Travelling in Myanmar
The massive uptake in tourism in 2012 and 2013 has hit Burma hard. Flights from Thailand can fill up, and there is definitely a shortage of hotel rooms in major destinations such as Yangon, Bagan, and Nyaung Shwe (the tourist centre for Inle Lake). This lack of infrastructure means that you definitely need to plan your accommodation ahead in tourist centres. It also means that prices have doubled and tripled since last year’s tourist season – Burma is no longer one of Southeast Asia’s cheap destinations.
Budget and money tips
In January 2013, KBZ and CB banks opened international ATMs throughout Burma. These accept both Visa and Mastercard, and charge a fee of 5000 kyat. The ATMs are a real game-changer for travellers, as it means they no longer have to carry thousands of pristine US dollars into the country to change, or budget their cash load for the entire trip. Western Union also began accepting international funds transfers in January 2013.
Despite the presence of ATMs, you should still carry some US cash with you, especially in smaller notes. There are a few hotels and other venues that either only accept US cash or will give you a poor exchange rate if you pay in kyat. As always, your US bills need to be perfect and made no earlier than 2006.
Safety: in places open to foreigners, Burma is relatively safe, with very little crime even when travellers are carrying around thousands of dollars for their trips. Still, you should take the usual precautions of using hotel lockers for your valuables. Women travellers should not experience any harassment or different treatment.
Getting around: transport is relatively straightforward and unchanged, with the exception of more cars on the roads. Bus rides are bumpy and you might consider bringing along tablets for motion sickness.
Closures to tourists: at the time of writing, many locations in Kachin state were closed due to fighting. When we visited, we were told that Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, was closed to foreigners, though reports indicate that the city is open and accessible by plane or train. Conflict in Rahkine state has closed Mrauk U and Sittwe to foreign travellers, though the information is also foggy and likely to change.