Bikes on a bridge, Mandalay

Tips for Travelling in Burma: How to Get Around

Since Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) recommended that the tourism boycott of Burma be lifted in 2010, the number of people travelling to the country has steadily increased. However, the NLD urges tourists to boycott package tours and cruises as they benefit the ruling government rather than the local Burmese people; with that in mind, here are some tips on how to get around Burma independently.

Childhood home of Aung San Suu Kyi

Childhood home of Aung San Suu Kyi

General Tips for Travelling in Burma

Since tourism is still in its infancy in Burma, there isn’t as much of an established transport network and in some places there’s a lack of hotels and guesthouses. The easiest and quickest way to get around Burma is to fly but this can be an expensive option. We used cheap local coaches for long distance journeys which were usually packed with locals as well as foreigners. Here are some general tips for getting around Burma:

  • You can book flights between the main four locations; Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan and Lake Inle, but these are expensive.
  • As well as visiting the big four, if you have time, get out to the more rural areas for a more rewarding experience.
  • Check out what services the hotels offer, for example Motherland Inn 2 hotel in Yangon offered free airport pick-up and shuttle.
  • The trains in Burma are slooowww, expensive and painful, and owned by the ruling military junta so we felt they were best avoided.
  • As they’re privately owned, buses are generally quicker, cheaper and more comfortable than trains.
  • You will get a toilet and sink on a train.
  • You will probably not even get a toilet on the bus but you will get a stop at service stations and (if travelling overnight) a nice toothbrush and wet towel along with a snack and drink will be provided.
  • The usual air-con-blasting on buses is a problem.
  • In Yangon the main bus station is about an hour out of town and it costs about £6 to get there in a taxi.
  • Different classes of seats at varying prices are available.
  • We booked all of our transport through whichever hotel we were staying at; transport was generally cheaper than in neighbouring Thailand.

Here’s what we paid, per person, for the following journeys around Burma in February and March 2014. Please note that this isn’t an exhaustive list of journey options.

Getting into and out of Burma

How to get from Bangkok to Yangon and back again

  • Method of transport: Plane
  • How long? About one hour
  • How much? About £40 (return ticket with no checked luggage with AirAsia)
  • When? Bangkok to Yangon at 20.15, Yangon to Bangkok at 21.30
  • Where from/to? From Don Mueang International airport, Bangkok to Yangon International Airport
    • We’ve taken this journey once each way; we took a taxi to the airport in Bangkok from Khao San Road a few hours before our flight, we arrived and our hotel pick-up was waiting for us at Yangon Airport. When we returned we got the free shuttle from our hotel and waited a few hours at the airport before flying back to Thailand.

Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, at night

Getting Around Burma

How to get from Yangon to Mandalay

  • Method of transport: Shwe Mandalar bus, which has large, reclining sleeper seats
  • How long? About nine hours
  • How much? About £11
  • When? 21.00
  • Where from/to? From Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Station in Yangon to Mandalay Railway Station
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left our hotel at about 18.30 by taxi (£6) and waited about an hour and a half at the bus station before catching our 21.00 super bus which arrived at 06.00 the next morning. We paid £11 each for the bus which had great big seats, our own private TV’s, blankets and pillows, and we also got a snack and drink.
  • Method of transport: Train
  • How long? About 14 to 15 hours
  • How much? Between £6.60 and £20
  • When? 06.00, 15.00 and 17.00
  • Where from/to? From Yangon Railway Station to Mandalay Railway Station
    • We haven’t taken this journey. The seats range from Ordinary class seats to Upper Class Sleeping Car.

Bikes on a bridge, Mandalay

How to get from Mandalay to Bagan

  • Method of transport: Bus (standard coach)
  • How long? About six hours
  • How much? About £6.70
  • When? 08.30?
  • Where from/to? We were picked up from hotel in Mandalay and dropped off right outside our guesthouse in Bagan.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we left our guesthouse at about 07.30 and were taken to the bus station and put on the 08.30 bus. We arrived right outside our guesthouse at about 14.30 having stopped twice; once for lunch and once to pay the $15 Bagan Zone Entry Fee. We paid £6.70 each for the bus.

How to get from Bagan to Kalaw

  • Method of transport: Bus (standard coach)
  • How long? About seven to eight hours
  • How much? About £6.70
  • When? 08.00
  • Where from/to? From outside our guesthouse to Kalaw’s main street.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we booked through our hotel a couple of days in advance. The bus picked us up from our guesthouse at 08.00 and we were dropped off at about 16.00 in Kalaw where there are numerous hotels to check into. We paid £6.70 each.

