After completing our month long trip in Myanmar, we noticed that this country is really quite different from the rest of South East Asia. Here are some tips & hints we learnt along the way.
Learn the magic words ‘Hello’ & ‘Thank you’
This is a huge help, like when you are in any foreign country an instant respect is given if you learn the basics. We met with some friends for a week and this is how we remembered how to pronounce/ say them, it helped us by having almost a little jingle in our head to be able to say first (not out loud), which prompted us to say it right.
Min Gā Lar Bar – Hello – (mingle in a bar)
Ché Zu Tin Par Day –Thank you very much – ( Jus-tin-tim-ber-lake)
Ché Zu Bé – Thanks – ( Jez – zoo -bae)
Money doesn’t matter…
Well I mean of course it does, but USD doesn’t. We had read everywhere to take perfect, clean, crisp United States Dollars; but for us it wasn’t an option, our exchange rate is so poor at the moment with the USD we were going to loose to much in the process so instead we risked it by not taking any and not once did we need it. In all large cities, there are ATM machines which accept all the major cards. We would withdraw 300 000 Kyat (pronounced chat) the largest amount allowed per transaction or $324.11 in AUD plus the 5000K / $5.40AUD ATM fee.
Just make sure you always have a decent amount on you before you are venturing away from a city into a smaller or more remote region as we got stuck one day as we headed to Chin State from Bagan where all the ATM’s in Nyaung Shwe weren’t working (lucky we have good friends that could spot us until we returned).
TIP: If the ATM’s in your town aren’t working try a neighbouring suburb sometimes they all run on the same connection but the next town will be on a different one.
Clothing in Culture
TIP: You can purchase a Longyi at Shwedagon Pagoda for anyone that doesn’t have something to cover their knees.
Just use your common sense, if you have done any research at all you will know it is not appropriate to have bare shoulders and your knees uncovered at a temple/ place of worship/ monastery, that being said we were constantly disgusted at tourists behavior whilst we were in Myanmar. The amount of women we watched walk into a temple with their shoulders uncovered wearing spaghetti strap tops and short shorts made me mad, like really mad.*Please don’t be one of those people with a Lonely Planet Guide Book that still blatantly disregards what they read*
Yes it is hot, yes you may not feel comfortable in a tee shirt and long skirt but you know who else is uncomfortable, every other person around you. Most of the time I watched as the locals just looked the other way, too polite to say anything but you could tell they were offended. We even watched a young woman in a ‘cheeky’ boob tube style playsuit walk into a temple and the head monk approached her and asked her very politely to cover up and she literally huffed at him and stormed off. I mean come on people, have some respect and show some respect. We are visitors after all…
Photo: Drew Hopper Photography
TIP: It’s easy to cover your shoulders with a thin scarf, keeping you cool and respectful.
Moving back to the early 90’s
With the internet I mean… Remember when you first got the internet hooked to your house and your mum/ dad would verse you in a screaming match to get off the computer because they needed to use the phone but you had been waiting almost three hours for your favorite song to download via LimeWire (and probably also infect your computer with millions of viruses) well that’s what speed you should expect whilst in Myanmar, any faster and you have struck a gold mine (of sorts). A lot of people talk about this subject and we all brush it off… that is until you experience it and you come to realise just how much you use it and just how much that you actually have come to need the internet. It is painfully slow or completely non-existent, it can take 15 minutes to load a text only email. It is frustrating to your very core and the first week you will try and play it cool and be all “I don’t need to check my emails, or bank, or facebook etc” but pretty soon you will come to terms with the fact we are all addicted, try and look at it as a bit of a cleanse.
“You want HOW MUCH for this room?”
Yep, a major forewarning, Myanmar is disgustingly expensive in the accommodation sector and many times when we were doing a room inspection I caught myself blurting out “you want how much for this room!?” and then having another heart attack when they told me the dingy room, with a shared bathroom and no air-con was going to be $20 USD / $27.94 AUD, like I said earlier about our exchange rate it sucks and yes pretty much everything is quoted in USD but you just pay in Kyat.
*I don’t even want to tell you how much we had to pay for rooms like these*
HINT: Try to barter, not all places will be sometimes you might get a surprise.
I feel like you just can’t get used to what surprises you may face with accommodation, for example when we visited Chin State the group of us that went on the trip walked into this hotel in Mindat, a very small town with only two or three hotels. When we asked the prices they wanted $20 USD per person, I had to control myself as I almost laughed out loud, we asked if we could inspect the rooms and we almost died, mouse poop, dirty stained sheets, hair in the bed, shared bathroom, with only cold water… whoa, this was not happening, after some group chat and extensive barter with the owner we finally reached the price of $15USD per room, still way expensive but the only other option was $90 USD per night and that just was not happening. Just be prepared for less, much, much less than the rest of South East Asia. For the same quality that you get for 400 Baht per night don’t expect that under $25 USD, they just don’t have the infrastructure yet to drive the prices down.
Now defiantly don’t let any of these things put you off visiting as Myanmar is the most incredible country we have visited so far, it changed us a people and also as travellers, it is unlike any other and the kindness of its people is just amazing. So we urge you to visit now, whilst it is still the same, before it is changed by the tourist trade, you will love it. We have no doubts about it.