For many travelers that like to go on off-the-beaten-path explorations, Myanmar is a dream destination. The mysterious Southeast Asian country doesn’t receive as many visitors as neighboring Thailand but has a lot to offer the intrepid people who do venture here.
Myanmar’s cities and towns contain beautiful Buddhist temples such as the Shwedagon Pagoda and the Kyaik Htee Yoe Pagoda, which is perched precariously on top of a boulder.
Myanmar also has beautiful nature, which you can explore around the Mandalay Hill, Kalaw, and many other beautiful regions. Plus, get to know the delicious cuisine and friendly people.
Myanmar is a country not many people know a lot about, so you probably want to do research before you go there. You want to know how to plan your trip and most importantly, if it is safe to go.
But don’t worry — we’ve done the hard work for you. We’ll show you whether there are any safe areas in Myanmar, how to avoid the bad ones, crimes and hazards you can expect, and more. Let us be your guide!
Is Myanmar Safe to Visit?
Unfortunately, Myanmar is not safe to visit right now. The instability in the country has gotten much worse since the military coup d’état in February 2021.
Visitors are in danger of getting caught in an armed conflict, civil unrest, illegal detention, and other horrors. Plus, due to the unrest, there is no deterrence for crime or any protection for crime victims.
Foreign governments are fairly uniform in their advice for travelers that want to visit Myanmar — don’t go. The United States State Department has the whole country under a “Level 4: Do Not Travel” advisory.
Civil unrest is widespread throughout the country, and the resources of the United States government as well as other Western governments to provide consular services to their nationals stuck in Myanmar is very limited. The warning not to go to Myanmar is echoed by other countries.
Myanmar’s recent history has been tumultuous to say the least, and the tumult explains why it’s not the best idea to visit right now.
For decades, Myanmar was under a strict isolationist military regime that started easing in 2011. However, even after most of the country saw steps towards democracy, the military carried out an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya people in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Things culminated on February 1st, 2021, when the military carried out a coup, bringing the country under its control again. The two years since the coup have been a time of deep uncertainty and danger for Myanmar.
The military’s control over the country is sporadic yet violent. The Tatmadaw, or military, brutally cracks down on any form of dissent and has enacted martial law.
Many people have been illegally detained or arrested, and some have disappeared — the UN estimates the death toll was 1,500 people in the first year of military rule.
In some regions of the country, the coup and resulting instability fueled deep-seated resistance including ethnic separatists. While most of these problems primarily affect Myanmar’s people, foreigners are not immune.
Foreigners, particularly journalists, activists, and civil society workers, are at risk of arbitrary detention. In November 2022, the junta finally released four foreign nationals that had been detained for months.
The power of foreign governments to provide consular support in Myanmar in case you get into trouble is very limited.
The instability created by the coup has a direct effect on tourists. Although accurate crime statistics for Myanmar are nearly impossible to find, we do know that law enforcement is not very even-handed.
The coup made the economic situation in an already-poor country even more unstable, meaning that crimes of opportunity such as pickpocketing are prevalent.
Plus, various groups across Myanmar carry out terrorist attacks regularly, sometimes targeting institutions where foreigners spend time.
To recap, if you decide to visit Myanmar, you have to worry about:
- Civil unrest
- Arbitrary detention
- Martial law
- Armed conflict
- Landmines in rural areas
With all that in mind, it’s probably a good idea to postpone your trip to Myanmar.
Crime in Myanmar
It’s a little difficult to get accurate crime statistics for Myanmar. The military government does not have complete control over the country (much as it would like to be in full control), so it does not have statistics for all regions.
Government resources are focused on political repression, not investigating crime. Plus, the Tatmadaw of Myanmar are infamous for their secrecy, so it’s unlikely that they would share information about crimes with the world.
Their goal is to project an illusion of total control and that military rule is a good thing for Myanmar, which high crime statistics would undermine.
As a look at how difficult crime statistics are to collect in Myanmar, let’s look at the intentional homicide rate collected by Macrotrends.
Allegedly, the crime rate in 2020 was 0.01 incidents per 100,000 people, a decline of 99.59% compared to the previous figure of 2.26 incidents per 100,000 people in 2016.
We don’t have accurate crime statistics, but anecdotal evidence and investigations by foreign embassies can give you an idea of the crime situation in Myanmar.
The UK government says that the violent crime rates involving foreigners are low, perhaps because people under martial law have other problems. However, crimes of opportunity do happen, including online scams, pickpocketing, and gem scams.
The most violent crime tourists can be victims of in Myanmar is terrorism. The military coup has led to an increase in terrorism, especially by different groups fighting to wrest control away from the current government.
Groups usually target government and security buildings with bombs, IEDs, and other explosives, but there have been cases where places where foreigners frequent, such as hotels and restaurants, get attacked. In 2021, Myanmar was the country with the biggest rise in terrorism deaths.
Even though crime rates are probably low, that doesn’t make Myanmar a safe place to visit, so keep in mind that information about crime is not the full picture.
Pickpocketing and Petty Theft
Experienced travelers are used to protecting themselves from pickpockets, but many people are shocked when they go on vacation and their wallet doesn’t come back with them.
