Getting there and away
Located in the city centre on 78th Street, just south of the Palace moat, Mandalay train station is more conveniently placed than other transport hubs in the city. Walking into the station can be overwhelming; many private ticket selling booths and offices on the first floor will charge you more than the normal cost of the ticket – in particular, look out for MTT, which looks the most professional and official, but will charge you twice the price. Upstairs on the second floor is where you should go to find out how to buy your ticket, as foreigners have to go through a special process involving the train station master, their passport and several forms; make sure to leave extra time to do this before you're scheduled to depart.
Foreigners pay a special price and it is paid in US dollars. An eight-hour bus from Mandalay to Yangon will cost you a local price of around US$10, while a 12-hour train ride will cost you a foreigner-price of US$40. In fact, many local trains are off-limits to foreigners and many lines will only offer the best seats. Also be warned that the train system here is only reliable in the sense that they will probably be off schedule. In other words, if you're taking the train, be ready to be at the railway system's mercy. Most of the time, a bus will be faster, cheaper and much more comfortable, but there are several instances where the train will take you through some of the most beautiful parts of Myanmar.
Popular train routes from Mandalay include the following.
Mandalay to Pyin Oo Lwin, Kyaukme, Hsipaw and Lashio
Probably the most beautiful and renowned train ride in Myanmar is the line from Mandalay to Lashio. This takes you over the Gokteik Viaduct, a steel bridge that was considered at its time of creation an engineering feat and one of the largest in the world. The bridge lies between Pyin Oo Lwin and Kyaukme. The cost for a seat starts at less than US$10 and departs from Mandalay at 04:00 (yes, in the morning). The tracks continue through Kyaukme, Hsipaw and Lashio.
Mandalay to Bagan
If you want to take a train from Mandalay to Bagan, foreigners are only allowed on the express train departing Mandalay at 21:00 and arriving at 04:00. The cost is US$6 to $10, but the train station at Bagan is further away from Nyaung U than the airport. Taking a river boat or bus to Bagan may be more convenient.
Mandalay to Thazi, Naypyidaw, Taungoo, Bago and Yangon
Mandalay to Yangon is scheduled to depart at 06:00, 15:00 and 17:00. The price starts at US$40 for a seat.
Mandalay to Kalaw and Shwenyaung (for Nyaung Shwe and Inle Lake)
To get to Inle Lake from Mandalay by train you need to catch a southbound train to Thazi and then change to the east-bound train to Shwenyaung. The latter leg is exceptionally scenic -- but slow. From Shwenyaung you need to take a bus or pickup to Nyaung Shwe. If you are on a tight schedule or looking for ease, take the bus instead.
Mandalay to Myitkyina (Shwebo, Naba, Hopin)
This is one of the most adventurous and beautiful train routes in the country. There is only one track, however, so any issues can delay departures and arrivals for up to 18 hours, making the trip anywhere between 24 and 48 hours. It will take you through landscapes that few foreigners have seen and will drop you off in an area that can get extremely cold. Departure times are scheduled at 12:00, 14:20, 16:20 and 15:30. Ticket prices start at US$36.
A recent wave of new buses imported from Europe have swept ashore in Burma. The VIP ones boast not only very comfy seats and personal game and movie consoles, but some companies use speed-control chips to make sure that bus drivers cannot travel too fast. Trips with premium carriers can be very cold, as air-con may be set at at a frosty 16 degrees Celsius, even in the winter. A variety of companies ply routes to various destinations, and unlike for trains, you will pay in kyat, not dollars, and you won't have to plough through tedious paperwork. The buses, unlike the trains, are not government owned.
Buses from Mandalay depart from three different stations spread across the city. Chan Mya Shwe Pyi Highway bus station (Kywe Se Kan) is the main station located 10 kilometres south of town, which makes it roughly a 45-minute taxi ride. Pyi Gyi Myat Shin bus station is located on the southeast side of the city centre, at the corner of 60th and 37th Streets. On 23rd Street, just to the west of 88th Street and the palace, you'll find Thiri Mandala bus station.
Chan Mya Shwe Pyi Highway bus station (Kywe Se Kan)
This is the hub for buses going to Yangon, Bagan, Taunggyi, Inle Lake, Kalaw, Pyay, and even far south destinations such as Myawaddy and Mawlamyine. Getting to the bus station is half the effort, as it can be a taxi of 6,000 kyat and 45 minutes of your time. Make sure to arrive early or have your hotel call ahead, as buses can be booked up.
