Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam are possibly some of the most popular gap year destinations, and when we talk about travelling around South East Asia, you can pretty much guarantee that a couple, if not all of these countries will get a mention…but what about their neighbour Burma (Myanmar)? Burma is the unspoiled gem of South East Asia, steering clear of commercialism and offering a taste of traditional Asia, with spectacular ancient temples & Pagodas to explore, landscapes that will take your breath away and a fascinating history to broaden your mind. It’s had and still has it’s fair share of difficulties, but this in no way means it deserves to be relegated from your itinerary!
Burma (Myanmar) Facts:
Here are a few interesting Burma facts…
- Burma is also known as Myanmar, this occurred in 1989 after they changed the country’s English name to ‘Myanmar’
- That being said, many people in the country contest the name change and still refer to the country as Burma.
- It shares a border with Thailand, Laos, India, China and Bangladesh
- With a population of over 60 million it is the second largest country in South East Asia.
- Burma was a Britsh Colony up until 1948 when they gained independence
- The currency in Burma is ‘Kyat’
- Burma’s primary religion is Buddhism, with over 80% of the country practicing the Buddist faith.
Visas & Entry Requirements
If you’re planning a visit to Burma you will need to obtain a visa before you travel, you can visit the website for the Burma Embassy and download a visa application form there. More information is available on their website. You will also need to ensure that your passport is valid for at least 6 months from the date you arrive in the country.
You may have heard about Burma in the news, which will mean you’ve most likely heard about the on-going conflict in the country, one of the world’s longest-running civil wars. There have been some positive political reforms since the 2011 appointment of President Thein Sein, however the political situation throughout the country remains unsettled and some areas of the country should be avoided, such as the Kachin State and Rakhine state.
Personal Safety, Theft & Violence
There can be outbreaks of violence in certain parts of the country due to political unrest, but isolated incidents are uncommon, and the FCO describe these kinds of incidents as ‘occasional’. As no official crime rates or statistics are released, it is difficult to estimate the level of crime throughout the country, but by exercising caution, using common sense and keeping your wits about you, you can reduce the chances of becoming victim to attacks, pick-pocketing and muggings.
If you insist on travelling alone after dark, then try and do so by taxi, tuk-tuk or trishaw (cycle rickshaw), as this is much safer than walking down dark streets on your own…just make sure you negotiate a price before you set off! You could also tag along with other people from your hostel for their evening plans, or if you absolutely must go it alone, stick to well-lit and busy areas, as you’re less likely to be targeted in these situations.
A good way to ensure you fly under the radar of thieves is to carry cash in an under clothes wallet and keep valuables back at the hostel (in a safety deposit box, or locked bag). If you’re busy flashing the latest iPhone around, trying to get a travel selfie with your new-found travel buddies, you’ll most likely attract the attention of pick-pockets who will strike at any given opportunity…no more instagramming for you! Carrying your own personal alarm is another safety measure you may wish to take, as this will help alert others should you find yourself in trouble.
Customs & Dress Code
If you’re one who likes to flash the flesh then Burma probably isn’t the place for you, the dress code in Myanmar is conservative and if you choose to ignore it you will find yourself in receipt of disapproving looks from the locals, as well as other travellers who have embraced the customs! So ditch the shorts and skimpy vest tops and ensure you cover up the cleavage. Not only does dressing modestly show respect to the locals, but wearing longer clothes will help keep mosquitoes away and limit bites. When visiting Pagodas, you will need to remove your shoes before entering as a mark of respect, as these buildings were mainly built to be places of worship.
When travelling to Burma you will need to take a number of health precautions, by ensuring you’ve packed the correct first aid & medical supplies for your trip, as well as getting the required vaccinations.
Mosquitoes & Tropical Disease
For the most part, Burma carries a risk of Malaria, and there is also a risk of contracting Dengue Fever, so a vigilant mosquito defence regime is extremely important. We would recommend using a high strength DEET mosquito repellent, with no less than 50% DEET to ensure that you have a high level of protection against mosquitoes. You should also discuss anti-malarial medication with your GP several months before departure, as some courses of this type of medication may require you to start taking them several weeks before you travel. Sleeping under a treated mosquito net is also a good preventative measure that you should consider, as this will help to protect you from bites during the night.
Vaccinations recommended for travellers visiting Burma include Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Typhoid and Diptheria, or if you’ve already had these for previous trips you may only require a booster (check with your GP). You may also want to consider Rabies, Japenese Encephalitis, Cholera and Hepatitis B jabs, which you can discuss with your GP or a travel nurse if you want more information. If you are entering Burma from a country with a high Yellow Fever risk, then you will need a Yellow Fever vaccination certificate upon arrival.
A common travel tip for anybody travelling around the world is to be careful when it comes to drinking the water, and we recommend this for travelling in Burma as well. Make sure you pack water purification tablets or drops for your trip, as these will help you to treat water and make it safe to drink, eliminating viruses, cysts and bacteria which thrive in water and cause traveller’s diarrhoea and more serious water borne diseases.
Things to Do in Burma
So once you’ve got to grips with getting there, keeping safe and healthy you’ll want to know what Burma has to offer, so we’ve listed 5 things you can do in Burma…
1) Volunteer in a school or community centre – volunteering during your gap year is a rewarding experience, as it is not only provides you with irreplaceable memories but it gives you the chance to give something back to the country you are visiting. The most common volunteer opportunities available in Burma are teaching English and community work. VSO , Twiin Work & Volunteer & gap360 are just some of the companies which have volunteer opportunities available in Burma, and Gap 360 offer paid teaching opportunities if you wish to earn while you travel.
2) Bagan Temples – Hailed by many as the Angkor Wat of Burma, the Bagan Temples are a must-see for anyone travelling through Bagan. Many people who have visited actually claim that they are far superior to their Cambodian rival!
3) Golden Rock (Kyaiktiyo Pagoda) – This landmark is one of the most famous landmarks in Myanmar and is a Buddhist pilgrimage site. The golden rock sits on top of a granite boulder and according to legend, is balanced on a strand of the Buddha’s hair!
4) Inle Lake – Located in the Shan Hills, Inle Lake is another great place to visit and is a peaceful place for you to unwind. You can expect to see temples, quaint stilt houses and the floating gardens, as well as fishermen rowing their boats using the Intha technique (with their legs!), using their uniquely shaped fishing nets. The air here is much cooler compared to other parts of the country, so it really is the perfect place to take a breather from those scorching temperatures.
5) Bogyoke Aung San Market – If you like to shop, then you will love this enormous market, based in Yangon (Rangoon). It consists of more than 2000 shops and is a great place to pick up authentic and hand crafted souvenirs.
If you decide to visit Burma during your gap year, ensure you follow the tips and advice in this post, keep up to date with current issues and make sure you avoid potentially dangerous parts of the country where violence and unrest have been reported. As previously mentioned, the FCO website is regularly updated with this information, so check it out when planning your trip. Also ensure that you book your accommodation well in advance, as places in Burma tend to get booked up quickly due to its recent surge in popularity!