Travel Tips Myanmar

 

You will find here some advises or information on :

 

How to enjoy Myanmar best ?

Travel during the night when possible : your visa is not too long and there are plenty of great places to visit !

Visit during the low season. OK, it is real hot but, at that time, you can get AC rooms for the price of a fan room, do not hear too many "sorry we are full" and have more space in transports or tourist attractions. 

Avoid traveling during the water festival, when only government transports (boat & trains) circulate and in wet conditions. Mandalay was advertised as the best place to experience the festival but you will definitively need to know how to swim. Beside, visiting the ancient cities at that time (the only real reason to come to Mandalay) would be real tricky (however if you can , it should be free). Bagan or Inle Lake are therefore safer bet as those are places where it is easy to spend 3 or 4 days. Transports in or out will however have to be booked as early as possible. 

Buy arts from authorized dealers only and get a certified receipt. Otherwise, you may have it confiscated at the airport. In addition, basically anything real & old is not supposed to leave the country. This in particular include bronze Buddha images, bronze weights in Hamsa or Lion design, Pyu bronze figures, clay tobacco pipes and terracotta votive tablets. An excellent policy to keep the treasures in !

Respect the rules for visiting pagodas : no shoes nor socks, no shorts, compulsory bra and, in general, no scanty attires. "Disregard of the rules constitute a serious cultural & religious offense" as read the sign. In practice however, shorts are tolerated. 

Get a copy of the English "newspaper" "The New Light of Myanmar" and learn about the regime...

Drink natural sugar cane instead of chemical sugar drinks. 

Have regular tea breaks, like the local people. 


How to keep the low cost even lower ?

Buy water by 2 litters' bottle and drink Chinese tea in restaurants. 

If you fancy soft drinks, buy the local stuff (test the leeches one !) and not the expensive imported western brands. 

Change money in Yangon to get the best exchange rate in the country. Small remote villages aren't too advantageous.

Do your shopping with US$ (or FEC) rather than credit card.   

Remain sober : beer, at $1 the big bottle, is relatively expensive !

Travel at night to save on accomodation cost

Skip the attractions which are not worth the entrance fees. Quite a few are indeed a rip off, in particular within inner Mandalay.

Follow the following rules...

But remember that enjoying a trip is sometimes or from time to time worth a little bit more... Backpacking is more about the bag than the money !

 

How not to finance the regime too much ?

OK, the best way would be not to visit Myanmar altogether. But if this is somehow the request of Aung San Suu Kyi (the opposition leader, Nobel Peace Prize in 1991), I quite sure this is really not the wishes of most of the people. 

As I was explained, Myanmar people like foreigners for at least three reasons (in the following order) :
1/ Tourism brings good money to the people who otherwise would have to rely on the unreliable government. 
2/ In areas open to tourism, the government does not dare to bother the local people too much nowadays. Draft labor in particular has ended.
3/ It is possible to have interesting discussions with travelers. Who wishes to get information from the government only ? 

So at the question "should you visit Myanmar ?", my answer is "certainly !" Local people do not deserve a boycott from the west !  Also, a huge number of people are working in the tourist industry and unemployment won't really improve their situation. This being said, there is really no good reason to overspend on the regime. A few things that you could do :

Above all, be an independant traveler !  I certainly won't support package tourism in Myanmar as such tourists will heavily finance the government. The tours organized by MTT (Myanmar Travel & Tours, the state tourist agency) are of course the worst. 

Fly Bengladesh Airlines from Bangkok. It flies once weekly on Sunday. By the way, in case you need more arguments, taking this flight allows you one extra day and make you save around B500 (which you can invest in the Thailand's airport "Passenger Service Charge"). If you wish a more reliable flight, companies like Thai Airways are also available. 

Change less than the required $200 at the airport ? It is very much possible but you will certainly have to "help" one of the staff in exchange. This "service" usually cost $5-10. This being said, you are given by the Government FEC worth exactly the same amount as US$ and you can freely spend those with local people. Therefore, changing less is recommended only to people who are staying a short period of time and will never spend so much.

