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Central Myanmar


Global Mark : na

Description :
The classic gate to a charming country with amazing people.

Comments : It feels more like a provincial airfield than a country's international airport but it works out the same, with some local specificities...

What to do ? 
- On arrival : Get your passport chopped for 28 or 29 days if flying Bengladesh Airlines (as only fly on Sundays) / Get some compulsory Monopoly-like FEC or suddenly feel like rushing to the toilets (see below) or form a couple with another traveler to exchange less / Pick up your bag / Fill up the custom form / Get a free good map at the taxi counters / If you plan to overstay your visa, get the latest info at the airport's immigration office / Join other westerners, exit the airport and arrange a taxi ride to a cheap hotel or GH in downtown area (24km, $2, 30mn) / Or, if adventurous, not tired & not in a hurry, try to get a few Kyats (by buying something at a shop with FEC and getting the change in Kyats or by asking a leaving westerner) and then go solo by pick-up (K10, 5mn) then bus (K20, 1 hour)
- On departure : Spend your remaining Kyats at the shops or small restaurants just outside the airport / If you overstayed your visa, proceed to the immigration office (see below) / Pay the $10 departure tax (in dollars or FEC) / Register yourself & your big bags with the airline / Shop duty free / Have your carrying bags X-rayed / Make the manual metal detector ring with your money belt / Wait patiently for your flight in the waiting room

What you may not like ? 
- On arrival : Having to change $200 (down from $300) if staying one week only / Having to "help" the official with $10 to avoid changing so much / Not getting your bag delivered / The list of "official" hotels : rather expensive & out of the town Center (Sule Paya) / The $3 "official" taxi / The lack of money changers for Kyats / The overall troubles to reach downtown by other means than taxi 
- On departure : The cost of goods within the airport / Spending a lot at the immigration office / Having your souvenirs confiscated by the custom office if found too antique or if no official receipt / Having even bigger problems if found with undeclared & unofficial gems. Penalties are clearly posted : from 10 years to life imprisonment plus a fine ! / The rather empty duty free shops / The unattractive waiting room with no shops / The flights' delays

Backpacker's Tips : Vivian Leeman, Belgium (May 04)
«The comment on the mandatory exchange of 200$ for FEC is no longer up to date. As of September 2003 this requirement has been dropped by the Myanmar government. On the flip coin, currently you can not use VISA, AMEX etc ... anywhere. The above two rules seem to change every so often. »

Backpacker's Tips : Ivan Verschoote, Belgium (May 01)
« When exporting gems and jewellery make sure you have the official receipts. The custom officer take it very seriously and can confiscate even wedding rings if they're in a bad mood.»

How long ? On arrival, as little time as possible / On departure, two hours before your flight

Where to eat ? Just outside the airport, a few basic shops & restaurants offer opportunities to spend all your money left or, on the contrary, to get Kyats at the unofficial rate (possibly)

Avoiding FEC ? 

In theory, it is compulsory for every foreigner to exchange on arrival US$200 (or the equivalent in Pounds) for monopoly looking FEC (Foreign Exchange Certificates). Those FEC can be used at all hotels & guesthouses as well as for plane & trains tickets or at any place quoting in US$. They can also be exchanged for Kyats at the black-market rate (K350 at the time of writing while the official rate was K6 !) at almost every touristy corner. 
FEC are always worth their equivalent in US$ : you give $200 and are given back FEC worth $200 (less $2 if changing with Traveler Cheques). There is therefore no real rip-off. The only (real) annoyance is if you plan to spend a short time in Myanmar only. Then $200 is obviously too much : this is what I personally spent on pure travel expenses for one month...

