There are certain things that you should know before you visit Myanmar -- much more than what you read in travel advisories from your government.
Myanmar is going through exciting changes that we have never witnessed before. Sales of weekly journals have increased several folds with the news that were unthinkable just a few months ago. Publishers are quick to learn that the front page photos and interview with the Nobel Laureate Aung Sun Suu Kyi bring the sales up. News about permit to replace 40 years old cars with foreign imports excite the readers. By paying fine in US dollars or equivalent, owners of unregistered luxury cars can now officially register their vehicles. Soon, there will be automobile showrooms in the country for latest foreign models from Japan, China, Korea, Malaysia, and Thailand.
"The new government now listens to the people," reports a news journal in a big bold print. We are bombarded with news about tax relief for individuals, businesses and exporters and about fight against poverty. Pensioners are overjoyed with increments adjusted to inflation.
Visitors should remove shoes before entering pagodas, monasteries, and when visiting local homes.
A business hand-shake is acceptable, but not a Russian bear hug or a French kiss, especially in religious compounds. Please, we are Burmese. (It might be OK in some not so private places that young local couples hang out.)
There are no strict dress codes as in some Islamic countries, but the best is not to dress clothings that are too revealing such as short shorts showing bikini lines and trunk tops. After all, Myanmar older generation is still very very conservative.
It is now official. Starting April 1st 2012, Kyat is floated to the market value around 812 Kyat. There will be a daily up and down a few percentage points. Certainly, the new official rate will be more realistic than the previous rate of 6 Kyats to a dollar.
As a matter of fact, as early as in October 1st. 2011, a group of six commercial banks have started to open counters for foreign currency exchange dealing in US dollar, Euro, and Singapore dollar. The rate was "semi-offical" based on black market rates. Myanmar Central Bank was still working with IMF to resolve the monetary issues at that time.
There are now foreign currency exchange counters in the Yangon International Airport, and on Thain Phyu Road in downtown Yangon, as well as in Mandalay to exchange your Euro, Sing dollar and green-backs.
However, US dollar is still the king in the business world. Take another note. Starting April 1st, 2012, you can bring up to the equivalent of USD 10,000 without declaring at the airport customs.We still advise you to bring enough cash in crisp new US dollar bills without creases. You will find it hard to exchange worn-out, and torn US dollars into local Kyats. You can expect the values of your old dollar bill to go down by a few percentage (if you are lucky enough to find someone who will accept it.) Why is it so? Good question. The tradition probably goes back to the days of Socialism when US dollar was hard to come by, and handled with great care as if it was a fragile item.
Take note that your credit cards, bank cards, and traveler checks are as good as nothing in Myanmar. However, we have some good news. After the April 1st 2012 by-elections, the US government on April 4th has eased some of the sanctions including allowing "export of US financial services" to Myanmar. We will have to wait and see what it means. In any case, it will take a while to over-haul the entire Myanmar Banking System.
The monsoon season starts from June till September in Southern part of Myanmar. You can expect heavy rains-- not drizzles. An umbrella might come in handy in those months.
During cold season, temperature could dip to 20 degree C (65 F) at night in Yangon, and lower in Mandalay. Freezing point and below are common in Kalaw and Eastern Highland areas from December to January. A light jacket is needed to keep yourself warm at night, especially if you go for hiking tours.
The temperature could go well above 30 degree C (86 F) during hot summer nights from March to May in most part of the country except Eastern Highland areas such as Pyin Oo Lwin. Wear a hat to protect yourself from the sun. Stay in decent hotels with in-house generators to run air-conditioning because black-outs and power cuts are frequent and unpredictable. Discuss with us for a list of hotels that we can give you good rates. We could also take you to clothing stores for your comfortable tour the first day you arrive in Yangon. Please request for arrangements. We at Asia Pearl Travels will always provide personalized services to our clients upon request.
There are a number of Internet Cafe in Yangon. The current going rate is about 500 to 600 kyat an hour. Some of the hotels have designated hot zones and Wi-fi Internet access for your laptop use. You can also access Internet from several other hotels outside Yangon. Internet services have somewhat improved recently in Myanmar. However, You can still expect down-time and slow connection rates even if you are connected to a broadband Network.
Recently, government has lifted the ban on several Internet sites including Yahoo! Mail, Tweeter and YouTube. Changes are still in the infancy stage, and we will keep you advised on the latest developments. If you must use e-mail, we still recommend that you open a gmail account from Google before you visit Myanmar.
IDD phone calls are possible from your hotels. Sorry, your cell phones cannot roam in Myanmar although there are GSM and CDMA networks. In the border areas with China, some of the locals make use of the Mobile service from the service provider in China. If you are unsure of whether the web mail from your local Internet Service Provider (ISP) can be accessible in Myanmar, please let us know. We can check for you free of charge.
A flashlight will prove to be the most useful item if you plan on going out at night away from your hotel. If your skin is sensitive to the sun, bring sun block creams and lotions. And of course, sunglasses will always make you "cool" ( No pun intended.)
Overwhelmingly, "yes". The United States has already "suspended" its sanctions over Myanmar following the European Union, Australia, and Canada. What are you waiting for? Myanmar is now "OPEN" for business as well as for leisures. Travel websites and powerful media such as the Lonely Planet and CNN have already endorsed Myanmar as one of the top travel destinations. Come on in! We will be waiting for you. We will keep our original essay below on why you should visit Myanmar to show how time has changed right before our eyes.
Of course, yes. That's what we are for. Your visit will help the livelihood of many locals from taxi drivers in Yangon to souvenir sellers in remote regions of the Inle Lake, and countless private non-governmental small businesses like us. We only wish for the stability and bright future for this Land of the Fast and the Strong known as Myanmar.
And putting aside the politics, we hope that ancient Bagan will eventually be recognized as the World's Heritage Site that it truly deserves. Slowly, but surely Myanmar is heading in the right direction for the better future. We are very encouraged and glad by the recent developments in Myanmar. On August 19th, 2011, new Myanmar president U Thein Sein had put aside the differences in views and opinions and met with the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung Sun Suu Kyi for the good of the country. The news was covered in government newspapers and shown on MRTV.
This historic meeting took place just a few days after the Nobel Laureate known as "the lady" visited Bago and yes indeed, it is very unusual to see her photos splashed across the pages of local journals such as 7 day News Journal and Flower News published by Yangon Media Group.
We await for the end of sanctions by the West which hurts the ordinary citizens more. We await for our place in the sun, be recognized in the World's stage, and recapture the days of glory that our ancient forefathers had so enjoyed.
But those are not sufficient reasons for you to visit. You should visit Myanmar to discover the final frontiers of the World less traveled by the ordinary tourists. The magic of Myanmar charm, and its friendly people are awaiting your visit. Visit Myanmar. Visit Myanmar with Asia Pearl Travels. Let us be the Myanmar Travel Agency of your choice.