Burma aka Myanmar is an extreme country. Isolated for years from the world it recently opened its borders to the world and is featured as in Top 10 travel lists for 2012 and 2013 by many international magazines. The largest country in South East Asia is undergoing big changes at the moment and is becoming a little more transparent. The most famous person in and outside of Burma might be Aung San Suu Kyi, she was raised in Britain and called back to Burma years ago to lead the new political revolution to free the country. She was under house arrest by the government for nearly 20 years, which just ended a couple of years ago.
Today the country still lacks of infrastructure but the people are curious and open for change. “For the first time since long we look forward to what the future has to offer” a guesthouse owner told me in Yangoon.
If you look for information about Burma you will find a lot of information, a lot of good information but also a lot of old information, which isn’t useful anymore.
This is an updated list of things you might want to take into consideration before visiting Burma as of September 2012.
They want to know, where you are from, where you are going, and your previous jobs. If you are a blogger like I am, I wouldn’t recommend mention that you have anything to do with online journalism. Neither if you work for an NGO or do any governmental work, simply lie and tell that you are a student, or a mechanic, or whatever… anything that doesn’t sound like journalism or communications should be fine. You might risk a rejection.
If you travel to Myanmar from Thailand the best way to get your visa would be at the Embassy in Bangkok. There are two options for the tourist visa.
Normal processing (2-3 days): $30
Fast processing (1 day): $41 or 1290 thai baht
To get the rush visa is easy. You need:
- Copy of flight ticket departing next 24 hours
- Visa Application Form
- Two Passport Pictures (one paper clipped and one glued to application)
- Copy of Passport
The embassy opens at 9 AM. Simply show up and leave your documents and come back at 3.30 PM to pick up your passport with your visa.
Info: They are closed on weekends and Thai & Burmese holidays.
The embassy it at 132 Sathorn Nua Road, to get there you can take the BTS to Surasak and walk down Sathorn Rd.
If you shouldn’t have your passport pictures and the copy of your passport there are two little shops down the street from the embassy who are specialized in the process of Burmese visa application. A passport copy costs 5 baht and the photos cost 200 baht. You can also get the official visa application there and glue & clips are for free.
As far as I know, the visa on arrival in Yangoon is only for business visas. When we arrived it wasn’t possible to apply for a tourist visa. So better get it in advance in Bangkok or at any other Burmese embassy.
One of the most concerns we had before flying to Burma was the money. We heard many things, they only accept crisp bills, no dollar bills older than 2006 etc… I’ll try to clarify some of the rumors out there.
Bring Pristine US Dollars
They aren’t that strict as they used to be, but they still check every single bill. If you want to be on the safe side of things bring new and pristine bills. They shouldn’t have any folds, tears or marks on them. Sometimes you will find somebody who will exchange your used bill for a lesser exchange rate. However, we also experienced the total opposite. We had a couple of older bills that were accepted without a problem. It’s like Russian roulette, sometimes you are lucky and sometimes you are screwed. To be on the safe side, bring crisp bills. The rumor about the 2006 bills is a lie, they accepted all our 2006 bills but try to not bring bills older than from 2000.
Euro is accepted but…
They often also accept Euros but most of the time its like “10 USD or 10 EUR” so you lose a lot of money if you pay in Euro. Better bring US dollars.
Where to get US Dollars in Bangkok
We got our bills at the SuperRich Money Exchange Office. It’s not really far from the embassy and they exchange your money at no charge. You can find the guys at 491/5-7 Silom Plaza Building at Silom Road. The building is in a bright orange with a sign saying “SPR” Superrich. When exchanging money there tell them that you are going to Burma and check your bills when you get them.
USD to Kyat
Burma’s currency is kyat and the rates vary everywhere. The official exchange rate was 850 MMK to 1 USD. There is no ATM’s in the country. Unfortunately, you need to bring all the money you plan on spending with you. We exchanged our money at a blue bank next to the May Shan hotel at the Alan Pya Pagoda Street, which is close to the Sule Pagoda.
Don’t change at the black market
Couple of years ago you might have received a much better rate at the black market but nowadays the banks normally give you the same rates. As everybody, these guys need to make money too and will try to screw you over. Be careful with where you exchange you money. Also be careful of ridiculous exchange fees of 10-20 %. And ALLWAYS recount your bills after you’ve exchanged them!
Which Bills Do I Need In Burma
Mostly 100 Dollar bills but it’s handy to bring 100 dollars in small bills. When using taxis they often will only accept dollars. It is handy to have 1, 5 and 20 Dollar bills to negotiate a lower price. If you negotiate a lower price and end up paying with 100 dollars your driver might get a little angry on you if you told him you have no money… You often can pay in kyat though too.
In Which Currency Do I Pay in Burma?
You can pay in either US dollars or in kyat. You will probably find the best rates in kyat though since they round up in US dollars. Except for flights you should try to pay everything else in kyat.
