Crash Course Burma: What to Know Before You Go

Categories Myanmar (Burma), Where Have I Been?

UPDATE: I have received many emails asking about the ethics of travelling to Burma in light of the elections. As a result, I have updated the links section to include some of the nonprofit organizations involved in encouraging democracy in Burma, in order to provide a different lens for viewing the situation within the country. I will say it again: it is up to you to decide whether or not you want to travel to Burma, but at a minimum it is extremely important to read up as much as you can about the history and politics and conflicts within the troubled country before you go.

***
I have been threatening to dive into a massive set of posts about Burma, and having since spent time exploring the beautiful ruins of Angkor in Cambodia, visiting friends in Chiang Mai and then taking pictures and closely following redshirt political protests here in Bangkok, I am finally ready to get started with a ‘before you go’ crash course.

While I’ve set forth some practical tips below, the most salient advice I have can be whittled down to the following: keep an open mind, even when that seems counter intuitive to you. These are the quirky, non-linear excursions that lead you to some of the more fulfilling and fascinating times in Burma. Though I realized this fact quite early on in my trip, it wasn’t until Mandalay that I had solid proof: having left my Blackberry in Yangon – with no cell network, I figured I did not need it – I realized I had no alarm clock. And with sporadic electricity, something battery-related was required. At Mandalay’s night market, I picked up this gem of a clock for $1 (1,000 Kyat):

It was cute, green and would wake me up in the morning, all for a good price. The problem was, when I put in a battery and time started moving backwards. As in, the second hand moved counter-clockwise, and the hands on the clock actually rotated the wrong way as well.

In the next few days, I picked up a replacement but the story remains relevant to all things Burma: in such a complex country with a tangled, tragic history don’t even expect the time to move the way you are used to. Open mind. It works wonders.


Replacement clock, in all its cute, flying-cowlike glory.

Here’s what you need to know before you head to Myanmar (Burma).

1) Should you Go?

Most travelers I meet on the road are enthusiastic about visiting Burma, but remain concerned about where their dollars are going within the country, and how to visit responsibly. Since the initial call for a tourist boycott in 1995, plenty has been written about tourism supporting the military government, and many tempered statements and press releases have been issued with a modified, softer stance on visiting the troubled country. With the upcoming elections, however, a cleaner divide has emerged between those supporting a boycott and those opposing it. Having spent only six weeks there, my opinion is not the be all and end all in ethical travel, but I would encourage people to visit using the following guidelines:

- Read as much as you can beforehand. What you see is what you are permitted to see, and there are many other facets (uglier ones) to the country. Read up on the history and the conflict before you leave.

- Tour the country independently , hiring as-you-go tour guides in a particular city, instead of tours through Myanmar Travel & Tours. There are certain parts of the country (such as the far north or the Chin foothills) that require a government permit and thus use of MTT as a guide. Outside of the restricted areas (of which there are many – much of the country is still locked in conflict) you can travel on your own, with or without a guide.

- If you can avoid it, try not to fly or take the train – local bus companies are privately owned.

- Stay at smaller bed & breakfasts or guesthouses if you can. Some towns will offer you no choice – for example, in Bhamo in the northern reaches of the Ayeyarwaddy , there was only 1 place licensed to house foreigners. No options there. But usually towns will have bigger, government run hotels and smaller inns/hostels, both of which will be licensed for foreigners.

- Spread your money around: try and purchase things at a variety of shops, and when buying paintings or sculptures, from the artists themselves.

- Do not bring up politics or other potentially sensitive subjects with locals: if someone feels comfortable enough talking to you about politics or religion, allow them to broach the topic, in an environment of their choosing. You are only endangering them by initiating a sensitive conversation, and undercover police abound – do not take any chances.

The bottom line for me is this: some will continue to disagree with my choice to visit Burma, and there is no question that a portion of the money I spent – no matter how carefully distributed it was – will make its way to the Government. But the local people I met were so thirsty for dialogue and human interaction, and so desperate to communicate with outsiders, that I feel comfortable with my choice. As a friend of mine said: people to people links can expand choices and enable opportunity too.

