I was scammed in Yangon! What a complete turnip..

Yangon Travel Blog

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Shwedagon Paya Magic
Had a terrible fright at Bangkok airport, 5am checkin for my flight to Yangon. Where is your visa lady? The stroppy lady at the Airasia counter asked. Shit!!!! ‘I was told at the Myanmar embassy in Singapore that I can get in with visa on arrival now?’ ‘So where are your papers? Do you have a letter from the embassy?’ she asks me. According to internet sources and the embassy I visited in Singapore visa on arrival was introduced about a month ago. Just need passport, recent photo, hotel booking, return flight booking and $30 of the finest, crisp, perfect US dollars. After a phonecall to her manager they let me fly, but i was still worried that it might not work out on my arrival to Yangon.
City Hall
I was already a little nervous to be travelling into the relative unknown, the cut-off from the world, the mysterious country of Myanmar. I could do without this worry.

Anyway, this all turned out to be an unnecessary headache thankfully. I arrive to Yangon airport and there is a big sign ‘Visa on arrival this way’. A bit of disorganised hustle and bustle with the officials at the counter but it all worked fine. I made it to Burma woohooooo (apologies if i keep changing between calling this country Myanmar or Burma, I am still not too sure which and when is most appropriate). Instantly, this place felt so very different to any other parts of SE Asia I had visited. It really felt like I was in a different world, back somewhere in previous times, absolutely fascinating.
Sule Paya, temple on a traffic roundabout (they are buddist nuns crossing the road)
I was greeted by taxi drivers at the airport, men wearing skirts! Myanmar is one of the only countries in SE Asia where the locals routinely wear traditional clothes rather than Western clothing. These ‘skirts’ are basically wrap around sarongs, called longyis, and are so practical for the hot tropical climate as well as being attractive. Man in a skirt why not, its good enough in Scotland. The taxis are something else too, most of them are 30 years old, some older, falling to pieces, the driver seat is still the British side but the government changed the driving side of road when they got rid of the British in 1948, go figure... Aircon? try not even being able to wind down the windows!

You cannot buy local currency outside of Myanmar so first things first, best sort out some dosh.
Oh shit, are these counterfeit?
Two currencies are in use here, US dollars used for tourist facilities, hotels, flights, entrance fees that kind of thing, then the local currency called the Kyat (pronounced chat). There are ABSOLUTELY NO ATMs anywhere in the country that can be used by internationals. The banking system is screwed due to ongoing boycott by foreign banks following EU and US sanctions on Myanmar, due in part to the atrocious human right record of the military junta that govern Myanmar. So you need to change USD for Kyat on arrival but official government rates are about half of what you get on the black market aka some dodgy geezer offering to exchange your money on the street! DO NOT CHANGE YOUR MONEY AT THE AIRPORT.. The other place to get a better rate than the government rate is at hotels.
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Mine though could only change up 10 USD at the time. As I arrived so early and couldn’t check in anyway, I went for a walk to find the blackmarket money changers and........ I SCREWED UP!

Just a five minute walk up the street I had many offers to change money. Guys coming up to me looking around first then ‘discreetly’ asking of i needed Kyats. I went with what i thought was the least dodgiest looking geezer who then led me to some tiny little shop/office and introduced me to his much dodgier looking accomplice who was to strike the shady deal with me! He was chewing that Gutka stuff, you know the tobacco chewing like they do in India. This is real common in Burma too and can be quite alarming at first as it looks like there is blood coming from their mouths and all their teeth are hideously discoloured.
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Anyway, it made this guy look even more sinister ‘Karen what in the hell are you doing?’ I swear though this is the way things are done here, all under the radar of official government business. Mr bloody mouth offered me 1,050 Kyats vs 850 at my hotel, vs 400 government rate so pretty good deal i thought. I asked him how this works, why he gives me a better rate than the hotels and he replied ‘My boss he can only do business in USD and this is the only way for us to get our hands on the currency, through tourists’. OK, i agreed to change 200 USD but I needed to get my money that was locked away in the hotel. They agreed to meet me outside my hotel in 1 hour to do the ‘deal’. WTF!!

Anyway, after all of this, it turns out that they ripped me off.
Steps leading to magic
During the ‘procedure’ they handed me MASSIVE wads of Kyat to count. The highest denomination is 1,000 Kyat (well there is a new 5,000 note now but it is quite rare), equal to 1USD, so I had over 200 to count! All seemed in order so I trustingly handed them my brand new perfect USD. In Myanmar they will only accept absolutely, spanking crisp PERFECT dollars. I mean, I tried to buy a coffee with a 5 USD note and it was rejected because of a microscopic tear! You cannot fold them or crumple them or even look at them or they will be rejected. Anyway, these ones I handed over were in absolute mint condition but they didn’t like the serial number though oh no, not good enough these dollars.. Don’t ask me, I haven’t a clue, but pretty sure this was scam number 1 as they lowered the rate on offer to 1,000 per dollar and they asked for Kyat back.
Shwedagon Paya Magic
I could have argued or walked away but at this point I was not feeling like being clever and was very tired from the early morning flight. They ended this enjoyable encounter by telling me 'not to mention this to anyone as it is illegal'!! Deal done, back at the hotel I thought i would count the money again as I was feeling some suspicion from the whole thing. THEY HAD DIDDLED ME AFTER ALL the cheeky bloody lowlife swines, out of 30,000 Kyat. Felt like a right plum, they must have swiped them away when my attention was diverted even though i though i was being real observant.. Really pissed me off the dishonesty of the whole thing and initial bad feelings for the people of Myanmar. It still actually worked out not too bad rate conversion wise compared to hotel and certainly the official rate haha!!

