History, Culture and Climate
Myanmar, also called The Golden Land, is home to many cultures that form a proud nation despite its isolation. It is a country steeped in Buddhist tradition that also reveres family and past royalty, and enjoys celebrating throughout the year. Kindness, generosity and a welcoming spirit stand out among the 135 ethnic groups of Myanmar, and the country has retained much more of its culture relative to other developing nations due to its seclusion over the years. This is evident with daily customs and the many pagodas found all over, but especially at Bagan. The country is not as big as Texas, yet the natural landscape includes mountains such as Hkakabo Razi, the highest peak in Southeast Asia, as well as rivers, tropical forests, pristine beaches, and plains.
The first of four pre-colonial ethnic groups in Myanmar date back to the 1st century, B.C. The land’s scattered kingdoms were consolidated into the first Burmese Empire in the 11th century with its capital at Bagan during the country’s Golden Age.
Two dynasties followed, with the most famous and fearless Burmese king, Alaungpaya, appearing in the 18th century. By 1885 the land was under the rule of Great Britain, who administered it as a province of India and changed the name of the country to Burma. The era of the Second World War gave rise to the nation’s still revered independence movement hero, Bogyoke Aung San, whose efforts saw fruition in 1948.
Local Myanmar time: GMT + 6:30
676,578 sq. km
Myanmar has a largely tropical climate with three seasons: the monsoon or rainy season, from May to October; the cool season, from November to February; and the hot season, generally from March to April. Rainfall during the monsoon season totals more than 500 cm (200 in) in upper Myanmar and over 250 cm (100 in) in lower Myanmar and Yangon (formerly Rangoon). Central Myanmar, called the dry zone, and Mandalay, the chief city in the area, each receive about 76 cm (30 in). The mean annual temperature is 27° C (81° F ); average daily temperatures in Yangon (Rangoon) range from 18° to 32° C (64–90° F ) in January, during the cool season, and from 24° to 36° C (75–97° F ) in April, during the hot season. The climate in upper Myanmar, particularly at altitudes ranging from about 300 to 1,220 m (1,000–4,000 ft), is the most temperate throughout the year, while lower Myanmar, especially in the delta and coastal regions, is the most humid.
Most speak Burmese, and English is widely used in the cities and tourist areas.
Burman 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Indian 2%, Mon 2%, other 5%
Festivals and Holidays
Independence Day: Includes 7 day fair in Yangon
Thingyan, the Myanmar New Year Water Festival: This is a major
3 day celebration that takes place during the hot season. Some of the main activities
include throwing buckets of cold water at anyone on the street, as well as theater, dancing, and singing.
September and October
Boat Races: at the height of the rainy season, these events take place all over Myanmar, most notable on Inle Lake.
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The main religions of present day Myanmar are Theravada Buddhism (89.20%), Christianity (5.05%), Muslim (3.78%), Hindus (0.55%), and Animism (1.27%) and other faiths such as Bahai Sikhs, Lipian fujianhal, Chinese, etc.(0.61%).
Myanmar is known for its curry dishes, mostly with fish, chicken, prawns, or mutton seasoned with ginger, garlic, salt, onions, shrimp paste and peanut oil. Light salads are made with fruit or vegetables and tossed with chilies, lime juice and peanuts. Rice is at the core of most meals. There is also an abundance of Chinese and Indian cuisine. Regional food can be tried at street and market stalls, but you must be careful with hygiene. Burmese are lovers of snacks and you'll find plenty of street stalls selling these towards the evening.
Tea is one of the most refreshing drinks in the tropics or fresh lemon/lime juice mixed with water. Chinese tea is generally preferable to the over-strong, over-sweet and over-milky Burmese tea. Sugar-cane juice is a popular street-side drink and stronger refreshments include orange brandy, lychee wine, white liquor or the local jungle liquor, fruit juice, water-buffalo milk and Mandalay beer.
Access is generally available in Yangon, Mandalay, and other main destinations.