2) The Money Issue

There are many rumours circulating about Burma’s complicated money situation, and I am here to tell you that they are almost all true. The country works on a closed money economy, so the official currency (the Kyat) cannot be purchased outside Burma. Interestingly enough, the official exchange rate when I visited was 6.61 to the US Dollar and that same dollar fetched me 1,100 Kyat on the black market. Like many things in Burma, what is on paper is not necessarily reality. But here is what you need to know:

- There are no ATMs in the country. Yes, there are banks. No you cannot withdraw money from them.


The many different iterations of Myanmar’s currency, including the last shot from when the Japanese occupied the country.

- If you run into a serious bind, there is one hotel in Yangon (The Strand Hotel) that will allow you to withdraw as against your Visa card, with 12% commission charged. Note: commenters have said that they withdrew at 10% after returning several days in a row to ask if they could withdraw the funds] You must go first thing in the morning as they have a limit on the amount of money they will permit to be withdrawn this way.

- You must bring new US Dollars with you. By new, I mean ‘brand spanking new’. No bends at all, no creases, no spots and certainly no tears. I got into a small argument with a government official about a US bill because he said there was an ‘invisible spot’ on it and it could not be used, even thought it was otherwise pristine. When, in my annoyance, I licked the bill and handed it back to him he was not a happy man.

-Said new US dollars must be printed after the year 2000, preferably after 2003.

- They must not contain the serial numbers CB, BC or AB. This is no joke, as I have personally witnessed people trying to exchange a $100 with a CB serial number in several locations and get rejected each time. The genesis of this ban allegedly stems from a mass counterfeiting of $100 superbills by North Korea in the past.

- You will only need to exchange about half of your budget: trains, boats, hotels and plane tickets are all sold in USD. Buses, food and souvenirs are all sold in Kyat. It is also helpful to have some smaller USD on you for taxi rides.

- The best rates for exchanging on the black market were in Yangon, but you can exchange money elsewhere in the country, including Mandalay and Inle Lake’s Nyangshwe. I exchanged inside the Bogyoke Aung San market itself, deep in the bowels of the maze of stalls, and it was a fairly painless process. Higher bills will obviously get a better rate. Remember: do not use the money changer if he/she refuses to let you count all your Kyat before handing over your USD. Many of the money changers on the street (outside the market) will try to scam you by refusing to let you count (and counting for you, very quickly of course) – I just walked away and went into the market instead.

–> Update as of 2012: Per Mark Olwick, who visited early this year, the best rates are now at the official moneychangers and no longer on the black market.

3) The Visa

I obtained my visa at Bangkok’s Myanmar Embassy, and if you can build the time into your trip, I would suggest doing the same as you do not need proof of onward travel when applying, unlike those I spoke with who applied from home. You will need 2 photographs, a filled out visa application (including the last 10 years of employment history), and at the time of application 810 baht. It took 3 working days to get my visa and it was a painless process. Those who are photographers, lawyers or journalists do have good chance of their visa being rejected; most people I know in those fields put a different occupation down and even had fake business cards made up in order to back up their ‘employment’.

There is a risk, of course: the embassy has taken to Googling people once they apply. A friend told me a story about a photographer who, upon being told he was rejected due to his falsified employment information (and the fact that he was a photographer), tried to convince the embassy officials that it must have been someone else with his name – a claim that faded fairly quickly once they pulled out a huge file of printouts with both his work and his profile picture. No denying things at that point.

4) When to Go

Like many countries in South East Asia, there is a predominately wet season, a predominately dry season, and the shoulder seasons in between. Per most guidebooks and people I have met, the best times to go are between mid-November to mid-February. After that, it gets increasingly hotter, with the rains beginning sometime in May. I went in early January to mid-February and while it was quite hot (especially in Bagan) it was not unbearably so.


From inside Shweddagon pagoda, one of many Buddhas.