I then had a panic that these might be counterfeit notes! I checked a 1,000 Kyat bill versus one I had changed at the hotel when i first arrived and lo and behold they were quite a bit smaller.
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Oh doopy SHIT!! I convinced myself that I had just been robbed of $200 and felt pretty nervous when i handed over the ‘counterfeit’ ones in a restaurant. Thankfully, big relief, they were OK though after all, just newer notes in circulation. Gave myself a scare though and learnt a few lessons. I would recommend anyone going here to try and not be clever by going to the blackmarket street mafia for money exchange but instead get them through the hotel on the blackmarket instead! Hey isn’t this country a lot of fun right!!!

Took a walk down the road to see my first Burmese temple, Sule Paya. This golden temple is right in the middle of a traffic roundabout and you have to risk your life crossing several lanes of traffic to get there! Right, thats enough for the day, 2 hour siesta then it was time for ENGLAND vs GERMANY, just a small insignificant world cup match of course! I had already searched out the perfect spot in the city to watch the match, was actually one of the first things I did when I arrived, big screen and happy hour 2 for 1 glasses of wine, what more did I need? I had arranged to meet an English couple there who I had met on the street earlier.
Shwedagon Paya Magic
These were the only other westerners I encountered in the city, no-one comes here... Well the less said about the game the better, all the Burmese were supporting England and they seemed to think it was appropriate to apologise to me when Lampard’s goal was disallowed!! Anyway, fair to say, I was glad to have the wine to comfort me. Gutted enough said....

Slept soundly for England that night ready for a busy day sightseeing in Yangon and making some plans for my time in Myanmar. Sorted out a flight to Bagan, to see the ancient temples there, for the next day, perfect, then headed to the must-see attraction in Yangon, the Shwedagon Paya. This is where I remembered why I had wanted to come to Myanmar in the first place, as this place was magical, it actually really got to me.
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya is a 2,500 year old HUGE 322 foot tall, 60 tons of solid gold, buddist monument, surrounded by a large number of beautiful buddist temples, halls and religious monuments. To enter the platform containing the Paya you remove your shoes and trek up a number of steps in a dark, cool corridor. You emerge at the top into PURE MAGIC, the atmosphere just completely overwhelmed me. The first of many special moments for me in this incredible country. Bright white marble floors and bright, bright dazzling gold EVERYWHERE. My eyes hurt. There was a lively festive feeling, many many monks strolling around with umbrellas, many people praying or lounging in one of the beautiful halls taking it all in. I couldn’t believe I was here and actually had to sit down for a while to take it all in.
Shwedagon Paya Magic


I was approached by a man with two adolescents. He was Charles, an English teacher hoping to become a tour guide. The eldest boy was Samuel and the youngest Andrew. They are given English names in the English school. Later on, after I had completed the wonderful circuit of the grounds I bumped into these guys again. They were talking to the only other westerners in the complex that day, a Russian couple. I mention this couple as they will feature time and time again during my time in the country, was quite funny. They looked a bit ridiculous, obviously trying to get a bit of a local look going, carrying flowers for offerings, both in longyis but with white socks and sandals hehe! Anyway, Charles came over to me when he saw me and we ended up sitting on one of the ornate platforms and chatting for well over two hours! I helped them with their English, listened to them, read with them and told them about my life and them theirs.
Giving an English lesson at Shwedagon Paya
It was a very enjoyable afternoon and at one stage we had quite an audience of Burmese people eavesdropping and smiling. It felt so special. Afterwards, Charles thanked me and told me that they will always remember me and that I have greatly inspired them. So so sweet... I came away from Shwedagon Paya with a taste of some of the beauty of this country, the temples and the devoted, friendly people. I just cannot wait to explore this fascinating country some more.......
pammy_robertson says:
really enjoyed this blog and thanks for the tips. I'm planning a trip to myanmar end of next month and was worried about the currency issues as i had similar probs in africa with closed currencies.
Posted on: Oct 02, 2014
nolan says:
Sure, would be glad to provide advice to your friend. Rhea (rheagirl), Alpa (alpsie) and Annika (ap619) would also be able to provide relevant advice - especially Annika since she stayed there for almost three weeks!

One forum site I also checked out was mingalapar.com/forum/ - I haven't visited though in a few weeks but they have helpful advice although the audience is a bit limited. But the people there are friendly as well.
Posted on: Apr 30, 2014
Mezmerized says:
Thanks Nolan, I have a friend who has asked me for advice on travelling to Burma this year and I am worried that my advice now is out of date as things have changed so much. If you don't mind, i will put you in contact with her...:)
Posted on: Apr 30, 2014
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Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
City Hall
City Hall
Sule Paya, temple on a traffic rou…
Sule Paya, temple on a traffic ro…
Oh shit, are these counterfeit?
Oh shit, are these counterfeit?
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Steps leading to magic
Steps leading to magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Giving an English lesson at Shweda…
Giving an English lesson at Shwed…
Colorful buildings, central yangon
Colorful buildings, central yangon
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Temple on the way to Shwedagon
Road leading to Shwedagon Paya
Road leading to Shwedagon Paya
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Shwedagon Paya Magic
Giving an English lesson at Shweda…
Giving an English lesson at Shwed…
Yangon
photo by: aleksflower