THIS IS MY FINAL BLOG ON THE TOPIC OF MYANMAR /BURMA – THE BLOG ON BURMA/MYANMAR BEGAN IN AUGUST 2011 AND CONSISTS OF 29 ENTRIES.
LINK HERE TO THE FIRST BLOG ENTRY RELATED TO THIS TRIP.
Myanmar is a country that you should be prepared for before you arrive.
Visas – we received ours easily and quickly from the Embassy in Canada. The country is doing whatever it can to encourage tourism so unless you are blacklisted for some reason, it shouldn’t be a problem.
Money – it is a cash economy. Take more than you think you need – we met people who were in danger of cutting their trip short because they were running short of cash. The best place to change money was the travel agency at the Summit Parkview Hotel in Yangon. I suggest changing as much as you can there.
Flights: To /from Myanmar: We flew Air Asia from Bangkok. Cheap, very efficient – you can do it all online. They emailed us to say they had canceled our return flight – one call to their office and we were rebooked on a flight that suited us equally well.
Flights within Myanmar: We flew Air Bagan and were impressed. Flights didn’t always leave on time, but that was the same for all the airlines. The flights themselves were quick, comfortable and went well. I believe the only really viable option with kids is to fly, but you do need the budget.
Buses: We were traveling with small kids, and the feedback we received on the ground regarding the buses was that they were tightly packed, long, uncomfortable and often a nightmare. We decided to skip bus travel completely. (We are often happy to travel on the buses when they are comfortable - Turkey and Mexico are good examples).
Train – we planned to take the train from Pyin oo Lwin to Hsipaw – but it was canceled.
Hired car – we traveled extensively with hired vehicles and drivers – it worked really well in Myanmar, as it does in India as well. Most cars on the road in general are very old and in very poor condition. Tourist cars are in reasonably good condition and many have a/c (though not in the Inle region). The average age of a car in Myanmar must be at least 20 years old.
Roads: Roads are busy but much less chaotic than many other places in SE Asia. Some cars have the steering wheel on the left, others on the right. It’s bizarre . Often it will seem like your driver can’t see anything on the road ahead of him, but it all seems to work.
Food: On day 2 our kids decided they did not like the typical Myanmar (Bamar) curries. Myanmar is not a gourmet destination, but that doesn’t mean to say we didn’t eat well – we did, but we stuck to Chinese or Shan food (which is closer in style to Thai). I actually liked the Myanmar curries - but was outvoted by the family! We had excellent Indian food in both Yangon and Mandalay.
Hotels: We stayed in midrange (typically 3*) hotels and we were very impressed by the quality of accommodation. Prices (especially in the monsoon) were excellent. Best of all was the management and staff everywhere – they really looked after us. Decent hotels have a/c and TV in the rooms.
Sports: In Myanmar the people are sports crazy. They especially love soccer, mainly British or European.
Costs: We found Myanmar to be more expensive than in most of South East Asia in nearly all respects. Laundry in many hotels is ridiculously overpriced – rather, ask your guide to help you find a laundry elsewhere in the town or city you are visiting (families generate lots of laundry). Prices of goods are mainly in kyat, but in tourist areas/facilities/stores they’ll often be in USD as well. Make sure you have small USD bills for entry into monuments and pagodas. Bargaining in markets is commonplace.
Souvenirs and art: There is a lot to buy and prices range enormously. Lacquerware is outstanding, and best bought in Bagan (prices from $10 – $5,000). We bought great textiles in Mandalay – they were being exported to Thailand for sale to tourists over there. Gemstones and jewelry are outstanding. Art work is big as well – there are expensive art galleries i Yangon, and you’ll see artwork by local artists for sale everywhere. Remember, you need cash!
The people: The highlight of the whole trip was meeting the local people. They are the friendliest people we have come across anywhere, and that is saying a lot – we’ve met incredibly friendly people all over the world.
Weather: We went in the monsoon – and the weather did not affect us. It was sometimes very hot (in Mandalay) and sometimes wet (at Inle) but only for a few hours. Hiking was muddy though.
Health: Myanmar has a very poor reputation regarding health facilities. In addition to standard travel medical insurance, we took out evacuation insurance with International SOS, a global company with a presence in Myanmar. If you need to be hospitalised, you really are advised to go to Thailand. We took with a full medical kit, though we saw many pharmacies and I don’t think we would have had any problem in finding antibiotics etc. We needed to go to the International SOS clinic in Yangon – the facility was excellent, as were the staff. We felt in excellent hands, but even they told us that if our child had to be taken to hospital, it must be in Thailand. We took malarone as a precaution against malaria, but the clinic in Yangon said it was totally unnecessary. Make your own decision. We took insect repellant with us, and mosquitoes were common. We all experienced stomach problems at various times in our trip, though this seldom lasted more than about 24 hours (which is pretty normal for us on our trips in Asia). Make sure you have all recommended vaccinations.
Communications: Internet in Myanmar is often terrible. Connecting takes ages and email is dicey. Gmail seems to work fine, but we struggled otherwise. Also, many internet sites are inaccessible – including a lot of well known newspapers, magazines and news channels. It sometimes took us 20-30 minutes to log into gmail! As for cellphones – Myanmar is off the global network – it is impossible to be on global roaming there. Apparently it is possible to buy a local SIM card – we didn’t – we simply forgot about our cellphone during our trip. Local communications are fine – if you need to call anywhere in Myanmar, you should manage easily – just ask your hotel if you can use the phone (if there isn’t one in your hotel room).
Clothing – it’s often very hot so you don’t overdress. I wore shorts without any problems. Women may want to cover up a bit more. Kids can wear what they like. We wore flip flops or sandals about 90% of the time – you tend to take off your shoes a lot. But take with proper shoes if you intend to do much hiking. Don’t forget bathing suits and hats. Shan hats make great souvenirs. Sold for $2 in Hsipaw and $10+ in Inle!
Cameras – You will be able to find memory cards, but we bought extra in Thailand before we arrived in Myanmar. The fact is, you can buy pretty much anything in Myanmar if you know where to look.
Coke etc – despite any economic boycott, you’ll find coke everywhere and snacks (chips, candies etc) are commonplace.
Getting around and services: Contact me for more info on how we planned our trip. If you are a solo traveller, you probably don’t need to do this much in advance – but if you are a family, I strongly suggest you have everything planned before you come. Contact me for more info in this regard.
Thanks for reading the blog so far – after Myanmar we moved on to Thailand and I’ll be covering our family trip there next.
(PS: I am now custom-designing trips to Myanmar. For more details click here).