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Journeys

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Transportation within Myanmar (Burma)


Photo: Flickr, CC ( calflier001)

There is a great range of options for getting around in Myanmar (Burma). Take your pick, and enjoy the ride!

A note of caution: Be aware that information regarding availability, costs, and other details can change overnight, and weather also influences available methods of transport. Some areas may not be accessible during the wet season. Stay up-to-date with travel alerts before your departure and be prepared to change your plans.


Air Travel in Myanmar 

Domestic flights are available to the major tourist destinations of Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle and Heho. Airlines are currently extending available routes and announcements of new destinations are made regularly.

Aircraft:

ATR-42 and ATR-72 propeller planes are used by most of the airlines. There are also some Fokker F100s. As tourist numbers increase and there is more competition, airlines are increasingly updating their fleets.

Tips:

  • Book in advance if possible during the busy season (November to March), when flights can be booked out by tourist groups.
  • Local flight schedules can change without warning and flights can be cancelled with little notice. If possible try to allow for this in your itinerary.

Airlines:

Air Bagan (W9)
Operating since 2004.
http://www.airbagan.com/

Air Mandalay (6T)
Operating since 1994.
http://www.airmandalay.com/

Air KBZ (K7)
Operating since 2011.
http://www.airkbz.com/flight-schedule.html

Asian Wings (YJ)
Operating since 2011.
http://www.asianwingsair.com/

Yangon Airways (YH)
Operating since 1996. Resumed service in October 2011 after suspension of almost a year for absence of an Aircraft Operator Certificate.
http://www.yangonair.com/

A new private airline ‘Shwe Myanmar Airways’ has announced that it will launch domestic flights in Myanmar (Burma) in early 2013.


Boat Travel in Myanmar 


Photo: Brian Holsclaw, CC

Riverboats are a slower paced but enjoyable way to travel between cities and to experience the river life of Myanmar. There is a great range of boats available from small, privately owned boats to large government-run ferries and multi-deck luxury cruisers.

Main rivers:

The Ayeyarwady (also known as the Irrawaddy)
“River which brings blessings to the people”
Myanmar’s longest river runs 1,300 miles (2,100 kilometers) in length. It is a lifeline running from north to south, providing a major conduit for commerce.

It recedes in the dry season returning with floods in the wet season.

Before trains and cars, visitors referred to the river as the “Road to Mandalay." Traveling on the Irrawaddy can be an interesting way to travel to your destination from Yangon, if you have the time. It offers a unique view of Myanmar with sights of riverside temples, and glimpses of daily life on the busy river.

The Twante Chaung  
This canal is 21 miles (33km) long. It links Yangon and the Ayeyarwady Delta area. Taking a boat along the channel is a fun way to visit Twante, a destination popular with tourists for its beautiful pots.

The Chindwin River
A major tributary to the Irrawaddy, about 600 miles (965 km) long. The Chindwin joins the Irrawaddy near Bagan. It flows south through the Naga Hills. It passes the towns of Singkaling Hkamti, Homalin, Thaungdut, Mawlaik, Kalewa, and Monywa. A cruise on the Chindwin river promises cultural and natural wonders. Ancient villages, spectacular views of mountains, fields and jungle, and a volcanic crater famous as a source of natural Spirulina.

The Thanlwin River / Nujiang River (formerly the Salween or Salwin)
One of the longest free-flowing rivers in Asia at 1,749 miles (2,815 kilometres) in length, it is however only navigable for 77 miles (125km) from the outlet at Mawlamyine, and only during the wet season. This part of the river is very beautiful and a popular tourist journey is the route from Mawlamyine to Hpa-an, the capital of Kayin state. There is a boat that operates Fridays and Mondays to carry passengers along this section of the river.

There are thousands of miles of navigable river in Myanma, although accessibility varies during the dry season. Government permission and a guide will be required for restricted areas.

Popular river routes for tourists:

Ferries:

  • Ferries are mostly government-run, especially the Inland Water Transport (IWT).
  • The IWT boats aren’t in very good condition.
  • Many passengers are traders using the boats to make deliveries.
  • There are also express ferries aimed at the tourist market.
  • The most traveled route is Yangon – Pyay – Bagan – Mandalay.
  • The Mandalay-Bagan express ferry is a good way to enjoy a glimpse of river-life. It usually runs daily and costs around US$25.
  • It takes about two days to travel between Mandalay and Bagan on an express ferry. If traveling on to Yangon, you will need to change boats at Pyay.
  • Small wooden boat ferries carry about 25 people on shorter trips.
  • Some faster ferries are available.

Tickets:

  • IWT offices for the government ferries are found near most jetties and will have the information you need.
  • IWT head office: Strand St, Yangon. Tel: 01-284005
  • They accept payment for tickets in US dollars.

