Many posted flight schedules around the country only use domestic airport codes, shown in the following table.
Heho (Inle Lake)
Nay Pyi Taw
Nyaung U (Bagan)
Thandwe (Ngapali Beach)
Airlines in Myanmar
Myanmar's domestic air services have improved, with new planes – most propeller driven rather than jet engined – replacing older, less reliable models. Flights often go to multiple destinations in a day, sometimes landing at an airport, unloading and reloading, and taking off again 30 minutes later.
Between the main destinations of Yangon (Rangoon), Mandalay, Heho (for Inle Lake), Nyaung U (for Bagan) and Thandwe (for Ngapali Beach), you'll find frequent daily connections. Other airports have only one flight a day or, in the most remote places, just a couple of flights a week.
Following is the contact information for airline offices in Yangon. These airlines all serve the same major destinations (ie from Yangon to/from Nay Pyi Daw, Mandalay, Bagan, Inle, Sittwe). Myanmar National Airlines serves the most extensive range of destinations.
Air Bagan (01-504 888; www.airbagan.com)
Air KBZ (01-372 977; www.airkbz.com)
Air Mandalay (01-525 488; www.airmandalay.com)
Asian Wings (01-516 654; www.asianwingsairways.com)
Golden Myanmar Airlines (09 97799 3000; www.gmairlines.com)
Mann Yadanarpon Airlines (01-656 969; www.airmyp.com)
Myanmar National Airlines (01-378 603; www.flymna.com)
Yangon Airways (01-383 100; www.yangonair.com)
Schedules are most reliable between main destinations, such as Yangon, Mandalay, Nyaung U and Heho, during the high season – but it's essential to always double-check departure times at least 24 hours before departure and again on the day itself. To smaller destinations, flights can be cancelled and reappear depending on demand.
- Online booking and e-ticketing is available with all domestic airlines.
- One-way fares are half the price of return fares, and can be bought between six months and a day in advance. It's sometimes difficult to buy a ticket that departs from a town other than the one you are in.
- There is no domestic departure tax.
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'll 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 in particular. Many rental bikes have baskets or bells, but don't expect a crash helmet!
Sturdier Indian, Chinese or Thai imports are available (from K100,000) if you'd rather buy one. Some tours provide bikes, so you may be able to rent better quality ones from agents (eg EXO Travel in New Bagan).
Apart from in Yangon and Mandalay, vehicular traffic is quite light.
A few visitors bring their own touring bikes into Myanmar. There shouldn't be any problem with customs as long as you make the proper declarations upon entering the country.
Gradients are moderate in most parts of Myanmar that are open to tourism. Frontier regions, on the other hand, tend to be mountainous, particularly Shan, Kayin, Kayah and Chin states. You'll find plenty of opportunity everywhere for dirt-road and off-road pedalling. A sturdy mountain bike would make a good alternative to a touring rig, especially in the north, where main roads can resemble secondary roads elsewhere.
Some of the key routes around Myanmar:
- Thazi to Inle Lake via Kalaw
- Pyin Oo Lwin (Maymyo) to Lashio via Hsipaw
- Mandalay to Bagan via Myingyan
- Mandalay to either Monywa, Pyin Oo Lwin, Sagaing, Inwa (Ava) or Amarapura
November to February is the best time to cycle in terms of the weather.
There are basic bicycle shops in most towns, but they usually have only locally or Chinese-made parts to equip single-speed bikes. You can also buy lower quality motorcycle helmets here; many are disturbingly adorned with swastikas – a fad, not a political alliance. Bring reflective clothing and plenty of insurance. Don't ride at night.
Travellers on a bike may end up needing to sleep in towns few travellers make it to, and a lack of licensed accommodation may be an issue. Technically, you will need permission from local immigration to stay at such places. Be patient. Most cyclists get permission from local authorities to stay one night, but the paperwork (coming with some frowns) may take an hour or so to arrange.
It's possible to store your bicycle in the undercarriage storage on buses, though you may have to pay a little extra. On smaller buses it's possible you'll be asked to buy a 'seat' for your bike.
Some bike tours connect the dots of Myanmar's greatest hits – going, for example, up the Pyay highway to Bagan then Mandalay, and back to Yangon via Meiktila and Taungoo. It's rougher going, but nicer riding, to reach some mountainous areas, like Inle Lake.