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1. Myanmar Visa Information
According to the visa regulation of Myanmar, all nationalities are required to have a visa when entering Myanmar. The tourist visa is usually delivered by Myanmar Consulates and Embassies in Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Egypt, France, Italy, Israel, Russia, Switzerland , United Kingdom , Yugoslavia, South Africa , United States, Canada, Brazil.
To apply for a Myanmar visa, the applicants are required to present the original passport with validity for at least six months beyond date of intended departure date and the application forms in duplicate with three passport size photos. The tourist visa is usually issued after seven working days and is granted only for single entry with validity for two months from the date of issue, and maximum stay of 28 days in Myanmar. The tourist visa can be extended for an additional 14 days. The business visas are valid for three months from date of issue for stays of 10 weeks, extendable for up to 12 months on an individual basis. The transit visas are valid for 24 hours.
2. Myanmar Visa on Arrival
Visa on arrival is only available at Yangon International Airport and Mandalay International Airport. To apply for visa on arrival through the express visa service of Asianventure Tours, the applicants are required to provide such personal data as: Name and Surname, Gender, Father Name, Date of Birth, Place of Birth, Religion, Occupation, Nationality, Residence Address, Purpose of Journey, One Scan of First Passport Page, Two Passport Photos, Date of Entry and Departure to/from Myanmar, Arrival and Departure Flight Number, Passport Number, Issue Date of Passport, and Expiry Date of Passport (Only passport valid over 8 months from entry date accepted).
The visa approval letter, written in English and stamped by Immigration of Myanmar, will be sent to the applicants after four or five working days. They then need to bring the copy of this visa approval letter, two brand new passport-size photos to get visa on arrival at the immigration counter. The process of visa issue at airport may take 10 to 20 minutes. The tourist visa will be granted only for single entry with a maximum stay of 28 days in Myanmar and may be extended after your arrival in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s health care system evolves with changing political and administrative systems and relative roles played by the key providers are also changing, although the Ministry of Health remains the major provider of comprehensive health care. It is a pluralistic mix of public and private systems both in the financing and provision. Health care is organized and provided both by public and private providers. The Ministry of Health is the main organization of health care provision. The Department of Health is one of 7 departments under the Ministry of Health plays a major role in providing comprehensive health care through out the country including remote and hard to reach border areas. Some ministries are also providing health care, mainly curative, for their employees and their families. They include Ministries of Defense, Railways, Mines, Industry I, Industry II, Energy, Home and Transport.
Ministry of Labor has set up two general hospitals, one in Yangon and the other in Mandalay, and one TB hospital in Hlaingtharyar (Yangon) to render services to those entitled under the social security scheme. Ministry of Industry (1) is running a Myanmar Pharmaceutical Factory and producing medicines and therapeutic agents to meet the domestic needs.
We strongly recommend visitors purchase travel insurance, especially for emergency medical evacuation. We have found through our traveler feedback that insurance underwriters like AIG and Lloyd’s of London are dependable companies who will react quickly to your needs in case of emergency.
Health, Food and Drink
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Tap water comes from various sources. In most towns it will have passed through a treatment plant, however, this is no guarantee of its purity.
Bottled water is provided in most hotels, and can also be bought easily and inexpensively at most shops. Imported water such as Evian, Perrier, Volvic etc is also available, but quite expensive.
Ice cubes served in drinks at established restaurants are not a problem as they are usually prepared from boiled or bottled water.
Currency, Banking, and Credit Cards
The local currency is the kyat. U.S. dollars are widely accepted. The exchange rate fluctuates from 500-800K/1 USD. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted in most hotels, and in higher end restaurants and shops. U.S. dollars are accepted everywhere. Traveler’s checks are NOT normally accepted and are difficult to transact, but may be cashed inside banks; a fee (around 1.8%) is usually charged if exchanged for USD but not for the local currency. Most hotels do not accept traveler’s checks. Visitors are advised to take USD in denominations of 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1.
Notes : Kyats 1000, Kyats 500, Kyats 200, Kyats 100, Kyats 90, Kyats 50, Kyats 45, Kyats 20, Kyats 15, Kyats 10, Kyats 5, Kyat 1.
