Remember this post? It made quite a stir and lots of people got back to me, saying that a few things were not correct. I spent 17 days in the country and lots of things surprised me in a positive way. Because there are not much information on the net about the situation in Myanmar and how it is to travel around there, I decided to publish yet another post with some tips. This time everything is checked and tried by me and you can fully rely on the information you are going to read.
- Visa - I experienced some difficulties with obtaining my visa to Myanmar. You can read all about it here. However, I was relieved to find out that the procedure is straight forward and your application won't be rejected if you are a journalist, or a writer. The government seems to be relaxed about who they let in the country. At the airport the officials are very polite and, like everyone in Myanmar, they smile at you all the time.
- Getting into the country - the land crossings are still closed and the only way to get in is to take a flight from Bangkok to Yangon.
- Crossing the border at the airport - you won't be asked to declare your electronic equipment. Except some forms you need to fill in, asking you about your date of departure etc. (very similar to the ones you get when flying into Thailand) there are no other requirements. After you collect your luggage you will be asked to go to the x-ray machine, where a few officials will check if you're not carrying weapons or drugs.
- Looking for accommodation - to me it seemed like most of the places where in private hands. I heard that they belong to cronies, but I haven't had a chance to check it. An important thing to note is that the accommodation is relatively expensive ($20 for a double with a breakfast included). They are usually shabby looking rooms. If you are lucky you will find one with air con and hot water. In some places, like Bagan, it is very hard to find a free room and I would advise you to book in advance.
|My room in Myanmar - $22 per night - don't ask!|
- Food - I found the food to be bland, but it is only my opinion. I much prefer Thai cuisine. Breakfasts usually consist of eggs - after a while it gets really, really boring.
- Communication - there is still no mobile network. If you want to call someone in Myanmar, or outside of the country, you can use one of the 'telephone booths'. Good news is that the Internet is widely available. You can find wi-fi in most of the hostels and hotels and it is usually free. The connection in bars and restaurants is not as good. Internet cafes are very common and cheap.
|A telephone booth in Bagan|
- People - ah, the people of Myanmar! They are simply wonderful! I have never experienced such a hospitality and never seen so many smiling and kind people. Even if they want to sell you another Orwell's book, or a souvenir and you refuse, they will still be polite and walk away. They are also very curious. Even those, who don't know much English will want to know where you are from and why you came to their country. If you are white and blond, like me, you will be a real treat to their eyes.
|A lady in a clothing factory, Inle Lake|
- Spies and politics - you don't need to worry. There are no spies, who will follow you. You are allowed to freely explore and enjoy this beautiful country. Some locals speak openly about the political situation. In many places you will see Aung San Suu Kyi's photos displayed proudly next to family portraits and other memorabilia.
Other things worth knowing:
- Money - you still need to have immaculate looking dollars with you to be able to either pay with them, or exchange them into Kyats. Don't exchange them on the street, it is much better to do it at your hostel, bank or currency exchange point at the airport.
- Transport - you will be surprised how good the transport is. Most of the buses I went on were comfortable. I even got a toothbrush, toothpaste, blanket and a pillow! Burmese seem to be obsessed about time keeping and most of the transport was almost on time. If you take a mini van or a taxi to the station you will find that it will pick you up a way in advance. I also took a flight from Bagan to Yangon, which I was worried about. It turned out that the Yangon Airways is a really decent airline: comfortable seats and a meal on board - what else do you need?!
- Safety - Myanmar is a very safe country. You can walk the streets at night without a care in the world, but watch your steps as the streets have huge holes and there is a lack of street lights.
- Prices - except accommodation everything is very cheap and affordable.