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Getting around in Myanmar

A few remote destinations are accessible only by plane or boat, but many others, including key tourist sites, can be reached by road or rail. Poor, overstretched infrastructure means travelers must have patience and a tolerance for discomfort.

Myanmar Transportation Overview

Flights: Fast; reasonably reliable schedules; the safety record of local airlines is much better than it was.

Bus: Frequent; reliable services; speed depends on state of road and bus; overnight trips save on accommodation.

Car: Total flexibility but can be expensive; some destinations require a government-approved guide and driver.

Boat: Chance to interact with locals and pleasant for sightseeing, but slow, uncomfortable and only covers a few destinations.

Train: Interaction with locals and countryside views, but uncomfortable, slow and with long delays.

Four best way to travel around Myanmar

The four best ways of travelling around Myanmar are by air, boat, bus or rail. Flying between cities is popular among westerners, while cruising is enjoyable. Buses are cheaper, simpler and faster than trains. Train travel may be exciting for younger travelers; both terrific and (possibly) terrifying.

Flights - Fast and Best-Value

Flying in Myanmar is almost comparable to taking a bus in western countries. It is fast and cheap to travel long distances, such as between Mandalay and Bagan or Yangon. A beach holiday can always be arranged at the other end of a flight.

Myanmar’s airlines consist of several private airlines and the state-run Myanmar Airways. Note that Myanmar Airways and Myanmar Airways International (MAI) are two different companies.

We recommend Air KBZ for its good safety record and relatively new aircraft. Avoid Air Bagan with its old aircraft and Myanmar Airways for its poor safety record.

The busiest route is a 2-hour flight between Yangon and Mandalay, with eight flights per day. It costs around $110. The four international airports are located in Mandalay, Yangon, Bagan and the capital Naypyidaw.

Note: All April flights are booked early because of the Thingyan Water Festival and Myanmar New Year. It is wise to book with a travel agent well in advance.

Boats - Scenic and Enjoyable

Boating is a great alternative to flying, ranging between overnight cruising and 1- or 2-hour boat trips.

The most popular cruise for travelers is downstream on the Irrawaddy River (also spelt Ayeyarwady or Ayeyarwaddy), passing five major cities, including Bagan and Mandalay.

Most travelers prefer the fast 9-hour boat journey between Bagan and Mandalay, at USD $43 per trip. But locals usually prefer to take the slow 14-17 hour boat at USD $10. Fast boats are clean, comfortable and quick, while slow boats are always filled with merchandise.

Notes: Fewer boats are available during the dry season (March to May) on the Irrawaddy River. Always book in advance. Bagan has two wharfs, located in Old Bagan and Nyaun-U. Boats will be docked in different wharfs according to the water levels.

Ferries & Private Boats

Inland Water Transport (IWT) boats offer basic levels of comfort and are often crowded, but they provide remarkable glimpses into local river life. Some of the passengers on the long-distance ferries are traders who make stops along the way to pick up or deliver goods.

Along the popular Yangon - Pyay - Mandalay route there are 28 ferry landings where merchants can ply their trade. IWT offices, usually located near the jetty, can offer information, schedules and fare details, and usually tickets. 

Some short trips are handled by small covered wooden ferries that fit about 25 people. Often there are also smaller private boats that you can negotiate with the driver to use. However, because of their size, riding on private boats is not always as safe as riding on bigger government ferries.

Luxury Boats

Several luxury boats travel the upper and lower reaches of the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River as well as the Chindwin River. Rates usually include all meals and excursions from the boats. The starting point for most trips is either Bagan or Mandalay, but occasionally itineraries originate in Yangon.

If you are not in a hurry, the slow boat from Mandalay to Bagan is well worth catching and is probably the most interesting way to do the journey.

Buses - Simple and Cheap

Traveling by bus is the simplest and cheapest way to get around Myanmar. Without a private car, buses are also the only way to get to certain areas. Buses are cheaper and faster than trains. Ticket prices usually do not exceed K300.

Road conditions, however, may be terrifying and buses frequently break down. Many buses are rejected vehicles from Japan, without TV and toilet. Seats are uncomfortable, but the cost is low.

Most buses are for both passengers and goods. It is common for passengers to sit on the top of the buses and buses are often behind schedule.

The good news is that new fancy VIP express buses have been introduced and have been used in recent years on major roads, as the country develops better provisions for tourism. It is worth paying the extra money for a better bus experience.

