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Useful Tips For Traveling To Myanmar

by on July 29, 2014 · 42 comments

in Allied Passport, TPG Contributors, Trip Reports

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TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen recently returned from a round-the-world trip where one of his stops was a week-long journey around Myanmar. Here are his tips for traveling to and around this fascinating Southeast Asian destination. Check out Eric’s other posts from his Asia adventure: Flying a Round the World Award Using US Airways MilesWhat To Do On A Visit To Luang Prabang, LaosNorwegian Air Intra-European 737-800 OSL-ARNCathay Pacific Economy BKK-HKGSingapore Economy Class HKG-SIN

Visitors are welcome in Myanmar again.

Visitors are welcome in Myanmar again.

After decades of international sanctions and isolation from their military junta leadership, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) finally seems to be opening up to the outside world, albeit slowly. Elections are scheduled for next year and Myanmar’s main pro-democracy figure, Aung San Suu Kyi (who currently holds a place in parliament after years of being under military house arrest), is expected to run for president. For many years, she urged travelers to avoid Myanmar as a form of protest against the government, but about two years ago as the first of the reforms began, she changed her position and she, along with her National League for Democracy party encourage international tourism as an avenue toward opening up the country further. This NY Times article does a good job explaining the situation and what to keep in mind when making travel plans there.

I spent a week in Myanmar – three nights total in Yangon, two in Bagan and two at Inle Lake. These tips are based on my own planning and experiences, but I would love to hear from any readers who have also been to Myanmar and what they kept in mind during their travels, so please feel free to comment with questions and advice below.

Practical Considerations

Applying for a visa: US citizens require a visa to enter Myanmar. You must apply ahead of time while still in the US, unless you are in Bangkok and can apply for one overnight at the Myanmar embassy there. First, a tourist visa costs $20 in the form of a cashier’s check. It is valid for 28 days upon arrival (one 28-day period, no splitting it up). It takes about 2-3 weeks (mine was 10 business days) for your visa to be approved and your passport to be returned to you. However, your visa is also good up to 3 months starting from the date of issue, so do not apply too soon. You will have to fill out a form explaining what you do for a living, the purpose of your trip, etc. I recommend using Allied Passport and Visa service which I’ve gotten visas through several times before without having to leave home.

You've got to time your visa right.

You’ve got to time your visa right.

I enlisted the services of Allied Passport to help and sent all my materials in to them, they took them over to the Myanmar Consulate in Washington, DC, and about 10 days later I had my passport back along with my new visa. Allied’s standard visa processing fee is $45 though you get a $5 discount through the TPG link.

Seasons: Almost everything I read said the best time to visit Myanmar was the cool season from November-February when temperatures are in the 70’s and 80’s. So much so that I actually thought I’d be visiting a land of torrential rains, floods and mudslides since I was hitting the beginning of wet season. However, the weather in early June was pretty much perfect. Yes, it went up into the 90’s during the day in Yangon and Bagan, and there was a thunderstorm or two in the evenings, but the weather did not disrupt my plans at all, and for the most part it was decent if not what I would call pleasant all the time (it was up near 100 in Bagan one of the days).

Safety: Obviously take the normal precautions you would when traveling abroad – especially if you are carrying around a couple thousand dollars in cash, as you’re likely to given the restrictions on ATM’s and credit cards – but for the most part, you should find Myanmar to be quite safe and easy to navigate, especially compared to many other Southeast Asian countries. People are friendly and helpful, and the crime rate in tourist-frequented areas is very low.

Money Matters

Bring cash: Even just a year or two ago, you couldn’t find an ATM in Myanmar (yes, the whole country) that would accept foreign debit cards and dispense cash. While there are a few in Yangon these days as well as in a couple other tourist destinations, it is still necessary to bring cash in another major currency – preferably US dollars or Euros. From what I could see, ATM’s typically charged about 5,000 kyat ($5) per transaction.

