I wouldn’t want to spend a month in Myanmar without a budget of at least $1000 to allow for all eventualities but it is perfectly possible to have a great time on just this much or less if you can keep your accommodation costs down.
Food is cheap, very cheap on the street, you can eat well enough for $5 a day, very well for $10. Beer is only about 50 cents a glass. Spirits are even cheaper. Eight hours on a bus will cost about $6. A twelve hour train ride will be $15.
The tourist boom has pushed hotel prices skywards in big cities and any tourist hotspot. To work out how much cash you will need treble whatever it says in your guidebook to be on the safe side. Or sleep a bit more downmarket. Places that used to charge $15 in Yangon are charging $45. Places that used to charge $9 are charging $25. Without any change in service. Limited supply and rocketing demand.
You can still find a few pretty rough dorm-like places to stay for as little as $3, rooms for $6/$10, more decent places for $15, good places for $20 or a little more. Doubling up to share costs really ups your buying power. $30, in the right places such as my highly-recommended Cinderella Hotel in Hpa An, gets two people a really good deal.
It’s pretty much a cash economy. ATMs (Mastercard) have arrived in Yangon but I’ve not tested one yet. It’s a very safe country – for now at least. Don’t worry too much about carrying large amounts of cash (it’s not unusual to see people carrying big bundles of Kyat in the street. You are more likely to lose it than have it stolen.
You will need US Dollars to pay for hotels (but Kyat will do at a push) and trains and a few other things. Crisp clean dollar bills are preferred and you may be handed back any note that has any kind of bank stamp (most used notes seem to), handwriting, dirt or fold mark on it. Good job they don’t check for cocaine.
Changing money on the black market always was the way to go and was pretty safe, even on the street, if you chose the right time, place and moneychanger and did not allow yourself to be hurried. Since currency exchange-rate unification in 2012 this is a risky thing to do.
Change your money at banks and other money exchange counters, including the one at the airport. They are safe and now offer the best available rates(some are even a little less strict about only changing pristine notes).
The black market is now totally upside down. ‘Legitimate’ – very nice guys in my experience – on-street money changers are offering BELOW the bank rate to Myanmar people who want to change foreign currency without having to show ID at the bank. Anyone offering ABOVE the bank rate (these are not the same guys that always have changed money on the streets, but new arrivals) is more than likely going to try to rip you off. Hotels are safer of course, but offer a lower rate than the banks, so why use them unless the banks are shut?
Dollars are not the only way to go. You can also change Pounds, Euros and Thai Bhat. If not at a particular bank then certainly at Bogyoke Aung San (Scott) Market moneychangers. Crisp, clean higher denomination notes again.
If you are coming in from Bangkok bringing Thai Bhat to cover the amount you expect to spend in Kyat can be the best way to go as it reduces your transaction costs. For example; To get dollars in Bangkok (except – perhaps – from foreign currency ATMs at Suvarnabhumi Airport) I have to pay to buy Bhat and with those Bhat pay again to buy Dollars and then with those Dollars pay again to buy Kyat in Yangon. Which is pretty daft when I can buy Kyat with Bhat.
If you’re coming from Europe you might bring enough Dollars for the Dollar economy and enough Pounds or Euros to cover your Kyat spend.
Whatever currency you use Myanmar is still – for now – a great value destination.
Have good, cheap fun.