Burma at a Glance
Population: 55.2 million
Capital City: Naypyidaw
People: Bamar 68%, Shan 9%, Karen 7%, Rakhine 4%, Chinese 3%, Indian 2%, Mon 2%, other 5%
Currency: Kyat (MMK)
Time Zone: GMT + 6:30 Hours
International Dialing Code: +95
Passport and visa
A passport with at least six months validity from the date of entry into Myanmar is required. We recommend you make a photocopy of your passport and keep it somewhere separate, or scan your passport and keep the scan in an accessible email account.
A visa is required for all nationalities and can be obtained via e-Visa or your nearest Myanmar embassy or consulate. Please visit the Myanmar official government website http://evisa.moip.gov.mm/ for more information.
Phones and Internet Service
Local sim cards are now available to purchase at the airport or local convenience stores for domestic calls only. International roaming is not widely accessible in Myanmar and we suggest you contact your local telco provider for more information. International subscriber dialing is available at all major hotels, although it's very expensive.
Internet access is available in most major tourist areas as well as larger hotels, restaurants and airports. Connections are relatively slow by western standards and can be unstable from time to time.
Myanmar International postal services, delivering worldwide, mostly route through Singapore, Bangkok and Seoul. DHL is also available for express deliveries.
People, Cities & Culture
While many of its neighboring countries have sprinted into the 21st century, Myanmar remains pleasantly untainted by the effects of the modernisation. After emerging from decades of seclusion and political upheaval, Myanmar has retained a timelessness that few other Southeast Asian nations have. Insulated from the effects of globalisation, much of Myanmar- and the people within its borders - maintain lifestyles not so different than those of their ancestors decades ago. This mysterious and alluring penchant for tradition in Myanmar makes it a fascinating place to witness an Asia that's long been forgotten.
Most that visit Myanmar will remark on the beauty of its temples and richness of its history - but the true heart of the country is its people. Steadfastly warm and uncommonly welcoming, the Burmese and local ethnic communities are particularly enthusiastic about sharing their culture with visitors. Because Myanmar shares its borders with so many countries -China, India, Thailand, Laos and Bangladesh- it also has one of the most unique cultures in the region. The kaleidascopic blend of South Asian and East Asian culatures is truly an experience to be had nowhere else. Apart from the dominant Bamar population there is also a wide assortment of other ethnic communities and minority groups living in the country.
Although cities in Myanmar maintain a similar feel, in terms of energy, to cities elsewhere in Southeast Asia, Myanmar also has a uniquely calm and peaceful energy. Aging British colonial architecture, dazzling Buddhist pagodas and ancient temples are a testament to the nation's past life and, even in big cities like Yangon and Mandalay, traditional buffalo ploughs are never very far away. Within its ancient cities and its biggest urban centers, modern Myanmar's cultural and architectural heritage remains a vivid reminder of why it is still called the Golden Land of Asia.
Taxi’s are the main form of transportation in the major cities of Myanmar. Negotiate the price in advance with the driver, as meters are uncommon. Cost depends on distance - a trip from Yangon airport to the city center will cost approximately 5000 MMK, while a quick trip through downtown to Shwedagon Pagoda will cost around 1500 MMK.
While taxis offer a comfortable ride, traffic can be packed and seatbelts in taxis are often hidden, either tucked into the seats or arranged decoratively. Many cars are are also designed with the steering wheel on the wrong side of the road, which can make for a rather interesting journey.
Trains are also an option for transit, and can be inexpensive while still providing an interesting view of the urban areas and countryside. However, the routes are limited, and a trip around Yangon on the Circle Line can take as much as three hours to traverse. Ferries are also a common option for transport in some areas. Visitors pay a higher ticket price than locals, but are also provided with more comfortable seating options.
Motorbike taxis are another popular mode of transportation among locals in some urban and remote areas. They are not, however, recommended by Buffalo Tours as they are neither safe nor regulated. Please note that travel by motorbike is usually not covered by insurance. Check the fine print of your travel insurance policy before hopping on.
When to visit Burma
Burma has a tropical Monsoon climate with three seasons: hot, rainy and cool. The hot season begins in March with temperatures climbing up to 36 °C plus humidex. This weather is perfect for a beach break along the southern coast, as well as a good time to venture to cooler northern regions
June ushers in the rainy season, which cools down temperatures slightly, but it is unadvisable to travel to Ngapali Beach as many resorts and hotels close during this period. Instead, head to the central areas which are the driest - Mandalay is a great destination during this season.
In terms of exploring Burma, the best time to visit is usually from November until February when the cool season begins. Temperatures are milder and more pleasant, although a bit further north in areas like Mandalay, it can reach as low as 10 °C. This season is perfect for discovering the temple-dotted plains of Bagan!
Please note: The weather can be unpredictable in Asia and we suggest you carry an umbrella or raincoat with you no matter which season you choose to travel..
Festivals and National Holidays
Burma has a large number of festivals and public holidays, either religious or politically significant. Many festivals are based upon the lunar calendar, and therefore, the date changes each year. Thingyan is the largest festival, preceding the Myanmar New Year. This five-day new years’ celebration begins in mid April, and is also known as the Water Festival. Water symbolises the cleansing of the past year’s sins, and is traditionally practiced by sprinkling it upon others. Nowadays, it’s become more of a water fight, as fire hoses, buckets, water balloons and water pistols shower the crowds!
