Myanmar’s infrastructure is in disrepair. As a consequence of the political situation, most of the Western world imposed trade restrictions on Myanmar until recently, which may create difficulties for unwary visitors. Travel to some areas is banned; for others, special permissions must be acquired, and a guide / interpreter / guardian may be needed, even if these “guides” accompany him to take care of him or prevent him from visiting places that the government does not want him to see. It’s up for debate.
Much of Myanmar is off-limits to international visitors, and many land connections to outlying regions are likewise restricted (for example, to Mrauk U, Kalewa, Putao, Kengtung). As a result, although visitors may easily travel in the heart of the Burmese majority of Bamar, movement is sometimes limited or restricted elsewhere. In principle, any visitor may apply for a permit to enter any prohibited region or travel on any restricted terrestrial route. In reality, such authorization is unlikely to be granted in a fair amount of time, if at all. In certain instances, permit requests may be submitted locally (for example, requests for the land route to Kalewa can be done in Shwebo), but in other cases, the request must be made in Yangon. Applications for restricted region visits should be submitted to MTT (Myanmar Travel & Tours) in Yangon (Number 77-91, Sule Pagoda Rd, Yangon). Local permission applications are often accepted at a local MTT office or a police station. At the time of writing, local permits were only available for the following locations and routes:
- Kengtung – Tachilek. This used to be straightforward, but availability is now in doubt.
- Mrauk U Chin/ Zomi village tours. Mrauk U is easily accessible, however it must be visited with a guide. This may be arranged via your hotel or a local tour operator.
- Myitkyina – Indawgyi Lake. Easily accessible in Myitkyina, but must be accompanied by a guide. This may be arranged via your hotel or a local tour operator.
- Shwebo – Kalewa. If you’re traveling by car, you’ll need a permit. It is unclear if one is needed while traveling by boat.
All additional permissions are need to be acquired in Yangon.
Permits may be acquired for locations like Putao, but they must be requested in advance.
Myanmar is not North Korea, and you are free to move about, go shopping, and engage with people. However, since many of the most distant and inaccessible locations are prohibited to foreigners, it is best to plan ahead of time for your internal visa.
Companies that may assist with internal visas include:
Due to the terrible state of Myanmar’s roads and railroads, flying is by far the least unpleasant alternative for long-distance travel.
Myanma Airways, not to be confused with Myanmar Airways International (8M) “MAI,” is a state-owned airline with a terrible safety record. Locals, too, want to avoid it if feasible.
In addition, three privately owned airlines service Myanmar’s major national routes. Air Bagan (W9),Air Mandalay (6T), and Yangon Airways are the carriers (YH). While more costly, they are a safer alternative that will transport you to all of the major tourist sites from Yangon or Mandalay.
Private aircraft often arrive on time and even depart early (10-20 minutes), so plan accordingly and verify your trip and flight time 1-2 days before travel. The itinerary may be changed a few days before departure (which means that it will still fly to its final destination at the scheduled time, but with an aggregate or eliminated between stops, for example, Yangon-Bagan becomes Yangon- Mandalay-Bagan). This typically just has an impact on your arrival time. Route pauses are only 10-20 minutes long, and if it is not your ultimate destination, you may stay inside the aircraft throughout the stop.
Important for Yangon: Yangon International Airport’s former terminal building handles all domestic flights. This structure is about 200 meters farther down the road than the main (new) building of Yangon International Airport. If you take a cab from downtown to the airport, tell the driver you’re flying domestic so you don’t wind up in the incorrect terminal.
Myanmar has a large and historic railway network. The trains are sluggish and loud, they swing to the left and right, they run on time but are often delayed. Electric blackouts are becoming more uncommon, but it is never expected that air conditioners, fans, or the electrical supply will be operational during the trip. The majority of trains feature both high and low class seating. The common class features wide-open windows, seats, and may be crammed with people transporting their wares. The higher classes have cushioned seats, fans, and are less congested. If you put your head out the window, you will almost certainly get struck by a branch. The vegetation grows so near to the rails that broken leaves are often seen in the seats. Tickets are inexpensive, and visitors pay the same as residents. However, bear in mind that visitors are still unable to purchase railway tickets. To purchase a ticket at a smaller station, you may need to locate the station management or hire an interpreter. When purchasing, you must provide your passport.
A rail journey is a great opportunity to explore the nation and meet new people. The train trip from Mandalay to Pyin U Lwin, then through the highlands and to the renowned bridge in Gokteik, considered one of the finest in the world. Lower Mandalay’s railroads, Yangon-Pathein and Yangon-Mawlymaing, are tiny towns with street merchants offering everything conceivable. Sleepers are available on many express trains throughout the night, but you should reserve a few days in advance during peak season. Tickets go on sale three days ahead of time. Some stations include a separate kiosk or sometimes a separate structure for prior bookings (for example, in Yangon). Food is provided on the express between Yangon and Mandalay in both ways.
