By Jenna Jolie
Brand new dollar bills
The need to have crisp, un-creased, unmarked, brand-new dollar bills still remains. Since the vast majority of people fly into Myanmar from Bangkok, this seems to be a popular place to get hold of the bills. I changed my money at a currency exchanger called SuperRich in Silom and the whole process took around an hour. If you have time, withdraw all your money in Thai Baht, as using your card means having to pay a 2.5% commission/ fee on top, compared with the 150 baht (approximately £3) standard ATM withdrawal fee. When exchanging in hard cash, there is a small fee for every $10, but this still works out cheaper than the card fee.
Exchanging Dollars to Kyats
You can exchange your dollars into Myanmar Kyat when you get to your hotel or guesthouse, in a local bank, or at the airport – the latter not always being not as good a rate as the others. Refrain from using the money exchangers on the street who try to lure you with higher rates – it is said they cleverly short-change you and unless you are willing to count your money three times, then it’s not worth the hassle.
The stories are true – Myanmar is now equipped with a sporadic scattering of ATM machines. Dishing out kyat, there are machines at the airports and I found many in Yangon (including at the most famous spot in town – the Shwedagon Paya) and Mandalay city centers, as well as in Nyaung U in Bagan. You might find ATMs in the smaller towns but don’t leave it this late to stock up on cash, just in case.
When to use dollars and when to use kyats
Typically, dollars are used for paying for your accommodation and some forms of transport, such as internal flights. Everything else from food, street snacks, tuk tuks, and guides is paid for in kyat. However, should you find yourself low on dollars, most locals are happy to accept kyat instead, but you will be paying more – while the current exchange rate is approximately 870-900 kyat to the dollar, many will simply round your dollar up to 1,000 kyats. So if your room for the night is $25, they will typically ask for 25,000 kyats, rather than work to an official exchange rate.