It wasn’t long time ago that Myanmar, also known as Burma, has appeared off limits to tourists. But changes did happen, not only in changing its flag, renaming the country from Burma to Myanmar and capital city from Rangoon to Yangon, and eventually installing a new capital Naypyidaw.
The country is now more open for business, and welcome tourists. However, common concern among tourists and those who are not so familiar about the country is the peace and order situation in a country that’s among the poorest in the world. Poverty is often associated with criminal activity so it’s a legitimate concern whether now is the right time to visit Myanmar before it becomes too touristy — crowded pagoda sites, expensive accommodation and other hallmarks of a place saturated with tourist activities. Or shall we wait a little longer when infrastructure is in better shape and security updates?
Just in case your next itinerary includes Yangon or any other place in Myanmar, there’s no need to skip it over.
For the sake of your safety, though, read all about staying safe in the city.
- Harsh penalty for petty street crimes. While not impossible, bag snatching, pickpocketing or falling victim to a con artist in a crowded place in Myanmar is often unheard of, thanks to the harsh penalty imposed to perpetrators. Authorities take crimes against tourists very seriously. Mugging, pickpocketing and other similar petty crimes are subject to mandatory of five years in prison, unless they pay large amounts of money to reduce the sentence. Therefore engaging in such criminal acts are not worth the effort especially with local police often blend in with the crowd.
- Homosexuality is illegal in Myanmar. Therefore, members of the LGBT community are subject to discrimination, fines and imprisonment so beware of performing homosexual acts in the country.
- Local people touting attractions or hotels just want to make money. Local touts who approach tourists “recommending” hotels and other attractions are more annoying than dangerous. They make money if they successfully persuade you on booking in a hotel or visiting a shop and buy goods. Polite but firm, tell them you’ve made your plans already and they’ll back down (and look for the next tourist around to offer their recommendations).
- Be careful when you are on the road. Safety on roads may be a bit of concern as roads and pavements in many parts of the country are in state of disrepair and could invite accidents when motorists don’t pay extra care. Some motorists have little regard to safety and disciple such as driving without light on so be careful when crossing the street at night. While walking on dark alleys, be careful with big holes on on pavement.
- Friendliness as a tool to gain trust (and favors). Friendly locals are good to have, but some of them are overeager to take you around attractions or offer you directions. Some of them frequent the airport waiting for tourists and offer their services. You can politely decline the offer. But they can also be very helpful in getting you around especially on a limited holiday time.
- Be familiar with local money to avoid getting ripped off. Make sure you count your money when dealing with currency exchange shop as it’s one of the most common problems tourists face — being shortchanged. Although rates aren’t so competitive, money exchange shops around Bogyoke market are more likely to be honest merchants. Beware of money changers in Sule Paya who might deceive you as they count money in front of you but you still get ripped off.
- Be aware when traveling near Myanmar’s external borders. Traveling near the Myanmar-Thailand border can be a hazardous exercise amid military presence and reported drug activity.
- Yangon’s tap water is not suitable to drink. Stay safe and buy bottled water which can come handy in the middle of a hot and humid weather condition of Yangon.
- Bring your small box of medicine kit. Illnesses that might be a cause of concern are dengue fever and tuberculosis as it affects a small portion of the population while malaria is a risk among people in rural areas. It would be wise to bring a small first-aid kit containing band-aid, pain killers, alcohol, anti-diarrhea and anti-malarial pills as well as insect repellent. Medical facilities are sometimes unreliable. Ask hotel staff about reliable medical professionals instead of proceeding to government health facilities.
- Be prepared when you enter toilet facilities. Many toilets are furnished with squat bowls. Bring toilet paper, hand sanitizer and paper handkerchief when you go out and need to use such facilities.
- There’s no reason to flout your valuables in public unless you want to attract criminal acts. Just like anywhere else in the world, concealing your valuables, and taking a firm grip on bags help discourage petty crime.
These safety tips are not so different from other similar destinations. By bearing them in mind, you’ll be enjoying your visit to Yangon as a tourist prepared for certain detours and unexpected circumstances.