Info on my travels - accommodation, money, transport, costs
15.01.2013 - 30.01.2013
Myanmar and its prices seems to be changing fairly quickly, LP guide and blogs with costs from the end of 2012 are already out of date. Although all the reading i did before hand really helped me have a better idea as to what to expect and how much money to take! My travels took me to Myanmar in Januar 2013. Here are my costs, accommodation, travel itinerary. Hope its of some use in your planning. Enjoy your trip!
15 – Flew to Yangon
16 – Yangon
17 – Kinpun (Golden Rock)
18 – Night Bus to Kalaw arrived 2.30am
19 – Kalaw
20 – Trek
21 – Trek
22 – Arrive Inle Lake
23 – Inle Lake
24 – Night Bus to Bagan arrive 3am
25 – Bagan
26 – Bagan
27 – Bagan
28 – Mandalay (boat on the Ayeyarwaddy)
29 – Mandalay
30 – Flew to Bangkok
US$ - You do need crisp, unblemished notes. We kept them in a book which had hard (ish) covers, to keep them flat. The LP guide did a good job however you had to be careful when actually using the guide book – notes falling out on you is not practical! Hostel owners, etc, did check the condition of our notes before excepting them and did refuse them on occasion. Be careful what notes they give you in change as they will give ‘imperfect’ (ie crumpled & re flatterned, torn, ink marked) back in change which then other places will refuse. There was one bank on Khao San Road which did US$ for Myanmar the others just pointed us in that direction. I spent $500 in 2 weeks in Myanmar.
Kyats (pronounced ‘jat’) - you can exchange your dollars at the airport, it was 850K to $1. You can also exchange in Yangon city at banks or for 900K to $1 via the people on the street. Although i didnt meet anyone who had done this. I exchanged $215 worth of kyat during the 2 weeks, the rest i spent in dollars.
Admission to sites/pagodas is in US$, sometimes they accept Kyat, Travel on Train only US$, Bus’s could pay in Kyat or US$
Guesthouses want payment in US$ and they did give US$ change however some places (like entrance fees) insisted on the exact amount.
TIP: exchange bigger notes for Kyat and keep smaller denominations. Bigger notes get the better exchange rate.
ATMs – are coming! There are rumoured to be 20 in Myanmar and I did see 2! Although I didn’t meet anyone brave (or foolhardy) enough to use them. Bring Visa and Mastercard as im not sure which they will accept.
Flights – we flew from Bangkok into Yangon and out of Manadaly with Air Asia. We met people who had flown in from KL (Malaysia) as well although i believe you want to fly to/from Mandalay you can only do this from Bangkok. There is meant to be an Air Asia office in Yangon. I booked my return flights before entering Myanmar because I wasn't sure i would be able to once in the country due to the Air Asia website being down and i wasn't sure about access to internet.
Visa – I got my visa in Bangkok for 2000Bhat, 1 day. I shopped around and this was the cheapest, also I think they were from Myanmar as they specialised in it – Vega Travel on Rumbutri road, one over from Khao San Road. Embassy is closed on a sat and sun which is obvious however I forgot! After travelling for 2 ½ months my brain wasn’t thinking in terms of weekends! The agency were concerned that my passport picture (of which I needed 2) wasn't good enough and had to have a really white background to it. They said someone’s had recently been declined. They weren’t convinced by my picture however it worked fine. Visas are valid for 3 months and allow you to stay for 28days once you arrive in country. It would have been cheaper for me to get my Visa in UK however I did not know at that point when I was going and it is valid for 3 months from date of issue. I believe Myanmar are looking at doing visa's on arrival. i found a magazine, in Myanamar, which said it was already in effect, however i didn't meet anyone who had done this.
compared to other SE Asian countries I’ve travelled around we really did use our LP guide to help us know the local area, find accommodation, book accommodation ahead and know where to eat. In other SE Asian countries I’ve found the tourist trade means local info and maps are readily available. I’ve tended to use the LP guide to plan the trip before getting to the country. There were also lots of useful blogs online and comments on the Thorntree forum (LP).
Food – from 1000Kyat (smaller towns/villages) – 4000Kyat (cities), can of coke 600-1000Kyat, Beer 1500 Kyat. Big water (1L) 300-500 Kyat, there is a lot of Indian and Nepali food.
Accommodation – we managed to book ahead twice, everywhere kept saying full. We never managed to establish whether it is because a. they are full or b. they did not want to take reservations. I think it was both depending on the guesthouse. If you do want to book try doing it in advance ( 1 day isn’t advance enough, as i found ). All my guest houses insisted on US$ as payment and most needed me to pay up front. Only the monastery wanted Kyat (Inle Lake, Nhaungshwe).
Some guest houses and cafes do have Wifi, however it can be slow. I used two good internet cafes. Nyaungshwe (KKO) and Mandalay on 82nd Street, between 26th and 27th.
Good English is spoken by most guesthouse’s I stayed at as well as the travel agencies / buses stations. Burmese lessons are taught in English at highschool and in university which accounted for the good English (I asked!)
