Myanmar Travel Advice
Last updated: 28 June 2015
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
Since the appointment of the government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in March 2011, headed by President Thein Sein, there have been encouraging political reforms. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was able to re-register as an official political party in late 2011. The NLD took part in largely free and fair by-elections in April 2012, winning the majority of the seats contested. Several hundred political prisoners have been released, though many still remain in jail.
The government has signed initial peace agreements with a number of ethnic armed groups. Burma has suffered from prolonged internal conflicts, involving a number of non-state armed groups from Burma’s ethnic States. Most of these groups have now signed ceasefires with the Burmese government. There is no formal ceasefire as yet in Kachin State. The possibility of violent clashes remains in Shan State, and other States (Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Karen, and Mon).
Censorship has been significantly eased. New legislation passed by Parliament offers greater freedoms of assembly and movement, and the right to form trade unions.
However, the political situation remains potentially unsettled. Restrictions on freedom of speech, movement, religion, and political activity remain, and foreign nationals have been arrested, imprisoned and deported in the past for criticising the government in public. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings. Don’t take photographs or videos of the police, any demonstrations, military installations or military personnel.
In the past, there have been acts of politically motivated violence around public holidays like Armed Forces Day (27 March) and Martyrs Day (19 July). On other anniversaries, like the 8 August 1988 uprising against the government and the September 2007 protests, you can expect to see an increase in security forces in Rangoon and elsewhere in Burma.
There are no accurate crime statistics, but anecdotal evidence suggests that there have been occasional instances of violent crime against foreigners, including muggings, burglaries and petty thefts. Homes occupied by foreigners and hotels have been targeted in the past. You should take extra care of your belongings and take sensible security precautions at all times.
Local travel – Rakhine State
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Rakhine State, except the tourist resort of Ngapali only and travel to/from the resort via Thandwe airport. This is due to continued tension following serious civil unrest in 2012. There were outbreaks of violence in late 2013 and early 2014. There remains a risk that the situation could worsen without warning. A night-time curfew in parts of Rakhine State was lifted in September. Curfews may be re-imposed at short notice. Seek local advice and follow any official instructions.
If you’re travelling to Ngapali you should only access the resort via Thandwe airport which is located next to the resort itself. You should monitor local developments and keep in close contact with your tour operator in case the security situation changes. British nationals working for NGOs and other companies should keep in close contact with their organisations.
Local travel – Kachin State
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Kachin State (except the towns of Myitkyina, Bhamo and Putao) due to a continued risk of armed conflict there. If you are travelling to Myitkyina, Bhamo and Putao, you should monitor local developments and keep in close contact with your tour operator in case the security situation there changes. The Burmese authorities are currently restricting travel between Myitkyina and Bhamo: travel to and between these two towns is permitted by air only.
Local travel – Shan State
The FCO advises against all but essential travel to the Kokang Self Administered Zone in the northern part of Shan State. Heavy fighting has been taking place in Kokang, including in and around the town of Laukkai, since 9 February. A state of emergency has been declared in the Kokang Self Administered Zone, including the imposition of martial law. There have been unconfirmed reports of explosive devices being placed close to the Mandalay-Lashio road between Kyaukme and Hsipaw.
Local travel – border areas
Be particularly vigilant and exercise caution in border areas. There is ongoing military activity close to borders with Thailand, Laos and China especially in Shan, Karen, Mon and Kachin States. There have been several recent clashes in Karen State (Myawaddy) and Mon State (Kyaik Mayaw), and an armed attack on a passenger bus in Karen State. Two Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were found in Myawaddy, Karen State in September 2014. Land mines also pose a threat in conflict areas. The Burmese government restricts travel to most border areas.
There are a limited number of legal crossing points, but these could close without notice: Tachilek (Burma Shan State) – Mae Sai (northern Thailand border), KawThoung (Burma Tanintharyi) – Ranong-Kawthoung (southern Thailand border), Muse (Burma Shan State) – Ruili (China border), Tamu (Burma Chin State) – Morei (India border), Myawaddy (Burma Karen State) – Mae Sot (western Thailand border).
Burmese immigration officers may ask to hold your passport until your visit is complete. Don’t attempt to cross any border illegally or enter restricted areas without the appropriate permissions from the Burmese authorities. Even after getting permission, you may experience difficulties with the local authorities.
Local travel – destinations subject to limitations
The Ministry of Hotels, Tourism and Sport maintains a list of approved destinations. Tourists can visit Rangoon, Mandalay, Bago and Irrawaddy regions without restrictions. Other destinations are subject to limitations (eg access by air or train but not by road). For more information, contact the Burmese Ministry of Tourism.
There are concerns over safety standards of some airlines operating within Burma. The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a full list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
In 2010 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Burma.
A domestic flight carrying a number of tourists crashed in December 2012. A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety Network.
Airlines routinely share flight codes, meaning that airlines sometimes use aircraft from outside their own fleet. Passengers aren’t always advised in advance where this is the case. Local flight schedules are subject to change without warning. Leave sufficient time in your travel itinerary to accommodate this.
Railway equipment is poorly maintained. Fatal rail crashes occur, although they may not always be reported.
