Photo: Temple outside Monywa.

Burma forum

Couple of quick Burma tips

Posted by somtam2000 on 2/6/2013 at 04:50 admin

So i've spend the last five days eating my way through Rangoon and here's a few quick tips:

*) US cash bring in crisp new $100 notes. Keep them in a nook in a book to keep them as lovely as possible. If you're buying USD at Bangkok airport, tell them you want it for Myanmar and they'll try and give you the best they can.

*) The best exchange rates I've seen so far have been at Rangoon's airport. Exchange your money at the kiosk AFTER customs as their rate is marginally better then the kiosk before. I'd recommend exchanging as much cash at the airport as you are comfortable carrying.

*) There are plenty of ATMs in downtown Rangoon but they are quite temperamental -- I've been yet to find one that works, and have heard two stories of cards being eaten. So I wouldn't rely on them. There are plenty of dodgy moneychangers, but there are "official" kiosks in both hotels and in the big market near Traders that will swap you cash for just a couple of points of the airport rate - unless you enjoy dealing with dodgy moneychangers, I'd skip them.

*) Accommodation is a bit pricey. I haven't looked at many hotels yet, but am currently paying $30 a night for a decent room that would have cost me $20 in Thailand. Backpackers I met the other day were paying $22 for a room with shared bathroom (cold water).

*) The upside is the food is both excellent and very cheap. Eating noodles on the street costs around 300-600 kyat (depending on the dish) a curry 600 - 1,500 kyat. Biryani 1,200 kyat. At restaurants, slightly more, but still very affordable. Skip the hotel breakfast.

*) The food is excellent. I'd heard very mixed things about the food, but have found it to be (save one dish) uniformly outstanding.

*) Taxis are cheap. Figure on 1,500 kyat for a quick run across town during the day, 3,000 kyat in the evening. But in practise I've rarely used them because

*) Rangoon is an excellent city for walking. It rivals Hanoi in this regard.

*) Beer is affordable. 500 kyat for a glass, 1,500 - 2,000 for a large bottle depending on venue and beer.

*) For a night out involving beer, 19th street in Chinatown is where you want to head. Excellent and affordable. Very local. 50th Street is an expat style pub - not really my scene, but would appeal to some. Another good locals area is along the south coast of Kandawgyi lake. Mr Guitar is good there -- HUGE rats though.

*) WiFi is becoming more common in cafes and guesthouses. It doesn't always work and is generally very slow (forget about Youtube). If your hotel doesn't have it, Traders offers it for 1.5 hours (buy an iced coffee) as does East Hotel across the road (no time limit but crappier coffee)

*) Prepaid simcards can be bought just about everywhere in Rangoon -- I paid $20 for one that came with $20 in credit on it. There is a 3G network (Rangoon and parts of Mandalay only) but you need a different kind of simcard that is significantly more expensive ($200 I was told) so I haven't bothered looking into that further.

*) Most money changers are closed on Sundays (learned that today :-)

*) Don't rush through Rangoon. I've spent five days here so far and could easily spend five more... instead am leaving for Pyay tomorrow. It may not have many "must see" sights, but it is a great city to just walk through.

*) We've just taken on a Rangoon writer and have a team of writers covering Burma in the coming months so there will be a lot more coming onto the site -- just thought I'd drop in these quick points while they're fresh.

#1 somtam2000 has been a member since 21/1/2004. Location: Indonesia. Posts: 7,576
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Posted by SBE on 2/6/2013 at 20:01

Thanks for the update.

Have you tried fermented tea leaves yet? It's an acquired taste that I still haven't managed to acquire...

Affordable simcards everywhere now? Wow. That's new. I've never used a mobile phone in Myanmar. I think a simcard cost about $200 last time I was there and it was very hard to get one. Can you phone or text abroad now too?

I'm not sure I'd choose to spend 5 days in Yangon at the beginning of a trip. I always found myself spending more time there than I really wanted to. You often have to go via Yangon when you're travelling between places anyway and until recently you had to fly in and out of the country from there too. There's so much else to see in Myanmar and it takes such a long time to get anywhere if you aren't flying. I'll be interested to hear what you think of the rest of the country .... suspect it'll blow you away and you'll be kicking yourself you didn't go there years ago!


Where else are you planning on going apart from Pyay? I imagine Tilapia gave you a few tips!

PS. Have you met many locals who call their country Burma?

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Posted by somtam2000 on 2/6/2013 at 21:47 admin

I have not tried calling but my messages are not arriving in Bali... so of limited use but handy for calling hotels etc.

Pyay is next stop, after that, don;t know. am really making it up as I go and have two more weeks (I have another month-long trip in August).

Re the Burma thing, I did a tour with Golden Harp the other day (the taxi service run by released political prisoners) and they referred to it, to me, as Burma. Also met with another politically active group the other day and they referred to it as Burma. Others, hoteliers etc have been using Myanmar.

