Accessing the Internet in Burma / Myanmar

In Get Connected, Stay Safe and Secure by Dustin Main17 Comments

This article is part of a series on the state of technology in Burma / Myanmar from a traveler’s perspective. Check out more from this fascinating country as it races to catch up to support the techy needs of today’s traveler.

I’ve been traveling in and out of Burma / Myanmar for the past 3 years. Since we’ve last caught you up to the internet situation in Burma / Myanmar 18 months ago, things have changed quite a bit. While you still shouldn’t be expecting the internet speeds of South Korea, or the mobile coverage of… well, frankly anywhere else on earth, things are at least moving in the right direction.

Here’s what to expect on your next trip to Burma / Myanmar.

Availability & Cost

Once limited to only the most posh of hotels for foreigners and the odd internet cafe, access to the internet is spreading within the country, and certainly anywhere in and around the tourist trail.

Free Wifi at Shwedagon Pagoda. © Dustin Main 2014

Free Wifi at Shwedagon Pagoda. © Dustin Main 2014

For the traveler, nearly all guesthouses in the major tourist spots such as Yangon, Mandalay, Inle Lake and Bagan offer WiFi. If yours doesn’t, you may be able to find a fancier cafe or restaurant that does — or failing that, use a local internet cafe to stay connected.

While access and speeds are much improved from years past, don’t expect the kind of speeds that would let you watch a Youtube video. Uploading your photos of laphet thoke to Instagram shouldn’t be much of a problem any more, but it’s still best if you stick to the essentials.

Laphet thoke... just before being shoved into my face.

Laphet thoke… just before being shoved into my face. © Dustin Main 2014

WiFi access is now the norm, and you shouldn’t need to plug into Ethernet if you want to use your own computer at an internet cafe. It’s worth keeping in mind that the staff there may or may not be able to help you out with any connection issues or technical snafus. Expect to pay between 200 kyat (~$0.25) and 1000 kyat (~$1.25) per hour at an internet cafe. Some cafes charge a bit more than the local rate for foreigners.

Mobile internet is realistically still a no-go as high SIM card rates, poor coverage, and slow speeds make it a poor option for travelers. We expect some changes in the next 6-12 months on this front, and will update you when they happen.

Censorship

Like a lot of regimes, the Burma / Myanmar government has tried to work in some censorship when it comes to the internet, albeit quite poorly. It’s best to know that some websites may still be blocked, though it is hardly to the extent of the “Great Firewall of China.”

I’ve heard that the Democratic Voice of Burma has been difficult to access while in the country on occasion, but generally this kind of censorship isn’t terribly common anymore. I would highly recommend that anyone working or reporting in the country use a VPN at all times to encrypt your internet connection. More details below.

Speed

Speeds have steadily increased in the past couple of years, but you still shouldn’t expect speeds like you would find in the west, or even neighboring countries like Thailand and Malaysia.

A monk shares a video with a group of kids. © Dustin Main

A monk shares a video with a group of kids. © Dustin Main 2014

Expect to share the connection with a dozen or two users at a guesthouse or an internet cafe. Speeds are best in the morning, and get progressively worse throughout the day. In most places outside major cities, a Skype call (voice only) would still be difficult.

The best connections are to be found in the capital of Nay Pyi Taw and Pyin Oo Lwin, a resort town west of Mandalay with a bit of a tech scene (Myanmar’s future “Silicon Valley”). Next fastest would be major hotels in Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan.

The poorest connections are in the rural areas, often still struggling with painfully slow satellite connections. The fastest connection I’ve found myself on was at the JJ Express shop at Yangon’s long-distance bus station in February 2014. This tells me that things are changing quite rapidly these days.

 

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Make the Best of It

So expect problematic access, frustrating load times, and power outages that leave you with no access whatsoever. When you do that, anything will be good. This is a country where managed expectations are important, and internet access is just the tip of the iceberg. Here are some tips for the connected traveler.

Turn off Unnecessary Connections

I’m convinced that this is the largest drain on guesthouse WiFi. Please turn off your Dropbox, Google Drive, and other data-intensive syncing / backup services like Crashplan or Mozy.

This includes your notebook computer, as well as your smartphone — especially Dropbox’s handy “Camera Upload” feature, and the Apple and Google+ automatic photo backups. Turn them off while you’re in the country.

2014-06-28 22.10.07 2014-06-28 22.11.07

Use a VPN

We highly recommend using a VPN whenever you travel, but particularly in a country where your access to information may be limited in any way. In Burma / Myanmar, you may run into censorship as well as online banking issues due to ongoing sanctions. This includes logging into Paypal and other financial services.

With a VPN, you can securely connect through another country, giving you safe and secure access to your online banking accounts that would otherwise be blocked or cause your account to be locked out.

