Appendix: General info and travel tip to Burma
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I thought I've done this blog but it would be better to post a summary of the general info and travel tip so that it would be helpful for those who are traveling in Burma.
- Currency is Kyat (pronounced like "Chat"), and $1 was almost equal to 700kyats (ks) as of Aug, 2011. But due to the currency fluctation, it would be changed.
- Official currency rate is fixed. $1= 6ks. It's far from the actual rate so don't ever try to exchange your money at the airport or a bank. Just exchange it Bogyo Aung Sang Market in Yangon (they offer better rate than other places) or guesthouses. And it's easier to get better deal at bigger cities such as Yangon or Mandalay.
- $100 note will give you a better rate compared to other bills.
- Nobody will take your folded USD notes. Bring spick and span bills.
- Credit card is accepted by only a few hotels in Yangon subject to extraordinarily high margin like 10%-30%. Travelers should bring more than enough USD cash. It's basically a very safe country and there are less thieves or robbers compared to other SE countries.
- Scams of the currency exchange are reported in Yangon. Don't exchange your money with the guy who were talking to you on the street, and don't ever hand them money until you finish counting the cash you received.
They may offer you very good deal but if it's much better than you find it at the GH or the market, be suspicious.
I tried just air and bus for longer transport. Not sure about boat between Mandalay and Bagan.
Air Bagan http://www.airbagan.com/
Air Mandalay http://www.airmandalay.com/
Asian Wings http://www.asianwingsair.com/
Myanmar Airways http://www.maiair.com/
Myanmar Airways is a national airline, so I avoided taking. Air Mandalay has "Discover Myanmar Pass" which includes 4 flights for 215 USD. (You can't choose which flight you are taking or the route. You just need to follow the route Yangon -> Bagan -> Mandalay -> Heho -> Yangon) If you can accommodate your schedule to that option, it could be easier for you to travel to those cities for lower price.
If you buy your ticket in Burma, you need to pay by cash. So bring enough cash! (again)
It could be expensive to get from the Airport to cities. It would be better to find someone to share the taxi on the aircraft if you can. Here's the reference duration time and fee of taxi.
* Yangon airport - Sule Pagoda (City center) 5000ks, 30mins : It is cheaper to negotiate with the drivers outside of the facility.
* Mandalay airport - City center 9000ks/car, 4000ks/person for shared taxi, 45mins : At first I made a deal for 4000ks but there were no other people who wanted to share the taxi and I had to pay for one car. They offered me 12000ks but we agreed on 9000ks finally.
* Nyaung Shwe town - Heho airport: 15000ks/car, 1hour : It could be more expensive if you take taxi from the airport compared to taking taxi from the city to the airport.
Night buses are available between big cities. Buses have several grades but if you pick Air conditioned bus, the seat is usually better compared to non AC buses. The buses themselves are 2nd hand (or 3rd hand? 4th hand?) of Japanese buses. They are designed for short trips in Japan so the legroom could be a bit small for westerners.
During the trip, they make a few stops for bathrooms and food.
It could be really cold during the night so don't forget to take a jacket and warm socks with you!
I paid 12000 ks incl. pickup at the GH from Mandalay to Kalaw. (Duration, 8hours)
- When you visit temples, wear long trousers or long clothes called longyi that locals are wearing to hide your legs.
- It's preferred for ladies to cover shoulders.
- In mountain area such as Shan state, it could be cold in the evening so don't forget to bring 1 more long sleeved layer.
- Many women and kids are putting some local makeup called "tanaka". It's made from tanaka wood and good for skin. They say it works as sunscreen as well. Men don't put tanaka much when they go out but they do before they go to sleep. If you ask nicely to local people, they may let you try some too!
- In most pagodas, you need to take of your shoes inside of the facility. I strongly recommend you to bring flip flops or sandals that are very easy to wear/take off.
- Mostly rice, noodles and veggies. I really liked them lots. I felt Burmese food have some influence from Chinese food and Indian food. Most dishes usually come with soup.
- Western food is available in big cities or touristic places.
- The reference price at cheap local restaurants are as follows;
* Shan noodles (noodle marinated with spring onion, crashed peanuts, checken or pork, and oil & sauce) : 500-800ks
* Soup noodles: 800-1500ks
* Stir fry dishes: 1500-2000ks
* Draught beer: 600-800ks/mug
* bottled beer: 1200-2000ks/bottle
- Fruits are available at markets. I have seen mango, papaya, bananas, dragon fruits, water melons, grapes and apples. I got mangos for 100ks/piece at local store. I recommend you to bring a knife!
- As far as I have seen, there were no McDonalds or other western burger chains. I have seen a burger stand in Aung san market in Yangon.
5. Getting around
- Yangon: Local buses are available but a bit confusing. Taxies are easier. Here's a reference price for the taxi.
Shwedagon-Aung San Market: 1500ks
Shwedagon-Sule pagoda: 2000ks
- Mandalay: If you are a solo traveler, motorbike taxi will be the easiest.
Mandalay- Taungbyone- Mandalay Hill - Mandalay: 8000-9000ks
Round trip between Mandalay- Amalapula : 8000ks
Mandalay-Amalapula- Sagain- Inwa- Mandalay: 12000-13000ks
- Nyaung Shwe: You can hire a bicycle for 1000ks. I'm not sure about the price of boat trip.
And there are pick up truck services available everywhere. You just stop it and ask if they go to the destination you want to go.
5. Zone fee
Basically foreigners are subject to zone fee at each places. But I was charged only in Mingun, close to Mandalay.
I heard they charge us $10 for Mandalay and $5 for Nyaung Shwe, but I wasn't charged.
At Nyaung Shwe, those who arrived by bus or air said they paid the fee but I arrived there by trek and there were no check points or ticket fee counter.
I would edit this article whenever I think of something to add. I hope this info helps.