We'll be using Burma/Myanmar on the site but using the new city names (so Yangon not Rangoon) -- so I'm fitting in as many Rangoons and Burmas as I can before we put anything on the site :-)

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Posted by SBE on 3/6/2013 at 08:10

Interesting about the name thing. I didn't go to Burma/Myanmar last trip because it sounded like it was mobbed with tourists but I did ask a political refugee in Thailand what I should call his country .... he said definitely Myanmar. Maybe it depends what ethnic group you belong to? Rangoon reminds me of Somerset Maugham novels ... ah the good old days when Britain ruled the world (even Australia).

Eeeh, August is going to be ever so wet and muddy and miserable. Can't you postpone till November? You'll enjoy it a lot more. Really. Weather makes a heck of a difference there.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 3/6/2013 at 11:41 admin

It's always been Myanmar (or something there abouts) in local language - it's just the English that was changed. Like Germany & Deutchland. I agree with the Lady that the name change was done unilaterally by the junta so should be ignored :)

Tried my phone again to call Bali and it worked! Cost $2 for about a 30 second call...

I don't mind the rain. Just as long as I am not standing in it :)

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Posted by exacto on 3/6/2013 at 12:42

Interesting thing about the Burma vs. Myanmar and Rangoon vs. Yangon thing. I similarly had a long-time Burma watcher friend say that this was a trick of the Junta and to ignore it. Germany and Deutschland. How about Bangkok and Krung Thep?

Have you read Burmese Days by George Orwell? Beautiful and brutal all at the same time. Regards.

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Posted by busylizzy on 3/6/2013 at 15:38

Good stuff - keep it coming! I'm heading there in Oct/Nov so I appreciate the up-to-date info.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 5/6/2013 at 02:49 admin

As the now proud owner of over a grand of soaked US cash I take back what I said about the rain.

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Posted by SBE on 5/6/2013 at 06:43

The first time I went to Burma/Myanmar all the treks out of Kalaw had been cancelled because of the weather and the road between Kalaw and Inle was blocked by multiple landslides after 3 days of heavy rain. That was in December BTW, not the height of the rainy season.

I think it would be much more sensible for you and Lizzy to team up in October/November. Otherwise we're going to get inundated with posts from admin about what a miserable country Burma/Myanmar is with pictures of muddy hovels, taxis without windscreen wipers and unusable $100 notes.

I'd offer to come along too but I'll probably be paddling about looking at pretty fishes in Indo until December.

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Posted by MADMAC on 5/6/2013 at 07:32

I finally got sick of place name changes - particularly those that are politically driven. I drew the line with Peking becoming Beijing and Rhodesia becoming Zimbabwe. So Rangoon will remain Rangoon and Burma will be Burma for me for life.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 5/6/2013 at 08:40 admin

Nah I promise I won't moan too much :-)

Two other researchers doing much of the initial legwork, plus have just taken on a correspondent in Rangoon, so we'll have lots of sunny stuff too :-) I'm just having a poke around - more talking to people than doing research.

May be of interest, Patrick Winn - a US journo who covers Burma a lot is doing an "ask me anything" on Reddit right now. More info here:

http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/1fpukp/im_patrick_winn_a_us_journalist_covering/

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Posted by somtam2000 on 5/6/2013 at 23:25 admin

If you're interested, have finally managed to upload a few pics from Pyay onto Instagram. You can see them here: https://www.travelfish.org/instagram.php

Only 1 rainy one SBE!

That page updates all the time with pics from various Travelfish writers, so worth checking in now and then.

Cheers!

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Posted by busylizzy on 6/6/2013 at 02:22

Hey SBE,when are you heading to Indo? I'll be spending two months there first - Aug/Sept - then poss going back after Burma.. Am just starting to think about plans now. Will email you... [img]smileys/smile.gif[/img]

Somtam, get the beers lined up - and the Burma reports!

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Posted by SBE on 6/6/2013 at 13:30

You're a lot further on with your plans than I am lizzy! Haven't bought a ticket yet. I usually don't get to SEA till the autumn and generally head to Indo first because of the weather there. By December it's usually rainy season and rough seas, time to move on, and by then there's good weather practically everywhere else.

Is Patrick Winn part Burmese Somtam? I've a feeling Winn is quite a common Burmese name.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 6/6/2013 at 15:42 admin

No he's American - studying Burmese language at the moment, but he is based in Bangkok. I don't know him personally, just thought the discussion was interesting.

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Posted by mattocmd on 6/6/2013 at 16:02

Stuart,

What kind of camera are you using? I like the photo 'pyay afternoon' is that the view from your guesthouse??

So is it raining all day and night or what? I'm wondering if I need dry bags for my camera, computer and cash when I head there next week.

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Posted by somtam2000 on 6/6/2013 at 20:16 admin

Hi, I am using a Nikon D90 and the iPhone. Pic taken from a riverside bar southern end of Pyay.

Rain so far been pretty typically monsoon. Chucking it down for a few hours most days, then overcast with some sun rest of time. I had one very wet day (which I wined about above). Little rain at night so far.

Yes I'd be packing dry bags.

Am in Bagan now, but sick as a dog with food poisoning so no idea what the weather is like!

cheers

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Posted by KirstyB on 6/6/2013 at 21:27

Weather in Bagan is supposedly better at this time of year than other places in the country. It's rained practically non-stop in Yangon since Monday!

