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Myanmar CruisesView all tours
Once a pariah state, Myanmar – previously known as Burma – is fast becoming the must-see destination in Southeast Asia, helped by an incredible array of tourist sights: golden stupas as tall as skyscrapers, ancient ruins, fascinating hill tribes, unexplored jungles, peaceful beach resorts, legions of monks, and mesmerising cities made legendary by writers like Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell.
Ruled by a secretive military junta, Burma was closed for decades to the outside world. When it finally opened, travellers were initially restricted to a handful of locations: the magnificent temples of Bagan, the floating villages of Inle Lake, the monasteries of Mandalay, and Yangon, the former capital, with its colonial relics and towering pagodas.
That was then. With the end of the travel boycott called by Aung San Suu Kyi, travellers are queuing up to visit Myanmar, captivated by the idea of seeing what Asia was like before the tourists arrived. Nevertheless, the government still controls where visitors can go and what they can see, and many people have qualms that their tourist dollars help fund the military regime, which stands accused of widespread abuses.
Those who do visit discover a fascinating, and famously friendly culture on the threshold between tradition and modernity. Monasteries are the foundation of Burmese society and even in rapidly expanding Yangon life is focused on Buddhist rituals. The sense of devotion is tangible at the awe-inspiring Shwedagon Paya, which towers over Yangon like an enormous golden pillar.
As Myanmar has opened up to the outside world, travellers have pushed beyond the Bagan-Inle-Mandalay triangle, visiting peaceful outposts like Kalaw, Hsipaw and Kengtung and trekking to remote tribal villages. Smaller numbers make it to the jungles of northern Myanmar or the rain-drenched ports of the far south and west. Myanmar even has its own patch of the Himalaya, accessed from remote Putao in the far north.
Through it all, the mighty Irrawaddy River snakes like a twisting Burmese python, offering some of the most atmospheric river journeys in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, Myanmar remains a controversial destination, promising significant challenges as well as rewarding experiences.
Nay Pyi Taw.Geography:
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 5,881m (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.Government:
Republic.Head Of State:
President Htin Kyaw since 2016.Head Of Government:
President Htin Kyaw since 2016.Electricity:
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins (European-style), three round pins (South African-style) or three square pins (British-style) are used; some hotel sockets can accept multiple types.Timezone:
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.Credit Cards:
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.ATMs:
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.
Until late 2012 there were few ATMs in Myanmar and it was impossible for foreigners to use them. This is changing and there are now ATMs accepting foreign Mastercard and Visa cards in Yangon, Mandalay and a few other locations. Only kyat can be withdrawn, however, which means that it is still necessary for visitors to bring dollars to pay for trains, planes, museum entry and (for the best rates) hotels. It is generally unwise to rely entirely on ATMs since if your card does not work then you may be unable to obtain money in any other way. It is also recommended to carry small change as large notes may be difficult to change. Euros are now also accepted in banks, but exchange can be time consuming.Travellers Cheques:
Not currently accepted, although this may change. Check with your tour agency prior to travel, and bring plenty of US dollars in cash.Banking Hours:
Mon-Fri 1000-1400, and sometimes Saturday mornings.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.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.Currencies: Exchange Rates:
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.
- 1 EUR = 1297.31 MMK
- 1 GBP = 1554.13 MMK
- 1 USD = 1183.00 MMK
Best Time To Visit:
Myanmar has a monsoon climate with three main seasons. The hottest period is between February and May, when there is little or no rain and temperatures can rise above 40°C (104°F). The rainy season is generally from May to October, giving way to dry, cooler weather from October to February. The coast and the mountains see significantly more rainfall than the arid central plains, which include Mandalay and Bagan, and roads can become impassable during the rainy season in those areas.Required Clothing:
Overall, the best months to visit are from November to February. The only notable downside (other than the fact that places are busy with other tourists) is that river travel can be slow as water levels are low, meaning that boats have to travel more slowly; this is particularly notable on long journeys as ferries cannot travel overnight for fear of being grounded on sandbanks.
Lightweight cottons and linens are recommended 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, particularly in hilly areas, on ferries or for trips on Inle Lake. It's also a good idea to wrap up when travelling on buses, as the drivers tend to overuse the air-conditioning.