Sunday, 24 March 2013

Packing tips for Myanmar

Shwedagon Pagoda in Ynagon (photo from flickr)
Oh dear oh dear... This is the first time I'm actually planning what to pack.  I'm off to Myanmar this Easter holiday with Bettina and Hilda.  We've been warned that it's scorching hot and may go as high up to 42 degrees Celsius and basically, not to expect too much [modern comfort that is].

BBC Travel reporter Carmen Roberts said in her report that Myanmar now "is back on the tourist map" after its first free-vote elections in 20 years last year. Myanmar  was considered a 'pariah state' due to its isolation from the rest of the world. The release from house arrest of  pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi somehow lifted the unofficial tourism boycott. So now, it seems that everyone is headed to Myanmar!

AFP reported  that one million foreign visitors visited Myanmar in 2012, a 30%  increase from 800,000 the year before. Compared to us, the Philippines' visitor arrivals for the same year was 4.5 million or a 9% increase from 3.9 million the previous year.

Here's a clip of the Roberts' "report in 2012 on Fast Track, Burma opens up for Tourists:

As for me,  I'm starting off my packing list with medicinal supplies because it may be difficult to get by. These are:
- malaria pills
- antihistamine (I have asthma)
- aspirin, colds tablets and anti-diarrhea
- first aid kit which includes smelling salts, iodine, band aid
- sunblock
- anti-mosquito
- hand sanitizer

traditional Burmese longyi (photo from the internet)
Since we're mostly traveling by air to various cities - specifically, to Yangon, Bagan and Helo (Lake Inle), I am definitely traveling light!  This means pack to fit one carry-on baggage.  Top of the list are clothes that will cover my entire body - no shorts, no sleeveless - mostly dresses and capri pants. In case I have to cover my legs in temples and pagodas,  the first thing I'll do as soon as I arrive in Yangon is to buy a traditional Burmese sarong called longyi.

For footwear, it's definitely flip flops! Most of the temples require removing shoes and socks anyway. In fact in Bagan, I heard we're walking barefoot all over.

We've also been warned to bring crisp 100 dollar bills in pristine condition and enough to cover the whole cost of the trip - i.e. tour guides, restaurants, airfare, entrance fees, transport, etc. There is no ATM and no credit card facilities. Most of the dollar-Kyat exchange are done in the market (USD 1 = MMK 882.50).

Also, expect no use of the mobile phone for  texts or calls and even emails because there's no roaming arrangements with the telecom providers. And the internet service may be iffy   This may actually be a good opportunity for me to take a break since I'm online 24/7.

And finally, aside from my regular travel insurance, I've signed up for travel emergency insurance with international SOS.

I'm actually quite excited to go. My fave traveling chef, Anthony Bourdain has been wanting to feature Myanmar. He said in an interview with Jen Trollo of in March 2010  "I’d like to see the government change in Burma, in Myanmar; I’d love to shoot there."  Well, the premier episode of his new show on CNN called "Parts Unknown" is in Burma! Now I'm dying to find out where he's been to eat. Alas, the show premieres on April 14. Drats!

P.S.  The name changed from Burma to Myanmar in 1989 and the former capital, Rangoon also became known as Yangon.

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