In terms of security, using a VPN will also ensure your data can’t be snooped by the others on your shared internet connection, the internet provider, or the government.

Cache Your E-Mail

You can spend all day going through your e-mail on a poor internet connection in the country. Dropped or slow connections can mean errors, timeouts, and lost work, not to mention wasted time.

If you have a smartphone, it will likely cache your e-mail for you automatically. After it is finished, disconnect from the internet, sort and reply to your e-mails offline throughout the day, then come back in the evening to connect again and send off what was sitting in your outbox.

If you are using a notebook with a Gmail account, install and sync with Gmail Offline for Google Chrome (free) before you enter the country. This will give you access to your e-mail (specific labels and timeframes) going back a few weeks or more.

When you connect to the internet, it will automatically sync your messages over the course of a few minutes. Once this sync is complete, you won’t have issues replying, or page timeouts while moving between messages.

Sunset at Bagan © Dustin Main 2014

Sunset at Bagan © Dustin Main 2014

Burma / Myanmar still isn’t the kind of place where you’ll want to work as a digital nomad, but at the improvements in the past couple of years do make it easier to travel and stay online. Trust me, you won’t want to wait to share your first sunset in Bagan with the rest of the world.

Have you traveled in Burma / Myanmar? What was your experience with the internet like?

Everything you need to know about staying online on your next trip to Burma / Myanmar.
About the Author

Dustin Main

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Dustin just can't get enough travel or technology, but when he's not directly feeding one of those insatiable habits, you can probably find him at some far away ice cream shop taking pictures of empty cups. That, or on top of a mountain somewhere shooting photos and finding adventures to share on his website "A Skinny Escape".

Comments

  1. Man, you should have tried using the internet in 2006 in Myanmar. What a disaster! Only a couple of wifi shops in Yangon, sites like hotmail were blocked (though the employees were great at bypassing blocked sites) and it took about 10X the amount of time to just check emails. Glad to hear Myanmar is finally moving into the late ’90s and if they’re paying any attention to Thailand, they’ll have it together sooner than later. Still, a part of me wishes it were 2006 when it wasn’t full of tourists.

    1. Author

      I hear ya Bruce. When my favorite guesthouse added wifi in late 2013, I was a little bummed to say the least. I spent a month there in early 2013 specifically because the internet wasn’t right at my fingertips.

      I can only imagine what it was like in 2006…

  2. Hello Dustin, thank you for your updated post. I have received a job offer to work in Myanmar in Yangon and i am contemplating hard with internet connection as one of the important criteria because i need to be connected to my relatives and friends back home. My kids also love internet surfing (FB, Tumbler, Youtube) and connection is definitely one of the major considerations in moving. When do you see significant improvement in speed in Yangon? My kids are used to the speed in Manila. Thanks so much and more power to your blog !

    1. Author

      Hey Jade,

      I’m currently back in Myanmar now, and I have mixed reviews to give you.

      Typically, connections are still awful. That means that sometimes information flows, and other times… well, not so much. Occasionally, there are flashes of brilliance.

      Case in point, many days I find myself surfing (slower than I would like) and then all of a sudden, it slows to a crawl.

      On the other hand, late last night I was able to download at speeds reaching 575KB/sec down which blew my mind. I was able to download about 5GB overnight, probably several times more than I’ve been able to download *in total* in the country in the 8ish months I’ve spent here over the past few years.

      A speed test I just ran clocked me in at a much more modest 1/30th of that.

      Things are changing rapidly, and I don’t have first hand experience of the internet speeds in Manila, but most times I’m not able to watch a short youtube video without it stopping to cache a dozen times.

      Hope that helps!

  3. Hi Dustin, thanks for your post! I was wondering, I happen to have planned my trip to Burma so that it overlaps with a skype interview that I have (great, I know) in January. I was wondering whether the best places (so I’m guessing Nay Pyi Taw or Yangon) would be good enough to do that, and also would more expensive Hotels be better with wifi, or are internet cafes faster? Thanks!

    1. Author

      Hey Flurin,

      On my last trip in October, I managed to use Google Hangouts (video for a min or two, then just audio) in Kalaw, but I’d say that the cutouts would make it difficult for business calls.

      Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw and Pyin Oo Lwin would be your best bets. Yangon has a co-working space for $15/day, or try a fancy hotel like the Sule Shangri-la. Speeds are usually best in the morning or maybe overnight.

      If you don’t need video (which is asking a lot of the internet in Myanmar…), you could make a landline or mobile phone call that wouldn’t be too expensive and likely much more reliable. We have a post on buying a SIM in Myanmar that will be going live shortly. The rates for calls overseas are reasonable I found.

  4. I’m travelling to Myanmar Feb 13, 2015, and wonder about what technology to bring along for my 2-1/2 week trip, in order to make audio Skype calls to Canada, use GMail, and use Facebook.

