Hpa-An and the ATM incident

by Kelly

Our arrival into Hpa-An was not exactly one filled with excitement, more absolute relief! We had bordered a mini bus in Dawei which is approx 8 hours from Hpa-An and told there would be a few stops along the way. What we encountered was 7 hours squashed up in a very, very hot bus. The driver refused to use the air conditioner and we sweltered along in silence until we were told to get off in a town called Mawlamyine and then discovered that that was it for the mini bus and although over an hour from Hpa-An we were left to our own devices on how to get there…

After sitting in a hot (no aircon) and squashed up mini bus for hours we were exhausted and this was not a happy discovery. We argued the fact that the ticket said Hpa-An and we had been taken to the wrong place. Eventually we were put on a big bus and told we would end up in Hpa-An. It worked and we eventually did get dropped off in the right town much to our overwhelming relief!

Although this was a bit of an inauspicious start to our adventures in this little town it turned in to one of our favourite places in Myanmar. It is a rural area and full of interesting places to visit. There are loads of temples and caves to explore. The countryside is gorgeous and the people are lovely, read about our favourite parts of our time in Hpa-An here as we would definitely recommend a visit here.

On to the ATM incident! The only problem we had was with a bank. We had run out of kyat and need to pay for our room and bus ticket. The lovely hotel we stayed at lent us some kyat to get through the weekend until the bank was open and we could try to change AUD with them. Unfortunately we searched everywhere for a money exchange that  or bank that would change AUD but there are none in this town.

By this time it was Monday afternoon and the hotel had purchased our bus tickets for that evening, so we went to the bank to withdraw money from their ATM which is where the saga began…the money never spat out of the ATM and it was taken from my account.

Panic set in and we asked the bank for help. They didn’t speak much English and we tried to show/explain/mime what had happened. In desperation I raced back to the hotel and the manager came with me to help translate what had happened. After a few hours going back and forth we were told to fill out a form and they would try to see if the ATM had made a mistake. This did not fill us with hope! I contacted my bank in Australia and was told that they couldn’t do anything as it was already out and it was the bank in Hpa-An that had to refund it back.

Myanmar bank

So I frantically messaged my sister to get her or my parents to wire us money through Western Union. This then set off a chain of events where my sister called me panicking that I was kidnapped! After convincing her that we were just in a jam the countdown was on, they’d never done a Western Union transfer and it was almost time for the Western Union office to close. We were sitting in the Western Union office which was upstairs in the bank waiting desperately. The bank closed and began counting their money in front of us, thousands and thousands of kyat stacked up around us on tables, we had never seen anything like it.

In the last minutes as the staff were closing down the transfer came through, they quickly sorted out our money and we were able to pay back the hotel and catch our bus! It was such a relief that it worked out in the closing seconds of the day and I was super grateful to my family for getting it sorted.

The moral of this story is to take USD to exchange. I wouldn’t want to use another ATM to be honest and although you can change other currencies USD is the most widely accepted and easiest to change. Make sure they are new bills, flat, no creases, not torn or damaged in anyway as they will not be accepted. This goes for any currency.

Reminder to bring only USD and change them for Kyat as it is super difficult to change other currencies although we did see Thai baht and euro being accepted.


waiting in the bank

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