Before I share my personal stories, I would like to give you, potential visitor of Myanmar / Burma, vital information about expenses / money while in the country. As I write this, prices are INCREASING. As we all know, Myanmar / Burma recently opened its doors to tourism, so expect to spend a little. This is, of course, based on my personal experience / preference. I did not eat so much street food, so your expenses will still depend on what you want or the type of service you prefer. I only hope to give you an overview so you can budget accordingly.
Prices are as of November 8, 2012
Number of days in Burma – Oct 30 – Nov 8 (9 full days)
1. Bringing CRISPY / NEW / PRISTINE US dollar bills is not a joke. All establishments do not accept old, crumpled, folded dollar bills. So make sure that when you arrive in Burma / Myanmar, your dollar bills should be NEW…as in NEW…not crumpled, no folds (not even tiny ones), no stamp marks, no staple marks. They must be super new or you’ll end up sleeping on the streets.
2. I did see a few ATM machines but don’t rely on this. Bring the money you need for the entire trip. Also, your credit cards and travelers cheques are useless in Burma / Myanmar.
Update June 2015: There are ATMs in Yangon already
1. They say that the airport (Yangon International Airport) is the best place to exchange your money. But the money changer booth at the airport closes early, so when I arrived around 540PM, I had no choice but to change my money at my preferred guesthouse. Why did I do that? Why didn’t I go to other money changers? Well, I had no choice because I did not have any Kyat with me. But Motherland Inn 2 offered a decent rate at $1 = 850 Kyat. If you change smaller denominations such as $20 or $50, you may get Kyat at a lower rate. Only $100 bills get a high rate. In Mandalay, I also had my money changed in one of the banks and I got the same $1 = 850 rate. Other travelers did mention that a few legit money changers give better rates. One traveler got 900 Kyat for a dollar. So if you have time, go to the legit money changers to get a better rate. Just don’t have your money changed at the black market or the pagodas. You’ll obviously be ripped off.
In Yangon, I stayed at Motherland Inn 2 and I booked it last September. The price then for a single room with fan was $22. But prices recently increased. A single room with fan is now $24, while an air-conditioned room’s price went up from $23 to $25. Both come with private bathrooms. There are cheaper accommodations BUT the rooms will not be so good. Don’t expect anything less than $12 in Yangon though, unless you are ready to settle for a really “shitty” room.
In Bagan, the lowest you can get is a $7 or $8 room but this comes with a shared bathroom. Good single rooms with private baths are priced at $20 up. You can also get a single room with a private bathroom for $12 but the room may not be too clean. In Mandalay, you can also get a $7 – $12 single room with a shared bathroom, but again, expect something not nice. Better rooms are priced $18 up.
MY TOTAL ACCOMMODATION EXPENSES
Yangon: Motherland Inn
$22 – private single fan room with private bathroom
$25 – private single airconditioned room with private bathroom
Bagan: Shwe Na Di Guest House
$12 – private single airconditioned room with private bathroom
Mandalay: Sabai Phyu Hotel
$12 – single fan room with shared bathroom (beware of the Lonely Planet warning: The first floor cheapies are pad-locked prison cells, which won’t put anyone in a holiday mood.)
$18 – single airconditioned room with private bathroom
1. The most decent room I had was the private single air-conditioned room with private bathroom in Motherland Inn 2 (see photo above)
2. Single travelers will always pay a higher price, even for a bad room. If you’re traveling with someone, however, you can get a nice room already for $13 each in any of the cities mentioned
3. Peak tourist season starts from November – February. I’d suggest for you to BOOK AHEAD whether by email or phone call because it will be very difficult to get a room, decent or not
1. Bus from Yangon to Bagan = 15,000 Kyat
2. Bus from Bagan to Mandalay = 7,500 Kyat
3. Bus from Mandalay to Yangon = This is tricky. I paid 10,500 Kyat at my hotel in Mandalay. The lady at the front desk told me that wherever I go, the bus ticket price would be the same. But the other attendant, who was on night shift, told me that the real price is only 6,500 Kyat from Mandalay to Yangon. My suggestion is, before you actually buy the ticket, ask around, or ask other hotels for their rate so you’d know the exact price.
