Myanmar is still in the process of being built and is quickly putting in the framework it needs to cater for tourists. Not just for the creature comfort of Westerners, but simply being able to provide enough buses, trains, plains, and beds to cater to the number of tourists that are arriving.
Tourism really was not that frequent prior to 2010 and the number of tourists is exploding year- on-year so you cannot expect the country to be fully equipped to deal with everyone, yet. This is part of the fun of travelling in Myanmar though.
If you plan on going long distances without the need to stop, then taking a plane is often very cost effective once you account for all the time saved. A flight from Yangon to Mandalay will cost about $100.
If you want to take a slower tourist route the best option is nearly always to take the bus. Unlike some other countries the bus is actually quicker and more pleasant than the train and has been quickest to respond to the demand of new tourists by investing in new buses.
Trains in Myanmar are quite infamous among travelers because they are largely antiques in their own right, and will give you firsthand insight into British colonial railways. It’s almost worth trying out a short journey just to get a feel for the character of the train. To get from Yangon to Mandalay will takes about 16 hours and cost $15.
For quite a few routes, the bus you end up with is luck of the draw. Sometimes they will have recliners and in-flight movies – in others you might be scraping your sneakers against the road. You can ask for what are called upper class seats for a small fee and a much better seat.
Finding routes between destinations and cities is typically easy once you pick up a printed leaflet. Tour guides can arrange specific buses for you but the most popular destinations are well serviced by regular buses at low prices, from Yangon to Mandalay can cost as little as $8.
The buses are usually air-conditioned: sometimes too well. You might find yourself getting chilly on a longer ride.
If you don’t value your sanity, you can choose to rent a car for a shorter stay just to see tourist sites, it’s unlikely it will be necessary or cost effective. Roads in Myanmar are often not as busy as other parts of Asia, but you are still definitely not driving in a Western nation.
The cheapest way to travel and one of the most popular methods with local is to sit (or sometimes stand and cling to each other for dear life) in the back of a pick-up.
They are found at bus stops and other popular destinations and can take you on both short and long journeys. Find out which is going your way and then wait for them to fill up. You can travel across cities for just a few cents, but with the discomfort you’ll experience you might not want to do it for too long.
Inner City Travel
Many of Myanmar’s cities and tourist destinations are either not that big or beg to be seen on foot, but in the larger cities like Yangon you will likely need some kind of public transport.
From airport to hotel the best option is either a taxi or tuk-tuks which cost you between K1.500 and K3,ooo ($1 – $2) for most journeys. Taxis are plentiful and usually easy to spot and you can hail them just as you would elsewhere. You can expect to haggle though, at the prices charged you needn’t worry about getting a little ripped off as a tourist.
You can also take the bus and Yangon has its own circular railway. These are often quite difficult to figure out for the uninitiated, but the train is worth a try at $1 to see how things are done the Myanmar way.