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Dalama Adventures Tale of two corporate types ditching their jobs and traveling the world for 14 months... check out all photos, blogs & interesting tid bits at http://www.dalama.net

Black Market Exchange for Kyat

MYANMAR | Sunday, 13 May 2007 | Views [3954]

After two fun nights in Bangkok with very little sleep, we left our friend Scott at the airport, as we parted ways for separate flights.  He was heading back to San Diego, and we, onto Yangon, Myanmar on a 45 minute Air Asia flight.  You don't ever hear much about Myanmar in the states, aside from trade embargoes and human rights atrocities.  It's not portrayed as a vacation destination, and in fact, tourism is discouraged.  We're hoping to discover a beautiful country, not yet ruined by excessive tourism.  We've also vowed to use local family run businesses, and non-governmental controlled transportation, in an effort to channel our tourist dollars directly to the people who need the money so desperately.  We want to avoid funding a corrupt and inhumane government regime.  Our flight was uneventful and we whisked through the airport... all of 2 planes on the tarmac.  Yangon has a nice shiny airport, and I'm sure they're just waiting for hordes of tourists to come, perhaps one day when they open up their country to the outside world, and treat their people in respectable ways.  We scored a homely room with breakfast for a mere $15/night.  Exhausted, we showered and went to sleep, only to be shaken out of our sleep three times for earthquakes - mild ones, but enough of a jolt to get us up.  

Our goal for the day, aside from getting some sleep, was to change our US dollars into Myanmar kyat (pronounced CHAT).  We read about several hotels which securely exchange at a special higher black market rate.  Bank rates were about 450 kyat : 1 USD, and the street black market rate is 1300 kyat : 1 USD, and potentially higher if you change minimum denominations of $100 USD.  Also, your USD bills need to be crisp, new and not have "CB" in the serial number.  So after dusting off the USD's, we set off into town, on a tip from a fellow backpacker that one of the hotels had a really good rate.  The walk through town was similar to walks through towns in India or Nepal... seedy streets with vendors selling their wares, and beggars looking for handouts.  The weather is hot, humid, subtropical, and the wind whipping dirt around from the streets.  Lots of tea shops and local grub shops line the streets, along with mobile cart vendors.  Tiny tables with "child=sized" chairs are set up along the half broken sidewalks, like fine street dining on the streets of Paris or Barcelona, only these were miniature plastic and wooden varieties and were chock-o-block with locals sitting and squatting, huddled around together drinking tea and smoking locally made cigars.  We made our way to the hotel, only to be turned away, telling us they weren't licensed to trade USD's.  (That meant, there was probably some official nearby and it wasn't an opportune time to swap bills).  So next door at another hotel, we were greeted at the lobby by a young hotel employee who quickly shifted us to a couch with white doily coverings, to discuss the transaction.  We agreed upon how much we would change and the special exchange rate, and then we were shuffled to the far corner of the hotel to wait.  The hotel guy came back, carrying a stack of large bills - literally, it was a stack 4 inches thick for just $100 USD.  He brings a sheet of newspaper for us to hide the kyat underneath, as we counted and recounted, and scrutinized the quality of each bill.  We verify that it's all there, and stash away the loot in Darrin's man purse.  Overly paranoid now, we're well aware we're the only white folk, touristy looking westerners on the streets;  we walk back through the streets of Yangon to find a bite to eat and back to our hostel- half expecting to be mugged after having conducted our exchange transaction.  On the way back we get hit up by several street money changers touting much better rates... but there's always a catch though, and we'd probably end up with bum kyat that was counterfeit or unfit for usage.  We made our way through several shady streets of beggars and just unfamiliar underdeveloped city streets with tons of stray dogs, until we found the 50th Street Bar, written up in Lonely Planet as an expat hangout.  We were desperate for a bit of reprieve from the intensity and less than hygienic street food that we'd been living off for the past week.  From the outside the place looked no different than the other hole in the wall joints down every street.  upon entering we were filled with a familiar and home "college town" warmth - a brick walled interior, wood floors, pool table, comfortable chairs... all went a long way toward giving us a little slice of home, as did the overpriced western food, soft drinks and beers.

Tags: Budgets & money

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