Recommended tour companies:
Bike World Explores Myanmar Yangon-based company that also sells and rents bikes and can offer touring advice. It has several itineraries from three days of biking around Yangon (from US$450 minimum two people) to longer adventures heading out of Bagan into Chin State.
EXO Travel Runs high-end cycle tours covering Mandalay to Bagan, the Shan Hills and sights in Mon State.
Spice Roads Bangkok-based operation, offering five different itineraries, including an opportunity to cycle from Bangkok to Yangon over 14 days (from US$3595 per person). Another tour follows part of the old Burma Road from Pyin Oo Lwin to Mandalay.
Think Asia Travel & Tours Yangon-based agency offering bike tours at Inle Lake, Kalaw and Mandalay.
Unchartered Horizons As well as its great half- and full-day cycling tours around Yangon, this Yangon-based company runs adventurous biking and trekking tours in Chin, Rakhine and Shan states.
A great variety of boats – from creaky old government-run ferries to luxurious private cruise ships – ply Myanmar's waterways.
In addition to the rivers, it's possible to travel along the Bay of Bengal between Sittwe and Taunggok (north of Ngapali Beach).
Myanma Five Star Line, the government-owned ocean transport enterprise, is only cargo now, but you can try to see about jumping on a boat to Thandwe, Taunggok or Sittwe, or south to Dawei, Myeik or Kawthoung, at some point in the future.
Ferries & Private Boats
Inland Water Transport (IWT; www.iwt.gov.mm) boats offer basic levels of comfort and are often ramshackle and 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 heavily trafficked 262-mile-long 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 (officially, the offices accept US dollars only).
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. Private boat services are listed whenever possible. However, because of their size, riding on private boats isn't always as safe as riding on bigger government ferries.
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.
Amara Cruise Owned by a German and his Myanmar wife, this company runs cruises between Mandalay and Bagan (four days, three nights single/double from €2045/2614). There's also the option of a six-night Mandalay–Bhamo cruise. Its two medium-sized teak boats each have seven comfy cabins and are traditionally styled but recently built.
Avalon Waterways You'll spend 10 nights sailing between Bagan and Bhamo aboard the 18–state room Avalon Myanmar, built in 2015. The basic itinerary (from US$4349 per person) starts and finishes in Yangon – note airfares for getting to and from the cruise portion of the trip are extra.
Pandaw Cruises Offers various high-end cruises aboard a replica of the teak-and-brass IFC fleet, such as a 10-night trip between Yangon and Mandalay (single/double from US$2859/5718) and a 20-day itinerary that charts the Chindwin and upper reaches of the Ayeyarwady River (single/double US$7055/14,110). New since 2016 is its cruise from Ranong in southern Myanmar via the Myeik (Mergui) Archipelago to Yangon.
Paukan Cruises Beautifully restored river steamers are used for this company's trips, which range from one night between Mandalay and Bagan (single/twin from US$380/870) to 10-day itineraries including sights along the Chindwin River (single/twin US$4175/9600).
Road to Mandalay These luxury cruises are run by the operators of the Orient Express and range between two and 12 nights on two boats. The Road to Mandalay, a 43-berth liner that is huge by Ayeyarwady standards, includes an on-board swimming pool and wellness centre. In high season it does mostly Bagan–Mandalay, but there are occasional trips to Bhamo, too. The newer, four-deck Orcaella has 25 cabins and also has a small top-deck pool, a fitness and wellness centre, and boutique. Three-day/two-night cruises start at US$660 per person.
Sanctuary Ananda Launched in 2014, this sleek Myanmar-built craft offers 20 suites spread over three decks. There's a small plunge pool on the top deck and a spa/gym inside. Itineraries range from the three-day Bagan–Mandalay route (from UK£714 per person) to the 11 nights sailing between Mandalay and Yangon or Mandalay and Bhamo (both from UK£2989 per person).
The Strand Cruise Named after its sister property in Yangon, this new luxury boat has 27 en-suite cabins with floor-to-ceiling windows and tiny balconies for full river views. There's a small pool surrounded by sun loungers and complimentary spa treatments during the three- or four-night cruises between Mandalay and Bagan (or vice versa).
Viking River Cruises This British operator runs the Viking Mandalay, refurbished in 2013, on its two-week Myanmar Explorer itinerary originating in Bangkok, with flights to Yangon and then onto Inle Lake and Mandalay where you board the boat for a trip downriver as far as Sale. Rates start around UK£5569 per person.
