The two largest cities of Myanmar have great transport connections. Three daily trains travel the length of the 630 km Yangon-Mandalay line taking 15 hours. There is great competition among the bus companies serving the same route so options to get to Yangon by bus do not lack. Almost a dozen daily flights allow a fast, though not cheap hop between the two. Buses provide the most budget-friendly way to travel but many lack comfort. Trains are quite punctual bus slower than buses and more expensive but some have sleeping carriages which give you a chance to sleep all night through.
From Mandalay to Yangon by train
Why not to take a train while in Burma at least once, just to compare rail and bus travel? We would not be surprised if after your Burmese rail travel initiation you will opt for trains exclusively whenever possible!
No, Burmese trains neither provide extra comfort; nor they faster than buses and cheaper. To tell the truth, there is even no air-conditioning in carriages. Then why travel by train in Burma?
- Burmese trains are rather punctual: you can expect to arrive at your destination exactly by the hour indicated in your ticket
- There are different classes of carriages to choose from – from the cheapest ‘ordinary’ hard seats to plusher ‘upper class’ reclining soft seats comfy enough for an overnight trip to sleepers which are four-berth closed compartments
- The railway lines in Burma were built by the Brits during the colonial period and the atmosphere of that epoch can still be felt if a variety of details – take a note, for example, of the semaphores.
Currently there are three trains a day from Mandalay to Yangon at 6am, 3pm and 5pm (#12, #6 and #4 respectively). All of them take 15 hours to reach Yangon Central Station. Trains #12 and #6 offer seats only while train #4 has sleeping cars as well. Schedule-wise the two afternoon trains are the best choice as they travel by night allowing you to save on accommodation and reach terminus in the early morning (at 6am and 8am) so you have the whole day ahead of you.
In Yangon, Yangon Central Railway Station is located in Kun Chan Road, opposite the stadium. In Mandalay, the railway station sits at the intersection of 79 Street and 30 Street, south of the south-western corner of the park surrounding the Royal Palace.
Note Myanmar Railways do not have their official web-site and do not support any online booking system. It means you basically have two choices to buy railway tickets: 1) in person at the railway station 2) via Internet through an agency – like 12go.
Passing via Naypyidaw
If 15 hours seem too much, you can split your journey getting off the train in the capital of Myanmar, Naypyidaw or Nay Pyi Taw. A purposely built between 2002 and 2012 city is a weird place with strict zoning: there are residential, military, ministry and hotel zones; the international zone for foreign embassies as well as shopping, recreation and religious areas. Wide empty roads, no big shopping centres, obvious lack of schools and other infrastructure necessary for a city of such size all together create a strange atmosphere of an abandoned place though it is not – with over a million of inhabitants.
Note Nay Pyi Taw is 320 km north of Yangon. You will be able to continue your journey the next day, or hopping onto the next train – in this case consider leaving Mandalay with 6am train #12 and taking one of the evening trains (#6 at 8.36pm or #4 at 10.51pm) later the same day after a walk around the city. There is also train #8 leaving Naypyidaw at 8pm.
Passing via Bago
If you have not checked the Golden Rock yet, it is a good idea instead of going directly from Mandalay to Yangon get off the train at Bago, aka Pegu. Consider taking trains #12 or #4. The former brings you to Bago by 7pm – you will have to spend the night in the town and head up Kyaiktiyo Mount the next day; the latter arrives early in the morning at 6am allowing you to visit the iconic rock and get to Yangon before night the same day. It takes two hours to get from Bago to Yangon by train.
From Mandalay to Yangon by bus
In Mandalay, the main bus station serving buses to Yangon and other destinations south and southeast of the city is Highway Bus Station rather inconveniently located 8 km south of the centre. There is a variety of buses to choose from – from spartan fan buses to mediocre and cramped air-con buses to VIP sleeping buses, the most expensive and acceptably comfortable way to travel. The overwhelming majority of buses heading to Yangon are overnight buses taking about 10 hours to reach their destinations, though there is a limited number of morning buses, too. Ticket prices fluctuate depending on the type of the bus and the way of purchasing them – agencies do add a commission but usually it is a reasonable fee. Expect to pay from MMK12,000/USD10 to MMK23,000/USD17.
Tip Try to get confirmation from the agent concerning the type of the bus you are buying tickets for – or even better have a look at the fleet if possible. Some unscrupulous agents are known to sell ‘air-con’ tickets which are in reality put you in a shabby fan bus.
In Yangon, buses from Mandalay arrive mostly to Aung Mingalar Bus Terminal, or Highway Bus Station. The station is located well off the city limits 7 km northeast from Yangon International airport (about 24 km from the Central Railway station). The easiest way to get to the city centre is by taxi – it will cost you about USD10. If you have your accommodation already booked, ask your host about the pick up at the station – they are unlikely to offer free pick up but may organize a slightly cheaper car. Public bus #43 brings you from the station to Suli Paya, it costs less than USD1 and takes about an hour to complete the ride.
Flights from Mandalay to Yangon
Flying in the fastest and most expensive way to travel between Mandalay and Yangon. Though the route is served by a handful of government and privately owned airlines, competition is not strong and dirt-cheap tickets are not heard of. Expect to pay from USD100 and upwards for a one and a half hour flight.
Mandalay International airport sits 45 km southwest, a good deal away from the city. There is no public transport heading to the airport from the city. Your choices are limited to shared taxis (MMK4,000/USD4), private taxis (MMK12,000/USD10) or transfers you can organise through your accommodation or through any of the street agents.
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.
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
The former capital of the country and once the only gateway to Burma for foreigners, Yangon is connected by air with many regional capitals and major cities, including Bangkok in Thailand and Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia with many other destinations easy reached by connecting flights via these two capitals.