Tag - southeast asia

Staying Safe in Burma

Staying safe in Burma
Staying safe in Burma
Staying safe in Burma

Although it is only common sense to be careful with your belongings while you travel, theft is virtually unheard of in Myanmar and you don’t have to keep looking over your shoulder here. Of course, there are people who will try to make an easy dollar and the main scams involve dishonest money changers and drivers and guides who take you to certain shops in order to receive a commission.

Local people can get in serious trouble for discussing politics so avoid bringing up the topic. If you are keen to find out local opinion be discrete and wait for the subject to be raised by others.

Power cuts are frequent and although most places have their own generator it is best to check before paying for a room in a guesthouse as it can get pretty hot at night without an electric fan to cool things down.

Although the local people are honest, Myanmar is one of the world’s most corrupt countries and it is common for officials and other civil servants to discreetly ask travellers for bribes. These requests are rarely reinforced however and refusing to understand generally does the trick. 

Although there have been bombings in Myanmar in the past these have now stopped and the main danger zones are off limits to tourists anyway. The situation in Myanmar is constantly changing and tourists and banned from several areas. Make sure you get the latest information before you go to avoid problems. It is possible to apply in Yangon for a permit to enter restricted areas, although such requests are seldom granted.

 

Money Matters in Burma

Money matters in Burma
Money matters in Burma
Money matters in Burma

Myanmar’s official currency is Kyat, pronounced “Chat” and usually written as K. The Kyat comes in K1, K5, K10, K15, K20, K45, K50, K90, K100, K200, K500, and K1000 notes and is the best way to pay for small items. US Dollars are also accepted throughout Myanmar and larger fees such as hotel rooms and transport are quoted and paid for in US Dollars.

Changing your Money
Plenty of people will offer to change your money for you as you travel around Myanmar, although the best places to change money are guesthouses, shops and travel agencies. Of course, exchange rates fluctuate between places, so make sure you take a good look around before handing over your cash.

You can only exchange US Dollars and Euros, and rates tend to be slightly better in Yangon than in the rest of Myanmar. Check the serial number on your bank notes carefully as US Dollars that start with AB or BC are often refused.

ATMs
There are no ATMs at all in Myanmar, so it is a good idea to stock up with cash or traveller’s cheques before entering the country. Traveller’s cheques can be changed at a few chic hotels in Yangon for a commission of between 3% and 10%.

Credit Cards
Although not widely accepted, some major hotels, airlines, international shops and restaurants will accept credit cards, but Master Card is not currently accepted in Myanmar.

Tipping
It is common practice to add 5 to 10 per cent to hotel and restaurant bills as a tip.

It is important to remember that the import and export of local currency is strictly prohibited.

Food and Drink in Burma

Food and Drink in Burma
Food and Drink in Burma

The people of Myanmar love their food to be hot and spicy, with most dishes liberally dosed with plenty of chilli, garlic and ginger. Local food is actually a blend of traditional dishes with influences of Chinese, Indian and Mon culinary styles. Characteristic dishes are curry-based with chicken, seafood and mutton as pork and beef tend to be avoided. Rice is the staple dish and vegetarian food is widely available throughout the country.

Food in Myanmar tends to be cheap and tasty, making this a great place to experiment. There is plenty of fresh fruit available in the markets and food stalls can be found on practically every corner in the towns.

Although coffee can be hard to find, tea is popular, served with brightly hued spices. Most bars and select restaurants sell locally produced beer, whiskey and gin. Toddy juice is made from fermented palm sugar and tastes a lot like rum.

There are a large number of Chinese and Indian restaurants throughout Myanmar and Western food can be found in most hotels and an increasingly growing number of independent restaurants, although there are no fast food chains in Myanmar, which is probably a very good thing.

It is not safe to drink the tap water in Myanmar, but bottled water is cheap. It is also best to avoid ice as this may be made with tap water.

Here is a selection of the dishes you are likely to discover in Myanmar:

Lethok son – a very spicy salad using rice and vegetables.

Mohinga – filling fish curry soup with thin noodles.

Onnokauswe – a slightly sweet and creamy dish of rice noodles, chicken and coconut milk. This curry is strong and pungent.

Mee swan – noodles in a thick broth served with herbs and meat.

Palata – known as paratha in India, this thin bread is fried and served with sugar for breakfast and curried meat at lunch and dinnertime.

