Travel Advice and FAQ: Burma (Myanmar)
Burma is a spectacularly beautiful country, with amazing scenery, a vibrant history, and a brilliantly friendly population, and yet it is one of the least well travelled countries in Southeast Asia. And this goes for the diving in the Mergui Archipelago too. 100's of untouched islands, pinnacles, walls, and beaches all within touching distance of Phuket can be yours and yours alone. But going there can involve complications.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Why do some people call Burma Myanmar?
- Should I travel to Burma?
- How do I get to Burma?
- Do I need a visa to enter Burma?
- What is the currency in Burma and will I need any currency?
- What will the weather be like during my visit?
- What are the air and water temperatures in Burma and will I need a wetsuit?
- What should I wear?
- What about health precautions?
- What is the religious stance in Burma?
- Are there any rules of etiquette I should know about?
- What time zone does Burma lie in?
- Is there anything to buy in Myanmar and will I have a chance to shop?
If you are interested in our Burma Trip and now want to find out more about Thailand before booking check out our Thailand Tourist Information and FAQ.
If we have answered your questions about Burma but you want to know more about diving from MV Philkade then see our MV Philkade FAQ.
Burma or Myanmar
Throughout it's history, the country now known officially by its own government as the 'Union of Myanmar' has not been easy to pin down. After splitting from the British Raj in 1937, it became known as the 'Union of Burma', or simply 'Burma' but in 1989 the government changed the 'English Translation' of the name to the Union of Myanmar. And herein lies the confusion. Various opposition groups refuse to recognise the new name, as do the governments of the USA, Canada, Australia, and Great Britain, because they do not recognise the legitimacy of the Military Junta who govern the country. Many other countries do recognise the new name, regardless of whether they see the government as legitimate or not.
Here at Aquamarine Divers we simply use the name that is most commonly known to our customers, hence Burma or Burma (Myanmar).
The Burma 'Situation'
In recent months Burma has come into the public eye more than ever before. With the continuation of the 'saffron revolution' and the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis the plight of the people of Burma is now often raised whenever tourism in Burma is raised. This is completely understandable and is not a clear cut issue, though the basic argument seems to be 'to go or not to go'. This has to be a personal choice, so in order to help potential guests decide one way or the other here are the basic arguments for and against.
Reasons to go
- In terms of income and communication with the outside world, tourism is one of the few industries to which ordinary locals have access
- Recent travel guides and local commentators say that the vast majority of locals they speak to tell them they want travellers there
- Human rights abuses are less likely to occur in areas where the international community is present
- Foreigners are no longer made to change US$200.00 into government notes upon arrival
- The government's ability to rule with oppression can only be made easier if there are no international witnesses
Reasons not to go
- Aung San Suu Kyi (leader of the 'elected' NLD) has asked tourists not to go
- The government used forced labour to ready tourist-related sights and services
- Tourism could be seen as a 'stamp of approval' to the Burmese government
- Officially the government forbids travel to areas where minority groups are prevalent
- It is impossible to visit without some money going to the military junta and activists claim that tourism dollars help fuel government repression directly.
In our opinion the choice can only be yours, but we see the promotion of the peoples of Burma as a positive step. For every person that leaves MV Philkade having been to Burma, this is one more person who will care and hopefully help in any way possible to bring democracy to Burma.
Getting to Burma
MV Philkade has two schedules that enter into Burmese waters and in order to keep things simple for guests both of them leave from Thailand. For our Similan and Burma combination trip we leave from and arrive to Phuket, whereas our Burma-only schedule leaves from Ranong (on the Burmese border) and arrives back into Phuket. Aquamarine Divers will provide transport to and from the relevant ports from anywhere in Phuket free of charge
For information on getting to Phuket see the flight section in Thailand Tourist Information.
Guests do not need to arrange a visa in advance to enter Burma. Immigration formalities are carried out aboard MV Philkade and the dive crew will take care of everything. In order for things to run smoothly, guests need to make sure that they bring the following items with them:
- 4 passport sized photographs
- 3 copies of the ID Page of their passport
- $200 US in unmarked crisp bills
The $200 paid at immigration includes visa fees, diving fees, and guide fees. A Burmese 'guide' accompanies every trip into Burmese waters and is usually a fountain of very interesting knowledge, though he is not a guide in the traditional sense and is actually more of a political officer, onboard to be sure that we do not stray from our itinerary or speak 'inappropriately' to Burmese nationals. That said, the guides are usually very polite and informative. The authorities demand clean larger denomination notes. Two brand new $100 bills is ideal, but whatever denomination you provide they absolutely must have no marks or tears or they will be rejected.
It is also worth noting that guests are required to leave their passports with the immigration staff at Kaw Thaung (Burma). We are aware that this is unusual but the Burmese government is not flexible on this issue and it is standard on all Burma liveaboard cruises.
