Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Myanmar: expensive or not?

I was surprised to notice that the majority of the tourists in Myanmar are middle aged to quite old Westerners. I was expecting more young and adventurous backpackers. Indeed, Myanmar has a reputation of being an expensive country for holidays due to the recent opening of the country for tourists, lack of infrastructure, services and hotels. And it is true, many foreign and local agencies charge high prices for their services. Some argue to keep it this way so that the country preserves its unspoilt places and its welcoming and open communities, being afraid that in a few years Myanmar will transform into a mass tourism country like Thailand.

Below some advice for travelling throughout Myanmar on a budget:

1. Book your international flight only. Buy your ticket only until Bangkok. Try the low-cost airlines like Air Asia or Nok Air for the connection flight to Yangon. You might need to change the airport but you have the airport bus between the two airports.

2. Contact by email (or directly when in Yangon) a local agency for internal flights or VIP bus tickets (most of the buses travel during the night; they have a high quality standard: bus attendant, drinks, huge seats and mini TVs; be careful as the air conditioning is used at the maximum). They can even buy train tickets for you.

There are more and more agencies with staff speaking English; I noticed that some agencies are co-owned by locals and international people. Notice you will have to pay cash in crisp USD bills.

Here are two recommended agencies to book internal flight tickets, buy bus tickets or organise some trips in the country:
Columbus travel agency:
Sun Far:

3. Hotels in Yangon. The majority are expensive. But you will still be able to find some clean and simple accommodation places at reasonable prices. Try for example the Garden Home B&B, a cosy guest house with a pleasant terrace close to Bogyoke Museum and Kandawgyi lake.

4. Eat local. There are many restaurant options especially in Yangon. Try the cheap local cuisine. For lunch go to Feel Myanmar, 999 Noodle Shop, Friendship, Fingers. For dinner go to House of Memories, Monsoon, Happy Noodle, Hot Pot, 19th street barbecue stands. You still want to enjoy the atmosphere and the nice setting in Governor's residence and the colonial interior at Strand hotel? Go to the first one for an aperitif and to the second one for tee or coffee in the afternoon.

5. Taxis in Yangon. From the airport to downtown do not pay more than 8.500 Kyats (Strand road). To Kandawgyi Lake 7000 Kyats. Tell them straight you know the prices. Ask your hotel staff to negotiate for you before leaving the hotel. If you are in Bogyoke market just step outside one hundred meters away from the market and catch a taxi in the street. You may even tell them you are not a tourist. Try to walk away if they refuse your price offer and they will call you back.

Do not hire a car or a taxi for the whole day in Yangon; you do not need a guide either. Check my three days itinerary proposal here.

6. On your first day, if enough time, visit Off The Beaten Track restaurant on the Kandawgyi lake. The owner, Nay Lin, offers free travel advice around the country. They have a small library with books and travel books about the country. Have lunch there, the food is tasty as well.

7. Visit myanmore.com for tips on ongoing activities. Many concerts, sport activities are free of charge.

8. Ngapali Beach is expensive. Go to Ngwe Saung beach instead. It is an excellent place if you want to relax. From Yangon, you can take a bus or rent a car with driver to reach the 4h30 hours far away beach. But Myanmar is not a beach destination country. It is a place to discover the nature and the diverse cultures and minorities of the countries.

9. Spend your time reading a lot of travel blogs before travelling so that you pick up the advice and the tips of fellow travellers.

10. Visit in a group - renting a car and hiring a guide this way will be cost efficient.

Do not try to cut on costs by planning to come in the rainy season (between July and end of September). It rains a lot especially in the southern part of the country.

It is not the cheapest country to visit but if you do not mind the experience of taking the bus or the night train, trying local food, and choosing simple hotels, you will be able to visit Myanmar even if your budget is limited.

Finally, if you don't have much money left take the example of one French tourist. Read here the story and its happy ending.

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