From the visa application to the money issue, everything I read on the Internet made Burma sound like a difficult country to visit. Ignore what you hear and read, because Burma isn’t so difficult after all…
In fact, I’m going to go as so far to say, Burma was the most leisurely country I visited on my trip through Southeast Asia! It was really easy to travel without a guidebook there because every hotel can organise your transport, tours and onward accommodation.
There is no Visa On Arrival for tourists, so you have to apply for your visa before you go, but it’s not so hard. I applied for my visa by posting my passport to the Myanmar Embassy in London along with 2 passport pictures, £14 payment and pre-paid envelope. It took just over 2 weeks to get it back because it was a busy period.
Don’t worry yourself about the “occupation field”. If you put down journalist, lawyer, photographer etc then you are likely to be declined, so put something else. I had heard all sorts of scary rumours about embassies googling people to check their occupation, but don’t worry yourself about it. I sent my visa off in the post and never heard anything about it, except when I received my nice one-page visa in the mail!
If you’re on a big backpacking trip then you can also apply for your visa in somewhere like Bangkok. My friend applied for the visa in Bangkok and paid for the same-day service, easy peasy!
The currency in Burma is the Kyat and you can’t obtain it until you get to Burma. Since there are no ATMs when you get there, you have to take all your money in US dollar bank notes.
I was told by various other bloggers that you have to take ridiculously perfect bank notes with no creases or smudges. Also, any notes with the following serial numbers will not be accepted: CB, BC or AB. The reason behind this is that they are concerned about counterfeit money.
We had a very interesting time trying to explain to Thai money changers in Bangkok that we needed brand new US dollar bank notes for Burma. The language barrier didn’t help, and they couldn’t seem to understand why we would want to change from Thai Baht to US dollar. I speak no Thai, so even if they had US dollars they had difficulty understanding the words “no creases” or “perfect”.
I soon realised we had no chance of getting brand new dollars. In the end I just asked for about 500 US dollars and then when they handed the notes over, I had a quick look to see if they were crumpled or creased. Some of them had a crease down the middle or a little fold in the corner, but I decided to wing it.
And you know what? We never had any trouble at all. When we changed some of my money to Kyat in Mandalay, the money changer had a machine to check their authenticity anyway. When I paid for things in hotels, they never once even examined my bank notes. Perhaps things are getting a little less strict in Burma.
I read a post by Jodi from Legal Nomads about her worst bus rides in Burma, and to be honest I was anticipating some pretty horrendous journeys. After a nightmare 36 hour bus journey from Hanoi to Luang Prabang in Laos (we’ll save that story for another time), I was expecting the worst.
But with the increase in tourism, the buses must have been replaced, because the two we took were comfortable air conditioned buses that departed and arrived on time!
I booked all my accommodation before we went because I had heard a lot of places get booked out. Some of the guesthouses now have websites so I emailed them, and others just have telephone numbers so I phoned them on Skype.
Inle Lake: Mingalar Inn, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Yangon: Motherland Inn 2
Don’t stress if you don’t have accommodation though as you can also just find accommodation when you arrive as long as you have a rough idea of the name or area you want to stay.
OK…so i ran into one difficulty
I was checking my Paypal account in Mandalay and they blocked my account because I was accessing from a sanctioned country! This was super annoying as I needed to send and receive payments. It wasn’t too difficult to sort out, as I just had to submit a couple of photocopies of ID and a bill or bank statement. I always keep a scan of my drivers licence and passport in case I run into any trouble.