Visiting Myanmar – Read Me First!

April 27, 2013

For more than thirty years, travelers to Myanmar were few in number and hoteliers found themselves well pleased to have rooms three-quarters filled during the busiest of times. Not only was it easy to find an accommodation; it could be found well below the standard “rack rate.”

Change has come upon Myanmar. Businessmen and tourists have descended upon the country like never before. Although infrastructure has greatly improved these past few years, the number of visitors simply overwhelms.

If planning a visit soon, it would be wise to consider:

Make certain that the travel agent or tour operator can secure the promised accommodation. Hoteliers are inundated with requests for rooms and many prefer to deal directly with travelers who are willing to pay “rack rate” and above.

Double and triple booking of rooms is not uncommon, with the hotelier relying on cancellations or simply offering a different hotel to ultimately resolve the dilemma.

The better hotels avoid this by requesting non-refundable deposits from tour operators as much as six-months in advance. It is wise to make certain that ones booking has been reserved with a deposit, at times for full value.

Many shops and hoteliers will not accept credit cards and those that do, will often charge a percentage in addition to the total balance. Prepare to negotiate that down if being added to the charge.

One hundred dollar bills are nearly unacceptable and only the most recent edition has any chance of being taken.

It is wise to have plenty of cash dollars on hand, with the most recent edition of the twenty-dollar bill being the most valued and easiest to offer for payment or exchange.

Burmese love visiting their temples and pagodas, some of which are uniquely magnificent. They do so barefooted, shoulders covered and never in shorts or with a hat. Bringing a pair of “temple socks” to slip into before entering the temple, leaving shoes or sandals at the entry is a perfect solution.

Hawkers nearby temples and tourist sites will be found selling a variety of wares. Opium weights, Buddha statutes, incense, gemstones, paintings, woven textiles and the like can be found everywhere. Kindly note.

Seldom does one find an opium weight that is truly an antique. One would do better at home, shopping on the internet, both for price and authenticity.

Seldom does one find a Buddha statute that is a genuine antique. Most have come from the factories in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Beyond that, Burma does not allow any antique to leave the country, and should it look genuine, it will be confiscated at customs upon leaving the country and likely be returned to the shelf at the same shop the very same day, offered for sale to the next visiting tourist.

One can find truly spectacular, beautifully faceted rubies sold nearby temples and pagodas for very few dollars. Once mounted, they can be a beautiful gift to a favored person. Simply understand that they are glass and if one pays the price of glass, they are truly a steal.

The Burmese are great artists and one can find some very nice oils and charcoals at the market place within Yangon. The seller will happily roll the painting to be placed into a tube and taken home to frame.

Lacquer ware is renowned for its beauty and one of the highlights of the trip will be to visit a workshop to see just what effort goes into making a quality piece.

When in Yangon, it is a must to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda both during the day and after sunset. Burmese travel the country to visit and pay homage to their favorite God, Buddha or Nat and it is pure pleasure to observe the families that arrive and make their rounds.

Another highlight of ones visit would be to visit a gold pounding shop. The arduous task of pounding gold down to a postage stamp size for worshippers to place at temple is to watch an amazing feat of endurance.

Few, if any destinations can provide the experience that now exists in the wonder that is Burma. It is soon to change, its veil being lifted and the surge of businessmen soliciting to bring the country into the 21st century.

Where there were donkey carts, bicycles and foot traffic will come motorcycles, scooters and cars. Where there were country paths will come two lane, paved roadways. Where there were quaint, boutique inns, will come large, multi-storied hotels. With that, a large degree of innocence will have been lost and the country will have changed forever.

It is now, for certain, that one can enjoy its magnificence. Delay no longer.

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