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Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

Sydney, Australia
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Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

We have just returned from a holiday in Myanmar and were amazed at how rapidly things are changing in the country. Guide books are out of date as soon as they are printed!

Some things to note:

1. Unlike warnings in guide books, it's no problem driving past and stopping and taking photos at Aung San Suu Kyi's house. We were with a guide who assured us that he would not be risking his precious tour license by doing the wrong thing.

2. Changing US dollars to kyat (pronounced 'chat') used to be something to be wary of, even in banks, with huge variables in the exchange rate offered (and I'm not talking about the black market money sellers, but they are still around - don't use them). A few months ago the government set an official exchange rate, so all hotels, banks and official money exchange offices (like at the airport) have to use this rate (which is often displayed clearly). You will still get a better rate on $100 & $50 bills, compared to the smaller currency, so change those if you can.

3. You used to be able to only bring $2,000 USD into the country, but the official customs form at the airport now has the usual international $10,000 USD on it. (The $2,000 was pretty ridiculous in a country that still doesn't have ATMs for foreigners or credit cards).

4. And, yes, still no ATMs for foreigners, so make sure you bring all your cash with you (see earlier posts about new, crisp bills), but they are aiming for March this year to change this situation, as well as the credit card usage. Will be interesting to see if they are able to meet this deadline!

5. While the cost of eating at restaurants is still reasonable (similar to Cambodia and Vietnam), it is no where near as cheap as I was led to believe. According to waiters, the costs have increased a lot over the last 2 years.

6. It's still very difficult to book internal flights here. We used an agent for all flights and transfers and tours, and it made things so much easier! Even with an agent, the airlines themselves make things difficult by sometimes not locking in schedules until up to a few weeks before flying! Crazy! (The agent we used was Kyaw Khaing, contact: kyawkhaing.myanmar@gmail.com from One Stop Travel - absolutely fantastic. Put his name into the forum search and you will see many happy customers).

7. Some guide books warn about talking politics with the locals, but pretty much every person we had extended conversations with brought it up first, and were happy to answer questions. They all seem very excited about the elections coming in 2015!

Hope this is of help to those of you travelling soon.

Melbourne, Australia
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1. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

Thanks for the tips!

Love to hear more about your trip (places, highlights and hotels) if you can,

- K

Sydney, Australia
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2. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

I have a travel blog (that generates no income whatsoever, so I'm not promoting a business!) that has our journeys documented with oodles of details and full of the stunning pics that my husband takes.

www.bontakstravels.com

We began this trip in Cambodia before moving on to Myanmar and are now in Vietnam (but I am very behind in the blogging, so stay posted or request updates via email on the site itself).

Cheers

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3. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

Even new posts are out of date ;)

ATMs now issuing kyats for travellers with Mastercard & Visa - see "atms" post for details & links.

Thanks for the info.

Edited: 09 January 2013, 11:50
Sydney, Australia
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4. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

Wow, very impressed! We doubted they would get there by March and they have managed the beginning of January! Good work, Myanmar!

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5. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

Apparently ATMs were working from late November.

Edited: 09 January 2013, 15:22
Wamboin
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6. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

Thanks any up to date information is helpful as the more I read the more confused I get especially the money side any tips on how much a day you spent not including accommodation.

New York City, New...
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7. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

I was there a week ago as well and exchanged dollars at the bank without an issue (850 kyat per $1 for $100 bill). I did see a few ATMs that had Visa and MasterCard logos, but didn't test them out.

Booked air tickets via Radiant Tours who were the only responsive ones. Would recommend them. The other 10-15 agencies I reached out to mostly didn't bother with our tickets because it was during Christmas period and many flights were full. Radiant Tours were very patient.

We found local food very cheap (1,000 kyat for a meal, often), but also often not great. Western food is not very cheap, but I don't think it ever was.

Was pleasantly surprised by long distance buses. Air Con with a TV monitor at the front and pretty cheap prices at $5-15 depending on distance.

My trip report here: tripadvisor.com/…462497

Sydney, Australia
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8. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

Yes, ATMs were definitely there back in December, but we were told that they only took local cards, not foreign ones, so it would be best to double check that again with your local travel agent. Also, remember that even if the ATMs are working for travellers, it doesn't mean that you are going to find them everywhere, and you can bet they will have a fairly low daily withdrawal limit, which could still lead to trouble when you are trying to get enough to pay hotel bills. I would still be taking plenty of cash and not relying on the ATMs.

Regarding how much money to take per day, that is going to vary considerably with each person and how they travel. What we did was actually sit down and work out how much each hotel was going to cost, each flight, each transfer, every little thing that we actually had a figure for, and then try and do a rough estimate of what it would cost for meals. This is another reason that working with an agent helped. We knew exactly what costs we owed them (for flights and tours), what costs we owed the 'Balloons over Bagan' people, the cruise company, and the hotels we had booked ourselves. A representative from those companies met us the first day we arrived in Yangon and relieved us of the cash for those things, which was a huge relief not having to carry it around any longer.

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9. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

CB bank say 900,000kyat (about us$1000) per day limit on Mastercard. But accommodation & fees still have to be paid by us$. Could exchange kyat back to us$ I suppose. I am brinking us$ & will withdraw kyat.

Edited: 10 January 2013, 06:17
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10. Re: Just returned from Myanmar - changes are happening fast!

Things are changing fast, so feedback from travellers of current situation will be appreciated. As more travellers use ATMs & soon credit cards, there should be less reliance on us$. Was discussing this transition in money in Vietnam over many years with a Vietnamese business person yesterday, where the US$ once ruled. My guess is the US$ days are numbered as Western financial institutions enter Myanmar. The Government may even accept its own money for fees.

Edited: 10 January 2013, 06:33