Private Boats

  • The traditional Burmese boats are called "ngyet" meaning “bird,” named for the boats’ winged stern.
  • These can be very small, which can also mean they are less stable on the water.
  • Choose carefully and avoid if weather conditions are unfavourable.
  • You can usually negotiate the price.

River Cruises and Guided Tours
There is a growing range of luxury river cruise packages available as more routes and options become available.
You need to book cruises well in advance as they can be booked out by tour groups, particularly during the high season (November to March).
Some of the more expensive cruise boats are leased from the government.


Bus Travel in Myanmar 


Photo: Greg Walters, CC

Buses are mostly operated by private companies. They are a faster and cheaper way than trains to get from city to city. Sleeping on an overnight bus is not an easy feat, but if you come well prepared, travel by (air-conditioned) bus is not a bad way to go.

Types:

Luxury air-conditioned express

  • Found on long bus routes, such as between Yangon and Mandalay.
  • Sometimes bottled drinking water or even a small meal is provided on board.
  • There are no toilets on the bus, but it stops frequently, even on overnight journeys.
  • Some have a TV on board.
  • Bring earplugs and an eyeshade.
  • Most travel overnight.

Comfortable buses without air-conditioning

  • These older buses are usually used on shorter trips, between cities and outlying towns, e.g. Yangon to Pyay.

Local buses and small buses (32 seats)

  • Can be useful for very short trips, but are generally very uncomfortable.
  • Usually very crammed with people and bags.
  • Sit towards the front of the bus if possible for a quicker exit.
  • Look forward to better public transport buses in Yangon in future. A Japanese company recently announced it would be exporting a fleet of 3,000 new buses.

In general:

  • Roads are very rough.
  • Punctuality varies on all buses.
  • Punctures and breakdowns are a possibility.
  • Dress warmly in winter and take a light blanket or jacket in summer, if on an air-conditioned bus. Some passengers feel cold even on day trips due to the air-conditioning.
  • There are areas where tourists are not permitted to travel by road, particularly near the Thai border. Travel within the major tourist towns is allowed and encouraged in Myanmar.

Overnight buses:

  • A lot of buses travel overnight.
  • It can get cold traveling on an overnight bus. Dress warmly and take a blanket.
  • Overnight buses tend to arrive at their destination early in the morning.
  • If hoping to enjoy some sightseeing from the window, you can find buses traveling between cities during the daytime. It may add some time to your trip, but it can be worthwhile.

Bus Trips with Children:

Traveling with small children can become a trial on longer haul trips, particularly on the less comfortable buses. It isn’t recommended on the local and small buses, which are usually antiquated, crowded and uncomfortable. A better option is to hire a car and driver if possible.

Fares:

  • Pricing is very similar for each of the bus types.
  • Prices and schedules change constantly.
  • As an indication of cost, a ticket from Yangon to Mandalay will cost about US$8 - $10. Allow 16 hours for this route. Remember the roads can be very rough and buses make frequent stops.
  • If only traveling partway along a main bus route, you often have to pay the full fare. This applies also if boarding a bus partway into its journey.
  • It is possible for tourists to use the local currency, kyat (‘chat’) to buy tickets in the main tourist areas.

Buying tickets:

  • Your hotel will be able to help you with your booking.
  • Some bus companies allow phone bookings but you may still need to pick up the tickets a few hours before departure.
  • In the high season, along main tourist routes, you should try to buy your tickets a few days or longer in advance.
  • When buying your ticket, you will be able to select your seat, especially if buying your ticket directly from the bus company office.

Car & Motorcycle Travel

The roads are extremely rough. The vehicles are old and many are right-hand-drive, being driven on the right-hand-side of the road. There are some obvious downsides to travel by car. However, if you are prepared to pay for a private driver and can find a newer, air-conditioned car, you may find car travel an enjoyable alternative to that crowded bus, which will be bumping along those same roads anyway.

The roads:

  • Half of the roads in Myanmar are unsealed. Even those that are sealed can be very rough and full of potholes.
  • Travel by road can be dangerous during the rainy reason (May to October), depending on the area you plan to visit. Some roads may be closed due to washouts.
  • The government also restricts tourists to road travel within the main tourist areas only.
  • Tolls are collected on some of the roads, usually only 50 or 100 kyats.

Driving yourself:

Generally this is not an option available to tourists. If you are determined to, you can arrange special permission through the Road Transport Administration Department (RTAD) and a local government-run travel agency. You will have to be accompanied by a local at all times.

Hiring a motorbike or moped:

If you look carefully, you may find motorcycles available for hire to tourists. You will need to wear a helmet and more importantly, arrange extra travel insurance before mounting up. Unless you are really keen, it probably isn’t worth the risk and hassle. No motorbikes or mopeds are permitted within Yangon.

Hiring a car and driver:

This can be a good way to avoid the drawbacks of other travel options. Some people hire a driver for their whole trip. It can be more expensive, but removes some of the uncertainty around ticket bookings and whom you might end up sitting next to for the next 15 hours. It’s also a more flexible and pleasant way to travel with children.