Bring a mix of high and low denominations: I had been told, you actually get the best currency exchange at hotels or in the markets rather than banks, and you get a better rate for higher denominations like $100. For instance, the exchange rate at my hotel was about 980 kyat for $100 bills and just 920 kyat for $20 bills. However, it is still good to have some $5, $10 and $20 bills for paying for things like budget hotels, meals, and if you go out shopping since most prices are quoted in dollars.

You'll get a better exchange rate with higher denominations - be sure your bills are 2009 series or later.

You’ll get a better exchange rate with higher denominations – be sure your bills are 2009 series or later.

Bring new bills: Only crisp, uncreased, unfolded, unmarked bills without any tears will be accepted, whether you are using them to pay for something or just to exchange for Myanmar kyat. Now, you don’t have to be uber-obsessive about this. I had some slightly used $20’s that I just happened to have with me, and I had no issues with them. However, your bills cannot have markings or writing on them, so just try to get some new ones from your bank. They must also be 2009 series or later, so double check the issue date of the bills you bring.

Money limit: Foreigners are required to declare any cash above $2,000 that they are bringing into the country. While I spent a lot less than that during my week full of travel and activities (and only paid for my Yangon hotel with a credit card and the air tickets and hotels in cash), it is still a consideration. The limit is per traveler, though, so if you are traveling with companions or a group, that gives you some more breathing room.

Budget: While it is still possible, and even preferable, to travel cheaply in Myanmar, it is getting harder to do so. Some sources estimate that the cost of the average hotel room shot up nearly 400% from 2012 to 2013 because just so many tourists wanted to visit and there are simply not enough hotel rooms. That means it is going to be harder to stretch your dollars there, but the cost of things like museum and temple admissions, taxi rides and eating out at restaurants is still quite low, so you can still enjoy yourself without breaking the bank.

Domestic Travel Arrangements

Though I was able to book my tickets to/from Myanmar (via Singapore) while I was planning my trip, arranging my travel within the country was a whole other story. I was lucky in that my Yangon hotel, the Shangri-La Sule (which was recently rebranded from Shangri-La’s other line of properties, Traders Hotels) has a business center that will take care of domestic air and hotel arrangements for guests. However, here is what you need to know.

You will most likely have to arrange your in-country travel once you arrive.

You will most likely have to arrange your in-country travel once you arrive.

How to travel: My time was limited so I chose to fly around the country rather than brave the buses or trains. Train travel in Myanmar is notoriously unpredictable – you might arrive a whole day late, there might not be air conditioning, etc. – though buses are apparently better and very cheap, so if you are on a budget they can be a good choice. You can also hire a car to drive you around, though now that the government has built a series of new highways between the major tourist destinations, you likely won’t see much. On the luxury side of things, there are riverboats that ply the Ayeyarwady (Irawady), but keep in mind that these do not run all year round, including when I was there in June, which is just the start of the wet season where the river level is low and there are sand bars.

Sunset over the Ayeyarwady in Bagan.

Sunset over the Ayeyarwady in Bagan.

Flight plans: Chances are, if you’re coming to Myanmar as a tourist and planning to fly, you’ll follow a specific route. There are currently six little domestic airlines (some owned by government insiders and some…less closely tied to the government) that fly a pretty set loop each day from Yangon to Bagan to Mandalay to Heho (Inle Lake) to Yangon, and all the flights depart right around the same time, so you will likely see a lot of the same travelers in each destination and it feels more like a shuttle service than a modern airline trip. Still, the service I experienced on Mann Yadanarpon Airlines and Air KBZ was fast, efficient and on new ATR 72-600’s.

Air tickets: As with most else in Myanmar, when it comes to domestic airline tickets for flying to/from Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake, you will likely have to pay cash once your arrive. The business center at the Shangri-La was actually able to find all the flight options for my itinerary – I wanted to go from Yangon to Bagan for two days, continuing on to Inle Lake, then back to Yangon – price it out, and accept payment for them using a credit card, though that carried a 7% surcharge. It was worth it to me because the hotel was able to confirm the flights and it meant that I could carry about $300 less in cash with me. Otherwise, you can go to a specific airline’s office once you arrive in Yangon and pay for your tickets there. Unless you are going during the height of high season like over the holidays in the West, I suspect you would actually have no problem simply booking your flights once you arrive in the country. I was just being overly cautious.

