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Is it Safe in Myanmar? Warnings and Dangers 27 Feb 2013 Current Affairs | 1 comments

If you're wondering whether it's safe to visit Myanmar (Burma), here are some of the key issues to be informed about.

Conflict Zones

Ongoing conflicts include:

Kachin Conflict:
Fighting is concentrated near the KIA/KIO headquarters in Laiza, right on the Chinese border. Peace talks and ceasefires are happening intermittently. Foreign tourists are still currently officially banned from visiting Myitkyina, Bhamo and Putao and only essential travel to border areas in general is recommended. The conflict area is remote, about 500 km from Mandalay and more than 1,100 km from Yangon. A permit is needed to access most of the areas where the conflict is taking place so you would really have to go out of your way to find trouble.

Rohingya Conflict in Rakhine State:
In June 2012, the government declared a state of emergency in Rakhine State after the rape of a Buddhist woman by a Muslim sparked a wave of violence against the Rohingya. Mosques and whole neighborhoods were razed. The military moved in but that has only further heightened the tension and more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar (Burma). In August the government restricted travel to Sittwe and Mrauk-U. Travel to Sittwe is still restricted and Mrauk-U is off-limits although some intrepid souls still manage to get there. Curfews are in place. Only essential travel to Rakhine State is advised.

Shan Conflict:
Clashes continue on and off in northern Shan State, where there has been fighting since the 1960s between the Shan State Army and the Myanmar Army. Negotiations for a ceasefire agreement are continuing.

Chin, Karen (Kayin) and Mon Conflicts:
Mon State and Karen State on the Thai border in southern Myanmar, and Chin State in the west have experienced less conflict in recent times, during peace pact negotiations.


Plane Crashes

On December 25, an Air Bagan Fokker-100 crashed and caught fire, when attempting to land at Heho airport. Two people were killed including a tour guide and a motorcyclist on the road where the plane crashed. Eleven people were injured including 4 foreigners, the two pilots and a cyclist. Before the 2012 crash, there had been no fatal passenger flight accidents in Myanmar (Burma) for 14 years. The UK Foreign Commonwealth Office has for several years advised travelers to avoid Myanma Airways (MA) flights and Air Bagan flights that use Fokker 100 aircraft. This advice still stands, although the Fokker 100s are due to be phased out in 2014, under regulations introduced in 2012 to improve safety.


Terrorist Attacks

There were 5 bomb attacks in June, November and December 2011, in downtown Yangon, Myitkyina, Nay Pyi Taw (Naypyidaw), Mandalay and Pyin Oo Lwin. Commercial interests, tourist sites and public transport have been targeted. More recently, a bomb exploded in a Yangon hotel in October and shattered the peace.

The Indian government is sharing information with Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh regarding the increased involvement of Pakistan-based terrorist groups in the Rohingya conflict. Their intelligence shows that Rohingya Muslim extremists were being funded mainly from Saudi Arabia and trained by Pakistan-based terror groups with weapons sourced from Thailand.

At a peaceful protest in November 2012 over land confiscations to expand a copper mine in Wethmay, Sagaing region, it is claimed that riot police attacked protestors with white phosphorous, destroyed the local monastery and ransacked the school. The government is reportedly keen to keep foreigners from the 23 villages to be relocated from the area in the Letpadaung mountains near Monywa on the Chindwin River.


Earthquakes

Myanmar  lies on a very active earthquake zone. Most are caused by the north-south trending Sagaing fault, running through central and western Myanmar (Burma). In the last year, there were 48 earthquakes, most under magnitude 5 and causing little damage. The US Geological Survey is currently working with Myanmar to assess seismic hazards and mitigate risk.