Festivals and Holidays in Burma

Festivals and Holidays in Burma
Festivals and Holidays in Burma
Festivals and Holidays in Burma

The people of Myanmar like to celebrate and attending their festivals is a good way to get an idea of the country’s traditional songs, dances and costume. Most Buddhist holidays are set according to the phases of the moon rather than standard calendars, so dates tend to vary from year to year.

Here is a list of some of the most prominent festivals with details of what you can expect to experience.

Independence Day
This national holiday is celebrated on January 4th. Most businesses close for the day and foreigners are not permitted to join the ceremonies.

Ananda Pagoda Festival
Held between January 10th and February 1st in the city of Bagan, this lively festival features singing, dancing, plays, and film screenings. A large number of stalls set up and this is a good time to purchase local produce.

Mahamuni Ceremony
Celebrated in Mandalay in the second week of February, monks gather here to chant and the festival is also full of singing, dancing and traditional theatre.

Union Day
On February 12th people gather and the hill tribes dance in their traditional dress.

Shwe Saryan Pagoda Festival
Take a boat along the river from Mandalay to witness this colourful festival and buy traditional products such as toys, boxes, baskets and mats.

Pindaya Cave Festival
Held on March 16th in Pindaya, this two day festival features much singing and dancing.

Water Festival
Similar to Songkran is Laos and Thailand, people throw water during this festival in mid April and most things are closed as everyone joins in the fun.

Sand Stupa Festival
In Mandalay in the middle of April intriguing sand stupas are built in different parts of the city using traditional techniques.

Waso Full Moon Day
Buddhist Lent begins in the middle of July and people gather at the temples and stupas to donate good to the monks.


Martyr’s Day

On July 19th ceremonies are held to mark the assassination of General Aung San.

Taung Byone Festival
Travel to the village of Matara near Mandalay on August 8th to witness the traditional Nat dance.

Phaung Daw Oo Pagoda Festival
During this 2 week festival Buddhist images are placed in decorated barges and floated on Lake Inle.

Elephant Dance Festival
This vibrant festival is held on October 9th and 1oth near Mandalay.

Tadingyut Festival
On October 11th the whole country celebrates the end of Buddhist Lent

Fire Balloon Festival
This special three-day festival starts on November 16th in Taunggyi. Taunggyi the festival is celebrated with competitions of decorated hot-air balloons in different shapes and forms of animals such as elephants, cattle, the mythical Hintha bird and hens as well as with fireworks and firecrackers in the evening.

Robe Weaving Contest
Held in all major cities on November 7th, teams of women compete against each other to gain recognition as the best robe weavers.

Do’s and Don’ts in Burma

Do's and Don'ts in Burma
Do's and Don'ts in Burma
Dos and Don'ts in Burma

Paying attention to the social norms and cultural practices can make a big difference to the reception you will receive in Myanmar and your overall travel experience.  Most things are common sense and can be easily observed, while others are subtle and based on years of traditional.

Greetings
People usually shake hands when they meet and use full names with U (pronounced oo) at the front for older and respected people, Aung in the case of younger men, Ko for adult males and Daw when you are greeting women. People often give small presents to each other when they meet. 

Respectful Dress
People always cover their arms and legs in public so you should avoid wearing shorts and miniskirts, especially around sacred places. Shoes and socks must be removed before entering any religious building and often private houses as well. If you want to keep cool, don the traditional long skirt known as a longyi, which is worn by both men and women.

Religion
Dress respectfully around the temple and make sure you take off your socks before entering. Showing the soles of the feet is considered disrespectful, so make sure you sit with your feet tucked underneath you and never point to things with your feet. Women are not allowed to enter certain areas of the temple and everyone should avoid touching relics within the temple.

General
There are severe penalties for drug taking and trafficking, which range from five years’ imprisonment to a death sentence and homosexuality is also illegal in Myanmar.
Make sure you know which parts of Myanmar are out of bounds to foreigners and regularly check for updates.

Money Matters in Cambodia

Money Matters in Cambodia
Money Matters in Cambodia
Money Matters in Cambodia

Cambodia has its own currency, which is known as the riel and comes in denominations of 50, 100, 500, 1,000, 5,000, 10,000, 50,000 and 100,000 riel notes. However, visitors are most likely to come across the 500 and 1,000 riel notes, while changing 50,000 and 100,000 riel notes can be rather tricky and should be done at up market hotels as well as fancy restaurants and banks.