Hotels: The Shangri-La was also a big help in nailing down my other hotel accommodations in the country. While they actually have a couple hotels in the various tourist destinations that they typically send guests to and quoted me the rates for without my asking, when I pushed back and asked about specific places I was interested in staying, they were able to make the reservations without any problems. They issued me a hotel stay voucher and I just had to pay for the hotels in cash at the business center at the Shangri-La when I arrived in Yangon, so I budgeted for that when deciding how much cash to bring with me.

Communications

Though Myanmar has opened up its lines of communications fairly quickly, the country is still lagging when it comes to the kinds of access Westerners are used to, so be prepared to be without your Instagram feed for large portions of the trip!

Your internet will be spotty - better face it now.

Your internet will be spotty – better face it now.

Internet: Most of the major hotels will offer you free WiFi, and it does work, but it is quite slow, and usually only available for certain parts of the day. The Shangri-La actually is known for having the best internet access in the whole country. Literally. It has a FIOS connection so think about popping into the lobby if you really need to connect. My other hotel in Yangon, the classic Strand Hotel, also had a very good connection with no issues. I was able to Skype at both places as well as emailing and streaming YouTube videos. However, at my hotels in Bagan and Inle Lake, though the internet did work fine at certain times, it did not work at all at others – either in my room or the public areas – so be prepared to be offline for a few days.

Phone: The major US carriers do not offer coverage in Myanmar, so if you really need to stay in touch, you’ll likely have to either pick up a cheap cell phone somewhere else in Asia or in Myanmar itself and buy a local SIM card.

Trying on a local longyi during my visit to Shwedagon Pagoda.

Trying on a local longyi during my visit to Shwedagon Pagoda.

Cultural Considerations

Unlike many other Southeast Asian countries – even those that opened up fairly recently like Vietnam and Cambodia – Myanmar is still very much in the beginning stages of developing its tourism industry. So it is still more conservative than you might expect. For instance, you won’t find much nightlife in Yangon (in fact, you won’t find much open after 10 or 11 at night), and many if not most people still wear traditional dress including the long, colorful wrap-skirts called longyi that both men and women wear. That said, many guidebooks are quite strident about complying with local mores like not pointing your feet at someone (who points with their feet, anyway?) and not dressing like an extra in a Ke$ha video when visiting temples, but just use common sense and you should be okay.

And one final cultural tip – those red puddles you see everywhere, and the red stains on car doors? Try to avoid them. That’s the red juice produced by the betel nuts and leaves people in Myanmar chew and what you see is basically what they have spit out like with chewing tobacco.

Health

Healthcare in Myanmar is a bit precarious so it is a good idea to check out the CDC page on visiting the country and pay a visit to your physician to make sure you have the vaccinations and medications you need.

Travel doctor: I visited my travel doctor about 3 weeks before I went and he made sure I was up to date on the following vaccines: hepatitis A and B, tetanus and typhoid. You also need proof of a yellow fever vaccine if you have recently traveled to regions where it is present, which I had not. My doctor also prescribed me antimalarial medication for my trip. Though Yangon and Bagan are not typically malarial areas, because it was the start of wet season and I was going to Inle Lake, he thought it was a good idea. He also cautioned me that rabies is present in the country so to stay away from animals and if I happened to get bitten by one, to get medical care immediately. Happily, I can report that this did not turn out to be an issue at all.

I traveled to Inle Lake, so my doctor prescribed anti-malarials, but I had no issues with mosquito bites or side effects.

I traveled to Inle Lake, so my doctor prescribed anti-malarials, but I had no issues with mosquito bites or side effects.

Don’t Get Overwhelmed

That might seem like a lot to keep in mind, but really, I found Myanmar to be such an easy, wonderful, charming, and totally mystifying place to travel and I had not a single issue during my stay. It was a little nerve wracking carrying that much cash around, but I felt safe at all times, and I was relaxed and able to enjoy my time there not only thanks to the amazing sights I visited and delightful people I met, but also by just using some common sense and just taking it all in.