Except for the new bridge and the railway line connecting Mawlamyine to locations on the west bank of the Salween River, the rail network remains precisely as it was during the British occupation. The 325 km route between Yangon to Mandalay is the busiest, with numerous trains each day. It is Myanmar’s only double line, as well as the only one that can compete in terms of time with buses. Keep in mind that the quickest trains cover the 385 km in 15 hours, at an effective speed of 25 km/h. A second line links Yangon to Pyay, a 175-kilometer journey that takes 9 hours, including a branch that leads to the Pathein delta region’s metropolis. These rails, which are the oldest, are in disrepair. With the completion of the Salween Bridge, it is now feasible to travel by rail from Yangon to Mawlamyine, a 200-kilometer trip that takes 8 hours, and up to Ye and Dawei. Trains go from Mandalay to Myitkyina in Kachin state, covering 350 kilometers in 24 hours, and then to Lashio. There are also train links between Yangon and Bagan, but the bus or boat are preferable options: the 175-kilometer journey from Mandalay to Bagan takes 10 hours.
Rail service exists between Yangon and Bagan. First class is USD30, upper class is USD40, and sleeper is USD50 for 16 hours. (Consider new pricing)
The table below outlines the travel time and costs between some of Myanmar’s most popular destinations. It should be noted that railway tickets may no longer be purchased in USD.
A vast network of river ferries is also available. Both are mainly controlled by the government, but some commercial boat services are now available. The journey from Mandalay to Bagan takes the better part of a day, whereas the journey from Bagan to Yangon takes several days.
Myanmar’s highways are clogged with buses of all sorts. Luxury buses (relatively speaking) connect Mandalay and Yangon, while lesser vehicles may transport tourists to other destinations. The bus prices are cheap and in kyat, and it is quicker than the railways. Because many long-distance buses allocate seats, it is advisable to make reservations at least a day in advance. Because the roads are poor, avoid sitting at the rear of the bus and sit as far forward as possible. Long-distance buses also feature a supplemental seat that blocks the aisle and may be unpleasant since it is not firmly connected to the chassis (which also means there is no side seat where taller passengers can extend their legs). The best choice is always a window towards the front of the vehicle.
Even budget visitors will find themselves purchasing more tickets via their hotel or an agency rather than going straight to the bus operator. Their offices are often situated far from any tourist attractions, and the expense of traveling back and forth is likely to be higher than the profit their hotel will get for selling the ticket. Compare costs before purchasing your ticket, since some companies offer a complimentary pick-up service from your hotel.
A bus ticket fraud seems to be prevalent in Yangon right now. While many people stop at Bago, they are informed in their guest home or at the bus terminal that they cannot purchase tickets to Mandalay from there. Some individuals fall in love with this in a nation where everything is available in terms of transportation. This is not the case, and it is not required to return to Yangon and purchase a bus ticket to the north. Bago features a bus station and a number of bus offices. Purchasing your ticket in Bago may be less expensive (depending on your negotiating abilities) and provide you with more flexibility for the remainder of your trip.
The chart below details travel times and estimated costs between key tourist sites in Myanmar (Note: most bus fares have gone up with recent increases in fuel prices, the rates shown are rough estimates).
The ancient vehicles may be seen all throughout Myanmar, carrying men, women, children, and monks from one location to another for a low cost. The rear of the truck is transformed into a canvas-covered living room with three seats, one on each side and one along the middle of the truck (some smaller vehicles only have two rows), and the running board is lowered and fastened in place, allowing six or more people to stop (holding onto the frame of the truck). The collections are common in Myanmar, and each city has a central location from which they leave to destinations close and distant. Tourists that deviate from the well-trodden path will find them essential, since the only option is a costly cab or a private vehicle.
To visit alone, you may rent a private vehicle and driver at a reasonable fee. Authorized guides at Yangon’s Schwedagon Paya may arrange for a driver with a vehicle to meet you at your accommodation. Another option is to book a vehicle via a travel agency, which may be very costly. Driving around the city for 10 or 15 minutes may be used to “test” the driver and the vehicle. If you are pleased, you may negotiate a departure date and time, as well as daily costs (including gasoline). Some guides are willing to accompany you as interpreters.
Myanmar traffic goes to the right, although the country has a mix of left-hand and right-hand drive automobiles, and the majority of vehicles are driven to the right as a consequence of second-hand imports from Japan or Thailand.
Traveling by car to tourist sites is usually safe, but certain routes may be challenging. Highways are often two-lane, and vehicles are frequently driven carelessly. Having said that, Vietnam’s driving behaviors are not as aggressive as they claim. In excellent weather, allow two days to travel from Yangon to Bagan. Pyay is an excellent starting place. Allow for a full day to go from Bagan to Inle Lake.
It is prohibited in cities to pass through an amber light without stopping. Despite having traveled 3/4 of the distance, you will be required to come to a complete halt in the middle of the road and turn inside out.
Accidents and fatalities are all too frequent. It is not advisable to go on the road at night, and medical services are scarce in rural regions. Bribes may be demanded for services at government hospitals. Make sure the needles are brand new, or bring your own. In Myanmar, HIV is a significant issue.
Any taxis (and, by extension, all cars used for people and goods transportation) have red / white license plates, while private automobiles have black / white. Tourism agencies’ vehicles have a blue / white license plate.
Riding a motorbike is prohibited in Yangon. Mandalay’s streets, on the other hand, are teeming with both.
Many locations provide bike rentals for about MMK 1500 per day, allowing you to go at your own pace: Bagan, Mandalay, and Inle Lake are all popular tourist destinations.
Cars and pedestrians may not adhere to established norms, making crossing the street problematic. Even at striped pedestrian crossings, drivers virtually never yield to pedestrians.