Ask Lonely Planet: A Russian stop is worth the effort

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Pay for hotel bookings and flights in US dollars in Myanmar. Photo / Supplied
Pay for hotel bookings and flights in US dollars in Myanmar. Photo / Supplied

I am considering a three-week trip to Helsinki, Tallinn and Riga. Would it be easy to slot in two to three nights in St Petersburg and do you have any advice on making a stress- and hassle-free trip into Russia?
- Lesley Hughes

Lonely Planet's Sarah Bennett and Lee Slater write:

St Petersburg feels every bit an imperial and grand capital and it would be a shame to travel all the way to the Baltic and not spend a few days there.

Firstly, obtain a visa. It is still a tad painful and a disincentive for would-be travellers to Russia.

Get your hotel or travel agency to provide a booking confirmation letter and proof of payment, which must be sent with an application form to the Russian Embassy in Wellington. Cost is NZ$110.

See the consular services section at newzealand.mid.ru for details.

After that, it should be plain sailing. If you arrive on the overnight boat from Helsinki, you'll disembark at the sea port on Vasilyevsky Island. Catch a taxi into the city. Four daily Allegro express trains roll into St Petersburg from Helsinki, a 3 hour journey.

The most rewarding way to see the city is on foot. For trips further afield use the metro system. ATMs are everywhere and credit cards are accepted at most restaurants and shops.

A few words of Russian will help smooth your way. Lonely Planet's new St Petersburg guidebook has the lowdown on the city, and some handy phrases, too.

Paying your way in Myanmar

I am planning a visit to Myanmar this year and I've heard that most payments must be paid in US dollars. What should I take for two people on a two-week trip?
- Kevin Turner

Myanmar's national currency is the kyat (K). The US dollar acts as an alternative and is the only foreign currency readily exchanged and accepted.

The official exchange rate (US$1 equals around K6.5) is less than a 10th of the black-market rate, so don't change money at airport exchange booths or banks.

Change your money in Yangon's hotels or shops - $100 bills will get you the best rate, but have smaller denominations for minor purchases. Keep your dollars in pristine condition. None of Myanmar's few ATMs accept overseas cards. Credit cards and travellers cheques are also useless, so bring cash.

Most guesthouses and hotels quote prices and accept payment in the greenback. If you pay in kyat, it will be at a disadvantageous rate. Services such as archaeological sites, museums and ferries, and flights, are also paid for in US dollars, while items such as meals, bus tickets, trishaw or taxi rides are usually inkyat.

The thriftiest can survive on around US$50 per day, while mid-range travellers usually budget between US$50 and US$100. For luxury travel you will pay more. Top-end hotels charge between US$100 and US$500 for a double room, and a driver and guide will set you back around US$100 per day.

Lonely Planet's Myanmar (Burma) guidebook has information on money matters, as does the Thorn Tree forum.

- NZ Herald

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