Practical Tips for Traveling in Myanmar – The Julio Guide

Myanmar has been visited by westerners since Marco Polo entered the ancient temple city of Bagan in the 13th century. Since then, the wonderful Burmese culture has received trickles of tourists here and there to see the famed city and other fabulous sites around the country wherever the government allowed. All that is about to change.

Burma has been dominated by a military junta for decades. Political suppression, however cautious, had been the norm until 2012 when, in a surprise move, the military started easing up their control and started allowing more liberties for locals and foreigners alike. Tourism was HIGHLY discouraged until then as it was considered irresponsible to go and feed the machine of that government.

Myanmar, interchangeably called ‘Burma,’ is a wonderful country, but due to its historically limited accessibility, getting reliable tips and information has been difficult. Publications like the Lonely Planet are just loaded with inaccuracies which shouldn’t be a surprise when you try to summarize a country that is changing so quickly in a yearly book. Here are some tips I wanted to pass on from my three weeks (Aug-Sept, 2014) in this wonderful country.

 

1) Money Money Money!

Getting such a nice 200 kyat bill was rare. This one goes to my brother's collection.
Getting such a nice 200 kyat bill was rare. This one goes to my brother’s collection.

As I tried to write tips in general, I realized there were just too many about money. I will summarize them in this single entry.

a) Bring Brand-Spankin’ New US Dollars

If you are like me and like to have a good amount of cash before entering a foreign country, bring crispy new bills. You have never seen scrutiny of currency like this before. Every single note is carefully examined and bills that aren’t perfect or with older serial numbers are rejected. We spent way too much time in the airport as the money changer clerks looked like they were disarming a bomb with how delicately they handled our money.

b) Bring $100 USD Notes

This is true in most places in SE Asia, but $100 notes get a better exchange rate. The difference can be quite large in Thailand and Myanmar. $50 notes often get the same rate, but $100 is safer.

c) Singapore Dollars and Euros are Accepted Too

Europeans I met were often scared by the Lonely Planet and felt the need to change to USD before coming to Myanmar. While the dollar does get a better rate, Euros and Singapore dollars were also accepted at the airport and most banks. While not every money changer accepted non-USD, I would personally risk it if I were European given what a scam money changing is in some European countries. It that doesn’t work…

d) There are ATMs Everywhere

This sounds like a silly tip, but many people came into Myanmar thinking that if they didn’t bring cash, they would be totally screwed. Again this is ancient information as there are ATMs everywhere. Sid and I had no problem withdrawing money and neither did anyone else we talked to. Be advised that some ATMs do shut down at night (as they do in many Asian countries).

e) Feel free to reject any ripped Kyat

The local currency does not have coins in use. This causes the smaller notes to become very crumpled and sometimes ripped as they exchange hands often. Notes of 1000 kyat and above should have no rips at all. Examine every bill you get for change and feel free to reject any that is ripped. The locals know the routine and will gladly exchange them. I got a pretty beaten 1000 kyat note from the airport bank and couldn’t get rid of it until the last day despite trying at least 20 times. They were a lot more lenient for bills under 1000 kyat.

f) Pay with USD if You Can

Entrances to Bagan and Inle, as well as hotels allow you to pay with USD or Kyat (Euro accepted at entrances, but not sure about hotels). They take 1USD = 1 Euro = 1000 kyat. Since the Euro is worth the most and the dollar the least, you save a little money by paying in dollars (3%) instead of kyat. If you pay in Euro, you are wasting around 30%.

g) Exchanging at the Airport is Okay

In Mandalay and Yangon Airports (domestic terminal for Yangon), the exchange rate was 973/969 buy/sell of USD. This is not a large spread and is a profit margin of less than 1/4%. You will not find any better rate and since the money changers are not exactly everywhere, don’t waste your time. Just exchange at the airport.

 

Now that money is out of the way, here are some other tips!

 

2) GO NOW!

Airplane Wing

I mistakenly spent my first few days in Thailand near infamous Khao San Road (I feel shame saying that, but that is a whole other story). One good thing that did come from that was meeting Oong, the Burmese guy working in the hostel I stayed. He talked highly of his own country and convinced me that the time to go was NOW! Read more

Travel Planning for Beginners in 8 Steps pt.2/5

You may not be an absolute novice, but might be a beginner looking for a more efficient way to plan a trip. ‘Travel Planning for Beginners’ is the second part of a 5 part series that explores travel planning for novice, beginner, intermediate, advanced, and expert travelers. If you missed the first ‘novice traveler’ post, check it out. In this guide, I will take the same approach of going through the steps as in the ‘novice’ guide, but add more options since I assume you have at least some experience booking and planning your own trips by now.

Again, this guide is with the assumption that you want to travel longer, more often, and with less money. Here are additional assumptions I am under:

Assumption 1) You have traveled a few times at most.

Assumption 2) You are not rich, and budget is important when planning a trip.

Assumption 3) You have 1-2 weeks of free time for this trip.

 

Step 1: Consider and Know Your Time Frame

Time Frame - Travel Planning for Beginners
Credit: mirror.co.uk

Many people, like me, know when their vacation time is far in advance. This is both good and bad. The good part is that Read more

Travel Planning for Novices in 6 Steps pt.1/5

If you are like me 10 years ago, the idea of traveling is very appealing to you, but you don’t know where to start. Maybe you surf the net looking at cool UNESCO World Heritage Sites, watch National Geographic and say, “some day,” or even talk to your friends and shoot around “dream vacation ideas.” When you get older, you realize that traveling, while easy in theory, takes some skill unless you are willing to fork over a bunch of money and have someone do it for you. You know, those “spend 7 days and 6 nights in the luxurious….for the low low price…” advertisements you see everywhere which are never really a ‘low low price.’ Most people kind of give up, and never really travel anywhere in their lives.

It is my hope that you are reading this because you want to know how to travel longer, more often, and with less money. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that they don’t teach in school (and they should), which is a shame for people who have a true, innate passion for traveling. This is a very basic guide on how to plan for a travel trip without breaking the bank, and with a few assumptions.

Assumption #1) You haven’t traveled ever, or maybe just once or twice.

Assumption #2) You are not rich, so you want so do this as cheaply as possible.

Assumption #3) You only have 1-2 weeks of travel vacation available due to your job or other responsibilities.

[This is part 1 of a 5 part series of travel planning skills for novices, beginners, intermediates, advanced, and experts]

Step 1: Make a List

 

Travel Planning for Novices List
Credit: iammommahearmeroar.net

Think about Read more