Based on our own experiences, here is a list of general tips that we thought might be useful for travellers to Myanmar…
- A valid tourist visa is required. In Singapore, the visa processing duration is half day, i.e. same day collection. You will need to apply online for a queue number for the date that you want (take note that the calendar opens only about one week in advance). Complete the relevant forms that they email to you, get ready 2 recent photos, prepare photocopies of your passport and identification card, and appear on the date of appointment. The total cost for the visa is SGD$45 (SGD$35 for the visa and SGD$10 for administrative fee).
- Crisp new US dollar notes are required in Myanmar. Shop owners, money changers, railway ticket masters etc. will not accept any US notes that are slightly torn, bent, folded or marked/stained in any way.
- The local currency, kyat (pronounced as ‘chat’) is used for majority of transactions – shopping at local markets, eating at local shops, eating at local restaurants, renting of bicycles, hiring of guides, landry service etc. During our planning, we had read that the US dollar is main currency for transactions, but our experience said otherwise. The US dollar was only used for hotel room payment, train/plane/boat tickets, and one meal at a high-end restaurant. That being said, if you run out of local currency, you can enquire shopkeepers if they would accept US dollar. The rate is not as good, of course.
- Our first exchange of currency was done at the airport. We had read that the airport exchange rate was the best. Again, our experience said otherwise. At Yangon International Airport: 1 US = 968 K; at Bagan Umbra Hotel: 1 US = 955 K; at the money exchange at Yangon’s Bogyoke Aung San Market: 1 US = 978 K.
- Wear slippers or shoes that are easy to remove. Shoes and socks are forbidden at every single temple (including the temple ruins at Bagan). Inevitably, you will be stepping on animal crap, from pigeons, horses, monkeys, cows, other birds etc. If you have a pair of comfortable shoes that can be condemned after the trip, use it.
- Bring lots of antiseptic wipes. You will want to refresh yourself, wipe up your hands prior to meals, and wipe up those dirty feet after walks in the temples.
- Bring lots of medicine to combat food poisoning. Both of us suffered from severe food poisoning – taking turns to make runs for the toilets. Vomiting and having diarrhoea during the long train and boat rides were no joke. Make sure you have adequate supply of pills for the above.
- Arm yourself with plastic bags. They will come in handy when you suffer from vomiting bouts (see above). Also, you can put your shoes in them and carry them when you visit very popular temples such as the Shwedagon Pagoda, and not risk losing your shoes. A side note on shoes for Mandalay Hill: If you ascend the Hill from the Southern route, you will meet this stall on the right at the entrance. The stall carries a signboard that says “No carrying of shoes up the temple is allowed”, and the stall has makeshift shelves for your shoes. No need to believe the sign! You can bring up your shoes (just make sure you do not wear them). Of course, you are free to decide. If you want to leave your shoes with the stall, it costs 200 K per pair. Take note: she charges by per pair, not per shelf.
- If you would like to get a good bargain while shopping, it’ll be advisable to go to the shops early in the morning. Be their first customer. They believe in ‘lucky money’ from the first customer, and will do their best to make sure their first sale of the day is successful. That being said, if you sincerely like the product, and can afford it, do support their local enterprises and economy!
- A good insect repellent is a must! The mosquitoes in Myanmar are HUGE. Wade off the mosquitoes and flies at the non-touristy eateries (and sometimes even at hotel lobbies) with your repellent. We used Badger’s Anti-bug Shake & Spray, and it proved to be effective. It was very easy to apply, non-sticky and the smell was also tolerable (a mild mixture of citronella and lemongrass).
For specific travel tips to Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan, you can check them out at our full itinerary pages of those places:
CL and YM.