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Travelling in Myanmar - it's complicated.

Until a few years ago Myanmar was one of the Asian countries which used a Dual-currency money system. Dual-currency means the common use of 2 different currencies in one country. For example in Siem Reap, Cambodia, one can use US-dollars for everything because Cambodia is a dual-currency country - even the ATMs dispense dollars. In Myanmar however there are no dollars bills dispensed but only Kyat notes.

Dual-currency can be used to enable dual pricing. Dual pricing systems are usually intended to make foreign tourists pay more than locals, and in Myanmar many hotels, some zone-fees and all airfares are payable in dollars. Myanmar is not the only asian country using dual pricing; for example the Taj Mahal has a 40 Rupees entry fee for Indian nationals, and a slightly higher 1000 Rupees fee for foreigners.

Burmese citizens can pay in Kyats; for example the Kyat rate for flights is about 20% lower than the dollar rate for the same flight. Foreign tourists can nowadays also pay hotels and guesthouses in Kyats but - not at the lower rate for Burmese citizens. The trains have the same price for foreigners and Burmese citizens, and are payable in Kyats; which makes train trips very cheap.

Recently the government has started to reduce the use of dollars; since 2013 nearly all museums and archaeological zone fees are payable in Kyats. Airline tickets are paid in dollars, and most hotels can still be paid in dollars, but also in Kyats. Exchange counters in Myanmar do not charge commission and the difference between buy and sell rate is about 2 to 4 percent. In Europe the difference is closer to 20 percent. The banks and exchange offices at the airports have a good exchange rate.

Unrest impacts tourism in Myanmar.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Since 2017 there has been turbulence in Rakhine state (Arakan), and since january 2019 there have been hostilities between the Arakan Army and the Tatmadaw (Myanmar army) in Mrauk-U. Sittwe is currently open for tourists (December 2019); but Mrauk-U is closed.

The situation in Northern Shan state was relatively quiet until 15 august 2019; when the Northern Alliance rebels attacked an elite military college in Pyin-U-Lwin. The town of Hsipaw seems to be OK at the time, but in November 2019 a German tourist went on a motorbike into unauthorized territory, hit an anti-personnel mine, and was killed. Check your governments' travel advice. More on the safety situation in Shan state:

gokteik.htm (Shan-State)

 


Ashin Wirathu.

Ashin Wirathu at the Jumping Cat monastery (2017). Wikipedia   Ashin Wirathu at the Jumping Cat monastery, 2017

Ashin Wirathu is the nationalist Buddhist monk of the religious organisation Ma Ba Tha. Since 2012 there have been clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar. Ma Ba Tha is a Buddhist organization which is responsible for much of the unrest; and in 2016 supporters of Ma Ba Tha campaigned against the Rohingya on Facebook. Ashin Wirathu is one of the prominent leaders of MaBaTha.

mizzima.com - Ashin Wirathu is the subject of a new documentary showing at France’s Cannes Film Festival (May 2017).

frontiermyanmar.net - A shadowy group of “patriots” nostalgic for junta rule is exploiting religion in the hope of creating a national emergency that would justify a Tatmadaw takeover.

www.bbc.com - BBC background: How Aung San Suu Kyi sees the Rohingya crisis (25 January 2018).

www.newmandala.org - Assessing the Rohingya crisis. And some solid background articles on the political events in Myanmar (13-june-2018).

 

A quote from the venerable monk U Uttara: "All suffering in Myanmar is man made. What we need is a mind change. If we don’t change the way we think, the suffering in this country will never end." (September 16, 2015, frontiermyanmar.net)

 


The hotel situation in Myanmar

Hotel prices in Yangon have doubled in 2012 and tripled in 2013, but in recent years the hotel rates have been declining. The overall picture is that the steep rise in the number of tourist arrivals has slowed down since 2016, because of the Rakhine unrest.

The hotel and tourism situation:

The hotel situation   (15 Sep, 2019)

 


bagan quake map

New sunset viewing hills in Bagan.

On 24-aug-2016 Myanmar was hit by a 6.8-magnitude earthquake; the quake damaged almost 400 temples in Bagan.

In 2017 the government has built new sunset viewing hills, and once these were finished all major sunset pagodas were closed.

In 2019 Bagan has been awarded World Heritage status. More information hotels, tourism and visitor numbers in Bagan:

bagan.htm

 


Tourist traps.

