card payments from both Visa and Mastercard. The first ATM’s were introduced to the country in 2012 but do not always rely on them. Some do not accept international cards and you will not be able to withdraw money. Most 4 or 5 star hotels will accept credit cards but we would recommend having the cash to cover it in case they don’t. For now we recommend relying on cash dollars.

Main Festivals

  • January

    Naga New Year

  • March / April

    Irrawaddy Literary Festival

  • 17th to 24th March

    Shwedagon Pagoda Festival

  • 14th to 16th April

    Thingyan Water Festival

  • 20th to 26th November

    Taunggyi Hot Air Balloon Festival

  • 26th November

    Tazaungmone Festival

  • November / December (Full Moon)

    Golden Rock Pagoda Festival

Please note: Dates of some festivals can change slightly from year to year.

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Country Profile

  • Full name

    Republic of the Union of Myanmar (previously Union of Myanmar; Union of Burma)

  • Population

    48.7 million (UN, 2012)

  • Capital

    Nay Pyi Taw

  • Largest City

    Rangoon (Yangon)

  • Area

    676,552 sq km (261,218 sq miles)

  • Major language

    Burmese, indigenous ethnic languages

  • Major religion

    Buddhism, Christianity, Islam

  • Life expectancy

    64 years (men), 68 years (women) (UN)

  • Monetary unit

    1 kyat = 100 pyas

  • Main exports

    Teak, pulses and beans, prawns, fish, rice, opiates, oil and gas

  • Internet domain

    .mm

  • GNI per capita

    n/a

  • Intern. dialling code

    +95

Myanmar – A Brief History

Early Burma & The Pyu
Burma’s history goes back 13,000 years with the first known settlers living in close proximity to the Irrawaddy River. We know that these settlers were amongst the first people to grow rice, create bronze out of copper and also domesticate chickens and pigs.

From there the Tibeto-Burman speaking Pyu entered the Irrawaddy valley going on to found city states throughout the area. In this period foundations of Buddhism were brought to the country from South India after a trade route was established between India and China, converting much of the state. The Pyu period was a humane and peaceful period and many Pyu boys entered monastic life between the ages of 7-20. The Pyu were a long prosperous civilization lasting nearly a millennium before the Mranma (Burmans) entered in the upper Irrawaddy valley conquering the area in 832. Whilst Pyu settlements remained until the mid 11th century, eventually the Pyu gradually were absorbed into the expanding Burman Kingdom of Pagan, by the 13th century, the Pyu had completely assumed the Burman ethnicity.

Pagan Rule 1044 – 1287 (Golden Period)
Small Kingdoms 1287 – 1510
Toungoo Dynasty (1510-1752)
Konbaung Dynasty (1752-1885)

British Rule (1886-1948)
Under British rule Burma went under big social, economic and administrative changes which completely transformed the once agrarian society. A year after Burma was conquered by Britain; Burma was made a province of India in 1886 making Rangoon its principal capital. Huge changes were made as traditional Burmese society was overturned with the demise of the monarchy and the separation of religion and state. The demand of Burmese rice grew with the opening of the Suez Canal and a vast amount of land was opened up for cultivation. Whilst the Burmese economy grew, the wealth remained with the British and migrants from India. The Burmese population was also excluded entirely from military service. Although the country became more powerful and prosperous, the Burmese people did not reap the rewards, causing discontent among the local populace.

Universities were created within Burma and in the 1920’s armed rebellion and protests against the British were led by political activist Buddhist monks. The British separated Burma from India in 1937 and granted the colony a new constitution calling for a fully elected assembly. By the mid 1930’s, the Students Union at Rangoon University was at the front of an active and powerful movement for national independence. Aung San (a magazine editor for the Students Union) emerged at the potential new leader of the national movement gaining support of the nation through successful student strikes.

Second World War and Aung Sa
At the beginning of the Second World War, Aung San capitalized on British preoccupation and led 29 others to undergo military training in Japan. The Thirty Comrades fought in Burma against the British alongside Japan who had promised to grant Burma freedom if the British were defeated. When it became apparent that Japan would not hold its promise, Aung San negotiated an agreement with the British to help them defeat the Japanese.

Japan surrendered and Aung San negotiated Burmese freedom in January 1948 declaring independence from Britain

However during a draft constitution, new leader Aung San was assassinated by opposition hugely altering Burmese history. U Nu, a member of Aung San’s cabinet was delegated to fill the position left by Aung San’s death. Burma was granted independence on January 4th 1948.

Independence (1948)
The country has been in one of the longest running civil wars outlining the country as one of the least developed nations in the world. The first decade of Burma’s new democratic government was constantly challenged by communist groups resulting in civil war destabilising the nation. As the economy diminished U Nu was removed from office in 1958 by caretaker government leader Ne Win. Ne Win took control of the whole nation in order to restore law and order. However, this was a brutal beginning of a dictatorship with Ne Win forcing minority states to remain under his jurisdiction. 2 years later he staged a coup which solidified his position as Burma’s military leader.

