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.
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!
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 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).