Fast times in Myanmar

November 26, 2013

Myanmar is an emerging tourist destination nestled between India, China and Thailand. Being a union of many different ethnic regions the country comes with a diverse range of traditions and customs. It is a country defined by its difficult past and promising future; you can’t help but notice the burgeoning optimism of the Myanmar people. Come with an open mind and sense of adventure and you won’t leave disappointed.

Rapid transformation and getting up to date information

Since the country started opening up in 2010 when the government began to transition towards a democracy it has been undergoing an incredibly rapid pace of change. It is quite hard to get up to date information and we found traditional media like the Lonely Planet books fall out of date very quickly. Your best bet is to just have a quick Google before you go.

Cash

Myanmar is a cash based society but now it’s a lot easier to get money than mentioned in LP.

You can now change money at the airport and banks at a much more realistic rate in line with that on the ‘black market’. As a bonus you don’t have to worry about an unlicensed dealer short-changing you a couple of thousand Kyat. USD 100 and 50 will get a preferential rate. Keep in mind that you will only be able to change USD, EUR or SGD.

ATMs are everywhere in Yangon, Mandalay, and even smaller town areas such as Inle Lake and Bagan. You’ll be safe in most tourist places. The ATMs often run out of cash but we had no trouble withdrawing Kyat off a card backed by MasterCard. You can withdraw up to 300,000 Kyat but there is a 5000 Kyat transaction fee.

Transportation

It’s really easy to get around, especially using the intercity bus system. The roads are in pretty good nick and there are many expressways between the main centres contrary to what LP says. The air conditioned buses are all modern and comfortable and the overnight services save you a lot of money on accommodation.

Accommodation

Accommodation is a little expensive compared to similar SE Asian countries. Guest houses and hotels need a license to host foreigners so I suspect the limited choices in addition to these license fees push up the price. Prices have increased as much as 100% since LP was last published (Jul 2012) but you can still find a couple of reasonably priced places.

Internet

Free WiFi is available at most accommodation and some restaurants. It’s not working about 70% of the time and about as fast as dial up but at least it’s prevalent. We didn’t come across any censored sites but we didn’t try skype – it was so slow we didn’t even bother.

Taxis

Taxis are all fixed rate but fares are highly negotiable. We found that taxis on the street generally gave a pretty fair price right off however taxi drivers at transportation hubs like a bus station will almost always quote an inflated price – some more than double! Always know how much it should cost and how far you need to travel beforehand and be prepared to negotiate.

From the Yangon bus station (Aung Mingalar bus station) to the city centre should cost about 7000 Kyat – once you hop off the bus don’t be surprised if some of the more ambitious ask for 15,000+ Kyat.

At the bus station in Mandalay we found the Taxi drivers approached you in a mob fashion which made it difficult to negotiate the original 8000 offer – they even chased other taxis away! A fair price should be about 5,000 Kyat.

Postcards

Used to cost 30 Kyat to send a postcard internationally, however it now costs 500 Kyat.

Try visit sooner rather than later

Myanmar is becoming more like other more popular SE Asian countries day by day as the number of tourists increase. We felt that it had already lost some of its mystique as it modernises but it’s an amazing country to visit. Rich culture, complex history, old ruins and temples, and really friendly people.