Major earthquakes in Myanmar since 1950:

  • 2012 November 11 – magnitude 6.8 felt most strongly in Shwebo. There were 26 fatalities and 230 casualties.
  • 2011 March 24 – magnitude 6.9 felt strongest in Kengtung. At least 74 fatalities, 111 casualties in Myanmar. Quake-triggered landslides were responsible for many of the deaths in Tachileik, Tarpin and Tarlay in Shan State.
  • 2003 September 21 – magnitude 6.6 felt in Central Myanmar and Thailand. Three temples and a bridge were damaged at Taungdwingyi. 10 deaths.
  • 1976 July 8 – magnitude 6.8. Severe damage to pagodas in Bagan and 1 death.
  • 1956 July 16 – magnitude 7 in Sagaing. 40-50 deaths, severe damage to some pagodas.

Cyclones

Myanmar’s coastline along the Bay of Bengal is susceptible to cyclones. When they make landfall the high winds and flooding wreak destruction. The deadliest storm was Cyclone Nargis in 2008, Myanmar’s worst natural disaster.

Recent cyclones in Myanmar:

  • 2010 October 22, Cyclone Giri (mountain): Rakhine State, at least 45 killed, some estimates much higher, 100,000 homeless. Townships of Kyaukpyu (Kyaukphru), Myebon (Mraybon), Marmbra and Pauktaw hit hardest. More intense than Nargis but weakened quickly.
  • 2008 May 2-3, Cyclone Nargis (daffodil): over 140,000 dead or missing. 2.4 million people affected in the Ayeyarwady Delta region. Labutta and Bogale reportedly suffered the most fatalities.
  • 2006 April 29, Cyclone Mala (garland of flowers), 32 people drowned or missing in Hinthada District after flash floods caused by flash floods. Damage to Southern Ayeyarwady coast, Hlaingtharya township in Yangon, and Gwa, Kyeintali and Hinthada townships.

Floods

The rainy season in Myanmar (Burma) brings floods to delta and other river areas, washing out towns, fields, roads and bridges and causing landslides.

  • August 2012, Southern Irrawaddy (Ayeryarwady) Delta region, hundreds of thousands affected, 100,000 displaced. 727 villages flooded. Pathein and Bago hit hard, Yangon and Lashio also affected.
  • October 2011, over 100 people killed after monsoons caused flash flooding and landslides. Pakokku in Magwe (Magway) Region, 30 km north of Bagan, was hardest hit.
  • June 2010, 68 people killed, 800 houses destroyed in northern Rakhine State. Coastal and river areas in Maungdaw & Buthidaung most affected.

Other Hazards

Crime
Given that most foreigners in the past have had to carry around a lot of cash, crime against visitors is exceptionally low and most travelers report feeling very safe in the main tourist areas, compared to other Asian countries. The government has harsh penalties for crimes against tourists and runs advertising campaigns telling people to take care of Myanmar’s international visitors. Normal big-city precautions should be taken, however.

Poor Transportation Infrastructure
Decrepit roads, cars, trains and ferries a risk. Road, rail, and air travel carries extra risks than are found at home. When crossing the road at night, look out for motorbikes (except for in Yangon) with no lights on.

Health Concerns
Infections are rare in tourists. Diseases like malaria, hepatitis A and B, rabies and the flu are all present and can be vaccinated or medicated against, as well as the standard MMR, DPT and polio virus if you haven’t already been immunized. If working as a volunteer or traveling to smaller towns and rural areas you might need extra vaccinations as a precaution, against cholera, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis for example, but tourists to the main centers will be at less risk.

The highest health risk is diarrhea and dehydration. The hospitals aren’t up to international standard so if you have a condition that might need medical intervention during your stay, discuss how to manage it with your doctor before travelling or avoid travel to Myanmar (Burma) for now.

Dangerous Animals

  • Crocodiles
    Stay out of the swamps! Burma appears in the record books for having the most deaths from a single crocodile incident. During the Battle of Ramree Island in 1945, it is believed that 900 Japanese soldiers attempted to retreat from the Royal Navy across 16 km (10 miles) of mangrove swamps. Some believe that only 520 soldiers emerged from the swamp, the rest eaten by saltwater crocs. Details are sketchy and it’s not known exactly how many of the missing were victims of the crocodiles rather than the conflict.

