With almost two dozens of daily flights operated by a handful of airline companies from the both Bangkok airports and air ticket prices starting from as low as THB1,000/USD35 one-way, flying between Bangkok and Yangon seems the most sensible way to travel. Adventurous souls who prefer land travel and plan to make a stop or two en route to check a couple of new places can easily get to Yangon combining buses and trains or travelling exclusively by a combination of buses.
Flights from Bangkok to Yangon
Flying time from Bangkok to Yangon is 1½ hour. The most budget-friendly deals are offered by low-cost airlines operating from Don Mueang airport. They include Thai Lion Air, Thai AirAsia and Nok Air. Normally you can always get a ticket for about THB2,500/USD70 with much more attractive airfare available even with minimal flexibility.
Plusher Thai Airways and Bangkok Air fly from Suvarnabhumi Airport and are at least trice as expensive as the low-cost club members (from THB6,000/USD170). Their economy class is definitely more comfortable than what the budget airlines have on offer and they come much handier if you are making a layover in Bangkok arriving to Suvarnabhumi from elsewhere.
In Yangon, Yangon International airport lies 17 km north from the Central Railway Station. It is not served by public transport – in the sense that no bus or train comes right up to the terminal building, but you still can get to the city by bus or train though some walking or a short ride is necessary. Bus N51 goes from Sel Maing Kone bus stop to Suli Paya. The bus stop is about 2.5 km from the terminal building. A ride costs MMK200 or MMK300 only. The closest to the airport circular train station, Pa Ywet Seik Kone, is about 2 km far. The train costs MMK100 and brings you to the Central Railway station. The official taxi rate from the airport is MMK8.000/USD8.
From Bangkok to Yangon overland
Travelling from Bangkok to Yangon overland makes sense only if you plan to make a break en route, e.g. in Mawlamyine, Hpa-An or Thaton, or enjoy the atmosphere of border towns of Mae Sot in Thailand or Myawaddy in Myanmar. Otherwise it is long, tiring and devastating.
At the moment Thailand is the only country from which foreigners can get to Burma overland without special permits. It will most probably soon followed by Laos, and with a certain preparation work requiring obtaining a permit, foreigners can enter the country from China and India, too.
Before setting for a trip, though, check visa requirements for your passport. During recent years multiple and unexpected changes have been introduced almost without prior notice. So even if you visited Burma a couple of years – or months! – ago it does not automatically mean you will have to go through the same process obtaining your visa this time. Many nationalities now can apply for an e-visa online through the official web site of Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population of Myanmar. You should print out the letter of approval you receive and present it when entering the country. The tourist e-visa allows you to stay in the country for 28 days from the moment you cross the border.
There are three land border crossings between Thailand and Burma you can use. These are – from south to north – Ranong (Ranong)/Kawtaung; Mae Sot (Tak)/Myawaddy; and Mae Sai (Chiang Rai)/Tachileik.
If planning to go up the country to Yangon, the most convenient land border crossing is that of Mae Sot–Myawaddy.
From Bangkok to Mae Sot
There is absolutely no hassle getting from Bangkok to Mae Sot: the capital of Thailand is connected to the border town by daily flights and numerous buses. Flying takes one hour 10 minutes. At the moment the only airline company performing flights from Bangkok to Mae Sot is Nok Air operating from Don Mueang airport and often offering deals under THB1,500 (around USD42) and almost always under THB2,500 (USD70). Note that morning departures sell faster than afternoon ones.
Buses for Mae Sot depart from the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok, Morchit. The distance between Bangkok and Mae Sot is 500 km and buses take from eight to 11 hours to get to the border town. For the fastest travel opt for more expensive VIP buses and skip the cheapest standard ‘express’ buses, which make a lot of stops en route. Prices fluctuate significantly from THB300 to THB700. Morning departures leave before 9am and in the evening you have a lot of choices between 7pm and 11pm.
Both Mae Sot Airport and interprovincial Bus Terminal are located off Route 12, about 4 km from the border. Motorbike taxis and tuk-tuks are available to get to the border.
Crossing the border
The queues can be very long at Mae Sot–Myawaddy border crossing, but there are designated windows for foreigners meaning you are not going to lose much time for border crossing formalities.
From Myawaddi to Yangon
On the Burmese side of the border walk one km to the bus station or take a motorbike taxi – they are widely available immediately after the immigration booths.
The only means of transport for onward travel from Myawaddy is bus. The road from Myawaddy via Dawna Mountains has been repaved in recent years so the bus trip is not as bumpy any more as it used to be. You can get from Myawaddy to Mawlamyine first (170 km, 5 hours) and then hop onto a train from Mawlamyine to Yangon (10 hours; from MMK20,000/USD17) or onto a bus following the same route (300 km; 7 hours). Buses to Yangon depart hourly from the main bus station off Highway 8, 100 m east of U Kandi Pagoda, and offer very competitive prices.
Another option is to head to Thaton or Hpa-An (180 km; 5 hours) by bus and catch a bus or a train from Thaton/Hpa-An to Yangon (five–6½ hours by train or bus).
Both Mawlamyine and Thaton make for a pleasant stop on your way to Bangkok, with Hpa-An, 50 km east of Thaton, also deserving a closer look.
There are direct buses from Myawaddy to Yangon, too (10–12 hours).
Why go to Yangon
Till relatively recently Yangon has been the only gateway to the country for any international visitor. Now there are international flights to Mandalay and a number of border crossings with Thailand are open to foreigners, too. Yet the former capital of Myanmar, Yangon, remains a must-visit stop on every Burmese travel itinerary. A melting pot of cultures, Yangon experienced and absorbed British, Indian and Chinese influences. Their traces can be found in rich though dilapidating colonial architecture, leafy boulevards, busy markets and Burmese curries. One of the most exotic cities in South East Asia, Yangon conquers hearts with its colourful mix of golden pagodas, exotic garments of the locals and sincere smiles showing blood-red teeth busy with chewing betel nut. Though a couple of years ago a lot of restrictions concerning foreign tourists have been done away with and you will no longer get a compulsory Internet detox while visiting Yangon and the rest of the country, there are relatively few international visitors around. Visit now until it is too late!
Onward travel from Yangon
Yangon is a perfect starting point for any travel around Burma. There is a direct railway line linking Yangon to the capital city of Naypyidaw proceeding further to Mandalay, a perfect base for exploring the ancient cities of Sagaing, Amarapura or Mingun.
Another direct railway line branches west to Bagan with its amazing and seemingly countless temples. Shwe Nyaung, close to Inle Lake, requires a daylong train travel. All the above-mentioned destinations are easily reached by bus or by plane, too.
There are flights from Yangon to Thandwe (for Ngapali Beach), and Thandwe, Sittwe and Mrauk U can be reached by bus (the two latter require travelling via Pyay).