Destinations Bus Type Availability Travel Time
Yangon–Bagan 48-seat AC / 27-seat VIP early / overnight 9 hours
Yangon–Mandalay 48-seat AC / 27-seat VIP early / overnight 9 hours
Yangon– Inle Lake 48-seat AC / 27-seat VIP early / overnight 11 hours
Mandalay–Bagan 48-seat AC / 19-seat medium- sized early / overnight or day-time 5 or 6 hours
Inle Lake–Bagan 48-seat AC / 27-seat VIP early / overnight 9 hours

Note: If traveling a long distance, with over 8 hours on the bus, flying would be a better alternative. Buses may stop running during the Thingyan Water Festival (April 14 to April 16); only a few still operate then. Private cars are then the best alternative.

Classes & Conditions

Many long-haul trips allow the greatest comfort, with new air-conditioned express buses. For several long-distance routes, many services leave between 4pm and 10pm or later, and arrive at the destination in the wee hours, often 5 or 6am. 

If you want extra air-con comfort but do not want to go the whole way on one of these routes, you usually have to pay the full fare anyway, and will have to deal with middle-of-the-night arrival time. 

Similarly, by paying the full fare for the route, you can jump on a bus at a stop along the way. If you are unsure, staff at your guesthouse or hotel should be able to help with this.

Local 32-seat minibuses bounce along the highways too. These tend to use the aisles, if not for people, for bags of rice or veggies. Sometimes the floor in front of you is filled too. It is clearly not the most comfortable option. 

Reservations

From November to February it is wise to prebook buses a couple of days in advance for key routes, such as Bagan to Inle Lake. Seat reservations are made for all buses – you should be able to check the seating plan with the reservation agent.
Surviving long-distance bus trips

Heed the following points and your long-distance bus trip will, possibly, be more comfortable and enjoyable:

  • Bring some snacks and drinks with you, it is a good way to kill time. If you forget, do not worry as the bus is going to make several stops along the way where you can grab some food.
  • Take a jacket or blanket as temperatures can drop substantially at night; air-con can also make it chilly. 
  • Consider earplugs and an eye mask as well if you plan to grab a little shut-eye between toilet stops.
  • Try not to become alarmed when you see how some local passengers hold their breath whenever a bus approaches a particularly dodgy-looking bridge.

Trains - Adventurous and Time-Consuming

Traveling by train in Myanmar can be regarded as the most adventuresome option. It takes a long time (16 hours between Yangon and Mandalay) and may be very uncomfortable, with small seats. Travelers on a low budget or seeking a scenic journey are the most likely to choose rail.

The most reliable train route is the express between Yangon and Mandalay. Other routes are less reliable and much slower than taking a bus. Train issues include dealing with flooded tracks and mechanical problems. Train travel times vary dramatically.

There are five seat classes: ordinary class, first class, upper class, standard sleeper and special sleeper. Ordinary class seats are offered on every train while other classes are only available on certain routes. Even the upper class seats are sometimes smelly and dirty.

Each train route has an associated number and trains are classified as either up (heading north) or down (heading south).
Tickets should be purchased at railway stations at least one day in advance. Sleepers can be booked a week or more before the trip. Tickets cost around K1,000 or K10,000, depending on the seat class and journey length.

Notes

  • Upper class tickets are free for Myanmar monks, who are interesting to converse with.
  • During the Thingyan Water Festival in April, all trains are fully booked. Book as early as you can for that period.
  • Since 2014, railway tickets have been paid for in kyat at the same rate for both locals and foreigners.

Getting around inside cities

Larger towns in Myanmar offer a variety of city buses, motorcycle taxis, bicycle trishaws, rickshaws and modern Japanese pick-up trucks.
Small towns rely heavily on motorcycle taxis and trishaws as the main modes of local transport. 

Standard rates for taxis, motorcycle taxis, and trishaws are sometimes 'boosted' for foreigners. You will likely have to bargain a bit. You can read our article buy and bargain in Myanmar to become an expert.

Local buses

Public buses are great for exploring big cities like Yangon, Mandalay, Pathein, Mawlamyine and Taunggyi. Moreover, they are very cheap and usually offer a fixed per-person rate.

For instance, a 1-hour public bus ride from the Aung Mingalar bus station to downtown Yangon cost only 200 kyat, which is less than 20 cents. If you can figure out the public transport system, it will save your transport budget big time!

We advise you not to take local buses for long journeys, but they are convenient for short rides.

