Overland travel from neighboring states to Myanmar is gradually opening up, but the vast majority of international arrivals in the country are by air, at Yangon’s Mingaladon Airport. From there, foreign tourists tend to take a domestic flight to one of several regional hubs. Hampered by poor infrastruc- ture, travel by road and rail tends to be slower and more uncomfortable, although plenty of backpackers brave grueling overnight journeys to reach Inle Lake, Mandalay, and Bagan. Hired cars with drivers provide a less arduous alternative. A more leisurely, and quintessentially Burmese, form of long- distance transport are the riverboats plying the Ayeyarwady, whether old government ferries or luxury cruisers. Whichever method of travel you opt for, however, bear in mind that pressure for tickets is particularly intense from December to February (the height of the winter tourist season) and that bookings should be made as far in advance as possible, either in person or with the help of a depend- able local travel agent
Arriving by Air
Nearly every foreign visitor to Myanmar arrives by air at Yangon, although Mandalay International Airport also hosts flights from Singapore, Kunming in China and Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand. The majority of Yangon flights originate in Singapore or Bangkok, but there are direct flights from Kolkata with Air India, Tokyo with All Nippon, Seoul with Asiana, Hong Kong with Dragonair, Hanoi with Vietnam Airlines, and Doha with Qatar Airways. Larger carriers such as Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines/ Silk Air, and Thai Airways gene- rally rely on smaller sub sidiaries to fly the connect ing leg from their hub to Myanmar. The low- cost airline Air Asia also flies daily from Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. This is the cheapest way to get to the country, but may mean a long layover in Thailand or Malaysia. There are no direct flights from the US, the UK, or Europe, only from the Gulf and Southeast Asia.
The cost of flying to Myanmar varies with the season, the air- line, and the travel agent. The busiest, most expensive period is from December to January and during the Thingyan festival in April, when lots of Burmese workers travel home to their families. Discounted tickets are usually available during the monsoon (May to September). Usually, the most costeffective route is to buy a lateavailability charter flight to Bangkok from Europe or the US, then fly into Myanmar on a lowcost airline.
Mingaladon International Airport lies on Yangon’s out- skirts, about 12 miles (20 km) north of downtown. Arrival, immigration, and cus toms formalities are conducted at a brisk pace by the standards of most of Asia, and the airport facilities are well maintained. Be sure to keep the duplicate cus toms slip handed back to you as it will be needed when leaving Myanmar. Note that luggage is often scanned prior to exiting the airport.
In the arrivals hall is a foreign- exchange facility where visitors can exchange US dollars and euros for kyat at reasonable rates. There is also a dependable ATM (cash machine) here.
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.
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.