Is It Safe to Travel to Myanmar (Burma)?

Updated on June 15, 2018
Source

Myanmar (formerly called Burma), is a country filled with natural beauty and wonderful, friendly people, yet it is only recently that the country has been widely available for travel by foreigners. Many who are considering travelling to this nation have already asked the two most pertinent questions: Is it safe to travel to Myanmar? And is ethical to vacation there?

Below, we will go into stark detail about the amount of crime present in Myanmar (according to official reports) and the amount of criminal activity potential vacationers can expect to encounter there (hint: not much). Most importantly, however, we will attempt to show you all the reasons why Myanmar should be on your sightseeing bucket list.

Source

Things to Watch out for

As a visitor to this foreign land, it is important (or at least helpful) to know the political and economic conditions facing the bulk of the populace. This nation of 51 million people is composed of 135 distinct ethnic groups (groups that are recognized by the government) and at least 4 major religions. Therefore, as one can imagine the defining challenge of the Burmese government is to see how its diverse population "can overcome a history of fractiousness in order to live together and hold the country together through political means." [Ref 1.] Since the country's birth in 1948, locals have seen continuous war and infighting between different groups and the government.

This constant internal strife has caused many to ask, "is Myanmar dangerous to travel to?" However, the overall crime statistics for tourists and vacationers are far rosier than for Myanmar locals. People often attribute this to the harsh sentencing characteristic of the Myanmar judicial system and the widely held perception that punishments for crimes against foreigners are punished far more harshly than for locals. For example, Zaw Htwe is a carpenter who was sentenced to three years prison time and hard labor for breaking a $0.35 pane of glass while attending a protest against a quarry company.

Anyway, here is a break down of various crime statistics covering a broad range of criminal activities that could affect tourists in Myanmar.

Is Myanmar Dangerous to Travel to Because of Petty Theft, Larceny and Fraud?

According to the 2017 Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index, Myanmar / Burma is ranked 130 out of 180 nations; ranked from least to most corrupt. Locals experience corruption and outright larceny from government officials and others on a regular basis (although the government has made many efforts to curb these abuses). However, as mentioned before, tourists are perceived as deserving of special treatment due to harsher punishments.

Therefore, if you ask "Is Burma dangerous to travel to" in terms of theft and fraud, the answer is...it depends on where you go. For example, in Mandalay, Inle Lake, Yangon, and Bagan you may find that many vendors will not be transparent about pricing and will try to price gouge unsuspecting tourists into paying exorbitant amounts for anything ranging from food to basic clothing. Meanwhile, whether you are a tourist or a local, government officials such as police officers may request that you pay bribe or "tea money" in the case of a traffic stop or a security check.

Source

Is Myanmar Dangerous to Travel to Because of Weapons Use and Violence?

In 2012, it is estimated that Burma had a murder rate of about 15.2 per 100,000 people. [ref. 2] Compare that to the United States average of 4.9 per 100,000 people and you could get a sense that violence is a major problem in Myanmar / Burmese society. However, it is important to remember that A.) An extremely small portion of this violence affects foreigners, and B.) armed conflict between the Burmese government and various militias accounts for a high percentage of the discord.

It is widely known that the Burmese government effectively prohibits foreign visitors from visiting certain parts of the country due to the armed conflicts. These areas include but are not limited to: Kayin, Kachin, Shan, and the Rakhine States. It is also noted that these areas are known for the presence of landmines (both old and newly laid).

Source

What About Terrorism?

Terrorism initiated and supported by separatist groups outside of Myanmar like the United Liberation Front of Assam, is a major source of terrorism and hence civilian deaths. These separatist groups are in a seemingly unending war with the Burmese government. However, the conflicts are largely far away from the usual tourist areas.

Source

The Ethics of Travelling to Myanmar: The Plight of the Rohingya

The Myanmar / Burmese government has long been accused of outright brutal treatment of some of its minority groups. However, since 2016 criticism of the government has hit a fever pitch because of a specific group called the Rohingya.

