Observations from Myanmar (Burma)

Here are some of my random observations, facts and tidbits from traveling in Myanmar (Burma) in June 2009:

- Myanmar is a safe country to travel to despite what you might hear in the media.

- The Burmese people hate their government.
- There are no ATM machines in Myanmar or facilities to cash travelers cheques. Foreigners are forced to carry US dollars in cash.
- There's almost no crime, even in big cities. This is because there is not much disparity between the "haves" and "have nots"; only the government officials are rich.

- The official capital of Myanmar is no longer Rangoon/Yangon. It is Naypyidaw. But for all practical purposes, it is still Rangoon.
- Myanmar sleeps early; some shops/restaurants close at 20:00 and almost everything is shut down by 21:00.
- The Burmese are some of the most polite and helpful people I've ever met.

- Shwe is the most common last name in Myanmar.
- It is possible to spend no more than US$10-15 per day, including all meals and accommodation.
- I've traveled across the country and have yet to see anyone defecate or urinate in the open. Toilet facilities are found almost everywhere.
- The cities, towns and villages are clean and almost litter-free.
- The sidewalks are walkable; one doesn't have to worry much about falling in an open drain.
- Motorists obey traffic rules.
- There's garbage collection even in small towns.
- Expect to pay "foreigner" prices for most things (still it is cheap).
- Travel in Myanmar is Slow with a capital "S" and difficult. Bus route/number, road names/signs, information boards etc. are all in Burmese. Also, almost no one speaks English.

- Yangon's Northern Bus Terminal is the most confusing place I've ever been to anywhere in the world! There are hundreds of buses and no way to tell which one goes where - everything is in Burmese.
- Foreign visitors to this country (and there are very few) are almost revered.

- I've never seen so much greenery in my life before. This is because there is practically no development outside of the major cities.
- Everyone (men, women and children) wears a longyi. Did I say that a longyi looks sexy on a woman?
- Practically everything is made of wood.
- A mobile phone costs several hundred US dollars; and a SIM card costs around US$2000.
- Car ownership in Myanmar is probably less than 1 percent owing to the fact that the government purchases cars for US$1000-2000 from Japan, and sells them for US$20,000-60,000.

- If you see a luxury car on the street, then it is most likely owned by a government official.
- In the black market, US$1.00 = ~1,080 Myanmar Kyats (June 2009); the official rate was US$1.00 = ~6.50 Myanmar Kyats!
- Tea shops are everywhere in Myanmar (tea/coffee costs ~200 Kyats).

- Electricity supply is very sketchy. This is done intentionally by the government to keep "control" over the people. The goal is to keep them simple and uninformed.
- Many people (including children) in Myanmar have red teeth due to chewing paan (betal).
- Red spitting stains can be seen everywhere.

- I have seen more paan-walis (female betal sellers) than paan-walas (male betal sellers).
- Interestingly, despite being one of the poorest countries, there aren't any beggars in Myanmar, even in touristy places
- A young person has only three practical options in Myanmar: to become a monk, join the army or go out of the country for a better life.

- Most Burmese men drink alcohol in the evening. A bottle of whisky costs only 1,800 Kyats (~US$1.80). That's cheap even by Burmese standards.
- Total strangers often help women get on or off a bus or a pick-up truck without being accused of molesting her.

- Myanmar is pronounced as "Mee-yan-mar" and Kyat (their currency) is pronounced as "Chat".

- Kipling was right when he wrote, "this is Burma ... it is quite unlike any place you know about."

1 comment:

wasagadave said...

Spent a month in Myanmar in 2007, and agree with these observations, though found many spoke English, and would often be asked to engage in conversation for them to practice.
A very pleasant population, polite, generous and adaptive. The only place I've been with right-hand drive vehicles driven on the right side of the road. Seems to be entirely for the convenience of the many toll collectors. Most natural resources in SE Asia, yet poorest population.
Can't wait to return.