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This is Burma… I mean Myanmar

Little really is known about this newly opened country. It wasn’t until 2011 that tourists were really allowed in to come and explore but even then, and now, exploration is limited (unless you’re national geographic who are gods amongst people and can do whatever the hell they want).

There is a solid gringo trail, that is to say, a route that all the tourists take, and it is not just because of the scenery, although Inle and Bagan are undoubtedly special. But I feel that that trail has partially been set by the powers that be in order to keep us foreigners where they want them and to only show us what they want us to see.

Staying on this gringo trail (Yangon→Inle Lake→Bagan→Mandalay) you get the feeling that there is a lot of tourists in Myanmar, but this is because they are all concentrated and contained in certain areas. In fact last year only saw just over 2million visitors, compared to neighbouring Thailands 27million in the same year. But the numbers are growing and expected to double each year, with 4million tourists expected in 2015.

Climate
Up north in the mountains the climate is different, and cold, but you are currently only allowed further south so we will stick with that.
May to October: Wet season
November to February: Peak season, best weather, cool and dry, also the busiest time and more expensive.
March – May – Hot hot hot! so hot!
This is a general outlook, the terrain varies so much from river basins to mountains and the weather can change with it. If its sweltering in Mandalay, Hsipaw might be at it’s best.

Religion
Over 80% of Myanmar is Buddhist. There are also Christians, Hindus, Muslims and even Animists (within the hill tribes). There is some religious frictions/tensions between Muslim and Buddhist extremists still in the Sittwe area.

Dress appropriately. At the beach was the only time I felt comfortable enough to bear skin, most of the time I avoided wearing short shorts at least, vest tops were ok. You will visit at least a temple or pagoda here, knees and elbows need to be covered.

Language
Burmese is the official language but there are different dialects varying from region to region. Those around the hills of Inle Lake used different words to the city slickers of Yangon.

Population
The Republic of the Union of Mynamar has a population of over 60 Million people with 8 major racial groups including the Chin in the west and Mon in the east. The people are called Myanmar, although many tourists will still call them burmese.

Capital
Nay Pyi Taw

Politics
President Thein Sein was sworn into office in March 2011, officially launching a nominally civilian government to replace almost 50 years of military rule. But old habits die hard, and most of the cabinet were also ministers in the military junta. But officially it is not military run anymore and there is an election due in 2015.

Aung San Suu Kyi
The leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD), you will hear her name a lot. Now at 79 years old she is still campaigning and fighting for democracy and human rights, as she has done most of her life, even when she was under house arrest. It was when she was released from house arrest that things really began to change and open up in Myanmar and with an upcoming election in 2015, although she can’t be voted in as Prime Minister (due to her children being half british) it seems from the outside the country on a very different path. Although many Myanmar people I spoke with weren’t sure if things would change or if they even wanted it to change. ‘How will the middle class survive’ asked one businessman I spoke with.
But to watch the Aung San Suu Kyi and Barak Obama press conference  on national TV at a local house in middle nowhere Myanmar is a pretty good step in the right direction in my opinion.

Women travelling in Myanmar
I felt mostly safe in this country. Like everywhere, use common sense and avoid walking down dark allys at night. Mrauk U was the only place I felt uneasy at night, but that was not due to being a woman (read more here).

Infrastructure
Don’t bother with taking trains unless it’s for the ‘train’ experience itself. They are slow, expensive and uncomfortable.

You can fly, but it’s pricey and the airlines are mostly government owned.

Buses
are reasonable and can vary dependant on luck. They were all overpriced when I was there, with the cheapest I paid for ($17 from Yangon to Kalaw) being also the most comfortable and clean. On the other hand I paid $30 for the most horrendous bus ride{link} with an old creaky bus that had to stop to cool the engine every couple of hours and drive without the engine cover on.

Roads along the ‘gringo trail’ are good and well maintained. The Yangon to Mandalay highway is wonderfully smooth and even Yangon to Ngwe Saung is alrite. Further west, they are bad and most of the road is still on the side waiting to be paved.

The older buses have the steering wheel on the left meaning you have to jump into oncoming traffic when you leave the bus as they drive on the right hand side of the road. This isn’t a mechanical engineering failure, we’ll call it more human error. In 1962, the military general felt Burma had moved to far left in terms of politics, and believed changing from driving on the left-side of the road to the right-side was the answer. Yes, that is a true story. ……awks.

The sewage system seems actually ok and developed compared to other South East Asian countries, and not as feral as you might imagine.

 

source: myanmartourism.org + myanmartravel.org
source: tourism.go.th

This is Burma… I mean Myanmar
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