The Rohingya are a minority ethnic Muslim group that the Myanmar government does not officially recognize as part of the country itself. As a result the Rohingya have been denied access to state identification, travel documents, access to basic education and basic social services. Furthermore, they have faced years of discrimination and severe restrictions on their freedoms. Furthermore, violent conflicts between the Myanmar military and the Rohingya have been termed "ethnic cleansing" by some in the international media.

As a result the Rohingya have been forced to flee Myanmar by the hundreds of thousands. They have mostly fled to the neighboring countries of Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia. The reported instances of human rights abuses against the Rohingya may lead some would-be tourists to refrain from spending their tourism dollars in a nation that supports such treachery. However, it is also important to consider the following.

The Myanmar poverty rate varies between 15% in the urban areas and 38% in the rural areas. And ever since 2010, tourism has provided a more or less steady source of much needed income for thousands of Burmese who are just trying to make an honest living. On top of all that, the people of Myanmar are probably some of the most hospitable that you will ever meet. So while there are potentially many human rights abuses within the country; not vacationing there will do nothing to ease the situation. Just something to keep in mind.

Source

Areas of Concern / Locations to Avoid:

The following states within Myanmar have been identified as regions that involve some degree of serious risk to would-be travelers. The danger endemic to these regions has been corroborated by the U.S. State Department, the UK's Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

  • Rakhine State: Especially the townships of Maungdaw, Rathedaung, Buthitaung
  • Parts of Kachin State
  • Paletwa township, in Southern Chin State
  • Northern Shan State

Keep in mind that the Myanmar state actively prohibits the average tourist from visiting these dangerous areas of the country. Foreigners who are able to visit these regions are often given special permission by the government itself.

Safety Tips While Traveling:

To wrap up our analysis of Myanmar travel safety and best practices, I would like to share a list of tips; each of which can go a long way to making you trip to Myanmar as trouble-free as possible.

  1. Do not wander into areas of the country that are restricted by the government (especially by foot). Why? Well, remember when I mentioned landmines earlier in the article.
  2. Compared to other countries, there is a high incidence of death from snake bites in Myanmar. Therefore, be particularly aware of where you step in forest and tall grass.
  3. Homosexuality in Myanmar is actually illegal. And the local authorities do enforce laws that are on the books. Only a few years ago, a citizen of the EU was arrested for a "homosexual act" and sentenced to seven years in a Burmese prison.
  4. Be careful with tattoos and images of Buddha. If you possess or create images of Buddha that are deemed offensive by Burmese religious authorities or sometimes government authorities. It was only in 2016, that a Spanish national was deported from Myanmar after monks found a tattoo of Buddha on his leg.
  5. In some popular Burmese tourist spots (namely the Hpo Win Daung Caves and Mt Popa) you will encounter species of monkey that will harass you for food until you give in. My advice is to just give them what they want as they might bite you.
  6. Always ask permission before taking pictures of locals. Don't be surprised if someone requests a small fee before allowing you to take a picture of them.
  7. Always cooperate with local authorities whether it be at traffic stops or security checkpoints.

References:

1.) United States Department of State: Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Burma (Myanmar) 2017 Crime & Safety Report. https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=21412

2.) Wikipedia: Crime In Myanmar. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_in_Myanmar

Questions & Answers

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • Iammattdoran profile image

        Matt Doran 

        3 weeks ago from Manchester, UK

        Burma is definitely somewhere that I intend to visit in the next couple of years. Last time I visited SE Asia was 2012 and I think the military junta were still in control. From the outside it seems as though, whilst the country has technically 'opened up,' the Rohingya issue is still a serious concern.

      • aesta1 profile image

        Mary Norton 

        4 weeks ago from Ontario, Canada

        We went to Myanmar before this problem of the Rohingya came to a head and at that time, we felt very safe. I think as long as one observes the tips you gave here, it will be a wonderful trip.

      • profile image

        Eurofile 

        4 weeks ago

        This is a very informative and useful article for anyone thinking of traveling to Myanmar.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, wanderwisdom.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://wanderwisdom.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)