After decades of operating as a closed society, Myanmar opened its doors for discovery, beckoning intrepid explorers to reveal the mysteries it shielded from the world before word inevitably got out. With a spellbinding landscape of ancient stupas and gilded pagodas, this unassuming region of Southeast Asia now booms with tourism, and towns and big cities are rapidly changing in response. These must-knows will set you up for success when navigating complex Myanmar and experiencing its traditional ways.
Bring Crisp American Bills
The American dollar is the most widely accepted foreign currency throughout Myanmar, and while a number of tourist establishments in the country’s most prominent destinations of Mandalay, Yangon and Bagan quote prices in USD, travelers will need to be equipped with crisp bills printed after 2001 in pristine condition. Prior to the development of modern financial services—like ATMs and money changers—travelers took to the black market with American bills in exchange for the local Kyat, pronounced chat, at an exorbitant rate. But as the economy opened, its elusive appeal declined.
Still, only American bills free of markings, smudges, crinkles, and folds are accepted by money changers and businesses, with the fear that crumpled bills cannot be exchanged with the government by business owners, rendering the cash useless. Travelers to Myanmar will receive a more favorable conversion rate the higher the denomination of the American bills, but be sure to travel throughout the country with both currencies, as family-owned establishments and local markets only accept the Kyat. Major tourist establishments are equipped to accept credit cards but the service is unreliable and may be unavailable at times due to intermittent Internet connection.
Skirts Are Widely Worn
Men and women, young and old, across all socioeconomic statuses don the longyi, a traditional skirt that holds a reputation for being the most comfortable piece of clothing. Comparable to a sarong, the longyi is a piece of patterned cloth wrapped and tied around the waist, with differences in how men and women wear it—while the man’s skirt is typically striped or checkered in pattern and secured with a knot at the front, the woman’s is brightly colored with intricate designs and tied with a knot at the side.
Favored for its practicality and breathability, the traditional wraparound skirt helps combat the stifling summer heat by promoting circulation and airflow, and though its worn on a daily basis, it’s mandatory dress on special occasions like weddings and temple visits. Having gained mass popularity during the country’s British colonial rule, the longyi is readily found at any shop, and locals delight in witnessing foreigners don their traditional garb.
Visas and Restricted Areas
For almost all visitors to Myanmar with the exception of a handful of southeast Asian nationalities, a visa is required to enter the country, and will need to be arranged prior to arrival. In the past, the sole option for travelers was to forfeit their passports at a designated Burmese embassy for a few days while their visa application is reviewed. But with the launch of the eVisa system in 2014, the process has been simplified and tourist and business visas are issued within three business days, allowing a stay of up to 28 days for tourists and 70 days for business travelers.
Tourists with an approved visa traveling by air must arrive at the international airports in Yangon, Mandalay or Nay Pyi Taw in order for it to be accepted. Carry a printout of your acceptance letter to ensure a smooth entry process. Though a visa grants access to the country, some parts of Myanmar remain off limits to tourists due to civil unrest and border tensions, prohibiting off-the-beaten-path explorations in the regions of Rakhine, Kachin, Shan and Sagaing, where travel is only permitted with approval by the Burmese government.