Travel by private bus, not by plane nor train. Indeed, there is no reason to let the government rip you off by charging you 4 or 5 times what the locals pay. However, try to experience the train at least one : but the ordinary class !  As a whole, avoid transports controlled by MTT. Some of those, like the train ride from Yangon to Mandalay are bad & overpriced anyway. 

Do not change at the official rate ! But who is stupid enough to do it nowadays anyway ? Even the banks discourage you to do so. At the time of writing, the official rate was K6 per dollar (that would put the bottle of distilled water at more than US$8) while nearly all money changer (official or not), hotel & shop could offer you between K300 (bad rate) to K350 (normal rate).

Do not buy souvenirs at government controlled shops but directly with the artisans. 

Find ways to avoid paying the high entrance fees. This is, of course, not always possible. But showing up early at temples, taking a back door entrance or even arguing with the ticket officer are all options which individually works. 



A few interesting postings from an interesting regime ?


Bill boards can be seen regularly in the street with the following statements in Burmese and English :

The "People's Desires" :
1/ Oppose those relying on external elements, acting as stooges, holding negative views
2/ Oppose those trying to jeopardize stability of the State and progress of the nation
3/ Oppose foreign nations interfering in internal affairs of the State
4/ Crush all internal and external destructive elements as the common enemy

Drug fights : "Let's join hands in the fight against narcotic drugs menace to all mankind" plus nice war drawing 

Tourism : "Please provide necessary assistance to the international traveler"

But the most interesting pieces were found in the English "newspaper" ("propagandapaper" would be more appropriate) "The New Light of Myanmar" :

Four political objectives :
- Stability of the State, community peace and tranquility, prevalence of law and order
- National reconsolidation
- Emergence of a new enduring State Constitution
- Building of a new modern developed nation in accord with the new State Constitution

Four social objectives :
- Uplift of the morale and morality of the entire nation
- Uplift of national prestige and integrity and preservation and safeguarding of cultural heritage and national character
- Uplift of dynamism of patriotic spirit
- Uplift of health, fitness and education standards of the entire nation.

In the same paper (23 April 2000), an article in bad English about the so called misused of "human rights" expression. Interesting extracts : "The so-called party general secretary woman and an anarchistic group of party leader remnants cannot see the truth, and are perpetrating acts betraying the national cause under the pretext of human rights with the aim of serving the interests of colonialists, forming a puppet government and turning the nation into a state of a vassal"

And on Sunday, a supplement of propaganda free of charge, first with the importance of "Union Spirit" and then the followings :
The National Convention shall succeed.
The National Convention is genuine national politics.
The National Convention is the concern of all our national races.
With hands linked firm around the National Convention.
The National Convention, the Voice of the People.
Our brethen join hands together for the Union.
Let' defend our nation's sovereignty for eternity.

Our Three Main National Causes :
- Non-disintegration of the Union
- Non-disintegration of national solidarity
- Perpetuation of sovereignty

    The New Light of Myanmar


How to take the bus ?

With so many Bus companies plying the same routes at the same time, for the same price with the same kind of buses, it is rather tricky to make the right choice. Sticking to those with the largest fleet is usually a safe bet : a company with one bus only will have little time for technical controls... 

Some companies have a big fleet but they alternate old & new buses. The good thing about old buses is that the driver had time to develop a close relationship with them : if they brake down, they can usually be fixed. New modern buses might be technically more challenging...

Anyway, you sometimes have no choice as popular companies fill up fast. You should always try to reserve as early as possible. Ask your GH to call for you. Seats can usually be booked over the phone but you will have to pick up the ticket at least a few hours before departure, which is not too convenient if the station is far away from the town center. Fortunately, companies have sometimes also representants in town which can issue the ticket, sometimes for an additional fee, most of the time at the same cost. 

To summarize, here is how to proceed :
- Ask local people for the most reliable company
- Call it to check if it has seat available
- Ask whether they have an office downtown (in such case, going there would let you choose a seat) 
- Ask fro where they leave and whether they have a free pick-up to the station
- Clarify before what time you have to get your ticket

 


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