GENERAL INFO
MYANMAR/BURMA

Capitol:Yangon, Feb 19, 2003

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The size of the Burmese pagodas, which are much bigger than Thais', shows that the Burmese people are very serious Buddhists. They are very kind and their smiles cannot be seen anywhere else in SE Asia except for Laos
The highlights: the Buddhist City -
Bagan
Old capital and cultural center,
Mandalay. Area where time seems to stops,Inle lake
And pagodas and more pagodas which you cannot escape from.
Myanmar has many political problems.It's government is currently been squatted by SLORC a military regime Aungsun who's party was the victor at the last elections was not allowed to take her place as leader of the government. Many small minorities are also engaged in rebel fighting against the central government. However when you travel through Myanmar, it is so peaceful you see nothing but people's smiles.
The government is now promoting tourism and setup the Visit Myanmar year 96 campaign. Aungsan asked tourists to boycott it because if people come to Myanmar, it helps the military government. Because of her movement,Myanmar doesn't receive so many tourists.However there is an alternative argument, to be made for tourism actually helping the Burmese people, particularly if you avoid where possible using the government and large businesses services which have strong ties with the government.

LANGUAGE
National Burmese and many other minority languages.
Foreign Not many people speak English however staff in hotels and restaurants usually do. It will be very useful to learn Burmese number writing system.


CLIMATE
Best season: Nov - Feb Dry and relatively cool
Hot & Dry: Mar - May
Very hot. during day time, it reaches 35C easily. You cannot stay out more than 1 hr.
Hot & Wet: Jun - Oct
Rain is not so heavy in areas such as Bagan. But in mountain areas such as Inle Lake, rain can be very heavy. Travelling on mountain roads can be very difficult, allow extra time.

BUDGET
Budget (Min. Daily amount) $8
Room $3+/p
Food at restaurants Fried rice: 350+k
tea/Coffee 100k drinking water: 35-50k
coke: 100k beer(draft) 200-400k
toilet paper: ?k ice cream 150k
T-shirt: 1500k postcards 20 for $1
film ? k

Currency
Recent Rate
Cash $1=1050k, 1FEC=950k

The biggest expenses, flight, trains, most hotels must be paid with US$ or FEC's. The bus fare and restaurants can be paid with Kyats.
Unit of currency kyats: 1,5,10,15,20,50,90,100,200,500, 1000
Exchange: The official rate is US$1=5.5kyats. The market rate is 1FEC=950K. The market rate is illegal but it is common way to change US$. You can change money on street, jewelry shops, travel agents, etc.
The official rate is used only to decide the postal cost. Most towns have official licensed exchanges but their rate is $1=350k. Nobody change money there any more. The black rate is highest in Yangon. It is lower in local towns.



Myanmar index page

Mandatory Exchange
Foreign travelers must change US$200 to FEC(Foreign Exchange Certificates) Rate $1=1 FEC, If you have only T/C, they take 2% commission which means paying US$200 T/C, getting 196 FEC.

FAQ'S regarding the Mandatory Exchange
Q 1 Can we avoid the Mandatory Exchange?
A 1 Very difficult to avoid it. Guards at the fence after the immigration counter instruct you to go to the exchange booth and change money before they will let you through. You may have a small chance to get through without changing if everyone has passed through immigration. The guards may relax take a little break. Then you may pretend you have changed and manage to get through.
At the exchange booth, many travelers have managed to reduce the amount to $100-50 if you agree to pay
$10 to the officers. This deal is not so good.
Q 2 What are FEC's?
A 2 Foreign Exchange Certificates. Myanmar government created the 'Myanmar dollar' to control the economy. Everyone can use them as dollars. Foreigners are requested to pay dollars or FEC's for flight, trains, boats, most accommodation, airport tax and government controlled items, etc.
Q 3 Do we need Kyats (Local currency)?
A 3 Yes. We need kyats for non-government controlled items, such as buses, restaurants, souvenirs, etc. Normally those places will not accept dollars or FEC's. So you need to change immediately after checking in your hotels.
Q 4 Where to change US dollars or FEC's to Kyats.
A 4 Only at black markets. Jewelry shops, travel agents, guest houses. Also many people approach to you on street. There are "official" exchange offices but currently their rate is very low. Nobody changes there.
Q 5 Do you lose money when you change to FEC?
A 5 Yes. You get about 10% more kyats for US$ than for FECs.
Q 6 Should I bring T/C or cash.
A 6 If you have only T/C, you have to change to FEC first, then you can change to kyats. T/C to FEC all banks charge $2 commission for each transaction. So you may bring US$ cash. However T/C is more secure.
Q 7 Can I bring currencies other than US dollars.
A 7 Yes, they will exchange major foreign currencies to FEC fairly. But US$ is the best particularly if you change on the black market. However Myanmar banks may not accept Australian Dollars. Maybe NZ dollars as well. On the black market rates for US$ are higher than other currencies.
Q 8 What should I do, if I have excess FEC?
A 8 Big problem. possible to change back only if you changed more than $200 to FEC. If you didn't, you can change FEC to US$ cash on the black market. The commission is about 10-20%. However, many other travelers pay US$ cash at guest houses, airline companies, train station ticket counters. Ask those to change from FEC to cash.
Q 9 If I have excess kyats, what should I do?
A 9 It is not possible to change back officially. You can do it only at black market. you may lose about 10%.
Q 10 What is the best way to do?
A 10 We recommend to change all $200 to FEC when you enter and try to find others who change FEC to US$ cash. we do not think it is difficult to do it.

