Useful Information

  • Tipping in Myanmar

    Myanmar, once the cheapest country in Southeast Asia, has recently been subject to some hefty price hikes due to a boom in travel to the region. At a pinch, shoestring travellers can get by on a budget of approximately US$60 a day for a cheap guesthouse (no aircon and dubious hygiene), travel on local buses and meals at local street food stalls and teahouses. Travellers wanting access to air conditioned hotel rooms, meals at western-style restaurants and taxi rides should budget closer to $150 per day. Luxury hotels in Yangon and Bagan can be as expensive as anywhere in the western world.

    Tipping as known in the West is not customary in Myanmar, though little extra ‘presents’ are sometimes expected (even if they’re not asked for) in exchange for a service (such as unlocking a locked temple at Bagan, helping move a bag at the airport or showing you around the ‘sights’ of a village).

    It’s a good idea to keep some small notes (K50, K100, K200) when visiting a religious temple or monastery, as donations may be asked for. Also, you may wish to leave a donation.

    In the past, many travellers have offered a little ‘tea money’ to officials in order to help expedite bureaucratic services such as visa extensions or getting a seat on a ‘sold out’ flight. You shouldn’t have to do this. If you overstay your visa, you’ll often pay a $3 ‘fee’ for the paperwork, in addition to the $3 per day penalty.


  • Tax Free

    The following goods may be taken into Myanmar by persons over 17 years of age without incurring customs duty:

    • 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco
    • 1l of alcohol
    • 0.5l of perfume or eau de cologne
    • Playing cards, gambling equipment, antiques, archaeological items and pornography are prohibited
    • Jewellery, electrical goods and cameras must be declared failure to do so may result in visitors being refused permission to export these goods on departure. Video cameras will be held in safe custody at the airport and will be returned on departure. All gems, jewellery and silverware purchased from authorised shops can be taken out of the country

  • Culture

    Myanmar has a long history dating back several thousand of years. The traditions and culture of Myanmar as well as the philosophy of life of its people, the majority of whom are Buddhists, have been shaped profoundly by Buddhism and the worshiping of ancient Nat (spirits). Hence, Myanmar’s people, regardless of their race or ethnic origin are peace-loving, friendly, generous and hospitable. They also have an innate sense of duty to family, community and country.


    Myanmar culture is also inspired by the Chinese and Indian traditions, and it can claim to have retained its own beliefs and culture due to the post-war and post-independence national isolation policy. The culture is complex and rich. Each of the 135 national races that comprise the Myanmar nation has its own language, dialect and characteristics. They live in harmony with each other and with nature, most of them living in remote areas. The major ethnic groups are the Kachin, the Kayah, the Kavin, the Chin, the Mon, the Bamar, the Rakline, and the Shan.


    An interesting tradition, taking place particularly in rural areas, is to see the people collectively helping with each others work and participating in communal activities. These traditional practices not only contribute to community development but also bring members of the community closer and thus help to foster solidarity in the building of a peaceful and developed nation.


    The benevolent prince, called Lawkanat is often portrayed in Myanmar and regarded as the patron of performing arts. He stands for peace and harmony, happiness and joy and all that is right and good. His role as a peacemaker is based on a fascinating legend handed down through the generations. It is also the favorite subject of Myanmar's sculpture and painting, and its graceful figure is frequently seen adorning the Myanmar traditional orchestra.

  • Religion

    Buddhism plays a central role in the people’s daily life in Myanmar. A large majority of the population is of Buddhist faith. They live by its principles of gentleness, contentment and helpfulness. There are two major churches in Buddhism: Mahayana and Theravada. The latter form dominates in Myanmar and meditation is central to its followers, it led through a succession of stages to the final goal of spiritual freedom, also called nirvana. Meditation combines, in its highest stages, the discipline of progressively increased introversion with the insight brought about by wisdom. Buddhist faith embraces the concept of life after death and recognizes 31 forms of beings, six floors of heaven, and seven floors of hell.


    The other form of spirituality often seen in Myanmar is the ancient traditional beliefs about the 37 Nats (spirits), who are viewed as supernaturally powerful beings, situated between the gods and the spiritual beings. The number of the Nats was set in the 12th century in order to contain a cult that Buddhism had failed to eliminate. And, Myanmar remains superstitious in many ways. Its people carry out the traditions and cultural heritage of the older generations. They believe that the Nats can bring luck and prosperity to the worshipers and can also bring danger to those who do not respect them.


