Budgeting for Myanmar

5,000 Kyat Bill

5,000 kyat bill

Before leaving Thailand, we did as much research about Myanmar as possible. We have not heavily researched a country this much in many months, and it was mostly because there is an air of mystery surrounding in-country costs.

Tourism in Myanmar is growing at an exponential rate each year, and prices are increasing with it. Johnny may have visited in November 2012, but by May 2013, hotel prices increased around 50%. That might not be a problem in other countries because credit cards are accepted or ATMs are widely available. But in Myanmar, many expenses can only be paid for in crisp, unmarked U.S. dollars (hotels, flights, entrance fees) that you must bring into the country. You cannot just walk into an American Express Foreign Exchange and withdraw dollars. That kind of convenience does not exist there, yet. Therefore, you must have a budget in mind before entering so you can withdraw clean USD outside of the country.

ATMs in Myanmar are a very recent addition, but they only dispense the local currency, kyat (pronounced “chat”). With kyat, you can pay for things like food, taxis, clothes, toiletries, and local and long-distance buses. Before ATMs were installed, travelers had to exchange USD for kyat on the black market (now there are also exchange bureaus). But that used to be the only way for foreigners to obtain kyat.

We had no idea what to expect. We heard black market exchanges were still going on, ATMs had appeared but still did not accept foreign cards and local businesses were not accepting not-so-perfect USD. What we encountered, as of late April/early May 2013:

ATM at Shwedagon Paya

An ATM at Shwedagon Paya in Yangon.

•Black market exchanges are still possible (people will just approach you on the street. We were in Yangon.).

•Exchange bureaus and banks will change money for you. The best exchange we received was at a KBZ Bank exchange office in Nyaungshwe (Inle Lake) on 12 May 2013 for 899 kyat to $1 USD (for $100 bills and $50 bills).

•ATMs were in most cities we visited (we did not see one in Hpa-an and do not recall any in Kinpun or Mawlamyine). They do accept foreign ATM cards (Visa and Mastercard) and a four-digit PIN. However, the exchange rate for ATMs is horrible. It’s in your best interest to exchange USD for kyat. The first time we withdrew money, we received 794 kyat to $1; the second time was 810 kyat to $1 (at the time the official exchange rate was around 886 kyat to the dollar.).

•When we used USD, the bills were not always closely examined. We successfully used a couple sub-par bills, but our last hotel nearly didn’t accept a $5 with a crease down the middle. It is still wise to obtain bills that have no marks, stains, creases or folds. When given change, do not accept any bills that are less than perfect or you may be stuck with them.

Our daily average was $26.50 USD* per person per day, making it one of the most inexpensive countries we have visited in the past 12 months. NOTE: We travel on a backpacker’s budget. Double these estimates for a mid-range budget ($50-$75 per person, per day) and triple or quadruple them for a larger budget (more than $75+ per person per day).

To give you an idea of what you might spend (possibly the lowest you could spend), here is a sample breakdown for Yangon. This meets our daily average for the country and therefore perfectly defines a typical day we experienced in Myanmar.

One Day in Yangon Sample for Two People

•MMK is the abbreviation for kyat
•Conversion used for $1USD is 880MMK (it went up to 899 while we were there, but 880 was the average for most of our stay)

Accommodations Meals Transportation Activities Other
$25USD 8,800MMK 3,000MMK $14USD 800MMK

Approximate total in USD: $53, or $26.50 per person

Burmese Tea Leaf Salad

Burmese tea leaf salad. Yum yum!

Accommodations: Mother Land Inn 2 in east central Yangon. Basic double room with fan, shared bathroom, European or local breakfast and airport transfer included (upgrade to an ensuite AC room for $5/night more). Mattress is soft but firm (no springs, just foam), pillows are stiff. Comes with two bath towels, two washcloths, two hangers, desk and chair. Internet on shared computers costs 1,000MMK for one hour. Phone at reception can be used for free to make in-country calls (a real bargain since we found calling ahead was always cheaper than the walk-in rates). Staff is friendly, speaks good English and can help book onward travel. Sells water and other beverages (water is 300MMK at guesthouse but 150MMK down the street at the City Market store).

