We’ve enjoyed our welcome to Yangon airport- like BKK in Bangkok, it looks to be a sleek new building. As with many other things, so much is new and changing so quickly in Myanmar, that not only are the 2-year-old guidebooks out of date, but so is the internet. I’ve never seen anything like it. Hotel prices have doubled, tripled, or quadrupled in just a year or two. And our information keeps turning out to be incorrect.
For starters, I kept reading that there are no good and sanctioned ways to change your money into Myanmar kyat and get a good rate, (you can’t use atms, travelers checks, or credit cards here) so you have to find a guy on the street and change it through him. And this is risky, according to all I’ve read, because these black-market guys are slippery pros. Apparently they grab your money from you and count it out repeatedly, and then shuffle it around and distract you so that even the most careful and alert person ends up losing a few bills before the process is over.
Well, now you can change your money at banks and get a very fair rate, without the hassle. I only learned that from a fellow blogger who was here a month ago. Oh, and I don’t even know what the bank rate is, because I changed my money at the airport. I had no intention of doing this, because I was told by 3 different sources that you can only get the official government rate at the airport (of $1 = 4 kyat), instead of the actual current rate ($1 = 850 kyat). But as we arrived and waited for the others who were headed to our hotel (you can get a free 40 min. van ride from the airport if you book with certain hotels- even budget ones), the driver advised us to change our money at the airport, because the rate was even better there than at the banks in town.
We checked it out and when we were quoted the rate we expected anyway, we happily changed our money. So, Lonely Planet was wrong again! I’ve also heard a rumor that the multi-day visa process we went through in Bangkok(which we were told was either a next-day regular charge, or a same-day expedited fee… but turned out to now be broken up into 1,2, or 3 day return rates) may not be necessary because they might be offering visas-on-arrival to Americans now, maybe with a visa-approval letter like Vietnam allows.
One thing that has stayed the same is that they will only take pristine, un-creased, and unmarked US dollars for exchange. It also seems unfair that they won’t take Euros or Pounds, etc, but there you go. I got a handy little plastic case to keep my bills in good condition until they were needed. Other travelers have mentioned using cardboard and saran wrap. And if you don’t use all your bills in Myanmar, you can always save them for Vietnam and Laos, etc, where they may accept them for payment instead of local currency.
Incidentally, some of the visas here in SE Asia are the coolest I’ve ever seen. Instead of a boring stamp, you get an official pre-printed, personalized sticker that takes up a whole page in your passport.
Until my next post, please enjoy the hard-hitting headlines in the Myanmar newspaper…