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Transportation 

  • Getting Around by Air

 Air travel is the most efficient way of moving within Myanmar and the only permissible means of transport for independent travelers, but there is a rather limited schedule of flights, and a rather less than perfect safety record. The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office bans its staff from using Myanmar Airways for this reason; although the staff do use Myanmar Airways International (UB) (website: www.maiair.com). Air Mandalay (website: www.airmandalay.com) and Yangon Airways (website: www.yangonair.com) operate internal flights. Internal security can restrict ease of movement. There are daily flights to most towns; charter flights are also available. There are over 60 airstrips in the country. 

Approximate Flight Times

From Yangon to Mandalay is 2 hours 10 minutes; to Pagan is 1 hour 30 minutes; and to Heho is 1 hour 25 minutes. 

  • Getting Around by Water

The best way of seeing Myanmar is by boat, particularly between Bhamo–Mandalay and Mandalay–Pagan. Myanmar has about 8,000km (5,000 miles) of navigable rivers. Trips can be arranged only as part of an organised group tour.  It is generally necessary to provide for one’s own food. 

  • Getting Around by Rail

Myanmar Railways provide services on several routes, the principal line being Yangon to Mandalay (journey time – 12 to 14 hours). Overnight trains have sleeping cars. There is also a good service from Mandalay–Lashio–Myitkyina. The state-run railway has 4,300km (2,700 miles) of track and serves most of Myanmar. First class is available but, with the exception of the Yangon to Mandalay line, services are regularly afflicted with delays caused by climatic, technical and bureaucratic difficulties. Tickets must be purchased as part of an organised tour group. There are regular services from Yangon to Mandalay and from Yangon to Thazi. Visitors should be aware that much railway equipment is decrepit and some accidents are unreported. 

  • Getting Around by Road

 Traffic drives on the right. There has been some modernisation of Myanmar’s once antiquated vehicles. Roads are poorly maintained and can become impassable in the rainy season, from May to October. Visitors must remember that, under Burmese law, the driver of a car involved in an accident with a pedestrian is always at fault. 

  • Bus

Buses are generally operated by the state-owned Road Transport Enterprise. Public bus services tend to be unreliable and uncomfortable; visitors may pay using the Kyat currency on certain lines only. Owing to the ongoing privatisation programme of the transport industry, a fleet of privately operated buses is also available. The main lines are from Yangon to Meiktila, Pyay, Mandalay and Taunggyi. Private buses are air conditioned and accept payment in Kyat, US Dollars or FECs. 

  • Bicycles 

Bicycles are available for hire everywhere.

International Driving Licenses and British licenses are not accepted. Those wishing to drive must apply for a Myanmar license at the Department for Road Transport and Administration in Yangon (Rangoon). 

  • Getting Around Towns and Cities

Yangon has a circular rail service. There are also antiquated and overcrowded bus services in all cities. Yangon has blue government taxis with set fares. Unmetered three- and four-wheel taxis are available in cities, as are rickshaws; it is wise to pre-arrange fares. Taxi drivers do not expect tips. 

Airports

List of Airports in Myanmar 

Continent

Country

Airport Code

Airport Name

 