For information on Thailand visa requirements see Thailand Travel Advice.
The common currency of Burma is the Kyat (pronounced 'chat'), though in the areas that MV Philkade visits traders will always accept US Dollars and Thai Baht. For current exchange rates click here.
As in Thailand, Burma's tropical climate is influenced by the southwest and northeast monsoons. There are three basic seasons: Dry (November through Feb), Hot (March through May) and Rainy (June through October). The diving season is restricted to the 'dry' and 'hot' seasons; often referred to as high season. Below is an example of a typical high season's weather in the Mergui Archipelago area.
|November||Fair weather, end of SW monsoon, pleasant temperatures.|
|December||Sunny, not much wind, occasional rainfall, generally calm seas.|
|January||Sunny, a little windy, clear water, pleasant temperatures.|
|February||Same as January, but getting warmer.|
|March and April||End of NE monsoon, hot, humid, calm seas, plankton.|
|May||Hot, humid, start of SW monsoon, plankton, occasional squalls at night.|
Please note, the above table is not a forecast! Accurate weather forecasts for the Mergui Archipelago are almost impossible to obtain but the weather through high season is very similar to that of Phuket. See Yahoo weather for an up to date Phuket forecast.
Air and Water Temperatures
Air temperature: 22°C - 34°C (71°F - 93°F), generally warm and can be very hot and humid, nights sometimes a little cooler.
Water temperature in the Andaman Sea averages around 27°C to 30°C (80°F - 86°F), very pleasant although sometimes thermo clines occur. A 3mm short wetsuit is normally enough, though with 4 dives per day you may want to think about a full length suit particularly if you are susceptible to the cold. Please contact the office a week or so prior to the trip for current water temperatures if you are concerned.
Clothing and Dress Codes
If you step foot on land in Burma, at both the Myanmar Resort and port of Kaw Thaung shorts and t-shirts are acceptable attire. Aside from this, light natural fibers are advised as they are comfortable and allow the air to circulate, man made fibres can cause you to sweat in this humid climate and can cause heat rash or worse.
Health services are almost non-existent in Burma but excellent in Thailand with modern, well equipped hospitals in all major towns. For this reason you would be evacuated to Thailand if you were to require serious medical assistance. Although Burma is officially a malarial area, the islands of the Mergui Archipelago are (as far as current information can tell us) Malaria free, though Dengue Fever is not unknown. We recommend you check the status of your vaccinations and seek your doctor's advice on inoculations and medication. Normal sensible precautions with food should keep you out of trouble, and be sure to drink lots of bottled drinking water to prevent dehydration (especially if your best laid plans have still left you with a bout of diarrhoea). DO NOT drink tap water in Burma! Also, be sure to wash regularly and wear light, loose clothing made from natural fibres as heat rash and fungal infections for visitors are not unusual in this humidity.
Religion in Burma is very similar to that in Thailand, with some 80% of the population being Buddhist with the remainder of the country being made up of various religions including Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism, and even Animism. The government espouses religious tolerance and there are various religious buildings even in the port town of Kaw Thaung that support this.
Do not point your feet at people, especially monks or representations of Buddha, as this seen as highly disrespectful, as is touching adults on the top of their heads.
Do not talk about the political situation in Burma with the general population if it is likely that a government employee is around, this includes in the presence of our Burmese 'guide' that we collect at the border. If a Burmese person brings up the situation first then you can normally be sure that it is safe for them to talk and you will find that they are more than willing to offer an opinion.
Taking photographs of the general population is not normally a problem, though we suggest that you ask permission before simply snapping away as a matter of courtesy. Do not take pictures of the immigration officials or the offices of immigration on the pier as this can cause problems.
Local time is GMT+6.5 hours throughout the year. Burma has no daylight savings time, and it is worth noting that for the duration of our time in Burma we will work to Thai time (30 minutes ahead of Burma time) to avoid any confusion.
Shopping and Bargaining
In reality we will have very little time to shop in Burma, with only a short stop in Kaw Thaung on our way back into Thailand, and this is only if time is on our side. If this is the case our 'guide' will take you into the town and to several shops that sell local souvenirs. These are likely to include silks, perfumes, Buddha images, and clothing.
You will more than likely have a small crowd of children following you around the town offering anything from Whisky to Viagra at bargain prices. There is nothing particularly illegal about buying from these kids but it is sensible to be cautious and to try and only have small bills to pull from your pocket if they are required. Obviously, buying any kind of counterfeit medication is not advised. From previous customer comments Burmese cigarettes are very harsh but the whisky is 'not bad', and on personal experience Beer Myanmar is very good.
There is always room for some light hearted haggling over anything you decide to buy, but as noted in the Thailand section do not take it too seriously and do not haggle over pennies.