Getting there & away
The lack of many services to Myanmar means discounted fares are hard to come by. Sometimes buying two tickets – one to Bangkok, and another to Yangon – ends up cheaper than a one-ticket fare to Yangon from your home country.
If you have a little wiggle room in your itinerary, compare costs of flying return between Bangkok and Yangon (about $300 return, while a one-way ticket to Bangkok bought in Yangon is about $120). If your London–Yangon or New York–Yangon flight is more than that extra from a Bangkok ticket, you could book separate tickets and save. Sample fares to Yangon from London run from £650 (about £150 more than Bangkok), from New York $1600 (about $450 more than Bangkok).
Once in Myanmar you can only buy international tickets from travel agents or airline offices in Yangon.
The Visit Asean AirPass (www.visitasean.travel) covers six Southeast Asian countries including Myanmar. You pre-buy three to five ‘coupons’ for set prices.
INTERCONTINENTAL (RTW) TICKETS
Round -the-world (RTW) tickets only go as near as Bangkok. Here are a few online companies that can help with tickets:
Airstop & Go (www.airstop.be)
Air Brokers International (www.airbrokers.com)
Around the Worlds (www.aroundtheworlds.com)
It’s important to reconfirm your outgoing tickets from Myanmar a few days in advance for all airlines other than Thai Airways and Silk Air. If you’ve forgotten what time your flight is, the inside back page of the Myanmar Times lists the weeks’ international flight schedule.
Some other locally based agents that can help with tickets:
STA Travel (134 782; www.statravel.com.au) and Flight Centre (%133 133; www.flightcentre.com.au) have offices throughout Australia. An online booking agent is www.travel.com.au. A return fare from Sydney to Yangon runs about A$1300, including tax.
Anyway (0892 302 301; www.anyway.fr)
Nouvelles Frontières(0825 000 747; www.nouvelles-frontieres.fr)
Voyageurs du Monde (0892 235 656; www.vdm.com)
GERMANY Find fares at these online agencies:
Just Travel (089 747 3330; www.justtravel.de)
Last Minute (01805 284 366; www.lastminute.de)
STA Travel (069 743 032 92; www.statravel.de)
CTS Viaggi (199 50 11 50; www.cts.it) Specialises in student and youth travel.
Airfair (0 900 7717 717; www.airfair.nl)
Barcelo Viajes (www.barceloviajes.com)
Return tickets to Yangon, usually through Bangkok (or Singapore or Kuala Lumpur), run from £650 including taxes. Discount air-travel ads appear in Time Out, the Evening Standard and in the free magazine TNT. Recommended travel agencies include the following:
Flight Centre (0870 499 0040; www.flight centre.co.uk)
Ebookers (0871 223 5000; www.ebookers.com)
Quest Travel (0845 263 6963; www.questtravel.com)
STA Travel (0871 230 0040; www.statravel.co.uk) Popular with travellers under 26, but sells tickets to all. Branches throughout the UK.
Trailfinders (0845 058 5858; www.trailfinders.co.uk)
Travel Bag (0800 804 8911; www.travelbag.co.uk)
Unlike many Asian destinations, airfares to Yangon tend to be the same from the West or East Coast (about $1600 to $2000 return from New York or Los Angeles). Discount travel agents – or ‘consolidators’ – can be found in San Francisco especially, but also Los Angeles and New York.
Berkeley-based Avia Travel (800-950-2842, 510-558-2150; www.aviatravel.com) specialises in custom-designed RTW fares and a few Myanmar tours. Travellers aged under-26, including students, should check with STA Travel (%800 781-4040; www.statravel.com) for discount fares.
You’re probably going to fly in. Borders tend to open and close, mostly the latter of late. The only border you can cross into Myanmar to continue a trip throughout the country is via Ruili (China). The other borders reach closed-off areas. No bus or train service connects Myanmar with another country, nor can you travel by car or motorcycle across the border – you must walk across. Have your visa before you get to the border.
In addition to the following there’s a border crossing with Morei (India) at Tamu, but it’s closed to foreigners.
TO/FROM MAE SAI, THAILAND
North of Chiang Rai it’s possible to cross to dreary Tachileik. Travellers are issued a 14-day entry permit, not a visa, at the border for B500. You can travel to Kengtung, but cannot continue anywhere else (even if you have a regular tourist visa).
Travellers wanting to exit Myanmar here can do so with the 14-day permit mentioned above, or if they have a permit from MTT in Yangon.
