Dates Visited: January 14, 2015 – January 31, 2015
# of Days: 18
Average Daily Budget: USD 36.44 per person (USD 31.90 without the flights change fee)
Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 1000.00 Kyat (MMK)
Accommodation in Myanmar was surprisingly more expensive than the previous countries we’ve been to. We spent an average of USD 28 per night (only considering nights spent at hotels) or USD 22 per night if adding nights spent on night buses, thus decreasing the average.
Affordable accommodation choices in Myanmar were few and far in between. We did our best to find clean double rooms with private bathroom, electricity (what?), hot shower and wifi (oh the wifi).
Myanmar suffers a lack of stable supply of electricity. Every now and then, there was a blackout. Even though most hotels were equipped with generators, they still took a while to kick in, which could leave you in the dark for a while. Plus generators were not strong enough to power certain appliances such as ACs.
The wifi was incredibly spotty nationwide. It was slow enough that loading any page was impossible at times – for example, I posted the Golden Rock post while we were in Bagan and it took 5 hours to add pictures and post! I fell asleep after clicking the publish button and saw that it posted the next morning.
Yangon (3 nights) – We stayed at the Ocean Pearl Hotel for an average of USD 31.00 a night. We initially booked one night online (USD 35.00), as our flight arrived to Yangon late at night and they advertised free airport pickup. Turns out that the pickup was only twice a day and wasn’t available for our flight. The room itself was ok, but the bed was extremely uncomfortable with piercing springs. The next morning I frustratedly looked for another hotel, but they were either full, equally bad or unaffordable, which was the only reason why we extended for two more nights, because we had no other choice. At check out, the staff was pretty rude when we tried to enforce the agreed price of MMK 30,000 (instead of USD 30.00 / night) on the extended nights. All in all not a great experience and we wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. The difficulty in finding a decent place to sleep in Yangon definitely affected how we felt about the city in general.
Kinpun (1 night) – The cheapest stay in Myanmar was at the Panna Myo Thu Hotel (USD 15.50 / night) in Kinpun. The room was extremely basic and the walls were made out of hard cardboard. Wifi didn’t work for most of the time and the hot water was lukewarm at best. On top of that, electricity went out leaving the entire village in the dark (the generator at the hotel did kick in after 15 min or so). It was OK for one night only and at least it was cheap. There was only one “fancy” hotel in all of Kinpun so we had very few good options.
Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake (3 nights) – We arrived to Inle Lake at 4am and walked straight up to the Good Will Hotel (USD 24.30 / night including breakfast) at the entrance of Nyaung Shwe. The rooms were clean and spacious, with a working hot shower. Wifi was spotty but bearable with some patience.
Kalaw (2 nights) – Probably the best place we stayed in Myanmar, Seint Hotel (USD 25.00 / night including breakfast) had nice, clean and comfortable rooms. Everything actually worked here, including the hot shower and wifi! Even the AC/heating kicked in once in a while. We would definitely recommend this hotel.
Mandalay (3 nights) – We were dropped off in Mandalay at 3am and Hotel Victory Point (USD 29.00 / night including breakfast) was one of the affordable options within walking distance. The rooms were akin to a modern hotel room; however, they had a smoke smell to it. Internet didn’t work on the first day, but the staff fixed it. It was definitely an affordable option in Mandalay.
Nyaung U, Bagan (2 nights) – Accommodation in Bagan were extremely expensive. Even at the backpacker town of Nyaung-U, where supposedly prices were lower, we still struggled to find a decent place under USD 30 / night. Blazing Hotel (USD 38.04 / night including breakfast) was the best we could do. Internet was pretty much non-existent.
Money Saving Tips – Walking-in will usually get you a lower rate at hotels, plus you get to see the room. We could always negotiate a lower rate (10-20%) for two or more nights at the hotel. For bigger cities like Yangon and Mandalay, it may be good to book at least one night in advance, as both places were too big and spread out to properly explore all the options. Try negotiating a packaged deal with the hotel – room plus tour plus bus tickets – because you may end up booking those things with your hotel anyway.
