I came back down to Bangkok from Chiang Mai and met Cic before we flew out the next morning together. It’s safe for women to go there alone, but we preferred to check it out together as low season and an underdeveloped country doesn’t sound like the most appealing combination for a 20-something year old Canadian female. There has never been a better time to visit Myanmar than the present moment. As the country eases up on the previously implemented strict border systems, tourism is booming and it's not slowing down anytime soon. Myanmar is developed just enough to make it somewhat easy to get around for tourists, but to the point of becoming completely overrun by Westernization. Myanmar is one of the few countries in Southeast Asia where you must arrange your tourist visa ahead prior to landing. While it is possible to get a tourist visa upon arrival for countries such as Cambodia and Indonesia, Myanmar is different. If you know the general dates you will be travelling within Myanmar, you can get your visa in your hometown prior to departing for Asia. Ensure your travel date is within 6 months of the visa application date. If you're unsure about your travel dates, it is possible to get your visa in big cities that have Myanmar embassies such as Bangkok. We flew into the capital city of Yangon (formerly known as Rangoon) from Bangkok, and planned to work our way North from there. There are two ways to get into Myanmar: land border crossings or flying in from a main city in Asia. There are three land border crossings from Thailand. Click here for more information. Once you come out on the other side, you must take a plane or bus to your destination. Some areas of Myanmar are still off-limits to tourists, which explains why it's not recommended to rent your own vehicle. On a side note, due to the recent change in the Myanmar's government, they are progressively changing which side of the road you drive on. When I was there, it was the left side. It probably changes everyday according to how people are feeling when they wake up. Imagine the massacre. When we arrived we expected grabbing a taxi to be a nightmare, just like how it is in Thailand, but we were pleasantly surprised at how smoothly it went. We bargained for a fair price (we had read ahead that it shouldn’t cost more than $7 USD) and we were on our way to our accommodations. When arriving in a new country, it is smart to have a general idea how much it will cost you to get from point A to B to avoid getting ripped off. Our driver spoke perfect English, gave us a tourist map and a guide to Yangon’s biggest attractions, and answered any questions we had. How is Thailand the most touristy place in Southeast Asia and no one speaks English, yet a country who just started allowing tourists in speak better English than myself and not only knows where he’s going (as a taxi driver should) but was prepared to give us any further information we needed about his city.
We kept walking past what looked like tables and chairs for midgets on the side of the street. There were no midgets, but instead, full grown men sitting around and drinking tea. I secretly questioned how many daycares they had to steal that furniture from before they filled every street in Yangon. We decided to jump on the bandwagon and grab some afternoon tea. Drinking hot tea in the heat is supposed to cool you down, but it was 40 degrees and the tea did nothing for me except make me perspire even more than I already was. Bad idea. We started walking towards Bogyoke (Scott) Market when we got caught in a monsoon. The only place to take cover was a convenience store in the middle of nowhere. We basically chilled out for an hour waiting but there were no signs of it stopping so we eventually sucked it up and made our way to the market. There must of been hundreds of stores in this market offering everything from jewelry to dried fruit. Gemstones are a great souvenir to get from Burma; affordable and precious! Don't be shy when it comes to bargaining. It's an amazing way to experience the Asian culture first hand and have a little fun with the locals. After purchasing the classic elephant hippy bag and a few clothing items, we made our way to the largest pagoda in Yangon; Shwedagon pagoda. You could easily waste a day there; there are many different pagodas to see in this complex and they do not get any less beautiful as the day goes on. That evening, all we wanted was some damn street food which is readily available in Thailand, but we had no luck in the area surrounding Shwedagon. After getting caught in yet another monsoon, we eventually and for an overpriced westernized restaurant instead (bleh).
Breakfast was included in this hostel. The first morning we had something that resembled a tortilla chicken spring roll, and the next morning we had pea soup. Interesting way to start the day but nonetheless it was free so I’ll take what I can get. There really isn’t much to do in Yangon for tourists as we had seen the biggest attraction the day prior. We decided to walk to Kandawgyi lake and garden for a relaxing afternoon. After walking for 2 hours we still hadn’t found it.. And in 49 degree heat that’s not the best feeling I’ve ever experienced. When we finally arrived to the lake, which appeared to be man made, we maybe spent 10 minutes there before making it our mission to find a fruit smoothie to cool us down. We found a more touristy cafe but they had fruit shakes and air con so we couldn’t pass it up. After cooling down we went to check out a local market. And I mean local. There were zero tourists on the premises and it seemed as though the 20% of the population that aren’t Buddhists were saturated into this market. Most of the people were walking around, yelling at us, selling things and pushing their way through seas of people.. It was definitely overwhelming and one of the biggest culture shocks in Myanmar. We went into the indoor part of the market where I felt like I was in the midst of a fast fashion warehouse. People were loading and unloading boxes of clothing and cutting fabric. It was extremely congested and claustrophobic, but nonetheless a very cultural experience. An interesting sight to see, but I wouldn’t go back anytime soon. More than anything it was just overwhelming, and that mixed with the unbearable heat, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Did I hate it? Kind of. Am I happy I went? Definitely. Would I recommend it to other travellers? No question. We then went back to our happy place at the westernized cafe where we had some cheapish eats, an ice cold Chang and watched a Bollywood movie. We had dinner on the streets of Chinatown that evening where my meal costed me a whole 70 cents. Myanmar has probably been the cheapest for street eats in Southeast Asia. I also stick to vegetarian which not only helps my budget, but equally my personal health and well being. In the words of Cicely regarding eating meat off the street: “You could be eating a cats ass and you’d never know cause it tastes like chicken”.
Myanmar accepts both Kyats and USD. For site entry fees, they usually prefer USD. Most other establishments such as restaurants prefer Kyat. A good exchange rate is 900-something Kyat to 1 USD, while a bad exchange rate sinks to around 700-something to 1 USD. Wherever you go, they will give you a different exchange rate based on how generous they are feeling that day. Banks usually give the best exchange rate, followed by airports and gold shops, but the 'street rate' is easily manipulatable if you're persistent enough. One thing to note about US dollar bills is that they must be crisp, clean and have no marks or rips. When exchanging money at a bank, ensure all the bills they give you are in pristine condition. Most Burmese establishments will only accept USD in crisp condition but ironically, give you a crumpled up, damp Kyat note as a sad excuse for your change. That's Asia for you!