Have you been to Myanmar too? What were your experiences like? Share below, and let Eric know if you have any more questions about his trip!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • R B

    I visited Yangoon and Bagan early July. It was one of my favorite trips. It was really hot but it hardly rained.
    As Eric wrote, tourism is just picking up so do not expect European/American standards for accommodation. In Yangon, I stayed at the Strand, which is not worth the money. In Bagan, I stayed at the Bagan Thande hotel, very 80′s hotel but perfectly located within biking distance from most sites.

  • http://alliedpassport.com/ Steve Gempeler

    The atm availability, money exchanges and USD as taken are all great tips!

  • RakSiam

    I spent a couple of weeks in Myanmar a couple of years ago (Nov 2011). So just on the cusp of the tourism “boom”, before hotel prices shot up.

    I made all of my arrangements in advance. I used a travel agency in Bangkok that I’ve used many times, but they did everything through a local agency in Yangon. So if I was going back I would cut out the middle man and work directly with a locally-based agent.

    Things are changing fast, so I’m not sure how much my experiences relate to what is happening today. I stayed at the Parkroyal when I was in Yangon. Wifi didn’t work for me, but they had very fast internet in their business center.

    The most important thing is to pack your patience for travel related things like airports. But the people are charming and sweet and seemed to be very happy to have visitors. I had private guides/drivers on my trip which is the way I prefer to travel.

    Bagan was astounding. The Balloons Over Bagan dawn hot air balloon ride was worth every penny of the $300 I paid for my ride. I also went to Mrauk U which was quite interesting and is off the “big 4″ route so it’s not visited as much. With all the trouble in Rakhine state the last couple of years I don’t know if it’s even possible to go there now. I liked Inle Lake much more than I expected to.

    I don’t think I bothered with anti-malarials when I was there. They make me sick anyway so I avoid the drugs and take precautions to avoid mosquitoes. When it comes to hepatitis vaccinations though it is a course of a couple shots so you should plan in advance if at all possible since you need to space them out by several weeks.

    When I went I got a sticker-type visa that takes up a whole page of the passport.

  • MathildaSFreeman

    This NY Times article does a good job explaining the situation and what to keep in mind when making travel plans there. http://crazyparts.nl/FQqHiX

  • TrixieSF

    I went to Myanmar back in 2005, well before it had opened up to most tourists – I saw no other Americans at all in fact, which I’ve always thought was a crying shame. It’s the kind of destination that most adventurous Americans would love – interesting history, beautiful scenery, otherworldly temples and warm sunny weather.

    I’m so excited to be headed back this fall. The food was absolutely amazing, and I found the people to be very warm and with a great sense of humor — always willing to share a laugh and quite friendly. I can’t wait to go back.

  • http://www.conversocial.com/ Anthony Thomas

    I was there in May 2013, definitely a cash only economy. Exchange rates were good at the airport which is nice, as you can get cash out before you leave the final customs/security part which feels a little more secure.

  • http://www.travellingmcds.com/ James M

    In 2010 when I visited Burma, not only did they have ATM’s in Yangoon that took international cards (non US issued debit), the wifi was surprisingly quick albeit expensive ($1 an hour).

    One tip is to NOT try and use the postal system to send any mail abroad, even post cards. They will simply not arrive. I heard that they will remove the stamps to resell to others.

  • Jonathan

    Was in Burma this past winter and I made a big deal to my wife about the need to bring more US cash. I was totally wrong – Major local bank ATMs were at all the major tourist location (Yangon, Bagan, Inle). As for the postcards – I mailed 5 or 6 on my last day from Mandalay – some of my friends and family got it within 2 weeks on the West Coast. The one I mailed to myself – I got it about 3-4 weeks later…

  • Mr. Cool

    interesting.
    yangon, mandalay. is bagan worth seeing? any other cities to visit? maybe a cheap beach destination?