Coins : Kyats 100, Kyats 50, Kyats 10, Kyats 5, Kyat 1, Pya 50, Pya 25, Pya 10, Pya 5, Pya 1.
Visitors can change their dollars into FEC (Foreign Exchange Certificate which is equal to US Dollars), and then can change their FEC legally into Kyat at the real market rate at licensed money changer shops.
Electricity in Myanmar / Burma is 230 Volts, alternating at 50 cycles per second. If you travel to Myanmar / Burma with a device that does not accept 230 Volts at 50 Hertz, you will need a voltage converter.
For good service, guides are usually tipped $10-15 USD/day, and drivers about $5-10. Tips are not expected in restaurants, but for good service you may leave $1-2 USD in the local currency.
Probably the most popular purchase in Myanmar is lacquer ware. It is available in the main markets in Yangon and Mandalay but most particularly in Bagan, where most of it is made. It is also produced in Kyaukka village (the origin), Monywa and in Kengtung, eastern Shan state.
The basic raw material for lacquer ware products is bamboo. To make an object, the craftsman first weaves a frame. If the item is top quality, only the frame is bamboo - horse or donkey hairs will be the engravings. Multi-colored lacquer ware is produced by repeating engraving, painting and polishing. The process takes five or six months and involves 14 steps. Lacquer is used for alms bowls, trays, plates, boxes, containers, cups, vases and many other everyday items. Octagonal topped folding tables and room dividers are other popular lacquer ware items.
Silk weaving is a traditional Myanmar art. It can be widely seen in Amarapura, the ancient city 12 km south of Mandalay. Most of the local girls bring home earnings from silk weaving. Silk weaving can also be seen in Inn-Paw-Kon village on Inle Lake. Weaving techniques and designs are quite different from that in Amarapura. In the era of the Kings, silk clothing was only used among royal family. Nowadays most of Myanmar especially women love to wear silk clothing in ceremonies and occasions. Visitors either men or women love to buy beautiful silk scarves and other clothing materials.
Myanmar is famous for its pure and world class “royal jade,” but also available are precious birthstones, sapphires and rubies of different qualities. The most famous ruby is the “pigeon blood,” which can reach quite high prices. Many stores in Yangon are able to fix unique designs with directly chosen stones within in a couple of weeks in different quality ranges. Jade is available as stones, finished jewelry like necklaces and even in lower quality in small carved animals, mainly elephants, which are nice gifts to bring home. BE VERY CAREFUL IN BUYING PRECIOUS GEMS AS YOU CAN BE TAKEN IF YOU DO NOT KNOW HOW TO DIFFERENTIATE FROM A REAL OR FAKE GEM, ESPECIALLY JADE.
The manufacture of gold leaf can be seen in Mandalay as a cottage industry. Myanmars believe that it was started by Shan Saya Mon, so gold leaf producers always pay respect to him for good business. Small pieces of gold bullion, which are in the form of tamarind leaves, each kept between two pieces of paper (3”x3”) are laboriously beaten out for days until it reaches the gossamer-like thinness required to gild the images in pagodas. Gold leaf is also used to gild the lacquer ware, wood carving materials and Paya Htee (Pagoda umbrella).
Marionettes are based on Myanmar music and dance. They are made of rattan or wood in different forms. There are twenty eight kinds of marionettes that range in size from thirteen inches to twenty inches in the form of a King, Queen, horse, elephant, tiger, monkey, parrot and so on. Marionettes can be seen at market stalls, hanging with manageable 20 strings. It was said that Marionettes were already performing in AD 1295, but noted were Myanmar Marionettes as early as in the 18th century. During these times some marionettes had up to 60 manageable strings. Tourists like to buy Marionettes at stalls and workshops in Mandalay or Yangon as souvenirs to hang in their homes.