    The official religious faith in Myanmar is Buddhist 89%, Christian 4% (Baptist 3%, Roman Catholic 1%), Islam 4%, Animist 1% and other 2%.

  • Shopping

    Shopping in Myanmar is a wonderful experience. Not only can one bargain with storeowners as one would in many countries, but bartering is acceptable and recommended. Often, merchants are more than happy to trade their wares for some of your own personal items such as designer watches, calculators, jeans, T-shirts and so on. In the larger towns, bargains can be found at public markets, known as zei or zay or at main central markets in most areas known as zeigyo or zay-cho.


    There are lots of things to buy in Myanmar including antiques, but be aware that there are strict regulations regarding their export. The same restrictions apply to archaeological artifacts. There are some wonderful items made from bamboo available. Coconut masks make for interesting decorations and come in all shapes and sizes and are popular gifts to take home. The most sought-after embroidery is the Kalaga, a traditionally crafted tapestry depicting Buddhist scenes.


    Folk Dolls reflect the numerous national races in Myanmar, they come in many different varieties and are a popular souvenir. Teakwood furniture is made by local craftsmen and can be made to order. Burma's red rubies are among the worlds finest. These high quality stones are now rare but are sometimes available from reputable shops in Yangon. Jade and sapphires are more widely available. Don't be tempted by friendly street vendors offering stones, they are likely to be fake.


    Gold is sold in Yangon’s reputable jewelers. A wide variety of silver (of varying quality) is available in many tourist shops, from beads to intricately designed boxes and bowls. Tribal jewellery is more valuable and rare. Though design and workmanship is not generally up to international standards, there are some unusual and attractive pieces. Gold needs to be checked to make sure that it is not merely gold plated silver.


    Gold embroidery is expensive, but some very fine pieces can be found throughout the country, though the larger cities have more variety. The manufacture of gold leaf is concentrated in Mandalay as a cottage industry. It is sold in little packets and is used as an expression of reverence for temple images but is popular with overseas buyers for handicraft work back in their homeland. Older pieces of silverware are particularly attractive and are more plentiful in the main cities where the choice is better too.


    For those who are interested in handicrafts, the Bogyoke Aung San Market in Yangon or the Zeigyo Market in Mandalay are good choices to shop. The array of goods for sale is huge and cheap. You can purchase just about anything you want from these two markets. Bagan is the center of lacquer-ware production, with a range of pieces available. Scott Market in Yangon sells similar pieces. Most designs are based on religious scriptures.


    Attractive items from small purses to large leather bags which will last for years are available in most areas. The men's traditional longyi is a much more comfortable alternative to tight jeans or trousers when travelling through Myanmar. Delightfully styled marionettes of all sizes dangle at market stalls. Superbly woven items from baskets to placemats are available throughout Burma. Shan style shoulder bags are both an attractive and practical buy.


    Stone carvings are lovely pieces for the house or garden, but shipping can be complicated and the advice of a local person is advised. Kalaga embroidered tapestries are the ones to look out for. These beautifully ornate creations make magnificent wall decorations when suitably framed, though quality can vary greatly and older pieces tend to look more aesthetic.


    Thanaka paste can be seen being worn (mainly by women) across Burma. It controls oiliness, tightens pores, cools the skin and acts as a sunscreen. Beautiful high quality silk and cotton longyis are found countrywide. These are well-priced and easy to pack. The famous Shan shoulder bags are popular gifts and can be bought throughout the country. Many wooden carved pieces are available, both old and new, in different woods. Avoid purchasing any teak products as this is an endangered hardwood.


    Do be advised that there is no trading standards authority in Myanmar, so check the quality of what you’re buying very carefully, especially if there are safety concerns involved. Don’t expect to get your money back if you change your mind after making a purchase, or even if you realize that the goods you have been sold are not as advertised.


