Public transport in Myanmar is, like most of the country’s infrastructure, poorly resourced and in need of upgrading. Buses are overcrowded, airless, hot, and falling apart, and the only suburban train line – in Yangon – supports a slow skeleton service. As a consequence, both locals and visitors tend to be reliant on taxis, which are ubiquitous and relatively inexpensive, and come in a variety of shapes and sizes, from shiny new Japanese imported cars to rickety trishaws. To cover short distances, horse carts can be a useful alternative, especially for exploring archeolo gical sites. For market runs, however, pickup trucks, which cram dozens of people on wooden boards placed over the rear flatbed, are the favorite local option. In the cities, plenty of private companies also run sightseeing tours and short excursions to local and regional places of interest and these frequently offer good value.
Buses and Minibuses
Fleets of buses grind through the streets of all the main towns and cities in Myanmar, although few foreign ers ever use them. Packed solid with passengers, they are horrendously uncomfortable and poorly maintained. The absence of num- bers in English, and route maps, also make the systems hard to navi gate.
The same applies to the smaller minibuses that work the routes mainly to and from markets, stopping for passen gers when ever they are hailed from the roadside. Taxis are a more convenient option than minibuses and buses as fares are low and they are easy to come by (except during the evening rush hour).
Motorcycle Taxis and Taxis
The past few years have seen a gradual phasing out of the old taxis that used to serve the cit- ies of Myanmar and a prolifer ation of more reliable, spacious new Japanese Toyotas. The best of the new taxis are metered and airconditioned, but most are not. After flagging one down, agree a fare and ride with the windows open. Taxis are plen- tiful, except in the evenings, when there may be a somewhat longer wait. Drivers will also be reluctant to take on longer trips to the suburbs at this time, pre- ferring to remain downtown. If you are staying in a guest house or hotel, it might be best to ask the manager or owner to arrange a taxi on your behalf; they’ll fix the fare and ensure the driver knows where you want to go.
In Mandalay and some other towns, motorcycle taxis are a popular alternative to cars – they are cheaper and faster at congested times.
Only Yangon has a suburban rail line. Because trains travel at an average of only 10 mph (17 kph), and don’t loop through the commercial district, the suburban rail is not of much use to the city’s commuters, most of whom make the jour- ney to work by road. Passing through the loop does, how- ever, offer a novel sightseeing opportunity for visiting foreigners. Trains run from 3:45am to 10:15pm, starting and ending at Yangon Train Station on Bogyoke Aung San Road, and take three hours to complete the 28mile (46km) circuit, with 39 stops en route.
Trishaws and Horse Carts
In smaller towns where bus services are limited, trishaws or sei-kar (a corruption of the English word “sidecar”) are the most convenient option. Invented in Mandalay in the 1930s, these quirky little vehi- cles are popular in Myanmar. They are essentially bicycles with a passenger seat attached to the side that can accommo- date two people, one facing forward, the other to the rear. Compact, easy to ride, and environmen tally friendly, they are perfect for navigating narrow side streets and lanes. Fares are also very low.
Horse carts or myint hlei still operate widely in the rural areas of Myanmar, particularly on market days. Visitors will come across them in large numbers at archeolo gical sites such as Bagan, Inwa (Ava), and Mrauk U, where they provide a gentle way to get around the sandy lanes leading to the monu- ments. At these tourist sites, the horse cart drivers generally speak a little English and act as guides. They usually charge per day of sightseeing. The fee rises if booked through a hotel or travel agent.
Pickup trucks or lein ka (from “line car”) often run alongside buses in cities, covering similar routes to the outlying suburbs from market districts, and also operate between towns and villages. Passengers ride in the usually covered flatbed section to the rear, sitting on planks of wood, makeshift seats attached to the sides, or simply squashed in on top of sacks of provisions. Young men and boys also ride on the roof if there’s no room inside. Foreigners tend to avoid traveling this way unless des- perate as the lack of legroom can be excruciating after a few miles. However, in some places, lein ka are unavoidable. One example is the Golden Rock Pagoda at Kyaiktiyo, which can only be reached in a crowded pickup. Fares are comparable with local buses. For an extra 50 per cent fee, it is sometimes possible to secure a more com- fortable seat in the cab up front.
Several companies in Yangon and Mandalay offer half and fullday trips to sights in and around the cities, usually in air- conditioned minibuses or cars. As a rule, you will be picked up and dropped off at your hotel. The price may or may not include meals. Shop around as costs vary dramatically. Tried- andtested operators include Asian Trails, who offer city tours of Yangon as well as trips to Bago and other towns, and Diethelm Travel, who offer cycling trips around Inwa’s ruins and walking tours of Yangon’s old colonial enclave. In addition to city sightseeing tours, Shan Yoma Travel and Tours and Green Myanmar Travels and Tours also offer guided trips around Bagan and Inle Lake.