Note: This page is a work in progress. I will be adding to it as I travel so please check back from time to time to see new entries-Philip
Some money handling tips:
- It is true. Burma is a cash society. They are starting to install a couple ATMs in Yangon and Mandalay but they still do not take foreign cards. No one accepts credit cards either.
- You must bring enough cash to last you for your entire trip. It is very safe. This is the only country where I never feared leaving anything on a restaurant table unattended.
- Only crisp new USD bills (the large portrait type) are accepted. Hundred dollar bills are best but bring a few 10s and 20s along as well. If the bills have creases, smudges or even the tiniest nick or tear they will be refused. I cannot stress this enough.
Hotel, guesthouse and hostel recommendations:
I traveled spontaneously with no reservations except in the big four (Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Lake Inle) tourist destinations. Because these areas are experiencing an explosion in tourism it is more difficult to find a room. Keep trying and you will. For Mandaly, I had to call eight places before I finally got a room for one night. In other areas you can usually just show up or call the day before. Room prices have doubled in the last six months. These prices are for January and February, 2013. They will probablh continue to rise. Off the tourist track, rooms are much less. Breakfast is almost always included. Mostly only pristine US dollars are accepted. Prices for single unless noted otherwise.
- Motherland 2–($25-$30) the choice of LP readers worldwide. I thought it was overrated and the location is terrible. Also no wifi and so so breakfast. They do pick you up from the airport. After one night I moved to…
- The Whitehouse–($22-$27) Located in the heart of the city amidst a bustling Indian and Muslim street scene, this place is very popular with travel bloggers and long-term travelers. Many flights of stair to climb so you will get some exercise. The breakfast is legendary with over 15 Burmese and Western items in an all you can eat buffet. Lots of fresh fruit. Nothing fancy but this is the place! Lately it is booking up so call a few days or more in advance of arrival.
MAWLAMYINE–loved this town
- The Breeze–Right across the street with a view of the bay. $6 each for a triple room (three twins) with my two traveling buddies. Good breakfast on the veranda. Basic rooms but the staff is awesome and Mr. Tony can arrange and guide a tour to the island. He’s got some good stories too.
HPA-AN–another great town, take the fast boat from Mawlamyine!
Soe Brothers Guest House. We got a double for $7 each. They also arranged a much better tour than we could have independently put together. Good location. No breakfast. Like many towns in Myanmar, if you wait until after 7:00 PM to go out to dinner you will probably not find any.
- Myananda Hotel. The several hotels in Bago are all along a very busy highway so try to get a room toward the back to avoid noise. Once again, the manager made the hotel. $7 each in our last triple room. The night manager arranged an awesome tour which avoided all government attraction fees. We started at 7:00 am and hit three temples before returning for breakfast and round two. He took us to his friends farm and many places we never would have seen on our own. He recommended several of the guesthouses in which I subsequently stayed. Fresh and clean with private hot water BR.
I hear the Innwa is good value but they and almost everyone else was full. Marak U has the least expensive accommodations Luckily I found a room at
- Grand Empire Hotel, Marak U. Clean and spotless. Breakfast included (usually the case in Myanmar). Single room with BR down the hall–$20. Double room with BR and hot water shower–$35 for 2.
- Golden Lily Guest House. Worked for a night. $7 single. They have some larger and more expensive rooms. I was leaving in the morning for a three day trek so it was perfect. They will try to hard sell you on one of their (not so good) treks so avoid the pitch.
LAKE INLE—Nyaungshwe–few vacancies
- Gypsy Hotel–$17 each in a double. Bright and clean. Ensuite. Great location across from the lake.
- A friend stayed at Queen Inn and said it was awful.
MANDALAY–THE HARDEST CITY TO GET A ROOM
- Sabai Phyu-($15) Avoid at all costs! This place is a pit. After calling eight guesthoses, I was finally offered a room with private bath here. When I arrived, I was told the room was not available and they gave me a wndowless box that was more like a jail cell. The walls were paper thin. The BR was on another floor. They also gave me wrong information about everything else I asked about–shared taxis, train times, et cetera. I would not send my worst enemy here.
- A.D.1 Hotel–($20) Just down the street from the above mentioned jail cell This is a basic backpacker hotel but fairly clean. For the price of my previous cell, I got a roomy ensuite with wifi (typical slow) and a nice rooftop breakfast. Staff was very friendly (as people in Burma typically are). Would definitely stay again.
- It is quite possible that you will be unable to find a room in Mandalay. If so, you can try the Zegyo Hotel. According to one German trekker, they almost always have a vacancy. It is $50 for a single (not the only Mandalay hotel charging that and more). Clean but nothing remarkable.
Some money handling tips:
- When you leave Guatemala, convert any Quetzales to dollars. Even if you do it at the border it is worth it. None of the banks in El Salvador or Nicaragua will change them for you so you will be stuck with them. I found one money changer in Leon who would take my $100 in leftover Q but wanted a $40 discount for the privilege. Needless to say I declined his offer. Next time I visit Guatemala, I’ll have some starting cash.
- AMEX Travelers’ checks are also a waste of time and money. I got a few thinking they would be good in an emergency, eg., in a remote area of Bolivia where there are no banks or ATMs. However, merchants won’t take them; those days are long gone. To cash one at a bank requires about an hour of paperwork and bureaucracy (don’t forget your passport) and a 5% fee in addition to any exchange commission the bank charges. And if there is a bank, there is an ATM so you may as well just use that (which is what I normally do anyway).
- Never carry your passport except when you are crossing international borders. Same with credit cards unless you are planning to use one that day. I carry a color copy of my passport’s front page with my daily spending money.
- From fellow blogger Matt: I sewed 5 X 6 inch pockets with velcro closures inside all my pants before I left (thanks E for the great sewing job). I always found money belts cumbersome and uncomfortable so I loved this idea. It has worked great. I carry some emergency money there and if I am going to the ATM that day my card is carried there as well.
- Some countries in Latin America do not accept Mastercard. American Express is not widely accepted. And often the choices are cash or cash. If you only bring one card with you make it a Visa.
- Just a note: Your chances of getting robbed or pickpocketed in Central America are probably no more than in Los Angeles or New York. However, that does not mean that one should not take precautions. Documents and information are much harder to replace when you are thousands of miles from home.
Safeguarding personal information:
- I keep a copy of passport numbers, account numbers, credit card phone numbers, etc. on an Iron Key encrypted thumb drive. The Ironkey also has a resident English copy of Firefox and a virtual keyboard so it is very safe to use in an internet cafe where someone may be running keystroke recording software or monitoring your surfing (ironkey.com). I have also emailed this info to another email account that sits there just for that purpose. Additionally, I do a daily backup of my photos and videos to an external harddrive and also use Last Pass software to securely manage passwords.
A word about walking in Panama City:
- Panama City is a fascinating place to walk around, especially in the Casco Viejo area where I am staying. A word of caution though, keep a close eye on where you walk. There are often open utility holes with missing covers in both sidewalks and streets as well as chunks of missing pavement. Watch your step!
- And when you take a taxi, always ask the price before getting inside. You can ride almost anywhere in the city for US$2-3 which is conveniently the official currency of Panama.