I’ll be heading off to Myanmar in about four days. This trip has been challenging in terms of logistics – unlike a usual travel trip, I haven’t been able to rely on the internet to make flight bookings. Myanmar has seen a sudden influx of tourists, since the tourism sanction was lifted and the Lady was freed from house arrest. The increased number of visitors has put a strain on Myanmar’s infrastructure, and consequently hotel prices have skyrocketed. It is not unusual to be paying 4 or 5 star hotel prices for a very average, 3 star equivalent hotel in Myanmar. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about planning a trip to Myanmar.
Pick up the phone
Unlike other destinations, many things in Myanmar still rely on other forms of communication. Many email queries I sent out was never responded to, so instead of waiting or sending another email, I simply picked up the phone to call. This helped to resolve my questions much quicker! As a form of communication, email can also lead to misunderstanding, and the time lag between sending and receiving a reply can be an obstacle to booking your hotels and flights. Pick up the phone and call instead.
Ask around for recommendations
I’ve had a few friends who has visited Myanmar, so I relied on their recommendations for tour agents to book internal flights, hotels and activities. Although there is some information on Myanmar online, it’s always best to go with a personal recommendation that you can trust. We booked with Seven Star tours, an agency run by a friend’s husband’s relative – so far we’ve transferred some funds over to them but have not yet seen the flight bookings. With any other agency we would be worried by now but because the agent was personally tried, tested and recommended, we’re less stressed.
Confirm and reconfirm
When booking your accommodation and flights, make sure you confirm, reconfirm and triple confirm your reservations, just to be sure. Things are still pretty fluid in Myanmar when it comes to flight times and hotel bookings. This is where a local travel agent could add value, as hotels and airlines give them priority and better service – if you’re booking independently like us, triple check that the hotel you’re planning to stay at still does have your reservation, at least a week out from when you plan to be there.
The high demand for tourism infrastructure has led to some establishments hiking up their prices and coming up with unreasonable demands. We had initially booked with the Hotel at Tharabar Gate in Bagan through email and received our confirmation. Upon reconfirming however, we were asked to prepay the full amount owing, including an 8% credit card surcharge. This was not the booking condition stated on their website and after some backwards and forwards, the hotel eventually insisted that we pay 50% of the amount owing by card in order to secure our reservation. Instead, I booked at another establishment and cancelled our reservation at Tharabar, which was more expensive and touted itself as being a 4 star hotel. No 4 star hotel has provided such awful customer service to me – stay somewhere else.
Temper your expectations
US$200 in Bangkok would buy you a 5 star room at a big chain hotel. In Myanmar, you would be able to stay in a self-advertised 5 star room, but the standards of said accommodation would be closer to a 3 star somewhere else. Expect old buildings, slow internet and indifferent hospitality in the hotels – Myanmar still has a lot of catching up to do in terms of tourism service. However, if you know what to expect, you’ll go with more realistic ideas of what travelling in the country will be like – a marvellous opportunity to meet the Burmese first hand and explore a country that is just beginning to open up.