Myanmar is an unexpected gem that will give your travel game a serious upgrade, without having to venture outside of Southeast Asia. Not only is it a melting pot of cultures and stunning sights as far as the eye can see, but there are also enough activities here to fill your itinerary to bursting point. No wonder it’s known as The Golden Land!
Myanmar’s lack of mass tourism isn’t why you shouldn’t visit it, it’s the reason you should. Road transport comes in a variety of different forms in Myanmar, ranging from cheap and cheerful trishaws (cycle rickshaws) for getting around towns and cities to rental cars (usually with driver), for those who can afford to avoid the possible delays and discomfort of long-distance public transport. But most foreign visitors will take taxis. Note that in Myanmar you should always bargain, and negotiate the cost in advance. Now here below is a few tips on how you can get around Myanmar.
You don’t have to be a royal to be carried around in a pony cart, you can get around Myanmar getting a pony cart ride! When most people think of Myanmar, they imagine a hazy, flat plain with hundreds of reddish-brown stupas poking up above the patchy tree cover. The area they are picturing is called Bagan. It lies in Myanmar’s dusty central plains on the banks of the Irrawaddy River and is characterized by not hundreds, but thousands—over 2200, to be exact—temples and stupas. Strolling among Myanmar’s pagodas in a pony cart gives you that extra feel of going back in time. You’ll feel like you’ve time-traveled when you’re relaxing in your pony cart, listening to the clucking of the horseshoes, and appreciating the smell of the countryside. All that as you plod along, enjoying spectacular views like no other.
Price: Traditional Horse cart: 15-25 USD a day (one cart fits 2-3 people. Not too comfortable), Private cart: 55USD a day (fits 4 people comfortably), 35 USD for half a day.
Burmese trishaw is the best way to get around the city with cheap price. Once dropping yourself on this vehicle in a Myanmar tour, you will feel the hustle and bustle atmosphere of the city through each rotation of the wheel. Unlike trishaws in Singapore with a passenger seat behind the paddler, Burmese trishaws are designed with a passenger sidecar attached to the trishaw driver’s bicycle. Venture into rural Myanmar in true Burmese fashion, as is one of the rare forms of transport within the villages. Trishaws are said to be invented in Myanmar and was the most popular form of transport in colonial times – so popular that it had the electric tram companies closing from bankruptcy.
Price: Trishaw rides start at a super affordable 0.15 USD to about 2 USD, depending on how far you’re traveling.
Thoun Bein (Myanmese Tuk Tuk)
Everybody knows the famous tuk-tuk in Thailand. However, does anybody know that Myanmar also has tuk-tuk running the streets of towns and cities in Myanmar? Myanmar tuk-tuk is essentially a converted Chinese motorcycle. The back wheel of the motorcycle is removed and a passenger compartment attached to the back end of the motorcycle, with some changes in the structure of the motorcycle.
Just like every form of road-related transport in Myanmar, don’t expect a ride on a Thoun Bein to be smooth. Thoun Beins isn’t as popular here as in Thailand, so finding one available for hire might take a while longer, but once you do, you’ll be transported to the retro times, complete with the whole ‘loose screw, the truck falling apart’ feeling. The great thing about these is that the drivers are sometimes willing to wait up to an hour for you at your destination since you’ll be paying the return fare anyway. Even though tuk-tuk is a dangerous vehicle to ride in, it proves to be a very useful and indispensable vehicle for public transport in small towns of Myanmar.
Price: From 0.60 USD
A train ride through the countryside
The experiences that Myanmar’s trains give you is one that you’ve been dreaming of since you first watched Harry Potter enter the Hogwarts Express from Platform 9 ¾. Don’t expect the cleanliness of Singapore’s MRTs, though. If you’re going on a long journey by train, it’s best to book either first class (wooden seats with cushions), upper class (popular with tourists), standard sleeper (lockable compartments with beds), or a special sleeper (self-contained compartments with privacy). Traveling overnight on the train is a more comfortable experience than sleeping overnight on the bus, helped by the rocking back and forth of the cabin and the muffled rattling of the tracks as you nod off to dreamland.
Price: 2 USD to 40 USD for overnight sleeper cabins (buses cost from 5 USD to 18 USD) (tickets are usually paid for in US dollars)
Rent a motorbike
The adventure blood is flowing through your vessels? Do you want to discover this untouched country in a totally new way? In Myanmar, DIY tours have to be done on a motorbike. This way, you get to avoid the jams and set your own tour pace with no tourist-plagued refreshment stops. And because there’s so much freedom, you can travel to Myanmar’s undiscovered gems.
Most larger towns offer motorbike hire, so just enquire at your hotel or guest house. Do keep note that using motorbikes in Yangon is illegal, and using motorbikes in Bagan is illegal for foreigners, but electric bikes and regular bicycles are allowed. Bring a photocopy of your passport photo and visa, too, in case of spot checks. There are some areas of the country where – even though you can legally ride a motorbike – you can only do so after getting a special permit from the government. The problem is that you can’t apply for these licenses yourself. They have to be handled by your travel agent. Make sure you tell your travel agent where you plan on biking so they can get these permits for you ahead of time.
Price: ~7USD per day