Well now i’m back to the day job i thought i would put some information up about Burma, as a lot of what i’ve read on the Internet and in Lonely Planet guides are now wrong. I hope this will help with anyone thinking of heading to the country.
Applying for a visa
Currently Burma doesn’t allow visa on arrival, so for us the easiest place was to apply at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok. Grabbing a taxi from Khao san, you should be able to get there for no more than 100 Baht.
When applying for the visa you’ll need a scanned page of your passport. There is a restaurant down the road who have a photocopier and charge about 20 Baht a copy.
Make sure you also have two passport sized photos with a WHITE background. Though we never tried they have a sign at the visa office clearly stating they don’t accept any other coloured backgrounds.
Apparently they do not allow anyone who is a professional journalist or similar into the country. This posed a problem for G as she is a writer, so our advice is to enter a different job on the visa application form. We’ve also heard of them searching your name online to check so as a precaution we recommend you edit or take down any sites that may disclose your occupation e.g. linkedin.
We applied for a same day visa, which means you must apply between 9 and 12 and the visa should be ready for you to collect between 3 and 4. Same day visa’s cost around 1200 Baht.
Myanmar’s currency Kyat (pronounced chat) is a closed currency so you have to get it when you enter the country.
Some years ago you could get a very good rate changing via the black market. The government has since cracked down on this so you are better off changing at the airport to avoid any chances of getting screwed over.
At the time of writing this there are currently NO ATM’s in Burma, however at the cost of 10% commission or more, some places will let you get money via your credit card.
You will need US Dollars to change up when you arrive. For the best rate try to get 100 dollar bills. They must have a date AFTER 2003.
They are also picky about the condition of the bills. Try to get them in the best possible condition. Most of ours had a slight crease in the middle which they were fine with, but they didn’t accept a couple which had some creases in the corners and slight marks on them.
We were slightly surprised on the costs of travelling through Burma, and it’s a bit more expensive compared to nearby Thailand and Laos. A mid-range double room goes for about $10 US and meals between $5 and $10.
We found the Burmese people to be extremely friendly and helpful. We pretty much had our trip planned out straight away thanks to the advice from our taxi driver who took us from the airport to our guest house.
The staff in all the guest houses were also very nice and helpful, and will happily book your bus tickets and check your flights for you. We even had a monk come up to us in one of the big temples and he took us around and explained it’s history, something that has never happened in all the other temples i’ve visited.
The information in the Lonely Planet guide books about getting the bus are now wrong. They mention getting from Yangon to Mandalay takes 12-14 hours, but Burma has since repaired it’s main highway so it only took us 9 hours to get there. Just make sure you ask for the highway bus as i believe there is another bus which stops a lot more so will take longer.
Burma is a pretty poor country, and you will quickly notice the state of the cars and buses on the roads, however our bus from Yangon to Mandalay was very nice, if not just a bit too chilly from the aircon. Though the bus my friends took from Bagan to Inle Lake was shocking, so be prepared for an uncomfortable ride with no aircon and packed to the rafters with people.
If you are limited on time as i was, you can also get domestic flights between all the major cities. My flight from Bagan to Yangon cost $90 US and got me there without a hitch. Internet is still quite rare to find so you have to book at a travel agency. I can personally recommend SUN FAR tours and Asian Wings airways. Make sure you call the airway the day before to confirm your flight.