Helpful tips for first-time travellers to Myanmar

Etiquette

In a formal setting “U” should be used in front of a name when addressing a man and “Daw” when addressing a woman, roughly translating to Mr and Lady. It is common practice to remove your footwear before entering someone’s workplace or home, but not always required. Removing shoes before entering a pagoda or temple is a must. A handshake is usually the first introduction in a business setting and is used in greeting and as a farewell. When handing over something such as a business card it is polite to touch your right elbow with your left hand, or vice-versa.

Language & Ethnic Group

There are more than 100 languages spoken across Myanmar by 135 ethnic groups. The Burman, or Bamar, is the biggest group accounting for 68% of the population, followed by the Shan (9%), then Karen (7%), Rakhine (3.5%), Chinese (2.5%), Mon (2%), Kachin (1.5%), Indian (1.25%) and Kayah (0.75%). The remaining 4.5% is made up of Wa, Naga, Lahu, Lisu and Palaung ethnic groups.

The most commonly spoken language is Myanmar (formerly known as Burmese), which is the primary language of instruction at schools. Other major vernaculars include Shan, Karen, Kachin, Chin, Mon and Rakhine. English was widely taught at schools until the early 1960s when General Ne Win decided to abandon the language. English was readopted in the late 1980s and is now generally spoken by the older generation and the expanding urban elites and middle class.

Transport

Road transport comes in a variety of formats in Myanmar. In Yangon the preferential means of transport is taxi. Taking a regular taxi will require the passenger to always bargain and negotiate the cost of the ride in advance. To increase mobility solutions, the chief minister of Yangon gave authorisation for international ride-haling apps to operate in the city in 2017, meaning that today it is already possible to use apps such as Uber or Grab. To travel between cities the most convenient option is air transport. A round-trip between Yangon and Mandalay has an average cost of $180.

Visa

It is possible to attain a visa on arrival, but it is best to contact your in-country embassy before visiting Myanmar to ensure that you meet the requirements to do so. It is also important to ensure you have all the relevant documents needed for a visa on arrival or you will be sent back on the same flight.

A visa can also be applied for in advance through your local embassy or through an easy online application process that issues both tourist and business visas. A tourist visa costs $50, is valid for 28 days and takes no more than three days to get approved. A business visa is available for 70 days and costs $70. Business visas can have different durations and allow for single or multiple entries in the country. Applicants are required to submit a colour passport photo, a letter of invitation and company registration documents, and a letter from the employer stating that the applicant is travelling to Myanmar for business purposes. All visitors must have a valid passport with at least six months remaining validity to enter Myanmar.

Currency

The kyat is the local currency of Myanmar, although dollars are commonly accepted. However, it is important to keep dollars crease free or they will not be accepted. Notes are available in denominations of 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000. As of late January 2018 the exchange rate was around $1:MMK1345.

Recent efforts from the government have managed to reduce high inflation. ATMs can be found around the country, making it easier to access local currency. Payments by credit card are today available in most tourist places, but it is advisable to carry cash at all times.

Electricity

Myanmar’s inefficient power transmission and distribution network means that power shortages can occur often. While the situation has improved, hotels, apartments and businesses have a generator for backup power. Electrical outlets are generally 220 Hz AC type, or C or F, the same two-pin system as Europe. Bringing an adaptor when you travel is recommended as they can be difficult to track down.

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