Taxis

Taxis are reasonably cheap in Myanmar, especially compared to taxi fares in western countries. To avoid getting scammed, especially in tourist hot spots like Bagan, always ask the driver to use the meter or agree on a price before taking a seat. Taxis are a good deal for travelers looking for more comfort, personal space, and privacy.

Pick-ups

Japanese-made pick-up trucks feature three rows of bench seats in the covered back. Most pick-ups connect short-distance destinations, making many stops along the way to pick up people. 

Pick-ups trace some useful or necessary routes, such as from Mandalay to Amarapura, from Myingyan to Meiktila, from Bagan to Mt Popa, and up to the Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo. Unlike local buses, they go regularly during the day.

Fares are not necessarily cheaper than those charged for local bus trips of the same length, and prices often go up after dark. You can, however, pay 25% to 50% extra for a seat up the front. It is often worth the extra expense if you do not want to be squeezed. 

Getting around on your own

Motorcycle

Driving a motorbike give you freedom and is a great way to get insight in the local culture. 

However, you might not find motorbike rental everywhere in the country. Despite some locals advertise it, the authorities frown on it since they do not want to deal with the complications of visitors involved in accidents. 

In Mandalay and Myitkyina, for example, it is K10,000 per day to rent a motorbike. Unlike cyclists, you are required to wear a helmet in most towns.

Note that motorbikes and mopeds are banned in most of Yangon. However, they are common in the far north of the city near the airport and across the river in Dalah.

Bicycle

Outside the major cities, bicycles are a popular means for locals to get around and can easily be hired around the country by visitors.

At popular tourist spots in Mandalay, Bagan and Inle Lake you will see 'bike rental' signs; rates start at K2000 per day; top-end hotels and occasionally more far-flung places charge up to K4000. 

Most guesthouses in such places keep a few bikes on hand. If not, staff can track one down. Note the condition of the bike before hiring, check the brakes and pedals. Many rental bikes have baskets or bells.

Sturdier Indian, Chinese or Thai imports are available from K100,000, if you would rather buy one. Some tours provide bikes, so you may be able to rent better quality ones from agents.

Apart from in Yangon and Mandalay, vehicular traffic is quite light.

In Bagan, you can even rent an e-bike to explore the thousands of temples in this archaeological area. It is a really fun experience.

Car

As a foreign visitor and according to the local laws, you should hold a valid Myanmar’s driving license to drive a car by yourself. A foreign or international driving license is not enough. 

To get a local license, you need to address your request to the Road Transport Administration Department and stay more than a month in the country. It is clearly not a convenient option for most travelers.

However, it is fully possible to hire a car and driver for part or all of a trip. It is safer but it might not be cheap. 

For a car and driver outside Yangon, expect to pay US $70 and up per day, depending on the quality of the vehicle. Most hotels and guesthouses can organize one. 

When trying to find a car with driver, consider that there are three unofficial types of car:

  • Tourist cars: These are reasonably new cars run by a company that provides back-up or repairs in the event that they break down. These are the most comfortable but most expensive option, running to about US $150 to US $200 a day, depending on the length of the trip. 
  • Taxis: A midrange option, these days there are plenty of taxis with working air-con on Yangon's roads and hiring one costs about K5000 per hour.
  • Private cars: These vary dramatically in terms of condition and price, and there is less chance that you will have any sort of replacement if the engine goes out mid-journey. Rates for these are from US $70 per day.

Note that all Myanmar traffic goes on the right-hand side of the road.

Getting around in some main cities

Here is how to get around the Myanmar 4 big: Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle Lake

Yangon

By taxi: The best way to get around in this traffic-jammed city is, unfortunately, by taxi. It is the most efficient method of transportation, and if you’re travelling with friends, it can be quite cheap. Bear in mind you’ll have to bargain in order to get a better rate. For short distances, 2,000–4,000 kyats (US$1.50–3) suffices. For longer journeys, such as from Yangon airport to the city centre, you’ll most likely be charged 6,000–10,000 kyats (US$4–7.50).

By bus: A cheaper option is to take the bus. Recently, they’ve been regulated and there is an actual schedule in place; however, the buses are usually quite crowded and with traffic being so awful, you’d be better off shelling out a few extra dollars and taking a taxi for convenience. A one-way journey costs 200 kyats (less than US$0.50).

By foot: Exploring Yangon is often best done by walking. Though it isn’t exactly the most pedestrian- or bike-friendly city, downtown Yangon is accessible and there are many attractions to see within a few blocks.