Almost always faster and cheaper than trains, Myanmar buses range from luxury air-conditioned express buses to less luxurious but pleasant buses (without air-con), local buses and mini 32-seaters.
Surviving Long-Distance Bus Trips
Heed the following points and your long-distance bus trip will, possibly, be more comfortable:
- Bring snacks and drinks by all means but don't worry too much about this. A bottle of water is often handed out on better-quality buses. There are usually no bathrooms on the bus, but frequent toilet-and-refreshment stops (when everyone must get off the bus to prevent anything being stolen) punctuate journeys.
- Often the TV blares for much of the trip – usually sticking with Myanmar-made concerts or movies detailing things such as, oh, protagonists dying bloody deaths in car crashes, but the occasional Raiders of the Lost Ark slips in.
- Take a jacket or blanket (preferably both) as temperatures can drop substantially at night; air-con can also make it chilly. And consider earplugs and an eye mask as well if you plan to grab a little shut-eye between toilet stops.
- Myanmar superstition says that when you're on a journey you shouldn't ask anyone 'How much longer?', or 'Brother, when will we arrive?', as this is only tempting fate.
- Try not to become alarmed when you see how some local passengers hold their breath whenever a bus approaches a particularly dodgy-looking bridge.
Yangon-Chaung Tha Beach
Yangon-Taunggyi (for Inle Lake)
Yangon-Thandwe (for Ngapali)
Classes & Conditions
Many long-haul trips allow the greatest comfort, with new(ish) air-conditioned express buses – some of which are quite nice. For several long-distance routes, many services leave between 4pm and 10pm or later, and arrive at the final destination in the wee hours (often 5am or 6am). There are a couple of reasons for this: local people can't afford to waste a working day on a bus so prefer to travel overnight; and the buses don't overheat as much by avoiding the punishing midday sun. All buses stop a few times on long trips for toilet and food breaks.
If you want extra air-con comfort but don't want to go the whole way on one of these routes, you usually have to pay the full fare (eg going from Mandalay to Taungoo you pay the full fare to Yangon) and will have to deal with the 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; for example, you could catch the Mandalay–Yangon bus at Meiktila. Staff at your guesthouse or hotel should be able to help with this.
Similar-sized but older buses, with no air-con, make shorter-haul trips, such as direct links from Yangon to Pyay or Taungoo to Yangon.
Local 32-seat minibuses bounce along the highways too. These tend to use the aisles, if not for people, for bags of rice, veggies or (worst) dried fish. Sometimes the floor in front of you is filled too, so you'll have your knees up to your chin for some bouncy hours. Getting up to stretch your legs while moving just isn't an option. (Try to sit in the front couple of rows, which sometimes have fewer bags stored and better visibility.)
Travelling times for all forms of public road transport are very elastic and buses of all types do break down sometimes. Older buses often stop to hose down a hot engine. Some roads – one-lane, mangled deals (read: very rough) – don't help matters, and tyre punctures occur too.
Bus fares are in kyat. In some locations, foreigners may pay more than locals.
From November to February it's wise to prebook buses a couple of days in advance for key routes, such as Bagan–Inle Lake. Seat reservations are made for all buses – you should be able to check the seating plan with the reservation agent.
How to Skip Overnight Buses
There's not one obvious way to travel by bus between Myanmar's four big destinations: Yangon, Inle Lake, Mandalay and Bagan. Most travellers start in Yangon and bus to Mandalay one night, then pick between Inle Lake or Bagan next; this requires at least a couple of overnight buses.
If you like being able to see scenery out the window, or sleeping in beds, you can travel to these places without taking an overnight bus. Pre-planning is necessary and it will take a bit more time – around a week of travel time and a total cost of at least K50,500 for the following buses, minibuses and/or pick-up trucks:
Meiktila–Taunggyi (for Inle Lake)
Mandalay–Nyaung U (for Bagan)
Car & Motorcycle
Hiring a car and driver for part or all of a trip is a good way to go, though it's not cheap. To drive yourself, permission must be arranged via the government-run MTT and Road Transport Administration Department (RTAD; www.myanmarrtad.com).
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 organise one. In a few places, such as Hpa-an and Dawei, it's possible to hire manual or automatic 100cc to 125cc motorbikes, but motorbikes are generally not available for hire in Myanmar. In Bagan you can hire electric bikes.
