Getting Around

28

Nov
2021

Getting Around

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Getting from Mingaladon Airport to Yangon Visitors on prearranged tours are usually whisked away in  air­conditioned buses or mini- buses, while independent trav- elers rely on local Toyota taxis –  drivers wait outside the arrivals con course. Although they are generally honest, it makes sense to check the correct fare in  advance with your hotel mana- ger or guest house owner when  you book your accommo da- tions as none of the taxis are  metered. Note that the night rate is 30 per cent higher than the day fare. As yet, there are no dedi cated shuttle buses in opera tion. The trip from the airport to downtown Yangon can take as little as 45 minutes on clear roads at night, or a couple of hours during rush hour in the daytime. Cost­conscious travelers on tight budgets may wish to save a few dollars by catching a municipal bus, which costs less than US$1. To do this, turn right once out of the terminal and walk for 10 minutes until you reach Pyay Road. Bus no. 51 runs every 20 minutes from a stop there to downtown Yangon as far as Sule Pagoda from 7am to 10pm. Overland Travel It is sometimes possible to enter Myanmar overland at the Ruili–Muse entry point on the Chinese border in Yunnan. The necessary visas and paperwork may be arranged in Kunming.  However, Burmese border offi- cials have been known to refuse  entry to foreigners, or restrict onward travel to Lashio, or insist that travelers leave the country via the same point afterward. Four border crossings with  Thailand are now open to for- eigners, with no special permits  required: Mae Sai–Tachileik; Ranong–Kawthaung; Mae Sot– Myawaddy; and Ban Phu Nam Ron–Htee Khee. From Tachileik,  permit­free onward travel over- land is allowed only as far as  Kengtung, but visitors are permitted to fly onwards from there. The crossings at Kawthaung, Myawaddy, and Htee Khee are completely open. No special permits are needed and visitors can travel onward without any restrictions, other than the usual controls applicable to all tourists. Note, though, that overland travel from Kawthaung to Myeik is not possible; you must take a ferry. Myanmar eVisas are not currently valid for entry at any of these border points; visas need to be arranged in advance, except the one­day permit for a visa run (Thai visas are available at all these crossings). There are no permit ted points of entry by  land or sea from Laos or Bangla- desh. The remote crossing from  India at Tamu is only open to those on special tour packages.

Domestic Airlines

Myanmar’s domestic air capacity has grown rapidly to cope with the sudden surge in demand since 2010. There are now several private carriers in addition to the state-run Myanmar National Airlines, including Asian Wings Airways, Yangon Airways, Air Bagan, Air KBZ, Golden Myanmar Airlines, and Air Mandalay. Foreign visitors have tended to avoid Myanmar National Airlines due to its  poor safety record and all- round unreliability, but some  of the new private firms have fared little better. Several of the serious incidents in recent years have involved private operators, including the December 2012 crash at Heho Airport (Inle Lake), in which two passengers were killed and 11 injured after an Air Bagan Fokker 100 landed in a field in thick fog. The good  news is that the old Fokkers are being phased out and replaced with modern aircraft. Theoretically, online booking of flights is available through  the websites of all the dom- estic airlines, although the  process is far from seamless. Tickets are more easily purchased in advance at the airlines’ offices in Yangon. Bear in mind, though, that by leaving reservations until only a day or two before your intended departure means that the seats may have sold out in busy periods. In Yangon, agents will make the booking on your behalf for the same price as the published fare, or sometimes a little less. Booking your domestic Myanmar flights through a tour operator in your home country is invariably the more expensive option, but is also the most secure way to ensure the dates and flights to suit your itinerary.

Trains

The British laid nearly 3,000 miles (4,800 km) of railroad in Burma and nearly all of it is still in use. Unfortunately, a lack of government invest ment over the past few decades has left the network and most of its rolling stock in a very run-down state. Although foreigners no longer have to pay officially inflated fares for train travel, tickets are still generally more expensive than the cost of a bus journey on the same route.

Despite the higher fares, some routes are popular with visitors, particularly the 388-mile (622-km) overnight haul from Yangon to Mandalay, which  takes 15–16 hours. Other jour- neys worth considering are the  five-hour trip to Kyaiktiyo for the Golden Rock Pagoda, which benefits from a state-of-the-art, comfortable new express train inaugurated in 2013; the rattling ride over the Gokteik Viaduct from Mandalay or Pyin U Lwin to Hsipaw and Lashio; the even more juddery ride along a branch line from Mandalay to Shwenyaung (near Inle Lake); and the night train from Yangon to Bagan. Whichever route you travel on, however, expect long delays, especially on branch lines and in the far north.

Express services are far quicker and more comfortable than local ones, and offer the choice between upper class, which has upholstered, reclining seats, and ordinary class, which has upright ones. Some trains also have sleeper carriages with berths. Foreigners’ fares are avail able for all these classes. The Seat 61 train travel website has several useful resources on journeys in Myanmar.

Demand for tickets is high at all times of the year, but especially during the winter tourist season, when you should aim to book at least a couple of days in advance, or longer for a sleeper. The best place to do this in Yangon is at the MTT office on Mahabandula Garden Street  , which has access to special tourist quotas. Or you can join the queues at the Myanmar Railways Booking Office (6–10am and 1–4pm daily). Reservations open three days prior to departure.

Buses

Buses are considerably faster, more comfortable, and cheaper than trains, although somewhat  less characterful. Most long- distance services, such as the  Yangon–Mandalay route, leave  in the evening and travel over- night, stopping every hour or  two at cafés along the route, so don’t expect much sleep. The more luxurious coaches have airconditioning but it is rarely needed as temperatures tend to plummet in the small hours; take along a fleece or blanket for comfort. Tickets are sold from counters at the bus stations or through local travel agents, and should be bought two or three days in advance for popular routes such as Bagan– Inle Lake or Yangon–Mandalay. Note that even if you only want to travel part of the way, you still have to pay the full fare.

Motorcycle and Car Rental

Most hotels, guesthouses, and travel agents in Yangon and the country’s principal visitor destinations can arrange a car and driver for day trips or longer tours. Although far from being the cheapest way to travel, this is certainly the most flexible and least uncomfort able. Dedicated, air­conditioned tourist cars are the most expensive. They are hired out for 12 hours per day, and the fee will include gas, tolls, and the driver’s expenses. You can also find cheaper “private drivers” with older, non­air­conditioned cars, who will typically charge 30 per cent less. Self­drive is extremely rare, costly, and difficult to arrange, which is probably just as well given the driving con ditions in Myanmar. Motorcycles, a handy way of getting around, are available for rent in many visitor destinations, including Mandalay, where Mr Jerry has Chinese­made 125cc bikes in various states of repair.

Ferries

At any given time, thousands of Burmese, and around half the  country’s freight, will be travel- ing on Myanmar’s rivers, the  majority of them in dilapi dated government ferries run by the Inland Water Transport (IWT). Tickets may be purchased in advance from any IWT jetty. While this is the slowest way to travel in Myanmar – it takes four days to reach Mandalay from Yangon by river, a route covered in two hours by plane – it affords memorable glimpses of local life. The most popular route among foreign visitors is the one between Mandalay and Bagan, which is also covered by a fleet of small private boats.

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