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Myanmar has a population of 56 million. The vast majority (53.3 million) are Buddhists. The country is divided in seven states and seven regions.  But you do have a tourist guide, don’t you? So here are some facts, as I would have liked them to be presented to me before I left.


Bring the whole medicine jar, but don’t panic. Take the medical prescriptions, if any, as well. Malaria seems to not be a big problem (my doctor agrees), unless you visit the forest, wood-logging areas, although there is so much water in areas like Inle that you never know, so be polite to mosquitoes, and they may treat you better… Myanmar does not look dangerous and probably isn’t, unless something really bad happens, and then you may be in serious trouble. Hospitals are not always around the corner. So pray before you leave, but take a good insurance as well, and all your cash: everybody pays for health care in Myanmar, Burmese included. Btw, AIDS is rampant, although sex is prohibited before marriage, or should I say, because of this (men tend to visit prostitutes, after drinking gallons of alcohol).

Money and sense

Cash is not everything in life. And by that I mean, there are also credit cards, checks, jewels...
But Myanmar is a country where you are not going to be using anything but cash, or almost. This means you are going to have to be carrying on you so much money as you have never carried before. In another country this would certainly entail serious risks for your life. Not in Myanmar.  I left with my cash carefully packed in a carton box, prepared to sleep and sit on it and caress it all the time, not leaving it out of sight even for a single minute. But traveling is as unpredictable as war, and as soon as you get to Myanmar and start using boats, trains, buses etc. you realize that this promise is just so unrealistic. I cannot count the times I left not just my money but also my entire luggage to the attention of people I had never met before, for days, and yet nothing happened. Try this in any other country and you will be washing the dishes of a crappy restaurant for the rest of your life to buy your ticket back home. But not in Myanmar.
Yet there are certain things you need to know about cash before you get there.
Your money has to be “pristine”, as Lonely Planet puts it, 2006 or later USD, whatever that means. Totally new ones, no folds, stamps, stains, writing marks, blood or tears. 
USD are accepted as such, at a very slightly lower rate.  So if paying green makes you feel grand, indulge!
There is no need trying to get a better rate, differences are minimal, so keep safe and change at the airport or your hotel. Unless winning pennies is a hobby to you.
In some hotels and big shops you may find credit cards are accepted. Do not count though on receiving cash against your credit card.


230V, no adapter needed for most European countries (UK is not a European country and needs to bring its own batteries). It works, no interruptions. What may well be a bit more complicated is finding an electricity plug in your hotel room that actually works. I cannot count the times I caused myself electrical cuts trying to figure out which one was working. So if you find one that is working, it is very wise to have a hub with you, for all your stuff. And don’t always depend on moonlight; bring a torch for walking in the night and a night lamp to read.


Brown. Don’t drink tap water, ice cubes included. Buy bottle water, help the local economy, your stomach and the people will be thankful.


My impression is you can eat outside without almost any risk. Use your common sense and enrich thus your eating experience, don’t limit yourself to the boring hotel restaurant, with every night the same northern European couples that not speak to each other, unless they down 3 gallons of local cheap wine each.  Breakfast may be your only disappointment. The closer to the breakfast you may desire are eggs. Plain and scrambled, nothing else. ALL the rest is going to be spicy and gluteny, so don’t panic. I at least was thankful for having noodles three times a day!
And of course, coffee is about to be your most painful experience, so take an extra caffeine injection before you leave home. Whenever I came across espressos, I had so many I could not sleep in the night.


Sometimes. Never. I don’t know, no one does. It all depends on something that the human nature is still unable to grasp.
Although most hotels offer free wifi, and you will see all three Network bars on your mobile or your laptop, most times you will be unable to connect. In the whole town of Monya internet had been out for three weeks when I was there. So I went to the cinema, and nothing happened to me. Just sit back and relax: read your book, watch life, the people… You may not get another chance soon.


No. NoNo. Roaming is not allowed. Some people carefully hide their satellite phones when entering Myanmar, but these are very important people prepared to risk serious trouble to speak with their mistress. Send her a letter, with a stamp, if you have one. Depending on how young she is, she may have never experienced snail-mail.
As of this year though (end of 2014) three new companies are coming in (one of them Norwegian!), already giving out free SIM cards, and roaming is going to be allowed.  Until then, you can always use your mobile phone as a presse-papier.


Anyone who tells you they went to Myanmar and traveled are lying, and should be deleted from your Facebook account. Gringos are not allowed to drive; you need to have a local driver. Which is a fair deal for both you and him. He will earn some money, and you will not have to spend the rest of your time rotting in a Burmese jail (see the film Rambo: the first blood for details).
All jokes apart, Myanmar has the most disciplined driving I have seen in Asia. Infinitely more so than Greece, to take just one example. I would gladly drive in Myanmar, but there would surely be a serious downside to it: sign reading. Which could theoretically happen if there were signs in the first place. But since my Burmese is out of practice and signs there are not, I spent hours being driven around -a rarety for me- most of the time dozing and listening to music, letting the scenery and my thoughts go by in the most zen manner.  I only wished sometimes the driver had been a pretty woman. With a mini skirt. Scarlett Johansson.

Traveling inside Myanmar

It can make you understand why patience is such a big Buddhist virtue. Trains should be just a curiosity for you, unless you can afford whole months of visit and meeting the whole of the local population at every station. Buses are another patient experience, and you are probably going to spend some of your time taking planes. All Burmese air companies are blacklisted; all but a few have had recent (fatal) crashes. So just be ready to parachute yourself out of the window if something goes really wrong.
When in Inle, take as many boats as your heart desires. They are probably faster than buses and trains taken together. And I assume that if your boat sinks, you can swim, although you cannot fly.


Yes, please. Even if sometimes, actually rather often, the service provided is lower than expected. Yet there are rules to it, and here are mine:

  1. Avoid package tours. I could not. The local agencies never answered my mails. But I know people who persisted, and incidentally paid about one tenth of what I did.

  2. Try to choose what you buy, and where you buy it. Having your beer at the hotel is equivalent to paying some already rich guy with a military connection, to say the least. Having your beer or your lunch next corner is a totally different and infinitely more enriching experience, for everybody.

  3. Spread your money. It is sometimes handy to visit just one shop and buy all your presents the last day of your visit. But in my way you will meet more people and you will pay so much less that the difference may be shocking (I paid as much as 10 times more in the shops for the same things…)

  4. Spread your gifts, but do not give out without a reason. Don’t make beggars out of good, innocent people. Always speak with your guide, visit a place (school, monastery…) and ask what they need. Then buy it locally, if possible. You may be surprised and humbled by how little people, especially children, may ask from you…

  5. Do not encourage persisting touts, which start appearing in the more touristy places. You do not need an excuse for not buying.

Night life


Police and military

Did not see any. They had just run out of fuel. No, really, they are very discreet. Although it would be wise not to discuss sensible issues when talking with locals. Stick to the basics: women and football. Some values are so roundly global.

Dangers and annoyances

While in Myanmar, one has to face the dangerous fact that one at a certain point has to go back to work.  And one night I was seriously annoyed by the elderly (as I realized during breakfast next morning) couple next door that somehow could not stop coupling the whole night. He blatantly let the Viagra box on the table, besides his noodles and coffee, while she kept on speaking to a mobile phone bigger than an iPad. Must remember to bring my earplugs next time.

And, if you really want to know what is not going to happen to you while in Myanmar, see the film Rambo: the first blood, with Sylvester Stallone.





Welcome to Yangon and have a nice holiday!