Asia

Myanmar

BSX

Bassein

Asia

Myanmar

BMO

Bhamo

Asia

Myanmar

TVY

Dawe

Asia

Myanmar

GAW

Gangaw

Asia

Myanmar

GWA

Gwa

Asia

Myanmar

HEH

Heho

Asia

Myanmar

HEB

Henzada

Asia

Myanmar

HOX

Homalin

Asia

Myanmar

KMV

Kalemyo

Asia

Myanmar

KAW

Kawthaung

Asia

Myanmar

KET

Kengtung

Asia

Myanmar

KHM

Khamti

Asia

Myanmar

KYP

Kyaukpyu

Asia

Myanmar

KYT

Kyauktaw

Asia

Myanmar

LSH

Lashio

Asia

Myanmar

LIW

Loikaw

Asia

Myanmar

MWQ

Magwe

Asia

Myanmar

MDL

Mandalay Annisaton

Asia

Myanmar

MNU

Maulmyine

Asia

Myanmar

MOE

Momeik

Asia

Myanmar

MOG

Monghsat

Asia

Myanmar

MGZ

Myeik

Asia

Myanmar

MYT

Myitkyina

Asia

Myanmar

NMS

Namsang

Asia

Myanmar

NMT

Namtu

Asia

Myanmar

NYU

Nyaung-U

Asia

Myanmar

PAA

Pa-An

Asia

Myanmar

PKK

Pakokku

Asia

Myanmar

PPU

Papun

Asia

Myanmar

PAU

Pauk

Asia

Myanmar

PRU

Prome

Asia

Myanmar

PBU

Putao

Asia

Myanmar

AKY

Sittwe Civil

Asia

Myanmar

THL

Tachilek

Asia

Myanmar

SNW

Thandwe

Asia

Myanmar

TIO

Tilin

Asia

Myanmar

RGN

Yangon Mingaladon

Asia

Myanmar

XYE

Ye

Shipping Ports

Port of Yangon, which has long history, is the main port of Myanmar. In 1880 it was run by Commissioners of the Port of Rangoon. Then, in 1954 – Board of Management for the Port of Rangoon took charge of the port operations. In 1972 Burma Ports Corporation controlled the port until 1989. From then on Myanmar Port Authority (MPA) governed the port operations.

It is situated at latitude 16• 47’ N and Longitude 96• 15’ E on the YangonRiver and about 32 Km inland from the Elephant Point on the Gulf of Martaban.

It has been handling about 90% of the country’s exports and imports. And whilst the majority of traffic is international, there is also significant coastal activity. But much of the coastal activity does not use the wharf facilities. It is river port and there are two restricted bars along the approached channel: the first one, for inbound vessel, is called outer bar which is located at the mouth of the river and another one is known as inner bar which one is located near Yangon Port at Monkey Point. Navigation from the Pilot Station, which is further 32 km seaward from Elephant Point, to the Yangon harbour is generally on a flood tides and has to be timed carefully to cross both those two bars near high tide to ensure sufficient depths while the vessel is passing them.

There are 11 Myanmar Ports Authority owned wharfs, six other government owned wharfs and nine private owned wharfs for international vessels. SulePagodaWharf has seven berths and there are three berths at Bo Aung Gyaw plus the Hteedan Rice Berth. Thilawa, an international multipurpose port, is fully owned by a foreign private company, Hutchison Port Holdings, Myanmar.

Navigation is limited depending on the vessel’s actual draft and speed in order to clear the two bars. In addition, entry into the inner harbour is restricted to daylight hours. Entry into the port is limited to vessels up to 10,000/15,000 DWT with a maximum draft of 9 meters and a maximum length of 167 meters. The ability of the port to load and unload cargo is heavily constrained by the rainy season which lasts from May to October. The bulk cargoes such as rice, which dominate the out shipment, are often delayed in the wet season.

While there are constraints on the ability to expand the available port resources, there are plans for further expansion. These include replacing the Htee Tan Wharf with a bulk handling berth, developing Sule Pagoda Wharf No.8 as a modern conventional berth and upgrading Bo Aung Gnaw Wharf. And at present, part of Yangon Thilawa port improvement project has been implemented.

Considering recent rapid growth in traffic at port of Yangon, particularly with respect to containerized traffic it has intentions to implement both hardware and software measures to increase Yangon Port’s capacity to serve primarily traffic to /from Myanmar and secondarily traffic to/ from Yunnan Province, china. According to the project, in the short term, it would involve the construction of a container terminal, a container freight station, and a mechanical workshop at Thilawa, as well as technical assistance aimed at improving the efficiency of port operations at Yangon.

In the medium term, the project would involve development of berths, and one new berth handling bulk agricultural products at Thilawa. In the long term, 17 berths would be completed at Thilawa, including four container terminals, three timber berths, two berths for bulk agricultural products, and eight general cargo berths. 