Driving conditions can be poor but are often better than on many roads in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos – and outside the major cities, traffic is comparatively light compared to Thai or Vietnamese roads. Of the 15,000 miles of road in Myanmar, about half is paved; the remainder is graded gravel, unimproved dirt or simple track.
Road Rules To the Right!
All Myanmar traffic goes on the right-hand side of the road. This wasn't always so. In an effort to distance itself from the British colonial period, the military government instigated an overnight switch from the left to the right in 1970. Many cars either date from before 1970, or are low-cost Japanese models, so steering wheels are perilously found on the right-hand side – this becomes particularly dicey when a driver blindly zooms to the left to pass a car!
Hiring a Car & Driver
The best place to arrange a driver, perhaps for a full trip, is in Yangon, but it's possible to track down a 'taxi' or 'private car' from most travel agencies and guesthouses around the country, particularly in popular destinations such as Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.
When trying to find a car with driver, consider that there are three unofficial types of car:
Tourist cars These are reasonably new, air-conditioned cars run by a company that provides back-up or repairs in the event that they break down. These are the most comfortable – and the air-con is handy when it's dusty and hot – but most expensive option, running to about US$150 to US$200 a day, depending on the length of the trip. This price includes petrol for up to 12 hours' driving per day and all of the driver's expenses.
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 (eg there might be no air-con) and price, and there's less chance that you'll have any sort of replacement if the engine goes out mid-journey. Rates for these are from US$70 per day.
There are no car-rental agencies per se; Europcar Myanmar (www.europcar-myanmar.com) is a new set-up but currently rents cars with drivers. Most travel agencies in Yangon, Mandalay and Bagan – as well as guesthouses and hotels elsewhere – can arrange cars and drivers. They can also be booked online economically at Oway and Flymya.
Petrol & Tolls
Petrol costs K650 per litre. In rural parts of the country you'll find roadside stalls selling bottles of petrol.
Another cost to consider when travelling by car is the customary K100 to K200 'toll' collected upon entering many towns and villages throughout Myanmar. Many drivers are adept at handing these to the toll collectors while barely slowing down.
The toll for private cars using the expressway from Yangon to Mandalay is K5000, while to Nay Pyi Taw it's K2500.
It's occasionally possible to rent a motorbike or moped, though few locals advertise this – and the authorities frown on it since they don't want to deal with the complications of visitors involved in accidents. In Mandalay and Myitkyina, for example, it's K10,000 per day to rent a motorbike. Unlike cyclists, you're required to wear a helmet in most towns.
Note that motorbikes and mopeds are banned in most of Yangon (they are common in the far north of the city near the airport and across the river in Dalah).
Hitching is never entirely safe in any country in the world, and we don't recommend it. Travellers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go.
One extra reason to avoid hitching in Myanmar is that local drivers may not know which areas are off limits to foreigners and may unwittingly transport them into such areas. In such cases the driver will probably be punished.
Larger towns in Myanmar offer a variety of city buses (ka), motorcycle taxis, bicycle rickshaws or trishaws (saiq-ka, for sidecar), horse carts (myint hlei), ox carts, taxis (taxi), little three-wheelers somewhat akin to Thai tuk-tuks (thoun bein, meaning 'three wheels'), tiny four-wheeled 'blue taxi' Mazdas (lei bein, meaning 'four wheels') and modern Japanese pick-up trucks (lain ka, meaning 'line car').
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.
Standard rates for taxis, motorcycle taxis, trishaws and horse carts are sometimes 'boosted' for foreigners. Generally a ride from the bus station to a central hotel – often a distance of 1.25 miles or more – is between K500 and K1500 on a motorbike. Short rides around the city centre can be arranged for between K500 and K1000. You will likely have to bargain a bit.
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 or cargo. They are often packed (yet somehow never 'full' according to the driver). 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 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's often worth the extra expense if you don't want to do scrunch duty. Sometimes you may share your spot with a monk riding for free; usually you get exactly what you pay for ('the whole front'), unlike in some other parts of Southeast Asia.
Pick-ups often start from the bus or railway station (in some towns they linger under a big banyan tree in the centre) and then, unlike many buses, make rounds through the central streets to snare more passengers.
A train ride on Myanmar's narrow-gauge tracks is like going by horse, with the carriages rocking back and forth and bouncing everyone lucky enough to have a seat into the air – sleep is practically impossible. Compared to bus trips on the same routes, taking the train means extra travel time, on top of which likely delays (of several hours, if you're unlucky) have to be factored in.
