Myanmar: What a Dollar Can Buy You

Coming to Myanmar, we were very uncertain about how much money we would need. Talks about black market exchange rates, high entrance fees and expensive transportation costs caused us to set our budget way too high. As it turns out, we’ve been spending about half, which is fantastic!

Tony in Yangon

To give you an idea about prices in Myanmar, we compiled a short list of things you may want or need.

Here’s what you can get in Myanmar for around a buck:

  • 1 glass of iced coffee
  • 4 packs of local cigarettes or 1/2 pack of Marlboros
  • 17 days worth of Doxycycline
  • 10 samosas (fried pastries filled with meat or vegetables)
  • 4 liters (1 gal) of drinking water
  • 1 can of Coca Cola or 1 liter of Myanmar Star Cola
  • 3 small sheets of gold leaf
  • 1 high-grade pomelo
  • 2 Bamar curry dishes including all the side dishes
  • 1 hour of Internet usage (tourist price) or 2.5 hours (local price)
  • 125 ml (4.2 oz) of Listerine

These prices are after the black market exchange. If you were to change your dollars in a bank, you’d be paying $170 for each of those items. Ouch!

The High Road to Inle Lake

Inle Lake is one of Myanmar’s major tourist attractions. Instead of just taking a bus there, Tony and I did a 3-day hike from the hill station of Kalaw to the tiny town of Inthein. We shared this great experience with four fellow travelers: Matt, Lia and Cathi from the U.S. and Norbert from Germany – and we captured it all on film.

Click play to watch video

Follow along as we experience rural life and meet Danu, Taung Yo, Pa-O and Paduang tribal people along the way.

Watch as we continue to explore the lake by boat, hit the market days, weave in and out of floating gardens, and glide between traditional stilt houses. Notice the unique leg-rowing technique of local fishermen, and don’t miss Nga Hpe Kyaung, the jumping cat monastery. Yes, you heard right…

The Paduang Conundrum

Paduang Woman

The Paduang, sometimes annoyingly referred to as the “long-neck” tribe, are one of the most recognizable ethnic groups in the world. More properly called the Kayah Lahwi (their name for themselves), the Paduang embrace one of the most extreme beautification practices out there. As Paduang women grow, heavy brass coils are added to their necks pushing down their shoulders to create the illusion of a long neck. From Discovery Channel specials on “body modification” to literature on “body mutilation” the Paduang story has been told and sold and used and abused for a variety of purposes.

This tribe attracts a lot of attention, but due to decades of rebel activity in their home state of Kayah, very few outsiders have been able to visit Paduang villages in Myanmar. This might have been a sort of blessing Continue…

Bamar Food

Bamar food surprised me. It is so different, in fact, it almost defies description. Ask any traveler and they would probably make a face and tell you the same. Bamar food is certainly an acquired taste and Tony seems to be the only one raving about it.

Bamar Food

Photograph by Fanny Farkas

A typical meal consists of a big bowl of Continue…

The Ethics of Visiting Myanmar

There are some serious ethical questions that travelers to Myanmar must ask themselves before planning a visit to the country. Am I legitimizing a terrible government? Am I helping or hurting the Burmese cause by traveling to Myanmar? Will my money flow directly into government coffers thereby funding oppression?

These are questions we considered carefully before making our decision.

Reports indicate that Aung San Suu Kyi, the world-famous Burmese opposition leader who has been under house arrest for years, has advised travelers not to visit Myanmar arguing that such a visit serves to support an unjust regime. She and similarly-minded Burmese activists argue that tourism does little to support the average Burmese person and that tourist dollars will ultimately end up with the government.

Others argue that visitors to Myanmar serve to Continue…