Local Transport

Larger towns in Myanmar offer a variety of city buses (ka), bicycle rickshaws or trishaws (saiq-ka, for sidecar), horse carts (myint hlei), ox carts, vintage taxis (taxi), more modern little three-wheelers somewhat akin to Thai tuk-tuks (thoun bein, meaning ‘three wheels’), tiny four-wheeled ‘blue taxi’ Mazdas (lei bein, meaning ‘four wheels’) and modern Japanese pick-up trucks (lain ka, meaning ‘line car’).

Small towns rely heavily on horse carts and trishaws as the main mode of local transport. However, in the five largest cities (Yangon, Mandalay, Pathein, Mawlamyine and Taunggyi) public buses take regular routes along the main avenues for a fixed per-person rate, usually K25 to K100.

Standard rates for taxis, trishaws and horse carts are sometimes ‘boosted’ for foreigners. A little bargaining may be in order. Generally a ride from the bus station to a central hotel – often a distance of 1.25 miles or more – is about K1000 or K1500. Rides around the centre can be arranged for K500 or K800. You may need to bargain a bit. Sometimes first time offers are several times higher than the going rate. 

  • Boat

A huge fleet of riverboats, remnants of the old ’20s-era Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (IFC), still ply Myanmar’s major rivers, where the bulk of traveler-oriented boat travel gets done. Some boats are ramshackle (but certainly lively) government ferries; some date from the British era and others are old-style IFC liners that run luxury cruises. The main drawback is speed. Boat trips for many routes are loosely scheduled in terms of days, not hours.

There are 5000 miles of navigable river in Myanmar, with the most important river being the Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy). Even in the dry season, boats can travel from the delta region (dodging exposed sandbars) all the way north to Bhamo, and in the wet they can reach Myitkyina.

Other important rivers include the Twante Chaung (Twante Chanel), which links the Ayeyarwady to Yangon, and the ChindwinRiver, which joins the Ayeyarwady a little above Bagan. The Thanlwin River in the east is navigable only for about 125 miles from its mouth at Mawlamyine, though the five-hour trip to Hpa-an is one of the country’s most scenic waterway journeys.

It takes great expertise to navigate Myanmar’s waterways. Rapidly changing sandbanks and shallow water during the dry season mean the captains and pilots have to keep in constant touch with the changing pattern of the river flows. For example, seven pilots are used on the stretch from Mandalay to Pyay (Prome). Each is an expert on his own particular segment of the river.

  • Cargo Ships

Although the obstacles standing in your way are daunting, it may be possible to travel along Myanmar’s coastline via Myanma Five Star Line, the country’s government-owned ocean transport enterprise. Technically it’s only cargo now, but you can try to see about jumping on a boat to Thandwe, Taunggok or Sittwe, or south to Dawei, Myeik or Kawthoung, at some point in the future. 

  • Ferries & Private Boats

Most ferry services are government-run, particularly the Inland Water Transport (IWT). The IWT has over 500 boats totaling nearly 1.5 million tons and supposedly carrying 14 million passengers annually. Today most of the IWT boats are rather run down and ramshackle, but provide remarkable glimpses into local river life. Many of the passengers on the long-distance ferries are traders who make stops along the way to pick up or deliver goods.

Along the heavily travelled 262-mile-long Yangon–Pyay–Mandalay route, there are 28 ferry landings, where merchants can ply their trade. IWT offices are usually near the jetty. They can offer information, schedules and fare details, and usually tickets. IWT offices, officially, accept US dollars and FEC only.

Some short trips, e.g. between Bagan and Pakokku, are handled with small covered wood-boat ferries that fit about 25 people. Often there are smaller private boats you can negotiate to use with the driver. We include private boat services whenever possible. However, because of their size it’s not always as safe riding with private boats compared with bigger government ferries. In 2004, a small private boat between Sittwe and Mrauk U capsized during a storm and several Italian tourists were killed.

