Recap of my trip to Myanmar

The Shwedagon Pagoda

The Shwedagon Pagoda

I went to Yangon two weeks ago and here's a recap of what I learned from that trip.

1. Myanmar is changing rapidly. Travel books and websites are inadequate because of the speed of change. I marked some of the major differences I experienced.

2. The price of a SIM card changed from $100+ USD last year to $1.50 USD this year. You should get it. 

3. USD bills are not as necessary as we handled most transaction in kyat (Myanmar currency). It was actually cheaper to pay in kyat than in USD (during my visit 1 USD = 1080 kyat). If a taxi ride costs 5,000 kyat, drivers actually prefer that you pay them in USD since they round it to 5 USD (so you're actually paying them 5400 kyat).

4. English is not widely understood. This was surprising because I expected older Myanmar people to understand English, but that wasn't the case. At tourist spots and accommodation, English was okay. It's when I walked around and asked people that I got strange stares because they don't know what I'm saying. 

5. Internet access via smart phone wasn't that bad. People said that internet access can be bad, but I had no problem with using the local cellular data in Yangon. I got a Telenor sim for $1.50 and added 4000 kyat in usage (which allowed for 300 MB).  BUT websites for businesses/restaurants are not entirely accurate. I followed the address and it turned out that the businesses/restaurants have moved. So, I recommend you call and verify addresses before making a trip. 

6. Still no major US fast-food franchise in the country. Amazingly, McDonald's, KFC, and Starbucks have not been able to set up there yet. I recalled articles about how they were looking at the country since it the US eased up sanctions in 2012, but still nothing. My guess is that because the US government will not allow US businesses to conduct investment in entities with ties to the Myanmar military, it has been difficult for US businesses to find a suitable partner. Just a guess though. 

7. Traffic is horrible. Too many cars. A video of Yangon by Asiatravel back in 2009 showed very little amount of cars. That's no longer the case. In the inner city area of Yangon, they don't allow motorcycles and so you can only use buses or cars as your mean of transportation. 

8. Japan is highly regarded. Talking to some locals during my taxi ride and they all talk about how much they admire Japanese engineering and design. I was quite surprised by this since China has invested a lot more money in Myanmar than Japan, but locals look up to Japan more than China.

9. Korean brands (Lotteria, Samsung, LG, Kia, Hyundai) are there, but I couldn't tell the local reception of the country or the brands. 

10. The country is truly multicultural with 100+ ethnic groups and you're not exactly sure which ethnic group you're dealing with most of the time. 

11. Myanmar has a vibrant media industry. I was blown away by the amount of local media content they had. They had a lot of movie theaters, showing both domestic and international films. I wanted to buy local media, but I couldn't find any with English subtitle. 

View of the lake at Le Planteur restaurant

View of the lake at Le Planteur restaurant

12. Lots of amazing world-class restaurants. Restaurants like Le Planteur, Belmond Governor's Residence (highly recommend!), L' Alchimiste, and the list goes on and on. I find the local cuisine a bit too oily, but if you like oily, flavorful food, it's your type of cuisine. 

13. Alcohol is cheap. One of the cheapest place for beers and cocktails. I would avoid the local wine though. It tasted plasticky. 

14. Yangon is a great city if you're into history and/or Buddhism. I don't think they have as many Buddhist temples and pagodas as Bangkok, but the ones in Yangon are impressive in their size. Yangon also boasts the most British colonial buildings in Southeast Asia and walking the streets of Yangon, you get a sense of the glory days of the British Empire. A lot of buildings are still standing today, but a lot of them are also in quite a sorry state. Not sure if the Myanmar government is going to preserve most of them and so if you're a fan of this, try to check it out before they get demolished. We took a free walking tour of the city. Highly recommended. 

Overall, it was a fun trip and I felt like I learned a lot about the city. There's actually not a lot of things to do besides sightseeing and so if you're into activities, this city probably isn't for you. 

I recommend it for anyone who loves history and experiencing a city that's undergoing massive and rapid transformation.