There are some tourist traps and scams in Burma; though much less than in other asian countries. There used to be money changing scams in Yangon when people changed on the black market; before 2012. The latest popular scam is the Dala ferry tour Scam. If you take the ferry across the Yangon river to Dala (Dallah), some rickshaw drivers offer a guided tour for "whatever you want to pay". Turns out to be quite expensive (some end up paying 100$ or more). You will be asked to buy a bag of rice at 50$ for orphans or victims of the Nargis cyclone or such things.

And get your Myanmar E-visa ONLY at the official goverments' site! It is very easy, though you need to enter your data carefully. Do not enter a wrong passport number and make sure you don't forget your own name - some people manage to do so.

More on Burmese tourist traps and E-visa:

tourist traps


2018: Facebook or Hatebook?

And Facebook is finally taking measures, maybe a few years too late. Researchers and human rights activists say they cautioned Facebook for years that its platform was being used in Myanmar to promote racism and hatred of Muslims, in particular the Rohingya. Facebook has grown tremendously in Myanmar, with an estimated 20 million users out of 53 million citizens.

As of June 2018, Facebook had over 60 Myanmar language experts reviewing content and will have at least 100 by the end of this year. This is mainly done through a secretive operation in Kuala Lumpur that’s outsourced to Accenture, a digital information company, and codenamed "Project Honey Badger." Facebook told Reuters it was "investing more in the teams who are working on Myanmar" as it seeks to "understand and respond to Myanmar’s unique technical challenges." It has designated a radical Buddhist group, Ma Ba Tha (Wikipedia), and several prominent monks known for vitriol toward Rohingya as "hate figures and organizations", and blocked them from the platform. This has led to the removal of a lot of harmful and violating content.

If the Facebook measures are effective remains the question; a detailed Reuters article on Facebook in Myanmar: www.reuters.co

 


The Myanmar restaurant scene.

And finally something about the Burmese cuisine that is strongly influenced by China and India. Burmese curry is very different from the Indian curries - a Burmese curry is usually a few pieces of chicken floating around in a bowl of oil. So it can be a bit difficult to find a good, creamy curry; but the regular dishes like Thali, Samosas, Masala dosa, Dal, and so on are easy to find.

Myanmar cuisine and curry map Things have been improving rapidly the last few years; new restaurants have been opening up left and right. The value of the Kyat has also tumbled because of the high inflation in Myanmar; which helps to bring dinner prices down - except in the few high-end restaurants that are priced in dollars (e.g. L'Opera, Le Planteur and The Strand). The pricing range is huge; for example a large bottle of Mandalay beer can be 2000 to 3000 Kyat, but in a resort on Inle lake they sometimes charge up to 9000 kyat for the exact same beer.

If you're a Foodie then you should try Shan noodles, and the Lahpet Thoke or Burmese Tea Leaf Salad is really worth a try. And if you're quite bold and interested in exotic food then you might like Ngapi (a fermented fish paste) or fermented beans (Pè Ngapi).

More on the new Inle lake eateries:

Inle lake eateries


And what about Ashin Wirathu?

YANGON (Reuters, 29-5-2019) - A court in Myanmar has issued an arrest warrant for a nationalist Buddhist monk, Wirathu, on a charge of sedition. He seems to have made defamatory remarks about the nation’s civilian leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. (Sedition means inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state).

At recent rallies, Wirathu has accused the government of corruption and criticised it for trying to change the constitution in a way that would reduce the power of the military.

“This sedition accusation is bullying him,” Thu Saitta, an ally of Wirathu, told Reuters. “We won’t say what we will do if he is arrested, but it is certain that we won’t be calm.”

 

News archive - Tourism news archive from 2011 to 2019.

 


Euro and dollar exchange in Yangon

Until April 2012 the kyat had both an official and a black market rate. The official rate was about 6 Kyat per US dollar, but the black market rate somewhat higher at 840 Kyat to the dollar. Which explains why travellers changed money on the black market. On 2-April-2012 the Burmese central bank officially floated the Kyat and normal money exchange became legal.

Only crisp, clean bills are accepted : example USD note
 
An example of Kyat notes: example Kyat notes
 
You will get a better rate for large dollar bills. Large Euro bills (100/200) are not much better.

Which currency - Euro or dollars?

Which currency to take to Myanmar; Euro or dollars? The best choice for Europeans (except the Brits) is to take Euro notes and change these to Kyats. If you find you need dollars you can also change Euro notes straight to dollars at any exchange office.

Most hotels are priced in US dollars, but one can usually also pay with Kyats at good rates. Since 2013 all zone-fees like the Shwedagon pagoda and Inle lake zone fee can be paid with Kyats.