Here is our Yangon Travel Guide

Mandalay

By motorbike taxi: Motorbikes are not allowed in Yangon, besides a few who slip under the radar with an electronic bike. For strange political reasons, this has been banned. However, Mandalay is a much larger city, more spread-out, and it is possible to ride motorbikes here. Motorbike taxis are cheaper than car taxis, so a typical ride between two destinations in the city should come to less than 5,000 kyats (US$3.50).

By car: Another way to get around is by hiring a car. If you are travelling around Mandalay and its outskirts, it is easy to rent a car for the day and split the costs with family or friends. There is a lot to see outside of the city; a day trip to the picturesque town of Pyin Oo Lwin is a popular option. Depending on the car and number of people, this journey shouldn’t cost more than 100,000 kyats (US$73) for the entire day – and can be far less if you do half-day trips.

Here is our Mandalay Travel Guide

Bagan

Ox cart: A fun way to get around Bagan is to hire an ox cart with driver for the full day. The driver knows the area and will bring you to the temples of your choice without you having to find your own way. A cart with driver should cost around US$ 15 to 20 for a full day, some will negotiate. An oxcart is suitable for 2 people, relatively comfortable and out of the sun.

Bicycle: A bicycle will give the freedom to go wherever and whenever you want. It can get very hot and dusty though, especially later in the day. At some out of the way places it can be difficult to get around on a bike in the sandy desert like tracks. A bike can be rented at a little over US$ 1 per day. Bring plenty of water and apply sun cream before going out.

Car with driver: A comfortable way to get around in Bagan without being in the sun all the time is to rent a car or van with driver. For a day this should cost around US$ 50 - 60.

Hot air balloon: A unique way to experience the grandness of the plains and its thousands of temples and pagodas is a hot air balloon ride. Flights are available from April 1 until September 30 (not available in the rainy season). A one-hour flight should cost between US$ 250 and 300.

Here is our Bagan Travel Guide

Inle Lake

Private boat hire to or from lake resorts or villages to Nyaung Shwe should set you back 10,000-15,000 kyat. Some resorts around Khaung Daing and Maing Thauk are accessible by road and will cost similar rates by tuk tuk, or slightly more by taxi.

Here is our Inle Lake Travel Guide

Frequently asked questions

Q. Is Myanmar safe for tourist?

Generally speaking, Myanmar is a safe country for tourists since its laws are extremely strict to all those causing problems to tourists. However, you shouldn't relax as it definitely isn't without its dangers. Be cautious and apply all precaution measures that you would stick to in your own country.

Here is our full guide for Myanmar safety and precaution.

Q. When is the cheapest time to fly to Myanmar?

Logically, the cheapest time to fly to Myanmar is during the off-season from April until October. As there are not many tourists visiting the country, the airlines and hotels seem to offer promotion to attract more tourist and try to fill-up the plane. If you are ok with the heat and some sudden rain, this is the time for you.

According to cheapflights.com.au, the cheapest flights to Myanmar are usually found when departing on a Monday. The departure day with the highest cost is usually on a Friday.

Moreover, Myanmar flights can be made cheaper if you choose a flight at noon. Booking a flight in the morning will likely mean higher prices.

Simply follow this, sometimes you can have the promotion of 40-50% discount.

Here is how to book the cheapest flight to Myanmar

Q. What is the main transportation in Myanmar?

Small towns rely heavily on motorcycle taxis and trishaws as the main modes of local transport. However, in big cities (Yangon, Mandalay, Pathein, Mawlamyine and Taunggyi) public buses take regular routes along the main avenues for a fixed per-person rate, usually K200.

Q. Is there UBER in Myanmar?

There are currently 4 taxi hailing companies in Myanmar – Grab, Oway, Hello & OK Taxi. All 4 companies have their own taxi hailing apps on the Apple and Google Apps Store.

As of 8th April 2018, Grab has acquired all the business of Uber in South-East Asia (including Myanmar). Currently Grab is the dominant taxi hailing company in Yangon.

Our advice for tourist landing for the first time at Yangon Airport is to use the official taxi booking counter near the exit of the custom station at the Arrival Hall where they offer fixed price taxi fare with booking slips issued to the taxi driver that brings you to most hotels in Yangon based on an agreed upon fare schedule.

NOT READY YET?

We believe you have the right to arm yourselves with as much information as possible before making any decision.

Check below our detailed tips & guide for every places to visit in Myanmar, recommendation regarding the inclusion in each theme you prefer, and what you can do based on the time frame you have.

