Myanmar, formerly “Burma,” is a dark tourism wonderland.
Rampant violence between the Burmese military and minority ethnic groups continues to scar entire regions. Subsequently, the cities and towns that have been opened for visitors are struggling to put Myanmar on tourist routes.
Nevertheless, tourism in Myanmar increased by 78% in 2022, showing signs of growth. But is the war-torn country worth visiting among the other, safer choices in Southeast Asia (SEA)?
Compiled in this article are 7 important things to be aware of if you decide to make the journey to Myanmar.
Let’s take a closer look…
#1. There’s widespread civil unrest across the country
So let’s start with the elephant in the room, eh?
From 1962 all the way to 2011, Myanmar was ruled by a military junta. This dictatorship was led by military commander Ne Win. And it oppressed various Burmese ethnic groups throughout Myanmar.
The junta gave way to a democratic election process, but just ten years later, hopes for a free election were dashed. On the morning of February 1, 2021, another military coup d’état regained control of the country.
Opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi was detained and is still imprisoned. Travelers to Myanmar should be well aware of the tumultuous political landscape, as the nation isn’t showing signs of stability yet.
For more about what’s happening there, watch this video:
#2. Vital tourism infrastructure is missing
We’d be remiss not to mention this huge drawback for many holiday-makers and adventurers. Even though it’s rapidly improving, Myanmar lacks the same tourism structure that you may be used to in other parts of SEA.
This means that hotels aren’t as common, and those that are available will cost you a pretty penny. Even when you do find appropriate accommodation, the quality might not reach Western standards.
Even transportation to more remote corners of Myanmar is lacking. Attention all light-sleepers — Myanmar’s sleeper buses are also problematic. Due to poor road conditions, there’s next to no chance that you’ll actually sleep.
Having said that, many tourists are having amazing adventures. Watch this video by Guglielmo Biason to get a glimpse of his adventure in Myanmar:
Source: Yves Alarie
#3. You can’t rely on the local Wi-Fi
Another creature comfort that many of us won’t do without is an internet connection. Unfortunately, in Myanmar, Wi-Fi has only been around since 2000, and you might not even be able to load a whole YouTube video.
That said, the networks within Myanmar are improving. If you’re lucky, you can find high-speed Wi-Fi in up-market cafes, restaurants, and hotels. If you’re still annoyed by the speeds (you will be), travelers have found faster internet through data SIM cards.
According to The Fund For Peace, Myanmar is the 12th most fragile country, scoring a 9 out of 10 for security threats. Unless you use a VPN on public networks, the chances of government surveillance and data breaches are too high to gamble.
#4. Beware of restricted war-torn regions
Lovers of free-roaming adventure trips might avoid travel in Myanmar due to this one major disadvantage. Several states within Myanmar have imposed entry restrictions, requiring government permission to enter the area.
Especially in areas such as Shan State, where ongoing conflict continues to scar the region. In these regions, the villages of many ethnic minorities have seen forced relocation, armed violence, and even genocide.
Thousands of villages have been and continue to be destroyed, displacing countless “illegal” minority groups. Travelers to Myanmar might not even be aware of the atrocities happening only a few hours away from their tourist-catered destination.
#5. The closed economy makes Kyat hard to get
If you’re sure that you want to travel to Myanmar, you should know that it’s going to be expensive. Not only is Myanmar one of the most expensive Southeast Asian countries, but the closed economy also adds a few extra hurdles.
A closed economy is when a country doesn’t trade currency with any other country. You won’t even be able to convert your cash to Kyat (the local currency) before entering. Plus, once you do enter, ATMs and currency exchangers are known to charge exorbitant fees.
ATMs were nonexistent in Myanmar 10 years ago, but now they’re accessible in any tourist destination. However, bring a few cards as many international banks refuse withdrawals from ATMs in Myanmar.
It’s also worth noting that if you bring cash, make sure it’s US dollars. Anything else will fetch you a worse exchange rate or may not be accepted at all.
#6. Hygiene and safety standards are low
SEA travel veterans won’t be shocked to learn that hygiene and safety standards in Myanmar are pretty low. While those of other nearby countries can definitely be improved, Myanmar is especially lacking.
You’ll likely see construction workers balancing on beams with no shoes, hardhat or safety harnesses. You also can’t be surprised if your ankles are tickled by a rat or cockroach during dinner — poor hygiene plagues Burmese kitchens.
If you have a weak stomach or worry about hygienic kitchen practices, Myanmar is not for you. Yet, if the trash and dirtiness of other SEA countries doesn’t phase you, the hygiene standards of Myanmar might be fine.
#5. You’ll need a visa to enter Myanmar
Did you really think you’d be entering Myanmar without a visa?
Luckily though, they’re super easy to get and only require a bit of pre-vacation planning. Visas to Myanmar can be applied for in any Embassy of Myanmar or online.
For the application, you’ll also need:
- Passport and passport copy with a validity of at least 6 months;
- 2x color passport photos (in person) or 1 picture uploaded;
- Proof of onward travel from Myanmar;
- Proof of stay at a registered hotel or accommodation;
- Credit card for online application or cash in person.
While eVisa applications are convenient, they cost a bit extra. If you’re a budget traveler, just pop into your local Myanmar embassy to save money on your visa.
Is Myanmar safe for tourists now?
To put it simply, no.
Due to ongoing conflict, and civil unrest, travel to Myanmar is not recommended at all. So much so the US Department of State ranks Myanmar as “Level 4: Do Not Travel”.
Your safety in Myanmar can’t be guaranteed
In addition to armed conflict in several tourism-restricted regions, the safety of visitors isn’t assured. Wrongful or random arrests and detention of foreign nationals has been known to happen too.
Foreign governments are allowed minimal access, so it’s unknown if your home country could even intervene. Add on top the unexploded ordinance throughout the country, and we can easily rule out Myanmar are a safe and comfortable tourist destination.
How many days are enough for Myanmar?
Those that insist on visiting Myanmar should reserve some time to see the country’s culture and sights. While a trip shorter than a week can be achieved, it’s recommended to take at least 2 weeks to explore Myanmar.
Myanmar COVID-19 entry requirements
In June 2023, COVID-19 travel restrictions have all but disappeared in most of the world’s tourist destinations. However, visitors to Myanmar require a vaccination certificate (with an approved vaccine) and COVID-19 medical insurance.
So there you go — if you’re a dark tourist or hardcore traveler, perhaps Myanmar is the next destination on your bucket list.
For the rest of us, it’s probably best to wait out a trip to Myanmar until the nation sees some long-awaited political stability.