Burma/Myanmar has some amazing places to visit. Follow these tips to benefit your travels and help the locals.
Know how much things should cost
You're not doing anyone any favors by getting ripped off by the locals. It encourages them to continue taking advantage of tourists and it means you're giving your money to less-than-honest locals. Rule of the road: if the price isn't written down, it's negotiable.
On our last full day in Mandalay, we had limited Kyat left and ended up walking 14 blocks until we found a motorbike willing to take us another 16 blocks for 1000K. It was 7pm and we were his first customers for the day. Other motorbikes and taxis when we first started the walk wanted 5000K. They are waiting for home runs with naive tourists rather than doing consistent business.
Bring crisp $100 US bills
But know that you can also use ATMs in all the top tourist destinations. If you have a good debit card (like Capital One), you get money at a good exchange rate for no fee. That said, once we were finally able to access our credit card invoice, we realized that the rate for Burma was far below the exchange rate the banks offered. This hasn't been the case in any other countries (so far).
Book hotels/guesthouses ahead of time
We were never without a room, but for Inle Lake, for example, it took 20 calls to get one. Since none of the guesthouses take payment until you arrive, you lose nothing and gain everything by booking ahead of time. The best way to do this is by calling. All hotels in your Lonely Planet speak enough English to take a reservation. Although don't always expect reservations to be honored.
Learn a few Burmese words
With "min gala ba" (hello) and "che zu beh" (thanks), you're good to go. Add a smile and you're golden. It makes the locals happy when you reply "min gala ba" when they say "hello."
Be proud to be American (if you are indeed American)
I'm fairly certain that Obama enjoys a higher popularity rating in Burma than in the states. This is one country where saying you're American evokes nothing but smiles and envy. "Good country, good president" was something we heard consistently from those who spoke tons of English to those who only knew those words. Obama and Hillary visiting Burma really gave hope to the long oppressed people of this country. The influx of tourists seems to be tangible proof that the future is coming.
Hotels aren't the place to save money
If you're trying to save money, know that hotels aren't the place to do it. They will cost a lot and no room will be worth the money. The sooner you accept this, the better. One place you could save a bit is on food. If you order a curry, it comes with so many accompaniments that you can usually split it. Just add a salad and you're good with lunch for two.
Strange but true: your best bet for help with language issues are the adults
Most youth in the country know little more than "hello" in English. We think this disconnect is because the older generation grew up with parents who were under British rule and therefore were more exposed to the English language.
Bring face wipes everywhere and wear flip flops when possible
You have to take off your shoes constantly, and those are the easiest to remove and to clean when you get back to your room. Ladies: bring a wrap you can use as a skirt. It's the most appropriate thing you can wear in the pagodas and still allows you to stay cool in shorts other times of the day. Gentlemen, bring the bottoms of our zip off pants to Shwedagon in Yangon and Mahamuni Paya in Mandalay, otherwise longer shorts are usually fine. Otherwise, you can borrow a longyi.
Try to avoid camera fees where possible
They either go straight to the oppressive government or someone is ripping you off. Rob was never asked except near official-looking signs posted with the fee, where he promptly put his camera away—only to take it out later.
Speaking of oppressive government...
Avoid spending where it goes directly to the government
We used advice in Lonely Planet to try to spend money where it would help locals more so than the government. We also tried to spread our love by not booking or buying everything at our guesthouses.
Destination specific tips
See our two week Burma/Myanmar itinerary.
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