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Hue temples; Cameron Highlands; Nha Trang;
South East Asian Information

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Myanmar has a monsoon climate with three main seasons. The hottest period is between February and May, with little or no rain. Rainy season is generally from May to October, with dry, cooler weather from October to February.
Required Clothing
Lightweight cottons and linens are required throughout most of the year. A light raincoat or umbrella is needed during the rainy season. Warmer clothes are advised for cooler season and some evenings.

Key Facts
South-East Asia.
676,578 sq km (261,228 sq miles).
55,167,330 (2013).
Population Density
81.5 per sq km.
Nay Pyi Taw.
Union Solidarity and Development Party since 2011.
Myanmar is roughly diamond-shaped – with a long southeastern ‘tail’ – and extends 925km (575 miles) from east to west and 2,100km (1,300 miles) from north to south. It is bounded by China, Laos and Thailand in the east, by Bangladesh and India in the north and by the Indian Ocean in the west and south. The Irrawaddy River runs through the centre of the country and fans out to form a delta on the south coast; Yangon stands beside one of its many mouths. North of the delta lies the Irrawaddy basin and the arid plains of central Myanmar, which are protected by a horseshoe of mountains rising to over 3,000m (10,000ft). To the west are the Arakan mountains and the Chin, Naga and Patkai Hills; the Kachin Hills are to the north; to the east lies the Shan Plateau, which extends to the Tenasserim coastal ranges. The Kachin range includes Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, Hkakabo Razi which reaches 5881m (19,295ft). Intensive irrigated farming is practised throughout central Myanmar, and fruit, vegetables and citrus crops thrive on the Shan Plateau. Much of the land and mountains are covered by subtropical forest, although this coverage has been reduced by extensive logging particularly for teak.
The official language is Myanmar (Burmese) but there are also many other dialects and languages. English is spoken in business circles and it's possible to get by in English in major tourist areas, although a few words of Burmese are appreciated.
89% Theravada Buddhist. The remainder are Hindu, Muslim, Christian and animist. Many Buddhists also hold some animist beliefs, including worship of nats (spirits) which are rationalised as being disciples of the Buddha.
GMT + 6.5.
Social Conventions
Handshaking is the normal form of greeting, but only with the right hand; the left hand is associated with using the toilet. Full names are used, preceded by U (pronounced oo) in the case of an older or well-respected man's name, Aung for younger men and Ko for adult males; a woman's name is preceded by Daw. There are no inherited family names. Courtesy and respect for tradition and religion is expected; for instance, shoes and socks must be removed before entering any religious building and it is customary to remove shoes before entering a traditional home (in modern residences this may not be observed any longer except in bedrooms). When sitting, avoid pointing the soles of the feet towards people or in the direction of Buddha images as this is considered offensive. Dress should be modest, so both men and women should avoid shorts cut above the knee (a few local men wear shorts, but really long trousers are more appropriate if you can tolerate them in the heat). Mini-skirts and tight or revealing clothing should not be worn. Penalties for drug-trafficking range from five years' imprisonment to a death sentence. Homosexuality is illegal, although Yangon does have a very discreet gay scene.
220-230 volts AC, 50Hz.
Head of Government
President Thein Sein since 2011.
Head of State
President Thein Sein since 2011.