Only a few riverboat routes are regularly used by visitors. Key routes:

  • Mandalay to Bagan - on the IWT or private boats such as the Shwei Kennery Express
  • Myitkyina to Mandalay via Bhamo and Katha - a few private fast-boat services, but mostly done on the IWT
  • Mawlamyine to Hpa-an - daily government ferries
  • Sittwe to Mrauk U - small private boats or government ferries.

 There is no direct service between Yangon and Mandalay: you’d need to change boats in Pyay – and the IWT offices seem to frown on taking passengers on this route. If you make it, take a book or two: it’s about two days by boat between Mandalay and Bagan, three more to Pyay, and two more to Yangon. A more feasible long journey, and a more attractive one, is south from Myitkyina.

River routes on the ChindwinRiver, northeast of Monywa, are reportedly going to open the long-restricted river-way to some foreign-operated group tours. Either way, it can be possible to get a government permit with a knowledgeable local guide and make the trip on your own from Homilin to Monywa. Unlike the Ayeyarwady it’s a narrow river with oodles of local life to dip into. Mr. Saw at Yangon’s KS Elephant Travels & Tours (01-666-202; www.kselephanttravels.com; Bldg 2, Eight Mile Junction, Rm 40, Mayangone, Yangon) has heaps of experience with this trip. Two people could make it in six days for about $900 (including flight up, meals, accommodation, boat and permit). 

  • Luxury Boats

 Be aware that the higher-priced cruises are either privately run boats on lease from the government or a joint-venture operation. You can book services with travel agents in Yangon, but keep in mind that many trips are booked out by tour groups.

Several luxury ferries travel the upper and lower reaches of the AyeyarwadyRiver. The joint-venture operation Road to Mandalay (www.orient-express.com), offers three-, four-, seven- and 11-day trips (from $1780 to $3610 per person for three nights, or $2320 to $4810 for seven nights), which centre on Mandalay.

Pandaw Cruises (www.pandaw.com) Yangon (01-727 029, Dusit Inya Lake Hotel); Mandalay (02-244 256, 14 Strand Rd, 35/37) offers various high-end cruises aboard a replica of the teak-and-brass IFC fleet such as a popular two-night trip between Bagan and Mandalay (about $584 per cabin, all inclusive) and a 14-night trip between Yangon and Mandalay (from $2700 per cabin, all-inclusive).

Similar trips are offered by Pandaw 1947 (01-380 877; www.pandaw1947.com), run by the private owner of Shwei Kennery (whose boats connect Mandalay and Bagan. In addition to the rivers, it’s possible to travel along the Bay of Bengal between Sittwe and Taunggok (north of NgapaliBeach). 

  • Bus

Almost always faster and cheaper than trains, Myanmar buses come in different sizes. Options include luxury air-con express buses, less luxurious but nice buses (without air-con), local buses, and mini 32-seaters. Most are operated by private companies (unlike the train).

Many long-haul trips, such as from Yangon to Mandalay, allow the greatest comfort, with new-looking air-con express buses – some of which are quite nice. A lot of bus activity happens at night, with buses leaving from 4pm to 10pm or later, and arriving at the final destination in the wee hours (often 5am or 6am).

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 (e.g. going from Mandalay to Taungoo you pay the full fare to Yangon) and will have to deal with 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, e.g. catch the Mandalay to Yangon bus at Meiktila. Staff at your guesthouse or hotel should be able to help with 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-soup stops perforate the night – frustrating if you’ve just got to sleep and the bus stops at 3am for ‘breakfast’. Often TVs blare 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. 

Be aware that temperatures can drop substantially at night. Take a jacket or blanket (preferably both). 

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 buses, or 32-seat minibuses, bounce along the highways too. These tend to use the aisles, if not for blokes, for bags of rice, veggies or (worst) dried fish. Sometimes the floor in front of you is filled too, so you’ll find your knees 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.) 

Trip durations for all forms of public road transportation are very elastic. We hear of travelers on the nicest buses who were stopped for hours on the Yangon–Mandalay highway. 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. Note how some local passengers hold their breath whenever a bus passes a particularly dodgy looking bridge 

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. 

