Well, I’m finally here. Although this isn’t my first time officially in Myanmar, I’m actually exploring the country for more than a day this time. A few myths about Myanmar that are well, actually true (I learned them all the hard way):
- There really is not a single ATM in this country.
- There really is no such thing as a credit card transaction, unless you’re online or in a 5 star hotel.
- Nearly everything — including domestic air flights, upscale restaurants and hotels — is paid for in US Dollars; use your rubber-banded wads of nearly valueless kyat for small change.
- Oh no! Does your US $20 dollar bill have a slight evidence of a crease in the middle? Does your $50 bill look a bit worn? Does your $100 bill have a small ink mark on the front? Tough luck: they won’t be accepted. Seriously, I just tested this and I think I’m in trouble now with all my “dirty” money.
- Those unseemingly dollars are the only thing you got left? Then get an iron and flatten them out. Or even quicker, go exchange them for cleaner ones on the street…but that ink-marked $100 bill will be exchanged for $80. That’s right, under Myanmar standards that ink dot caused your Benjamin Franklin to be depreciated by 20%.
- So you ran out of US Dollars and all you got left is plastic? No kidding: Your trip has just ended. Go fly out to Bangkok to find the nearest ATM.
- Stuck in a village in the middle of nowhere and you have no cash left to get to the capital city so you can fly out of the country? No kidding: You’re screwed. Consider dishwashing your way outta here.
Above is them literally inspecting my money, bill by bill, as I pay for my flight tickets with cold American cash.
Other things that make Myanmar…well, Myanmar:
- Whatever flight times you see on a website or in a book are all approximate. That said…
- …Flight times usually change (+/- 1 to 2 hours) up to the last minute, even right before departure. How it changes it at their whim; all you can do is to reconfirm over and over on the phone and hope for the best.
- Booking a domestic flight through a middleman travel agent instead of directly with the airline can actually SAVE you money.
- Flight tickets are arranged outside the airport, where tickets are handwritten on a piece of paper. You then exchange this handwritten piece of paper at the airport for a boarding pass.
- No names are printed on the boarding passes; that means if you lose yours in the airport, somebody else can fly in your place!
Myths that aren’t true:
- There is no internet access to the outside world: False. If that were true, this post would not be possible. The internet is slow though.
- The junta is everywhere: Not visibly, but the people we’ve been with have been hush hush on some of their opinions, due to “we don’t know who’s listening.” Seriously.
- Facebook is inaccessible: Also false.
With those essential basics out of the way, here is what lies in store for the intrepid traveler willing to explore Myanamar:
The Sule Pagoda; somewhat of a “baby Shewadagon.” (whats a Shwedagon? keep reading, you’ll see)
And the granddaddy sight of them all: The Shwedagon Pagoda. This is the largest pagoda in the world, and quite possibly the most amazing thing I’ve ever laid my eyes upon in my entire life.
So I’m now in the plains of beautiful Bagan. I’ve waited so many years to come here, and it’s no doubt it lives up to the nickname as the “Manhattan of Temples.” I’ll upload more pictures when I get into Mandalay tomorrow (internet speed allowing, of course), but here’s a preview of what Bagan is like:
- At time of posting in Bagan, it was 104 °F - Humidity: 40% | Wind Speed: 3km/hr | Cloud Cover: cloudy