Pickpocketing and petty theft is a problem that affects tourist destinations worldwide, and Myanmar is no different. The vast economic gulf between most locals and the foreigners that venture to Myanmar to come visit creates the perfect storm for crimes of opportunity.
People take advantage of distracted tourists to snatch unattended bags or pick pockets. Beware of people trying to distract you in the street, for example with a street performance.
Usually, they are working with an accomplice who will take your things. Scams are also common in Myanmar. The most common is the gem scam. The Canadian government’s travel advisory page for Myanmar advises tourists to beware of merchants selling gems or jewelry on the street.
The prices are lower than in the West and merchants lure tourists in with the promise of reselling items at home. However, the items are actually worthless, and the tourist overspent on a jewel made of paste.
Online scams are often based in Myanmar due to lack of regulations. Be careful of anyone asking you to come to Myanmar with the promise of money or a lucrative work contract as those are the most frequent scams.
The most dangerous crime tourists will probably encounter during their stay in Myanmar is terrorism. The Australian government warns its citizens against any travel to Myanmar, in part due to terrorism.
Attacks on government buildings are frequent, but so are attacks on places where people congregate such as public transportation and shopping malls.
Attacks can happen anywhere, both remote rural provinces where separatists are powerful, and in urban centers where resisters against the regime try to target military installations. It’s hard to avoid terrorist attacks completely because they are by definition random.
You can try minimizing your risk by avoiding travel during public holidays and anniversaries of the military regime, when attacks and unrest are more frequent, but you can’t eliminate your risk altogether.
Terrorism is not the only form of mass violence you might encounter while in Myanmar. Civil unrest is frequent, despite military law banning all protests and organized gatherings of large groups of people.
Avoid being caught near a protest as the military arbitrarily detains people it suspects of dissent. Certain regions and towns, including Yangon the capital, are under martial law, so avoid traveling there if you can.
Avoiding Bad Areas
No area in Myanmar is necessarily safe. However, there are certain regions of the country that are more dangerous than others.
Outside of the capital, many regions have ongoing armed conflicts against the state or between ethnic groups. Any border areas in Myanmar are dangerous as these are the regions where conflict is concentrated.
For example, Rakhine State near the Bangladesh border has one of Myanmar’s longest-running conflicts, the state persecution of the Rohingya people.
Besides armed groups and frequent clashes, border areas have the highest concentration of unmarked landmines. Other states that have higher-than-usual rates of armed conflict, even for Myanmar’s standards, are Chin, Kachin, and the northern Shan States.
Shan and Kachin state have a lot of armed groups fighting the government and each other. Kayin and Kayah states also saw a lot of fierce resistance to the regime and fighting bled into the neighboring Mon state.
Always research your destinations in Myanmar ahead of time on the village level. Towns within the same state can have drastically varying levels of safety. Avoid any place with a military curfew in place as that has higher repression.
Things to Consider
Here are a few other things to keep in mind if you’re still not convinced that traveling to Myanmar is not a good idea right now:
- Even if you’re willing to risk traveling to Myanmar, think about if it is the ethical thing to do. Many adventure tourists are opting against traveling to Myanmar because they worry (with good reason) that their money will go to the junta.
- Be careful when traveling and interacting with locals. Don’t open sensitive political topics. Sometimes, even visiting will lead to the military surveilling the people you interact with.
- Don’t take photos of military installations, soldiers, or government buildings.
- Monsoon season lasts from May to October, and the country is prone to flooding during this time.
Frequently Asked Questions
It’s always better to go on an unfamiliar journey with as much information as possible, so here are some more questions about Myanmar you might want answered:
Is Myanmar safe for tourists in 2023?
No, Myanmar is not safe for tourists in this present year. Although the junta is issuing tourist visas again as part of its propaganda push, the risk of armed conflict, civil unrest, and terrorism is still very high.
What should I avoid Myanmar?
In Myanmar, avoid getting on the wrong side of the military government. Even small infractions, such as using illegal drugs, are punishable by death. In terms of politeness, avoid insulting the Buddha, wearing revealing clothing, or pointing, as all of these things are considered very rude.
Is Myanmar worth visiting?
At any other time, Myanmar would be worth visiting. The country has beautiful nature untouched by mass tourism and unique Buddhist architecture. However, the current arrest does not make it worth the risk to your safety.
Is Myanmar still at war?
Yes, Myanmar is still at war. There is an ongoing civil war between the military government, the parliament in exile, and various ethnic and armed groups throughout the country.
Can you drink alcohol in Myanmar?
Yes, you can drink alcohol in Myanmar. However, locals don’t drink that much because it goes against their religious principles and drinking in public outdoor spaces is illegal. Be very careful regarding alcohol laws when traveling there.
So, Is Myanmar Safe to Visit in 2023?
You should probably save your trip to Myanmar for some other time. The ongoing civil war and military repression makes the country an unsafe place to visit, and your embassy won’t be able to bail you out of trouble.
But while it may not be safe now, that could very well change in the years to come. But in the meantime, there are plenty of safe neighboring countries that have similar culture and historical sights. Be sure to let us know where you end up going, and happy travels!