Getting Around Myanmar


Getting Around Myanmar

Motorbikes

In many cities like Hpa An it is possible to rent a motorbike and embark on a do-it-yourself journey. This is usually fairly inexpensive and can enable you to go to sights at your own pace. It’s pretty dangerous because drivers in Myanmar don’t really seem to follow many road rules and the roads are somewhat poorly maintained in many rural areas.

Trains

The ride can be rough in some areas due to the rugged terrain, but the benefit of taking the train is that it can bring you to areas not yet accessible by road. The state-run railway serves most of Myanmar, with the principal line being Yangon to Mandalay (journey time - 16 hours). The two main classes are ordinary and upper (with reclining chairs), although some trains have first class (between the two) and oversubscribed sleeper carriages. Services are regularly afflicted with delays caused by climatic, technical and bureaucratic difficulties. In addition visitors should be aware that much railway equipment is decrepit and journeys are often uncomfortable.

Air

Air travel is an efficient and relatively cheap way to get around Myanmar, and is particularly appealing given that bus and train journeys between major tourist sites tend to be long and often uncomfortable. Myanmar National Airlines (www.flymna.com) covers all major domestic routes including some out-of-the-way places.

Private airlines include Air Mandalay (www.airmandalay.com), Yangon Airways (www.yangonair.com), Air KBZ (www.airkbz.com), Asian Wings Airways (www.asianwingsair.com), Golden Myanmar Airlines (www.gmairlines.com) and Air Bagan (www.airbagan.com). These cover all the main tourist destinations, including Heho (for Inle Lake) and Nyaung U (for Bagan).

The other three airlines, Air Bagan, Air Mandalay and Yangon Airways are of much better quality and provide generally safe, efficient means of getting around. They are not without their own safety concerns, however, particularly Air Bagan. In recent years there have been reports of engine trouble and aircrafts missing the runway. One such instance resulted in the death of 16 passengers. There have also been two crashes in recent years, one of which took the lives of 10 people. Of course, it could be said that any air travel comes with a certain degree of risk. As such, it's still a very popular means of transportation in Myanmar.

Flight times:
From Yangon: To Mandalay or Nyaung U (for Bagan) - 55 minutes; to Heho - 1 hour 10 minutes.

Buses

Buses are another option, however many of them run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). CNG is great for the environment, but can also be a safety hazard. In 2010, the gas cylinders on a bus traveling through Rangoon exploded – injuring several passengers. The buses are often overcrowded and can be somewhat uncomfortable to travel in.

With buses from Yangon to northern cities (Bagan, Kalaw, Mandalay) ranging from less than $10 USD to over $20.

The usual tourist hubs for bus routes are Yangon, Bago, and Mandalay, so if you’re going between two smaller cities such as Hpa An and Kalaw, you’ll probably have to take two buses to get there. The easiest way to book buses is through your hotel/guesthouse or a travel agent – they’ll usually charge you a small commission, but it’s worth it to have someone who can communicate with the bus company and ensure your seat assignment.

Boats

Myanmar has about 8,000km (5,000 miles) of navigable rivers, and one of the best ways to see the country is by boat. The most popular route is Mandalay-Bagan, as tourist boats run it regularly, but on other routes (such as Bhamo-Mandalay) visitors instead travel with locals. There are also a few upmarket river cruise boats on the Irrawaddy River.

For more romantic and scenic ways to travel in Myanmar, look no further than trains and boats. Invariably, if you take public transport options (as opposed to luxury boat cruises), these are both slow and unreliable; but they give you a leisurely, fascinating, and often beautiful view of the country, allowing you to mix with locals while travelling, in a way that is not possible otherwise.

Taxis and hire cars

Taxis are available but the majority of them are in disrepair presenting an inherent danger to passengers. Taxis come in a variety of different forms and are inexpensive and plentiful in most towns and cities. Hire cars (with driver) can be the most convenient way to get between certain destinations, although of course they come at a price.

Standard rates for taxis, trishaws and horse carts are sometimes 'boosted' for foreigners. Generally a ride from the bus station to a central hotel – often a distance of 1.25 miles or more – is between K1000 and K1500. Short rides around the city centre can be arranged for between K500 and K1000. You may need to bargain a bit.

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