Thadingyut, or the Festival of Lights, takes place towards the end of October and is the second biggest festival of the year. Held at the end of Buddhist lent, locals light up their homes with lanterns and candles to symbolically welcome Buddha’s descent from heaven. For three days, the streets fill with food stalls and performances of dance and music. Some regions set off fire crackers and balloons as well.
A second festival of lights occurs in November to celebrate the end of the rainy season, Tazaungdaing. This day is celebrated at major temples where robe weaving competitions are common, as makers work through the night creating specialty yellow robes. While being a country-wide festival, in certain regions like Inle Lake and the Shan state, hot air balloons filled with candles are released into the air to drive away evil spirits.
Other important holidays include:
Where to Travel in Burma
In a country more well known for its sleepy rural landscapes than its cities, Yangon offers a unique perspective into the urban life of Myanmar. Its fading colonial architecture, vibrant streets, fascinating historical sites and abundance of glorious temples make it perfect for urban exploration. From the the hoards of newspaper stands, tea shops, and betel leaf vendors to the curious and friendly traditionally-dressed locals, Yangon is bursting with culture, making it one of Southeast Asia's most unique and compelling cities.
Sitting at about 900 metres above sea level, Inle Lake offers welcome respite from the stifling heat of lower areas in Myanmar. It's also the second largest lake in the country. Aside from the breathtaking mountain scenery, one of the most compelling reasons to visit Inle Lake is the unique culture and abundance of colourful ethnic communities living there. The largest ethnic group, the Intha people, are best known for their unique style of rowing. Inle Lake is said to be the only place in the world where this practice is done, and it is a large contributing factor to Inle Lake's repuation as being one of Asia's most photogenic places.
Mandalay is the former royal capital of Myanmar, and the second largest city in the country. Surrounded by a giant moat with a Royal Palace at its centre, there are also the ancient capitals of Amarapura and Sagaing, the ‘Leaning Tower of Ava’ in Inwa and the famously photogenic Ubien Bridge nearby. A bit further afield are partially excavated remains of the Pyu Ancient Cities, which date back to as early as 200 BCE. The allure of these sites, as well as the distinct local culture of Mandalay, combine to make it one of the country's best places to learn about and experience the fascinating cultural and historical heritage of Myanmar.
Located on the banks of the Irrawaddy River, Bagan was once a bustling capital city in the heart of the ancient Silk Road trading route between India and China. At its height the Kingdom of Pagan was one of Asia's most illustrious cities, a fact that's still apparent by some 2,200 religious structures, dating from the 9th to 13th centuries, that dot the horizon. Famous for its other-worldly sunrises and sunsets, Bagan is widely regarded to be one of the best places in Asia for both historical exploration and fantastic photo opportunities.
Things to Do in Burma
Hike Up to Golden Rock
Overlooking the small town of Kyaikhto, approximately 200km east of Yangon, is a gold-leaf covered granite boulder perched precariously on the edge of a mountain 1100 metres above sea level. Golden Rock, or Kyaiktio Pagoda, is a one of the most important Buddhist pilgrimage sites in Myanmar. Believed by locals to be suspended on a single hair of Buddha, a ride or hike to the top is also thought to bring good fortune to those who do it. Although the Golden Rock is certainly impressive in its own right, for many, it's the religious fervour and colourfully dressed locals surrounding it that make the trip truly worth while.
Relax on the Coast
When travellers consider beach holidays in Southeast Asia, Myanmar isn't typically high on the list of options -and that's precisely what makes it so amazing. Due to being closed off from the outside world for decades, beaches dotting the coast of Myanmar remain some of the most unspoilt and undiscovered in all of Asia. With over two thousand kilometers of coastline, thousands of remote paradise islands, abundant clear water and unique cultural vibes, Myanmar may be the best place to go in Asia for beach lovers in search of peace and serenity. Venture to Ngapali Beach, Ngwe Saung or the Myeik Archipelago to discover an entirely different side of Myanmar and Asia.
Float above Bagan
Discover the mystical majesty of Bagan with a bird's-eye view of thousands of pagodas while drifting over the dusty ancient kingdom in a hot air balloon at sunrise. The experience is widely considered to be one of the most thrilling in Asia while also promising to be a once-in-a-lifetime photographic opportunity. For those looking to take home compelling photos of their adventure in Asia to show off to friends and family back home, a float over Bagan by hot air balloon
is the ultimate experience.
Trek in Kalaw
A trek from Inle Lake to Kalaw crosses through some of the most picturesque rural scenery in Myanmar. Along the way, pass by tribal villages and meet friendly locals in areas rarely frequented by outsiders. While enjoying the famed hospitality of locals during charming homestay experiences, share laughes and a cup of tea or two before heading onward through narrrow valleys and over rolling hills to experience one of the best outdoors adventures to be had in Myanmar.
Cruise Inle Lake
Experience the diverse and vibrant local life of Inle Lake, where inhabitants maintain centuries old traditions. Drift by the floating villages, temples and gardens, as you pedal along this immense lake. See the traditional blacksmiths working silver all, learn how to roll a cheroot cigar, one of the local delicacies of Burma. Rolled with a cheroot leaf and tobacco, these cigars also contain a variety of local herbs and spices and are an aromatic experience. Even non-smokers will be affixed watching women systematically roll hundreds with ease.
Take a walk across U-Bein bridge, the longest and oldest teak bridge in the world. A short trip from Mandalay, U-Bein spans over a kilometer across the shallow waters of Taungthaman Lake. Be sure to stroll over during sunset and admire the stupas scattered across the hills of Sagaing.