Myanmar

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An Introduction
The Republic of the Union of Myanmar is a country in South Asia and Southeast Asia. Myanmar is bordered by India, Bangladesh, China, Laos and Thailand. One-third of Myanmar’s total perimeter of 1,930 km (1,200 mi) forms an uninterrupted coastline along the Bay of Bengal and the Andaman Sea. At 676,578 km2 (261,227 sq mi), it is the 40th largest country in the world and the second largest country in Southeast Asia. Burma is also the 24th most populous country in the world with over 58.8 million people. Burma is a resource rich country. However, since the reformations of 1962, the Burmese economy has become one of the least developed in the world.

The Gay Scene
The gay scene is very closeted and quiet. There are of course gays everywhere, but much more subtle. Homosexuality is illegal. There are a few gay (mixed) cafes and clubs, but it is best to quietly ask at your hotel, where to go.

Male homosexuality is banned under Section 377 of the Burmese Penal Code. Other clauses also deny other human rights to Burmese LGBT inhabitants. These include Section 269-270, which render it an offense to spread STIs and HIV, despite the total absence of a national HIV/’AIDS prevention and treatment programme. Section 290 bans ‘public nuisances.’ Sections 292-294 ban ‘pornography’ and ‘obscenity.’ Section 469 prohibits same-sex marriage. Section 372 prohibits buying or selling a prostitute under the age of eighteen or using a prostitute to engage in illicit sexual relations.

Climate
Much of the country lies between the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator. It lies in the monsoon region of Asia, with its coastal regions receiving over 5,000 mm (196.9 in) of rain annually. Annual rainfall in the delta region is approximately 2,500 mm (98.4 in), while average annual rainfall in the Dry Zone, which is located in central Burma, is less than 1,000 mm (39.4 in). Northern regions of the country are the coolest, with average temperatures of 21 °C (70 °F). Coastal and delta regions have an average maximum temperature of 32 °C (89.6 °F).

Shopping
There are few big markets in Yangon, but most are shops and vendors on the streets. Handcrafted items are very inexpensive. Hours vary, but basically go with the flow of the tourists.

Banking
Don’t bother, there are money exchange places in the major cities. As of now there are no ATM’s that we know of. In the past credit cards were not accepted, but we understand at some of the 5-Star Hotels, they now accept credit cards. But on the safe side, take plenty of Dollars.

Immigration
Visa requirements to visit Myanmar change on a regular basis and it’s best to check with the Burmese embassy in your country before making your travel plans. The safest approach is to assume you will need one. A tourist visa’s validity expires 90 days after issue and only allows a 28-day, single-entry visit. It officially costs $20 but sometimes runs to €25 in Western Europe. You’ll need three passport-sized photos for the process.

Traveling To Myanmar
All international flights arrive at Yangon (Rangoon) airport (RGN), except a lone Thursday flight from Chiang Mai (Thailand) to Mandalay airport (MDL). Both airports can land DC10s and 747s. The lack of many services to Myanmar means discounted fares are hard to come by. Sometimes buying two tickets – one to Bangkok, and another to Yangon – ends up cheaper than a one-ticket fare to Yangon from your home country. If you’re arriving by air, and have your visa ready and valid passport in hand, you should have no trouble entering Myanmar. Arriving by land is not very practical.

Getting About
Almost always faster and cheaper than trains, Myanmar buses come in different sizes. Options include luxury air-con express buses, less luxurious but nice buses (without air-con), local buses, and mini 32-seaters. Most are operated by private companies (unlike the train). Long-distance trains have dining cars accessible to passengers in 1st, upper and sleeper class. The food isn’t bad – fried rice and noodles. Attendants can also take your order and bring food to your seat. Trains stop pretty often too, with vendors on platforms offering all sorts of snacks. Bathrooms are basic; there are also sinks to wash hands and brush teeth. Attendants sometimes hire out bamboo mats to spread on the floor in aisles or under seats if you can’t sleep upright. It can get cold at night, so bring a jacket and/or a blanket. Tourist cars – these are reasonably new, air-conditioned cars run by a company that provides back-up or repairs in the event they break down. These are the most comfortable – and that air-con is handy when it’s dusty and hot out – but the most expensive, running to about $80 to $100 a day, depending on the length of the trip. This price includes petrol for up to 12 hours’ driving per day and all of the driver’s expenses.

Electrical Appliances
Myanmar basically used the European 3 prong type C, E and F electrical plugs with a voltage of 220 V at 50 Hz.

Tipping
Tipping as known in the West is not customary in Myanmar, though little extra ‘presents’ are sometimes expected (even if they’re not asked for) in exchange for a service (such as unlocking a locked temple at Bagan, helping move a bag at the airport or showing you around the ‘sights’ of a village). It’s a good idea to keep some small notes (K50, K100, K200) when visiting a religious temple or monastery, as donations may be asked for. Also, you may wish to leave a donation.