5) Approximate Costs

With the exception of Indonesia, my daily budget in Burma was much less than elsewhere in Asia. The country has been touristed by independent, solo travelers for quite some time, and the infrastructure that does exist is quite accommodating to them. Thus, room prices are almost always single and double, which is definitely not the case everywhere in Asia. A rough breakdown of my budget:

- ROOMS: I paid anywhere from $4 (in Hpa-An) per night to $10 (in Yangon) per night for a single room, which always included breakfast and usually included an ensuite bath. Double rooms ranged from $8-$15 for the same area. These are, of course, budget guesthouses – but I am on a budget. However, many of the guesthouses were some of the nicer places I have stayed in Asia. In particular, Mingalar Inn in Inle Lake ran me $8 a night for a beautiful, huge with its own bathroom, a hearty breakfast and ‘welcome lime juice’ every time I came home. Traveling solo, I would budget $8 per night and in a couple $12 per night to be on the safe side. This is presuming that budget accommodation is what you are looking for.

- FOOD: Oh, the food. I plan on doing specific posts on Burmese tea leaf salads (lahpet thouk), mohinga soups, annd delicious snacks, but suffice it to say that there is no shortage of street food, and it is fresh and safe. I did get food poisoning once, but that was where the woman was using river water to wash the dishes and didn’t dry them – big mistake. Overall, I spent approximately $0.50-$2 a meal, with most heartier meals coming in at $1 or $1.50. Tea shops with delicious naan accompanied by a bean dip are everywhere, and that terrific snack will cost you less than $0.50. The times I did eat at a restaurant (which was rare – usually I stuck to market and street stalls), meals were anywhere from $2-4, including water. Food, when eaten on the street, is incredibly cheap and delicious. To stave you off until I start on food posting, check out Uncornered Market’s great post ‘An Overview of Burmese Cuisine‘.

- TRANSPORTATION: I tended to either rent a bicycle, take a motorcycle taxi or walk up to a random group of people and ask “who wants to take me to ___ for 1000 Kyat?”, each of which worked just fine. Transport within Yangon is via taxi, and slightly more expensive; much of my transportation within the other cities involved tuktuks or walking. To get from city to city, I often took overnight buses, which cost 2x the price for foreigners than they do for locals. For overnight hauls, the buses will run anywhere from 7,500 to 15,000 Kyat (approx $7.50-$15).

6) Internet Access

Gone are the days where Internet cannot be found in Burma. With the exception of Kinpun, near the Golden Rock, almost every single town had internet access. Granted, it wasn’t the quickest connection I’ve ever had, but it was certainly available and very cheap. In Yangon, Internet cafes were plentiful, and stuffed with young Burmese playing games or on Google Chat. Even in the northern town of Myitkyina, there were two Internet cafes – surprising for such a small town.

Of course, access is censored. Twitter was available most of the time, as was Facebook. Hotmail and Yahoo were, from those who use them, fairly unavailable – and thus most of the country has a GMail account and wants to know yours. In order to access GMail, I had to use https instead of http at the front of the URL – the former is not blocked, but the latter is. Blogger / blogspot sites were systematically unavailable, with the exception of two times: once in Bagan’s Taste of Old Bagan restaurant and another time from Inle Lake’s Nyaungshwe (Comet Internet Cafe). In both cases I was able to access Blogger because of a proxy run through (of all places) Saudi Arabia. Many news sites are also blocked, as are chat forums and MSN Web Messenger. Gtalk is widespread, however.

7) Burma or Myanmar?

One of the questions I get frequently is whether Burma or Myanmar ought to be used as the country name. The official English name was changed from “the Union of Burma” to “the Union of Myanmar” by the government in 1989. According to the Burmese I spoke with in the country, Burma is known as either Myanma ( မြန်မာ , the written name) or Bama ( ဗမာ , the informal, spoken name), and people I met most shrugged their shoulders and said it did not matter when I asked which name they preferred. Notwithstanding their non-preference, the choice of name has become politicized, with several countries still refusing to use the new name of Myanmar.