Meals: This is a high estimation, but sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere and are forced to pay a higher price. As an example, we paid 5,600MMK for a subpar lunch at a lame Western restaurant on Kandawgyi Lake (though if we weren’t looking for pescetarian options we could have paid less). It included a pineapple juice, a strawberry shake, two orders of fish and chips, and a compulsory 5% tax and 10% service fee.

For dinner, we ate at Aung Thukha, paid 3,200MMK and got: two rice plates, two veggie soups, two sodas, a raw veggie platter (this is served in all Burmese restaurants), three veggie curries, two types of tea leaf salad and dessert candies (also typical of Burmese restaurants).

Transportation: A taxi in the downtown area will cost 1,500-2,000MMK. Across town will be 3,000MMK. Trips to the airport or bus station hover around 7,000MMK.

Activities: $14 includes two entrance fees of $5 each into Shwedagon Paya (no camera or video camera fees) and two $2 entrance fees to Kandawgyi Lake.

Miscellaneous: 800MMK includes following: four 1L water bottles from the store (150MMK each), two restroom payments of 50MMK each and a 100MMK donation at Shwedagon Paya (more like a tip for the people who hold onto your shoes while you walk around the complex, though this fee isn’t compulsory).

 

Sample prices to help you budget

Menu from Kinpun

Menu from Kinpun city near the Golden Rock.

 

Retail prices
1L water: 150MMK
body soap: 300MMK
deodorant: 2,700MMK
300ml soya bean milk: 280MMK
Myanmar beer 640ml: 1,300MMK
Dagon beer 640ml: 950MMK
Sweet pre-packaged buns with filling: 200MMK
International postcard stamp: 500MMK

Entrance fees
Shwedagon Paya, Yangon: $5 per person
Golden Rock, Mt Kyaiktiyo: $6 per person
Bagan Archeological Zone: $10 per person
Inle Lake Zone Fee: $5 per person
Khaung Daing Hot Springs, Inle Lake: 7,200MMK per person (private pool area)

Superlatives

*Please note that you can definitely spend way more on food, accommodations and transportation if you choose to travel in a more upscale way. Even the highest prices are the lowest we could find to fit our tight backpacker’s budget.


Least spent on accommodations: $12 (double fan room in Hpa-an and Kalaw)
Most spent on accommodations: $30 (double AC room in Nyaung U)

Least spent on dinner: 2,000MMK for two rice plates, two free soups, free fresh veggies, one bean curd with sprouts, one chickpeas with potato curry, 10 free side dishes with toppings, two free teas and three free desert candies
Most spent on dinner: 13,500MMK for two veggie pizzas, two mojitos and one caipirinha

Least expensive overnight bus: 11,000MMK per person from Inle Lake to Mandalay
Most expensive overnight bus: 15,000MMK per person from Yangon to Bagan

Find out here why we choose to use Myanmar instead of Burma.

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21 responses to “Budgeting for Myanmar

  1. How do you guys track what you’re spending? Spreadsheets? Notebook? Remembering everything?

    Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, spoke a few weeks ago about how amazing his trip to Myanmar was — jealous you’ve been there!

    • We highly recommend Myanmar! It’s getting more tourists but a solid tourism infrastructure still is not in place. Either way, we recommend going sooner vs later since it’s a cool place to see without that infrastructure and as a more intrepid traveler.

      For our whole trip I’ve kept a detailed multi-tabbed xls since I’m a big dork. Every penny spent on food, lodging, transport, et al. is accounted for. While in Myanmar, I kept a Word doc as well with even more detailed notes in anticipation of writing a budgeting post.

      • Hi,

        Just stumbled upon your site and still hesitating to take the plunge to take the road less traveled like you guys.
        But I was wondering if you could put your spreadsheet online for us? Interested in how you are keeping up with every expense.

  2. Interesting to hear more on the spread of ATMs. We saw a few while there, and heard rumors of them working with foreign cards, but did not try them ourselves.

    • Ugh, the ATMs. Wish we hadn’t used them. Should come with a sign saying “horrible exchange rate.” Wish we could warn every visitor. Good for getting emergency kyat only.