  • Burmese Pythons
    These animals are one of the largest snakes in the world, growing up to 7 meters (23 ft) long. They use their considerable mass to constrict their victims, often leading to the death of people who try to keep them as pets. They won’t be much of a problem to you in Myanmar (Burma) where they are on the endangered species list, but oddly enough there is a bounty on their heads in Florida, USA, where they have become an invasive pest.

  • Mosquitos
    This tiny insect apparently takes the title of the world’s deadliest animal. Yangon and the main tourist areas are low risk but use a net and repellent in remote areas.

Government permission needed
Special permission is currently required from the government to access a number of states and regions in Myanmar (Burma). If planning to travel by car, you will need to take a driver and government guide with you. Note that a travel permit does not necessarily guarantee a warm welcome from authorities in these areas and some areas are currently off-limits due to unrest.

  • Kachin State
    The towns and areas of Myitkyina, Putao and Bhamo are currently off-limits due to the conflict.
    Normally, only package tour groups by plane are allowed access to Putao, with permission. Permission is usually also required for travel to Hopin, Mogaung and Indawgyi and Bhamo by car.

  • Shan State
    Permission is needed to travel from Lashio on to Muse.
    Travel currently restricted in Maing Lar area due to security concerns.

  • Kaya State
    Travelers by plane to Loikaw and by car through Kalaw, Pinlaung and Phekhone need permission. Areas outside the towns are off-limits to foreigners.

  • Rakhine State
    In August, you weren’t allowed to visit Sittwe and Mrauk U. Travel to Sittwe is still restricted and Mrauk U is officially off the agenda. Curfews are in place and only essential travel to Rakhine State is advised.
    Permission is also required to access these areas by car or boat:
    • Paletwa, Chin State via Ahm, Minbya and Kyauktaw
    • Pyay- Taungkoke. Padan-Ahm, Laymyochaung area, Mrauk-U Township, Chin villages in Pauktaw Township
       
  • Kayin State
    Permission is needed to go to to Tharmin Nya, Pa-an, Hlaingbwe and Kawkareik by boat or by car.

  • Tanintharyi Division
    An entry permit is required to access Salone Island, Mipya Island, Seik Lu Island, Thahtay Island, Sagaing Island and MinHla Island in Kawthaung District
    Permission is needed to go by boat to Kwanthee Island, Sular Nghe Island,Pawel Island, La Ngan Island, Lampi Island, Magyonegalet Island, Myauk Tawin Island, Kyuan Phila (Great Swinton), Nyaung Wee Island (Pulau Boda), Taung Tawwin Island, Island No-115, Hlaing Gu Island, Narnatthee Island, Shwe Kyaun Lay Island, Myauk Ne Island, Thu Ye Kaung Island, Ayauk Kyuan Ne, Myinn Hlewar Island in Myeik, Dawei, Kawthaung Sagaing Division
    Travel is allowed to the areas of Khamti, Homalin, and Kale. The areas immediately outside these towns are off-limits.
    Permission is needed for Kalaywa, Phaung Pyin, Lahe, Layshi, Htamanthi and Min Kein

  • Chin State
    Permission is needed for travel to Kanpetlet, Natma Taung (Mt. Victoria), Mindat, Aye Camp, Ramsi Camp, 8-miles Camp, Mt. Kaneddy, Phalum and Hakha. Areas outside these places are off-limits.

  • Other Restricted Areas
    • Tourists are not allowed to go to Pyinmana, Leiwei, or Tatkon.
    • Tours to Mogok in the Pyin Oo Lwin district of Mandalay region are forbidden.
    • Tours to Hpakant in Kachin state are not allowed.
    • International Tourists and Foreigners coming through the Border checkpoints with Entry Permit are allowed to travel to the areas mentioned below.

If you're on your way and are looking for a place to stay in Myanmar (Burma), be sure to check out our featured hotel recommendations.

Start exploring our What to See & Do section for more ideas on where to go and what to do while you're in Myanmar!

What do the travelers say?

Amelie, Australia
March 05, 2013
Good to know but still can't wait to go! :o)

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