Leeds United post-season tour: Where is Burma and is it safe to travel there?

Leeds United have announced they will play two friendlies in the south-east Asian nation of Burma soon after the Championship season ends.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 24th April 2018, 11:53 am
Updated Tuesday, 24th April 2018, 1:51 pm

The Whites - minus their players with upcoming international commitments - will play against the national side and a select XI from the country's main domestic competition, the Myanmar National League, in May.

Where is Burma?

Burma is a former British colony in south-east Asia, now officially known as Myanmar. It has borders with Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Laos and China. About one third of the country's perimeter is coastline. The population is 54 million. The largest city is Yangon (formerly Rangoon) which was the colonial capital.

The British waged several Burmese wars in the 19th century and succeeded in occupying the country, which bordered the Raj. It was granted independence in 1948 and became a democracy, but a coup in 1962 led to a long period under military rule.

The country's myriad ethnic groups have been involved in a long-running civil conflict, which has led to concerns over human rights violations. In 2011, the military dictatorship finally ended and a civilian government was elected. Political prisoners, including the well-known Aung San Suu Kyi, were released and foreign relations improved, although some unrest remains. Kyi's party won the 2015 election, but the military remains powerful in the political arena.

Is it safe to travel there?

Leeds United will play their matches in the major cities of Yangon and Mandalay, which do not appear on the official list of Burmese areas that foreign tourists should avoid.

However, if you wish to see the rest of the country, the Foreign Office advises British travellers against non-essential visits to parts of Rakhine State, although the tourist resort of Ngapali is considered safe.

There is still active armed conflict in the Paletwa township in Chin State, and you should seek specialist advice from tour operators before visiting Mount Victoria in Mindat.

Journeys on the railway from Mandalay to Kyaukme and Hsipaw are considered dangerous, and the airport of Lashio is not classed as safe to use. Travel to Kachin State is also not advised.

According to the Foreign Office, visitors should avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings, and should not take photos or video of police, military buildings or personnel, or protest activity.

The situation in ethnic states is described as 'volatile' and particular care is advised near to the Thai and Chinese borders.

Burma is also considered to be vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

There are areas of the country where British Embassy officials cannot travel without permission from the Burmese government, and consular assistance can be restricted.

Visitors are advised to check in advance that their credit and debit cards will work in Burma and to take out full medical insurance.

Where can I visit after the football?

Yangon and Mandalay are historic cities, and there are also religious sites in Mon State, Pindaya, Bago and Hpa-An, natural beauty spots such as Inle Lake, ancient cities Bagan and Mrauk-U and beaches such as Nabule and Ngapali.

How do I get there?

Most travellers arrive by air from Thailand. UK airlines do not fly there, although you can travel directly from Japan, Qatar, Taiwan, South Korea, Germany and Singapore. Most services are operated by Thai airlines.

Burma is not connected to any other country by bus or train, and you cannot travel across the border by car at most points - although you can walk. Sea entry is also not possible.

A return ticket with Thai Airways from London Heathrow to Yangon, with a stopover at Bangkok, is available for £506, departing on May 7 and returning on May 12. The flight time is over 14 hours.

You can also fly to Mandalay from Heathrow with Singapore Airlines, with stops in Singapore and Yangon.

How good is the national team?

The side has played as Myanmar since 1989. They have had success in the past, and were Asian Cup runners-up in 1968. They played their first World Cup qualifying competition in 1997. They have also won the Asian Games.

Political unrest led to issues with infrastructure and player retention, and the team went into decline.

There has been a resurgence since the 2011 reforms, and German manager Gerd Zeise oversaw significant progress. The under-20s qualified for the World Cup in 2015, the country's first ever participation in a FIFA tournament.

The senior side failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after a disastrous campaign, and were defeated by Kyrgyzstan in the 2019 Asian Games qualifying event.

Their home ground is the Thuwunna Stadium in Yangon, which has a capacity of 50,000.

The majority of the squad play in the country's domestic league, although two players are contracted to professional clubs in Thailand.