Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, changed its name in 1989, a time marked by massive civil upheaval. The military dictatorship which had ensured its own control over the past twenty five years found its power challenged by the popular National League for Democracy (NLD). The NLD won the election that year; but the military government refused to let go of its power and now, almost fifteen years on, Myanmar remains under their control.
All of which makes travel to Myanmar a questionable proposition. While travel isn’t particularly dangerous, some people recommend boycotting tourism as a way of opposing the government. But if special care is taken to stay in locally owned hotels and use government services as little as possible, travel can support the pro-democracy movement. This is because many people that don’t want to work for the government own and operate the small independent guesthouses and restaurants. Plus, the country’s fascinating traditional culture, emphatic landscape and charming capital make it a destination most of us will not want to miss out on.
Many people believe that obtaining a visa for Myanmar would be very difficult. But for some years, practices have been simplified, and the visa can be obtained online through the official website http://evisa.moip.gov.mm. Alternatively, as always, visa can be obtained from Myanmar Embassy in your country.
The official currency is the kyat (pronounced ch-at), subdivided into 100 pya. Coins are K1, K5, K10, K50, K100, Banknotes come in denominations of 50 pyas, K1, K5, K10, K20, K50, K100, K200, K500, K1,000, K5,000,K10,000.
When making purchases on the street or in smaller non-tourist shops people always want kyat. Therefore keep some kyat with you at all times while travelling in the country. Remember that kyat is a non tradable currency meaning that once you leave the country it is next to impossible to exchange it.
Eating in Myanmar is an interesting experience. The food is a blend Indian, Thai, Chinese and local cuisine. Many smaller restaurants will serve either curry or noodles. If at a curry restaurant a metal tray will be brought to you with many small servings of different kinds of curry plus some bread and rice. Noodle restaurants will serve different kinds of noodle soup and more common the further north one travels. Many minority groups have there own cuisine that is very good and different from the traditional. Groups like the Shan are known throughout Myanmar for having amazing food.
There has always been a Chinese population in Myanmar and Chinese restaurants can be found in almost ever city in Myanmar, although there tends to more of them north of Mandalay. Most of the Chinese food is like southern Chinese food, although some spicier and saltier versions of Chinese food can be found as well. Chinese food can be a good switch after eating curry for several weeks straight.
If in one of the major cities or a tourist centre it always possible to find western food. Although not great it can be a good break and chance to remember home. The western food is almost always more expensive then the local food.
In areas that travellers around allowed in Myanmar are very safe. There is very little crime and the traffic although crazy is not as wild as some neighboring countries. There are still some areas with active insurgents, especially in the north eastern part of the country. These areas of Myanmar are closed to all foreigners.