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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.
Note that we updated our coverage of internet access in the country in July 2014.
Technology is changing fast in Burma / Myanmar. After a years of being essentially cut off from the rest of the world, it is making up for lost time, and access to the internet is progressing quickly.
For the connected traveler, convenient access to the internet is almost a necessity, and one we often take for granted. Although that last 12 months has seen a remarkable improvement in infrastructure, it’s not anywhere near what you would expect from its neighbours in South East Asia.
We have what you need to know, and some tips to make the best of it.
Availability & Cost
Once limited to only the most posh of hotels for foreigners and the odd internet cafe, access to internet is spreading within the country, at least within many towns (5000+ inhabitants).
For the traveler, many guesthouses in the major tourist spots such as Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan offer wifi. If yours doesn’t, you may be able to find a fancier cafe or restaurant with WiFi, and failing that, a local internet cafe to stay connected.
WiFi access is becoming more of the norm, but keep in mind that there are still many internet cafes that don’t offer wifi, and you may need to plug into Ethernet if you want to use your own computer. The staff there may or may not be able to help you out.
Expect to pay between 200kyat (~$0.25) and 1000kyat (~$1.25) per hour at an internet cafe. I have heard of some cafes charging a bit more for foreigners.
Like a lot of regimes, Burma / Myanmar government tries to work some censorship when it comes to the internet, albeit quite poorly. During the elections in April of this year, I found some major news sites blocked (cnn.com), while others (bbc.co.uk) were open.
It’s best to know that some websites are blocked, though it is hardly to the extent of the “Great Firewall of China.” I met a fellow photographer in Yangon who had a series of nudes in his online portfolio. His website was blocked, likely for using the word “nudes” rather than being singled out.
Speeds have increased greatly in the past 12 months, but in most places, expect serious wait times. Many internet cafes and guesthouses work off of expensive, newly installed ADSL lines. As recently as 4 months ago, a line in Yangon cost $2000 to run, while now it is $500. They are typically 1 megabit (down).
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. Most places outside of the major cities, a Skype call would be difficult if not impossible.
This speed test was done at a particularly fast cafe in Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake).
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. Next fastest would be major hotels in Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. The poorest connections would be in the rural areas, often with painfully slow satellite connections.
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. 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, cloud storage, and other data-intensive syncing services. This includes your notebook computer, as well as your smartphone.
Beware the Proxy
Not as big of a deal as it used to be, but still an issue. If you are connecting to an internet cafe that is using a satellite connection, you may need to use a proxy. These are most often found in smaller, more rural towns off of the regular tourist trail. The staff may be able to assist you, but if not, here is what you will need to know if you can connect, but can’t seem to visit any websites.
ygncache.mpt.net.mm port 8080
For Windows, you will need to put this in under Internet Options –> Connections –> Local Area Network (LAN) Settings –> Proxy Server
This proxy server information can also be used for your Android, iOS, or OSX smartphones or computers.
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.
With a VPN, you can securely connect through another country, giving you safe and secure access to your Paypal & online banking accounts that would otherwise be blocked or cause your account to be locked out.
In terms of security, using a VPN will ensure that your data can’t be snooped by the others on your shared internet connection, the ISP, or the government.
Earlier this year, I had difficulties accessing some of my Witopia VPN servers, but a quick live chat with their support team, and I was given access to additional servers that took care of the issue. Don’t be afraid to ask your VPN provider for help.
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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 lost 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.
Improvements in the availability, cost, and speed of internet access are noticeable in the country, even in the past 6 months. If you come in prepared and know what you are in for, you’ll be best apt to navigate the slow and often painful speeds.
Have you traveled in Burma / Myanmar? What was your experience with the internet like?