PLACES TO VISIT IN Myanmar
Yangon
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Bagan
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Mandalay
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Inle Lake
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Mergui Archipelago
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Ngapali Beach
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Myanmar PLANS BY TRAVEL THEME
Must-see
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Check out all the must-see places and things to do & see

Luxury
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Unique experience combined with top-notch services

Wellness & Leisure
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Easy excursion combined with week-long beach break

Family
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The combination of fun and educational activities

Unseen
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Reveal off-the-beatentrack routes, least explored destinations, and unknown tribe groups

Trek & Hike
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Explore the least visited destinations and unknown experience on foot

Cycling
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Explore every corners of the destination on two wheels

Honeymoon
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Easy excursions combined with unique experience making the long-lasting romantic memories

Cruise
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The combination of some must-see experience and the cruise tour along the mighty rivers

Myanmar PLANS BY TIME FRAME
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SPECIAL Myanmar TIPS & TOURS

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Myanmar BLOG ARTICLES

Thanaka or  thanakha is a yellowish-white cosmetic paste made from ground bark. It is a distinctive feature of the culture of Myanmar, seen commonly applied to the face and sometimes the arms of women and girls, and is used to a lesser extent also by men and boys. The use of thanaka has also spread to neighboring countries including Thailand.

Within this article, we will learn everything about Thanaka and the benefits of its powder in making a secret beauty ingredient of Burmese women.

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Burmese Longyi, along with the country’s longtime history, art, and heritage sites has contributed to the richness of the local culture that will grasp your attention whenever you find yourself in strolling around the streets of Myanmar. With just a piece of fabric grasping on the lower part of the body through time, the longyi has made it become an incredible pattern of Myanmar traditional costume for both men and women. In this article, we are going to find out the secret of Myanmar quintessence through Longyi, about why it has been worn for centuries by the Burmese people.

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Kachin Manaw Festival is an annual traditional dance festival celebrated by Kachin people. Mostly held at Myitkyina, Kachin State also known as Manaw Land in Myanmar and also celebrated by Kachin people around the world. Manaw is the largest festival in Myitkyina, held at the beginning of January. Manaw Festival is the most significant event for Kachin People. Tribes of Kachin gather together in Manaw ground and dance around the erected Manaw poles. The Manau dance is performed at Manau festivals, which originated as part of the ‘Nat’ or spirit worship of the past.

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If your idea of fun involves a blurry riot of colour and explosions, look no further than the Taunngyi Fire Balloon Festival, which takes place in the culturally diverse capital of Shan State over several days every November. This celebration is held around the Full Moon of Tazaungmon, a Myanmar national holiday that marks the end of rainy season and is also known as the Tazaungdaing Festival of Lights.

Traditionally, it is a festival to pay homage to the Sulamani Pagoda by sending up decorated hot air balloons, and lately it also became as a Hot Air Balloon Competition Festival and the festival is divided into two parts; daytime competition and nighttime competition. In the daytime, hot air balloons are sent up with the shapes of various animals and mythical creatures, and hot air balloons with firework & fire-cracker (known as Nya Mee Gyi) and lot of lanterns are hanging in the hot air balloons (known as Seinnaban) are sent up in the nighttime.

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All year round, visitors to Myanmar can experience the country’s warm and rich culture. However, one particularly special and unique time to visit is during the Naga New Year Festival, which will be held in Lahe around mid-January every year.

This special time allows visitors the chance to experience the traditions and customs of Myanmar’s Naga people. For the Naga, Lahe (New Year) is a significant time when people share their wishes and hopes for the future, and families are reunited.

It is a time of great celebration; where lively dances are performed in traditional dress, to the beat and sounds of traditional instruments.

Few tourists are lucky enough to share in the joy and festivities of the Naga New Year, but those who do are richly rewarded with an incredible cultural experience.

Overall, for those who seek genuine cultural exchange and the opportunity to take some truly stunning photographs, the Naga New Year is an amazing and unique festival to attend.

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The full moon of the Thadingyut month is when Buddhists believe the Buddha descended back to earth after three months of preaching in the spiritual realm above. While the rest of Myanmar celebrates it by lighting the Buddha's way home, the town of Kyaukse near Mandalay commemorates it a little differently: with a Elephant Dance Festival, populated not by real elephants, but by pairs of dancers in gigantic elephant costumes.

Hmm... What is it? What makes it so special? and how to join the festival? You will have all the answers below.

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