On the train from Hsipaw to Mandalay
On the train from Hsipaw to Mandalay by Claire Backhouse

Transport in Myanmar – How to Get To, From and Around

Despite Myanmar only opening up to tourism relatively recently it’s very easy to travel around the country – particularly between the main destinations of Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake.

Some of the most popular ways to travel in Myanmar are by bus, train, plane and even by boat, all of which are easy to purchase tickets for. Flying is the best option if you want to travel quickly, although it tends to carry a higher price tag, where buses and trains are cheap and relatively reliable. A boat trip along the Irrawaddy River is also highly recommended for at least one leg of your journey. We took a cruise from Bagan to Mandalay and enjoyed it greatly – read about our experience here.

By air

There are many airlines and routes available through Myanmar. Yangon is the main and busiest international airport and offers over 10 flights per day to Mandalay, over 7 to Bagan and over 9 to Heho (near Inle Lake). These flights take from one hour to around 1 hour 30 minutes and typically cost $60 to $100 one way.

Mandalay also offers a modern and accessible airport with good internal connections to all major destinations.

There are over 12 airlines currently operating in Myanmar, with some of the most popular including Myanmar Airways International, Golden Myanmar, Air Mandalay and Asian Wings. The latter two are known to have newer planes in operation which may make them a more attractive option, as historically flight safety standards in the country have been dubious.

Whilst travelling by plane is generally reliable, at times on less popular routes services can be cancelled at the last minute due to lack of interest, or may even have additional stops added in to allow more passengers to be picked up en route. Sensible advice is to exercise caution when booking transfers and connecting flights as these sorts of changes can mean that schedules change without warning.

By bus

We found that most travellers who were looking for a budget but still relatively comfortable travel option choose to get around Myanmar by bus.

There are many bus companies offering routes that cover most of the country, and for fairly low prices it’s possible to secure tickets on VIP coaches that are modern and comfortable for overnight journeys.

Many of these buses also include snacks and drinks, which can help you to save even more money. Despite these buses being quite modern, it’s unlikely that you’ll find wifi on board, and expect the air-conditioning to be rather harsh. Particularly on night buses it’s recommended to take plenty of layers although you will also be provided with a blanket on most services.

The main roads, such as those from Yangon to Bagan, are in relatively good condition, although frequent road works and extreme weather in monsoon season can cause problems. The only really bad road we experienced was between Mandalay and Inle Lake, which was extremely bumpy and winding so one to take caution with if you get travel sick.

Generally, it’s a comfortable and easy way to travel and costs just USD19 for a first class night bus from Yangon to Bagan, and only USD12 from Mandalay to Inle Lake. Local buses are cheaper still, but come without the added luxuries of the higher class coach travel.

By train

Trains are another popular option with travellers in Myanmar, whilst slower and less reliable than bus travel, the trains provide an opportunity to take in beautiful scenery and to mingle with locals who also use the train to get around the country.

Train routes are available between Yangon, Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay, and most have various classes available, from ordinary wooden seats to special sleeper compartments. Ticket prices range from around USD10 to USD25 depending on route and carriage class and booking in advance for sleeper trains is highly recommended.

The route between Yangon and Mandalay is especially popular as it typically uses better quality trains that are cleaner and have better air conditioning. Some people have found that train travel can be less comfortable for longer journeys, with average speeds sometimes as low as 14km/hour, dirty and unhygienic travel conditions and very hot and crowded compartments. It all depends whether this is worth it to take in a scenic cross country train journey and whether you have the budget spare to select higher class seating options.

By boat

Travelling in Myanmar by boat is a great option – similar to the railway in terms of the ability to take in beautiful landscapes and stunning scenery, but a quieter and more peaceful way to travel, it offers the best of both worlds as long as you’re not on a tight time schedule.

The Irrawaddy river is the main waterway through Myanmar and offers the most popular routes for tourists, including the busy Mandalay–Bagan–Mandalay route, which takes 10 hours on an express boat and costs around USD30. It’s also possible to book boat tours to Bagan from Pakokku which take around 3-4 hours.

There are many types of boats available, most of which depart early in the morning. Many locals travel by slow boat, making this a popular choice for a more authentic travel experience, although the clue’s in the name and this can be a very slow way to travel around.

Express boats are far quicker and command a higher price tag, whilst still being an affordable option, and for real luxury there are many companies now offering boutique river cruises through Myanmar which have comfortable private cabins and basically function as high quality hotels on the water.

By taxi

Taxis are preferable for travelling around cities, particularly in Yangon where they are plentiful and very cheap. In Mandalay it’s harder to find taxicabs as motorbike taxis are more common, and we found the taxis here to be a lot more expensive than Yangon. Taxis will typically slow as they pass you and beep for your attention, making it simple to flag one down.

By tuk-tuk

We didn’t see as many tuk-tuks in Myanmar as in other South East Asian destinations, but they do collect around temples and transport hubs, offering a cheaper way to get from bus stations to city centres and vice versa. Sometimes you’ll be waiting a while for them to pick up enough passengers to make the journey worthwhile.

By hired vehicles

It is possible to hire cars and motorbikes to travel around the country but with poor quality roads and the need to get your international driving license processed into documentation accepted for driving in Myanmar, it may be easier to hire a car and driver instead.