With the rise of tourism in Myanmar, they are also slowly improving infrastructure and public transportation. One of the questions that we always get from the readers of our Myanmar sections is…
“How do you get around Myanmar?”
Are there buses? Are there trains? Do people really travel by horse carriages?”
Long story short, Transportation in Myanmar is getting better and better. Bus routes are improving, overnight buses are becoming safer, and thankfully the roads are also slowly getting better. In this article, we’re going to break down the various modes of transportation for travelers, which ones to avoid or at least be cautious with.
Transportation in Myanmar
While in the main cities, one of the best ways to get around is by renting a bicycle. You can find bicycle rentals in almost all guesthouses or activity booking agencies. It’s a great way to get around and is good exercise too! In Bagan in particular, biking from one pagoda to the next is an awesome experience. If biking sounds too tiring for you (which it can be in the intense heat) you can also opt to rent an e-bike which is like a slow version of a scooter. Take note that the price of e-bikes are almost similar to motorcycles. Nevertheless, they are heaps of fun and is a great way to get around Myanmar.
Myanmar can get pretty hot so whatever you do, make sure you pack lots of water and sunscreen with you during your biking adventure. We love cycling around as you can also always see the locals doing the same and whenever you do, they all let out a big smile!
Cost: 2,000 Ks – 3,000Ks per day ($1.50-$2.50)
If you’ve read some of our articles about traveling Southeast Asia, you would know that we LOVE exploring a place using motorcycles. My partner Tom spent 1 month riding a motorcycle across Vietnam and have pretty much rented one in almost every country that we go to. Myanmar is no exception as you can easily hire one and use it to drive to hidden waterfalls, far-flung pagodas, and what not.
A few tips when renting motorcycles: Try to leave just a copy of your passport, take photos of your bike to make note of existing damages and to always take it on a test run to make sure the brakes and everything else works. Also, whenever you are renting a motorcycle, do yourself a favor and make sure you have travel insurance!
P.S. Word of caution, most if not all travel insurance providers only cover you for motorbike accidents if you have a valid motorbike license at home.
Cost: 6,000 KS- 12,000 KS ($5-8) per day
Another option to get around Myanmar is by renting a car. Although this isn’t so common, people still do it! This particular option is great for families traveling as you can’t really rent a motorbike that can fit all of you. We’ve seen a few families with children do this so it’s definitely an option. For the best prices, we recommend checking out Flyma Car Rental. You can book the vehicle online ahead of time and is available in different locations all over Myanmar.
While most people also recommend trying out a horse carriage to take you around the temples of Bagan, we strongly recommend against it. The horses look so tired and underfed that supporting this industry is just something we would rather avoid.
If you’re traveling short distances, you may want to hop on the shared pickup trucks that travel from one town to the next. Similar to the red trucks (songthaews) in Thailand, these trucks operate like minibusses and pick up passengers on the road. They usually operate in small towns and cities and make their way around certain areas. There is usually a fixed price for each one so when you hop on, just observe how much the locals are paying to avoid getting ripped off. Sometimes, before a shared pick up leaves a destination, they wait until the vehicle is filled up with passengers.
Cost: 400ks-700 ks (short distances) $0.30-$0.50| 1500-2000 ks (long distances) $1-2
By far, traveling by bus is the easiest and most cost-effective way to get around Myanmar (especially when traveling long distances. When catching local city buses, it’s probably best to ask your guesthouse to write your destination in the local dialect. These buses usually quickly stop, yell out something in Burmese, then drive off if no one comes. We encountered something similar in Sri Lanka so since then, we always ask help from the hostel or guesthouse, asking them to write down your destination of the bus number.
If you want more tips and advice, check out our complete Myanmar Travel section which is full of the best things to do in Myanmar as well as resources on where to stay in Myanmar.
Long Distance Buses
A/C Buses- To get from one destination to the next, people often book the A/C buses which double as night buses. Five years ago, the buses were all pretty tired looking but they have recently upgraded to fairly modern looking ones. As in most parts of Asia, they usually have a TV in front blaring out loud local music or karaoke. The AC is also usually cranked up so bringing warm clothes is a good tip to have. Oh, while you’re at it, I also recommend bringing snacks! Like lots of it! Although most of these buses usually have toilet breaks and food stops, I still recommend you stock up on a few items.
In my opinion, this is by far the best value for money when trying to get around Myanmar. As budget travelers, the usual instinct is to go with the cheapest option possible. Trust me on this. Spend the extra $5 or so and upgrade yourself to the VIP bus. The seats are so much more comfortable and upon seating, they also hand you some water, a snack, and a blanket to keep you warm. They also have limited stops along the way so you’re most likely to get a good nights sleep.
If you want to check prices and book ahead of time, you can check 12go website which allows you to book bus tickets ahead of time. We use this company when traveling all over Asia and don’t have any complaints. Although we rarely book in advance, when traveling during peak season, we highly recommend that you do.
Cost: AC bus 12,000 ks-15,000 ks ($8-$10)
VIP bus 16,000-25,000 ks ($10-18)
Generally speaking the trains in Myanmar aren’t as enjoyable compared to those in Europe or even Sri Lanka. Speaking from experience, we wouldn’t recommend the long overnight journeys to anyone. Instead, if you really want the whole local experience, try boarding the circular train in Yangon. This train journey is one of our top recommendations on things to do in Yangon and is a great way to see and local life around you.
Boats and Planes
Last but not least, you have two more options which are boats and planes. We never took any of these (apart from the short scenic tours in Inle Lake) so we don’t have much to say about them. Generally speaking though, if you’re short on time, book flights to go from one destination to the next to avoid long overnight journeys.
Top Tips for Getting Around Myanmar
- Always lock your bag! A general rule in every place we go to is to always keep your bag locked. We usually place our big bag in whatever storage compartment the bus has then keep our valuables with us at all times.
- Bring warm clothes! As mentioned, busses in South East Asia are notorious for being super cold. Always carry layers of clothing with you to help keep you warm. Alternatively, if you’re out of luck and the bus you’re in has a broken air-conditioning, make sure you’re ready to peel those layers away!
- Bring anti-nausea tablets. They are cheap and readily available anywhere! Even if you never get dizzy, you never know with these bus rides. My partner Tom had to endure a 7-hour bus ride in Myanmar with a lady vomiting her guts out the entire way
- Take the time to research bus lines and check their safety records! While most of the buses have already been upgraded, it is still better to check ahead of time.
That’s it from me! Hopefully, this article has helped you figure out the best ways to travel around Myanmar and how to figure out their transportation system.