TELEPHONE, MOBILE AND INTERNET
Telecommunications in Myanmar have long been behind most developed and other Southeast Asian countries, however things are changing and even though only a small percentage of the population has access to a fixed telephone line, mobile penetration is growing and infrastructure is improving fast.
For many years SIM cards in Myanmar were expensive and difficult to obtain, but cards sold by the Telenor, Ooredoo and MPT (Myanmar Post & Telecommunications) networks are now generally available for a cheap K1,500. Cards work on a top-up basis, with K1000, K3000, K5000 and K10,000 cards available.
Ooredoo and Telenor became operational in 2014 and networks offer 4G coverage. SIM cards and top-ups can be bought at numerous street-side retailers in downtown Yangon and Mandalay, as well as at Yangon International Airport and in larger towns, cities and tourist sites.
Shops selling cards usually display the Ooredoo, Telenor or MPT logos:
To purchase a SIM card, foreigners need to have photocopies of their passport photo page and Myanmar visa page, as well as one passport photo. SIM cards are 3G mobile data enabled and standard SIM and micro SIM cards are available.
International roaming with an increasing number of foreign mobile networks is now possible in Myanmar; the situation is changing fast, so it is best to check with your operator. You may encounter a block on data usage or SMS text messaging even if you are able to make and receive calls, and if this is the case you should go to a licensed Telenor, Ooredoo or MPT shop for advice (there are many in the downtown areas of larger cities).
Note that mobile network access is often patchy or non-existent in rural areas, but usually works well in towns.
Land line and dialing codes
Using phone stands was previously the simplest way to make local calls, and these can still be found on streets and in shops around Myanmar; local calls should cost around K100 per minute.
International calls are significantly more expensive (over $5 per minute) and can only reliably be made from hotels; only some call stands will allow international calls. Be careful, as you may be charged for calls that fail to connect.
It should be noted that many businesses in Myanmar have several phone numbers, as calls sometimes don’t connect and lines can go dead.
To make calls from Myanmar to another country, dial 00 then the international code for the country you are calling, then the local area code (minus the 0).
To make calls to Myanmar from abroad, dial your country’s international access code, then 95 and the local area code (minus the 0). Be warned that making calls to Myanmar can be difficult: calls will often not connect, particularly to numbers outside of Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw.
Given the lack of development in Myanmar, the availability of internet access is surprisingly widespread: you can find an internet café or hotel with wifi even in remote locations. However, internet speeds can be very slow, especially in rural areas. Prices at internet cafes are usually around K500 per hour, although they may be higher outside cities. You can find free wifi at many restaurants and bars.
Due to bandwidth restrictions, internet speeds can change markedly according to demand through the day. If you use Gmail and you are working or spending an extended period of time in Myanmar, it is worth downloading Gmail Offline; this works much better than regular Gmail with slow connections, and also allows you to work offline.
Previous government internet restrictions have now been lifted, so people are free to access most websites and services – including Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and so on.
Currency, exchange rates and banks
Kyat and US dollar usage
The kyat (pronounced ‘chat’) is the official currency of Myanmar, abbreviated as ‘K‘ or ‘MMK‘ and usually placed before the numerical value (i.e. K500). Kyat come in notes (no coins) of value K50, K100, K200, K500, K1000, K5000 and K10,000.
The US dollar, however, is widely used as an alternative currency, particularly for larger purchases: foreigners are sometimes expected to pay in dollars for hotels, high-end restaurants, flights and access to historical sites. If payment is made in kyat for these transactions, it may sometimes be at a worse rate. When paying in dollars, change will often be given in kyat. Smaller purchases, such as taxi rides, buses and cheaper to mid-range meals are quoted and are almost always paid for in kyat.
You should expect to exchange roughly half the money you take to Myanmar into kyat. If you are spending more than a few days outside of Yangon, Mandalay or Nay Pyi Taw, make sure to exchange enough money beforehand; it can be difficult to change money outside the main cities, and you will probably get a worse rate. ATMs are also more difficult to find in these areas (see more information below).
Important note! US dollar bills taken to Myanmar must be in PERFECT CONDITION.
Dollar bills should be brought to Myanmar in differing denominations: take plenty of $10, $5 and $1 bills to pay for hotels, flights and historical sites, and take $100 or $50 bills for exchanging to kyat (larger denominations usually get a better rate).
Blemishes of any kind – creases, marks, folds and so on – may result in getting a far worse rate of exchange or the money may not be accepted at all. Also, pre-2006 dollar bills or ones with the letters AB and CB at the start of the serial number (at the top left corner of note) may not be accepted. Euros are generally accepted as an exchange currency and do not have to be in pristine condition. It is therefore advisable to carry US dollars in a safe, flat folder – not in a wallet.
Exchange and rates
Money can be changed at banks in the downtown areas of larger cities and at most major airports, including Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw, Bagan and Thandwe (for Ngapali beach). In Yangon, you can also head to the popular and central Bogyoke Aung San Market (Scott Market) if you want to change money at the weekend – here you can find numerous money-changing shops (these tend to shut around 3.30 to 4pm).
