Part of the appeal of Myanmar is that it is an off-the-beaten-path travel destination. Overall, Myanmar sees far fewer tourists than neighboring countries such as Thailand to its east. This means that while some other South East Asian countries have felt the impact of mass tourism, Myanmar remains very authentic and pristine.
Part of the reason why Myanmar has not seen mass tourism in the way other countries have is that it was politically isolated for many years. For much of the 20th century, it was not easy to visit Myanmar as a tourist. This meant that few people ever had the opportunity to experience the beauty of Myanmar, and the country remained largely away from the influence of other countries and cultures.
Gradually, tourism opened up and when pro-democracy activist Aung San Su Kyi was elected, travel to Myanmar suddenly became much more popular. Changes to the visa process for Myanmar that allowed tourists to apply for visas online also helped. In fact, Myanmar was listed as one of the most up-and-coming travel destinations, behind Cuba and Iceland.
It was only a couple of years before Myanmar landed back in the news, due to the conflict between Government forces and Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
Between this and the fact that Myanmar was a less-known travel destination anyway, many potential visitors may wonder if it is safe, and ethical, to travel to Myanmar.
At Pro Niti Travel, we have been welcoming guests to Myanmar for several years, and we also work and live here. Therefore, we think we are in a good position to offer some information about the safety of traveling to Myanmar, as well as ethics.
Safety of Travel to Myanmar
Generally speaking, travel to Myanmar is extremely safe – in fact, popular tourist destinations such as Yangon and Bagan are some of the safest places to visit in all of South East Asia. Violent crime against visitors is basically unheard of, and even petty crime or scams are unusual. You can feel totally safe in these areas, whatever time of day you are walking, and even if you are traveling alone.
Just as you would in your home country or anywhere in the world, it is a good idea to take some basic precautions. For example, keep your wallet in a safe place if you’re in a crowded area, and agree on a fare beforehand if catching taxis. If you are buying souvenirs such as gemstones or carvings, be sure to be on alert for fakes or poor-quality items. If you are traveling with a guide, they can help you to find a reputable place to buy these items.
Overall, most people from Myanmar are extremely honest and welcoming to visitors. In fact, you might well find that experiencing the warmth and generosity of spirit of the local people in Myanmar is one of the highlights of your trip. People are likely to be much more interested in welcoming you to Myanmar and sharing their culture, than causing any trouble at all.
In fact, the tourist advice for Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Nay Pyi Taw and Inle Lake from foreign governments including Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States is that they are safe to travel to. For example, the travel warning for Australians traveling to these places is actually lower than the travel warning for France. As you can see, there is very little to worry about with travel to well-known locations in Myanmar, as they are extremely safe.
It is true that there are some parts of Myanmar where it is advised to exercise a higher level of caution, for example, close to the border with China and India. Often, visitors to Myanmar will not go anywhere near these locations, however professional tour guides (such as those at Pro Niti Travel!) will absolutely be able to ensure that you are safe if you do travel to these regions.
The conflict that has been described in western news has been confined to the Rakhine state, and particularly in its north. This is very far from the major tourist areas and visitors to Myanmar are high, highly unlikely to be affected by it. While most countries advise their citizens to avoid most of the Rakhine State (and especially the north, including the townships of Maungdaw, Bauthidaung, and Rathedaung), the resort areas of Ngapali are still safe to visit and are excluded from these warnings.
Overall, most of Myanmar – and particularly the tourist areas – are extremely safe and you should not expect to have any problems at all. If you travel with a little bit of common sense and keep on the lookout for some common scams, then you are sure to have a wonderful time without any hiccups.
A knowledgeable and professional guide can offer you, even more, peace of mind, especially if you are traveling to the more remote regions. While it’s recommended that most of the northern Rakhine state is avoided, visitors are likely to be very far away from this anyway, and there is so much else to enjoy in beautiful Myanmar.
Health in Myanmar
There are no major health threats to visiting Myanmar, but there are a few simple things you can do to make sure that a tummy bug doesn’t ruin any of your plans.
Before visiting Myanmar, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor to see if your vaccines are up to date or if there are any that you should get before traveling. It’s likely that you will have had most of them already, but it’s best to talk to a medical professional to make sure. The World Health Organisation recommends a number of vaccines for visiting Myanmar, however, it’s best to discuss this with your own doctor.
Mosquitos can be an issue outside of Yangon and Mandalay. Not only are they annoying, but they can also have negative health effects, so you definitely want to try to avoid getting any bites by wearing long clothing and a strong tropical insect repellant. You might also want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of taking malaria tablets if you are planning to travel to more rural areas. Be aware that most mosquitos in Myanmar have developed an immunity to Lariam, which is a popular brand of anti-malarial.
It’s not a good idea to drink the tap water in Myanmar. Bottled water is readily available, or you may be able to bring a filter bottle or purifying tablets to avoid using too much plastic. If you have a particularly sensitive stomach It’s best to be careful with things like ice in your drink or salad that may have been washed in tap water. If traveling on a tour, your guide can help you find good quality restaurants where you can enjoy fresh and delicious food.
We always recommend that you take out travel insurance for your trip to Myanmar, or in fact to any other country outside your home! This way you will have peace of mind knowing that you are covered in the unlikely event of a health emergency.
Is it ethical to travel to Myanmar?
As you can see, it is very safe to travel to Myanmar and you do not need to worry about this. However, we have also been asked by several people if it is ethical to travel to Myanmar, given the current political situation in the country.
Of course, it is up to every individual whether they are comfortable visiting Myanmar or any other country. However, we would suggest that it is definitely ethical to visit Myanmar, and, briefly, here’s why.
Many everyday people in Myanmar make a living from the tourism industry. By visiting Myanmar, you help to support all of these people, their families, and their communities. Each restaurant you visit, guesthouse or hotel you stay in, and souvenir you buy means that money is being spent in the local economy and helping local people. By contrast, refusing to visit mainly hurts local people and their communities.
We also believe that travel is a good way for people to develop understanding and compassion for one another. Through tourism to Myanmar, there can be an exchange of culture and discussion between local people and visitors, which can help promote peace and understanding on a global scale.
With so many beautiful photos, videos and stories from Myanmar, many people from around the world dream of seeing it for themselves. However, many people wonder about the safety of traveling to Myanmar. As you can see, most Myanmar is extremely safe to visit, and it is extremely unlikely that you will have any problems at all.
We do recommend that you speak to your doctor about whether you need any vaccines, and also take some basic precautions like looking out for your personal belongings in crowded places. Overall, however, you can expect to have a totally safe and stress-free experience in beautiful Myanmar.