TO/FROM RANONG, THAILAND
This exit has been closed for out-going tourists, though it’s possible to cross into Myanmar from Thailand on a ‘visa run.’ A day permit is $10, and visitors cannot spend overnight in Myanmar.
TO/FROM RUILI, CHINA
To cross overland at Ruili it’s necessary to book a multiday ‘visa-and-package trip’ – you can’t go on your own – to cross the border at Mu-Se and on to Lashio. It’s about Y1400 ($200). Ruili is about 20 hours from Kunming by road, and Lashio is a five-hour trip from the border, but you can stay in Mu-Se if necessary.
RIVER & SEA
It is not possible for foreigners to go to/from Myanmar by sea or river.
Many foreign-run companies book package tours to Myanmar. We’re not recommending them as, in most instances, more money will reach the local people if you travel on your own or arrange a driver and guide from a locally based agent.
Travel agents along Bangkok’s Khao San Rd offer a host of short-term package trips to Myanmar, some of which are geared more to midrange locally run hotels than top-end, joint-venture hotels.
If you’re arriving by air, and have your visa ready and valid passport in hand, you should have no trouble entering Myanmar. Arriving by land is not very practical. You can cross from Ruili (China) to Mu-se, but not leave that way. From Mae Sai (Thailand) you can cross to Tachileik, but can only go as far as Kengtung. Those in Thailand on a visa run can cross to Kawthoung but cannot venture farther into Myanmar. There is no way that foreigners can reach Myanmar by land or sea from Bangladesh, India or Laos.
Overland links could change at some point in the future. Most of Myanmar’s neighbours actively covet Myanmar ports and are planning on investing for infrastructure projects to eventually criss-cross Myanmar by road. This may mean connections from Danang, Vietnam (through Laos and Thailand) to Mawlamyine, and up through central Myanmar, across the India border at Morei (open already to traffic, but not foreigners) to New Delhi.
There is no requirement for you to show an onward ticket out of the country in order to enter Myanmar.
WARNING – THINGS CHANGE
The information here is particularly vulnerable to change, and this is especially so in Myanmar. The 500% inflation in gas prices Myanmar suffered in late 2007 affected transport costs greatly, and Cyclone Nargis in May 2008 had lasting effects on road conditions and timetables in much of the delta region around Yangon.
In terms of international travel, prices are volatile, routes are introduced and cancelled, schedules change, special deals come and go, and rules and visa requirements are amended. Airlines and governments seem to take a perverse pleasure in making price structures and regulations as complicated as possible. You should check directly with the airline or a travel agent to make sure you understand how a fare (and ticket you may buy) works. In addition, the travel industry is highly competitive, and there are many lurks and perks.
The upshot of this is that you should get opinions, quotes and advice from as many airlines and travel agents as possible before you part with your hard-earned cash.
Airports & Airlines
The most common route to Yangon is via Bangkok, though flights also connect Yangon with Calcutta, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Kunming (China). Flights to Dhaka, Bangladesh and Hong Kong have been discontinued, but may resume at some point.
Airlines with offices in Yangon and regular international links with Myanmar are:
Air Mandalay (01-525 488; www.airmandalay.com; airline code 6T; 146 Dhama Zedi Rd) Flight from Chiang Mai to Mandalay on Thursday, to Yangon on Sunday; from Yangon to Chiang Mai on Thursday and Sunday.
Myanmar Airways International (MAI; 01-255 440; www.maiair.com; airline code 8M; Sakura Tower, 339 Bogyoke Aung San Rd) This international line is not affiliated with the government’s Myanma Airways. Flies to/from Bangkok, Delhi, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
A few airlines keep Yangon representatives despite not offering direct services to Myanmar, including the following:
All Nippon Airways (ANA; 01-255 412; www.ana.co.jp/eng; airline code NH; 339 Bogyoke Aung San Rd, Sakura Tower)
China Airlines (01-245 484; www.china-airlines.com; airline code CI; 353 Bo Aung Kyaw St, Kyauktada)
Japan Airlines (JAL; 01-240 400; www.jal.co.jp; airline code JL; FMI Bldg, 380 Bogyoke Aung San Rd)
Korean Air (01-677 410; www.koreanair.com; airline code KE; 2B Sae Myaung Ave, 8 Mile Junction)
Air Bagan’s service to Singapore was suspended following sanctions directed towards Air Bagan’s owner Tay Za in late 2007.