One fine day my boss came with an idea, that I should go to Yangon to check whether it is feasible to launch a project on modernizing higher education in Myanmar. I will write more about the content later, for those who can be more into the topic, but now let’s see how I got there. I used to live in Brussels for few years and keep on coming back, so I decided to apply for a visa here, in Belgium. Tourist visa proved to be the easiest option - just check the requirements online (any Embassy should have it listed on the website or simply call them). By the way, from 2013 most of EU nationals can get visa at the airport - you just need to have an official invitation.
I received my visa in 6 days, however the stamp says, it has been issued the next day I submitted an application. I didn’t go for any vaccination, there was no time left - I have had around 10 days for all the preparations - so I had to take precautions before and during the trip. I went to the pharmacy and asked for:
- mosquito repellent
- antibacterial tissues
- antibacterial gel/ hand sanitizer (!!!)
- Imodium (many people complain having stomach disorders during the trip, though it really depends - I have had no problems, but this is rather exception)
- antibacterial eye drops
- sleeping pills (due to the time difference GMT +6.30, you may find it difficult to fall asleep first nights)
- Flucidin cream, (must-have, especially if you have sensitive skin)
- antibiotics (in my case Ospamox, you may need to ask your GP for a prescription though) - I didn’t need to take them during the trip
As for the clothing, if a female, you should try to avoid short skirts/ shorts and sleeves tops. One thing, it is considered impolite, especially if you plan a trip to holy places. Also covering up can help you to avoid mosquito bites. Take care about your shoes - heels is a no-go - mainly because of practical reasons, platforms may work however.
Money. You will hear many stories and possibly all of them are (were at some point) true. Yes, if you take foreign currency, it is US dollars - new (issued since 2009 and on), crispy, unfolded - otherwise its just paper - the hotels or restaurants won’t accept them. You may however exchange USD or EUR for the local currency - Burmese kyats - you can go for a exchange office or a bank - I preferred banks for more competitive rate. The banks are open on the working days till 3PM, have your passport ready for inspection.
ATMs are a very new thing for Myanmar. Maybe that’s why I could only withdraw money from my Master Card. Even though the sticker said, you can also withdraw with Maestro, VISA etc, I couldn’t - several machines refused anything, but MC. There are several restaurants, which accept credit card, but you need to pay extra charge (about 5 USD) - so add it to your bill.
Arriving to Yangon was easy - regular ID/ visa check, interrupted by 3 power cuts. All in all, it took me around 15 minutes to pass. Once I collected my luggage, I went to the official taxi counter (you will see it right in the arrival hall). Ask in advance, how much you are going to pay for the trip to your hotel - if its somewhere close to the city center, it should not cost more than 10 USD. Have the name and address of the hotel written - it may not work for you to explain to the driver where you need to go in English.
From quite recent you are allowed to take your mobile phone into the country. However don’t expect GSM work there - you may rather consider buying a local SIM-card. The prices for SIM-cards have dropped dramatically, now you can get one for approximately 20 USD. The connection however is very poor - Burmese complain themselves. What i have heard from one of the diplomats, is that the government been launching the bid to bring more competitors to the market and apparently two companies (one from Saudi Arabia, another from Norway) will be competing with the Chinese, currently occupying the market.
Next I will be writing about accommodation, food and getting around in Yangon.
Money is no object in Myanmar, literally. iPhone was quite useless as well, as there were no cropped SIM-cards available - bring your old good Nokia when you come here.