Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Updates to Lonely Planet Burma Travel Section / The Insein Prison Pictures

So basically... this blog is devoted to correcting some mistakes found in the Burma / Myanmar sections of the latest Lonely Planet publication.
It's not Lonely Planet's fault. They are the gold standard of travel books, but the thing is, everybody carries Lonely Planet... everywhere!  They are often more valuable than money... but things change and so as of February 7, 2012, here are some updates.  If you are lucky enough to access internet in Burma and this helps you, than great.  If you stumble upon this blog post while preparing your trip, just read:  Maybe this will help prevent you from making some of the travel mistakes I made.
1. Credit Cards are not accepted anywhere in Burma!  I repeat.  NONE!  Burmese people are not even allowed to have credit cards.  So believe me, if you've been through Cambodia and India and even China for crying out loud, and you were able to get cash at Money Exchanges and think...oh sure, I'll just get a cash advance in Burma...think again. I ran out of money early  in the trip, and basically had to shoestring my budget completely to be able to survive.  Please be careful in this.
2.  Another thing that must be underlined is the quality of your U.S. bills.  Hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, money exchangers, will look you straight in the eye and exclaim your perfectly good $100 dollar bill is not up to Burmese standards if it has even the slightest crease or wrinkle in it.  I was turned down dozens of times with a hundred dollar bill because it was not in MINT condition.  And by MINT, I mean, it didn't give me a paper cut just touching it.  Don't bring anything to Burma that isn't straight off the bank presses.
3.  Lonely Planet writes of Internet Cafes, but in truth, there is no internet in Burma.  Internet Explorer is not allowed nor is Mozilla, Bing, or often Yahoo.  Safari was the only acceptable search engine, and forget about using iPhones.  Though you can buy an Angry Bird t-shirt in any market, Burma has no 3G network, so you might as well just leave your smart phone at home, or bring one of your older models.  I kept my old Nokia, which on occasion, actually worked.  Its very rare to even see a Burmese person with a cell phone, which is crazy in this day and age where a kid riding an elephant in Sumatra can access Facebook, but here, forget it.  Sorry Zuckerberg, but your world domination has at least one more country to go.
4.  Here are a couple more things Lonely Planet mentions that need updating.  They said don't change money at the airport, but that's where I found the best exchange rates, and YES, I was totally broke and in fear I wouldn't be able to get out of the country, so I checked everywhere. 
5.  Another couple of funny things are just for this blog.  On the Yangon Circle line, Lonely Planet suggests to not take pictures of the famous Insein Prison, but I got off the train here (as this blog picture shows) and was able to do so without any problem.  Although many other times I was told to put my camera away, like when taking pictures of this creepy nightclub fashion runway show...so..who knows?
Also, swimming at the Savoy Hotel, totally worth it... I mean... after all the dust and dirt of this place, the Savoy in Yangon is an oasis, but it ain't free.  $10 U.S..  Also, Aung Sun Suu Kyi's house is NOT accessible at all by University Street.  You can't even get close.  Walking up to the compound is more like it, BUT...if you go to a little silk screen t-shirt shop at the base of Dagon Tower, you can buy country patches, and they will make an old school painted silk-screen N.L.D. T-shirt for you... her political party!  AND the proceeds will go to the democracy movement and not line the corrupt government pockets.  Pretty Cool!  So...enjoy your travel, mistrust advertisements, especially canoe trips in Inle Lake, which basically just take you around to specialized government shops where they get pissed if you don't buy stuff.  Other than that, get out and enjoy.
P.S.  The Burmese people call their country Burma, and most have no idea what Myanmar is.

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