In addition to the riel, US$ are also widely accepted throughout Cambodia, and the pricing for hotel rooms and often food and other items in tourist areas tends to be quoted in riel. Travellers who have just come from Thailand will also be able to spend any leftover Baht in areas close to the Thai/Cambodian borders. It is a good idea to carry a selection of US$ and riel notes and take good care of them as notes that are torn and crumpled will usually be rejected.  

Costs
While the cost of visiting Cambodia is cheap by Western standards, it is quite a bit more expensive than in the neighbouring nations of Laos and Thailand. The biggest costs here are accommodation and transport, although both can be done cheaply by those who are on a shoestring budget. By cutting back to the absolute necessities it is possible to send just US$10 a day, while those who want a few little luxuries such as beer should allow themselves US$25. A budget of US$100 a day offers access to some of the country’s best hotels and restaurants, while the sky is the limit for those who can afford to spend US$200 per day.

Changing your money
Banks can be found in all major tourist areas of Cambodia and while these establishments offer to change currency, local moneychangers generally offer much better rates. Changing riel into other currencies can be rather tricky and costly, so it is best to avoid changing large amounts of cash unless you really need to.

ATMs
The number of ATMs in Cambodia is on the rise and although there are incidents of cards being swallowed, this is becoming less common. ATMs usually accept just MasterCard and Visa and dispense cash in US$.

Travellers’ cheques and credit cards
Traveller’s cheques and credit cards can usually be used in up market hotels and banks in most tourist areas of the country. However, changing travellers’ cheques elsewhere can be difficult, and it is best stockpile some cash before heading out into the countryside.

Tipping
Although tipping is not expected it can make a big difference as wages are extremely low and even a tip of $2 might almost double the waiter or waitress’ wages.

Food and Drink in Cambodia

Food and Drink in Cambodia
Food and Drink in Cambodia
Food and Drink in Cambodia

Travellers who suffer from a chilli intake problem will be pleased to discover that the food in Cambodia is much less hot than in the neighbouring nations of Thailand and Vietnam. However, that doesn’t mean that the dishes here are bland, as they are seasoned instead with herbs such as coriander and lemongrass, giving them a unique tanginess. The main staple here is rice, which is served alongside most curry, soup and stew dishes.
Those with a strong sense of adventure who want to sample authentic local food should check out the food stalls that crop up at Cambodia’s night markets. These are also the cheapest places to dine, while those who are looking for a taste of home will find a wide range of international restaurants in tourist hubs such as Siem Reap, Sihanoukville and Phnom Penh.

Here is a selection of dishes that you will discover as you travel through Cambodia:

Amok trey – one of Cambodia’s signature dishes, featuring fish, pork or chicken in a rich and lightly spiced curry sauce.

Lou – short, thick noodles with added egg and chicken.

Caw – this is a slightly sweet dish of braised chicken or pork and egg stew flavoured with delicious caramelized palm sugar.

Bai cha – a delicious dish of Chinese sausage fried with rice.

Somlah machou khmae – a sweet and sour soup dish that is made with tomatoes, pineapple and fish.

K’dam – a speciality from Kampot, this is a delicious dish of crab cooked in pepper.

Visitors to Cambodia should avoid drinking tap water as well as drinks with ice in them. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find throughout the country and should be used even for brushing your teeth.  

Green tea is popular in Cambodia and served free of charge along with most meals in restaurants. Tea lovers will also want to try the local drink known as dtai grolab, which is created by brewing tealeaves in a glass with a saucer on top. Both Indian tea and coffee are readily available in Cambodia, although they are usually served with plenty of ice.  

Those who like to relax with a beer or two in the evening will find bars located all over the country, while beer also tends to be served in restaurants and at night market stalls. However, the local tipple of choice is a type of rice wine that is extremely strong an should be approached with caution.

Survival Tips in Cambodia

Survival Tips in Cambodia
Survival Tips in Cambodia
Survival Tips in Cambodia

This is a great time to visit Cambodia as the years of war and instability are finally over and the country is rebuilding itself slowly but surely. People are generally friendly and honest and roads are much better than they have been in recent years. However, you still need to apply a certain amount of common sense when travelling through Cambodia and there are a few things to watch out for or avoid.

Avoid drinking tap water and drinks with ice in Cambodian. Bottled water is cheap and easy to find.  

Avoid deals that seem too good to be true such as buying ‘precious gems’ as they are often worthless stones that have been chemically treated. There is also a considerable amount of counterfeit medication around, so only buy from trustworthy pharmacies and clinics.

Despite the efforts being made to sweep the countryside for landmines, there are still believed to be as many as six million unexploded landmines in Cambodia. Visitors should take extreme caution when wandering off the beaten track, and it is best to hire a guide when exploring rural areas independently, preferably someone who knows the area extremely well and can steer you away from danger.

