Getting Around Myanmar
Myanmar travel methods are many. Travelers can pick and choose any while they are on the go. Buses, trains, ferries are the different ways of getting around in Myanmar. Myanmar is open to tourists but prior planning is better. It is advised to check before planning because situations can change anytime.
Myanmar buses come in different shapes and sizes. Buses are faster and also cheaper than trains. Most of the buses are run by private companies. Before many buses were operated by the government’s Road Transport Enterprise (RTE). Now, all these buses are exclusively used to transport cargo while the passenger buses are run by private companies.
Different bus options include luxury air-conditioned express buses, less luxurious buses without air-condition, local buses and also mini 32 seaters. Long-haul trips from Yangon to Mandalay are very comfortable in these luxury air-conditioned buses. Most of these buses ply overnight leaving between 4 pm and 10 pm at night and arriving at their destinations early morning between 5am to 6 am. Old buses are used for short haul trips.
The Myanmar quadrangle – Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay can be covered by bus with ease. There is no one obvious way to cover but requires changing a couple of overnight buses. One way would be to board a morning bus from Mandalay to Tanuggyi near Inle Lake. Next, take a morning bus and reach Bagan by day and then return to Yangon after two days. Bus connections are available from Yangon to other cities.
Since night temperatures dip, it is recommended that the passengers carry a jacket or a small blanket with them. A bottle of water is handed out in the luxury buses while in others you need to carry your own.
Foreigners can use kyat to purchase bus tickets of any class. A bus ticket may cost approximately USD 8.50. Since November to February is the peak tourist season one has to pre-book couple of days in advance.
Myanmar maintains 550 stations and 2900 miles of 1m gauge rail tracks. Train is a comfortable and a popular travel option in Myanmar. Though a little costlier, it is a thrilling experience to sit by the train window and enjoy the scenic landscape while allowing enjoying the rhythm of the train.
There are two categories of trains – express and the general category. Express trains are far superior to the general ones. They also have reclining seats while the ordinary trains have hard upright seats which cannot be reserved. Long distance trains have dining cars. Sleeper class and first class passengers can avail the facilities of the dining car. Food served here is reasonably good and includes fried rice and noodles. At stations you will find vendors selling different varieties of food items. Bathrooms in the train are pretty basic. Sinks are available for washing and brushing the teeth.
Long journeys are comfortable on trains. Most of the travelers like to cover the 400 mile journey from Yangon to Mandalay by train. There are other adventurous train routes through the picturesque hill terrains. Trains from Mandaly to Lashio and from Yangon to Mawlamyine are two such routes.
For reservations in government run services foreigners can purchase tickets from MTT or the train station. They keep aside seat for foreigners. A days notice is usually enough to book a seat. Sleeper tickets have to be booked couple of days in advance.
With 5000 miles of navigable rivers private ferries and boats are an important mode of transport in Myanmar. Ayeyarwaddy is the most important river in this region. Most ferry services are government run by the Inland Water transport.
Luxury boats are available plying the higher and lower reaches of the Ayeyarwaddy River. These higher priced boats are either privately run or a joint venture. These luxury cruises can be booked through travel agents in Yangon.
The popular ferry boat routes are Mandalay to Bagan, Myitkyina to Mandalay via Bhamo and Katha. Between Yangon and Mandalay there are no direct services and you would require changing the boat at Pyay.
Pandaw Cruises offers an assortment of high-end cruises. For a two night cruise between Bagan and Mandalay, may approximately cost US $ 584 per cabin. Their contact details are:
Yangon office: 01-727 029, Dusit Inya Lake Hotel
Mandalay office: 02-244 256, 14 Strand Rd, 35/37
Flying is a popular option to travel within Myanmar. Four private airlines are operational in Myanmar. It is always better to purchase airline tickets from travel agents rather than the airline offices as they give discounted rates. Tickets can be purchased a day in advance by using US dollars and FEC. Foreigners have to carry their passports to the airline office. Myanmar does not levy any domestic departure tax for visitors.
Here is a list of the Airline offices in Yangon.
Air Bagan (01-513 322, 01-513 422; www.airbagan.com; airline code AB; 56 Shwe Taung Gyar St, Bahan)
Air Mandalay (01-501 500, 501 520; www.airmandalay.com; airline code 6T; 146 Dhama Zedi Rd) Running since 1994, this is a Singapore-Malaysia joint venture.
Myanmar Airways (MA; 01-374 874, 01-373 828; www.mot.gov.mm/ma; airline code UB; 104 Strand Rd) Government airline.
Yangon Airways (01-383 101, 383 106; www.yangonair.com; airline code HK; MMB Tower, Level 5, 166 Pansodan St)
This is a private Myanmar-run airline operating since 1996, with a cute flying-elephant logo.