Definitely a budget destination. In fact, the cheapest country I travelled in 2016. But you need to be careful; the prices of some things might not be as cheap as you would assume.
Drum roll please………Here’s how I spent those Benjamins.
Date of Travel: February 2016
Total Spent: $749.82
Total Days: 21
Average Cost Per Day: $29.75
Exchange Rate: $1 USD = 1235 MMK
Generally speaking, Myanmar is a cheap. Sometimes crazy cheap. But here’s the proverbial but – accommodation. If you’re not careful you can easily wind up paying $40+ dollars per night for a room.
So why aren’t hotel prices in line with the rest of SE Asia? Myanmar is still developing a tourist infrastructure. It was only in 2011 when the government stopped being totally corrupt and oppressive and is now only…somewhat corrupt and oppressive? Five years ago the smaller tourist numbers obviously didn’t require a massive sprawl of hotels. Now with a surge in international visitors accompanying governmental democratic reforms, accommodation, especially in high season, can be limited. Compared to Thailand expect to pay a few dollars more every night for accommodation. Hostel beds are about $10/night. I generally shared a private room with a friend and paid around $25 for the room. A few night buses, which are usually a good deal, helped keep accommodation expenses low.
Average price per night: $9.65 | 12,000 MMK
Food here is like a dead end job. It pays the bills and keeps your stomach full, but it’s hardly anything to get excited over. Some days are better than others, heck, maybe even some great days. But overall you just know that there are better options.
Western restaurants in major cities have the equivalent western prices. Generally it’s best to stick to local dishes – lots of noodles, vegetables and rice. Hopefully they won’t be too oily. With the past year or two there has been a flurry of new businesses opening up with western style fare which I found to be totally hit or miss. Sometimes it’s great with fresh ingredients and solid service. Other times your meal has the quality of an 8 year olds Chuck-E-Cheese birthday party.
Less than $3 US gets you a decent meal. And if you’re looking for the best noodles in Yangon, go here.
Average food bill per day: $6.26 | 7,731 MMK
When it comes to getting around, this country has got it all. It might be one of the most terrifying, nauseating and gut wrenching rides you’ll ever take, but you will probably arrive at your final destination. Buses go everywhere and are very cheap. Spend a few dollars extra for a VIP bus if you travel overnight. Local buses have a tendency to allow more people than seats while also blaring the television/Buddhist chant music all night. I’m all for respecting local customs but Lord knows I need my beauty sleep.
Boats are substantially slower and twice as expensive, but definitely do not count them out. One of the more memorable days was cruising up the Irrawaddy River and watching the approaching lights of Mandalay just after sunset. I write some more about it in my post here.
Trains somehow function on a system that shouldn’t work at all. A train ride in Myanmar is equivalent to paragliding through a Class 5 hurricane. It will make for a great story but any journey without alcohol lasting longer than an few hours will get old pretty quick. Assuming of course you survive.
Average cost per day: $4.76 | 5,878 MMK
Excursions and tours are all very cheap. Some of the most expensive items were the entrance tickets to both Bagan and Inle Lake. Foreign visitors are charged $20 US for a ticket valid for five days. Half that for the entrance to Inle Lake. Absolutely the cost is worth it, just be prepared for some guy in a hut shaking you down for cash. An all inclusive three day two night trek through the Northern Shan state was $40. Value for money one of the best deals on my life. Renting motorbikes in Mandalay and e-bikes in Bagan cost about $8/day.
Average cost per day: $5.22 | $6,446 MMK
Solid options here for frat boys and alcoholics. Less than $1 for a beer and a bottle of rum for less than $2. Myanmar beer is ubiquitous and always a solid option. While you might find some nightclubs in Mandalay and Yangon, things here are much more PG rated than its Thai neighbor. Local bars have some great specials on happy hours.
Average cost per day: $1.94 | 2,396 MMK
Be careful here. While ATMs are in just about every town and access to them is pretty straightforward, local banks still charge around $5 to use their ATM’s. Some businesses accept Visa or Mastercard but overall it’s like that Wu-Tang classic. Cash Rules Everything Around Me. And with all the zeros added to the end of the currency, sometimes it feels like your living out a Monopoly role play.
Total ATM Fees: $27.41 | 33,851 MMK
And just in case you wanted the day by day play book. An interesting pattern emerged where I seemed to go on splurges every four or five days. Like, I would get tired of being frugal and have an “oh screw it day.” Interesting.