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What’s so beautiful about encountering a new country is that the experiences allows you to encounter yourself in new ways. Myanmar is certainly a destination unlike most others. It can’t be surmised in one word, it is a mix of new challenges, familiar things and everything in between. We want to share how our novel trip taught us to be more discerning travelers.
1. Never underestimate your destination
We knew Myanmar would be a different destination, it only opened its doors to the world in 2005 and as of today there is still not that much on the internet for research. Upon arrival some things like catching buses and taxis turned out to be much easier than we’d planned for. Other logistics like getting bus tickets during a holiday weekend, trying to get a hold of our hotel and general assumptions that some everyday things would run as smoothly as they do at home proved to cost us time and peace of mind. In the end we were able to solve all challenges that came up, but looking back all could have been avoided and time saved with the right mindset of entering a completely new reality.
The little information that does exist online about Myanmar, especially regarding transit routes, cost of taxi’s, the conditions of hotels and cities is a mix of truth and falsehoods. We found this most especially true in Naypyitaw the mysterious planned capital. It is a fascinating modern city that is truly planned and filling up more and more since its opening. We heard taxi’s cost $50 for one way trips, that it is a complete “ghost town” with no history or culture. All of this completely false in our estimation. There are shops, very ancient townships and landmarks hundreds of years old, monasteries, temples, hotels, and conferences going on. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a planned city in its developing stages, and this one is certainly developing well.
3. Make sure people are understanding you
There were several moments where we turned to locals in the street or hotel staff to ask for assistance with directions or planning. While we were always given smiles and a happy “yes” it did not always translate to the person really understanding us. When we assumed they understood we either got the wrong information or nothing was accomplished at all. It is not a lack of eagerness to please on their part, people here are extremely hospitable and friendly. As the ones asking it is our duty to make sure we are being understood and if not to find someone else who can understand what we are asking.
4. Ask the right questions ahead of time
As seasoned travelers we know a thing or two about trip planning. There can be an overwhelming amount of info on any destination to look at ahead of time. However just having read lots about a place does not guarantee mastery. Make sure your reading allows you to formulate questions, to look for gaps in information that you are getting. We found in hindsight that any of the problems we ran into were simply pieces of information we had not asked ourselves or asked our host hotels to answer for us. Email and phone numbers to a hotel are highly underused in trip planning.
5. Take care of the little things
This is the catchall category which we were reminded of on our trip here. Myanmar is a new destination on the world stage so it is bound to have its own quirks. We knew that bringing U.S. cash was essential, as cards are still not widely accepted. The hitch is no one will take anything but brand new U.S. Currency. To be honest this holds weight around the world, new bills are safer and more secure for people abroad to cash in. Local currency is a resource as well, dollars work equally fine, but having $300 in old or semi used bills is equal to having nothing.