Safety in Myanmar is the #1 inquiry I receive about the country from friends, family, and fellow travelers. This makes sense considering its recent history of military dictator leadership. Here’s a sampling of those questions.
- Is it scary in Myanmar (Burma) or dangerous anywhere?
- Are tourists arrested for minor infractions?
- Are tourists robbed and murdered at random in the cities or in the countryside?
- Do the police harass tourists?
- What about kidnapping?
- Do local people hate Americans?
- Can tourists carry expensive cameras and wear jewelry?
- What scary things happen in Myanmar?
- Is it safe to travel solo?
- What about solo women travelers?
I traveled throughout the country for 5 weeks. Here are my most dangerous experiences with tips on avoiding them.
Safety in Myanmar is Imperative. Beware!
#1 Hotel Rooms
While in the countryside, I stayed in several budget hotel rooms where windows and doors were kept open, promoting a cool environment with the cross-breeze. They were lovely places in lovely towns, with very nice people at reception.
WARNING: If you stay in a place like this, do not turn on the lights in the middle of the night.
Of course, if you enjoy up close and personal experiences with insects and bugs of all sizes, then bring your butterfly net and get a full inventory of the various species that have made their way into your room. I’m not frightened of creepy crawlers in the least. In fact, at home I capture spiders that wander inside and release them outdoors. Yet, at 2am when I simply want to get out of bed and scamper down the hallway to the toilet, I have no intention of learning about unknown fauna sharing my bedroom floor and walls, some as long as my middle finger. Thank goodness I slept under a mosquito net! Where are those geckos and other bug eating lizards when I want them?
#2 Fresh Fruit
When people are knocking fruit out of trees, be sure to stand a safe distance away. Most fruits are small, so will only give you a hard whack on the head. Nevertheless, jackfruits are huge and can weigh up to 40 pounds / 18 kg! Be careful! It can be really bad if you get injured. Healthcare is not perfect, so take care of your safety in Myanmar. The closest world-class hospital is located in Bangkok, Thailand, which is several hours away at a minimum.
#3 Baggage… Robbed?
Watch out that your baggage does not go missing. Robbed? Highly unlikely in Myanmar.
The bus arrived at 3 a.m. and I could not find the yellow plastic bag with my hiking boots in the overhead bin. First, I was shocked—who would want my boots? Searching high and low around my seat, I found a white plastic bag with several pairs of shoes that the woman sitting next to me had left under her seat. Not mine. I left the bag on the seat. Exiting the bus, I saw the woman’s daughter holding a yellow plastic bag. Without the language skills to ask questions, I simply reached over, untied the bag, and saw my boots inside. I took the bag and pointed inside the bus, so they would know that their bag was back at our seat.
Lesson learned: when everyone groggily scrambles off a bus in the middle of the night, keep an eye on your belongings! It’s scary when something important goes missing. Luckily, it was only boots in my experience.
Pro Travel Tip:
Count your bags once you’ve boarded transportation and are seated. Then count again before exiting. The numbers should match! This is useful because normally I have two bags—one for gear and one for clothes. However, when I sit down for a 6+ hour bus or plane ride, I take things out for easy access and for squishing a big bag into a tiny overhead bin. Suddenly I have a bag of snacks, a bag with shoes, a backpack, and a camera gear bag. So, I’ve gone from 2 bags to 4 bags. My exit number is 4 bags. Sometimes I’ll even write the number on my hand, in case I forget the number.
Scary Roads in Myanmar
Minibus drivers have routes, and I know that they know the roads like the back of their hand. However, on one particular route, the narrow road twists around steep cliff sides without road barriers while the minibus moves at full speed, consistently giving several passengers motion sickness. Our driver, chewing on betel and giving himself Dracula-red teeth and lips, alerts drivers on the other side of the blind curves by honking the horn, and it feels fairly safe… until we pass a motorcycle laid down at one of the turns.
As we continued down the winding hillside, I wondered if I should have participated in the short prayer conducted by my fellow passengers at the beginning of our 7-hour ride. Then I remember that our driver did not pray, and he alone is in charge of our lives. Sometimes safety in Myanmar is out of the tourists control.