In practice, there are however a few ways around :
- It is not impossible to avoid the exchange counters altogether but you will need to be real invisible. Indeed, you have desks all around the area with a few guys in the center pointing you toward them. Creativity might therefore work better : you could try to imitate a Japanese backpacker I met who told them she had to rush to the toilets then forgot to come back... Or go through the desks well ahead or after everyone else...
- Join somebody and ask to change $200 for both or just patiently explain your case at the officer ("I unfortunately can visit for one week only"). He/she should appear very understanding and say something like "I will help you but will you help me ?" and quote a price for his service. All this process looked very open & frequent and it might be possible to negotiate the corruption down from the original $10 quotation (especially if all the formalities are arranged first, you are given your money and you keep smiling). 
- At worst, it was also possible to exchange the remaining FEC back to US$ for around 90% of their value ($90 for 100FEC).

Note (Oct 01) : With all those travelers handing $5 or $10 to the airport officials, the "would you help me ?" has become somehow laudable : those corrupted people must be among the richest officials in Myanmar !  One could also wonder what is the point of avoiding financing the government to finance government officials... who support the government !  Since the FEC is worth about the same as US$ on the black market, those officials must be laughting at the end of the day about the strange logic of the westerners who are happy to start their trip by loosing 5% of their change !  Again, the only interest of doing so would be if you really can not spend so much during your stay. But since the costs are increasing, this is less and less likely for someone staying a whole month... 

Changing money ?
If you wish to proceed downtown by cheap public transport, you will need at least K30 Kyats. This was worth about $0.1 at the time of writing. The safest way to get them would be to ask a westerner leaving for his remaining pocket money. If you have small US$ notes, it might also be possible, in particular in the small shops opposite the street from the airport, to buy a product and get the change in Kyats. 

Overstay in Myanmar ?
According to the immigration office at the airport (the only place which seem to know what is going on), there is no problem overstaying your visa :
- If you overstay less than 30 days : simply pay $3 per day and give an ID photo for the "Departure Form"
- If you overstay more than 30 days, the cost will be the same plus an additional $3 and a photo for the "Overstay Form"
All this can be done easily at the airport office so there is no need to bother going to the uninformed & unreliable MTT or immigration offices in town.
Still, if you plan to overstay more than a week, it would be a good idea to check out the latest requirements & costs at the office upon arrival.

Public transports to & from the airport ?
There is no public buses from the airport. You will therefore have to catch a pick-up on the road outside the airport (going to the right or south-west direction) toward "10 Mile Market", about 3km away (K10, 5mn)
There, on the main road, frequent No51 buses do the trip to Sule Paya in downtown Yangon for K20. It should take from 45mn to 1.5 hours depending on the traffic. The bus is advertised as having air conditioning but this looked more like marketing than fact. However, it should be possible to get a seat easily from this boarding location. 
About 5mn later, the bus will pass the Highway Bus Center and fill up. This is where most long distance buses depart (see Yangon section for details). If you are already in a hurry to leave Yangon, you could stop to reserve a seat for the next day (or maybe also the same day if arriving early). It should be possible to use US$ but maybe not FEC. 

The taxi desks ? A few offices are competing with each other for the favor of the tourists. The girls are eager to get your attention and will wave at you with free good map of Yangon. This is the only good reason to visit them. Indeed, they have a list of hotels & GH but their selection is not usually the cheapest nor the most centrally located. After they have found you a suitable place, they will offer the taxi ride for $3 (the airport is 24km out , with a receipt and the promise that the taxi will take you to more places in case you did not like the first selected rooms. But just outside, taxi are available for $2 and basically offer the same services : tips on where to stay (insist that you stay in central Yangon) and door-to-door delivery if you are not satisfied.

The trip to downtown Yangon : SSS / $2 divided by 3 / 30mn / Taxi
While talking to the taxi girls, I was approached by a backpacker who proposed me to share the taxi he had just found outside. Another backpacker was already with him so the trip would work out real cheap. 
The taxi driver & his friend tried to convince us to go to an hotel a bit outside downtown but did not insist for long when we refused. They were as friendly & honest as it is possible to be for taxi drivers and they drove us to one of the best place in town : Beauty Land Hotel II
Just in case we would not like it and would need to go somewhere else (for free), they waited 20mn until we had finished checking the rooms out. Then, only, we took our bags and paid the fare in FEC. A good introduction to Myanmar's hospitality !