Until recent government reforms, it was necessary for visitors to Myanmar to change money on the black market in order to get a reasonable exchange rate. This is no longer the case; you can now get a good exchange rate at banks and official money exchanges. Money changers on the street should be avoided, as they are likely to scam you.
Banks, ATMs and credit cards
While visitors once had to bring in all the necessary cash for their travels into Myanmar, there are now over 600 ATMS that accept international bank and credit cards located throughout the country – although bear in mind that most are concentrated in Yangon, Mandalay, Nay Pyi Taw, Bagan and Inle Lake. Cardholders can also withdraw local currency from ATMs and use their cards at a growing number of major outlets such as hotels, restaurants, and retailers.
Currently only Visa, Master card (Maestro/Cirrus), China’s Union Pay and Japan’s JCB can be used; the biggest providers of compatible ATMs are CB (Co-operative) Bank and KBZ (Kanbawza) Bank. Others include AGD Bank, AYA Bank and United Amara Bank.
For ATM cash withdrawals, there is a K5000 transaction fee, and a withdrawal limit of K300,000 per transaction. Depending on the conditions set by your own bank at home, you may be allowed multiple withdrawals per day. The use of ATMs in Myanmar is sometimes restricted by internet failure.
There are no international banks in Myanmar at the moment, and local banks are in the process of becoming part of the international banking system.
KBZ Bank has a country-wide network of ATMs that accept Visa, Master card, Union Pay and JCB. Yangon locations include Yangon airport; Bank Street (downtown); Junction Square and Taw Win Centre shopping centers; and many City Mart supermarkets. Outside of Yangon, KBZ has ATMs in all major cities and tourist spots.
CB Bank also has ATMs that accept Visa, Master card, Union Pay and JCB at major centres throughout Myanmar, with many in Yangon. These include ATMs at Yangon airport and major retail outlets such as Junction Square, Junction Centre; Taw Win Centre; Yankin Centre; and Bogyoke Market. Yangon hotels with CB ATMs that accept Visa include Chatrium; Parami; Inya Lake; and Governor’s Residence.
Point of sale payments
The use of international bank and credit cards to pay for goods and services at outlets in Myanmar is currently limited but, as with so much in the country, the situation is changing fast; in Yangon and some of the more popular spots around the country, cards can be used at point of sale – although a significant transaction charge may be incurred.
Traveller’s cheques are not generally accepted in Myanmar.
Myanmar vaccinations and medical care
Vaccinations and disease preventions should be taken before travelling to Myanmar. The following are most commonly recommended:
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Japanese Encephalitis B
- Yellow Fever
If you take regular medication, you should make sure to have enough for your entire stay; buying over-the-counter drugs in Myanmar should be avoided for safety reasons. You should use DEET insect repellent outside of major cities.
Always consult a doctor or travel clinic before travelling to Myanmar – and do so around eight weeks before your trip.
Medical care in Myanmar
Try to avoid public hospitals in Myanmar if you can – they may be unsanitary. It is important to note that outside Yangon reliable medical care can be difficult to find.
The following medical centres are recommended in Yangon:
International SOS clinic
Inya Lake Hotel compound, 37 Kaba Aye Pagoda Road
Telephone: +95 1 657 922
No-60, G-1, New Parami Road, Mayangone Township, Yangon
Telephone: +95 1 657227, 660083, 657226, 657228, 657230, 657231
Asia Royal Hospital
No. 14, Baho Street , Sanchaung Township
Telephone: +95 1 538055
Bahosi Medical Centre
Bahosi Housing Complex, Lanmadaw Township
Telephone: +95 1 212 933
Email: Bahosi.firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com
Outside Yangon larger hotels will be able to recommend doctors and clinics with experience in treating foreigners.
Payment up-front in US dollars is sometimes required prior to receiving medical treatment, although an increasing number of clinics will also accept international credit cards. You should make sure to take out comprehensive travel insurance before travelling to Myanmar.
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
Most of Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate with three seasons:
Cool – November to February is warm to hot during the day and the air is relatively dry.
Hot – March to May is intensely hot in most of the country.
In the cool and hot seasons, you are unlikely to experience any rain.
Rainy – June to October is the monsoon season, with high rainfall. From June to August, rainfall can be constant for long periods of time, particularly on the Bay of Bengal coast and in Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta. In September and October, the rain is less intense and you will experience more sunshine.
Times to visit and regional variations
The most comfortable time to visit is during the cool season, which is also the least humid time of year and has the clearest air – however, this is also the peak tourist season. If you can put up with the heat and/or rain, then you will find it easier (and often cheaper) to book accommodation outside the cool season, and there will be less crowds at popular destinations.
From February until the beginning of the rainy season, much of the country (particularly north of Yangon) can be dusty and hazy, sometimes hindering long-distance views.
Myanmar is a large country and temperatures can vary significantly. As a general rule, temperatures and humidity become lower at higher altitudes; in Chin State in the west and parts of Shan State in the east, temperatures can get close to freezing, and in the Himalayan far north they may drop below zero.
Monsoon rains are the most persistent in Yangon and the south and west; in the centre of the country, around Mandalay and Bagan, showers will generally be more sporadic in the rainy season (and you are likely to experience more sunshine).
Below is a table showing average temperatures, humidity and sunlight hours for Yangon.
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