8 ) You Can Overstay Your Visa

Many people have asked me if it is possible to overstay the 28-day visa issued by Myanmar. While some countries still advise their citizens not to overstay, the Embassy itself told me that it is fine to do so, provided you pay a $3/day overstay, which goes up to $5/day after 2 months. However, the Embassy did say that overstaying more than one month is not recommended. I have had friends who overstayed several weeks with no problem and who paid their extra fee on the way out, and I overstayed by two weeks with no issues whatsoever.

9) Important Burmese Phrases

It is always important to learn a few choice phrases in a new country. Here are my picks for Burmese:

- Hello: Mingala’ba

-Thank you: Cezu timbadeh (pron. ch-eh-zu tin-bah-dey)

- I do not understand: Namleh ba-bu

- I already ate, thanks! Sa-pi bi, cezu beh

- No problem/No worries: Yabadeh or keisah meeshibu

- Too expensive: ze chi-deh (literally big market)

and for the ladies, this one comes in handy when the punk teenagers are “helloooo pretty lady”-ing you: I will slap you in the face (be sure to say it with a smile!): bacho meh!


Beautiful Shwedaggon Pagoda in Yangon, at dusk.

10) Some Additional Advice

- The country is fairly conservative in its demeanour and its dress: as a woman, I made sure to cover up my shoulders by wearing a t-shirt (except while climbing mountains), and wearing shorts or skirts below the knee. I also picked up a traditional, sarong-like Burmese longyi, which was well appreciated by the locals, especially in more remote areas. The amount of women who stared at my skirt and then up and my face and said, in surprise, “longyi?!” when I’d wear it made it completely worthwhile, and it is an excellent way to cover up when there’s a shared bath at a hotel.

- Blackouts are common and electricity sporadic at best. Do yourself a favour and bring a headlamp with you. You can find replacement batteries in most cities, but keep in mind they will not last as long as the ones you bring from home.

- If you want to donate supplies to children and/or schools buy supplies in Burma instead of bringing them from home. Many people who brought pens or paper from home only watched them gather dust as the recipient put them in a case to show to friends and family. It is far more useful to go to a village’s school or to an orphanage and ask what they need, purchasing the supplies locally.

- Get used to the idea of being watched. Undercover police are
everywhere, and people are afraid of them for good reason. Though I was hardpressed to find examples of tourists being incarcerated and/or deported, such a hands-off approach is not applied to the local population. Be sensitive about what you say in public, and where you go: oftentimes the townships (local areas with no commercial shops) are off limits. I was escorted out of the Bagan township local police.

- Budget your transportation time wisely. I will touch on transportation later on in my Burma posts, but suffice it to say it (1) takes longer than you think to get somewhere and (2) you might just need a day to recover. Night buses are freezing cold, the route is peppered with stops at all hours of the night and the television blares pop music or movies without a care in the world. Of course, the Burmese people on the bus sleep soundly. But you won’t.

- Keep a new $10 bill to pay your exit tax at the airport upon departure. Though you are leaving and thus expect them to be less strict about the state of your currency, they are not.

- Get used to waking up at dawn. The country rises with the sun, and often sets with it too. By the end of my time in Burma, I was heading to bed at 8 or 9pm and getting up at 5. I am not a morning person by any means, but when my days were spent climbing sacred mountains or running around a new town, it was not far-fetched to turn in early — and rising late was just not an option!

- Get used to the ‘kissing’ sounds that people make when trying to get a waiter’s attention. Though unquestionably disrespectful in Western society, you will be hard pressed to order at a restaurant in Burma without it. It took me weeks of frantic waving and/or excuse me’s until I finally decided to take the plunge; definitely something I did not get used to by the end of my trip.

- Get used to the red stains on everyone’s teeth. The irony of a country like Burma, where everyone gives you their brightest, heartbreaking smile is that their teeth are usually stained burgundy and decayed. These are both due to prolonged (and frequent) betel nut use, a mild intoxicant found throughout the country. Check out Gadling’s humourous Betel Nut article for more information.


Sunset from Mandalay’s U Bein Teak Bridge.