Keep abreast of the current political situation while visiting Cambodia by reading the local newspaper regularly. Violent outbursts do spring up from time to time as well as demonstrations and political gatherings and should be avoided at all costs.

Although you should always keep valuables hidden, extra caution should be taken at night and it is a good idea to take a close-sided taxi rather than a cyclo or moto, especially when exploring touristy areas such as Siem Reap and Phnom Penh.

Cambodia is famed for its corrupt police force, who are known to try almost every trick in the book to get fines from tourists. If you are stopped by the police at any time, make sure you keep a close eye on your belongings, as it has been known for the police to plant drugs on foreigners in the hope of receiving a fine or a bribe. In confrontations with the police it is important to keep your cool, arguing in a firm yet friendly manner and solving the situation without heading to the police station.

Location and History of Cambodia

Location and History of Cambodia
Location and History of Cambodia
Location and History of Cambodia

Covering a total area of just over 180,000 square kilometres, Cambodia is one of the most diminutive countries in Southeast Asia. The nation is bordered by Laos in the north, the Gulf of Thailand in the south, Thailand to the west, and Vietnam in the east.
Sometimes referred to as Kampuchea, Cambodia people are known as Khmer. Visitors witnessing the warm and generous nature of the Khmer people could hardly guess at the hardship they have undergone for the last 500 years or so. Angkor fell in 1431 and since that time Cambodia has been pillaged by a number of nations.

Consequently the people of Cambodia are very poor, with many living on less than US$1 per day. However, the situation is slowly improving and the many monuments that were decimated or lost are being rediscovered and restored, while the rise in tourism allows businesses to open all over the country and employment rates to improve.

Up until the start of the 15th century Cambodia was a prosperous nation, and examples of this can be seen in the magnificent temple complex of Angkor Wat. When the nation fell Cambodia was largely dominated and became under French political control. Prince Sihanouk declared Cambodia’s independence during WWII, but his hopes for the nation were soon crushed.

Prince Sihanouk’s reign was not appreciated by everybody as he was criticized for restricting education to the elite and his obsession for writing and starring in movies. Many of the educated elite were angry over the lack of descent jobs and bad economic system and sought a solution in politics, joining first the Indochinese Communist Party, and then the Khmer Rouge.

The dawning of Second Indochina War caused the US to take an interest and Sihanouk abdicated and supported the Khmer Rouge, with many people following his example. After a five year resistance the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh in 1975 and forced the evacuation of all towns and cities, with those who refused to leave being killed instantly.

For three years the majority of people in Cambodia were put through unimaginable hardships, with more than one million and probably closer to three million (more than half the population) dying from torture or poor conditions. Everyone was forced to live in the countryside and work for the Khmer Rouge, with families being separated and everyone living in fear as the consequences for refusing were horrific punishments and death.

When the Vietnamese finally put an end to the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror in 1978 there was no infrastructure left and the country had to be entirely rebuilt. There were elections sponsored by the UN in 1993 and since the end of the 20th century things have steadily improved. Leng Sary, Pol Pot’s brother in law, is currently on trial for ‘crimes against humanity’.

When to Visit Cambodia

When to Visit Cambodia
When to Visit Cambodia
When to Visit Cambodia

Cambodia’s climate is tropical and the weather is hot and humid practically all year round. However, there are four main seasons; the cool and dry season from November to February, the hot and dry season from March to May, the hot and wet season from June-August, and the cool and wet season that lasts from September-October.

The temperatures in Cambodia are significantly higher than other Asian countries such as Thailand, Laos and Vietnam, with average temperatures of between 28-35?C in the hot season. The weather is also very humid during this period. April is by far the hottest month, and only travel during this time if you are used to walking around in the heat.

However, things cool down to around 25-30?C in November to February, and this is a good time for temple hopping. There are occasional cool evenings, but Cambodia could never be referred to as cold and you will rarely need a jacket, if ever.

The rain descends on Cambodia from June to October, with heavy showers and storms sweeping the entire country. However, the rain is mainly restricted to the afternoon, so it is still possible to rise early and spend the morning exploring and relax in the afternoon and evening.
Tourist numbers are low during the rainy season, so this is a good time to beat the crowds.

The peak tourist season is from December to January and if you are travelling in Cambodia during this time it is a good idea to book popular hotels in advance, although there is usually plenty of accommodation available.