  • Mr. Cool

    can you recommend a basic itinerary/route please?

  • Mr. Cool

    wrong link

  • Mr. Cool

    youre the first one ive seen to mention anything outside the “big 4″. mrauk u seem kind of interesting.
    any cheap/short river travel options you know of please?

  • Mr. Cool

    @eric
    how much for air tix?

  • RakSiam

    My trip was all arranged through the agency so I didn’t deal directly with any providers so I don’t know about cheap options to Mrauk U. It takes about 6 hours or so for the trip up the river, IIRC. The trip back down to Sittwe was a good bit faster. I wrote a rather lengthy trip report with photos on FlyerTalk a while back (if you search for Myanmar and my username there “glennaa11″ you should find it). As I said, with all of the unrest in that part of the country for the last couple of years I don’t know if travel is allowed these days. It’s a very sad situation. I really met some nice people in Sittwe so the issues there make me very sad.

  • Mike

    I’ll be spending 10 days in Myanmar in October (and in fact just submitted my visa application today), so definitely an aptly timed post for me! I’ll be flying into Yangon, onward to Bagan and flying out of Mandalay towards Thailand.

  • Eric

    $300

  • Martin

    Unfortunately in my prior trips, I never made it to Burma (now Myanmar) due to governmental issues within the country. But if I saw enough of Laos, I would have probably seen enough of Burma. In all my prior trips, since I”m a water activity type person, I like Thailand and the Philippines the most. As for food exploration, I like Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and China the most.

  • [email protected]

    I came back from Myanmar in March and the country was magical!
    We spent two weeks there and by far Bagan and Inle Lake was the best.
    We had the best tour planned for us with Myanmar Sholom with offices in New York and Yangon. Ask for Sammy and tell him Stewie sent you

  • Mr. Cool

    i hear you.
    trip report looks good! thanks. but looks like you created more than 1 part. couldnt find the mandalay, etc part.

    i guess im asking if you know any cheap/short river cruise options anywhere in myanmar.

  • http://www.conversocial.com/ Anthony Thomas

    Yes, 100% imo. Bagan was the primary motivator to that country, I love the concept of exploring temples on a bike and being the only person around at times if you go further out and away from the 5 suggested by Lonely Planet ;)

    I lacked the time for the beach as it’s not right next to an airport (but still only a few hours extra) so did Inle Lake (i.e: 8am flight, arrive at maybe 9:30am, whole day in Inle – so had I allocated more time I’d have gone for beaches too).

  • http://www.conversocial.com/ Anthony Thomas

    even in the big 4 you can go out a bit

    e.g: Mt Popa from Bagan (although hardly a secret), but also a great Vineyard via some back tracks from Inle Lake http://www.redmountain-estate.com/

    It’s hard not to do the big 4 as they’re all so great. If you have more time, branch out.

  • Kristina Bartlett

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  • Mr. Cool

    gotcha.
    sounds cool, but this burmese vineyard soudns like a tourist trap (:
    im going to search for a rickety river boat ride to supplant the big 4.
    -as far as i can discern, manadalay & bagan are basically temples/views destinations?

  • Mr. Cool

    cool. thanks! myanmar is my dream trip, so id like to do it very well.
    any inle lake recommends please?

  • RakSiam

    It’s all there in the same report, just go on to page 2 of the thread http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-reports/1444298-myanmar-burma-couple-weeks.html

  • RakSiam

    Personally I was not a big fan of Mandalay. If I were to skip one of the big 4, it would be Mandalay. Bagan is essentially all temples. But the fact that there are thousands of temples and shrines scattered around the plain is what makes it so magical. They also threw all of the people out a couple of decades ago so Old Bagan is basically frozen in time. Unlike Mrauk U where people still live among the temples.

  • Matthew Mansfield

    Another good place to exchange money is at jewelry stores and any place dealing with precious gems. They will give you a higher exchange rate as they need American currency to buy and trade outside of Myanmar. That may have changed since we were there in 2011.