    I could bring any of the following: iPhone, iPad, or 11″ Apple Airbook.

    The advantage of the iPhone and iPad are that they use Wifi. However, the Airbook could use either Wifi or a LAN cable. Will there be instances when cable is available only with a cord, but there’s no Wifi?

    Can you advise if there are problems with electricity going on and off in Myanmar? This could affect the recharging of camera batteries, etc.

    Does Facebook happen to be blocked in Myanmar? Thanks for your help!

    1. Hi Noreen,

      If your iPhone is unlocked for international use, or can be, I’d suggest bringing that. You can now buy a local Ooredoo SIM card cheaply in Myanmar (see this recent post for details), which gives you more chance of getting a working connection as long as you’re somewhere that has coverage — but much of the country still doesn’t, even in tourist areas.

      Regardless of whether you’re using WiFi or 3G, though, you’ll probably need to lower your expectations around what’s possible with regards to Internet. It’s very inconsistent, and even on a good day, a Skype call, audio or otherwise, may not be possible. On a bad day, it definitely won’t be — in fact, at times, you’ll be unable to load a web page or check your email.

      I didn’t see anywhere that had only a LAN cable — with Internet access being so new, it’s probably relatively unlikely to find anywhere that only has a cabled option.

      Electricity will go on and off, but far less so than even a year or two ago. I didn’t have any problems keeping everything charged, with only the occasional power outage for relatively short periods of time. Facebook wasn’t blocked for me.

  5. What a great post! Thank you!!! I was hoping to go to Burma in a few weeks, but was concerned about wifi access. I’ll need to work every few days, so glad to hear the good news! I trudged through the Ethiopian internet, hopefully this is at least comprable if not better. Can you share some more information about this co-working space in Yangoon? Are there other “working” spaces like this in other areas of the country?

    1. Author

      Thanks Mollie!

      I just arrived back from my last trip a few days ago and I have some new things to add.

      1) Internet access seems to be speeding up, particularly in Yangon, but the speeds are still hardly reliable, particularly in the day time.

      2) Two co-working spaces in Yangon that I know of:
      Project HUB http://www.projecthubyangon.com/
      SuleTech http://new.suletech.org/

      3) Unlikely that you’ll find other co-working spaces in the country, or at least anything that would be marketed to foreigners. The business of the country revolves around Yangon.

      4) You could potentially tether a phone with a local SIM (Ooredoo or Telenor) in a major center, but again while you may get bursts of speed, the connections are hardly stable.
      https://toomanyadapters.com/buying-sim-card-myanmar-burma/

      Hope that helps!

  6. In Yangon at least, cellphone internet is speeding up considerably. An MPT or Ooredoo card can be bought for nothing, and the prepaid internet plans are as low as USD5.59 per Gigabyte. Laptop dongles can be bought in Technoland so the sim cad can be used on a laptop, complete with software to interface and make calls with the network.

    I’ve had recent skype calls using both MPT and Ooredoo in Yangon without trouble. Outside of Yangon success varies however and Ooredoo or Telenor are mostly unavailable. The reception for telenor in general is quite terrible.

    The best plans for an MPT card: http://www.mpt.com.mm/en/product-services/mobile/swe-thahar/
    The best plans for Ooredoo: http://www.ooredoo.com.mm/en/Personal/Plans/Prepaid/Internet-Pack.aspx

    1. Author

      Thanks David! We posted a SIM guide here https://toomanyadapters.com/buying-sim-card-myanmar-burma/ and I’ll probably update the “state of the internet” again in the next few months. Things are changing fast, almost week to week it seems. Crazy Burma.

      I actually found that Telenor was more reliable than Ooredoo in a bunch of places outside Yangon/NPD/Mandalay, but it really depends. I was switching SIMs from time to time to see what worked best.

  7. heard there are 3 vendors for adsl connection but what is the best vendor between MPT, red link and Yatanarpon Teleport ?

  8. Dustin, thanks for the blog, I am considering a job offer in Myanmar and wanted to know the real status there. How about Political views and security, what is the condition? Heard recently in news regarding Indian Army…etc.

    1. Author

      Too much to say, but there is an election planned for later this year, and that will probably say a lot in terms of whether the government is actually interested in meaningful change, or just holding power.

      Worth looking up some of the expat communities on facebook or meetup and reaching out to them for more info about their experience working over there.

  9. myanmar internet very very slow and very expensive. why is it?
    last i using in malaysia TM UNIFI is installing free , two months free and 60GB/RM149/Mths, FREE TV ,LINE PHONE. NO NEED BUY ANY LUNCH CABLE . SO anything free free free ……………….

    please check with myanmar money.

    how much difference?

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