It was not love at first site with Bagan, I actually hated it within minutes of arriving on the overnight bus from Inle Lake.
After 7 hours on a night bus which wasn’t really overnight but more of a ‘half a night no point in sleeping’ bus, and still with a sour taste in my mouth left over from the recent scam in Inle (you can read about it here), I was not in the mood for being fucked about and scammers.
The bus stopped and threw out all the tourists at a random, isolated location just outside of Bagan town, I was disorientated and still half asleep, and the tuk tuk taxi mafia were waiting with their teeth sharpened for us, bad start. We did the best haggling we could at 3.30am and got bundled into the back of a pick-up truck for 1000kyat each. Not bad haggling we later discovered as an old Aussie couple paid 8000kyat for the same journey! Bloody mafia!
Next stop, check point! Time to pay foreigner fees if you want to be breathing Bagan air.
Foreigner Fee options: 15USD, 15 Euros or 15,500 Khat.
[At the time of travel the exchange rate was $1 = 1000Kyat or 1Euro = 1150Kyat]
EDIT: As of January 1st 2016 the Foreigner Fee has been raised to $20 or 25000Kyat.
So go figure, no sense of currency exchange here. Luckily no-one was paying in Euros, because really, who brings Euros to Myanmar? But that extra 500kyat (50cents) ended up causing a huge long show down between our fellow passengers, who had only Kyat to pay with, and the check point guards.
The fiery exchange went something like this…
‘We will pay the same amount in Kyat as we would in dollars, that makes it 15,000’. ‘No’. ‘ We will not be made to pay extra just because we are paying in the national currency of this country instead of American money’. ‘No!’. ‘You have to pay extra to convert $ into Kyat anyway, it doesn’t make sense, please explain?’ ‘No!’ ‘We refuse to pay this extra, we know the currency exchange rate, you’re keeping the extra 500 for yourself we won’t let you rob us!’. ‘No!!’ ‘You’re a thief! You’re a thief’ (the old aussie got exceptionally passionate at this point)…’No!! Go back to bus!! You no come to Bagan!!!’
The guard would not give in and told the pick-up driver to take us back to the bus stop, we would all not be allowed into Bagan. Bloody hell! I was to tired for this shit! and I actually had dollars! (thankfully!).
After some moaning and groaning everyone gave up and we all paid our fee and carried on our way, but what a palava over 50cents! Now it was time to start looking for a hotel. Great. /sarcasm off.
So, the scam?
Well it isn’t clear whether this is a scam or the official price. There was no-where at the checkpoint that showed any prices and when asked the guard cound not produce anything written to say they were the correct prices. The entry ticket doesn’t have the price in Kyat. So it’s hard to know where that extra 500Kyat went to, and should we really care, it’s just 50cents. But principle seems to just become oh so important at that time of the morning.
The moral of the story
This is just one example of why you should carry some dollars with you in Myanmar, you never know when you might need them. 3.30 in the morning after a long bus journey being one of them!