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. Continue reading