28 Things You Have to Know Before Visiting Myanmar
Posted on January 21, 2014
Hey, I just came back from my five days trip in Myanmar. There, I visited 3 big cities, Yangon – Mandalay – Bagan, and took some half day trips to Bago, Amarapura, and Mount Popa. According to my experience, –and I think you should know, because I want to make you know– these are 28 things you have to know before visiting Myanmar:
[PS: This is my first (also full) post in English, and if you’re asking “Why English?”, I will ask you back “Why not? Or do you want me to write in Burmese?”]
1. You Need a Visa (Although You Are From South East Asia’s Country)
Yap, you read it right. Myanmar (who just opened itself to the world) obligate the visitors to have a visa before entering the country. Actually, if you come from several countries, you can make Visa On Arrival for business purpose, or you can pay online agent (whose cost is not cheap) to make one for you. For Indonesian, I have guideline about how to make Myanmar’s Visa here (written in Indonesian language).
2. Only Bring US Dollar in Mint Condition
“Our Bank don’t accept bad condition Dollar.” Said a man who’s in charge of Shwedagon Pagoda’s ticket box. “It’s our country’s policy.”. I argued with him, and said that I got that shabby and folded 20 US Dollar in Bagan, as a change for (my good looking 50 US Dollar) its entrance fee. How come a country didn’t accept shabby US Dollar but gave me one?
3. Can You Find Kyats in Coins?
During my five days trip, I didn’t find any Kyat (local currency) in coin, but if you want to find a shabby, folded, crumpled, torn, Scotch taped, or-whatever-bad-condition-you-named-it banknote, they have lots. So if you can find Kyats in coin, please give me one, for My Mom’s collection.
4. Please Enjoy Your Time at Airport’s Toilet
Before you go out from the airport, just make sure that you have checked –and used– the toilet. This is the cleanest toilet (I tried the squat one) that I found in Myanmar’s public places (I’m not talking about the toilet in 5 stars hotel or expensive restaurant). And I’m sure that you don’t want to know that I see some shits –that a jerk forgot to flush– in Shwedagon Pagoda’s toilet. Ups, I just let you know.
Faeces in the holiest place, are you kidding me, Myanmar?
5. People are Very Kind
They love to smile, and love to help you. Just like when I arrived in Mandalay, a local man (with good English) came and escorted me to a nearest restaurant. He helped me order foods and beverages to the waiters who can’t speak English. When I finished my breakfast, he told me that he was a taxi driver, and gave expensive cost for his one day tour service.
Haha, got you! (Tip: You can dodge a man like him, by simply saying “no”.)
6. They Love to Chew Betel and Spit Anywhere
“HOERRGHHHH! CUUHHH!”, is a sound from people who chew betel and spit it out. And (un)fortunately, most of Myanmar’s people love to chew betel rather than smoke. Betel won’t hurt your lungs, but will make you ugly. Just ask them smile, and you will see the red (or brown) teeth because of betel.
And this is why Myanmar’s driver used to open their window (and don’t use air-con) so they can spit the betel out easily.
7. You Will See Sarong Everywhere
Myanmar is a country that most of the residents wear sarong, but don’t go to the mosque. Yes, because they’re Buddhist, and it’s not literally a sarong, but a Longjyi (local sarong). People in Myanmar (men & women) love to wear it everywhere, in the street, the market, the temple, the office, but I hope they don’t use it in the bathroom.
Please, don’t ask me what’s inside the longjyi.
8. That’s Not Face Powder, but Thanakha.
“Myanmar’s beauty secret.” told a board at (the only one in the world) Thanakha museum, Bagan. Myanmar’s people used to use thanakha to protect their face from the sun. But for me, thanakha just make them less beautiful. And overuse of thanakha only reminds me of geisha in Gion.
9. People Who Speak English Fluently are Rare
This is bad news, but the good news is, local people who are fluent in English (sometimes) are greedier and worse than people who aren’t. In my case, a taxi driver who can speak English well charges higher price than the others who can’t. In my opinion, Burmese language is difficult to learn if you only have five days, so don’t force yourself to understand it (especially Burmese letter).
10. A Sanctuary for Buddhist (and Heritage Lover)
A buddhist prays in a temple, Myanmar has thousands temple, and most of the temples were built long long time ago. This is the perfect place for Buddhist to get closer to Buddha, and for heritage freak to worship ancient civilization. Oops, don’t forget to remove your sandals/shoes if you want to enter those place.
From standing, sitting, sleeping, then sitting and standing again, I found many styles of Buddha here. And look at the size, it’s sooo huge. Do you think Thailand have hundreds outstanding Buddha’s statues? Then come to Myanmar to see thousands. Oh, and don’t forget to compare from one face to another, it’s interesting!
11. Free Wi-Fi Service at Shwedagon Paya
Yes, with 8 US Dollar (as entrance fee) this is what you got, free wifi service (and some faeces inside the toilet) in Yangon’s No. 1 tourist and worshipper destination spot. Spend your time beneath The Bodhi Tree while say hi to your family abroad. Thanks to someone who donated this service.
12. Afraid of Dog? Me Too
The bad news is, Myanmar has many wild dogs on the street. While the good news is, the dogs are tame, they don’t bark you, and won’t bite you if you don’t bite them first.
