SO, YOU WANT TO VISIT BURMA (MYANMAR)?
Hi. What’s your name?
“Before 1989, I was known as Burma. To separate me from my colonial past, my military government now calls me Myanmar. Both names come from the local Bamar ethnic group. The local intelligentsia and socially conscious travelers will still refer to me as ‘Burma’ to make a point. You can call me either.”
Do you speak English?
“Quite well. The British were here from 1824 to 1948. Today, English is widely spoken along the tourist routes and most locals are happy to communicate with you in basic English.”
When should I visit you?
“I hope you like the sun. Southern Burma, including the largest city of Yangon, is hotter and generally wetter, while northern Myanmar gets cool in the wet season and is generally drier. The hottest months throughout Burma are March and April. May to October comprises the ‘wet season’ where temperatures drop a bit.”
How can I get inside you?
“You’ll need an airplane and a visa. You can get both in Bangkok, which is easily accessible from anywhere in the world and served by many Asian budget airlines. You can get a single-entry, 28-day visa at the Myanmar consulate near Surasak Station (same-day service 1260 baht; regular 3-day service 860 baht). You can fly in on less than an hour with AirAsia (about $75 each way). You can’t enter or exit over land by bus or train. So, come through Bangkok for ease.”
Is it true that you don’t have any banks?
Must I bring all of my money in cash?
“Yes, that too.”
How can I get money to exchange for goods and services?
“You must bring crisp, spotless $100 usd bills with you. Get them in another country. Another thing you have to do in Bangkok. There are some rules as to which ones you may exchange here. Avoid serial numbers “AB” and “CB”. Especially “CB”. Make sure they have no folds or creases. Don’t bring any bills with smeared ink or watermarks. Don’t bother bringing any bills printed before 2003. Credit and debit cards are not accepted here.”
How much money should I bring?
“For a full 28-day stay, you should be safe bringing $1,000 usd. Many travelers get by on $600 for a month, but it’s worth having some extra money to spend in the vintage markets of Yangon or a few rum cocktails at The Strand in Yangon before you fly out.”
Where can I exchange my crisp new $100 bills?
“Be safe and exchange your Benjamins at the Bogyoke market (map below) in Yangon. Ask around the various jewelers for the best rate and watch your money carefully as its exchanged. If you arrive in Yangon after 5pm and the market is closed, go to Motherland 2 or Okinawa guesthouses for a decent rate on your first necessary $100. DO NOT exchange on the street or with anyone who approaches you on the street. Travelers get cheated every day. Don’t be one of them.”
Should I be worried about carrying around such large amounts of cash everywhere?
“Nope. You’re safer here with me than you are in your hometown. Just keep the money with you at all times and be sure it doesn’t get bent up or creased.”
So, what should we do together?
“Most travelers bounce between Yangon, Bagan and Inle Lake. All three destinations are amazing and you will visit them- but there are other places here, too. Here is a breakdown of some lesser-known sites:
Mandalay: The city itself is a bit…dusty, but does feature a beautiful citadel and some great temples to climb near the periphery.
Maymyo: This old British “hill station” may be Myanmar’s best-hidden treasure. There is a lovely old garden on a lake, along with some stately old English-style homes. The air is cool and fresh. The old main street features a still-chiming clock tower and some atmospheric hotels. The train ride east to Lashio is both rickety and amazing.
Kyaiktiyo: 160km northeast of Yangon, this is the place with an enormous golden rock (with a pagoda atop) balanced delicately over a cliff. Gorgeous.”
I hear your government is beginning to open up and hold elections. How will this affect travel in your country?
“These political changes have been heralded worldwide, but the long-term results are yet to been seen. With the beginnings of change here, we will certainly be seeing more visitors and changes to the Buremese tourist landscape. I would recommend that you visit as soon as possible to avoid the future throngs of fisherman-pants’d backpackers. As things change and we go in the direction of Laos or Cambodia, you can be sure to be seeing more espresso and Japanese fusion restaurants in our landscape in the future.”