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.
In November 2015 the Kyat (pronounced Chat) stands at 1275 to the dollar. A year ago it was 980. That helps.
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 60 cents a glass. Spirits are even cheaper. A VIP bus from Yangon to Mandalay will cost about $12-15. Since foreigner prices were scrapped on the railways the same journey by sleeper train costs $10. The all day train ride from Yangon to Mawlemyne costs $3.50 – First Class.
The tourist boom has pushed hotel prices skywards in big cities and any tourist hotspot. Places that used to charge $15 in Yangon are charging as much as $45. Places that used to charge $9 are charging $25. Without any change in service. Limited supply – but more is coming online all the time so it’s getting easier – and rocketing demand (that’s not changed).
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. Good dorms range from $12 at Chan Myaye to $20 plus at a crop of newer ‘flashpackers’. Doubling up to share costs really ups your buying power. $30, in the right places gets two people a really good deal.
It’s pretty much a cash economy. ATMs can now be found in many places but don’t bank on there being one when you need one away from bigger towns and cities. 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.
Ideally you will have US Dollars to pay for hotels but Kyat will do at most even if the exchange rate you get won’t be brilliant (I don’t bring many dollars these days. Why pay to convert pounds to dollars and then again to Kyat. I can buy dollars here if I really need them). 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. Don’t.
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? As of two eeeks into my latest trip no-one on sthe street has asked me to change money. And locals are using the ATMs in Yangon.
Dollars are not the only way to go. You can also change 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. There are also other off-street money changers (where I can change sterling for dollars or Kyat) that take just about any currency but you will have to find one of those for yourself.
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 and more than ever for the last few years – a great value destination.
Have good, cheap fun.