What You Need to Know Before Going to Myanmar

Myanmar (Burma) has been under repressive military rule for nearly 5 decades until it was dissolved in 2011.
Soon enough, it opened its doors to the world and was instantly included in several ‘Countries to Visit in 2012’ lists.
It is the most beautiful country I’ve been to, to date! It definitely deserves all the buzz.
Our view from Shwesandaw Paya in Bagan
But before you get all too excited, here’s some things you need to know before going to Myanmar.
How to get there:
1. From Manila
  • Book a flight from Manila to Kuala Lumpur > Kuala Lumpur to Yangon (like we did); or
  • Book a flight from Manila to Bangkok > Bangkok to Yangon/Mandalay; or
  • Book a flight with Tigerair from Manila to Yangon (with a layover in Singapore)
Either way, you will still have a layover of +/- 6 hours.
2. From Thailand
  • Tachileik-Mae Sai
  • Myawaddy-Mae Sot 
  • Htee Khee-Sunaron
  • Kawthaung-Ranong
How to apply for a Myanmar visa in Manila:
 
*As of December 5, 2013, Filipinos can now enter Myanmar visa-free for up to 14 days. So this section is pretty much useless now. :p*
1. Requirements:
  • Passport (valid within 6 months) and photocopy of the first page
  • Photocopy of a valid ID
  • Copy of your itinerary with flight details and accommodations
  • Passport-sized ID picture and a CD with the soft copy – we had our pictures taken at Kodak, Makati Cinema Square since they already know the requirements of the embassy. 
  • Signed application form/waiver from the embassy – most blogs written a year or two ago will advice never to indicate anything related to media/writing/journalism in your occupation because your visa application will surely be denied. But just this year, they announced that reporters will now be able to work in Myanmar for up to a year.

2. Submit your documents at the Myanmar Embassy Manila, 8th Floor Gervasia Corporate Center, 152 Amorsolo St., Legaspi Village, Makati City.
 
If you’re coming from the south, alight at Pasay Road and just walk until you reach Waltermart/Don Bosco. Makati Cinema Square is just a few steps away. Enter MCS and exit at the side of Amorsolo, cross the pedestrian lane and turn right. The building has a spa at the ground floor.
 
3. Payment – Don’t be surprised if you get conflicting information about the payment because the embassy itself is not consistent.
 
It is clearly posted in their office that they no longer accept payment in Philippine Peso and that you have to deposit the payment to their dollar account (details of which they’ve already changed when I went there to claim my visa, so chances are, the bank account details you will see online is outdated).
 
Anyway, my friends and I were able to pay in Peso – Php1,100, to be exact. I brought $20, too, just in case. 
 
After submitting the documents and paying the visa fee, we were given our claim stubs. Visa processing only takes 3 days including the day you submitted your papers.
 
To our horror, 3 out of 7 of us had typographical errors on our visas. See mine below.
My visa with misspelled surname and wrong gender corrected by applying correction fluid countersigned by the consul. They said it’s okay since we’re only applying for single-entry visa.
 
We actually stressed over this for days and even requested the consul to give us letters stating the errors and corrections they made just so we can have peace of mind.
Thankfully, he was right and clearing immigration at Manila, KL and Yangon were uneventful. We still laugh every time we think about that visa blunder especially when we found out that it ‘always’ happen.
It’s all about the Benjamins!
 
After getting your visa, the next thing you should worry about is getting crisp US Dollar bills. Unlike visiting neighboring countries, you cannot just go to Myanmar with just about any kind of US Dollars.
While it does not need to be freshly-printed-it-can-slice-tomatoes crisp, it shouldn’t have folds/creases, markings, tears, and preferably, 2009 series and above.
Naturally, the $100 bills will get better exchange rates but also prepare small dollar bills in $1 and/or $5 to pay for entrance fees, guesthouse/hostel etc. People used to change their dollars in the black market, but it is safer to change your dollars to kyats (pronounced as ‘chat’) at the airport. Rates are also competitive. I changed $300 and got about MMK290,000.
They say you can’t change your kyats outside Myanmar, so if you still have some left, better change it at the airport before you leave.

The kyat is used to pay for taxis, meals in non-hotel restaurants and other purchases.
There’s also an ATM at the airport — right at the foreign exchange counter where I changed my USDs so access to money is not as hard as it used to be. We also saw several ATMs in Mandalay.
Women will also be pleased to know that some jewelry stores in Bogyoke Aung San market accepts credit cards!
And no, internet is not dial-up slow (at least in the places we stayed at).