You can’t use a UK licence or an International Driving Permit to drive in Burma. You must apply for a Myanmar Driving Licence at the Department for Road Transport and Administration in Rangoon.
Overland travel can be hazardous, particularly in the rainy season (May to October). Roads can become impassable and bridges damaged. Travel by road between many areas outside the key destinations of Rangoon, Mandalay, Bago and Irrawaddy regions is restricted. Check with your tour operator or the Ministry of Hotels, Tourism and Sport before travelling.
Under Burmese law, the driver of a car involved in an accident with a pedestrian is always at fault. Many vehicles, including taxis and buses, are in a poor mechanical state, and serious road traffic accidents are common. Although Burma drives on the right, the majority of cars are right hand drive, which can make driving hazardous.
FCO staff are advised to avoid travel where possible on the main Mandalay-Naypyitaw-Rangoon road at night, due to bad lighting and poor road surfacing. Many buses and taxis in Burma run on compressed natural gas. There have been reports of injuries to passengers caused by exploding gas cylinders.
Sea and river travel
Seek local advice about where it is safe to swim or dive in the sea. River transport may not meet internationally recognised safety standards and search and rescue facilities may be limited.
During the monsoon season (normally May to October), heavy rains can cause flooding. Check the weather before undertaking any river journey.
International GSM roaming is not available in Burma, and your SIM cards won’t work. SIM cards from Thailand and Singapore may work on local networks. However, you can now purchase local phone SIM cards now such as Ooredoo, Telenor and MPT respectively.
Myanmar Travel Guide
Myanmar is truly an extraordinary country – its people, its landscapes and its culture are all unique. Travellers who visit Myanmar are welcomed by gentle, smiling people and some of the world’s most impressive monuments.
Yangon (Rangoon) is Myanmar’s main city. This is where you’ll find the grand colonial buildings of the colonial age, charmingly neglected in a part of Asia that hasn’t joined the rush to modernise. The people look instead to the Shwedagon Paya, the ‘Golden Pagoda’, a huge hill-top temple at the heart of the city that’s always thronged with devotees.
Mandalay, upcountry in Burma’s north, is a low-rise, slow-moving outpost where bicycles set the pace and every hill is topped with a pagoda: it feels more town than city. This is the launching point for visits to ancient temples and the cool hill station of Pyin U Lwin, where stagecoaches trundle around town.
Bagan is Myanmar’s Angkor, the site of hundreds of Buddhist temples scattered across a vast plain, all that remain of a long-vanished ancient capital where the wooden houses have long since disappeared and only the stone-built holy monuments remain.
Inle Lake in central Myanmar is the perfect place to explore the rural side of the country, with boat rides to lively markets and floating villages and hikes to tribal settlements. For some relaxation on the coast, the southern destinations – they can’t really be called resorts – of Ngapali and Ngwe Saung offer sweeping beaches.
Myanmar’s recent past has been tragically overshadowed by long-term repression and isolation created by the military junta who ruled for so long. Aung San Suu Kyi and her political party had called for a tourism boycott. However, things are beginning to change: elections were held in 2010, and there is now a civilian government in place. Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest, and both she and the NLD have now sanctioned “responsible” travel to Myanmar.There is still a long way to go before the country is truly democratic, but things are definitely changing.
Golden Myanmar Guide recommends:
1. Take in a Temple. Cradled by the Irrawaddy River the plain of Bagan is strewn with temples dating back to the birth of the Hindu religion, the stone-built relics of a long-lost city. Atmospherically mouldering in the tropical heat this is Myanmar’s answer to Angkor Wat.
2. Meet the Leg-Boatmen. On the still waters of Inle Lake the fishermen propel their narrow dugout canoes by paddling an oar with one leg. Catch them throwing their nets at dawn, framed by stilted monasteries and the surrounding hills.
3. Join the Pilgrims. Rangoon’s Schwedagon Pagoda is the spiritual heart of the country, and always busy with devotees offering alms. Light your own candle and pray for change to come to Myanmar.
4. Return to Mandalay. The low-rise, low-key capital of Mandalay is a charming, slow-moving city, where local cafes are furnished with tiny child-sized stools, imported goods are rarely seen and everything is hand-made. The cracked stupa at Mingun is a short boat-ride up the river.
5. Climb Rock Mountain. The temple at Kyaiktyo is perched on top of a rock outcrop that towers over the surrounging plain. Steep steps gain access to a holy place where fine views make contemplation easy.
6. Chill on the beach. Myanmar’s beaches on the Bay of Bengal have scarcely been developed. Visit Ngapali and find white-sand beaches more used to drying shrimp than sun-loungers, with fishy snacks fresh from the sea.
Golden Myanmar Guide tips:
Carry plenty of low denomination US dollar bills as well as kyat for smaller outlays. To avoid your money reaching the military – at least, as much as possible – steer clear of large businesses and transport companies. Don’t tempt local guides/drivers/boatmen to disobey government travel restrictions: they’ll be left to face the consequences long after you’ve flown home.
Warmly Welcome to The Golden Land – Myanmar (Burma),
The Golden Myanmar Guide team