Bagan Hot air balloon rides

How to get from Kalaw to Lake Inle (Nyaungshwe)

The place most tourists stay when visiting Lake Inle is called Nyaungshwe, about 10 kilometres away is Shwenyaung where the local bus and train stops. If you took a taxi/private car you can go all the way the Nyaungshwe whereas if you take the local bus or train you then have to arrange transport from Shwenyaung to Nyaungshwe which can cost another £4 to £6.

  • Method of transport: Taxi/private car
  • How long? About one and a half hours
  • How much? About £12
  • When? Whenever you like
  • Where from/to? Wherever you like, for example from one guesthouse in Kalaw to the other in Nyaungshwe.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; each local bus that passed us was too full so we took the offer of a private car from a local waiting at the bus stop. We left at about 12.00 and arrived an hour later at our hotel in Nyaungshwe having paid £12 in total.

    Local working on Lake Inle

  • Method of transport: Bus (local)
  • How long? About two to three hours
  • How much? About £2
  • When? Regularly throughout the day (every 20 to 30 minutes)
  • Where from/to? From Kalaw’s main street to Shwenyaung.
    • We haven’t taken this journey; While waiting at the bus stop we saw one packed bus pass. When the second equally packed bus stopped the only ‘seats’ available were on the roof with the luggage. We declined the offer and opted for a private car leaving another two crazy western tourists to ride atop the little tin box on wheels.
  • Method of transport: Train
  • How long? About three hours
  • How much? £0.60 or £1.80 (hard or soft seats)
  • When? 11.35, 13.15
  • Where from/to? From Kalaw Train Station to Shwenyaung Train Station.
    • We haven’t taken this journey but we did try to. We arrived at the train station at 10.30 and were told to wait until 11.00 to buy tickets. I sat in the ticket office for about 45 minutes waiting to buy tickets and in this time got nowhere. Eventually we found out that the train was delayed and could possibly be cancelled. The staff could not sell us tickets until they knew which seats were available; this was difficult since the ticketing is all done without a computer system, instead they call up the previous station for information. We eventually gave up and tried the bus which was another failure – see above.

Train timetable Kalaw to Shwenyaung

How to get from Lake Inle (Nyaungshwe) to Yangon

  • Method of transport: Bus (large, reclining seats)
  • How long? About 12 hours
  • How much? About £13.40
  • When? 19.00
  • Where from/to? From a tour company office in central Nyaungshwe to Aung Mingalar Highway Bus Station, Yangon.
    • We’ve taken this journey once; we booked through our hotel for £13.40 each. We were picked up from our hotel at 18.30, the bus left at 19.00 and arrived at the bus station in Yangon at 06.00 the next morning. We then paid £6 to get to our hotel in Yangon where we got a free breakfast while we waited to check in.

If you want to know how to get around other South-East Asian countries, check out this page.

Do you have any tips for travelling in Burma? Any updates? Let us know in the comments below.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 20:53h, 17 July Reply

    Another great round-up, guys. Though we (sadly) won’t be heading to Burma any time soon (if only!), I’ll keep this post in mind for when we do. Why is it always the act of getting from one place to the next that always seems to be the most difficult? 🙂

    • Andrew
      Posted at 22:23h, 17 July Reply

      Thanks Steph, Hope you eventually get to Burma. 🙂

  • Katie
    Posted at 21:27h, 19 July Reply

    Great tips for navigating Burma! Sometimes, even though it’s worth it, the less touristy countries/areas are a little more difficult to get around. Air Asia always gets me with all of their fees – my backpack typically weighs 9kg, so sometimes I have to check it. I’m with you, I don’t know that I would’ve ridden on top of a bus in Burma – haha!

    • Andrew
      Posted at 11:13h, 20 July Reply

      It’s tricky with AirAsia, we’ve never been asked to weigh our carry on bags but we don’t want to get caught out, so just check it in sometimes. Some airlines include a standard check-in allowance though which is good. It was certainly worth travelling around Burma, it really opened our eyes. 😎

  • Alex Taylor
    Posted at 10:39h, 23 July Reply

    Great post,
    All who are planning to go Burma, don’t miss out to see Inle Lake, Believe me it’s gorgeous.

    • Amy
      Posted at 18:46h, 23 July Reply

      Lake Inle is great Alex, we loved it too 🙂

  • Jisean
    Posted at 21:24h, 02 April Reply

    Burma is really a great place for travel. But, before travel, their people need to know some information about how to go there and how to get back from there. I think this article will help them so because, in this article, Andrew shows all the possible way to go to Burma. Thanks, Andrew, for sharing this post.

    • Amy
      Posted at 11:28h, 03 April Reply

      Hi Jisean, thanks for reading and commenting. Yes, Burma was a great place to explore, it just requires a bit of planning.

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