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Travel Guide > Asia > Burma/Myanmar

Burma/Myanmar Health & Safety

  
 
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Ice and tap water are a gamble. Always buy bottled water and check that the cap is sealed on, not simply screwed on. When in doubt, shop at City Mart, a reputable local food retailing chain. Diseases such as dengue fever, Japanese encephalitis and malaria are endemic. Drug-resistant strains of malaria and tuberculosis are common in many areas. Hepatitis vaccinations are highly recommended but unvaccinated travellers have survived after suffering no more than the odd case of diarrhea. At the dinner table, Burmese use a spoon and fork, or their fingers when this is more convenient. You might feel better rinsing all of them before meals.

As in any other developing country: "if you can't fry, roast, peel or boil it - then forget it".

Healthcare

Myanmar's healthcare system is in a poor state. If you should fall sick in Myanmar, you can visit the doctor in major cities for minor ailments such as coughs and colds. However, for more serious medical care, hospital conditions tend to be unsanitary and there is often a shortage of medical supplies due to economic sanctions. Most of the government officials and rich locals head to Thailand or Singapore for more serious medical treatment and hospitalisation and you will be better off doing so too. Just ensure your insurance is in order as arranging to be airlifted in an emergency can be rather costly.

Safety

Crime

The government punishes crime, particularly against tourists, severely; it has a hard enough time convincing tourists to go there due to its international reputation. In addition, many locals, being devout Buddhists, are wary of retribution in their next life should they commit any crimes against others. As a result, as far as crime and personal safety go, Myanmar is extremely safe for tourists, and it is generally safe to walk on the streets alone at night. In fact, you are less likely to be a victim of crime in Myanmar than in Thailand or Malaysia. However, as with anywhere else, little crime does not mean no crime and it is still no excuse to ditch your common sense.

Since 2005, Yangon and Mandalay have seen a barely perceptible rise in the very low level of street robberies. Several years ago, there were isolated bombings: 26 April 2005 in Mandalay; 7 May, 21 October and 5 December 2005 in Yangon; 2 January 2006 in Bago.

Begging

Despite traditional taboos against it, begging has become a major problem in the main tourist areas such as Bago and Bagan. Children and "mothers" carrying babies are often the ones who beg as they are more effective at soliciting pity. Note that most beggars are part of larger begging syndicates or just after easy money, as tourists are usually seen to be rich. In addition, the poor can always obtain food for free from the nearest monastery if they can't afford to pay for it, so begging is not necessary for their survival. If you really must give, note that most Burmese earn only US$40 a month doing manual labour; giving US$1 to a beggar is very generous.

Corruption

Myanmar is one of the world's most corrupt countries. Officials and other civil servants may discreetly ask you for a bribe, or invent issues (missing forms, closed offices, etc) in order to get you to suggest one. Pretending not to understand or asking to speak to a superior may work. However, visitors of Caucasian descent are rarely targeted, while those of Asian descent (including South Asians and East Asians) may be forced to give bribes, but the brunt of the problem hits normal Burmese.

Again, Westerners are very rarely asked for bribes. Then too, most bribes are in the order of a US dollar or less and requested by folks earning as little as US$30/month.

Civil conflict

Various insurgent groups continue to operate in the Shan, Mon, Chin (Zomi), and Karen States of Myanmar, along the Thai and Chinese borders. Travel to these regions is generally requires a government permit. The government also restricts travel to Kayah State and Rakhine State due to insurgent activity. However travel is entirely unrestricted to the districts of Yangon, Bago, Ayeyarwady, Sagaing, Taninthayi, Mandalay and Magwe.

Internet

The price of computers and a home internet connection is prohibitive so most people surf at Internet cafés. Web-based email websites such as Yahoo! or Hotmail are usually blocked, though G-mail is usually available. The government records screenshots every five minutes from PCs in Internet cafés to monitor Internet usage. If you don't want your privacy violated in this way, save your surfing for Thailand or wherever you head next.

Politics

Myanmar has been under strong military rule for the past 40 years, with a reputation for repressing dissent, as in the case of the frequent house arrests of democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi, and currently has more than 1,500 political prisoners When in Myanmar, abstain from political activities and don't insult the government.

Discuss politics, if you must, with people who have had time to get a feel for you. The danger however, is primarily posed to those you speak with, and thus you should take care with their safety. Let them lead the conversation. Also, realize that many phone lines are tapped. And if you absolutely must wave a democracy banner in front of a cop shop, you'll simply find yourself on the next outbound flight.

Avoid doing things that might make the military or police feel uncomfortable, such as taking pictures of police and police buildings or vehicles.





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