In late 2013 Myanmar was a strictly cash economy. At the time there were supposedly four ATMs in the entire country but I only ever saw one. Airline tickets, hotels and everything else were all paid in cash.
We started this trip carrying over $4000 in pristine US bills and it kept flying out of our money belts with a whoosh! Five days into our trip and we were starting to panic. Had we brought enough money?
At this point we started to keep track of our money. Here is a list of the expenditures for Inle Lake, at a rate of around 1000 kyat to the dollar (96,000 kyat / $100 US). Prices of airline tickets and hotels were usually listed in US dollars, meals and lower amounts in kyat.
Breaking down the Friday, November 22 figures: the juice (2500k) was a fresh-squeezed orange juice, not included in the ‘included’ breakfast. The hotel was the Teakhouse, listed in the latest Lonely Planet (2011) at $25 night; two years later we were paying $50/night.
In retrospect, the boat trip up Inle Lake at 35,000 kyat ($35) was a bargain, as I ended up with 11 posts when I later wrote down the experience.
Rice wine & tea & salty snacks: 1000 kyat ($1)
Late lunch: 14,000 kyat ($14)
No photos of our 7000 kyat dinner but I see that I forgot to list 6000 kyat for the Burmese puppet show…
On Saturday we got off cheap with 2000 kyat ($2) to rent two bicycles for the entire day and 6000 kyat for the ferry.
Wine tasting: two ‘flights’ for $4.50, and later dinner for 8500 kyat.
Sunday was a free day where we rested up from our 26 km bike ride in preparation for a trek on Monday. We purchased paper tickets for a flight to Bagan (170,000 kyat), reserved a taxi to the airport and wrote to a couple of hotels to see if they had any rooms available. We found a Thai massage place and they really worked us over after which we went to the Inle Palace and had a splash-out meal with three cocktails and beer for 8500 kyat.
Monday was 10,000k for guided hiking trip into the countryside, 7500 for lunch and 8500 for dinner.
A little bit about the Thai massage, just our backs and necks for 3000 kyat ($3) each, a half hour. It was good but we were both really sore the next day and unsure about whether to go back. But we did and the second time they knew where all our trouble spots were.
After they finished Al jumped up delighted and exclaimed, “Can I take you back to Canada with me?!”
So although airfares and hotels really chewed up the money, food and fun were inexpensive and ultimately we had more than enough money for our 24 days in Myanmar. And despite carrying all that cash, we took only minor precautions and didn’t meet anyone who had any problems with theft in Myanmar…