Warning about FEC
If you write on FEC's, you cannot use them anymore. Also old style FECs cannot be used. Please check all FECs at airport.

Banks general opening hour M-F 10:00-14:00
T/C comm. US$2 You can change T/C to FEC only. You should change FEC to kyats on street or licensed money changers.
Cash advance possible at 1 bank in Yangon and the Yangon airport

Immigration
Tourist Visa Visa: 28 day. At most Myanmar Embassies, about 820B, 2 Photos, takes from 1hr to a few days.
Bangkok, Thailand: 810B, issuing on the following day.

Entry points
No Overland entry is allowed.
They are a few border points with Thailand and China.
From Thailand: Mae Sai, Mae Sot and Ranong, however it is not possible to travel Myanmar from those points. It is allowed to stay around the border for a day.
The visa for a day is $5 for Mae Sai, $10 for the others. You can get 30 day visa when you return to Thailand if you have had the exit stamp from Thai immigration office. (You may not be able to get the exit stamp at the border. Go to the immigration office near the border.)
It is possible to stay in Tachileik, the border town with Mae Sai, with extra fee.
From China, it is not possible to enter. You may be able to enter by unofficial buses to the Myanmar casino. But it is illegal for foreign travelers. Tour groups may enter from China with government approval.
See Thailand Mae Sai or page for more detail
Airport: Airport Tax $10
In Yangon
to town by taxi $1/p Many taxi agents at the airport. $1/p
In Mandalay
There is 2 flights/week operating to/from Chiang Mai, Thailand.


Mail/Telephone
Mail: One of the cheapest places to send airmail from. But only post cards and letters you can send with cheap cost. Parcels are no longer possible to be sent with cheap fare. (10kg costs $85)
They used to have a problem with reliability, but it seems to have improved.
Japan Europe USA Australia Thai
Post card/letters 35k 32k 33k 31k 31 k
Phone Country code 095 no collect calls possible.
Local phone use tokens 5k They can be purchased at tobacco kiosks or from GH's, usually 10k

Japan Europe USA Australia Thai
1 min $3 $4 $5 $4 $2

Domestic Transport
Air, Train, Boat transport are controlled by the government so you have to pay with $ or FEC. Very expensive since tourist prices are charged. Bus fares are cheap and payable in kyats.
Air Payable only with FEC/US$. The most expensive. but you save time.ex.Yangon - Mandalay $90-113
Train Payable only with FEC/US$.Not so comfortable, not so fast, not so cheap, not so convenient. ex Yangon - Mandalay $30-$38
Bus Cheap and payable with local currencies. But often foreigners pay double fare. Most buses on major routes have a/c video. Relatively comfortable seats. But they often breakdown. Some buses have meal services, but don't expect gourmet level. ex. Yangon - Mandalay $7
Boat Payable only with FEC/US$ even for local ferry which just cross a river. The most common route is between Mandalay and Bagan.

local transport
City Bus Yangon, Mandalay have good bus systems but buses are always full. Each bus stop has a name, so you may ask MTT to write the English and Burmese name on paper. Overcharge is common.
Taxi Should bargain.$3/hr in Yangon.
Very expensive in Bagan and Inle lake.
(Saiker) Cycle Rickshaw with seating on side of bicycle. Can accommodate 2 people.
1000k/day 200-400/ride
Rental Bicycle Available in Mandalay, Bagan, Inle lake 1000k/day


rental bicycle

Horse

Saiker

local bus

Customs/Manners
 

see SE Asia Customs for more details

Health
 

See SE Asia Health for more details

Hotels
 
Room charge: in Yangon it is expensive, fan double rooms with a bathroom $6+, a/c $10. in local cities, a/c double rooms with a bathroom $5+.
Quality: Very comfortable. Most rooms have attached bathrooms and hot shower and are clean.
Breakfast: Price often includes a good breakfast.

