Burma is an up and coming destination in terms of tourism, and I’ve spoken many times about how if you’re going to go, then the time is certainly now. Why? Well, basically I say this because before things change and the place becomes westernised beyond recognition, now is the time to experience Burma, or Myanmar, in all its authentic and mysterious glory.
There’s no denying that Burma is probably one of the most authentic and traditional countries left on earth, and for those who enjoy discovering such hidden gems, this is a place that should be on your list.
Despite that, Burma has its troubles, and because of that you need to know what to look out for, and what to be aware of, when you’re travelling to Burma, to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip, full of memories and experiences of the right kind.
Unfortunately, beauty often hides danger, and Burma isn’t that developed compared to the rest of the world, especially in terms of health, hygiene, sanitation, and political stability. There has been unrest here over recent years, and the country was shrouded in mystery for so long, simply because it was so hidden away and inaccessible. Now things are changing, but the situation still isn’t as stable as it could be.
Due to this fact, if you’re travelling to Burma, it’s important to head online to your embassy website before you travel, and heed any advice you are given, especially in terms of which areas to avoid at that particular time. Situations change from day to day, so stay on top of the game and you won’t go far wrong.
Don’t let this put you off
You only have to read any Government travel advice website to know that, yes, there are problems in some areas, but that most visits go completely without problem, and provided you are sensible and listen to advice, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy everything this stunningly beautiful part of the world has to offer.
If you’ve ever heard of Top Gear, a UK entertainment/motoring show, then you’ll probably have seen the episode that was based in Burma. Basically, if you didn’t see it, I’ll give you a brief run-down of what you missed.
Three men travelled through Burma in three cars, and whilst you might think that’s a random TV show, it’s a very popular one, so bear with me. Basically, this was to show-case not only the cars (which is kind of the point of the whole TV series), but also the beauty of the country too, and the landscapes really caught the imagination of not only those three men, but also the viewers who saw the show. From that point onwards, anyone who saw that episode, wanted to go to Burma, and major publicity for this part of the world was drummed up. This is great news for Burmese tourism.
Basically when you’re travelling to Burma, you can expect the following - the landscapes are stunning, the greenery seems to go on for a lifetime, with misty mountains, authentic temples and pagodas, wildlife, history, culture, and just, well, a seriously beautiful country with so much to explore it’s hard to imagine you’ll ever get around all of it. The great thing is that it’s still so untouched, so authentic, that travelling to Burma will give you a true experience like no other. You won’t find a McDonalds on every corner, in fact you’ll struggle to find one at all, and what you will find is Burmese life on every single step you take.
Travelling to Burma - What you should know
So, we talked about political unrest, and there still remains some, but provided you don’t criticise the Government in public, basically keep your mouth shut and your opinions to yourself, you will be fine. There have been reports of foreigners being arrested and deported for openly criticising the Government, so do be aware of this and simply apply common sense to any situation you encounter.
There are parts of Burma that it is advised not to head to, including much of Rakhine State, however the tourist resort of Ngapali is fine provided you travel to and from the airport only, using the main road. The borders are also not that safe, due to violent clashes, but again, check all of this online before you begin travelling to Burma, because it simply is that changeable, so heed advice ahead of time.
Again, I’ll stress it – don’t let this put you off! There are political problems in most countries the world over, and that doesn’t stop you visiting them!
Travelling to Burma - Getting around
Much of Burma’s road network isn’t that developed, however between the major towns you won’t have much of a problem. You will need to head to the Department for Road Transport and Administration in Rangoon to obtain a Myanmar Driving Licence before you start your journey, as International Road Permits aren’t valid in Burma.
Just like anywhere in the world, check road conditions before you embark on any journey, and stick to daylight hours. During the rainy season of May to October, you might encounter roads which are impassable or totally washed away, so do bear this in mind. Also make sure you give any vehicle you hire a thorough check over before embarking on a journey, no matter how small.
Travelling to Burma - Visa issues/entry restrictions
Before travelling to Burma, make sure you check your visa requirements. On the whole, you will need to apply well before you leave your home country for a visa, issued from the Burmese Embassy, however there is a facility to apply online in some cases. This will allow you to enter the country, and your passport must have six months validity on it in order to apply and enter.
There are restrictions for entry and exit at borders, so if you’re travelling to Burma by road/rail/some other border crossing means, then you need to check out where you can leave from, in terms of where you entered. Whilst this isn’t as strict as it used to be, there are still restrictions in place, e.g. if you entered Burma by Musa or Tamu borders, then you have to exit from there also. In some cases are you allowed to exit via Mandalay International Airport, but this is individually based on where you entered from. Confused? You might be, but once you check out your individual case out, you should have a clearer standpoint.
The great thing about travelling to Burma, in my opinion, is that you will see true culture, true daily life, and an authentic overview, simply because it is almost like heading somewhere off the beaten track – for now, at least.
Be respectful of Burmese culture, especially religious customs and places of worship, because the Buddhist religion is held in such high esteem in Burma that any act which is deemed to be offensive is dealt with in severe circumstances.
If you’re visiting a religious site, make sure you observe dress code, e.g. cover legs, cover arms, and remove shoes and socks before entering the building or grounds. Be quiet, don’t take photos when told not to, be sombre and reflective, and above all else, be respectful.
You are honoured to be allowed to see such things, after so many years of this beautiful country being locked away, so hold your experience in the same high regard.
Burmese people are very friendly and very helpful, so again, treat them with respect. I know I’m probably stating the obvious here, but travelling to Burma is such a privilege at this time, and it is a very fragile thing.
Travelling to Burma - Health issues
Obviously you will know to get adequate health insurance before travelling to Burma, and remember to declare any pre-existing medical conditions at the time of arranging your cover. Make sure your policy states that it covers you for travelling to Burma, and also be sure to head to your GP surgery around two months before you plan to visit, to get any vaccinations or medications you are advised to have. If you are advised to have anything, get it, because there are several health concerns related to travelling in this part of the world.
The usual travel advice stands here, especially not to drink the water as it isn’t as clean as it could be, and there have been reports of cholera in Burma. Basically, Burma is a developing area and this also stands for healthcare. You will be asked for cash before any medical treatment is given, so this is another reason for that adequate health insurance.
Still want to go travelling to Burma?
I hope the answer to that question is a resounding ‘yes’!
If you are a true traveller, someone who aches to visit places which are authentic, traditional, and unexplored, then Burma is for you. I’ve talked countless times about why you should go now, and anyone who has been will be able to back that up.
Burma will probably become like Thailand at some point, overly visited, and unfortunately westernised, which is why travelling to Burma now is so important. Tourism brings in money, and Governments need money to run a country. If you want to explore Burma, or Myanmar, and take in the rich and deep history, culture, and nature, then now is the time.
Don’t delay, head to Burma now, or you may be too late to truly get a sense of what this beautiful country is all about.