    • Check everything you can check before handing over your money
    • Always ask around to get an idea of basic prices for common necessities. For more important purchases, try and get a local friend to go along with you, or better still, let them do the buying without you
    • Don’t feel awkward or rude about bargaining, everyone bargains in Myanmar and you’ll look like a green tourist if you don’t
    • Don’t look happy or resigned to paying what you’re asked, always begin by showing your gentle disapproval
    • Walk away if you cannot agree on a price, either they’ll come after you or you’ll find the same thing on sale somewhere else
    • Buy ethnic products directly from ethnic people, if at all possible, rather than from shops run by other ethnic merchants
    • All gem and jewellery purchases need to be made through a government-authorized dealer, who must issue an official receipt - this is required for export of such items
    • Exercise care when buying jewellery and gems as there is no guarantee on quality even when issued with a certificate from authorized shops.
  • Visa to Myanmar
    Visa requirements to visit Myanmar change on a regular basis and it's best to check with the Burmese embassy in your country before making your travel plans. The safest approach is to assume you will need one. A tourist visa’s validity expires 90 days after issue and only allows a 28-day, single-entry visit. It officially costs $20 but sometimes runs to €25 in Western Europe. You’ll need three passport-sized photos
    for the process.
    There are also 28-day business visas ($30) and 28-day special visas ($30) for former Myanmar citizens (these visas can be extended for three to six months once in Yangon). A multiple-entry business visa is $150. There is no longer an e-visa service or ‘meditation visa’ available.
    Note that Myanmar doesn’t recognise dual nationalities

  • Social Convention & Etiquette
    The people of Burma are very conservative in their dress and behavior and you should pay special attention to respecting their Buddhist traditions wherever you go, but particularly in temples and monasteries. Shorts and sleeveless shirts are frowned upon and in fact, are not allowed in shrines, temples and monasteries. Short skirts are also not recommended. You must also remove your shoes before entering such sites and it is wrong to point your feet towards a Buddha image. It is a common courtesy in Burma to use both hands when handing something to somebody else.
  • Money & Expense
    The local currency in Burma is Kyat, and outside of Yangon and the big hotels this is the preferred currency. US dollars are also accepted widely as currency. The exchange rate varies widely between different places. The official exchange rate is 1 USD-600 kyat, but you will never come across this. It is much more likely to be between 700 kyat and 950 kyat to the dollar, depending on where you are. The Kyat is a very fluid currency, so it is better to keep your money in dollars and change it into Kyat as and when you need to. Do not change money at the airport, as the exchange rate is terrible.
    Credit cards are not widely accepted. You may find that some hotels in your itinerary will accept payment by card but it is not a reliable service and can be withdrawn at any time. Most hotels will add a hefty surcharge of between 4-7% if paying by credit card. Furthermore, there are no ATM machines in Burma. Euros are starting to be accepted in some of the bigger more international style hotels. Traveller's cheques are also not widely accepted, so it is best to take all the money you will need in US dollars cash.
  • Food & Drink
    The regional food is hot and spicy. Fish, rice, noodles and vegetables spiced with onions, ginger, garlic and chilies are the common local ingredients. Local dishes include Lethok Son (a spicy vegetarian rice salad), Mohingal (fish soup with rice) and Oh-no Khauk Swe (noodles, chicken and coconut in a spicy sauce). The avocados by Inle Lake are very good and Mandalay grows the best mangos!. Delicious fruits are available in the markets and food stalls appear on the corners of most large towns. Chinese and Indian cuisine is offered in many hotels and restaurants.
    Tea is a popular drink and an integral part of Burmese life. On almost every street in some of the larger cities you will be able to find a tea shop. A simple, open-air affair of low tables and stools that spill out onto the pavement, tea here is served sweet and thick with condensed milk and an assortment of cakes. You pay for what you take from the tray on the table. Coffee is not common but is becoming increasingly popular. Beer, rum, whisky and gin are generally available.
  • Language
    The official language is Burmese, and there are over 100 distinct languages and dialects spoken in Burma. English is spoken in business circles
  • Getting Around
    Yangon (Rangoon) is usually your entry and exit point by air, although flights from Thailand into Mandalay are increasing in regularity.
    There are also several hassle-free overland border crossings from Thailand and Southwest China, which provide alternative options for the more adventurous.
    Burma is a deceptively large country and few roads are of good quality so flights are usually the quickest way to cover longer distances. Where flying is not an option we use private vehicles or river journeys. The train network is fairly extensive but is not comfortable and rarely convenient.