Types of Transportation in Myanmar / Burma.
Many travelers want to know how to get around in Myanmar? For a female solo traveler without a guidebook or a hard-set plan (aka winging it… I winged it), getting around Myanmar didn’t feel difficult… at all. Using Burmese transportation always felt efficient and safe. Although I didn’t get to a chance to try the train or the long-distance boat, what I experienced was surprisingly good and occasionally, quirky. Okay, there were a few questionable moments when I was thinking… WTF?! But thankfully, they all ended very happily. I loved each experience!
Myanmar can be unique and pleasantly surprising for travelers interested in transportation experiences.
Guide to Transportation in Myanmar
There are many types of transportation in Myanmar.
Watch my video above and you’ll see that it ranges from simple to rickety, to down-right grand poobah of luxury buses! What also impresses me often about Southeast Asian countries are their complimentary hospitality. In western countries like the United States, everything is expensive and we do not even get free water!
Below is a breakdown of the 10 types of transportation (nine of them I took!) in Myanmar and how much I paid .
1. Public City Bus
Cost: Under $1. Catching a public bus in Yangon is challenging and yet easy. What makes it challenging and unlike any other country to date is the fact the signs are written in Burmese and there is no English translation. The Burmese number system is also in Burmese so you’ll see characters you’ve never seen before. This makes reading bus stop signs and bus numbers a challenge and you will need the help of your hotel to either translate the characters for you or give you directions. What is nice is that the Burmese, unlike other developing countries I’ve traveled (i.e. Thailand) has bus stop signs. While they can be very basic, there is at least a marking of some sort. It is quite an experience though and I highly recommend it for those who are interested in local culture and having a deeper experience.
Read my tips on How to Catch a Bus in Myanmar
2. Overnight Sleeper Bus
Cost: $10-15 included free bottled water, toothbrush and a rest stop break with restroom and dining facilities. There are regular long distance buses to VIP buses. This bus was a surprising step up from a Greyhound bus, with the exception it didn’t have a toilet in the back. I was in the very back of the bus, so I didn’t have a recliner chair, but it was still a pleasant ride.
This I booked my overnight bus from Yangon to Bagan with my guesthouse. These days, you can also book in advance online. The Yangon bus station is about a 20 minute drive from central Yangon and you’ll need to take a taxi.
3. Horse Carriage Taxi in Bagan
Cost: $7 from Bagan bus station to my guesthouse. A typical route to Bagan from Yangon is an overnight bus, which arrives into Bagan Bus Station at 3am. I was not aware I was arriving that early until it was too late, but as I had limited time in Myanmar, a day bus was not an option. Little did I know that there are little auto taxis at 3am. But there are horse carriage taxis! The horse carriage taxis are legitimate and cost less than auto taxis, albeit they take a bit longer like 30 minutes vs a auto taxi which might take around 15 minutes. There have been accounts of auto taxi scams so just be cautious and know your rates in advance! For someone like myself, I question things like animal exploitation, but it is a lovely ride as you’ll be seeing pagodas on the side of the road as the sun comes up.
At 3 am, Bagan Bus Station is pretty empty with the exception of male taxi drivers (most of them are horse carriage taxis). Locals get picked up fairly quickly by family and friends and the station isn’t lit very well. I didn’t research Myanmar in advance, so I didn’t know about horse carriage taxis. So when I negotiated a rate with my driver and he brought out his horse carriage, I felt like I was being scammed. It didn’t help when he picked up a male friend along the way, because as a female solo traveler, I try not to get into situations where I’m out-numbered in questionable situations. But all turned out better than expected and it’s a good story. Where else can you get a horse carriage ride for $7?
4. Shared taxi pickup
Apparently some bus companies offer shared taxi pickups from your guesthouse. It might be an additional fee but it felt all-inclusive of what I paid my guesthouse who booked it. At $10USD for the pickup and long distance bus, it was not expensive. Shared taxi pickups are similar in service to shuttle van pickups albeit, it is a pickup truck and you have to remove your shoes to respectfully sit on the mat, without sullying it. That’s fair and quite alright by me. Good thing I was wearing a fresh pair of socks.
