A How-To for Yangon (and Burma)



Everywhere you go online, you'll be told to bring crisp new "big head" hundred dollar bills with you on your trip to Burma. This is absolutely true. They love U.S. money here almost as much as they love their longyis. What's no longer true, at least as of February 2013, is that you have to bring all the money you'll need for your entire trip. There are now several banks in Yangon that have functioning ATMs for all sorts of credit cards. While most places, especially guesthouses, won't take credit cards for payment, you'll have access to funds while inside the country. That said, the ATM at the airport was out when we landed so without U.S. dollars (and a kind official to break our 100) we would have been screwed. Also, most places quote prices in dollars, with the exception of restaurants, so you will need dollar bills on you regardless.



The other thing you'll read online is how difficult it is to get a hotel room. This is 100% accurate. We booked ahead of time, only to be told when we called to confirm that they "did not have our reservation." Because there's no way to pay in advance (unless you do a group tour or use a travel agent), hotels will often give away your room if it serves their finances- i.e. if someone offers more money for it. It took about one hour at the tourist desk at the airport for them to find us an available room at the MGM Hotel. We were quoted $50 a night, though they only charged $40 when we got there in a cab (12000K). The room had a pretty gross private bathroom and a super cooling AC. We also got free water bottles at the front desk and a decent breakfast. The next day, we moved to the White House Hotel. $27 for a double bed with fan with a view of Shwedagon and a shared bathroom. We would have paid for an AC but they were sold out of those rooms by 8:30am when we walked over. Sleeping with a fan was miserable, but the breakfast was delicious and our pillows didn't wreak of smoke like at the MGM. Wifi was free but spotty. Location was good and made it easy to get buses.

Eat and Drink

Cheap though difficult to find without resorting to street stands, which seemed to smell of rotting food. We went with Lonely Planet recs and spent approximately $9 on two lunches and one dinner.

See and Do

Shwedagon Pagoda glows at night in Yangon, Myanmar

We thought Yangon was worth a day, though not more. We walked through the markets on our way between switching hotels, saw the colonial buildings, and visited Shwedagon. We were ready to go the following morning, though we may have felt slightly differently if it wasn't 100 degrees in our room. That said, missing Shwedagon seems really stupid if you made it all the way to Burma. It's the most important stupa in SE Asia and was incredibly impressive. We went late afternoon and stayed for sunset, which allowed us to take photos in a variety of light and also hear several prayers.


Bus on our way to the bus to Kalaw. Note: this picture was taken at my eye level. Seated.

We took a public bus to Shwedagon (100K pp each way) and a bus to the bus station for the bus to Kalaw (1000K total with bags). The cab to the station would have been at least 12000K so we saved a ton by doing public transport. The whole trip took less than an hour, which was also the time we were told a cab would take. Our tickets to Kalaw were 15000K each for the 13 hour trip. In all honesty, it wasn't half bad, though Rob wanted more leg room for his 6'2" frame. The AC was blasting so wear pants and bring at least a fleece over your t-shirt.

Interested in seeing Yangon and Shwedagon Paya without paying for a plane ticket? Check out our Yangon photo tour. Planning a trip? Read about our first day backpacking in Yangon.

If you have any budget travel tips for Burma, leave a comment!