For more than 50 years Burma (Myanmar) has been ruled mainly by dictators, rebel groups, and by people connected to the drug trade. Because of this, democracy has had a tough time finding a foothold in its society; those who try to introduce it are often faced with brutality and harsh punishment from the government. Slave labor and other inhumane practices have been used in an effort to help Myanmar’s economy, but the country remains very poor.
In 2002 Aung San Suu Kyi–a Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of Burma’s largest democratic political party, under house arrest through much of the ’80s and ’90s–was allowed to re-enter public life, and democracy is once again on the minds of the Burmese. The economic sanctions placed on the government by countries like the United States has caused the Burmese government to reconsider its politics, and although democracy is still a long way off in Myanmar, hopes of a society without oppression are growing.
As far as traveling in Myanmar, it is not for those who are looking for comfortable, easy (read: “first world”) travel. But the sites are incredible, and the people are generally friendly and nice. Myanmar has had little Western influence, which can make the country seem a bit forgotten compared to other southeast Asian countries, but if the government continues to loosen its reins on popular thought, don’t be surprised to see Myanmar start to catch on quickly.
Traveling in Myanmar
You need a visa to travel in Myanmar. Visas are valid for one month from the day you enter the country. Once you receive a visa you have to enter the country within three months.
Myanmar is still a military regime and any travel there should be done with caution. The democratic movement there favors a boycott of tourism in Myanmar, saying that the money spent by tourists only ends up supporting the military regime and human rights abuses.
Avoiding government-sponsored tourism is one way to help the populace while not supporting the government. Also, the cultural and political exchange you have with the local populace could do more to help the country than hurt it.
Easy ways to do this include staying at locally owned hotels; avoiding goverment-sponsored tours and transportation; not shopping at the government Myawadi shops; and trying to buy gifts, souvenirs, etc., directly from the local craftsman.
Rebel armies and refugees line the border between Thailand and Mynamar. It is best to avoid the borders areas, as there are occasional skirmishes. The northeastern part of the country near Mandalay is a particularly bad area where the drug trade has given local drug lords the power to build large private armies.
Some areas of travel do require a permit, although more and more are being opened by the government. But travel throughout the Myanmar can sometimes be hindered by the “local authorities” who might make certain sites off limits for no discernible reason, depending on their mood.
Weather in Myanmar
Myanmar only has three distinct seasons, winter, summer and monsoon season.
Winter falls between November to February, and is usually cool and dry. March until May is summer, which is quite hot, with temperatures routinely at or above 90 degrees. From May until October is the monsoon season, where the region can get upward of 25 inches of rain per month.
The optimal time to visit Myanmar is during the winter, when the days are a little cooler and the skies are clear.
Burma a.k.a. Myanmar Information
Population: 44,277,014 (est.1994)
Government: Military council
Square Miles: 261,789 sq mi (678,033 sq km)
Capitol: Yangon (Rangoon, pop 4 million)
Official Language: Burmese, but most ethnic minorities have languages of there own
People: 65% Burmese, 10% Shan, 7% Karen, 4% Rakhine and Chin, Kachin, Mon, Chinese, Indian, and Assamese minorities
Religion:87% Theravada Buddhist, 5% Christian, 4% Muslim, 3% animist
Major products/industries: teak, rice, jute, and illegal opium poppies