Sunday, January 8, 2012

Myanmar in general

Myanmar is one of this country where tourism hasn't changed everything yet. It has also improved a lot in the last few years in terms of opening  of its border to foreigners. 2012 will be an election year which is always best avoided so we thought that we could not postpone this visit any longer; Christmas 2011 and New Year 2012 will be Burmese!

Getting a visa at the embassy in Singapore was quite easy. It did require 3 visits, some weird requests such as business cards but otherwise straight forward.

Budget preparation for Myanmar was an interesting activity. Credit card are not accepted anywhere and there is no ATM so all money required for the trip needs to be brought in cash. Myanmar has its own currency: Kyat but US $ rule pretty much everything. The official change is 1$ for 8K but in the street, the change is closer to 1$ for 800K!!!! So everyone comes with dollars and change them in the street for every day use of kyat.
A few other interesting points:
- Notes need to be brand new, no marks, no scratch, absolutely perfect! So I kept them in a flat envelop in my handbag and it was not unsual that the notes were refused!
- A 100$ note also has more value than 2 50$ notes! I leave it to you to guess why, something about certain people getting lots of money out maybe...
Changing cash was actually far easier than what we thought, it's a rather official business and not at all dark alley activity! We even went in a bank once to exchange at black market rate!

The main thing which feels different once inside the country is the fact that the country has been left behind due to the embargo. Cars are barely describable, mainly Japanese from the 70s-80s, note that the steering wheel is on the right hand side despite driving on the right (overnight change in the 70s), that makes the driving rather interesting, like the age of the cars wasn't fun enough... and in the country side, horses and cows are still use for transport!
Another point is the lack of communication technologies. Mobile phones are rare and none of our foreign phones worked! Internet wise, think the old modem speed, a cup of tea at each click! But once going, it doesn't look like websites are blocked. Even FB worked when it didn't in Vietnam!

And finally everyone always want to know where you are going, which hotel you have booked, if all is confirmed etc.
But sometimes it feels more like it's out of curiosity than a proper control!

That was just an introduction to Myanmar, the photos about our tour will appear in the next post!

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