4. Trishaw = this would depend on the distance. Usually it’s 1000 Kyat, but if you’re heading to a nearby area, the driver would charge you 700 Kyat
5. Motorycle = a “not so far” two-way ride in Mandalay costs 2000 Kyat = Mandalay city proper to U Bein Bridge – Usually 8000 Kyat if you ask assistance from your hotel or guesthouse, but you can get a better price if you try to talk to the many motorcycle drivers on the streets. The trick is to DO IT YOURSELF. I got mine with extra added places for only 5000 Kyat
6. Bicycle rent in Bagan = 1500 Kyat whole day
7. Horsecart rent in Bagan = 15,000 Kyat whole day 5,000 Kyat = for sunrise only or sunset only
*In Bagan, I’d suggest that you rent a bicycle to explore the area. But for the crucial sunrise or sunset temple viewing, hire the horsecart
I relied heavily on my Lonely Planet guidebook for restaurants in Yangon, Bagan and Mandalay. Since I’m not a fan of Burmese food, I usually settled for Western dishes. But I did try a few Shan dishes and they were great. To save, I also bought lots of fruits sold at the streets. I did not eat the already peeled ones of course for safety reasons. Here’s a summary of my food expenses:
1. Japan Japan Restaurant
Rice and meal= 2500 Kyat
2. Feel Myanmar
Burmese Dish (without rice) = 2000 Kyat
1. Black Bamboo
Typical western meal = 5000 Kyat
2. Holiday Restaurant
Rice and meal = 1300 Kyat
3. A Little Bit of Bagan
Lassi = 1000 Kyat
1. Cafe City
Western meals from = 2000 Kyat to 7000 Kyat
2. V Cafe
Western Sandwiches = from 1500 Kyat to 2000 Kyat
3. Various Shan restaurants
Meal without rice = 1300 kyat
Street fruits / per piece
Orange = 200 Kyat
Banana = 50 Kyat
Apple = 200-300 Kyat
Beverages Restaurants sell beverages at a very high price. So what I did was go to the grocery to buy Coke, for example, because it’s cheaper. I also bought mineral water from my guesthouse because it’s cheaper compared to mineral water bottles from the restaurant. Here are the prices:
Mineral water bottle = 300 Kyat
Coca Cola can from grocery store = 400-500 Kyat
Local cola drink from a small grocery store = 200-300 Kyat
Since I did not drink beer, I don’t know the exact cost. But, as suggested by other travelers, buy at the grocery stores. And settle for Mandalay Beer, not Myanmar beer because the latter has higher government tax.
Per hour in a cyber cafe = 400 Kyat
1. T-shirts = 2000 Kyat and up for medium sized shirts
2. Postcards = 1000 Kyat for 10 postcards
3. Bracelets = 1000 Kyat for 3
Note: I don’t think there’s anything worth 500 Kyat except for a single postcard which is 100 Kyat
ENTRANCE / TOURIST / OTHER FEES
1. Mingun = 5000 Kyat – you may be required to pay an additional $3 fee for the Mingun Pagoda, but since I did not follow the “tourist trail” while in Mingun, I did not pay anything except for the 5000 Kyat (boat fee)
2. Bagan = $10 – other travelers did not pay this. But I chose to be responsible because I wanted the money to help restore the beautiful temples around. It’s really up to you. Note: I did not pay the $10 tourism fee in Mandalay because I avoided the government areas. You can do that too, and there are plenty of areas in Mandalay that you can enjoy for free such as the Shew In Bin Kyaung (Teak Monastery) or the Gold Leaf workshops.
HOW MUCH DID I SPEND IN BURMA / MYANMAR?
A total of $359 for 9 days
Aside from the horsecart in Bagan and the bus tickets, a big chunk of my money went to food because I was already craving for steaks and burgers in the middle of the trip. If I did go for Burmese food all the way, I could have only spent $300.
So, to wrap things up:
1. Transportation will really KILL your budget. So try to be as DIY (Do It Yourself) as much as possible. If you can rent a bicycle or motorbike on your own, go for it! This will really save you a lot of transportation money. You have no choice though when it comes to long-distance journeys. Just have the enough amount and you’ll be fine.
2. If you don’t mind shared bathrooms and ugly / dirty guest house rooms, then go for the $7 cheapies to save money
3. Don’t settle for street food (just because). Some are not really clean. So try to eat at restaurants that people frequent. But if you really want street food, just make sure it’s cooked right in front of you.
4. DON’T BUY Mineral water anywhere. Try to buy at your hotel or guesthouse. Don’t even dare to drink street lassi – as they may use contaminated water with it
5. A good travel guidebook can really help when it comes to food
6. DO NOT LISTEN to the money-changing touts at the Bogyoke Aung San Market. There’s a legit money changing office right in front of the market, so go there. Don’t have your money changed by other people even if they offer a thousand Kyat to a dollar.
7. Try to bargain as much as possible. Sometimes they offer a big amount, and once you walk away, they’ll start offering a small amount. But don’t be too hard on a 100 or 200 Kyat difference. Just think about the situation of the Burmese. They need the money more than you do.
8. SPREAD YOUR MONEY – buy from local merchants
9. I know that the horsecart is very expensive in Bagan, but think of the driver that you can help by using his service 🙂
10. BOOK AHEAD during the tourist season (Nov – Feb)
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