Kyat (MMK; symbol K) = 100 pyas. Notes are in denominations of K10,000, 5,000, K1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1. Notes below K50 are very uncommon.
Currency Exchange
The local currency is used by tourists to pay for everyday expenses such as restaurant meals, bus travel, taxis and shopping. Other expenses, such train tickets and museum entry fees, must be paid for in US dollars (although, in some cases, euro are also acceptable). In some situations, notably paying for hotel rooms, prices are quoted in dollars although kyat are accepted at a poor exchange rate. It is essential to ensure that any US dollars brought for use in the country – whether to be exchanged or spent – are recent issues (2006 or later) and absolutely pristine: any tears, folds or marks may lead to a note being rejected. High-value dollar notes usually receive the best exchange rate, but it’s also useful to have lower denominations to spend as hotels etc. may not have change. Euros are also exchanged at banks, and may be accepted at government-run museums, but are less useful when paying for hotel rooms or other expenses.
Credit/Debit Cards and ATMs
Credit cards can be used only in a handful of top-end hotels in Yangon and Mandalay, although this situation is changing quickly as sanctions are eased and international companies seek to do business in Myanmar.There are around 90 ATMs throughout Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Taungoo and Pyinmana accepting Visa-, MasterCard-, Maestro- and Cirrus-branded cards. Two of these are situated in Yangon International airport. In rural areas it is unlikely that credit or debit cards will be accepted; it is best to check with your card company prior to travel.
Traveller's Cheques
Not currently accepted, although this may change. Check with your tour agency prior to travel, and bring plenty of US dollars in cash.
Currency Restrictions
The import and export of local currency is prohibited. However, amounts of foreign currency exceeding $10,000 or equivalent must be declared on arrival and must be converted within one month of arrival and the declaration certificate kept for departure.
Banking Hours
Mon-Fri 1000-1400, and sometimes Saturday mornings.
Exchange Rate Indicators
1.00 GBP = 1610.23 MMK 1.00 USD = 983.5 MMK 1.00 EUR = 1355.53 MMK 1.00 CAD = 928.06 MMK Currency conversion rates as of 12 December 2013

With dense forests, beautiful mountain trails, friendly people, rich cultures (including those of numerous ethnic minorities) and relatively underdeveloped coastal resorts, Myanmar – previously known as Burma – is certainly an appealing corner of Asia. The hundreds of magnificent temples dotting the plains of Bagan are an obvious highlight, superbly photogenic and rewarding when explored over several days by bicycle or horse and cart. Other popular tourist stops include the large and placid Inle Lake, where you can take a boat out to visit local markets, workshops and stilt villages, and the collection of former capitals around Mandalay – itself a good place to see traditional cultural performances. The former capital Yangon is the main point of entry to the country and has an engaging mix of ill-maintained colonial buildings, magnificent Buddhist temples and animated markets. Fewer people make it to towns like Hsipaw and Kengtung, each of them the jumping off points for great hikes to minority villages, or to the southeastern town of Hpa-an where the surrounding countryside is full of easily-accessible attractions such as Buddhist cave art. With the rivers, particularly the Irrawaddy, so important to the life of the country, river trips are a great way to get around: options range from luxury cruises to multi-day journeys aboard local ferries, with regular tourist boats between Bagan and Mandalay coming somewhere in between. It’s fair to say that there’s enough in Myanmar for the standard 28-day visa to seem far too short. Historically, however, the unstable political situation has detracted from Myanmar's credentials as an alluring tourist destination and for a long time would-be tourists faced a difficult choice. On the one hand, Myanmar has many attractions and tourists were welcomed with open arms by locals hungry for news of the outside world as well as for their economic contribution. On the other hand the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, advocated a boycott on all tourism since it gave funds to the military regime which had suspended the democratic process and was engaged in violent oppression of the country’s ethnic minorities. Since 2012 the nominally civilian government has been making tentative steps towards democracy, and Myanmar has become a rising star among Asian tourist destinations. Foreign investors have been given the go-ahead since most sanctions have been dropped, despite ongoing abuses of human rights particularly in minority areas. Tourist numbers have rocketed, to the extent that – particularly at the budget and mid-range levels – there are simply not enough hotel beds to go around during the peak season (November to February) in major tourist centres. This is one country where even backpackers should consider booking ahead. In fact it’s a country where preparation is essential in a variety of ways, whether it’s sorting out money (since ATMs are only just starting to work with foreign cards, and cannot be relied upon) or planning a route. The latter is important since large areas of Myanmar are out of bounds owing either to their sensitive border status or to ongoing conflicts with ethnic minority groups. Some of these restricted areas can be visited with permits, although these are typically difficult to obtain and few visitors attempt to do so. Rules change regularly and without warning, so it’s a good idea to check before travelling if you hope to visit anywhere off the normal tourist routes. In the end, only individual travellers can decide whether or not to visit Myanmar. Certainly some of your money will end up with the government and its cronies, some of whom are still subject to international sanctions. On the other hand, by doing your research and spending accordingly you can make sure that as much as possible goes to the ordinary people who wish to welcome you to their country.

From copyright Columbus Travel Publishing Ltd, December 2013.

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