Getting around in Myanmar is easier than you might expect. Erin and I tried all kinds of transportation, from taxis to trains, e-bikes to overnight buses. Here’s a little of what we learned.
TAXIS: Cabs in Myanmar are cheap, honest, and easy to find, at least in Yangon. Almost anywhere in the city, we could walk out to the street, hold out a hand, and within seconds have a ride to some distant destination. It was a little harder to find taxis in other parts of the country, but if we needed a lift, we could always go to our hotel desk and ask them to call one for us. Since every hotel seemed to have someone who spoke English, we rarely had trouble getting around.
Things to know: cabs don’t use meters in Myanmar. The driver will negotiate a price with you before you get in. That being said, every driver we encountered was honest to a fault, and we never got the sense we were being scammed. In Yangon, the average fare was between 2,000 and 4,000 kyat (between $1.50 and about $3.00), depending on traffic and how far we were going. Rides out to the airport were between 8,000 kyat to 10,000 kyat. Prices were higher in Bagan, though they generally had to drive farther.
TRAINS: We only tried one train in Myanmar – the Yangon Circular Railway. We'd heard it was a lovely way to get a cross-section of city life. We got on at the Central Train Station in the heart of downtown.
Here's a map if you want to find it yourself.
The whole ride was three hours and it didn’t disappoint. The central loop is the local equivalent of the metro, widely used by Yangon citizens. It went all over the city, stopping near major markets, intersections, and tourist destinations. And it felt like half the population used it that afternoon.
With some careful planning, and a little walking, we could have used the central train to get almost anywhere. It was a lot of fun, and I cannot recommend it enough. The ride cost us 1,000 kyat each, or just under a dollar. The fare is much, much cheaper for locals, but they generally aren't riding all the way around.
One note of caution. The train doesn't have much in the way of comfort. It will leave you feeling like a bean rattled around a very large tin can. Still worth it, though.
E-BIKES: We found these in Bagan and just loved the convenience. A cross between a bicycle and an electric scooter, an e-bike wasn’t fast, but it had enough charge to carry us anywhere we needed to go. They were 5,000 kyat per person per 24 hour period. We used them to get out to the more remote temples and pagodas of the Bagan area.
They weren’t perfect, mind you. The battery on mine ran out halfway through the day and I was left with a heavy chunk of metal and plastic on tiny wheels. But we were able to beg a phone call at a local service station, and the rental office sent someone out to replace the dead battery within about half an hour.
Where to get one: we asked at our hotel. The front desk was able to rent us a pair for the day. Alternatively, we could have gone to any of the rental offices along the main strip in Nyaung U, if we were interested in comparison shopping. We went with the easy option and just took the hotel bikes.
HORSE CARTS: Yes. Horse carts.
We found these in Bagan and Inle. We took one out to the temples on the day we didn't have our e-bikes. The fare was about 5,000 kyat. The ride was slow, but the driver was very fluent in English and had a wealth of local knowledge to share with us. Uncomfortable? Sure. But unique.
BUSES: We took a couple different kinds of buses in Myanmar. The most common were the local shuttles that ferried us from our hotel out to major sites, or to bus stations for an intercity lift. Those looked like this.
...though thankfully, ours weren't usually that crowded. However, we mostly rode the night buses.
Myanmar's night buses are famous, and justifiably so. For about 18,000 kyat (or $14.00), we got a luxurious double wide seat with a pillow, a bottle of water, and frequent pit stops to empty our bladders. And we needed them. The night bus from Yangon to Bagan left at 8pm and didn't arrive until 4:30 the next morning. The one from Bagan to Inle left at 7pm, and didn't get in until 7am.
If we'd wanted to upgrade to the extra luxury tickets (a whopping $17.00 each, which duh, of course we took) we got the equivalent of airline service... a bathroom on the bus and a stewardess to bring us meals, drinks, and blankets. Yes, an actual stewardess, with a starched uniform and everything.
However, the Myanmar bus system does have a few drawbacks. First, and most notably, they run the A/C at full blast. And it gets arctic cold... the temp on our bus bottomed out at 60 degrees fahrenheit. I know because they had a little readout at the front proudly displaying it. This may sound awesome after consistent 90 degree days, but remember that you're most likely wearing a t-shirt and a pair of shorts. I'm saying it got cold. And no, they won't turn the A/C down. They might even give you a funny look for asking.
Also, Myanmar buses always have TVs showing local programming until very, very late at night. The volume wasn't too bad when we rode, but between that and the cold, there was no way we were getting any sleep.
Thankfully, most of our hotels let us check in early, so we could pass out for the morning and spend the afternoon with a little light exploration.
Anyway, that was transportation in Myanmar. Next week, we start talking about Bagan.