Having reached the end of our time in Myanmar, and finding the costs and money situation vastly different from our pre-trip research, we decided to put together a quick guide of the situation we found. First, costs have skyrocketed, making this the most expensive part of our trip. We have a 2012 (German) version of the Lonely Planet for Southeast Asia and the costs were often double and occasionally triple the costs described in the guide.
USD vs Kyat
Prior to our trip we had read in several places that we should make sure to bring along crisp US dollars. Having just been in Cambodia where we were able to take US dollars out of the ATMs, this was an easy recommendation for us to follow. However, in retrospect we would have been fine without any US dollars. On a rare occasion where US dollars were preferred, we could have opted to use Kyat for a slight surcharge as the exchange would have been 1 USD = 1000 Kyat as opposed to the official conversion of 1 USD = 990 Kyat. Bagan was the only area where we were regularly quoted prices in dollars instead of Kyat.
ATMs and Money Exchanges
We visited the typical four locations during our trip. Starting in Yangon, we took a night bus to Inle Lake, a day bus from Inle to Bagan, the boat from Bagan to Mandalay and a day bus back down to Yangon. Of the four, only Inle didn’t have an ATM. The ATMs that we did use would give us a combination of 5000 and 1000 Kyat notes (roughly $5 and $1!). As a result, if you take out a sizable amount of cash at once to reduce your ATM fees, be aware that if you only have your wallet to put the cash in, you will find that you are unable to close it. At one point we used a money exchange to get rid of some of our excess USD and found out that 10000 Kyat notes also existed. We were also able to exchange both USD and Singapore Dollars a money exchange in Yangon.
Visa and Area Fees
We filed our VISA applications in Bangkok at the Myanmar embassy, which cost just over 1000 Bhat to get our VISA and passport back the next day. The process was fairly straightforward, although there was a significant line. There are several people on the street outside the embassy who are willing to file the paperwork for you, but will charge roughly twice as much. We did not have to pay a fee at immigration when leaving the country.
There were entrance fees for both Inle and Bagan. While the travel guide listed the prices as $5 for Inle and $10 for Bagan, but we found this had been increased. Inle cost $10 for 7 days and Bagan cost $15 for 5 days. The buses to both Inle and Bagan drop you off well outside the town, such that you have to take a cab into town. Bagan has a “new” bus station where the bus drops you off into the hands of a mob of clamoring taxi drivers. The prices we were quoted were $10 – $15 into town, depending on if you were heading to New Bagan, Old Bagan or Nyaung U. Be prepared to bargain hard if you want to get the costs reduced.