Ne Win’s new revolutionary council suspended the constitution and instituted an authoritarian military rile. The country was closed off to the outside world as Ne We tried created an isolated society known as the Burmese Way to Socialism. Burma protested the ruling of Ne Win with peaceful protests; however in 1962 Ne Win’s military suppressed a peaceful campaign killing 100 students, the following day they blew up the Student Union’s building. Under Ne Win rule the country was on a disastrous path of cultural, environmental and economic ruin. Outside visitors were restricted and protests were met with violence.

1988 Onwards
Ne Win’s dictatorship went on for several decades but in 1988, Ne Win suddenly announced he was to step down. Seeing this as a possible escape from military rule, thousands took the streets of Rangoon. On August 8th 1988 troops began a four day massacre killing 10,000 demonstrators including men, women and children.

After this the military swept aside the constitution of 1974 in favour of martial law under the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC.) The military government also announced at this time they were to change the name of the country from Burma to Myanmar. In 1990 the (SLORC) held multiparty elections – with 82% of the public vote, the National League of Democracy (NLD) led by Aung Sa’s daughter Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landslide. Surprised by the result, the SLORC retaliated to the election by putting the leaders of the opposition including Aung Sa Suu Kyi under house arrest whilst they maintained leadership Burma.

After pressure from the outside world the SLORC was abolished in 1997 and replaced by the State Peace and Development Council, however this was just a cosmetic change. Human rights allegations continued to be raised leading to United States and The European Union to put in sanctions. Aung Sa Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 2002. The situation in Burma remains tense to this day with heavy crackdowns on the NLD still in effect. However a new era is beginning to emerge with steps being implemented for a road to recovery and reform. In 2006 the International Labour Organisation announced it was seeing to prosecute members of the ruling Myanmar junta for crimes against humanity, over forced labour of its citizens.

2011 to Today
With careful monitor from the United Nations, Burma is on a path to recovery. New labour laws have been introduced allowing labour unions and strikes as well as a relaxation of press censorship. Tourists are now allowed to enter the country freely. Hilary Clinton visited Buma in December 2011 to encourage further progress followed shortly by President Barack Obama. An ongoing series of political, economic and administrative democratic reforms in Burma are progressing and positive times lie ahead for the previously troubled nation.

Towns & Cities in Myanmar

Have a look at all the cities and towns of Myanmar

Myanmar has no shortage of captivating destination to visit on your holiday. Refer to our Towns & cities guide to plan the perfect trip.

Essential Myanmar Travel Information

(Check out our helpful travel information before leaving home)

Our Favourite Hotels in Myanmar

There are so many beautiful hotels to choose from in Myanmar. So we have selected a few of our most favourite and characterful hotels; giving you a taste of what you can expect.

Our most popular Activities in Myanmar

Browse through our Myanmar Activity suggestions and get some inspiration.
We can then add any activity you want and tailor-make a Myanmar holiday just for you!

Our most popular Myanmar Holidays

Browse through our Myanmar holiday suggestions and get some inspiration.
We can then tailor-make a Myanmar holiday just for you!

Myanmar Photography Tour

Myanmar Photography Tour

15 Days / 14 Nights
Price from: $3,659 per person

Myanmar Boat Cruises

Myanmar Boat Cruises

5 to 15 Day Cruises
Price from: $1,099 per person

Myanmar Birding Discovery

Myanmar Birding Discovery

9 Days / 8 Nights
Price from: $2,259 per person

Golf & the Golden Temples of Myanmar

Golf & the Golden Temples of Myanmar

6 Days / 5 Nights
Price from: $1,599 per person

Myanmar Joining Group Tour (Solo Trips)

Myanmar Joining Group Tour (Solo Trips)

13 Days / 12 Nights
Price from: $3,059 per person

Burmese Days

Burmese Days

16 Days / 15 Nights
Price from: $2,699 per person

Island Hopping Myanmar

Island Hopping Myanmar

8 Days / 7 Nights
Price from: $3,099 per person

Inle Lake Romance

Inle Lake Romance

12 Days / 11 Nights
Price from: $2,399 per person

Faces of Myanmar

Faces of Myanmar

14 Days / 13 Nights
Price from: $2,899 per person

Golden Land

Golden Land

13 Days / 12 Nights
Price from: $2,199 per person

Myanmar Uncovered

Myanmar Uncovered

8 Days / 7 Nights
Price from: $1,399 per person

Myanmar Express

Myanmar Express

7 Days / 6 Nights
Price from: $1,199 per person

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