You might suppose that with the introduction of many ATMs the pristine dollar or Euro bills would be a thing of the past; but it is probably still smart to bring cash money - if only as a backup. Also, the maximum withdrawal amount is 300.000 Kyats, which is less than 200 US dollars at the moment. Then the ATM service fees add up quickly! (exchange.htm)

 


Myanmar Myths and Rumours

  • Yes, there used to be ten airlines in Myanmar. But Apex Airlines, Air Bagan, Air Mandalay, and FMI airlines have suspended all flights in 2018.
  • And Asian Wings Airways suspended all operations on January 1, 2019.
  • So that's only five airlines left. Since all prices are fixed you can book a flight only one week before.
  • WIFI in Burma is rather slow, specially in southern Shan state. The speed has improved in 2018.
  • The Defense Services Museum in Yangon has been moved to Naypyidaw. Defense Museum
  • Gokteik viaduct is the world's highest rail bridge at 300 meter? It is only 100m and not the highest anymore.
  • The "Burma road"? It's in China and it runs from Kunming to Lashio, Burma.
  • The "Ledo road"? It's in Northern Burma, also called the Stilwell road.
  • The "Burma railway"? Ran mostly through Thailand, and the Burmese part has now been removed.
  • The "Road to Mandalay"? It is from the poem "Mandalay" by Rudyard Kipling.
  • The "Roadmap to Democracy"? That's about the long road to full democracy; after the first free elections in Myanmar in 2015.

 


New Elephant Parks in Myanmar.

For hundreds of years elephants helped extract teak and hardwoods from jungles that even modern machinery cannot penetrate. The new Government of Myanmar has set a temporary national logging ban in 2016 and a 10-year logging ban in the Pegu Yoma region. It is good news for Myanmars nature and forests but a major problem for the 5500 captive elephants.

Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE) is planning to develop Elephant Conservation based tourism; and it has so far opened 18 elephant camps across the country, with some 205 elephants. They plan to develop elephant camps for 3000 "unemployed" elephants. The admission fee for foreigner to the elephant parks is is 10.000 Kyats which is about 7 US dollars.

One of the older ethical parks for retired timber logging elephants, already opened in 2011, is Green Hill Valley camp near Kalaw (www.ghvelephant.com). Palin Elephant Camp is only 8km from Nyaung U/Bagan (15 minutes drive). Winga Baw Elephant Camp is near Bago, about a 2 hour drive from Yangon. Other more remote camps are the small Loikaw Elephant Camp near Loikaw, and 2 hours drive from Taungoo the Pho Kyar Elephant Camp. Nat Pauk Elephant camp is near Katha, north of Mandalay.

More about all the camps in Myanmar on the site of Myanma Timber Enterprise (MTE): myanmarelephantcamp.com

 

Links to Elephant parks in Myanmar.

  • www.nytimes.com/2016 - Unemployed, Myanmar’s Elephants Grow Heavier.
  • nationalzoo.si.edu/SCBI - Smithsonian Conservation Institute - Status of elephants in Myanmar.
  • time.com/43317/burma - Time: Burma’s Logging Ban is a disaster for Elephants.
  • www.ghvelephant.com - Green Hill Valley camp; for retired timber logging elephants.
  • Nat Pauk Elephant camp - Katha was the biggest timber logging town and the setting for George Orwell's famous book Burmese Days.

  • Elephant literature.
  • Elephant Bill by J. H. Williams - The tale of Billy Williams, who used elephants to help defeat the Japanese in Burma.
  • Elephant Company by Vicki Constantine Croke. About Elephant Bill.
  • Shooting an Elephant and other essays by George Orwell. One of Orwells' best stories and his first anti-colonialist essay, situated in Moulmein. More entertaining than "Burmese Days".

Burmese elephant drawing
Burmese elephant drawing (1910)

 

Finally, a story about Tirthankara Adinath and his brother Bahubali, perhaps useful for the Bamar population of Myanmar:

Tirthankar Adinath said that, although just moments away from enlightenment, Bahubali could not achieve it because he didn't realise that he was standing on "the elephant" - Ego. Now understanding his folly, the sisters approached him and said 'O more bhai, ave to gaj ti utro' (O my dear brother, at least now get down from the elephant). This saying from the sisters led Bahubali to question "Am I really standing on any kind of elephant?".

From this question he soon realised that the elephant he was standing upon was his pride and ego.

 


Myanmar / Birma links

 

chiang mai compare Mandalay

Chiang Mai history

More on the history and highlights of of Chiang Mai:

altervista.org/history.htm


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