We’ve just returned from a trip to Myanmar and wanted to report back on our experience in relation to all of the scary things you’ll read online.
Many people won’t know that travel bloggers writing an article about a country often haven’t been there. In fact, we regularly receive e-mail from people saying “Hi, we noticed you have been to X country – we are writing an article about cool places to eat there but we’ve never been, can you help?”.
Uhm. NO. Go to X country yourself or, better yet, delete your blog immediately.
Lazy blogging has lead to a lot of false information about countries which drives us crazy, but the country misrepresented the most is easily Myanmar, where reality differs hugely to all of the advice you’ll read online about it.
So, let’s clear up some mistruths.
Myth #1 – You cannot use your debit / credit card in Myanmar
It is widely reported that there are no ATM’s in Myanmar and, even if there were, you wouldn’t be able to use them as bank cards issued outside of the country will not work.
There is some logic behind this myth in that there are sanctions in place from the good old US of A (who else?) and the financial infrastructure in the country is still very undeveloped. However, it’s not actually true.
Everywhere we went in the country there were ample ATM machines with queues of Westerners using them. We were also able to pay our hotel bills with our credit card without any problems.
If you’re still concerned then it’s best to make sure you bring enough cash (US Dollars only) but seeing as there are also plenty of Western Union’s around, you’re not going to be stuck without money.
Air conditioned ATM’s spotted in the wild!
Myth #2 – Your USD must be in pristine condition
Speaking of cash, all advice I’d read before leaving warned that my USD had to be in perfect condition or they wouldn’t be accepted. The advice even went so far as to say that you must request special “Myanmar Quality Dollars” from the money changer if you are to stand any chance of being able to actually spend it in country and that you should keep your cash flat in between the pages of a heavy book to ensure that it remains perfectly crease proof.
The quizzical looks from the three different money changers I approached should have told me this was rubbish info but still I insisted on pristine USD notes only, completely free of any marks or imperfections.
But I needn’t have bothered.
Not one person gave any of my notes a second glance in Myanmar. They were accepted and then shoved into dirty pockets, sure to become immediately creased, without concern.
As an additional myth buster – you also don’t need to turn your USD into Burmese Kyat at your guest house. Using USD is fine.
The vendors at this market at a temple in Bagan couldn’t care less what your USD looks like
Myth #3 – You will have no internet access in Myanmar
Now this one really seems legit.
We even went to the trouble of sending an e-mail to all of our clients notifying them that we would be off the grid for a week and fully expected that we would be internet free. After all there is no denying that much of the country lives in poverty with too few resources to support the population.
You may then be surprised to know that we received uninterrupted high speed internet access for our whole stay.
We even used a VPN to log on to Netflix and were able to stream movies over the internet without issue.
For the record – the other country that you’ll always hear about as having no internet access is Cuba and unfortunately this is actually true.
To be fair who needs internet when this is your view?
Myth #4 – Power cuts are regular and long lasting
So having been to Myanmar and having experienced all of the incredible sights it has to offer, I’m starting to think that a lot of these myths were put out there by selfish travellers hell bent on keeping this piece of paradise to themselves. I’m also starting to wonder whether they might be on to something as I’d hate to see Myanmar, but Bagan in particular, become too touristy.
But in the name of responsible blogging I guess I should tell you that myth 4 is absolute shite too. Whilst we did experience a few power cuts during our stint in Bagan they rarely lasted more than a few seconds.
Now Cambodia, that really did have long lasting power cuts. So bad that we had to leave after only a few days wherein we hadn’t even been able to shower!
Myth #5 – Malaria pills are essential
Or else you will die. Instantly.
Well this turned out not to be true also. Despite our diligently presenting ourselves at a hospital in Chiang Mai, Thailand to buy malaria tablets, we were surprised to find the Doctor baffled at our request.
“Where you go? Myanmar? No tablet”.
Yikes! Really? But every blog post we’d read in preparation for our trip banged on about the absolute necessity of Malaria tablets, as had our Doctor back at home in London.
After a small bit of persuasion, or possibly just the sight of our wad of Thai Baht, the good Doc agreed to sell us some tablets (hey, it’s better to be safe than sorry!), and off we trotted drugged up accordingly.
Fast forward a couple of days and both Glen and I had been violently sick after taking said pills – Glen whilst wandering through Bangkok Airport en route to Mandalay and me on the bus ride from Mandalay to Bagan.
Those tablets were thrown in the bin in rage as we both declared that we would rather die from malaria than ruin another minute of our trip feeling sick.
We didn’t die.
Source: Still typing.
As a side note it’s worth pointing out that we barely saw a mosquito and so I can’t help but think we were never in any real danger in the first place…
Alive and well despite the mozzies.
Now I hate to appear negative about bloggers but I think it’s really important to keep some perspective when you’re researching your trip. Scary stories make for good reading but they also put a ton of people off of visiting destinations that then appear frightening, when in reality they’re just as easy to travel to as any other country.
Myanmar is an incredible destination which you absolutely should visit if you get the chance, just leave the pristine currency at home.
We found our flights on flight comparison website Momondo (We flew via Bangkok rather than direct from Chiang Mai to secure super cheap flights with Air Asia) and we booked all of our accommodation through trusty Booking.com.
Have you been to Myanmar? What myths would you bust? Tell us in the comments below.