Food
 
Burmese food is often cooked with lots of oil and can be very greasy. Travelers frequently have some kind of stomach problem. The cause is not clear - oil may be 1 reason. Chinese Restaurants can be found in most cities. They are relatively expensive. Indian food is available in Yangon and Bagan. Good ice cream is available in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan.
Burmese food. Basically as much as you can eat. You order a few main dishes, they put out about 10 or more different small dishes. You pay as you eat, but you can ask for seconds at no extra charge.
Around Inle lake, you can eat Tofu based dishes.
Drinking water: Most restaurants serve free Chinese tea. you don't need drinking water so much. Also cheap drinking water is available everywhere.
Tea shops: It could be one of the highlights in Myanmar cuisine. You can find tea shops everywhere. When you sit and order tea/coffee, they will bring many different kinds of cakes. You may eat what you like. They charge according to what you eat.
Coffee/tea are both full of condensed milk and sugar. I personally could not tell the difference between tea and coffee.

Shopping
souvenirs: Lacquer ware, jewelry, stones(rubies, sapphires, jade, etc.) Shan style shoulder bags. silverware, weaving, wood carvings, Myanmar cloth longi, etc.

Safety
 
Myanmar is very safe. People are kind and helpful. But there are a few reports of cheating tourists.
Warning. When you take a taxi from the airport to Yangon. You will be asked if you want to hire a taxi to tour around Myanmar. Do not hire from these men. If you want to hire transport go to a travel agent. According to reports, not only do many of the taxi drivers over charge, but they also rip you off every time you eat at a restaurant and stay at hotels.

Other
 
Voltage, plug style: 220v. 50 cycle, many plugs have multi-style accepts USA/European, but not UK.
Photos/development: Cheap but very bad quality

Festival/Holidays 2003
PH : Public holiday Most of the holidays are based on the Burmese calendar. Many festivals are held on full moon days
Jan 4 PH New Year's Day
Jan 4

PH
Independence Day
Jan 14* Karenese? New Year's Day
Jan 18-30? Bagan: Aananda Pagoda Festival
Feb 2 PH Union Day
Feb 19? Mandalay: Mahamuni Pagoda Festival
Mar 2? Peasant's Day
Mar 27-28 Burmese calendar, Tabaung month full moon
Mar 19? Yangon: Shwedagon Pagoda Festival
Mar 27?

PH
Military Day
Apr 15-17 PH Thingyan, Burmese New Year
They throw water over everyone. You get completely soaked. It lasts a few days.
May 1 PH May Day
May 17 Burmese calendar, Kasan month full moon, the celebration for Buddha's enlightenment
June 16? PH Martyrs's Day full moon
July 24 Burmese calendar Waso month, full moon
Aug 6-8 Bagan: ? Pagoda Festival
Aug 9-14 Nat Festival
Aug 13-14 Bagan: ?Pagoda Festival
Sep 11-12 Bagan: ?Pagoda Festival
Sep 28-Oct 12 Inle Lake: Phaung Daw U Temple festival
Oct Burmese calendar Thadingyut month fullmoon, Light festival
Oct 11 Elephant Festival, near Mandalay
Oct 10-17 Bagan: Shwezigon Pagoda Festival
Oct 12 Mandalay: Kuthodaw Pagoda Festival
Oct 12 Mandalay: Kyauktawgyi Pagoda Festival
Oct 12 Fire Festival in Taunggy
Nov 8 Burmese calender Tazaungmone month full moon
Nov 9 Mandalay: Mahamuni Pagoda Festival
Weaving Competition
Nov 29

PH
National People's Day
Dec 25 PH Christmas day
Dec 23 Burmese month Kayinny's full moon festival

Internet
Internet is not permitted for foreigners. Therefore no web mail is possible. Only e-1-mail is possible in Yangon, Pagan and Inle lake by using local accounts. the cost is about 1000k/hr
Myanmar index page

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