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  5. Thanks so much for this! Very informative! I guess my question now is: is it sufficiently different than the rest of SE Asia to warrant the hassle and cost of visas, transport and time away from other areas? Or are we better to simple head to some Thai or Cambodian islands to relax? We’ll be doing Thailand, Cambodia, Bali and Borneo anyway so just wondering if it was really a thoroughly must-do experience that we shouldn’t miss – or if it’s quite similar to everywhere else. Note – we’re not big on visiting temples and whatnot…

    Thanks again!!!

    • What mostly makes it different is that it doesn’t get the large influx of tourists that most other SE Asian countries get. Therefore we found the people to be nicer, the sights and transport less crowded, and an overall more welcome feeling. The experience in that way makes it very worthwhile because it’s unlike anywhere else you’ll ever go.

      You don’t like temples (though you might feel differently once you see the ones there), but there are a lot of outdoorsy things you can do like trekking and climbing mountains. And the “Buddhist theme park” with the enormous reclining Buddha in Mawlamyine is SO cool. (Did you see that earlier post?) There are also wineries and a hot springs pool near Inle Lake (our trekking and Inle posts are coming soon). Unlike other SEA countries that are “same same but different,” we found Myanmar to be same but very very different.

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  7. Wow, you put in a lot of work. I’ve tried to keep detailed budgets when I travel but I’ll eventually lose my patience or have way too many beers. A ballpark figure tends to work for me but this will help tremendously. The feedback I’ve gotten from most people is that Myanmar is gonna be hella expensive but I figured it could be done much cheaper than I’ve been told. Hopefully, prices haven’t fluctuated much since then. Thanks again. Love your blog!

    • Thank you – glad you’re finding all the info helpful! We made sure to be extra detailed because everyone asking for the information but it was nowhere to be found. Since we went in blindly, we’re hoping to give fellow travelers a leg up. Everything was surprisingly more affordable than what was originally told to us. You could easily send more if you want air con, to eat at nicer places, etc. We even packed away quite a few beers and it didn’t hurt our budget.

  8. Very useful information, I’m going to Myanmar in 10 days I am finding quite difficult to find realiatics budgets costs information’s online.
    As I am a solo traveller, I am not sure if I will be able to share any accommodation with other travellers, do you have any idea about prices for single rooms? Any difference comparing to the double ones?
    Thanks very much for your help!

    • Really wish we could help here, but we’re not quite sure of single room costs. timetravelturtle.com went to Myanmar solo, I believe and may have helpful info. Or travelfish.org

  9. Hello! I just wanted to add that the fee for Shwedagon has gone up to 8500 MMK. Hotel and guesthouse prices have been soaring over the past year, as well as the cost of the majority of western/tourist frequented restaurants. I recommend eating street food or going to a beer station. If you have a phrasebook you can ask for what you want and they will figure it out, or you may be lucky enough to be in a place where someone speaks English. Not recommended for picky eaters as sometimes you are surprised with something completely unexpected like fried chicken skin! Also, DO NOT CHANGE MONEY ON THE BLACK MARKET! I have seen so many tourists doing this and it is frustrating. Lonely Planet is wrong! For the past year the exchange rate has been hovering around 970, and as my friend Kyaw Kyaw says, the black market exchange folk have magic fingers, often counting from the top and slipping from the bottom. Money exchange offices are everywhere and have great rates. Why take the risk? Also, for budget travellers or just those wanting a different experience, there are a number of couchsurfing hosts popping up on couchsurfing.org. It’s illegal for locals, but plenty of foreigners (myself included) are opening their doors to others. Just some extra tips! Welcome to Myanmar future travellers! It’s a fantastic place!

    • Amy, thank you so much for sharing this helpful information with fellow travelers! That’s great to hear that CS is taking off with expats in Myanmar. We’re big fans 🙂 We also heard a ton of horror stories about black market exchanges when we were there. We agree that it’s definitely not worth the rip-off risk.

  10. Hi guys, great post! We’re about to head to Myanmar from Bangkok. We’d like to know which currency exchange (name of place or just location) you used in Bangkok for the USD? Was it hard getting the perfect notes?

    • Yes, it was quite difficult for us to find a bank that would give us crisp USD. We ended up going to Krungsri in Siam Paragon. It was the only bank in that whole mall that would do it for us. According to a picture we took of their hours, they’re open Mon-Sun from 10:30-20:00. Good luck!

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