11 things to know before visiting Myanmar
New Year celebrations last four days
The Burmese make a big deal of the New Year. Thingyan (known as the "water throwing festival") takes place this year from April 13-16. During the festival everyone throws water at each other. Staying dry isn't an option. Water symbolizes the washing away of the previous year's bad luck and sins.
Myanmar has fantastic beaches
Along the Andaman Sea, Ngapali Beach is Myanmar's top beach resort area. Much of the surrounding countryside remains undeveloped. Best of all, the sunsets are killer.
The trains are seriously bumpy
Poor condition of railway tracks means carriages get shaken about. This makes for a bouncy ride, but trains are still a great way to see the country. Myanmar's trains are slow and have a reputation for running late. The most reliable route, Yangon to Mandalay, takes about 16 hours, assuming no delays.
The food is delicious
A typical Burmese meal includes steamed rice, fish, meat, vegetables and soup and all the dishes arrive at the same time. Locals use their fingertips to mold rice into a small ball and then mix it with various dishes.
Mobile phones trump the Internet
Myanmar has lots of Internet cafes. The connections are just brutally slow. Mobile phones are more popular than the Internet. In June, US$15 SIM cards for mobile phones are expected to be made available to foreigners.
The press is flourishing
After decades under a repressive military regime, the Burmese are showing a healthy appetite for news. In the past, all publications had to submit stories to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Division for approval. Censorship was phased out in 2012 and at the beginning of 2013 the bureau was formally abolished.
You'll need plenty of clean, new bills
There are few ATMs in Myanmar, so visitors need to bring plenty of U.S. dollars. The higher the denomination, the better the exchange rate. This whole stack of kyat (pronounced "chat") is worth about US$20.
A kissing sound gets you a beer
When the Burmese want to get a waiter's attention they make a kissing sound, usually two or three short kisses. It's the sort of sound you might make if calling a cat. Myanmar's national beer is cleverly called ... Myanmar Beer.
Hotel rooms are pricey and tough to score
Room rates in Myanmar shot up 350% last year, which means that a room that cost US$25 a night in 2011 now goes for almost US$100. New hotels are being built, but the hotel shortage is expected to continue five to 10 years. Book accommodation well ahead.
The men wear skirts
The traditional Burmese dress is the longyi, a wraparound skirt worn by men and women. Men tie theirs in the front and women fold the cloth over and secure it at the side. Here, a longyi-clad visitor walks inside the Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon.
The people with red teeth aren't vampires
Chewing betel nut is a national pastime. Small street stalls, like this one in Mandalay, selling the palm-sized green leaves are everywhere. The leaves are filled with betel nut, spices and sometimes a pinch of tobacco, then folded and popped in the mouth and chewed./.