Food & Drinks
Myanmar food surprised us with its heartiness and variety, even though we had expected it to be like Khmer or Laos food. From Myanmar curry to Shan noodles, we tried all the classic dishes. It was a very unique mix of flavours reminiscent of cuisines from all three of Myanmar’s neighbouring countries. Eating at a mix of restaurants and street stalls, we spent an average of only USD 4.22 per person per day! A typical fried rice or noodle dish was around MMK 1500 (USD 1.50) while a curry feast with lots of side dishes cost around MMK 3000 (USD 3.00). Getting our stomachs full was extremely cheap in Myanmar.
Money Saving Tips – Eat like a local! International foods, especially European, were at least three times the price of Myanmar foods. For variety, alternate between noodles vs. rice vs. soups and salads. Eating anything else, even Indian curry as opposed to Myanmar curry, will cost you more for less food. Also control your drinking because nobody sells cheap beer. A good drink alternative is the free green tea served in most restaurants.
This category includes the flights in and out of Myanmar, as well as intracity and intercity transportation.
Flights – It was the first time we had flown since entering Vietnam. Even though it was the cheapest way to enter Myanmar (since it has been landlocked for so long), it still cost us USD 98 per person for a roundtrip flight Bangkok-Yangon with AirAsia. At the end of our stay in Myanmar, we decided to leave a few days earlier than planned and changed flights. The flight change fee plus difference in flights cost USD 82 per person.
Money Saving Tips – Booking early on AirAsia to catch a promo fare is the best way to get the cheapest flight. Only having carry-on luggage and not pre-booking seats also helps. Alternate payment methods (such as via 7-Eleven in Thailand) saves you credit card processing fees. Changing or cancelling flights should obviously be avoided.
Intracity – We usually took cabs within the city limits in Myanmar, especially in Yangon. The exceptions to this rule were a truck from Kinpun to the Golden Rock (MMK 5000 each way), a pickup truck from the Mandalay bus station to the city center (MMK 500) and the electric bike rental to explore the temples of Bagan (MMK 9000 for a day).
We spent an average of USD 1.35 per person per day on this category.
Money Saving Tips – Walk as much as you can to explore the cities, as they were generally small and walkable. In Yangon, only a few sights were out of the way. Mandalay and Bagan required some means of transportation to get to the real attractions. Pickup trucks were available in these cities, but they seemed to be very uncomfortably packed ride with locals basically sitting on you. Our cab driver also told us that those were not meant for foreigners. We have seen some driving by and the number of people crammed into one small truck was truly scary.
- Intercity – We took buses throughout our time in Myanmar (the only other option was to fly, which was absurdly expensive). We completed the “Big Four” circuit (plus Golden Rock and Kalaw) in a counter-clockwise manner. Taking the bus in Myanmar was a pleasant experience, even though we expected it to be like Laos. Road conditions have drastically improved in the past few years and buses were modern and comfortable. All of our bus rides were decent and we never had to sit in the aisle seat (other locals did). Even the karaoke didn’t blast the entire night.From Yangon we took a bus to Kinpun (USD 6.80, all prices per person) and then to Bago (USD 4.90). The night bus from Bago to Inle Lake cost USD 15.50, while the 2 hour short ride to Kalaw was only USD 4.80. Getting from Kalaw to Mandalay (USD 10.70) involved another night bus, while the minivan to Bagan (USD 8.70) ran during the day. The final trip from Bagan to Yangon was on a night bus again and cost USD 10.70. The total cost of bus rides in Myanmar was USD 62.20 per person. If we were just doing the “Big Four” circuit, it would be even cheaper.
Money Saving Tips – Don’t forget to scout around for bus ticket prices and times. We often found cheaper options outside of our hotel. Make sure it includes pickup from hotel to the bus station as bus stations in Myanmar were always far away.
Myanmar had numerous free and paid attractions. Below is a list of the ones we paid for:
- Shwedagon Pagoda (Yangon) – Entrance fee USD 7.75 per person
The national symbol of Myanmar, Shwedagon was a must-see, not only because of the extravagant gold and jewels, but also because of its significance to the local people. Watch the worship rituals that take place at twilight.