11) Further Reading:

The River of Lost Footsteps: A Personal History of Burma by Thant Myint U. If you have time for only one, make this your book. Beautifully written, lyrical and making sense of the horror and wonder from centuries of tumultuous history, Lost Footsteps manages to explain so much about the Burma of today.

Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin

The Glass Palace: A Novel by Amitabh Ghosh

From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey by Pascal Khoo Thwe

Golden Earth: Travels in Burma by Norma Lewis

And in terms of a guidebook, the Lonely Planet was the most thorough of the available guides, though schedules of buses, boats and flights should be taken with a huge chunk of salt: they change often. Most recent version: Lonely Planet’s Myanmar (Burma) (Country Guide)

UPDATED WEBSITE LIST:

Should Tourists Return to Burma? from The Guardian, dated February 15, 2010.

Should You Go to Burma and Responsible Tourism from Voices for Burma

Uncornered Market’s coverage of the Golden Kite trail in Burma from their visit there

Irrawady.org’s plentiful forums and articles.

ALTSEAN Burma’s thorough Election Watch 2010
for background and updates regarding this year’s elections in Burma.

For those interested in migrant workers’ rights, GHRE is a Thai nonprofit that aims to provide a safe and productive environment for Burmese migrant workers in Southern Thailand. They have a thorough and informative website as well.

UPDATED FILM LIST:

In addition to the foregoing, there are two movies I’d recommend checking out:

Burma VJ: this powerful movie was shot entirely on handheld cameras, and with great risk for those involved. It tells the story of the mon
k-led uprising in the country in 2007. I watched it after I returned, and it had me in tears. Very unnerving, brave stuff.

Breaking the Silence: Currently in specialized screenings, this movie features the troubled Karen state in Burma, where civil war has been ongoing for over 50 years. The film was shot by undercover Quebec filmmakers Pierre Mignault and Hélène Magny. Mizzima has more information about the film here.

That’s my “Before You Go” roundup. Stay tuned for more destination and/or food specific coverage.

-Jodi

28 comments to Crash Course Burma: What to Know Before You Go

  1. Great Article Jodi. We definitely want to check out Burma the next time we're in SE Asia. We're looking forward to your other Burma posts!

  2. It is also my hobby to collect some foreign money and some to put in my collection. I get it from my father where through those money you can tell people you've been there.

  3. Great advice for anyone thinking of traveling in Burma. It's such a unique and beautiful country. I wish more people would visit to see it and experience the kindness of Burmese people for themselves. This makes me want to go back!

    It's interesting that the embassy in Bangkok is now googling people's names. When we applied for our visas in early 2008, they just had lists of banned people and organizations that they checked the applications against. Seems like they've become more sophisticated.

  4. This is a fantastic article Jodi. We aren't planning on going to Burma this year but definitely want to go at some point and I will keep this post in the back of my mind.

    By the way, I think it is totally hilarious that you licked the US bill and handed it back to the customs official.

  5. Having just returned from Burma myself, I have to say that's a great, and really comprehensive guide. I just have two points to add. Firstly, Facebook have sadly now shut down their Lite service, so that's no longer an option.

    Secondly, we had very different luck with the food – other than the amazing tea leaf salads – in our group of six, food poisoning was an almost constant complaint our whole time in the country, and it happened to many people we met as well. I found the situation far worse than any other country I went to in South East Asia (which is all of them apart from Vietnam), so I would advise caution in choosing where to eat.

  6. Jodie, this is an awesomely valuable article. I will take your fantastic advice when I travel to Burma at the end of the year.

    Glad to hear there's no shortage of street food and I am looking forward to hearing about the gastronomic adventures soon!

  7. Thanks for reading everyone!

    @Akila – I couldn't help myself, I was so annoyed. But he did not take my silliness too well and called the manager of my hotel to come and 'handle' the situation (which he did, bringing his own dollar bills with him to exchange with mine). Still, it was a funny moment!

    @itinerantlondoner- I will add the change about Facebook lite. That's too bad, as it was a great fast-load option when internet was slow. Sorry to hear about your street food experiences being awry. All of the people I met and traveled with had the same experience as me: plenty of amazing options and none of us (except me, up in Myitkyna) got sick. I tended to eat at market stalls where there were plenty of people, or buy those delicious fried tofu snacks or Shan noodles from the side of the road. I was really impressed with the sheer deliciousness of the food, though I did stay away from Burmese curries as I found them too oily.

