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Currency and Shopping

Currency and Shopping

Sometimes a trip cannot be completed without buying some souvenirs for family and friends. Although Myanmar is not a luxury shopping heaven in the world, travelers still can buy many interesting things in every city in the country. It’s a pleasant thing to shop in Myanmar, where bargain is acceptable and, in some regions, bartering is still in fashion. This mysterious country offers a peculiar peek at Southeast Asia, not as Thailand or Vietnam do, but in a more ancient way that is rarely found anywhere else.


Kyat (MMK; symbol K) = 100 pyas. Notes are in denominations of K10,000, 5,000, K1,000, 500, 200, 100, 50, 20, 10, 5 and 1. Notes below K50 are very uncommon.

Credit cards: Credit cards can be used only in a handful of top-end hotels in Yangon and Mandalay, although this situation is changing quickly as sanctions are eased and international companies seek to do business in Myanmar.

ATM: Until late 2012 there were few ATMs in Myanmar and it was impossible for foreigners to use them. This is changing and there are now ATMs accepting foreign Mastercard and Visa cards in Yangon, Mandalay and a few other locations. Only Kyat can be withdrawn, however, which means that it is still necessary for visitors to bring dollars to pay for trains, planes, museum entry and hotels (for the best rates). It is generally unwise to rely entirely on ATMs since if your card does not work then you may be unable to obtain money in any other way. It is also recommended to carry small change as large notes may be difficult to change. Euros are now also accepted in banks, but exchange can be time consuming.

Travellers cheques: Not currently accepted, although this may change. Check with your tour agency prior to travel, and bring plenty of US dollars in cash.

Banking hours: Mon-Fri 1000-1400, and sometimes Saturday mornings.

Currency exchange: The local currency is used by tourists to pay for everyday expenses such as restaurant meals, bus travel, taxis and shopping. Other expenses, such train tickets and museum entry fees, must be paid for in US dollars (although, in some cases, euro are also acceptable). In some situations, notably paying for hotel rooms, prices are quoted in dollars although kyat are accepted at a poor exchange rate.

It is essential to ensure that any US dollars brought for use in the country – whether to be exchanged or spent – are recent issues (2006 or later) and absolutely pristine: any tears, folds or marks may lead to a note being rejected. High-value dollar notes usually receive the best exchange rate, but it’s also useful to have lower denominations to spend as hotels etc. may not have change. Euros are also exchanged at banks, and may be accepted at government-run museums, but are less useful when paying for hotel rooms or other expenses.


What to Shop in Myanmar

Lacquerware - It’s a popular purchase that can be made into the forms of cups, bowls and vases. Bagan is a good place to shop beautiful lacquerware with great variation and price. Just pay attention to the quality of the items you are going to buy for there might be fraudulent commodities. Genuine lacquerware is engraved with natural colors of sand, stone and flowers. In contrast, fake ones are painted.

Rubies and Gemstones - Don’t be surprised if you find low-priced jade, rubies and other gemstones in Myanmar, for the country itself is a great miner of precious stones. The finest rubies are mostly available in Yangon, where only reputable shops are worth your money. Be aware of fake stones sold by street vendors.

Longyi - Longyi is a sheet of traditional cloth won by both genders everywhere you can see in Myanmar. If you think it’s awkward for your male families or friends to accept this special souvenir, give it to your female friends instead, they’ll definitely love it. Silk shops around the country have fine materials to make longyi, the pattern of which is at your choice and the price depends on your ability of haggle.

Handicrafts - Folk dolls, coconut masks, leather bags, wood carvings and thing alike are popular souvenirs that Myanmar is proud of. The traditional skill makes these folk works remarkable piece to buy. It’s also a major reason to support the tradition and low-income families.

Embroidered Tapestries - The delicate art is originated in Mandalay in 18th century. Kalaga is another name for this most sought-after tapestry involving gold and silver thread and tales from the Buddhist scriptures depicted. You can use it to decorate the interior of your house or give it as a decent present for families or friends.

Gold Leaves - You may notice that Buddha images or stupas in Myanmar are gilded with gold leaves, which are also widely sold at tourist cities. Mandalay’s lacquerware shops have the biggest supply for genuine gold leaves that are thin squares packaged in sets of 5 to 10 leaves.


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