About Myanmar in the Far East - covering travel and sightseeing in the country - visas, flights, things to do and see in Burma.
Officially known as The Republic of the Union of Myanmar but generally simply called Myanmar (or still often Burma), the country is situated in South East Asia and has borders with
China, Bangladesh, India, Laos and Thailand. Located around 200 miles north of Yangon, Myanmar's capital city is called Naypyidaw - this new city was created by the somewhat nervous Military in place of the old capital at Yangon. Naypyidaw has
little to offer tourists since it mostly contains government offices, military establishments and lots of multi-lane generally empty of traffic roads. Probably the main locatations in Myanmar which are of interest
to tourists are Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and visiting Inle Lake (near HeHo).
Myanmar is rapidly changing since the political change from what amounted to military dictatorship - from conversations with locals (in 2014) the amount of people from overseas chosing to go and visit the country is increasing in leaps and bounds. Communications in Myanmar are really varied in quality and
availability - for instance Yangon is obviously severely overstretched as far as internet and telephones is concerned whilst places like Bagan (way up country) is pretty good and reliable.
How to travel to Myanmar, Myanmar Visas, Internal Flights and generally about getting around.
Before you go to Myanmar in most cases a Visa is required - certainly getting a Tourist Visa from the Myanmar Embassy is
straightforward - it can be done by post and only takes about a week - and currently it is pretty cheap compared with some places like India.
As far as flights are concerned most air travel both international and domestic is centered around Yangon. There currently are no international flights coming in directly to Yangon from Europe - the to get there is probably quickest by going into Bangkok and changing for the quick trip to Yangon. Direct
flights include daily services from Bangkok (numerous airlines), Singapore (Silk Air), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam Airlines), Kuala Lumpur (MIA and Malaysia Airlines), Kunming (China Eastern) and Seoul (MIA and Korean Air).
These can all be booked on the web in advance as you would expect. There is also a currently three times a week flight by MIA which goes from Yangon to Siem Reap and
Phnom Penh in Cambodia. However at time of writing (April 2014) tickets can only be sort of reserved online and it's necessary to go to the MIA office or perhaps a travel agent to get the actual tickets - this can only be done a few days in advance of the flight and tickets have to be payed for in cash. Presumably this will all be rectified soon and proper online ticketting will be
put online as Myamar rapidly hauls itself into the current century (from a technology point of view). In fact as of early 2015 the possibility to fully book flights online has improved with some airlines.
Internal flights in Myanmar are interesting - there are several domestic airlines operating regular services which basically start out from Yangon and then depending on whether it's morning or afternoon go either clockwise or anticlockwise to various locations. So for instance if you wanted to go from Yangon to Bagan then the morning
flights tend to do a circuit which starts off at Bagan, followed by Mandalay and Heho before returning to Yangon. The later flights go the opposite way round starting off at Heho (for Inle Lake) and so on. These are only short hops between locations and the airlines use a variety of ATR turboprop aircraft - i.e. the planes have propellors.
Apart from using aircraft there are plenty of
fairly fast bus and coach services operating throughout Myanmar - the roads from Yangon up to Bagan and then Mandalay are in reasonable condition and the fares are pretty cheap. However going from Mandalay to Heho and Inle Lake is not too good as the roads are pretty poor at the moment. There is a railway system in Myanmar but it is pretty slow going, the carriages are not the most up to
date in the world and perhaps worst of all the trains often run the long distance routes during the night. So you do not get to see much of the countryside!.
An alternative particularly whilst going from Bagan to Mandalay can be to hire a car and driver - keep away from hotel travel desks and simply ask a taxi driver for a quote - it can be less than the air fare and of course
convenient and more enjoyable.
Currency in Myanmar is called the Kyat (which is pronounced locally as "chat").
You can mostly only get the Myanmar Kyat on arrival in the country - the best currencies to take with you are either (preferably) U.S. Dollars or Euros but bear in mind that these notes need to be in pristine condition or they are likely to be refused. There is also a variation
in how many Kyat you will get with the best rates offered if you have 100 U.S. Dollar notes. Unlike for instance Cambodia where using U.S. dollars is commonplace, in Myanmar taxis and restaurants and so on expect to be payed in Kyat these days. Exchanging currency in the street still occurs but certainly the best rates as well as a better chance of not being short-changed or given poor quality notes mixed in - is to use Myanmar Banks.
Hotels and Restaurants in Myanmar.
There seems to be a bit of a shortage of medium range hotels particularly in Yangon - well
their are what elsewhere would be considered medium range hotels but the prices for rooms are generally as if the hotels were towards the top-range. Certainly in Yangon the best hope of getting a reasonable rate is to do this online and preferably as near to your desired date as possible - though of course there is a risk of non-availability during the peak tourist season if you
leave things late - sort of catch 22!. Hotels and guest houses in Bagan, Mandalay and around Heho are generally much more reasonably priced fortunately. The same sort of thing applies as far as proper restaurants are concerned - with those in Yangon being somewhat more expensive than elsewhere.