Myanmar, to me, felt the safest country to travel in both for my belongings and my personal safety. I travelled with a friend however I met other solo travellers (male and female). I didn't hear of any thefts or other problems. I was not fond of the dogs after dark, they go around in packs and can be pretty intimidating when they are barking at you, but other than that it is fine.
There isnt one. Generally places closed around 9.30pm, particulary in the smaller places. People wanted to get to sleep as they had to be up early to work the next day.
Yangon - I stayed in White House Hotel $24 for double room with shared bathroom – they did have a dorm, beware mosquitos in the dorm due to open window. We met quite a few travellers from our flight that were staying here as well. We attempted to book ahead however the email they sent us said ‘we will try’ When we turned up they had our name down and a room us, also other people had just turned up here and there were rooms. I think the dorm helps. Buffet breakfast (that they are very proud of), great social aspect to breakfast as everyone is on tables together. The Banana Toastie was great.
Golden Rock, Kinpun – Stayed in Sea Sar $15 (double room, with bathroom), not neccessarily the cleanest. We turned up and had not booked this ahead of time. Truck to Golden rock cost 1500 Kyat (approx $2) the price did not seem inflate to foreigners. From Kinpun the trucks start at 6am.
Kalaw – I stayed in Golden Lily $14 (double room own bathroom – can get triple room or stay as a single person, double room with shared bathroom cost $7), water was not always reliable to bathroom and hot water was not there during the day. The rooms had a balcony which overlooked the town and surrounding hills. We were on the top floor so had a better view. We booked a 3 day trek with the guest house for $20 per day including boat on Inle Lake and bag drop off. ($60 total). They spoke good English and prided themselves on there local knowledge of plant life and medicinal properties for the trek (this turned out to be a selling tool only, they told us inflated things to sell us the trek and we were then put with a local guide from Nepal, Paul, who did not have this knowledge. I didn’t mind but I was annoyed that they had essentially lied to me to get me to book the trek). You can bargain with the price as well, we paid $20 per day where as other places and indeed other people on our trek paid $15. Our guesthouse refused to take one of our $20 notes as it had a small red ink stain on one edge, it was a note we had been given in change since arriving in Myanmar. Also they were unhelpful when it came to us trying to book and reserve a room ahead. They said they would help and later did not. They let us use the phone but charged us 100 kyat per 1min or phone call. This is due to the government. However, the trek was great and their accommodation was clean.
Inle Lake, Nguangshwe – we booked the accommodation ahead once we had booked the trek, this was practical as they knew where to take our bags to and meant we could check straight in when we arrived. We stayed at Four Sister Inn for $30 with a hot shower. I would avoid Room 4E next time as the generator is right outside of windowand runs from 8am till evening. Way too noisy! We moved for our 2nd night to the monastery on the main road, it was 5000Kyat per night and lots of other travellers were there. On Lake Inle: It cost us 15 000 kyat for the boat for 4 hours. This may have been too much but we were in control of where we wanted to visit and for how long. Other travellers we met had done the south of the lake and said it was less touristy as it has only been open for visiting in past 2-3 years and well worth it. I ran out of time.
Bagan – Winner Hotel $10 single room shared bathroom, $17 double room with shared bathroom. Staff were helpful and arranged our onward travel and let us use the phone (without paying!) to book accommodation. You can book this Hotel ahead of time, if they say they are full they mean it. If you have no booking and you arrive at 3am try it anyway, there is someone up and outside at the fire. if they've a room they will let you stay.
Mandalay we stayed at Sabai Phyu hotel $30 double room with bathroom, 1st floor rooms are economy (and you know it!), the third floor had the nicest rooms. You can book this hotel in advance.
Train from Yangon to Bago - The train station is in Yangon near the market and is walkable however with our big bags we took a taxi 2000 kyat. 2 hours, $1 for ordinary class, have to go to a separate window to the more expensive classes. We were in with all the locals. Bought drinks and sweetcorn when the train stopped from sellers boarding the train. The journey took us through beautiful countryside. We waited in Bago 3 hours for bus to Kinpun (golden Rock), we had been advised that this would be quicker howeer as we had to wait I don't think it was any quicker. You can take the train further before getting the bus to Kinpun, in hindsight this would have been better. I really enjoyed the train and would have happily stayed on it longer. If you take that option let me know what its like...
The bus was really easy to book and get, and someone would always point you in thte direction of the pick ups for the shorter distance journerys.
A bicylce cost us 1500Kyat per day
General Thoughts & Observations
Would I go back ….. YES.
I think Tourism in Myanmar is on the cusp of changing in a big way due to visa on arrival and ATMS. Right now there are always other foreigners around however in the small towns we only saw 2 or 3 other people whereas in the big towns and particularly at the main attractions we more like 50+ other foreigners. Overall there are a lot less travellers and toursim than in Myanmars neighbouring countrys (India, Thailand, Laos). There were lots of tour groups, i noticed this more in Inle and Bagan, however there were still lots of independent travellers. There was a great community feel with all the Travellers i met.