Still a good news for dog lover, Burmese people don’t eat dog
13. Myanmar’s Car Has Driving Wheel on The Right, and Walks on The Right.
Normally, –like in Indonesia– a car that has driving wheel on the right, walks on the left side of the street and vice versa. But not in Myanmar, where a car that has driving wheel on the right, also walks in the right side of the street. So if you’re Indonesian and want to drive in Myanmar? I think you should think twice.
14. Taxi is The Most Convenient and Easy Way to Explore The City
Sad but true, local bus is not convenient to use, and local train (in Yangon) can’t reach many objects in the city. So if you’re traveling in group (> 4 persons), I think taxi is feasible to use (but too bad that none of them use meter). Well, except you want to feel local wisdom by using cheap local bus there.
15. Buses are Slow, and Train are Slower.
I experienced daylight trip from Mandalay to Bagan by bus, and I felt the bus was only jogging, not running. The reason were narrow road, some potholes, and the most shocking part was, the buss passed the long bridge which is also used as railway. Crazy.
PS: I didn’t use train there, only checked the schedule, then took the bus.
16. You Need to Pay When Visit Some Cities in Myanmar
Just make sure that you have extra money to visit some sites/cities in Myanmar. For example, USD 10 for Bago, USD 10 for Mandalay, USD 8 for Shwedagon, and USD 15 for Bagan. In some sites, a guard will ask you for your valid ticket. And don’t forget to pay the camera fee (in some sites) also.
17. Just A Secret Between Us, You Can Enter Bagan and Explore Its Thousands Temple Without Paying Entrance Fee.
If you happen to go to Bagan by bus, the driver will stop you at a post before entering the city. There, the guards will ask you to pay Bagan’s entrance fee (USD 15). According to my experience, no one in Bagan will ask you about that ticket. So you can just pretend to go to the post, then go back to the bus without paying anything.
[Life Guide: Maybe they don’t know, but God (and Buddha) knows.]
18. The Most Fascinating Way to See Bagan, is By Hot Air Balloon.
You can jump into a horse-cart to explore Bagan, you can climb the top of Shwesandaw Paya and see the aerial view of Bagan, but the most fascinating way to enjoy Bagan is by hot air balloon. The preparation of the balloon is half the fun, then one hour fly (while catch the sunrise) with the balloon will double your fun.
19. The U-Bein Bridge Will Help You Become A Photographer at Sunset
This is the oldest and longest active teak bridge in the world. You can see many people pass this bridge anytime. My suggestion: Do nothing, until sun goes down slowly. Then find a spot to capture sunset here, and you’ll get one of the best sunsets in your life. I guarantee with my own life (if I were a cat).
20. Prepare Your Thick Feet For Mount Popa and Mandalay Hill
To climb Mount Popa you have to pass 777 steps, to climb Mandalay Hill from the southern stairway you have to pass 1729 steps, and both of them you have to do barefooted. Keep your footwear in safe place, then prepare your thick foot and manage your breathing carefully. Remember, handsome face is nothing if you have weak feet here.
21. They’re Buddhist, But They Worship The Holy Spirit.
Most of Myanmar’s people are Buddhist, and some of them are (Buddhist but still) worshipping holy spirits called Nat. The total of 37 Nats that was founded by King Anawrahta of Bagan at the year 1044-1077 have been still worshipped by many people until now. You can see thousands people –in good dress– climb Mount Popa every day to worship them.
22. Indulge Yourself In A Myanmar’s Tea Shop
Tea shop are spreaded wide around Myanmar, just like Seven Eleven in Jakarta. My favorite is Myanmar Tea, a mix between local tea and milk, which s presented in small cup. If you don’t have enough money, just sit in a table, and sip some cups of Chinese tea for free.
23. Foods Are Cheap And Yummy
If you’re Indonesian, it’s not hard to adapt with their local food. Most of restaurants (and tea shop) sell fried rice and fried noodle. And some of them, sell pork too. Astaghfirullah*. The price there was very cheap, my biggest spending for foods and beverages was only 4 US Dollars.
*) Arabic language, means “Please forgive me, God.”.
24. Haggle, Haggle, and Haggle!
If you want to take a taxi, please haggle. If you want to buy souvenirs from local seller, please haggle. But don’t haggle for your blessings. At my trip, my friend haggled a go show room in Rich Queen Hotel Mandalay, and successfully got a 5 US Dollar discount. Singaporean said “Not bad lah.”.
25. A Monk, Not A Beggar.
Find a monk in Myanmar is like find a Batak in Medan, they’re everywhere. I asked one of my taxi drivers in Bagan about what monks do for a living, and he just answered “nothing”. That explains a bit why monks always bring jar every morning, and ask for donation to non-monk-person. Yes, they need it for a living.
26. Girls, Please Envy Their Slim Body.
I rarely see fat woman in Myanmar, because most of them are slim and beautiful (without thanakha). The reason are, they love to work, have less money and can’t find KFC nor Mc Donald’s here.
27. Excess Money? Donate It.
Some places accept donation. From money to maintain the temple, gold leaves to patch Buddha’s statue, until Wi-Fi to make Shwedagon Pagoda more 2.0. So if you have excess money, you can donate it to me.
28. Smile, You’re On My Camera!
Technology is new thing here, you don’t need a PlayStation® to make kids in Myanmar happy and you don’t need to be an Iron Man to make them adore you. All you can do is point your camera to their face, see their sincere smile, and capture it with your camera. Don’t forget to show the result to them, and see their happy face. A simple thing to create happiness. A simple thing to create …
I hope my first post in English will make you happy.
If you’re happy, thanks to Myanmar.
And if you’re not, please blame Google Translate.