Helpful tips for first-time travellers

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Visa

It is best to contact your in-country embassy before visiting Myanmar to ensure that you meet the requirements for a visa on arrival. It is important to ensure you have all the relevant documentation 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 online application process. You must have a valid passport with at least six months remaining validity to enter Myanmar.

The more common visas are business visa with a duration of 70 days and can be extended up to 12 months on a case-to-case basis; entry visa for 28 days and extendable for an additional 14 days; and a transit visa valid for 24 hours. Some tour operators prepare visa applications for tourists for a fee before they arrive but tourists with pre-arranged visa applications must obtain authorisation from the Ministry of Immigration in order to get a visa on arrival.

Language

Myanmar is the national language and is used in business, government affairs and education. English was taught at a high level during the colonial era and is widely spoken. A wide variety of languages are spoken in the regions, with studies showing that as many as 100 different languages are spoken within Myanmar. Most businesspeople and government officials speak conversational English.

Etiquette

It is common practice to remove your footwear before entering someone’s workplace or home but it is not always required, and thus it is best to ask before entering. 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 a greeting or 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. While foreigners are not expected to wear traditional clothing it is seen as a show of respect to wear a longyi. In a formal setting “U” should be used in front of the name when addressing a man and “Daw” when addressing a woman; they roughly translate to Mr and Lady.

Electricity

Power shortages occur on a daily basis and many hotels, apartments and businesses have a generator as backup. Electrical outlets are generally 220-Hz AC type or C or F, the same two-pin system as Europe. Bringing an adaptor from home is recommended as they can be difficult to track down.

Transport

People drive on the right. Most business visitors have private vehicles and drivers. Taxis are widely available and fairly inexpensive. In order to ensure you are charged the going rate it is useful to learn a couple of local words or phrases such as “bal lout lae” (pronounced ba lou ley and meaning how much?) and “zey kyee tal” (pronounced sey chee tay and meaning expensive). When travelling to the administrative capital it is best to go by private car as not many taxis are available in Naypyidaw. There are several domestic airlines that offer flights to local destinations. A round trip from Yangon to Ngapali, for example, costs $200.

Currency

Kyat is the local currency of Myanmar and US dollar bills are commonly accepted, although it is important to keep them crease free or they will not be accepted. As of January 2015, $1 was equal to around MMK1033. ATMs have sprouted up around the country, making it easier to access local currency but power supply intermittently affects service.

Tipping

Tipping is not common practice in Myanmar. Waiters, porters and tour guides appreciate a small gesture; MMK1000 will usually suffice. Taxi drivers are generally not tipped. Sometimes small gifts can be given in exchange of a service, such as cigarettes to a helpful car guard. When visiting a religious temple or monastery it is a good idea to have some small notes available to leave as a donation.

Food

Expect an abundance of rice or noodles with any meal. Chinese, Thai and India dishes complement most menus. Bursting with flavour, mohinga is the national breakfast of choice, which includes split peas, fishcake and egg. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in fine-dining locations and fast-food spots, particularly in the business capital of Yangon.

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