July 6, 2012
We arrived on a cloudy evening from Bangkok at around 6:00 PM local Myanmar time. Yangon International Airport is the second smallest Capital airport in south east Asia that we have used. The only smaller one is Vientiane, Laos. Our plane was the only one in any of the terminals at the airport. While the airport is small, it is modern and going through immigration was a breeze and the agents spoke English.
Changing Money at Yangon International Airport
Contrary to what the Lonely Planet says, changing currency at the airport might give you the best rates in all of Myanmar! After the baggage claim area at the far end of the building is the currency exchange. We noticed that the exchange rate was 876 kyat per one USD. This is about 100 more Kyat than is listed in the Lonely Planet and about on par with the online currency rate at xe.com! We were told at our hotel and also by locals not to exchange any money in the black market as the banks now give the best rates. We were also told by a local that money changers on the street use ‘hand magic’ – they will constantly change bills with you very quickly to confuse you and short change you. I can see this is easy to do as the currency comes in different sizes for denominations. We will learn more about exchanging money and report later the more we learn. One thing we found out was that banks are closed on weekends, so if you are arriving on a weekend and do not want to exchange with the black market then make sure you exchange enough currency at the airport.
The reason exchanging money in Myanmar is such a big issue is because there are no ATMs that accept foreign cards and payments cannot be made by credit card. So you need to bring sufficient cash in USD for your entire stay in Myanmar. Certain large payments, like to hotels or airlines can be made in USD. Other smaller payments, such as to restaurants and buses are made in Kyat.
Taxi ride into Yangon from the Airport
As we exited the customs area we were immediately greeted by taxi drivers offering to take us into the city. What was unusual was the lack of haggling or price gouging. Instead the atmosphere was calm and the cab drivers did not hound you if you told them no. The rate was $10 USD into Yangon. Our taxi driver did not take $1 USD bills, instead he politely insisted on either a $10 or larger bill to exchange because smaller bills would give him a lower exchange rate.
The ride to our hotel (May Shan) from the airport took about 45 minutes on a Friday evening during traffic hour.