LOTS OF VARIETY
Myanmar (Burma) is a “Hot” travel destination for 2016. If you are planning to visit Myanmar – be prepared to explore and use a variety of modes of transportation. Here are some of the transportation options and possibilities you will encounter.
Air travel between major cities in Myanmar is quick, comfortable and efficient. Flying saves time but you miss the opportunity to experience the the wonderful countryside. Nonetheless, many Myanmar travelers, pressed for time and looking for comfort, elect to fly between their destination cities even though it is usually the most expensive travel option. Major cities have large airports and are served by multiple airlines with modern jet aircraft. Fliers to smaller rural cities will find the airports to be comparably smaller and the number of flights may be few and far between. Best to check the schedules in advance. (Fly Myanmar Flight Booking & Scheduling) Aircraft flying into more remote locations will also likely be smaller, commuter style turbo props.
Train travel in Myanmar gets a very mixed review. For the most part, the trains and railroad infrastructure in Myanmar date back to the times of the British Empire. If you are a train lover then you will likely enjoy the adventure. Beyond the adventure aspect however, it seems trains are known for being slow, behind schedule, and a very rough riding means of transportation. More major routes are reported to have better equipment providing a more comfortable ride. Still, most travelers seem to avoid the trains unless, again they are true train affectionados and are looking for the rough and tumble throw back experience they offer.
If you would like a small taste of train travel in Myanmar, but are reluctant to head off on a 13 hour intercity adventure, you might try the Yangon Circular Train. This local train travels a 28 mile circuit around the city of Yangon, connecting it with smaller outlying suburbs and villages. Multiple trains make 20 runs thoughout the day, You can climb aboard at the Main Yangon Railroad Station or any of the other 38 stops the train makes during it’s circuit. The complete route takes about three hours and offers an opportunity to see a variety locations in the area. Hop off and visit a market then re-board a later train to return to the city. It’s a cheap but enjoyable outing, costing less than $1.00 (actually more on the order 20 to 30 cents if you select a car without air-conditioning. ) And after you are done you can say you traveled by train in Myanmar!
The Myanmar highway system is still in it’s infancy. There are a few major inter-state type highways connecting large cities such as Mandalay and Yangon. Beyond these, most roads are small, two lane affairs which narrow down to even smaller roadways as they become more rural. In spite of the road situation, bus travel remains a primary mode of transportation in Myanmar for both the Burmese as well as the traveler. Within the limits of the road system, buses are omnipresent, efficient, and economical. You can literally get anywhere on a bus it seems, and you can do so very cheaply – if you are willing to spend the time getting there. For more on Myanmar bus travel see my previous article Myanmar Bus Travel Tips.
A taxi can be a good option for travel in Myanmar. Within cities they are cheap and convenient. Taxis do not use any type of rate meter. Negotiate the price of the trip before departing. I never spent more than 8,000 Kyat (less than $8.00) for a taxi fare – and that was from my hotel in Yangon to the International Airport.
You can also hire a taxi for half a day or a full day. This a great way to explore a location where you want to make multiple stops such as visiting temples and pagodas in Bagan or different locations along the Irrawaddy River in Mandalay. Y0u can also share a taxi for a day trip such as from Bagan to Mt. Pops. Again, negotiate the price price to departure. With this type of travel you set the pace. Stop when and where you want – to eat or take a photo for example. Your taxi is waiting for you when you have completed your stop or visit. Very convenient and again, not expensive.
Motor Scooter –
Scooters are everywhere in Myanmar. In some places you can rent an e-scooter (electric) and drive yourself around (seems to currently be limited to the area of Bagan). In other areas you can hire a scooter and driver for a brief trip or for a half or full day. As always, negotiate the price prior to boarding. The cost is low and the adventure is high. Myanmar has very few traffic signals and scooters zip around in a manner which you might doubt is possible. Put on your helmet and hang on. Great fun.
Horse Cart –
Sometimes it’s nice to slow down and enjoy the journey. Horse carts are a nice and liesurely paced way to visit locations in various parts of Myanmar. Bagan is a a city with literally thousands of temples and pagodas. A casual horse cart ride allows you to visit various locations at your own pace and enjoy the journey. Cost is really low but again, negotiate the price prior to setting off.
River Boat –
The Irrawaddy River follows a north to south course though Myanmar. A river cruise is always a nice diversion during travel, allowing an opportunity to slow down and watch the countryside slide past as you take in the view, sip a cool drink, or perhaps catch a brief nap. River boat travel between Mandalay and Bagan is a popular option. The trip departs early in the morning and arrives near sunset. Current prices range between $41 and $33 depending on direction of travel and include a small lunch.
Long Boat –
Travel to Inle Lake region will almost of necessity involve some boat travel. The lake is huge and is surrounded by all sorts of interesting sites, villages, markets and such. The best way to travel is to hire one of the distinctive long boats for a day and wander. As always, negotiation of fees is standard operating procedure. You will get a chance to see and photograph the fishermen, the temples and pagodas up close and personal and stop for a nice lunch as well. You can also hire a long boat to travel the entire length of the lake area rom Nyaung Shwe to Pekon. This route will take you south where you can visit Loikaw and the various hill tribes of the region. The boat trip takes about 5 hours. It’s a trip best taken when it is not raining! Trust me on this.
Tuk Tuk –
Most locations in Asia seem to have some version of a “tuk tuk” – a three wheeled vehicle powered by a motorcycle at the front with a seating area of some type attached to the rear. Think of them as a quick and efficient open air option to a taxi. You can “tuk tsk” from point to point or hire one for the day and wander. Once again – price is negotiated prior to departure.
Ox Cart –
Much of Myanmar is rural, and farming and transportation can be rather basic. Animals are used in many ways including Oxen which are used for farming as well as transportation. While in a village near Loikaw Myanmar we met a farmer who had just returned from a three day ox cart journey into the hills to retrieve large teak logs for his workshop. In the same village we actually did take an ox cart ride but it was totally a tourist type of thing. Locals seemed to get quite a kick out of seeing a couple of westerners bumping and bouncing along the very uneven dirt tracks of their village. A short ride is sufficient – again, trust me on this.
As a traveler to Myanmar you will get a chance to do a lot of walking. Many go to Myanmar for trekking experiences in hills and low mountain areas. Walking is also often the best way to explore large cities such as Yangon or Mandalay, or smaller cities like Kalaw or Nyaung Shwe, Wandering through the streets and pathways of the country is full of surprises, best encountered on foot. You will miss much that the country has to offer if you simply do a “drive by.” When you walk you see more and have a chance to really get a feel for the country and the people. Stop in to visit a shop or farm. Everyone seems to try to make you feel welcome. You would never see so much if you don’t get out and walk.
Bare Foot –
No description of transportation in Myanmar is complete without mentioning the “barefoot experience.” If you plan to visit Myanmar you might as well face up to the reality that you will do some serious barefoot walking. Why? Well, you see Myanmar is an 80% Buddhist country – predominately of the Theravada tradition. Everywhere you go in Myanmar you will encounter Buddhist temples, pagodas, stupas, and monasteries. They are beautiful and historical and one of the prime areas of focus for the traveler. In Myanmar, before you set foot onto sacred Buddhist ground, you will be required to remove your shoes and socks. I have traveled to other religious sites in many other countries. In other locations I have been allowed to visit by simply removing my shoes and walking in my socks. In other locations – the Taj Mahal for example – you can put a temporary shoe covering over your shoe. In Myanmar – that is not happening. Myanmar is a bare foot only country when it comes to visiting religious sites. Get used to it.
Travel Around Myanmar …….. And Enjoy The Journey!
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