  • Government Buses 

Formerly, many buses were operated by the government’s Road Transport Enterprise (RTE). Now RTE buses are almost exclusively used for cargo, while nearly all passenger buses are privately run. 

Unlike for train, plane and most boat tickets, you can pay kyat for all bus fares. But, similarly, foreigners will pay more than locals – and on occasions the price is ‘set’ on the spot. Generally minibuses, local 32-seaters, express buses with no air-con, and air-con luxury jobbies charge roughly the same on overlapping routes. 

Reservations 

From November to February, it’s wise to pre-book buses a couple of days in advance for key routes, such as Bagan–Inle Lake. Seat reservations are made for all buses. Ask to see the bus ahead of time to choose the seat you’d like. 

Restricted Roads 

Foreigners are permitted to buy bus tickets of any class, using kyat, to any destination within or near the main Yangon–Bagan–Mandalay–Taunggyi quadrangle. We also found that buses were easily boarded in most other places in the country, except for a couple of tricky areas – like travel towards the Thai border, or – of all things – the Mandalay–Monywa trip. 

  • Car 

Visitors not wanting to take planes, or endure overnight-bus bumps, frequently hire a car and driver for the bulk or entirety of a trip. It’s a good way to go, though not always cheap. To drive one yourself is difficult to arrange, but permission must be arranged via the government-run MTT and Road Transport Administration Department (RTAD; 01-252-035), and you must be accompanied by a local at all times. (Some expats bypass this with registration from the RTAD.) 

  • Tourist Cars 

These are reasonably new, air-conditioned cars run by a company that provides back-up or repairs in the event they break down. These are the most comfortable – and that air-con is handy when it’s dusty and hot out – but the most expensive, running to about $80 to $100 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. 

  • Airport Taxis 

A mid range option are the so-called ‘airport taxis’ – often yellow taxis that will be offering you their service for your trip before you leave the Yangon airport. These are older, may or may not have working air-con, and run to about $50 to $60 per day. 

  • Private Cars

,’ run by entrepreneur drivers. These go with windows down (i.e. no air-con), vary in condition and price dramatically – the cheapest option is a ‘private car’ run by entrepreneur drivers; and there’s less of a chance that you’ll have any sort of replacement in case the engine goes out midway between Bago and Taungoo. They can be found for as little as $40 or $50 per day. Some travelers tell us of great experiences at this level, others had problems. 

  • Motorcycle 

It’s occasionally possible to rent a motorbike, though few locals advertise this. In Mandalay, for example, it’s about $10 per day to rent a motorbike, while one in Myitkyina goes for about $17. Unlike cyclists, you’re required to wear a helmet in most towns. 

  • Hitching 

Hitching is never entirely safe in any country in the world, and we don’t recommend it. Travelers who decide to hitch should understand that they are taking a small but potentially serious risk. People who do choose to hitch will be safer if they travel in pairs and let someone know where they are planning to go. 

  • Pick-Up Trucks 

Japanese-made pick-up trucks feature three rows of bench seats in the covered back. Most pick-ups connect short-distance destinations, making many stops along the way to pick up people or cargo. They are often packed (yet somehow never ‘full’ according to the driver). Pick-ups trace some useful or necessary routes, such as from Mandalay to Amarapura, from Myingyan to Meiktila, from Bagan to Mt Popa, and up to the Golden Rock at Kyaiktiyo. Unlike buses, they go regularly during the day. 

Fares are not necessarily cheaper than those charged for local bus trips of the same length, and prices often go up more after dark. You can, however, pay 25% to 50% extra for a seat up the front. It’s often worth the extra expense, if you don’t want to do scrunch duty. Sometimes you may share your spot with a monk riding for free; usually you get exactly what you pay for (‘the whole front’), unlike in some other parts of Southeast Asia.

 Pick-ups often start from the bus station (in some towns they linger under a big banyan tree in the centre) and then, unlike many buses, make rounds through the central streets to snare more passengers.