Myanmar is probably one of the fastest changing countries in the world right now. With its economic liberalization in 2013 its has shown some impressive development and is currently even ranked as one of the world’s fastest growing economies. Myanmar’s shape resembles that of an elephant’s head and this elephant is about to awake!
There are many blog posts about tips and guides for Myanmar but we have found that many of them are already outdated. Things change pretty much on a monthly basis so we thought we might give a short update here as we visited the country just a month ago (March 2016). Despite its rapid economic changes there are also a few other things that should be mentioned and shown to any traveler planning to visit this country.
1. Be prepared to smile, always!
Burmese are probably one the nicest, kindest and most welcoming people we have ever met. We traveled around the world a bit and can truly say this! There is always a smile on their faces and they will help you whenever they can. They are extremely curious about foreigners and love to exchange email addresses and Facebook names.
2. All you need are Kyats.
The days when you will need brand new, crisp and specifically-numbered US Dollar bills are over. Although still accepted in the most touristic areas of the country the local currency, Kyat, is now the preferred way of paying in Myanmar. We even made the effort in exchanging to USD before we came but eventually had to exchange them back to Kyat once we were there.
3. Don’t get freaked by all the spitting! (and red teeth).
Burmese people (not all, but many) love to chew betel nuts and it is a national pastime. You will discover many small stands that produce these small packages which are made of leafs coated with lime (not from the fruit but calcium hydroxide), betel nut (actually a seed from the Areca palm), various spices and sometimes a pinch of tobacco. See a video on how they are produced here. This then is popped into the mouth and chewed on for several minutes or even hours, making you salivate and spit many times. You will encounter this spitting everywhere so be prepared! And not only are the streets covered with red stains but also the teeth of those who have been chewing this stuff for too long. And since people love to smile you will see a lot of stained, decayed and reddish teeth 🙂
4. Men wearing “skirts”.
These skirts, named longyi, are very traditional in Myanmar and are used by both men and women. Men use a thin strip of fabric and wrap it around their waist, attaching it firmly in the front with an elegantly tied knot. Women use different fabrics and fold it by the hip and the side. You will immediately recognize a Burmese by this traditional outfit and it actually is very comfortable, especially in the hot sun as it circulates the air and keeps cool. I gave it a try myself.
5. Making a kissing sounds gets your attention.
Don’t even bother waving down a waiter or raising your fingers to get some attention in a restaurant. The best way to do so is by just relaxing and giving a loud kissing sound! No worries, it is not offensive and won’t get you in trouble. People are used to it and its a common way of calling waiters or even people on the streets.
6. Accommodation can get expensive.
Tourism has increased rapidly across the country but the supply is still lacking behind in many places. You will easily pay at least double the price for a hotel or guesthouse compared to its neighboring countries. There still is a lack of online offerings and often times rooms are fully booked. Yet, the situation is slowly getting better and we managed to find places without reserving in advance. Make sure to check the places before you go and be willing to spend some more money on rather simple accommodations.
7. Got your Visa?
Make sure you got your visa before entering the country. We got our Burmese visas in Vientiane, Laos and it was a pretty simple and easy process. Besides a normal tourist visa you can even get an eVisa (depending on your nationality) which allows a single entry up to 28 days – but arrival has to be in one of the airports of Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw or Mandalay. For a tourist visa you will need to fill out a form, have your passport photos ready, own a valid passport (at least 6 months) and some cash, depending on how fast you want it.
8. Great food!
You will hear a lot of people complaining about the food in Myanmar before you go. Also, you will not hear much about the food in general as it doesn’t seem to be mentioned a lot. We can tell you, the food was very good! Although you might not always find very appetizing foods in the markets as you do in Thailand, the Burmese cuisine was a great surprise to us. Yes, it can get quite greasy as they cook with a lot of oil but we found some excellent curries and soups here. The traditional mohinga soup or shan noodles are very delicious and we discovered some amazing salads (such as avocado salad). You will also be able to find lots of dishes which are influenced by the Indian and Chinese cuisine.
9. People wearing Thanaka in their faces.
Thanaka is a whitish and yellowish cosmetic paste that is applied to the face or also arms of women and girls and sometimes also men and boys. It is made of a special kind of wood/bark from the thanaka tree and is ground with a stone and water and applied onto the skin. It is not only used for cosmetic beauty but also serves as a protection from the sun and adds a pleasant fragrance to the skin. It is very commonly used in Myanmar and you will see different yellow patterns and shapes painted on people’s faces.
10. ATMs are widely spread.
The number of ATMs has rapidly increased throughout the country in the last years and months. You will now be able to get your Kyats not only in the common tourist areas but also in some smaller towns. Be aware though that you will still pay some withdrawal fee in most of them.
In Summary, we absolutely loved Myanmar!
There are still so many more things that could be mentioned but these are left for you do discover once you are there! We had an incredible time in Myanmar and encourage anyone to visit this country and discover its beauty. Feel free to have a look at our other posts about this such as our trekking experience in Kalaw that brought us all the way to beautiful Inle Lake. We also had an amazing time walking up to Mount Zwegabin and spending a night in the monastery.