If you would like to travel to Myanmar, there are several things you might want to know before you go. Here are a few tips to help you plan your trip:
Passport: Your passport must be valid for at least six months following your scheduled return to the United States. Processing a passport renewal can take 4-6 weeks (expedited service of 2-3 weeks available for an additional fee). You also need at least two blank pages for each country you will be visiting. You can request that pages be added to your passport under the same time frame as above. (See www.travel.state.gov for filing instructions/forms).
Tourist Visa: As of this writing, it is still not possible to obtain a tourist visa for Myanmar at entry into the country (“business” visas are now available upon arrival, and they are currently reporting that they are creating the infrastructure to be able to offer tourist visas upon arrival). But for now, you must obtain a tourist visa prior to travel. You can drop off your application at the U.S. Embassy in Washington, D.C. or the Consulate in NYC, or you can mail your passport with application to the D.C. Embassy. Processing time is 6-10 days, whether mailed in or dropped off, and this does not include mailing time. The visa will be good for 3 months from the time of issue and is good for a consecutive 28-day stay in the country. This, of course, could all change at any time, so check the embassy website for the latest information.
Medical/Health Precautions: You should check with a health care provider who specializes in travel medicine at least 4-6 weeks before your trip to make sure your vaccinations are up-to-date. Malaria medicine and bug repellent with DEET may be prescribed. A prescription for gastrointestinal illness is always good to take along as a precaution. Call the CDC hotline at 1-800-232-4636 or visit their travelers’ health website for more information on health requirements.
Weather: The best time to visit Myanmar is between November and February when it rains the least and is not so hot. [I did visit in April/May a couple of times, and it was doable -and especially fun during their Water Festival – although it was about 104F most days].
Time Zone: Myanmar is in the GMT +6.30 time zone (in January: 11.5 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Standard Time and 14.5 hours ahead of U.S. Pacific Standard Time). Myanmar does not observe Daylight Savings Time.
Luggage: In-country flights have a 44 lb. weight limit for luggage, plus allowance for one carry-on, no larger than 22x14x9 inches. It is also recommended that your luggage be a light-weight, soft duffel bag or soft-sided suitcase. Utilize plastic zip lock bags, nylon stuff bags or mesh packing cubes to separate clothing and gear inside your suitcase, as bags will be opened for inspection.
Recommended Attire: When visiting temples and religious sites, conservative dress is recommended. Pants should be at least of mid-calf length and shirts should be modest. If you wear shorts, it is recommended that you carry a longhi or sari-type skirt or loose fitting pants to pull over your shorts to walk around and explore the religious sites. While t-shirts are becoming more and more prevalent, they are sometimes seen as offensive to extremely devout Buddhists when worn in the temples. Walking sandals are recommended, as shoes must be removed for entering any religious buildings/areas. Socks are also not allowed in these areas.
Electric Current: Myanmar uses 220-250 volt system (compared to 100-125V in the U.S.). Many appliances, including many travel hair dryers, are now dual-voltage. Voltage requirements are usually displayed on the appliance on the back where the cord is attached. Laptops and other equipment that have a detachable cord often have a box in the middle of the cord or a large box at the plug end that displays the input voltage requirements. If the appliance lists 110, 115, 120 or 125 volts only, it is not dual-voltage. If the appliance lists 100-240 or 110-230 or something similar, it is dual-voltage. If your appliance is NOT dual-voltage, then you will require a converter, in addition to the plugs. (NOTE: All Apple products are dual-voltage). The country utilizes various plugs (such as Great Britain, Europe, India, and sometimes Australia). So, you should bring all of your international plugs to be safe.
Internet/Cell Phones: While wifi is now available in many of the hotels, it is not always dependable. This may be changing rapidly. SIM cards are now available for unlocked phones. However, Global mobile roaming phone service is not yet available in Myanmar.
Currency: Euros and Dollars command the best exchange rates in Myanmar. Don’t expect to change any creased, rumpled, torn, or marked US dollar bills. (This is very important! On a previous trip, I had some seemingly clean US dollars with me which were not accepted due to a few small red or black marks on them.) An ATM system is currently under development but machines are primarily available in Yangon and Mandalay (although this will be changing rapidly). For the time being, I wouldn’t depend on the availability of ATM machines (there have also been early reports of machines that are not yet working properly). Credit cards are not widely accepted as of yet, although this is also undergoing rapid changes. So for now, it is important to have enough US cash to cover your needs. The best exchange rates are available in the larger cities such as Yangon or Mandalay (if you are using a guide, ask them to help you exchange your money, as they can often obtain a better exchange rate for you). There are entry fees and camera fees at many of the sites, so you will want to have small denominations of Kyat available (such as K50, K100, K200).
Are there other questions you have about traveling in Myanmar? Ask me below in the comments, and I’ll try to get back to you with an answer. (Remember I’m going to be traveling in Myanmar over the next few weeks, so will have spotty wifi access! In which case, I’ll get back to you with an answer upon my return.)
So, get ready, and Come Explore With Me! My next small group tour to Myanmar will be in October 2013!