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Comparing quotes from local agents?

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We are planning our first trip to Myanmar for early January 2014 and have requested proposals for a nature/birding oriented trip of about 10 days from several agencies recommended on this board, Tripadvisor and Lonelyplanet.

We would prefer to use local agents to arrange our travel like we have done many times before in other countries (most recently in Botswana and Zimbabwe). We postponed going to Myanmar until the President and Secretary of State have gone and several groups have lifted their recommendations against travel to Myanmar. We do note from this forum that things are rapidly changing, but, want to use our hard earned travel dollars to promote positive change.

The disconnect between the pent up tourist demand, and the existing tourist infrastructure has me worried, and it has been challenging to get an idea of what the travel costs will be.

For example, Shan Yoma Travel states "Regarding the booking of flight and hotel, please inquire again 5 months before your travel date... price will be changeable with prior notice in case of increase of fuel charges and the hotel and room types may be changeable with prior notice depend on the availability of rooms...we don't know real situation in January 2014. Above tour price will be changeable in January is possible to make hotel reservations in August. We can know the final price and we can give you at this time."

Reservation River Mekong said "you could book the hotels now also and as your booking dates will be next year peak season, better to book not later than 4 months ahead will be sure and easy for you to choose everything for you." They also mentioned that birding guides need to be booked "as earlier as possible" since there are "very few in number"

How do we manage our travel costs, especially since hotel costs are rising so rapidly? How are hotel reservations handled now? Are travel agencies just reserving rooms and then working out the details about how much it will cost later? How do we ensure that our reservations (once made) are honored (have read that some folks have shown up for their reserved room only to find that it was given away to someone else who just showed up at the doorstep earlier in the day)?

I have asked for proposals with guesthouses/hotels that don't have ties to the government, but, on Tripadvisor was told that this isn't such a concern now?

Thank you in advance.

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