Don’t exchange too much, you can’t change back to USD
Unfortunately, exchanging Kyat to USD is very difficult. If you’ve exchanged your money at an unofficial place and didn’t keep your receipt it is impossible to exchange your money back. Therefore better budget your money and spent the rest before leaving the country. You won’t be able to exchange your money back outside of the country either.
Travel costs in Myanmar (Burma)
So far there isn’t much information out there about the cost of travel in Myanmar. This is a detailed list of all the costs on a daily basis. We stayed in Burma for 7 days. All these costs occurred on our trip in July 2012.
|Taxi Airport to City||$10 for 4 persons ($2,5 p.P.)||$5 for 3 persons|
|Room at Humble Footprints||$15 per room ($7,5 p.P.)||Tokyo Guesthouse single and double: both $11|
|Ticket Pagoda I||$3||$3,5|
|Ticket Pagoda II||$5||$8,50|
|Taxi Pagoda I->Pagoda II||$2 ($0,5 p.P.)|
|Lunch (street food)||1000 kyat|
|Dinner (2 lamb, 1 chick curry +rice)||8000 kyat|
|Total Day 1||$ 133000 kyat ($155,25)|
|Taxi Guesthouse to Airport||5000 kyat|
|Cappuccino + Croissant at Airport||4000 kyat|
|30 minutes Internet at Airport||2000 kyat|
|Water at Airport||500 kyat|
|Chicken Sandwich at Airport||2000 kyat|
|Bikes at Guesthouse in Bagan||1500 kyat|
|Dinner in Bagan (pork sweet sour, rice, wine)||20 000 kyat|
|Total Day 2||35 000 kyat ($40)|
Note: We were stuck at the airport for 9 hours due to a technical problem on hour plane. Yangon Airways paid the accommodation for us on the first day in Bagan and took care of the transfer to the Hotel.
|Tourist Fee Bagan Area||None||$15|
|Accommodation at Mya Thida Hotel||$20 ($10 p.P.)||$10 p.P.|
|Bike rental at Hotel||3000 kyat||1000 kyat|
|Bus for next day to Inlay||11000 kyat|
|Lunch (Fried chicken with 3 cokes)||2100 kyat|
|Dinner (chicken cashew nut)||3800 kyat|
|Total Day 3||34 900 kyat ($40)|
|Snacks at bus stop||1000 kyat|
|Accommodation at Inlay Lake (Remember Inn)||$7,50||3 Bed Dorm at Aquarius: $10|
|Taxi from bus stop Inlay lake||1500 kyat|
|Tourist Fee at Inlay Lake||5000 kyat||9860 kyat|
|Total Day 4||16000 kyat ($18,80)|
|Accommodation at Inlay Lake (Remember Inn)||$7,50||3 Bed Dorm at Aquarius: $10|
|Dinner (Pork Sweet & Sour + Rice + Coke)||5000 kyat|
|Beer + Cigarettes||2500 kyat|
|Total Day 5||17000 kyat ($20)|
|Boat trip on Inlay Lake||6000 kyat||15000 kyat for one boat|
|Lunch on Lake||3000 kyat||4500 kyat|
|Souvenirs on Lake||$40|
|Overnight Bus to Yangon||16000 kyat|
|Total Day 6||60000 ($70)|
Note: We talked to other travelers. The bus normally costs 14 000 kyat and there are some very modern buses. Ask before you buy a ticket.
|Breakfast in Yangon||$4|
|Accommodation at Golden Guest Inn||$10|
|Taxi to Airport||2000 kyat|
|Total Day 7||14000 kyat ($16)|
In total I’ve spent 309.900 kyat ($360) in 7 days, which makes an average of $52 per day
Note: I carried $500 with me during this trip just to make sure that I would have enough. Luckily, because not all my notes were accepted.
The following prices have been collected by Carina from TravelRunPlay.de while traveling through Myanmar in January 2014:
Bus Yangon-Inle (night bus): 17000 kyat
Bus Inle-Bagan (night bus): 10000 kyat
Bus Bagan-Mandalay: 7000 kyat
Bus Mandalay – Yangon (night bus): 10000 kyat
Flights cannot be booked online. You need to do this when you are in the country. We ended up at a place where some locals brought us (I forgot the name). As you can see we paid $111 a price, which I think is too expensive. However, we had no idea and had no option anyways.
Posts about Myanmar
So far I’ve written two post about Myanmar:
Here are some books that might be helpful when traveling or informing yourself about Burma
- Myanmar (Burma): Country Guide (Lonely Planet Country Guides)
- Pankesum 6×6 Guide to Myanmar: Bagan, Mandalay, Inle, Yangon
- Myanmar: Burma in Style: An Illustrated History and Guide
- Burma/Myanmar: What Everyone Needs to Know
- Enchanting Myanmar (Enchanting Asia)