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backpacking

Travel Tips

Traveling in Myanmar

Although the border only recently opened, the country has been hard at work to enable the best possible experience.  Traveling in Myanmar is quite easy and the country offers an experience that can hardly be put into words.

Here is my breakdown of a few important things to know before traveling to Myanmar:

PEOPLE

The people of Myanmar are very warm and open to tourists. Of course you should be respectful of them if you want to be treated with respect (like anywhere), but honestly they have one of the kindest demeanors I’ve encountered. The kids learn English in school and there are courses all around the major cities for technology, tourism, English, etc. The borders were only opened to outsiders in 2011 and they are working hard to get things ready for prime time tourism. Everywhere we’ve been (guest houses, pagodas, restaurants, trains, buses), doors were opened and an extra effort made to ensure we were happy and comfortable. There is an English speaking expert at nearly every place we’ve been, even taxi drivers will phone a friend just to be sure they are communicating to you properly.

TRANSPORT

You’ll have plenty of options within cities and between them to get from A to B, but I would recommend being  slightly selective on your choices.

To get between the major cities, I would recommend train only as a last resort. The rail lines have not been updated in decades, the cars are quite dingy, the ride is so bumpy you’ll be 6 inches out of your seat every couple of minutes, there are roaches and Mosquitos both in the sleeper cars, no a/c and fan use only if you’re lucky.

So what should you do?

The bus is excellent! In fact I would recommend using bus all over the country if you don’t want to fly. There is one carrier JJ Express which is exceptionally comfortable, air conditioned, offers screens at every seat (if you’re into that) and is the most modern option around. You can book tickets when you arrive at the airport or at the bus station within the city. I would keep an eye around online too, who knows, they could have online booking available soon…

FOOD

The food in Myanmar is kind of a melting pot.  I would say it’s a mix of Thai and Indian for the most part with a fair amount of Japanese  options (especially in Yangon). I recommend being overly cautious about meat consumption, and that of raw foods, ice, etc. there are tourist restaurants that will specify that everything is boiled, purified, etc. and in that case you’re probably fine.

MONEY

The local currency is over inflated, so everything in Myanmar is far more expensive than it should be. You can dig for deals, but it’s hard to find anything less than $15-$20pp per night in ok accommodations – most hotels are insanely priced and certainly not worth the money.  Food is still relatively cheap, looking at $2-$3 a plate in a decently priced place, but of course the more touristy places try and charge $6-$10. Again, not even close to worth it. After being in Thailand or any other country in south east Asia you will think it’s quite pricey. Hiring a motorbike for the day will run you $15-$20 or a taxi $30-$45 (depending on your negotiation skills on the street).

Also ATMs were only introduced in Myanmar over the past year, so the bank fees are quite high and many of them have very low limits on withdrawals. Some ATMs will only let you take out $50 and they charge a $5 bank fee to withdrawal money. KGB Bank lets you take out up to $500, so it’s a much better bet.

DRESS

The country as a whole is somewhat conservative.  The vast majority of the population is Buddhist, they pray often and wear very covering clothing, even in the hottest times of the year.  As a tourist, I understand we are not necessarily used to wearing floor length skirts and shirts that cover our shoulders in extreme heat, but remember you are in their home.  It is absolutely disrespectful to wear shorts and a tank top when visiting their holy sites (which most Pagodas and sights in Myanmar are).  Some sights will provide you with a floor length skirt to put over your shorts, some may ask you to go home and others may just look the other way.  In all three of those scenarios however, know that you will have offended some percentage of the local population and should make a serious effort not to do so when visiting.  General rules are – no spaghetti straps (as they put it), no shorts, and no shoes/socks in any temple (this includes Pagodas).  They have places to put your shoes when arriving at the temple, but it is definitely easier to be wearing sandals that just slide on and off when visiting many sites in a day.  Just my two cents!

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Travel Tips

Best Camera Bag for Travel

I spent years looking for the best camera bag for travel, and I finally found it!

For this type of purchase there are likely two style preferences, there are those that like backpacks (for carrying several lenses) and those that prefer shoulder bags (which fit less lenses, but allow easier access to them).  Lowepro offers some of the best bags on the market and they have a model that will suit nearly every photographer’s needs.  There are versions of the bags that even have slots for additional electronics such as a laptop or ipad.

My personal favorite is THIS ONE – this shoulder bag is extremely versatile, and can be worn on your front when you are wearing a larger pack on your back (in my case while I backpack around the world).  Inside the bag there are compartments for your extra batteries, SIM cards, cords, etc., a larger insert (that can be removed) which holds up to 3 lenses and a camera body, and a compression zipper that allows you to easily transform the bag between the two potential sizes.  Even when the camera carrying insert is inside the bag, you still have plenty of room to fit additional items, and there are three pockets on the exterior of the bag as well, so you can be creative with your organization.

I’ve had my bag now for years and taken it to a few dozen countries, so I can additionally attest to its durability.  The bag shows almost no wear at all and it has kept my camera safe and secure in even the most unimaginable situations (I do travel to quite a few third world nations and when I am there opt for local transport).

If you are set on getting a backpack instead – I would opt for THIS ONE.  Again, extreme versatility, just this one has two shoulder straps and is on your back of course…

Hope this helps you determine the best camera bag to bring with you on your next excursion, whether it be in a local park or on a journey to the other side of the world!

Do Not Miss Lists, Travel Tips

Packing for Travel – DNM List

Packing for Travel DNM List for those that want to travel light for extended periods of time – each item has a link to the item we recommend to purchase.  Many of the items below apply to all, some may be more backpacker style…

  1. a manageable backpack that opens on the front side – buy (men) (women)
  2. quick dry towel (most hostels provide sheets and towels may be available for rent or not at all) – Get it on Amazon.com
  3. converter (buy a universal) – Get it on Amazon.com
  4. power strip with USB ports (to plug into converter and charge multiple things simultaneously) – Get it on Amazon.com
  5. travel camera – I suggest the Panasonic Lumix – Get it on Amazon.com
  6. SD cards & extra battery – Get it on Amazon.com
  7. gorilla pod (for shooting in low light) – Get it on Amazon.com
  8. lowpro if you’re looking for a good camera/day bag – Get it on Amazon.com
  9. clothing and cord organizers (if you’re OCD like me :) – Get it on Amazon.com (clothing) Get it on Amazon.com (cords)
  10. laundry and/or shampoo sheets – Get it on Amazon.com
  11. travel umbrella – Get it on Amazon.com
  12. versatile walking shoes that come on and off easily (you’ll need to take them off quite often) – buying options are wide open here, but many people swear by Keens.
  13. water proof wrist watch (preferably one that shows military time as well since all transport is shown that way) – Get it on Amazon.com
  14. alarm clock if your watch and/or phone does not have one – Get it on Amazon.com
  15. water purification tablets (depending on access to clean water) – Get it on Amazon.com
  16. deet wipes or spray (to avoid malarial Mosquitos) – Get it on Amazon.com
  17. small reusable grocery bag (for laundry, grocery shopping, etc.) – Get it on Amazon.com
  18. travel tissue packs, wipes and hand sanitizer – Get it on Amazon.com
  19. passport case (Passports get banged up easily without one) – Get it on Amazon.com
  20. a non-ballpoint click pen – forms to fill out often, comes in handy – Get them on Amazon.com
  21. a debit/credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction or ATM fees (Charles schwab) – read about options here