Buses to Yangon take around eight or nine hours and tickets start just above 10,000 kyat for a regular bus, and 18,000 kyat for a VIP bus, which includes a personal movie and game screen. A couple of morning departures leave around 09:00 or 10:00 depending on the company you choose and night departures go from 19:00 to 21:00, with the latest being a VIP bus. Count on an early morning arrival into Yangon at around 04:00 to 06:00. Elite and Acadamy are two stand out companies with new buses and Shwe Mandalar Express is very popular because they change bus drivers mid-journey to keep them fresh.
Bagan buses leave morning, afternoon and evening and take five to six hours at a price of 8,500 kyat. Shwe Man Thu is our recommended bus service for this route, and purchasing a ticket at their office on 32nd Street between 82nd and 83rd Streets will also get you a shuttle to the bus station.
Buses to Pyay leave at 16:00 and arrive the next day about 04:00 and cost 10,000 kyat, but the companies that run this route have smaller booths inside the main terminal, so you will have to ask around to locate them.
For Taunggyi and Inle Lake, a bus ticket costs 10,000 kyat for a normal bus and 12,000 kyat for a high-end one. This is an evening-departure bus that drops you off seven miles away from Inle Lake, in Shwe Nyaw, at 03:00 or 04:00 and continues on to Taunggyi for a 04:00 or 05:00 arrival.
The GI Group bus company runs the buses to Myawaddy, with buses leaving at 09:00 and arriving in Yangon in the evening. Here you will transfer to another bus and continue on to Myawaddy, all for the cost of 23,000 kyat.
Ya Za Aung bus company has an express bus to Mawlamyine that leaves Mandalay at 18:00 and arrives at 07:00 the next day for a mere 15,000 kyat.
Pyi Gyi Myat Shin bus station
This station on the east side of the city (corner of 60th and 37th Streets) is where buses depart for Pyin Oo Lwin, Hsipaw, Lashio and Muse. Transport to the station can take about 15 minutes from the city centre for a cost of 2,000 kyat.
Lashio buses depart at 06:00 and 18:00 every day for 6,000 kyat, and take around seven hours. These buses are not as nice as those on the mainstream routes, and many companies will not take foreigners; shared taxis are a good alternative for Lashio.
Hsipaw has a local bus departure at 06:00 for 4,000 kyat and an air-con bus departure at 12:00 for 5,000 kyat.
Thiri Mandala bus station
This is the most central station and lies west of the city centre on 23rd Street, just west of 88th Street. Here you can catch buses to Monywa, Shwebo, Pakokku and, with permission, Mogo. The station is full of small companies with varying departure times.
Buses to Monywa are 2,000 kyat and leave every hour or so, starting around 08:00 every day and taking around two hours for the journey. Shwebo has a similar start-schedule and also costs 2,000 kyat; Pakokku costs 8,000 kyat and takes roughly four hours. Buses to MoGo (Ruby Land) depart from here but you will need special permission from an embassy to get in.
The Ayeyarwaddy River has many scattered jetties, with the main Gawein jetty located off 35th Street. Destinations include the ancient city of Mingun, just across the river, Bagan in the south and the far reaches of Bhamo in the north.
The best place to catch a boat to Mingun is at Mayan Chan Jetty (09) 4025 78583, located near 23rd Street on Strand Road. The normal journey time takes about 1 hour and 15 minutes, with one shared boat departing daily at 09:00, at a cost of 5,000 kyat per person. Private boat-taxis can be hired by one to five people for 25,000 kyat or 5,000 kyat each if it's for six or more people. These taxis stop departing Mayan Chan Jetty before 16:00, as the last boat from Mingun departs at 17:00.
77MGRG (T: (09) 201 2691) has a boat departing to Bagan at 06:30 with check in time at 06:00, from MGRG Jetty on Strand Road between 26th and 35th Streets. The trip takes around nine hours and costs US$40 with breakfast, lunch and water included.
Malikha Irrawaddy River Cruises (T: (02) 72279; (02) 36035, (09) 7315 2680; http://www.malikha-rivercruises.com) launches trips from Malikha Mandalay Jetty on Strand Road between 35th and 26th Streets on Sunday and Wednesday only, from 05:00 and 18:00. It costs US$15 for a deck spot and US$30 for a cabin, but no food or water is provided; tickets are easy to get, so just show up an hour early.
Malikha (details as per above) departs for Bhamo on Monday, Thursday and Saturday at 06:00. The trip takes three days, two nights with no food, water or sleeping provisions included. It costs US$12 for a deck spot and US$60 for a cabin.
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