Myanmar - Burma - a short overview
Myanmar or Burma as many people the country still know is one of those countries where the political situation still very bad is. However, when I traveled the country, I found almost everywhere friendship and warmth. The Burmese are mostly Buddhist though along the Indian border, in Chin state most people are Christian.
The countries official name these days is Myanmar but many foreigners still us the old name: Burma. The countries capital is Yangon (also known by it's old colonial name Rangoon).
What's it like to travel, go cycling in Burma? Well, traveling and cycling in Burma is not that difficult. Bicycling can be a bit dusty but it's good to do. People are nice, there's a lot to see but there's always the political situation. And you will most likely see some of that too.
Is it ethical to visit Burma? Although I do not want to create a political discussion here, it's safe to say Burma is not a democracy.
That however should not set you back as there are many countries which do offend the Human Right issues (think only about China). The democratic chosen Aung San Suu Kyi was in November 2010 released from her house arrest.
Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly asked for sanctions against the regime but so far there's little response. She has also pleaded for tourists to stay away from Burma as tourism supports the military junta.
The people I met in Burma say sometimes different. Many of them told me it is good tourists come and see the country so the word goes out.
This is also my feel. I enjoyed Burma and it's people very much and I would encourage people to visit. But it may be a good thing to read Aung San Suu Kyi's book Freedom from fear. It's an absolute Must Read before visiting Myanmar as it will tell you a lot about the present situation.
Must visit areas in Myanmar
Like many countries Myanmar has a few "must see" places. In my humble opinion they are:
Other places of interest can Bago (original name Pegu) and the north (which I have never done)
Before you decide to come to Myanmar, you need to know the visa regulations. Check the visa stuff here
After organizing your visa, what will you visit. How do you get into Myanmar. And where? As the land borders are limited to Ruilli in China and a few Thai borders (where in fact you are only allowed in for a few kilometers) you most likely have to fly in.
There's no border between India and Burma open. In fact the whole area in India that borders the country is not open for tourism. If you consider traveling this area, for example Nagaland in India, you need a special permit and this is usually a difficult thing.
So cycling overland from India to Thailand through Myanmar is still not possible. So you have to fly. This can be from India, Bangladesh and Thailand as the most obvious options. Thailand is the option which is most used. You can fly from Bangkok to Yangon and Mandalay but it's also possible to fly in from Chang Mai to Mandalay. More about Mandalay and the surrounding there, you can read here.
An area which is very little visited is Chin state. I went to Kalewa and had quite an adventure. Here's the whole story.
Do's and Don't
As Myanmar is mostly Buddhist you have to be aware to leave you shoes outside the temples, even at many stupas. It can be a bit difficult to walk around barefoot in the open hot sun on even hotter stones. But the locals do it, and so can you. Like in Thailand it's a serious offence to show the main Buddha your feet.
Many Burmese still sarongs, you can wear them too but make sure you use the right ones. I made the mistake to bring my Indonesian sarong which was by the Burmese considered a woman's design.
In many temple you will be asked to join the monks for a chat. It seems the monks in Myanmar are more willing then in other countries I cycled to talk to foreigners, I felt it was a great thing to do. And along the way, you may want to stay in the temples, like in Thailand. As usual it goes that with respect, you get respect. Myanmar is no exception.
Politics can be tricky to discuss. The people in the country usually discuss politics only in private. After all, spies can be anywhere, and they are everywhere. The voluntary works are officially abandoned. That was in 1995 when I first visited already so. However, then I saw plenty of examples of the so called voluntary work. If you ask people, and they trust you, you can get amazing and horrifying stories. But be careful.
Accommodation in Myanmar
In general it's easy to find accommodation. I found little need to book anything in advance. But even if you want to book in advance, only the more upmarket hotels have internet booking facilities. That however can change quickly as the country is opening very fast, In case you want to check it out, Tripadvisor, Agoda and Hotelscombined have some hotels available:
More pages about Myanmar:
Have a happy journey in Myanmar.
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Map of Myanmar
We have created a map of Myanmar (Burma) to help you when you are organizing your journey: