Staying Safe in Myanmar
A beautiful and ancient land in Southeast Asia, Myanmar is one of the few countries on Earth that is largely unspoiled by tourism. From its lush jungle to sleepy countryside, temples and stupas rise up to greet travelers. Exotic cities like Mandalay and Yangon beckon, with historic colonial grandeur in their buildings and rich traditions and delicious food integral to their culture.
Once known as Burma, the country is not on everyone’s radar as a holiday destination. This is not surprising since it was largely closed off to the outside world for around 60 years and has only been open to international travelers for the last decade.
This leads some people to ask the question: is it safe to travel to Myanmar? The answer is that it is no more dangerous than most other countries.
Is Myanmar Dangerous for Tourists?
Myanmar is relatively safe for international visitors. In the past, the country formerly known as Burma had something of a poor reputation for civil unrest, with an authoritarian government and various rebel groups, but since the transition to democracy, most groups have ceased activities and the country is fairly peaceful, particularly in areas frequented by tourists.
While there are certain regions of Myanmar where conflict persists, generally in border areas, these parts of the country are off-limits to foreign visitors, so you will not be able to get anywhere near.
The central states and main tourist destinations of Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, and the capital city of Naypyidaw are considered very safe for international travelers and visitors are unlikely to experience any problems.
As with traveling to any foreign country, it is advisable to always be alert, but not alarmed. Of course, most of all it is important to enjoy your visit.
Restricted Areas of Myanmar
While the majority of the country is safe for travelers, there are some areas that it is best to avoid and some places that you cannot get to without permission from the Myanmar Ministry of Home Affairs or Ministry of Tourism.
Most of Rakhine State is off-limits to visitors due to ongoing conflict in the region.
Travel to much of Kachin State, Shan State, and the Paletwa township in southern Chin State is also prohibited without permission.
In these states, there are also a large number of undetonated landmines from past conflicts, particularly in rural areas away from the main roads.
Avoiding Crime and Scams in Myanmar
There is little violent crime in Myanmar. Incidents of aggression towards foreign tourists are rarely reported.
As in many countries, pickpocketing and theft are fairly common, so visitors are advised to take care with their possessions and stay vigilant. You should not leave valuables or bags unattended and when walking around cities, it is a good idea to go in a group.
Take particular care if a stranger approaches you asking questions, trying to sell you things, or begging for money. This is a common distraction technique employed by pickpockets. Bumping or jostling in crowded places is another practice used to take possessions without raising alarm.
You should also beware of scammers—taxi drivers who claim your hotel has closed down so that they can bring you to another hotel that will pay them for bringing in customers or people in the street selling fake tours.
Always book your hotel beforehand and have the exact address to give your taxi driver and make sure to book any tours or excursions through a reliable source.
Burmese Wildlife and Insects
Like many countries, Myanmar is home to a number of species that you would not like to get on the wrong side of. Most wildlife is located away from the cities, although when visiting certain temples and sites in rural locations, it is a good idea to stay alert and be cautious. It may be worth considering going as part of an organized group.
Myanmar is home to several large carnivorous mammals, although these species are rare and tend to avoid humans. If you are lucky enough to see one, it may well be a highlight of the trip, but caution is advised. Such animals include leopards, tigers, clouded leopards, bears, wolves, and dholes.
Crocodiles inhabit some Burmese rivers, so swimming is not advised in certain areas.
Myanmar is also home to various species of snake, some of which are venomous. Snakes have been known to make their nests in old ruins, so you should stay alert when visiting temples, especially in rural areas.
However, serious incidents involving animals in Myanmar are rare.
Insects can also be a problem, particularly the mosquito. Zika virus, dengue fever, and yellow fever are all found in Myanmar and are spread by mosquito bites. It is important to get your vaccinations before traveling to the country and take steps to ward off these pests.
Why Go to Myanmar?
A visit to Myanmar is well worth it—the cost of food and transport around the country is relatively low and the sights are nothing short of impressive.
The temples and stupas of Bagan are jaw-dropping in and of themselves, but when you see hot air balloons fill the skies above them as the sun rises, that image will stay with you forever.
Taking a cruise along the Irrawaddy River from Bagan to Mandalay is a wonderfully peaceful experience that sends you back in time. Mandalay’s old colonial buildings and Buddhist monasteries make for a unique combination of fascinating architecture.
Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, is also full of ornate buildings. The golden Shwedagon Pagoda has a claim to being the grandest in the country, especially when illuminated at night.
Inle Lake is another must-visit spot, from the maze of stupas on its shores at Kakku to the ornately carved temples at Indein. A sunset boat ride across the lake is like a trip to another world.
Finally, the country still feels untouched by the rest of the world. Tourism is slowly developing, but at the moment it gives you the sensation that you are off the beaten path, immersed in another land and culture.
Cathy Slater is an experienced content writer. She is associated with many renowned travel blogs as a guest author where she shares her valuable travel tips with the audience.