Thursday, 17 July 2014

How expensive is Burma? Part 2 - food, travel and sightseeing

As covered in my last post, accommodation is overpriced in Burma (Myanmar), but what about the other travel costs?

Summary (detailed breakdowns below)

I spent an average of $39 per day in Burma in June 2014 ($25.61 accom, $5.41 food, $4 sightseeing, $4.79 transport, and $1 souvenirs). This is 30% more than the $30 per day I average in Thailand (as a flashpacker).

Accommodation is the largest cost - sharing a room will automatically shave about 40% off your accom costs. It's possible to pay less than half of what I spent by staying in cheap places (see my previous post). Expect hotel prices to rise by as much as 25% in peak season.

It's doable to visit Burma on $20 per day, but that will be rough.
For a solo traveller who likes decent accom and the old splurge, budget $40 per day, low season ($45 high).
If travelling as a couple, budget $30 pp per day ($33 high season).

Food and drink

Food is, quite simply, really cheap. Hotels nearly always provide breakfast (if you're lucky, they'll offer a local version; if you're unlucky, it will be sweet white toast (yuck!) with an egg).

For the rest of your meals, a basic veggie dish at a food stall (say fried noodles, or fried rice, or a big dosai) is about 500 kyat (about $0.50 US). A meat dish from a stall will cost around 1000 kyat. A curry house meal (you pick a curry of your choice, and it comes with as much rice, soup, and side dishes as you can eat) will cost around 1800-2000 kyat for a veggie option, 2500-3500 kyat for meat. Touristy or westernised restaurants (around Old Bagan, for example) will charge a bit more - expect to pay $5 for a meal in one of these places.

For cheap snacks, look for flatbreads served with a small bowl of potato curry for dipping, at about 100 kyat each. 2 would make a substantial snack. Wandering vendors also flog biscuits, greasy crisps, candied fruit, and hard boiled quail's eggs (often 500-1000 kyat). Fruit is widely available from markets, roadside stalls and wandering vendors: expect to pay 200 kyat for a small papaya, 500 kyat for a couple of tangerines, 1500-2500 kyat for a small durian, and 1000 kyat for a bunch of bananas.

1L of water will cost 150-220 kyat in a big grocery store, around 300 kyat in most mini-marts or cafes, and 400-500 kyat in most restaurants. If you're travelling in tail end of the hot-season like me, when temperatures hover in the mid-to-high 30s, expect to get through at least 3L of water a day.

Coffee or tea in a traditional tea shop is 200-300 kyats. A fancy coffee shop (catering to the rising middle classes, expats and tourists) with wifi and A/C will charge you more like 1500-2500 kyat a cup. Fresh fruit shakes cost around 1500 kyat. A soda will cost around 300 kyats for a local brand, 500-600 kyats for a coke, and about 800 kyats from your hotel minibar. A beer will set you back around 2000 kyat from a cheap local place or shop. Expect to pay several times these prices if drinking in upmarket hotel bars.

Overall, I spent an average of $5.41 per day on food and drink - a mix of street stalls and restaurant meals, with some fruit shakes and fancy iced coffees thrown in. It would have been possible to eat and drink for about $2 if I'd been careful and only eaten at stalls, but that would get quite boring after a while (you see the same handful of dishes turn up time and again).

The most expensive day was $10.44 (went to a "fancy" restaurant that day). The cheapest day was $1.14 (feeling a bit ill so I lived on bananas and rice porridge).


A lot of sightseeing in Burma is free (wandering around temples, enjoying the scenery). That's balanced by the more expensive sights (there's a $15 government fee to enter Bagan, and $10 to enter the Inle Lake area. The Shwedagon paya in Yangon is $8 for foreigners).

On average is spent about $4 a day on sightseeing and touristy stuff.

I spent a further $20 on souvenirs (those lacquer bowls are mighty pretty).


Taxis are very reasonable in Yangon ($2 for a ride in central, $4-5 to go across town), although I encountered the automatic overcharging of Westerners in Inle, Bagan and Mandalay (Central bus station to the town, a 5 minute journey, costs $10? Really?) so you'll need to bargan hard and be prepared to walk away. Bike rental runs about 1500 kyat per day.

Burma is a pretty big country, and many of the top destinations are quite spread out, so expect to do some long journeys. The trains are incredibly slow and uncomfortable (and government run), and internal flights are incredibly expensive, so I relied on the bus network for most of my moving about. Prices are reasonable: Yangon to Inle Lake on the VIP bus (12.5 hrs) was 17,800 kyat; the normal bus from Inle to Bagan (9 hrs) was 11,000. Share taxis are also a reasonable way to cover mid-length distances (say, from Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin, about 2 hours, costs $5 if you book direct, $7 if your hotel books it for you).

In total, I spent just over $100 on transport in a 3 week trip.

Like what you read here?
You can see my full coverage of Burma by clicking the country link at the top of this page, or jump into some of the more popular articles:
Myanmar money matters (do you really need to take pristine US dollars?)
Hsipaw, the North's trekking centre
Another view of Yangon

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