Arrival at Yangon International Airport
You will most likely arrive at Yangon International Airport, a pleasant cool and clean airport. Since everyone has their Myanmar visas already, customs shouldn’t take long.
Unlike other major cities in the world where taxi drivers will rush on you as soon as you exit the airport door, Yangon is different. A few calm and friendly taxi drivers approached me, all charging the same official rate ($10) into Yangon city center.
NEVER exchange dollars to kyats at the international airport in Yangon. The rate is horrendous, similar to giving away your money. The government controls the rate at the airport and banks on those who don’t know otherwise.
Don’t worry, taxi drivers accept USD from the airport to the city center ($10), so you won’t need any kyats until later.
Guest Houses in Yangon
In a city the size of Yangon, there really are not as many guest house budget accommodation options to choose from as one might think.
If you are just visiting Yangon for a few days, it’s nice to stay near the central Sule Paya Pagoda.
Expect to pay $5 – $8 for a dorm bed and $10 – $20 for a double room in Yangon.
- Golden Smile Inn – My entire visit to Yangon, I stayed at the Golden Smiles Inn (recommended by Legal Nomads). The beds were decent, the staff was great, and the location is quite convenient. Prices do fluctuate, but don’t expect low Southeast Asian room costs. I paid $12 per night for a double room / 2. They also offer a pretty decent money exchange.
- Okinawa Guest House
- Garden Guest House
- Tokyo Guest House
- YMCA Yangon
It can be a good idea to either message one of the above guest houses or make a booking online before arriving in Yangon.
Money in Myanmar (Burma)
Money is possibly the most important subject to plan ahead for when venturing on a trip to Yangon, Burma (Myanmar). Though the country utilizes the local “kyats,” US Dollars are the king of currency.
The exchange rate is highly volatile, there seems to be a new street rate every week. When I was there (March 2011) I got around 840 kyats to 1 USD.
You will need both currencies in Yangon and throughout the duration of your travel in Myanmar (Burma). Straight dollars can be used to pay for accommodation, entrance to tourist attractions, and a few other official things. Kyats are used for day to day living, like purchasing water, food, local buses, and buying things from vendors.
Update (March 2014): There are now plenty of ATM’s available throughout Yangon, so you don’t need to be nearly as concerned about US dollar bills as you needed to be previously.
However, it still might might be a good idea to carry a few clean and new $100 and $50 bills with you when you visit.
US Dollar Complications (Important)
- Dollar bills need to be crisp, clean, with zero line creases or corner bends in the bills
- Need to be from the year 2006 or newer
- Without CB in the serial number on the bill
Consider keeping your dollar bills in a hard case where there is no possibility of them being bent up, it does get frustrating.
Where to Exchange US Dollars to Kyats
Again, never exchange dollars to Myanmar kyats at the Yangon Airport, wait until you reach a guest house or the market in the center of town.
Once you are in Yangon there are a number of choices of where to exchange money.
Money can be absurdly dirty and difficult to count; Always make sure you have time and a place to count the amount of money you get in exchange for your dollars.
Always be aware of touts offering to exchange money at “great” rates – there’s probably a catch, and might cheat you of the real amount, rushing you without letting you count. I would recommend not even bothering to exchange money with touts on the side of the street unless you are completely strapped for immediate cash.
1. Ask at your guest house: Golden Smiles Inn offered a very decent rate for my dollars in a very safe setting. The rate was always better for $50 and $100 bills.
2. Bogyoke Aung San Market: There are plenty of money traders towards the back of the large central Bogyoke Aung San market. The money exchangers are calm and allow you the time you need to count the bills and contemplate the exchange. As with everywhere, they are picky about the bills they will take and give better rates for larger US Dollar bills.
Eating in Yangon
Food is plentiful, delicious, and of great value around the city of Yangon. Local Burmese food specialties include a selection of salads like laphet thouk (tea leaf salad), mohinga (noodle fish soup, national dish of Burma), and a breathtaking selection of grilled delights in Chinatown.
Click here to see my full Burmese food photo guide!
Food in Yangon can be considered so cheap, that it’s almost impossible to resist sampling everything.
- Street salads: 300 – 500 kyats per plate
- Rice and Burmese curry: 500 – 1000 kyats
- Whole grilled fish in Chinatown: 2500 kyats
- Bottle of water: 250 – 300 kyats
Don’t miss the fresh fruit on the streets. Watermelon, papaya, mangoes, and other fresh tropical fruit are served in giant portions for about 300 kyats.
If you like Indian food, don’t miss the dosas (250 kyats each) or a rice Thali curry feast (about 1000 – 2000 kyats per meal).
Note about drinking tea
Pots of Chinese tea are served everywhere and come free of charge. My first night in Yangon I only wanted to sit, observe and drink the Chinese tea, telling the vendor that I didn’t want to order anything. After 2 hours of drinking tea, we asked for the bill and to our surprise he told us we owed nothing.
It was then that I realized that most people order a milk tea or a coffee (unfortunately instant packs) for 300 kyats and then can sit and enjoy the Chinese tea for as long as possible. Out of courtesy, make sure to order something, even if you only want the Chinese tea.
Internet in Yangon
There are internet cafes located throughout the city of Yangon, however their ability to provide adequate internet should never be relied upon.
The internet functioned for a total of 1 day out of the 10 that I stayed in Yangon. Internet shop owners were very sympathetic, saying “sorry the internet is too slow to work today.”
Transportation in Yangon
Taxi: As I said before, the official rate from Yangon International Airport to the center of the city is $10, though we were able to bargain a fare of $8.
I took another taxi from Yangon city center to Thiri Mingalar market, about 10 km away for only 2000 kyats
There are no taxi meters, so I would recommend asking a friendly local what they would pay for the ride, before you ever flag down the taxi.
Bus (cost: 200 kyats): City buses are giant clunkers that are highly overworked and appear as though they could break down or simply fall apart on the next Yangon pothole. Buses are often jam packed and only come to rolling halts at bus stops. The entertaining rides only cost 200 kyats. Routes aren’t too hard to figure out, and most local Yangon residents are happy to assist you in finding your way.
Note: If you need to get out of the bus at the stop, make sure you make your way to the door of the bus, it will NOT wait for you to take your time getting out.
Back of Truck (cost: 200 kyats): Possibly even more worn out and close to falling apart are the local songthaew back of the truck forms of Yangon transportation. You will be crammed into the back of the truck with a crowd of other people, you might even be lucky enough to get a random person sitting on your lap!
The drivers are usually quite friendly, always remember a landmark near the destination you are wanting to go and ask the driver if they will pass by.
In comparison with major cities throughout the world, Yangon is extremely safe by way of crime. However, be careful of vehicles while walking on roadways and walking on collapsing sidewalk tiles.
Our host at our guest house emphasized that many businessmen giant carry plastic bags full of cash down dark streets at night, and never have any problems.
There are plenty of unlit streets during the night in Yangon. I walked around day and night, never feeling the slightest bit of threat anywhere. The city really is quite safe, but it’s not an excuse to not be cautious.
Take normal precautions, things like avoid dressing ostentatiously. Wads of local Kyats can get big so I would recommend having two separate wads of cash: 1 for immediate use and 1 stash.
Daily travel budget
I spent $10 – $15 per day including all accommodation, food, and expenses while in Yangon, Myanmar (Burma).
From what I hear now, prices have severely increased, especially by way of accommodation.
Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), is a wonderful place to visit, however, it does require quite a bit of travel planning. Taking the time to review and go over important travel information before arriving, is of utmost importance. If you can prepare and remember just a few things (like money), you will have an amazing trip to Yangon!