Note: This was in Bagan going to Bagan long distance bus station.
5. Long distance day bus- Bagan to Nyeung Shwe
Cost: $10 included free bottled water and rest stop break for lunch. Nyeung Shwe is the gateway to Inle Lake so I booked a long distance bus from Bagan bus station with my guesthouse. The long distance day bus was filled with passengers~ part tourist, part local. It makes local stops along the way picking up passengers from villages and small towns who are making shorter trips in between Bagan and Nyeung Shwe. It also had DVD karaoke entertainment! Simple but surprisingly nice.
The bus can get full at some points and when it does, there are fold out seat in the aisles. The Burmese understand hospitality and making sure you don’t feel like a third class passenger. This was worlds more refined than some of the shuttle van buses I’ve experienced in Vietnam, which when full, pull out plastic stools for you to sit on (making it dangerous). The reason I found this surprising is because Myanmar has had a shorter history of tourism hospitality than Vietnam!
6. Boat tour on Inle Lake
Cost: $15. The only way to tour Inle Lake is by boat. The reason most travelers visit Inle Lake is to see the Burmese fishermen steering with their feet. It’s a National Geographic photo I never thought I’d see in my lifetime so this was a high point in my travel history. You can hire a private boat or take a group tour. The disadvantage to the group tour is that you make several souvenir stops along the way… several. In fact, it’s mostly all about the souvenir stops and myself and some of the group had to verbally encourage the boat driver to skip the last cigar store stop so we could have time to see the fishermen, which was the very last stop and rather late! This was disappointing. But there were a couple of stops which were lovely such as a lunch spot next to a grand temple and an island stop.
7. VIP luxury bus
Cost: $23 Nyeung Shwe to Yangon, included van pickup to bus station outside of Nyeung Shwe, free luxury extras (I’ll let you be blown away by my video). The VIP luxury buses in Myanmar are unquestioningly most surprising. For a country which seemingly lacks some of the technological modernity or tourist infrastructure of neighbors like Thailand, this is one aspect of Myanmar travel that blew me away. This was like a first class plane experience in a bus, with meal, snacks, toiletries, entertainment… I’ve even seen VIP buses with recliner chairs with television touch screens! For that experience, I would’ve expected to pay $45 USD, because the hospitality service and room comfort is a lot. HIghly highly recommended if you get a chance!
8. Auto Taxi
Cost: $7 USD (which I eventually split between 4 solo travelers) Yangon bus station to Downtown Yangon . Auto taxis are standard to most cities if you want to get around longer distances, where the public bus can’t reach. I’m certain you can even hire taxis to get around for the day.
9. Airport shuttle bus
Cost: FREE with stay at the Motherland Inn 2 guesthouse. There large van airport shuttle buses or old bus van shuttles. Some guesthouses offer airport pickup and drop off services. As this is generally a complimentary or inexpensive service which comes with booking a stay with certain establishments, you get what they give you. Staying at Motherland Inn 2 guesthouse, the pickup van was spacious and rather sleek, but the drop-off bus was rickety. I was just grateful to have a convenient airport pickup and drop off!
10. Train Travel
Although overland train travel into Myanmar is not possible, you can enjoy train travel to get around inside of Myanmar. I’ve heard taking the Burmese train is breathtakingly scenic, albeit occasionally rocky. Cabins range from simple wooden benches to cushion seats and overnight sleepers (exclusively from Yangon to Bagan). You can order meals in some classes. More information here.
Booking transportation in Myanmar
I didn’t see many tourist agency offices. I knew they had to exist but unlike other countries, there weren’t throngs of agencies lining walkways. But then again, I didn’t feel like there was any need to have them.
Burmese hotels and guest houses
Inquiring with your Burmese guesthouse or hotel about transportation options, they’ll tell you what’s available to use, down to the long-distance bus schedules. If you’re moving onto another city, they’ll book your bus for you. Throw the Burmese the booking ball and they’ll help make your Myanmar trip planning a stress-free affair.
Book transportation in advance online
I’ve also used 12GoAsia in Thailand for my transportation bookings and they now handle Myanmar also. This would be for those who choose to book online advance.