I've done an extensive research on Burma. I really want to find out as much a I can about the country, so I can travel responsibly.
I first read what I could on Polish and English language blogs, then I joined the Facebook fan page for Myanmar and I'm following Myanmar news on Twitter. Then, I read an extensive Aung San Suu Kyi's biography, The lady and the Peacock (unfortunately, I haven't seen the movie yet, but hope to in the next few weeks).
You can imagine how much I know about this amazing country, but this is a travel blog and, as a travel blogger, I have a duty to provide you with some essential information on how to prepare for the trip to Burma. So, I will omit the long and rich history and the political situation. Although interesting, it would take me ages to go through it. I think the below would be enough to help you out.
- Visa - you need a visa to get in. There are only two embassies in Europe: in Berlin and in London. You can apply by post. The cost is around £14 per person. You can also apply at the embassy in Bangkok, which takes around 3 days. To all bloggers and journalists: there is an application form you need to fill in and, when asked about your profession, DO NOT admit that you work as a writer. Any media - related professions will cancel your chances for a visa straight away.
- Getting into the country - at the moment all land crossings are closed and you can only fly to Yangon. The tickets from Air Asia are relatively cheap.
- Crossing the border at the airport - you will be asked to declare any electronic equipment you carry, this includes your mobile phone and your camera.
- Looking for accommodation - the government owns most of the places in Burma: restaurants, shops and hotels. I don't have to tell you that Burmese government tortured political prisoners for years, and the country is still under oppression. The officials get richer and richer, while the others remain poor. But there are still places, which are owned by the locals, and the money you will pay will go directly to them. If you want to travel responsibly then do your research. Lonely Planet has a good list of private places. There is also lots of information about it on the internet.
- Food - Burmese food is apparently delicious and there is also a great variety of it. I can't wait to try all the curries and noodles! Again, the same rule as with the accommodation applies - try to eat at local markets and street stalls, and not at fancy restaurants.
- Communication - there is no mobile network with the 'outside world'. That's right! You might (emphasis on 'might') be able to communicate with your travel mates, who are currently in Burma, but not with those in Thailand, or anywhere else in the world. Internet is only available in fancy hotels, and it is very slow and expensive. Wait till you leave the country to update your Facebook status, there are better ways to spend your time and money.
- People - everyone who's been to Burma say that the people are the friendliest they have ever encountered. The locals smile and want to chat all the time, even if the don't know any English. I also read that they like to have their photos taken.
- Spies and politics - that's right! Apparently, Burma is full of secret 007s. Well, not exactly. These people spy on the locals and tourists and then report them to the officials. Thanks to them a lot of innocent people rot in the Burmese prisons. Usually, it's easy to recognise them, as they speak better English than anyone else and, during a conversation, they will want to talk about politics. The safest thing is not to get involved in any chats about politics and, what's even more important, do not encourage it. I read stories of people thrown into prison for getting involved into conversations, which in the western world, would be a normal way of expressing ones political views. Also, by discussing these issues with locals, you put them in danger.
Besides that, there are problems with power supplies and hot water, but this is not the thing I'm worried about. I'm actually thinking of the snakes, spiders and rats that many tourists have seen in Burma, and which are very common in towns and cities.