  • Nadowe

    I disagree with several things in this article. I travelled to Myanmar in February and had access to several ATMs in all of the cities I visited. We didn’t show up with cash or change any money.

  • Mike

    A good way to use miles get to Myanmar using miles is on Cathay from HKG. Using Avios it costs 10,000 in Economy, or 20,000 in Business, one-way.

  • Mr. Cool

    interesting. thanks for the info

  • Jimmy

    Skip Mandalay, perhaps even skip Yangon. Do Bagan and maybe Inle Lake.

  • Jim Eng

    I have traveled to Myanmar about 20 times over the past 7 years. Lots of changes in the cost but the quality is not that great. While in Yangon I always stay at the Hotel Yangon or the Summit Parkview. The Summit Parkview has a great breakfast buffet. If you want to book your airfare before hand contact Joy and Peace travel. They can book your stuff before hand and will recommend and book hotels for you. I was in Sittwee two months ago and there were no problems and you can take a boat to Mrauk U. The Shwe Than Zin hotel can book that for you and is a ok place to stay. Also the Sittwee Hotel is on the beach but the beach is not so nice and it is far from town and will cost you about 6,000 kyats for a round trip to the restaurant. And the dinner will cost you less than 6,000 Kyats. Not a lot to look at in Sittwee but you can fly there from Yangon for about $165.00 US round trip. Bagan is a nice place to visit and you can rent motorbikes for about $5 US for the day and go on your own to look at all the pagodas. Go to the smaller ones and you can explore them by yourself. Very interesting.

  • http://awardtravelwisdom.com/ aureo11

    Bagan and Inle Lake are both musts if you visit Myanmar! Inle Lake is especially beautiful and a unique experience. My wife and I have about 10 posts on our experience in Myanmar on our blog:
    http://awardtravelwisdom.com/inle-lake/

  • Mr. Cool

    thanks. youre the first one ive seen to admit this about skipping. i had a suspicion. though id do rangoon for 1-2 days simply by virtue of flying through it.
    so bagan, inle.. any other places youd recommend?

  • http://awardtravelwisdom.com/ aureo11

    Burma is great! I spent 2 weeks with my wife there in Dec 2013 and we really loved it. As Nadowe pointed out, there are currently ATMs in all the tourist destinations. They will charge about $5 per transaction, so I would always try to take out the machine’s max amount, usually $150 or $250. The funny part is that the 5,000 Kyat (about $5.10) bill is the highest denomination, so you’ll be carrying a lot of bills.

    For a luxury experience, I highly recommend taking a hot air balloon ride over Bagan. Here’s some pics from our experience: http://awardtravelwisdom.com/balloons-over-bagan/

    On the other hand, if you want to experience real life in Myanmar, then take the train. The Slow Train from Thazi is an especially worthwhile experience. We did it backwards, and have some thoughts about that here: http://awardtravelwisdom.com/the-slow-train-from-thazi/

  • RobertHarraka

    I visited Myanmar in January 2014 with my son and had a great time. We went through Myanmar (via a simple Air Asia flight from Bangkok), rented motorcycles from Zach at mandalaymotorbike.com, along with a private guide. The 3 of us went to an orphanage in Mandalay and delivered learning materials, and then to Sagaing, Shwebo & Kyauk Myaung. Shwebo & Kyauk Myaung were not touristy at all, in fact at one of the markets the lady told our guide we were the first foreigners they had ever seen. It was a little adventurous, but we enjoyed seeing the real Myanmar with no tourism around — beautiful, and many many smiling people. If you want to see details, the story & timeline, as well as pictures, go to http://blog.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/robertharraka/1/1389293370/tpod.html .

  • Joe Momma

    I have been to both and Burma is nothing like Laos.

  • esme travels

    Thanks for the Myanmar post. Love reading about others’ impressions of the country.

