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Bus

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.

Bus Routes

RouteFare (K)Duration (hr)
Bagan-Taunggyi12,000-18,00010
Mandalay-Bagan90007
Mandalay-Hsipaw75007
Mandalay-Taunggyi12,500-16,50010
Pyay-Bagan14,00012
Yangon-Bagan11,000-18,5009-10
Yangon-Bago10002
Yangon-Chaung Tha Beach10,0006
Yangon-Kyaiktiyo80005
Yangon-Mandalay11,000-20,50010
Yangon-Pyay55006
Yangon-Taunggyi (for Inle Lake)14,000-17,50011-12
Yangon-Thandwe (for Ngapali)15,00012

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.

Costs

Bus fares are in kyat. In some locations, foreigners may pay more than locals.

Reservations

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:

RouteDuration (hr)Cost (K)
Yangon–Taungoo64500
Taungoo–Meiktila4500
Meiktila–Taunggyi (for Inle Lake)65500
Taunggyi–Kalaw33000
Kalaw–Mandalay7-810,000-12,000
Mandalay–Nyaung U (for Bagan)4-68000-9500
Bagan–Magwe3-45000
Magwe–Pyay55000
Pyay–Yangon65500