It is a kind of Myanmar traditional handicraft, which can be seen in Mandalay since the time of ancient Kings. In the era of King Min Don, who built the Mandalay city, he plotted a separate quarter for gold embroidery handicraft. The technique is creating designs, like flowers and pictures on the cloths (silk, etc.) by using gold and sliver threads. Real gold and sliver threads were used during the King’s era, but colorful sequins were used for making commanders’ clothing. Nowadays Myanmar people use gold embroidery clothes in traditional and regional affairs such as novice ceremony, opening ceremony, Nat Pwe etc., dating back to memorable ancient times.
Tapestry can be regarded as the twin handicraft of gold embroidery, seen in Mandalay as well and is a good business. Unlike gold embroidery, instead of designed on silk cloths, it is designed on framed black cloths or velvet and old robes using tinsel, artificial gems, gold, sliver and colorful threads by knitting. They are beautifully designed with floral ornaments and pictures of animals such as tigers, lions, elephants, peacocks, etc. Tapestry can also be found on human accessories such as hats, shoulder bags and regular clothing. This popular handicraft is easy to carry, so most of tourists buy and bring pieces back home.
This is one of the twelve categories of traditional Myanmar Fine Arts, called Pan-ta-mot. Stones are carved into various sizes shapes, including Buddha Statues, flowers like lotus, and animals such as elephants, lions, horses, etc. Small lovely pieces can easily be brought home. For large items for gardens and house you may need assistance of local shipping companies.
The carved woods are both old and new and vary from small figures and wooden canes to heavy statues and Buddha images.
Teakwood furniture is made by local craftsmen in various styles and by order of individual preferred designs. Some foreign residents in Myanmar love to buy such uniquely designed furniture. If the tourists would like to bring them to their home country, the advice of a shipping agent is required to check on the regulations in the country.
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Statues of brass in animal shapes, old clocks, old furniture and wood carvings, as well as old ship antiques such as lanterns or telegraphs are a popular buy in Yangon or other major cities. Buyers should be aware of export regulations.
Checklist before you leave on your trip:
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- Air tickets: check your departure times and dates. Where possible buy e-tickets. Paper tickets are more likely to get lost and end up having to wait for months to claim the lost ticket. Make sure you save a copy of your e-ticket in your traveling email.
- Call your credit card company to inform them you will be traveling overseas and provide the names of the countries in which the card will be used and the period during which you will be using it to avoid identity theft and the inconvenience of your card being blocked when you travel.
- Check your visa documents and passport size photos if you need them to get visa on arrival.
- Make copies of your passport and visas. Scan and send them to your traveling email in case your passport or visa is lost so that you can contact the proper authorities to provide copies.
- Make sure you have your health/accident/emergency evacuation insurance. Most important is health /accident coverage. Make sure that the coverage will pay for you while you are in the hospital or need assistance in the country you are traveling. Costs are covered and you’re not required you to pay first and claim later. From our experience insurance underwritten by AIG in the US and Lloyds of London in Europe has come through for our clients in times of emergencies with little inconvenience.
- Check with your mobile phone carrier if they have roaming coverage in the countries you are traveling. Make sure your phone is compatible to receive or make calls in the country you will be traveling. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy a local sim card in the country of arrival and put it in your phone to use locally.
- Make sure you have enough passport pages in your passport. Usually try to have at least 2 pages in your passport for each country you will be visiting (not transiting at the airports). This is if you will get your visa on arrival at the country you are visiting.
- Make sure you have your travel agent’s mobile phone number in your phone or where you can access information in case of an emergency.
- Make sure you pick the appropriate clothing for the climate.
- Mosquito repellent with DEET.
- Medicine for upset stomach.
- Appropriate walking shoes with traction.
Myanmar's Do's and Don'ts
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- Take your shoes off when entering private homes.
- When shaking hands, do so with your right hand, while touching your right elbow with your left hand.
- When visiting a Buddhist site, don’t wear shoes, shorts, short skirts, or have exposed shoulders.
- Do not thrust a camera into anyone’s face for a photo.
- Do not pose with, sit on, or strike Buddha images.
- Do not touch somebody on the head.
- Do not point your feet at anyone or anything.