Getting Around Myanmar: Travel From A to B Ain't Easy

Because of recent events in Myanmar, we at World Nomads have had a long hard think about whether we should even continue publishing articles about the country. In the end we decided we should. Our reasoning is explained in this piece about ethical travel: "Controversial Destinations: To Boycott or Not?" Please read it.

Don’t underestimate long distances and language barriers in Myanmar – here's how to find the best transport options to suit you and your budget.

The local people are always very friendly and will be keen to help out, but the distances can be massive – and if you’re traveling on a budget, you might be limited to local transport and hitchhiking.

Long Distance Transport

VIP buses are probably the most comfortable mode of long-distance transport you’ll find while traveling through Myanmar. They are air-conditioned, have reclining seats, a place to charge your phone, and the ticket includes a pillow, blanket, snack, and water bottle.

If you can, I strongly recommend paying the extra couple of bucks (as it normally is just two or three dollars difference), and traveling by long-distance VIP bus as opposed to the local buses.

I tried to save a couple of bucks traveling from Mrauk U to Bagan, and it backfired big time. I was stuck on a bus with no reclining seat, air conditioning, or legroom, traveling along a bumpy dirt road through the Arakan Mountains for 11 hours!

It was 40℃ (100℉) outside and the windows were open, filling the bus with dusty air and blinding my eyes. I was breathing in dirt and sweating something fierce, as they crowded more and more people onto the already full bus.

A long distance bus is uncomfortable enough; there’s no need to torture yourself like this just to save a couple of kyat.

One legged fisherman on Inle Lake. Photo credit: Will Hatton, thebrokebackpacker.com

Train Transport in Myanmar

Trains are a great way to get around. As a bonus, they often go through so many rural areas and the ride itself can be super scenic – just try to get a window seat.

Don’t expect the train to be on time, though. I caught one that departed 15 minutes early and somehow arrived half an hour late…

The train from Pyin Oo Lwin to Hsipaw has incredible scenery as you gain altitude and cross the highest bridge in Myanmar, Gotheik Viaduct. The view will quite literally make you drop your jaw, as you look over the incredible canyon below and rural landscape.

All personal space goes out the window in lower class, where you share a hard, wooden bench with a bunch of locals and end up nursing your neighbors' sleeping baby – it’s quite an experience.

Upper class is far more comfortable. It features reclining seats for only a couple of dollars more for the ticket. You don’t get the same local experience you would in lower, but it’s definitely the better option for really long journeys.

Bus Transport in Myanmar

Public buses are great for exploring cities like Yangon, and are dirt-cheap. If you’re smart, it’s easy to travel Myanmar on a tight budget.

I took a 50-minute public bus from the Aung Mingalar bus station to downtown Yangon for only 200 kyat. If you can figure out the public transport system, it’ll save your transport budget big time!

Taxis in Myanmar

Taxis are reasonably cheap in Myanmar, however travelers are often scammed, especially in tourist hot-spots like Bagan. To avoid being a victim, always ask the driver to use the meter or agree on a price before taking a seat.

Scooters/Motorbikes in Myanmar

The best way to explore the south of Myanmar is by motorbike. Rent a bike in Dawei to explore untouched beaches like Po Po Kyauk. You’ll drive through remote villages, as kids come running to the road waving screaming "mingalabah" (hello).

In Bagan, you’d want to rent an e-bike to explore the thousands of temples in this archaeological area. You’re supposed to bring the bikes back at night, but if you ask around and say you’re into your astrophotography, you can usually get somebody to agree to a 24-hour rate, leaving you free to head out into the wild on a camping adventure with your bike!

Other modes of transport, like boats, are only available in peak season. However, most short-distance ferries are available year-round.

The slow boat from Mandalay to Bagan is well worth catching, and is probably the most interesting way to do the journey.

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