Myanmar is the country that will finally complete my Southeast Asian travel map. I had much apprehensions in traveling here as compared to its neighbors, tourism was not as developed. That meant certain comforts had to be sacrificed. Another worry was money as it was said to be more expensive than its neighbors.
My two weeks there proved to me that there really was no cause for concern.
Here are a few tips.
To/From Mandalay Airport
If you took Air Asia, there is a free shuttle outside arrivals. Simply board the bus and show your boarding pass. It drops passengers off at the center of town.
You can also go to the taxi counter and take a shared van (5,000). They will be the one to group you with others. It will drop you off at your hotel. You can also opt for your own taxi.
The airport is an hour away.
Returning to the airport, if you are flying Air Asia, the shuttle leaves at the same place at 9am. Be there by 8.30. When I took it, it was just half-full.
If you opt for a taxi, arranged with your hotel.
Yes, I did bring crisp US dollars which I kept in a hard checkbook holder. There is a money exchange counter by the baggage carousel. A woman was exchanging some folded USD20. One of the staff refused it but the more senior guy who was attending to me, accepted it.
At the arrivals area are two exchange counters. Rate at that time is USD1=1,033 kyat.
There are money exchange counters run by banks all over. There is 1 in Kalaw and 2 in Nyaungshwe.
ATMs are everywhere in Mandalay. I was able to use one with no hassle at all. There is an ATM in Kalaw and 2 in Nyaungshwe.
DOLLAR OR KYAT?
Everyone uses kyat now even the guesthouses and 1-star hotels I stayed at. Don’t know about the more expensive accommodations though.
The places I stayed at (A.D1 Hotel in Mandalay, Golden Lily in Kalaw, and Joy Hotel in Nyaungshwe) all had free and reliable internet good enough for me to upload pics at FB, surf sites, and blog.
Surprise! In my entire stay, there was only a brownout once (in Nyaungshwe) and lasted less than an hour.
Relative to its neighbors, the accomodations are poor in value. In Nyaungshwe, the double room with private bath at Joy Hotel costs USD20 which in Vietnam or Cambodia, would only be around USD12-15.
The rest–food, shopping, and some tours are quite cheap. Food is very cheap and the portions are so large it can feed 2-3 people. If you eat a traditional Burmese meal, it includes side dishes, a hearty soup, and rice. Refillable!