In tourist destinations, it should be possible to arrange a car and driver through your hotel. You should find one easily in Yangon.

Car and driver hire options:

Tourist cars

  • Approximately US$100 a day including most fuel and expenses.
  • Air-conditioned and newer than most taxis.
  • Back-up cars are usually available.

Taxis

  • About US$60 a day. Negotiate the price beforehand.
  • Operate out of Yangon airport.
  • If using a taxi to get from the Yangon airport to your hotel downtown, it should cost under US$10 (USD are accepted). A map of Yangon is usually provided. It takes 20 - 30 minutes to travel downtown.
  • Taxis are usually older cars with or without air-conditioning.
  • Genuine taxis have red/white license plates; carry a laminated green slip and a large-print taxi driver identification card on the dashboard of the car.
  • Be wary of locals offering free transport to the city.

Private Cars

  • These are the cheapest option at US$40 to $50 but there are drawbacks and risks.
  • In case of breakdown there will be no back-up car available.
  • The condition of the car can vary considerably.

Additional transport:

  • Avoid hitchhiking while in Myanmar.
  • While in Myanmar, you will also see available a variety of transport options. Pick-up trucks, 3 and 4 wheeled bikes, rickshaws, trishaws, and horse and ox-drawn carts all offer a more interesting ride about town. As a tourist, you may pay more for these than locals.
  • Bicycles are available for hire in the city and from most guesthouses. You are not required to wear a helmet. Check that your travel insurance covers you for bike riding.

Train Travel in Myanmar 

A legacy of Myanmar’s colonial past is a sound railway system.  Traveling by train may not be as fast as traveling by bus, or as cheap, but it can be a great experience to add to your adventures in Myanmar.

The network:

  • 550 train stations, government-run.
  • 2,900 miles (4,600km) of track.
  • The tracks are narrow gauge, giving the ride a traditional rocking-rolling motion.
  • Rail can reach areas not accessible by road.
  • The trains usually take longer than buses making a similar journey.
  • Delays are common and can vary from 5-10 minutes on short trips to over 12 hours on long trips.
  • Expect frequent stops on longer trips.
  • If traveling at night, bring a jacket or blanket. It can get quite cold.
  • There have been major derailments over the years on some of the more adventurous routes. The main route between Yangon and Mandalay is the most popular with visitors to Myanmar.

Train types:

Express (yellow engine):

On the main routes, e.g. Yangon to Mandalay these trains are usually fairly comfortable and some have dining cars.

Punctuality can vary greatly, so build some flexibility into your plans.

Local (blue engine):

Less desirable in terms of punctuality, safety and comfort. Seats are not reserved.

The trains within Yangon are fairly dilapidated and overcrowded. There is a circular circuit around the city, which can be an interesting sightseeing experience. The full loop takes a few hours to complete.

Class Options:

Upper Class:
Reclining seats, can be rotated. Often in a state of disrepair on the local trains but usually comfortable on the express trains.
Yangon to Mandalay (approx. 400 miles / 650km) costs about US$30

First Class:
Wooden seats padded with a vinyl covering.
Yangon to Mandalay: US$21

Ordinary Class:
Wooden seats. Not so comfortable for longer journeys.
No reserved seating – choose your own to seat upon boarding. Cars can be crowded.
Yangon to Mandalay: US$11

Sleeper:
Available on some of the express trains on these routes:

In short supply – usually only one sleeping-car per train.
Usually only luxurious in the fact that you can treat yourself to relative privacy and can lie down.
Wrap up warmly and bring earplugs.
Yangon to Mandalay: US$33

Facilities:

  • Long-distance trains have dining cars accessible to passengers in 1st, upper and sleeper class. There are also basic bathrooms with a sink.

Buying tickets:

Where:

  • Tickets can be bought from station ticket offices.
  • If traveling from Yangon, there is an Advance Reservation Ticket Office in Bogyoke Aung San road, across from the Sakura Tower. It is open from 6am to 10am and 1pm – 4pm.
  • Your hotel may also reserve train tickets for you.

Tips:

  • Visitors must pay in US dollars.
  • Children under 3 years old travel free. Children under 10 pay half fare.
  • Have your passports handy, as your name, nationality and passport number will be written on the ticket.
  • You will receive a reserved seat ticket. You will find seat numbers on the back of the seats on the train.
  • Often, the stationmaster is able to speak some English.
  • For upper class tickets, bookings open 3 days in advance.
  • For ordinary class tickets, they open 1 day in advance.
  • Booking within a day of your trip usually works for most classes, unless you want a sleeper." These can be booked out days or weeks in advance, depending on the tourist season at time of travel.

For ideas on where to stay in Myanmar (Burma), be sure to check out our featured hotel recommendations.

Start exploring our What to See & Do section for more ideas on where to go and what to do while you're in Myanmar!

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