Myanmar - Entry? A Pile of Cash Needed!

I was undecided whether to cancel this trip or not. Up until departure for my trip to Myanmar, I closely monitored the news to see how the troubled situation was evolving. Currently, the military junta is still in power, but the locals have reclaimed a lot of their territory. It's a chaos.

The reality is that it will be practically impossible to see as much of the country as I had initially envisioned. Most roads in and out of the Capital Yangon are blocked, especially for foreigners. No bus or train travel for tourists is allowed. Flights to major cities are often canceled. 

Consequently, I had to adjust my travel plans in the past few weeks to accommodate this limitation. Nevertheless, since I was already in the vicinity and had the visa and flights, I decided to take a glimpse of Myanmar.

So, I'm at the Cambodian Airport at the check-in for the flight to Myanmar, and they're bombarding me with questions about mandatory medical insurance, hotel reservations, onward flights, and having enough cash. 

"Bring enough cash", what does that even mean? 

But they were really serious: Without carrying enough cash they don't allow foreigners to board the plane.


How much cash to enter Myanmar?

Somewhere on the internet, other visitors claimed the same and the requirement would be 1000 USD in cash. I could not believe that it would be mandatory but I was wrong. I got asked too. And so I showed them an envelope with a few big bills inside, and after a second they said it's "fine", but they didn't even count. I asked what "fine" means in terms of what amount is required. They said around 500 dollars in cash. Without the cash, they would not let me get on the plane and that also counts for the other documents, especially travel insurance. 

But official guidelines? There are no official requirements about how much cash to bring.

I guess they do this because most ATM's don't work in Myanmar during these days of civil war and international sanctions. So they surely don't want some random tourist ending up begging on Myanmar streets for money.

Arrival right before Curfew

Departure in Cambodia was delayed and there is not much time left until the beginning of the curfew. All over Myanmar currently is a curfew in place from midnight to 3 am. 

The tourist visa process was quite straightforward, despite the issues and unrest in the country. However, I was the only Western tourist on the flight. The plane was almost empty anyway but smooth arrival at the modern airport. Quick immigration and friendly border guards. No one asked for "enough cash" anymore.

Curfew in Myanmar

Since it was late in the evening and shortly before curfew, the currency exchange booths were closed. Several other people working at the airport were willing to exchange money at a pretty decent rate. Same deal with Simcards. No shops are open at the airport anymore. Some random people offered to buy a variety of Simcards, but it was unclear how much data you get and what it costs. A mess.

The start of the curfew was in only a few minutes and I booked the first hotel nearby and will travel downtown during the day. At least Grab (Myanmar's Uber) is still working.

Change of plans

The headlines had painted Myanmar as a dystopian landscape - restricted zones, political unrest, and a palpable air of uncertainty. Lots of areas are off-limits to tourists. So, I had to completely overhaul my plans and will only be staying in Yangon. 

Also, I've cut short my time here and will leave the country sooner than planned.

Day 2 - Sightseeing in Yangon

On the way into the city this morning. Huge contrast to see the city in real than imagining it based on the media. 

Everything was so peaceful and relatively clean. Old, but it's all very orderly around here. After arriving at the new hotel, I wasted no time heading out to see the sights.

Nice view over Yangon. The golden Shwegadon Pagoda stands out on the hill.

Shwegadon Pagoda Temple

First stop, the Shwedagon Pagoda. I thought it would be the average Asian temple, but was I wrong. 

Beautiful pagoda yet very crowded. The ticket is MMK 20000 for foreigners. This place is a massive complex with dozens of temples all around. 

No shoes allowed

They make you take your shoes off and no shorts are allowed. People from all corners came walking and ordered me to take off the shoes, so I obviously did.

And they even tried to wrap me up in one of those traditional robes at the entrance, but I managed to dodge that bullet by trying to lower my shorts as low as possible.

The temple is breathtaking and all is spotlessly clean.

One of the most stunning temple area I’ve ever visited.

Grab is a good way to drive through the city. Buses are basically impossible to use as tourists.

The Reclining Buddha

The Reclining Buddha proved to be a massive spectacle. That thing is huge. Another pleasant surprise.

Kandawgyi Lake

Continuing through the city, along a lake. Very nice.

The Secretariat Yangon

Disappointing. The Colonial Office, once promising grandeur, now stood as a mere shell of its former self, transformed into an unspectacular small mall. Came here expecting more to be honest. 

Necessary to pay a foreigner premium fee to get in, but all you see is the facade on the outside, and the inside is pretty much off-limits to visitors. Pointless in general. 

Foreigners always pay more entrance fees in Myanmar

Yes that unequal treatment of foreigners. Like in other parts of Asia, foreigners were subjected to exorbitant taxes while locals enjoyed free access.

It's not about the amount, but the principle that is weird. Just like in India and Bangladesh, is that foreign visitors pay five times or more than the locals, who often get in for free everywhere.

Day 3 - Ancient Downtown

A walk through Yangon today. Saw the temple and those Government Buildings nearby. They're old and not in the best shape. 

Yangon in general.... It's alright, but something about the city in general doesn't sit right with me. Can't quite figure it out. 

Everything is ancient. 

Honestly, many of these buildings look like they're about to collapse.

Maybe not that worse but compared to other Asian countries, it's very run down. In the center are, however, some nice temples too.

Not much renovation happening these days. They're hanging on by a thread. 

Maha Bandula Park

Locals having lunch breaks here. Located in the middle of the downtown area of Yangon city. Surrounded by colonial buildings. 

Then I went to the riverfront at Yangon River. They transport rice across the river on these small boats.

Day 4 - Aborting the Myanmar trip

Continued with my "change of plans" and with the early departure from the country.

The situation outside Yangon worsened every day and it's probably a matter of days until it escalates even more. Everything will come closer to the capital and it won't stop. 

Stopped by the big lake on the way to the airport. 

So, heading back home.

The airport's pretty empty. Shops closed, restaurants too. The country is in a crisis, no doubt. And the prices? Outrageous. 6 bucks for a coffee? Ridiculous. 

But flights are running on time, so that's something. Couldn't help but think about Myanmar as I boarded the plane. Tough situation they're in. 

Next time coming to Myanmar

As for Myanmar, haven't seen much of the country, so can't say I'm impressed.

But when things settle between the military and the resistance, maybe I'll come back. Might even explore on a motorbike, far away from the capital Yangon.

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