Travel agents in Burma are able to get better prices for you on hotels and flights and reliably book both. While we are normally completely DIY travelers, there are a few more things a travel agent in Yangon can do for you. I don’t normally book airport transfers or a car and driver or a day trip before I go. I’ve always found it easy to hire a car and driver on the spot. While there is no question I could do the same in Burma, for long drives I want a reliable car. Most of the cars in Burma are wrecks. Often missing sections of the body and chunks of the interior, the engine running roughly, drivers in Burma are well-known for making repairs on the vehicles as needed. For a transfer from the airport to a hotel in Yangon, it is easy to get a taxi at the airport for about US$7. But the Mandalay airport is an hour outside the city. With this in mind, I asked Santa Maria for a car and driver for our hotel transfers and for days in Mandalay. We plan to go to the ancient cities and to Pyin U Lwin, both substantial drives. Last trip, we had Santa Maria book a car and driver to take us from the HeHo airport to Kakku and on to our hotel at Inle.
We also used our agent to book at boat for us between Sittwe and Mrauk U. There is a public (government) boat that runs several days a week, but is not practical if you have a schedule to keep. There are a number of different kinds of boats one can take – a speedboat that is both very loud and rather dangerous (like other speedboats on rivers in SE Asia), tiny uncovered boats, and fancier, covered boats. Because we are staying at the Princess, we decided to splurge on the Princess boat.
On our first trip to Burma, we found that the agent could get us better prices for Balloons over Bagan.
Of course, travel agents can also arrange guides for you. We opt not to do that, as we seldom use guides, and when we do we’d rather hire one on the spot after we’ve had a chance to interact a bit.
Also on our first trip to Burma we arrived in Yangon on a national holiday, so Scott’s Market, the recommended place to exchange money was closed. Our agent changed money for us at a rate equal to that available at Scott’s Market.
Because we are heading to Mandalay soon after we land in Yangon from Bangkok, we may ask the agent to exchange money for us when they meet us at the airport to give us our tickets and vouchers and to get paid.