@SBE - you're right, Win is a popular Burmese name.

@Somtam - do you have any more info about Golden Harp? Sounds interesting ...

ps Pyay is a great place! :-)

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Posted by SBE on 7/6/2013 at 05:32

Are you there too at the moment Kirsty? Good stuff! Bagan is usually one of the driest parts of the country (though I do have some shots of it in the mud and rain too) and it's a lot warmer than Inle in the winter.

Upset stomach is why I don't rave about the food as much as some people do. I was horribly ill in Mandalay the first time I went there. Food you get at rest stops when you're travelling on long distance buses can be particularly bad. They seem to cook curries in hours or days advance and then leave them out with no refrigeration and flies crawling all over them. I'm very used to eating street food in SE Asia, but my stomach sometimes protests about the hygiene standards in Myanmar/Burma.

Hope you recover soon Somtam, Bagan is pretty wonderful. Lots of decent food there, including local restaurants not specifically aimed at tourists. It's a photographer's paradise too, amazing light when it isn't raining!

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Posted by somtam2000 on 7/6/2013 at 06:26 admin

Hi KirstyB,

Yes the Golden Harp trip was great. Suggest you call or msg Minwa on 097 304 0615 or 094 490 048 10. It costs $35 for a half day tour which should be long enough. We mostly covered sites related to the polititcal situation, but if you want to do temples and museums they can do that too. I've not written it up yet, but really found it fascinating.

Yes I enjoyed Pyay - 3 nights was enough!

Thanks SBE - this has been the worst I've been ill since my time in India (when i lost 25 kilos) -- I could certainly afford to lose that again, but I got work to do! At least the puking has stopped!

Cheers

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Posted by MADMAC on 7/6/2013 at 12:08

When there's a salsa scene in Rangoon - I'm going. But not until then.

#21 MADMAC has been a member since 6/6/2009. Posts: 6,957

Posted by KirstyB on 7/6/2013 at 22:32

@SBE - yes, here in Yangon for a few months doing a bit of work :-)

@Somtam - thanks for the info - will try and make the time to check them out, sounds interesting stuff.

@MADMAC - Tuesday night is Salsa night in Yangon!

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Posted by MADMAC on 8/6/2013 at 01:09

Kirsty - you're shitting me? Do you know the name of the venue?

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Posted by MADMAC on 8/6/2013 at 01:11

I found it! Cool. OK, it's on the list. Gotta go to Hanoi and Rangoon.

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Posted by KirstyB on 8/6/2013 at 23:01

MADMAC - I **** you not ;-) but I guess you found it - 50th Street Bar. At the moment I believe it's only once a month so plan accordingly when you get to it!

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Posted by dutchaustralian on 11/6/2013 at 13:11

Thanks all for the input! reading some good info keep up the good work, Im planning my trip to Myanmar for Sept/Oct. Not sure on the dates. Question would you do Laos before Myanmar in Sept and then head to Yangoon due to the weather ? I assume Laos would be about the same weather?

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Posted by mattocmd on 12/6/2013 at 12:43

I spent all morning driving around my city looking for perfect US $100 bills. My bank said that they would have ordered them for me but it's too late now because I leave in two days. When you say 'crisp, new' US dollars, should I take that literally? My collection of 100s have no tears, marks and aren't faded. However, some of them have very small creases down the middle. I wonder if those bills will be alright. Any advice?

#27 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 365

Posted by SBE on 12/6/2013 at 13:10

Things seem to be changing very fast in Myanmar but last time I was there they were still very picky about the condition of US bank notes, particularly high denomination ones. A creased $1 or $5 didn't really matter but a creased $50 or $100 did.

If you're going to Myanmar via Bangkok you could probably get your perfect 100 dollar bills there. (Also perfect lower denomination notes). Try Vasu money changer on Sukhumvit, corner of soi7/1. They're right next to one of the Nana skytrain exits so it's easy to get there. Vasu gave me absolutely pristine dollar notes when I said I needed them for Myanmar and their exchange rates are very competitive. My bank at home gave me useless dollar notes.

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Posted by mattocmd on 12/6/2013 at 14:28

Hi SBE,

I'm actually coming from the USA and don't know where to get pristine US dollars. I've tried some banks and even the casino. The ATM that I normally use was distributing pristine 100s and 20s about a month ago but isn't at the moment. I've done so many deposits and withdraws on my account today that I'm worried it's going to trigger a fraud alert and put a freeze on my account.

I guess I'll just have to keep going back to my bank here and keep trading my bills into better ones.

It's too bad I can't rely on the ATM at Yangon Intl Airport. That would be the easiest way.

#29 mattocmd has been a member since 13/6/2007. Location: United States. Posts: 365

Posted by somtam2000 on 12/6/2013 at 17:40 admin

Get them at a don muang forex booth or I should have $500-600 left in pristine ones I can swap with you at the airport - for you good rate sir :-)

I've not had any rejected but everytime i exchanged them they were checked carefully.

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