    @Migrationology: fear not, my next post will be about food :)

  8. Great Post Ms. Jodi.

    -I agree that weather wise, it is great to travel during the cooler season. However, if you wish to see cultural holidays and celebrations such as the Burmese New Year than, April, is a good month to travel to Burma. And yes, it is hot just like Bangkok.

    -As for food, I have gotten sick several times consuming certain items- unlike big cities of Thailand, I usually stay away from anything uncooked: such as salads (depending on what kind and how it is made), drinks/sweets without bottled water and with ice. I'm lucky I can give my family a list of items I want to eat when I return home.

    -We always take our own utensils and cloth napkins (not only to be green) but we feel safe using our own stuff – especially in rural areas.

    -I still respectfully refer to Burma as Burma. That is the name I grew up with, my parents grew up wtih- end of story.

    As for females in temples – it is more about being in a Buddhist country than about perhaps what could be seen as females NOT equal to males.

    Wearing Longyi, covering shoulders and no shoes policies are requirements for Shwedagon Pagoda and many other temples across the country…… Please RESPECT it at all times.

    Burma is known for its beautiful Burmese Rubies and many other precious gems. If interested, one can certainly get best deals on very unique jewelry there.

    Don't forget the many opportunities to volunteer. Find out how you can make a contribution while in the country.. this is how YOU CAN REALLY make an impact and learn firsthand about the country and its people.

    Wonderful post Jodi. So glad to see you write so fondly and carefully about my beloved home. Thank you.

    If I think of anything else, I shall return for more commenting.

  9. Useful stuff here, Jodi! Be honest now, how often did you have to tell the local Romeos that you would smack them in the face?

    That had to crack them up, huh?

  10. Great commentary Jodi.
    JOrdans

  11. @BhagNow Thank you for the thoughtful commentary. While I understand Burma is a Buddhist country, the rules about women not approaching the altar did not resemble those of Thailand where such acts appear to be permitted. Women were also not allowed to sit atop the boats/vans/buses as it decreases the masculinity of the men inside (at least per those Burmese who explained why I couldn't climb up on the roof), and many women told me that men's laundry had to be hung above the women's garments for the same reason. Of course I respected these rules, but was surprised to find them in place.

    I did not have my own utensils but did use the omnipresent hot tea to wash them quickly before I set to eating. Perhaps I was just lucky in getting sick only once, or perhaps my stomach is just used to Asian street food.

    @Martin Just about every town – they couldn't stop laughing when I used my favourite expression, though :)

    Thanks for reading!

  12. Thank you for such a detailed, comprehensive guide! I was reluctant to support the government, but you've convinced me to go. I'll be referring to this post frequently when the time comes. I love your gumption – reminds me of the time I argued with a front desk girl about handing over my passport in Vietnam. Once in a while, taking a stand is the only path. :)

  13. Excellent post, Jodi. Here vial your post on thorntree.
    Nice blog too.
    I just returned from a trip to Myanmar myself. Fascinating country.

    Another tip for money: Thai Baht can be changed for decent rates in the Yangon black market. USD is still a better choice, but THB works well in Yangon and they are not nearly as anal about the Baht as they are about the USD.

  14. Was it expensive to get there from Bangkok? I might be having a couple weeks of time to kill in my itinerary and might hope over to Burma. This post is excellent at pushing me to want to do it.

  15. @Animesh: thank you for your comment and the extra tip.

    @Jeremy: you must fly as you will not be able to use a tourist visa in most land entries, and there is no guarantee you can exit the country via the same land entry point (every gov't official had a different answer as to whether you can enter by land). Air Asia was the cheapest route and ran me $80-120 each way.

  16. Have to agree with all that you wrote there. I just got back from Burma and loved the place… A totally different experience to the other places I've visited and totally unexpected.

