Sule Paya glows behind the gloomy atmosphere in central Yangon (Rangoon)
IS IT ETHICAL TO VISIT BURMA? Read up on Lonely Planet’s free chapter to help you decide.
VISA MATTERS: Filipinos need a visa to visit Myanmar. Visit the embassy: 8th Floor, Gervasia Corporation Centre, 152 Amorsolo Street, Legaspi Village, Makati City. Tel. Nos.: +632 893-1944 or +632 812-3644. Requirements: application form (get hard copy from the embassy), 2 hardcopy passport photos (white background), 1 CD containing a soft copy of passport photo, Passport (original copy). Fee: USD 20 or PHP 1,100. Processing is 4 to 5 business days. Tourist visa is valid for 3 months.
HOW TO GET THERE: AirAsia has cheap flights to Yangon (Rangoon) from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. Hail a private taxicab from outside the airport – a half-hour ride into the city center costs USD 10. Taxi rates are negotiable, so bargain hard (with a smile). Short drives around the city (e.g. Bogyoke Aung San Market to Shwedagon Paya) costs MMK 2,000 (USD 2.50). Most drivers we encountered allowed our group of six people to squeeze in one taxi!
Kyat (pronounced chat) is the currency of Myanmar. Many notes are in the worst condition, disintegrating and all taped up.
MONEY MATTERS: There are no ATMs in Myanmar, so bring enough cash to cover your entire trip. A barebones budget would be USD 150 to 200 per week; double your budget for shopping.
Bring only crisp US dollar bills with no folds, tears, ink stamps or writing whatsoever; belonging to2006 series or newer; and without “CB” in the serial numbers. The reasons for such nit-picky rules are unclear. 50 and 100 bills fetch the best rates and should be ones you exchange to kyats (MMK), while smaller bills are great for dollar payments (i.e. accommodation, entrance fees). How much of your dollars should you exchange into kyats? I would recommend at least half.
Best exchange rates are through black market moneychangers at Bogyoke Aung San Market or through reputable travel agencies like Exotic Myanmar Travels & Tours. At Bogyoke, moneychangers will discreetly approach you as you browse the stores. For emergency purposes, it’s possible to get cash from your credit card at travel agencies, but lines are sometimes down and a hefty surcharge of 10% is added. Exchange rates fluctuate constantly. Check latest rates at The Irrawady.
1.00 USD = PHP 44.00 = MMK 800 (as of July 3, 2011)
Mohingar (rice noodle fish soup) is Burma’s “national dish” – only MMK 300!
EAT & DRINK: Check out the food stalls at Bogyoke Aung San Market, where a bowl of mohingar (rice noodles in fish soup) would cost you only MMK 300. A fuller meal with fried noodles or rice would be MMK 1,500 to 2,000. A bottle of soda was MMK 300 to 500 (I was addicted to Crusher orange soda!). A cup of milk tea or instant ‘teamix’ (similar to Malay teh tarik) would be around the same price range.
SPEAK BURMESE: Although English is spoken by many, picking up a friendly Burmese phrase or two will delight the locals who I found to be the kindest and most hospitable I’ve ever encountered. Say mingalaba(hello) and che zu beh (thank you)!