Myanmar (Burma)

Facts for the Visitor

Visas (obtained in Bangkok)
US citizen: 810 Baht for a 28-day visa with 3 months validity from the date of issue. The visa is issued at 16:00 the next day. Visa application requires 2 photos and the name of a hotel in Myanmar where you'll supposedly stay. Feel free to use any of the names from our Myanmar Lodging Guide.
Japanese citizen: Same as US citizen.

Language Skills Needed
English is sufficient for travel, but learn Burmese numbers before attempting local transportation.

Be sure to pick up a free "Yangon Tourist Map" in the airport lobby on arrival. With the map comes sales pitches for tours in Myanmar. Politely decline the tours and keep the map. Also get a free "Tourist Maps of Myanmar" at a tourist information office. The one-page "Tourist Maps of Myanmar" has excellent maps of Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle Lake in addition to overview maps of Myanmar and Yangon.

What to Bring
US$ cash (not travelers checks) in large and small denominations, sandals that easily slip on and off, and a fleece pullover or light jacket for Northern and elevated regions where nights get chilly. Expect rain from May to October.

Cash Machines
None are on international networks.

Currency & Exchange Rates
Two currencies are used and neither is convertible back into hard currency. Foreigners need a pocket full of both Myanmar currencies to sightsee.
FEC FEC stands for Foreign Exchange Certificate. US$1 buys 1 FEC but not vice versa. FEC come in 1, 5, 10, and 20 denominations. Every foreigner entering Myanmar with an independent tourist visa is required to change US$200 into FEC just after immigration. (Business visa holders and tour package members are exempted.) Foreigners must pay most hotels, all tourist site admission fees, and domestic airfare in FEC or US$. On the black market, the US$ is 5~10% more valuable than the FEC.
Kyat Kyat is the primary currency. Everything other than hotel, site admissions, and flight tickets are paid in Kyat. Rates for Kyat vary widely between the official government rate of US$1 = 450 Kyat to the black market rate in Yangon of US$1 = 720 Kyat (January 2002). Please note: the Kyat depreciates against the US$ up to 50% per year, and the government rate tends to be the previous year's black market rate.

Tip: The average budget traveler in Myanmar spends the equivalent of US$70 per week. If staying less than 3 weeks, 200 FEC is too much to spend. Since FEC cannot be changed back to US$ and US$ are accepted everywhere in lieu of FEC, get as few FEC as possible. Although airport security verifies that all tourist visa holders exchange US$ to FEC, the minimum exchange amount is negotiable at the exchange counter with a bribe or sometimes simple insistence.

Money Changers
The limited number of official money changers give poor exchange rates. Some hotels and restaurants exchange FEC and US$ close to the black market rate. White House Guest House in Yangon gives a good rate. From the airport, take a 3 FEC taxi directly to White House, exchange some FEC there, then continue onward. We were ripped off exchanging at other places without knowing the current black market rate.

220V, 50Hz. Sockets fit US/Japan style 2 straight pin and European style 2 round pin plugs.

International Certificates of Vaccination are not required.

Tips are not expected and often refused.

Many places don't have telephones. A call within Yangon is 50 Kyat. International calls are US$3~7 per minute depending on the country.

There are a limited number of Internet points in Yangon and none in the rest of the country. The cost is prohibitively high at US$1 per kilobyte of data transmission.

City Bus, Yangon Bus fare is 20 Kyat (US$0.03) for any distance. Most local people speak English and can advise which bus to ride. Bus numbers are posted on the top 4 corners of the bus and are written in Burmese.
Long Distance Bus The bus network is regular and cheap. Fares are about 700 Kyat (US$1) per 100~200 km stretch. Tourists and locals pay the same price. Passengers are packed in seats, the aisle, and on the doorway steps. Roads are narrow and poor so buses can average only 20~30 km/h.
Trains We didn't investigate trains because our guidebook said they charge tourists the equivalent of 30 times the bus price and take twice as long for a similar distance.

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