However, train travel is cheap now that foreigners pay the same as locals. Routes sometimes get to areas not reached by road and the services provide a chance to interact with locals.
First introduced by the British in 1877 with the opening of the 163-mile line between Yangon and Pyay, Myanmar's rail network now has over 3357 miles of 3.3ft-gauge track and 858 train stations.
Extensions to the network, adding another 2264 miles of track, are very slowly under construction from Sittwe in the west to Myeik in the south. Japanese investment and train know-how is set to help upgrade the main Yangon–Mandalay line and Yangon's Circle Line, although when that will happen is unclear.
The 386-mile trip from Yangon to Mandalay, via Bago, Nay Pyi Taw and Thazi, is the most popular train ride visitors take. Since 2016, train 5/6, which leaves both Yangon and Mandalay at 3pm, uses new diesel electric locomotives and carriages bought from China. The train's air-cushion suspension system provides a smoother (but not faster) ride. There is no sleeper carriage on this service; if you wish to book a sleeper for this route, they are only available on train 3/4, which departs both cities at 5pm.
Other routes worth considering:
- Bagan to Yangon via Taungoo and Kyaukpadaung
- Mandalay (or Pyin Oo Lwin) to Lashio (or Hsipaw), which takes in hilly terrain missed by road (Paul Theroux managed to do this back when foreigners weren't supposed to, as described in his book The Great Railway Bazaar)
- Yangon to Mawlamyine via Bago, Kyaiktiyo and Mottama
- Pyinmana to Kyaukpadaung (31 miles south of Bagan)
- Thazi to Shwenyaung (7 miles north of Inle Lake)
- Yangon to Pyay
An express line connects Bagan (Nyaung U) with Mandalay, from where there are three other branch lines: one running slightly northwest across the Ava Bridge and up to Ye-U; one directly north to Myitkyina in Kachin State; and one northeast through Pyin Oo Lwin to Lashio in the northern part of Shan State.
Trains are classified by a number and the suffix 'Up' for northbound trains or 'Down' for southbound trains. There's no need to specify the train number when purchasing tickets; just ask for your destination and class.
For more information on all routes and services, a good source is www.seat61.com.
Classes & Facilities
Express trains offer two classes of passage – upper class and ordinary class; long-distance trains may also offer sleepers. The main difference between ordinary and upper class is that the seats recline and can be reserved in the latter, while ordinary class features hard upright seats that can't be reserved. Some trains also offer another class of service called 1st class, which is a step down from upper in comfort.
There are two types of sleeper carriage:
- standard sleeper – four-berth and two-berth compartments with doors onto a corridor and connections to the rest of the train
- special sleeper – a separate full-width compartment with four berths, a toilet and entrance door, but no access through the train. If you'd prefer to move around the train and meet fellow passengers, an upper-class seat will be better.
In both types of sleeper carriage, linens and blankets are provided. There's a ceiling fan and the windows open for ventilation.
Long-distance trains have dining cars accessible to passengers in 1st, upper and sleeper class. The food isn't bad – fried rice and noodles. Attendants can also take your order and bring food to your seat or pass it through the window.
Trains stop fairly often, too, with vendors on platforms offering all sorts of snacks. Bathrooms are basic; there are also sinks to wash hands and brush teeth. Attendants sometimes hire out bamboo mats to spread on the floor in aisles or under seats if you can't sleep upright. It can get cold at night, so bring a jacket and/or a blanket.
The express trains are far superior to the general run of Myanmar trains. Other trains are late, almost by rule. It's not unheard of for the Mandalay–Myitkyina route, scheduled to take around 24 hours, to end up taking 40 hours. Even on the Yangon–Mandalay route delays are common, particularly in the rainy season when the tracks are prone to flooding.
Tickets can be bought directly at the train stations. You may have to persevere at smaller stations, as agents aren't used to foreigners climbing on board.
A day or two's notice is usually enough to book a seat, but if you want a coveted sleeper, you'll need at least a couple of days' notice – longer during high season (November to March). If you hold a seat on a train pulling a sleeper car, you can try to upgrade to a berth after you board by paying the additional fare directly to the conductor.
If you're having trouble buying a ticket or making yourself understood at a train station, try seeking out the stationmaster (yonepain in Burmese) – the person at the station who is most likely to speak English and most inclined to help you get a seat.