An Asia Highlights team has just returned from a 10-day Myanmar(Burma) Inspection Trip early in 2017. From our personal experience and up-to-date information from our local offices, it is definitely safe to travel to all key Myanmar destinations – Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake, Kalaw, Ngapali and Mandalay.
But we do understand concerns about safety. Myanmar just opened in 2010 and is still an unknown destination to most people, especially westerners. Recent (2016) negative news and reports in international media about bombings in Yangon and civil unrest in other parts of the country seemed to depict Myanmar as unsafe.
Such news represents just a tiny fraction of the facts about Myanmar, however! It is unfair to classify Myanmar as unsafe simply because of those incidents. Actually travelers to Myanmar should be more concerned about pickpockets in crowded areas than about their physical safety.
Civil conflict in some parts of eastern and northern Myanmar has been reported. Most no-go zones are in Kachin and Shan States, close to the border with China and Thailand. Those areas are closed to foreigners and far away from the main tourist destinations.
The United Kingdom and Australia still recommend travelers to avoid Rakhine (Rakhaing) State in western Myanmar, but Mrauk U in northern Rakhine has been embracing more and more travelers in recent years.
For first-timers, the most famous destinations – Mandalay, Inle Lake, Bagan, Kalaw and Yangon – provide more than enough substance for visiting, experiencing and knowing the real Myanmar. Side-trips to Ngapali Beach, the Golden Rock or Hpa are also optional.
These places will provide first-timers with an enjoyable time in Myanmar. On the safety front there is nothing to worry about if you stay within these boundaries.
Low Levels Of Crime In Myanmar
Strict Buddhist culture, with low levels of crime, makes Myanmar a safe country in which to travel. According to our observations, the areas we visited (Mandalay, Inle Lake, Bagan and Yangon) are just as safe whether in the country or in the city! We never heard of any violent crime during our stay.
Myanmar people are about the friendliest we ever met! Be prepared for smiles all round and for people who are always willing to help out when needed.
Routine precautions should nevertheless be taken, such as depositing valuables in a hotel safe. Pickpockets have been known to turn up in both tourist and non-tourist areas. It is always sensible to keep an eye on your wallet.
Hygiene, avoidance of disease and the availability of medication are major concerns for travelers in Myanmar. As long as routine precautions are taken, you should stay healthy during your trip.
Choose Food and Water Carefully
To the average western traveler, hygiene in Myanmar is terrible.
Bottled water is always best for drinking. Tap water is okay for washing hands, but you’d better never drink it! Keeping hand-sanitizer nearby would be a good way of trying to avoid germs.
Street food is believed to be the main cause of stomach upsets. If you really want to sample the street food, choose the cleanest stalls. It would be a sensible precaution to bring diarrhea remedies, such as lomotil, with you, since most westerners' bowels are not used to such food.
Busy restaurants are generally much better, with food thoroughly cooked and relatively good standards of hygiene. Rinsing spoons and forks before meals may help.
Ice cream and all non-packaged dairy products, which are often not pasteurized, are not recommended, for fear of stomach upsets.
Vaccines recommended for reducing the risk from eating street food: up-to-date Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and typhoid.
Precautions Against Dengue Fever and Malaria
Dengue fever and malaria are the most serious concerns when traveling to Myanmar. Prevention is absolutely the best medicine, as adequate medical care cannot automatically be assumed there. First consult your doctor about vaccines which should be taken when traveling to Myanmar.
We recommend a tetanus vaccine. Malarone is recommended against malaria and doxycycline for issues like tick bites. On taking doxycycline, some people may become more sensitive to the sun, but its effect will not be too serious.
Dengue fever is the main concern. It does not kill you but it will make you feel miserable during your trip and even after the trip. Covering up with long pants and using mosquito repellent are the most effective ways of dodging dengue.
Rabies shots may be necessary, as there are many stray dogs and cats along the street. Lissy in our team was bitten by a stray dog but luckily she was not bleeding. She was quickly taken by our local guide in a private car to the biggest hospital in the provincial city.
A doctor who formerly worked in Malaysia for 7 years, quickly and professionally helped Lissy deal with the bite. She is now in perfectly good health.
Public Medicine Remains Poor While Private Charges Are High
The public health-care system is poorly funded and so is medical education. Yangon has the easiest access to hospitals while Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay have clinics. Most accommodation is equipped with an emergency medical kit.
Western medicines can easily be bought in a supermarket or pharmacy. But we would still suggest you bring a full supply of prescribed medicine, according to your personal health situation.
If you need to see a specialist doctor in Myanmar for any emergency, try to look for a doctor with a postgraduate degree from a developed country or who has had work experience in a relatively developed country. Information about doctors can be checked from doctors' list in clinics.
In case of serious illness, transport to Bangkok or Singapore might be advisable. Private hospitals in Yangon are available only at great expense.
Choose to Fly between Destinations
Though there are many and various means of transportation within Myanmar, some strange and others amusing, we suggest you stick to flying!
You may choose to try out some land transportation for the experience, such as a local train or bus. Derailing of trains, however, is still common in Myanmar!
Make Sure Your Insurance Is in Order
You are recommended to take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel, especially when traveling to Myanmar or other Southeast Asian countries. The insurance should cover all items planned in the itinerary, along with emergency medical evacuation.
Visit Myanmar with Asia Highlights
We provide interesting tours to Myanmar. Tours typically start or end in Yangon or Mandalay and last approximately 9 days; visiting Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.
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