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Burma / Myanmar Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

There are no direct flights from the UK to Burma but a number of airlines offer single-stop options from Heathrow to Yangon, while multiple-stop flights are available nationally. Thai Airways offers a service from London Heathrow via Bangkok to Yangon or Mandalay. British Airways offer direct services to Bangkok and with connection on to Yangon with Bangkok Airways. Other airlines including Malaysian, Singapore Airlines and Qatar Airways offer services to Burma via their regional hubs.

Flying times from UK

Flying from the UK to Burma will involve one or two stops. The flight time using Thai Airways is around 14½ hours. British Airways via Bangkok with the onward connection will take around 16 hours.

Time zone

Burma is +6½ hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

Every visitor to Burma requires a visa but it is straightforward enough to obtain one. If you are in the UK visit http://evisa.moip.gov.mm/ to use the online visa service. After completion you will receive an approval letter to present at immigration on your arrival. If you are crossing into Burma from Thailand a traditional visa from the Burma Embassy in London will be required. Allow a couple of weeks for this to be processed.

Do's and don'ts

Do dress conservatively. Sleeveless t-shirts, shorts and leggings should not be worn in temples. Also take off shoes and socks and make sure shoulders are covered.

Do not discuss politics in public, especially with locals – the country may have changed but you can still get people in trouble.

Do hand over money using your right hand – using the left hand is offensive.

Money

The US dollar is widely used in Burma but the local currency, the Kyat (pronounced Chat), is becoming more popular. Take new $100 notes to exchange if you can, avoid notes that are grubby or torn, and have a supply of both currencies to avoid falling victim to poor exchange rates. Airport exchanges are fine to use and do not forget to exchange Kyats back before you leave as it is not an international convertible currency. There are now more than 2,000 ATM machines in Burma dispensing Kyats for a small fee. Credit cards, while handy for big-bill items, are not yet to be relied on for more modest purchases.

Tipping

Staff in restaurants will expect a tip of 10% and when visiting temples or other places of interest, there are often contribution boxes available for your donations. A guideline for tipping drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

An authentic Burmese meal will feature an impressive range of foods and plenty of rice. Expect a curry or salad with side dishes that may include various vegetables, dhal, fishy dips, pickled tealeaves and palm sugar, and lots of green tea. At the end of a meal look out for laphet. This somewhat slimy pile of fermented green tea leaves, mixed with garlic, shrimp, peanuts and sesame seeds is not the most attractive dish but is tasty and full of caffeine. A Burmese favourite is mohinga – rice noodles in a thick fish and shallot broth, with crispy deep-fried vegetables or lentils on top.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

If your visit includes a Full Moon Day, you will be treated to street parades and festivities in monasteries. The Maya Thingyan water festival held in April is also popular.

Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda Festival in early March is a five-day competition between weavers, attended by beautifully attired visitors from throughout the country who make offerings of flowers at the country’s premier pagoda.

Thadingyut Festival of Lights, celebrated nationwide in late October is a celebration of the end of the Buddhist Lent, with particularly impressive events in Yangon and Inle Lake. Most towns will host street theatre and food stalls, and pagodas will be illuminated by countless lanterns and candles.

The Taunggyi Hot Air Balloon Festival is held in late November at Inle Lake and where the Pa-O community compete to make huge paper balloons, often shaped like animals.

Shopping

Seek out pretty lacquerware bowls, trays and boxes and the Five-Day Market around Inle Lake is a favourite with visitors. The most famous here is the floating market of Ywe Mah – this is also the busiest. In Mandalay you can visit a gold leaf workshop and a few dollars will buy you a delicate and extremely pretty gift.

Suggested reading

Books such as Rough Guides, Bradt and Footprint offer up to date information. For more information on culture, ‘Burma in Style’ by Caroline Courtauld is good place to start. For a novel steeped in Burmese history, try ‘The Glass Palace’ by Amitav Ghosh. Telling the stories of three families over a century, starting with the British invasion of 1885, this epic love story takes in the country's political and social upheaval. If Burma's more recent history interests you there are plenty of books looking at the most famous Burmese resident, Aung San Suu Kyi. Justin Wintle’s ‘Perfect Hostage: A Life of Aung San Suu Kyi’ looks at the influence of her father and her time at Oxford University and paints a revealing portrait of a woman who sacrificed so much in the name of democracy.

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on Burma the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Burma / Myanmar Holiday Ideas

Burma / Myanmar Holiday Review

Our itinerary was varied and interesting at all times; the logistics were impeccable. We found the people of Myanmar to be kind and considerate. What we most enjoyed was the authenticity of all we did and saw. Once again, many thanks to the team for a truly great experience.

PB & MT - Burma / Myanmar - February 2018

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