Just a few notes about hotels, transport, visas etc for anybody who might be going to Myanmar.
Myanmar has recently started an e-visa scheme for tourists of most nationalities arriving by air, where you apply online, upload a photo of yourself and get a letter of approval by email within a couple of days… http://evisa.moip.gov.mm/ … much quicker than going to an embassy to lodge and collect your passport and applications. Just show the approval letter at the airport and you are stamped in. They are planning to extend this to land entries later too.
In Mandalay I stayed at the Hotel Sahara which turned out to be a fairly good choice, apart from the luke warm water in the bathroom ….apparently my room (505) is the last in line plumbing wise, and sometimes the hot water never makes it that far ! No big deal though.
The breakfast was pretty good, staff were helpful, the room was clean and comfortable, wifi was slow but that is common all over the country I found. 8/10
In Bagan I stayed at the ‘Aung Mingalar Boutique Hotel” in Nyaung U….well it certainly was not “boutique”. From outside the grounds look ok, it’s in a good location, but really it’s more like a budget chain motel with grimy walls, just a few hooks to hang clothes, cobwebs on the ceiling …but it did have plenty of hot water and a comfy bed. Major annoyance was having the only switch for the main room light outside the room for some strange reason. Breakfast was basic, and make sure you eat it before the marauding crows. Wifi (paid) was only at reception, don’t know how much it cost or speed as I never used it. 4/10
Yangon. I booked into the “New Yangon Hotel” in downtown part of the city, and got a room with a view of the river, but a much better view was available from the rooftop restaurant/bar. Pretty good breakfast included, helpful staff with excellent English, comfortable bed, fast wifi (ok, fast for myanmar ) and a good location. 8/10
Because of the tourist boom, the laws of supply and demand have pushed hotel prices up, especially in high season, so accommodation can seem expensive compared to other SEA countries. One of the inconveniences of Myanmar is that you are often expected to pay for hotels, tours etc in US dollars, which have to be pristine new notes without tears or marks on them. I had planned this trip out, and booked and paid for the hotels through Agoda so that I would n’t have to carry so much cash, but if you are free spirited go-where-the-path-takes-you sort of person who does n’t like to plan too far ahead then stock up on US dollars. There a number of ATMs connected to international banking systems where you can withdraw local kyats but then you have to get out a large wad of 1000kyat notes to justify the bank fees. (1$US = approx 1050 kyat)
I found Myanmar food to be a bit disappointing, too oily and a bit bland for my taste. But there are plenty of good Indian, Thai and “chinese’ places to eat so you will not go hungry. In Mandalay “Pan Cherry” near my hotel had huge servings of Indian food, more than I could eat in a day, for 4500 kyat including a coke, so that’s about $3.50 for the food.
In Bagan, “A little bit of Bagan” restaurant had great Indian food too, as well as a surprisingly good pizza and the 2nd best mango smoothie I’ve had in a long time (and I’ve tried plenty since moving to Thailand ). They also do pasta and Thai, and have ‘fast” free wifi.
But the very best mango smoothie was at KSS Cafe in Yangon ….uhmmm, yum ! 19th street is the nearest Yangon comes to a central tourist/backpacker area, at night there are many bars and restaurants to choose from. Ronald Mcdonald has n’t made it to Myanmar yet, but if you are desperate for a fix of fast food Lotteria near the New Yangon hotel has burgers and fried chicken, as well as hordes of local teenagers. And there is also a “Mr Clucky” fried chicken restaurant that looks awfully like a KFC. There’s also no Starbucks nor 7/11, but I did see a small minimart called SEVEN ELEVEN in the 7/11 colour scheme. How long until the real thing gets to Myanmar ? probably not long, considering the number of 7/11s here in Thailand, and I’m sure Ronald will not be far behind. The moral of this story? ..if you are thinking of going to Myanmar, then go soon before the evil empires of western commerce spoil the place.