  17. On June 26, 2010 at 10:31 pm monkgonemad said:

    hey – i tripped myanmar in 93,94 and 96. headed back with my gf but only for ten days. i am really struggling finding info on long haul buses. can you pm me on the tt or post anything up here.

    sadly, i dont think enough people really care where there money goes and there are far too many people flying!

    can you elaborate on the work history thing at the BKK embassy? ive not worked in a decade.

    any chance anyone can provide cheap clean hotels city center? not having much luck with this either.

    finally, is mandalay worth a visit? we have only ten days. id also like to take her to kalaw, is this still worthwhile trip??

    super thanks to you and all who can help -

    m0Nk

  18. Thanks for such a detailed post. I want to visit Burma when we go back to Asia and this guide will be really helpful.

  19. Thanks for your post. Burma is always in the back of my brain and I do have some fears surrounding it. Your comprehensive post helps inform my choices and this helps to remove fear with fact. I didn’t realize Burma was so hardcore about USD, undercover police, etc…and I think you’ve got an courageous spirit to research travel there and make it a reality despite the fact it doesn’t make itself an easy country to travel. I hope I’ll find the courage to make this a reality for me as well!

  20. @Monkgonemad Apologies but I must have missed your comment in June. The work visa: in applying for your visa at the embassy, you need to provide them with the jobs you have had during the last 10 years. Hostels in city center: I went with Golden Smiles Inn, right near Sule. Great area, nice staff, clean place. Definitely go to Mandalay, plenty to see. Not sure what info you’re looking for on the buses; there’s no need to find out in advance as the schedules all change. Once you get there, you’ll be able to ask about the schedules.

    @Grrrl Traveler: It was a difficult country to travel physically – the buses are long and it’s quite uncomfortable. Getting from A to B requires a recovery day unless you’re flying there (and I did not want to do that). But it’s actually a very easy place to travel otherwise. You’ll meet plenty of other travelers, the locals are extremely warm and friendly and the street food is delicious. Best of luck & safe travels!

  21. Thank you so much for your great advice.. I read it with most interest. I will leave from Muc (Germany) 5th Jan2011 over Doha to Bangkok. On 7th of Jan to Yangon and try to go by train to be on 9th of Jan in Myitkyna- hope so to join the Manao Festival. Then returning on the Irrawaddy back to Yangon. I will be in Burma/Myanmar 4 weeks, leaving on 4th of Feb back ton Bangkok and on 9h from there back to Muc. Your informations will help me a lot. By the way- does anybody know a good place to stay in Myitkyna?- And should I buy a bike in Bangkok- or better in Yangon- is that possible? Bye Barbara

  22. Hi Barbara, Myityina has no real choices of where to stay because it’s very rare to have tourists there. Manao might not happen this year because of recent unrest, but if you do go the YMCA is your best bet. It fills up fast, so contact them as soon as you can to reserve a room. Do not buy a bike in Burma, rent one. For 4 weeks time it does not make sense to purchase one instead. Safe travels and enjoy! I am glad you found my advice helpful.

  23. On November 21, 2010 at 10:36 pm Fellow Legal Nomad said:

    Hello Jodi, I’m a month away from visiting Burma and this was *extremely* helpful, thank you so much.

    I’m a fellow former corporate lawyer with an easily googleable name that leads to some US govt ties and a few published magazine articles. Nothing directly political, but still … you have me a bit worried :( Any further advice would be much appreciated! I’ll be applying at a Myanmar embassy in a foreign country (not Thailand unfortunately).

  24. Hi there, I’m glad you found the post helpful. Unfortunately it is really a matter of what the embassy staff has been trained to do, and how much time they will spend on your application. Like I said in the post, some journalist friends have gone so far as to make up fake business cards to match the fake employment history they add to their visa application. I’ve been told that journalists are far more of a concern than lawyers, but it really does depend on the embassy you visit.

    -Jodi

  25. I stand up and applaud your post.
    Thanks for all the info on holidaying in Burma.
    It looks fab

    Edel

  26. Thank you Edel. Hope it was useful to you! Safe travels.

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