    RECOMMENDATIONS:

    TRAVEL PLANNING

    · Book early: demand exceeds supply
    · Use Oway for booking flights
    · Use Agoda for booking hotels
    · Bring crisp $100 bills for
    exchanging

    BAGAN

    · Eat at Queen and Mingalabar Food
    Bar
    · Explore the Bagan Archeological
    Zone by e-bike
    · Stay in Old Bagan
    · Buy a map at a major temple
    · Pack warm clothes in the winter

    INLE LAKE

    · Stay (and eat dinner) at
    Viewpoint Lodge
    · Eat lunch at Butterfly Restaurant, Bar and Spa
    · Rent a bike, ride the perimeter
    of the Northern part of the lake, and hire a boat to cross to the other side
    (then ride back to where you started)
    · Hire a boat to Inthein

    YANGON

    · Take the $1 circular train ride
    · See Shwedegon Pagoda (but don’t miss the nearby Sein Yaung Chi Pagoda either)
    · Eat at Monsoon
    · Shop at Pomelo (next door to Monsoon)
    · Walk the streets between the major roads in Central Yangon

    TRIP REPORT: http://bit.ly/1aTq3vK

  • projectcarpediem

    I recently spent several months in the country with locals, and you were lucky to have consistently found SECURE atms.

  • projectcarpediem

    Having been to each of the places on your itinerary, I would recommend inle lake. I had a great experience at the shwe inn.

  • SFTraveler

    Just got back from Burma…wanted to add my observations from a very recent visit:

    1) ATMS were available and easy to find in all the locations we visited (Kalaw, Inle Lake, Bagan, Yangon, Mandalay). You’ll use kyat for food/drink, souvenirs, bike rentals, taxis etc.

    2) We used US cash for all our hotels and flights. Our bills were not pristine, and were not an issue. Make sure they’re fairly new (>2006) and not marked with ink or ripped, and you’ll be fine. Flights are easily booked through the hotel or from one of countless travel agents/services scattered throughout every town. There are 4-5 companies that all fly to the same destinations on roughly the same schedule (Air Bagan, KBZ, Air Yangoon, Asia Wings, Golden etc). We never had an issues booking them a couple days ahead of time, and they all seemed relatively similar.

    3) Because we only used USD for bigger purchases, we never needed anything smaller than $20 bills. Exchange rate IS best for bigger bills, but we never needed to exchange USD for kyat. There’s an ATM right outside arrivals at RGN.

    4) The price disparities between different services is very strange. I’m afraid that someone is getting rich of tourists, and it isn’t the locals. A taxi from Heho airport to Inle Lake costs 25k kyat (~$25 dollars), for a 45 minute ride in a 20 year old Toyota. Those are US prices!!! On the other hand, you can get an all-day boat ride around the lake for 15,000 kyat (~$15 dollars), rent a bike all day for 1,000 ($1), and take a 3 hour train ride from Inle Lake to Kalaw for 2,500 kyat.

    5) Reservations…we arranged our first hotel in Yangon via email (verbal reservation only…no CC info exchanged) and then booked the rest of our accommodations through the (very friendly and helpful) hotel owners. We’d identify the place we wanted to stay in the next town, and have our hotel manager call ahead to check availability and reserve a room for us (usually for one night). Upon arrival and inspection, if we liked the place we’d book it for a couple more nights, if not we’d stay one night and find a new spot. This technique required some patience, but gave us optimal flexibility in our trip.

    6) Safety – we never once felt unsafe in Burma, or uncomfortable carrying around a good amount of USD. This is VERY different that my experience in other SE Asia countries, and Indonesia in particular. We never heard any stories of pickpockets, things being stolen from hotel rooms, etc. Perhaps this will change as tourism grows.

    7) Internet – every place we stayed “had internet” but it was generally way more frustrating to try to use than to just unplug. Emails would download after a while, but then it could take a half hour to get a reply back out. And forget uploading images. Better to just go in with no expectations and embrace being disconnected.

    In general, I highly, highly recommend visiting before the MNCs come in and build McDonald’s, Starbucks’, Hilton’s etc. It’s like stepping back in time.

  • SFTraveler

    If you’re not planning on luxury/resort accommodations, I can’t recommend at La Maison Birmane enough. Great location to explore from, reasonable rates ($55 USD/night) and wonderful staff.

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