#5 The Train Ride
A Wild Ride
The train from Mandalay to Hopin passes through vast plains covered in rice fields. Depending on luck, the ride takes anywhere from 16 to 24 hours. Regardless, when the swaying gets crazy and the bumps gets wild, it feels as though ones safety in Myanmar is at risk.
Even seated on the bench, there were numerous times I caught air as my entire body left the blue bench and my feet left the ground. While roaming around on the train, definitely hold onto the seat backs. Only the food vendors stroll expertly, with trays of edibles balanced in their arms and on their heads.
Oh, I nearly forgot. The train sometimes has so many bugs at night, most the size of my thumbnail or larger. Worst of all, they got stuck after landing in my hair and in their fearful state began biting me. And there I was, innocently trying to sleep for a couple of hours. Ugh!
Pro Travel Tip:
When you need a bathroom break, carefully walk to the toilet door soon before a station stop and then enter the instant the train grinds to a halt. Don’t wait for the train to stop before walking to the bathroom. Many people will leap onto the train before it’s all the way stopped, and they won’t hesitate to trample you while finding a seat. Walking ‘against traffic’ is nearly impossible, so get to the bathroom door before the train reaches the station. And, if you want toilet paper? It’s a BYO system!
#6 City Driving
Driving in any city in Myanmar will leave you feeling exhilarated upon arrival at your destination, if for no other reason than that you arrived alive. Busy intersections rarely have stoplights, let alone signage regarding stopping or yielding, even in major cities like Mandalay. Crossing an intersection is done by slowly moving forward while waiting for a small gap in the cross traffic. As soon as there’s a break, race to the other side at full speed. And, when there is a stoplight, a system allows vehicles to start crossing before the light turns green. Everyone seems to realize this is dangerous and care is taken by most drivers. Still, it can be pretty scary when a driver comes too close for comfort.
Pro Travel Tip:
Rent a motorbike and cross the street with the locals.
You now have a better idea of tourist safety in Myanmar. In my experience as a solo female traveler, I feel Myanmar is among the safest and easiest of the 25+ countries I’ve visited or lived in in terms of personal safety and theft. During 5 weeks in-country, other tourists I met along the way never mentioned any dangerous or uncomfortable situations with local people. In fact, we often mentioned how safe we felt as opposed to other countries where pickpocketing and other crime is prevalent. These tourists included many females traveling solo and in pairs, two solo males, and five male/female couples. I did not meet any LGBTQ couples or individuals to my knowledge, so don’t have that perspective.
Where I Traveled in Myanmar
I visited the north, south, east, and west of Myanmar, and spent most of my time outside of the most popular tourist destinations. I always traveled overland, starting at the Thai/Myanmar border crossing three hours west of Bangkok.
Safe travels to you!
Pre-Travel Safety Purchases
Here are some items I used during my time in Myanmar that kept me safe from sunburn, mosquitoes and eased communication generally. Even if you don’t purchase these specific items, by clicking on a link and purchasing anything, this blog will receive a tiny percentage of your purchase price at no additional cost to you! Please join in supporting this website. Thanks so much!!!
The sun is strong in Myanmar, and you’ll be outdoors all day having great experiences. You can buy a cool hat at a local market for about $1 USD. You can also try thanaka, the local decorative sunscreen. However, word on the street is that western sunscreen with an SPF rating works better! I’d recommend bringing your sunscreen with you, as it’s difficult to find in Myanmar, even in cities.
Pro Travel Tip:
A hard bottle is less likely than a squeeze bottle to get squished in your luggage and explode all over your clothes!
More skin safety: Who wants itchy ankles from mosquitoes that attack in the evening while you’re eating dinner? I take wipes, rather than a bottle, and they work great! No DEET spills on my clothes!
Got allergies that could make Myanmar scary for you? Or, just want to learn some greetings? These phrasebooks have you covered, allowing easy communication with others.
Does Myanmar seem like a dangerous place to you? Let’s chat. Comment below with your thoughts.
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