- Golden Rock (Mount Kyaikhtiyo) – Entrance fee USD 5.80 per person
The iconic Golden Rock balancing at the edge of Mount Kyaikhtiyo was one of the most unique and memorable places we have ever visited. Getting there was quite a hassle and the costs add up, but it will blow other Buddhist monuments out of the water.
- Inle Lake Zone Fee (Nyaung Shwe) – Entrance fee USD 10.00 per person
Myanmar had annoying zone fees everywhere and even though we tried to avoid them as much as we could, we still had to pay for a few of them. Our bus dropped us off at 4am right at the ticket office, thus leaving us with no other option. What irritated me was that the money went directly to the corrupt government and was not used to upkeep the attraction we were actually paying to “enter.” The tickets were never checked afterwards.
- Boat Tour (Inle Lake) – USD 19.40 for the boat for the day
A visit to Inle Lake wouldn’t be complete without a tour to the communities and workshops around lake. We also paid USD 4.00 extra to visit the Inn Dein Pagoda, but we never even found the right way to it! Skip Inn Dein and save the money to visit another pagoda in Yangon instead.
- Day Trek with Guide (Kalaw) – USD 11.60 per person
We chose to only trek for a day in the hills of Kalaw and did not regret it! Our guide was extremely knowledgeable about the area and the opportunity to talk to a local was invaluable. Definitely a must-do, whether it’s a day around Kalaw, or a few days to Inle Lake (or vice versa).
- Amarapura, Inwa and Sagaing Tour (Mandalay) – USD 38.00 for the day
We booked this tour with our hotel in Mandalay and it included a private cab that took us to the cities on the outskirts of Mandalay. We had an argument with the driver when he refused to drive us to Inwa (which we agreed to the night before) and had to call the hotel to figure it out. Don’t be afraid to stand up for what you paid for!
- Mandalay Zone Fee (Mandalay) – Entrance fee USD 9.70 per person
We were trapped into buying the Mandalay Zone Ticket during our visit to Inwa. Thankfully we just bought one of the tickets, thus minimizing our loss. Tickets were only checked at the Bagaya Kyaung monastery and Maha Aungmye Bonzan (there was an unguarded side gate there), which in hindsight, were totally skippable attractions and not worth paying the zone fee.
- Bagan Zone Fee (Bagan) – Entrance fee USD 10.00 per person
The actual price for the Bagan Zone Fee was USD 20 per person; however, we bought ours from two fellow travelers (the ticket was not personalized the way Angkor passes were). They only stayed in Bagan for a day and since the tickets were valid for five days, we got it for half the price. The tickets were only checked at Shwesandaw Temple, famous for its sunrise and sunset views. If you don’t plan on climbing to the top of this temple, don’t bother with the ticket. However, if you fly or take the boat into Bagan, then you will unfortunately be forced to pay this zone fee regardless.
Here is a list of our miscellaneous expenses in Myanmar:
- Visa fee – USD 25.00 per person
We got our visas to Myanmar while in Bangkok. The process took 2 days and was very simple. This was half the price of an e-visa.
- SIM Card with 500MB Data – USD 6.30
We got a SIM card with data package from Ooredoo, one of the three providers in Myanmar. The signal was spotty and 3G worked in Yangon, Kinpun/Bago, Mandalay and parts of Bagan. The funny thing was that we always had amazing signal in the middle of nowhere, but as soon as we entered urban areas, the phone had no service.
In addition to the items above, we had other miscellaneous expenses such as laundry, haircut (Carlos had a $1 haircut!), souvenirs, etc. that summed up to USD 17.68.
We were slightly over budget in Myanmar, but mostly due to the flight change fees. Housing and transportation prices were higher than we expected (especially considering what you get), but they were offset by the cheap food prices. As Myanmar enters the radar of more and more travelers, we’re sure it will become more budget-friendly like other destinations in SE Asia.