Here are some pratical tips on what to expect when travelling to Myanmar during the hot period..
OK, so you no doubt know that Myanmar has been a troubled land for so long, that is until the National League for Democracy’s sweeping win of the 2012 by-elections, put Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and several of her fellows into parliamentary seats, thus making an unbelievable dream come true for so many Burmese within, as well as outside of the country. Bamar land, however, is still far from what one might call, “out of the pits and poverty”, that it has wallowed in for so long. Decades of mismanagement and corruption by the military rulers and their cronies has put the country in lowest economic development amongst its South East Asian peers.
If you are planning a trip to Myanmar anytime soon, it is wise to be prepared for any scenario. We traveled here during the hot season last year and returned again recently for the Yangon Yoma Marathon. We thought a post with some tips to travel during the heat wave would be helpful to the uninitiated independent traveller.
Cranking the generator (back in 2012).. a daily grind but it has gotten better this year
Here are our Top 10 tips on what to expect when travelling to Myanmar during the hot period..
1. Bring extra batteries, and a solar charge. Long periods of power outages daily will leave your gadgets weak and dead. Don’t miss an awesome picture perfect moment or keeping yourself entertained on a long bus ride. Unless you understand Myanmar language or want to immerse yourself into Myanmar music and dramas, the loud karaoke music videos and endless soaps on the long distance buses will drive you mad.
2. Bring a portable handheld fan and not one in the size pictured above (It’s really a rechargable unit). You probably remember a torchlight or headlamp but a portable fan is great way to keep you cool – especially if you suddenly find yourself stuck a van packed with sweaty people. Many bus, cars and taxis in Myanmar do not have their refrigerant gas topped up because of the additional cost. Many don’t even have the cooling system.
Didn’t bring one? Not to fear, Myanmar’s street vendors might have one on sale.
3. Velcro and slip-on shoes are great but sandals/slippers are better. You probably read how footwear is not allowed into places of worship and homes in all Asian destinations. Myanmar is slipper (and longyi/sarong) kingdom. A pair of slippers will get you in and out of places fast and without you having to strain your back to remove shoes. While it seems too casual to wear them to an official function in the west, this footwear is accepted as formal dressing. You can find an assortment of good quality slippers with very good rubber soles here at affordable prices.
In places like Bagan where there are hundreds of temple entries and exits, a pair of slippers is essential. Rubber slippers or synthetic versions are easy to wash and quick to dry – if you know how dusty and dirty the Myanmar streets are, you’d want to wash them at the end of each day.
Central Myanmar heats up to super high temperatures! Areas around temples are exposed to the naked sun and you have no choice but to walk on the heated concrete surface when getting across different temples sections. It will leave you with burns and blisters, seriously. We didn’t try this as we didn’t think of it then but consider wearing socks to protect your tender naked soles. Do check if the temples allow socks though.
How hot is it? Even locals have to run fast to get off the hot ground
4. Take a photo with your phone, and don’t get into unlicensed cabs. This is common sense, anywhere in the world but you need to be particularly smart about travelling in Yangon because the taxi drivers do not speak a word of English, nor read it. Take a photo with your phone so you can show them the address of the place you want to go to (written in local language) or keep a business card of the address on you. It’s a rather interesting phenomenon but all taxis in Yangon do not use the meter – you need to be prepared and know how much the trip would cost roughly and have small change. Finally, by no means get into an unlicensed taxi (the ones without the taxi signage on its roof) as they will be at least 50% more expensive, and end up ‘taking you for a ride’.
If you need any assistance, ask a neatly dressed young man or woman on the road, there is a high chance they are college educated or have worked overseas and therefore able to communicate with you in English.
A dying trade.. repairing umbrellas
5. An umbrella is sometimes mightier than the raincoat. Hot and humid weather may leave you overheating in a raincoat. An umbrella allows you cool airflow while protecting you from the rain. You don’t have to bring one but just buy one from the local businesses! There are so many to choose from and it’s cheap!
6. For the charitable person who doesn’t want to buy souvenirs but who wants to play the part of a benevolent majesty by handing out a little help, bring plenty of USD1 or request for small denominations of the local Kyat currency at the money changer.
7. Keep at least one big plastic bag with you. A plastic bag is sometimes better than a fancy branded dry bag. Its easier to carry and worth nothing if you lose it. Secure it tight with a low value rubberband.
You can put all your important documents in as you never know when it might pour down with rain. You can place your cameras, passport in the plastic bag, inside your carrier bag so that the rain not damage the things in your bag.
8. Bring a wire to bend or several ‘S’ shaped hooks to hang your clothes. Many restrooms and guesthouses seem to overlook this or maybe it’s just our unfortunate choice.
9. Change your currency at legitimate banks or money exchange kiosks. Their rates are the best, even at the airport. Guesthouses are reliable and change money as well but their rates are normally sightly less attractive than the banks.
10. Watch out for confidence tricksters who loiter around parks with large wads of local cash, offering to give you the best rate in town for your USD and gives you simple reason that they have siblings or relatives who need USD badly. Their offer is extremely attractive and therefore, if something sounds too good to be true, it normally is FAKE. Don’t fall for their wily ways where they lead you away from the public then 3-4 persons surround you, and with a slight of the hand, remove money from your stack of cash or wallet, short changing you or worse still, leave you with plenty of worthless paper. One favourite scam site is at the park near the Sakura building in Yangon, across from a police hut. Locals confirm this.
And if you can remember these 10 simple points, you will have an unforgettable and amazing time in the land of sacred stupas or payas and golden Buddhas that gleam in the waning light of day. If you have more tips to share, leave us a comment!
Have fun in Myanmar!
Read our past post on Myanmar here.