Flights from Mandalay serve Yangon, Heho (for Inle Lake), Nyaung Oo-Bagan, Myitkyina and Tachileik, among others. As is often the case, KBZ are usually the priciest and Yadanarbon and Golden Myanmar usually the cheapest, with Asian Wings, Myanma National Air and Yangon Airways somewhere in between. By the time you read this, they’ll have probably set up two or three new airlines anyway. Most companies run daily flights to most popular destinations. Some sample fares: Yangon for $124-$142, Heho $73-$92, Nyaung Oo/Bagan $89, Tachileik $143, Myitkyina $110-$129, Putao from $137.
As of 2016 the following international flights also operate out of Mandalay:
Bangkok: Bangkok Airways, Air Asia and Myanmar Airways International. The latter arrives at Don Muang and while Bangkok Airways run Chiang Mai-Mandalay flights, there are no Mandalay to Chiang Mai ones.
Kunming: China Eastern Airways and Myanmar Airways International.
Singapore: Silk Air
Seoul: Myanmar Airways International
Hong Kong: HK Express
Burmese schedules and prices are liable to last-minute changes so please check carefully before making any plans. The above is intended as an approximate guide only.
Mandalay airport (MYL) lies some 35 kilometres south of the city and its international code. It’s one of Burma’s smarter airports and has a taxi desk, exchange facilities (08:00-17:00) and cafes. Taxis should be around 12,000 kyat to downtown while Shwe Nan San run an airport minibus from outside the main doors for $4 or 5,000 kyat per person.
Mandalay’s huge railway station is on 79th Street at the junction with 30th Street, with a rear slip road leading down onto 79th and 80th. From a distance, the recently repainted facade looks impressive; inside however, even by Burmese station standards, it’s a dump. Furthermore, though staff did try their best, there is little information in English. Its acres of grimy, decaying concrete are not a place to linger so here’s the most accurate information and prices we could come up with for destinations liable to be of interest to foreign visitors.
The five lines out of Mandalay are as follows:
Northeast line departs 04:00
Pyin Oo Lwin: 1st class/2nd class: 1,200/550; arrives 08:00.
Kyaukme: 3,300/1,450; arrives 13:20.
Hsipaw: 2,950/1,700; arrives 15:00.
Lashio: 5,550/2,400; arrives 19:35.
West line departs 05:35
Monywa: 2nd class only, 700 kyat; arrives 11:35.
Southwest departs 07:20, 21:00
Bagan: 1st 1,800 kyat; arrives 18:45, 04:50
North line departs 04:30, 12:00, 17:55, 19:15, 20:00
Myitkyina: 1st 22,500; arrives 22:00, 06:30, 10:45, 13:30, 21:05
Yangon departs 06:00, 15:00, 17:00
Thazi: 2,000/1,000 kyat; arrives 08:51, 17:46, 19:46
Naypyidaw: 3,700/2,000 kyat; arrives 11:51, 20:33, 22:48
Bago: 9,300/4,600 kyat; arrives 18:56, 03:13, 05:46
Yangon: 9,300/4,600; arrrives 21:00, 05:00, 07:45
For Kalaw and Shwe Nyaung (Inle lake) change at Thazi.
Buses depart Mandalay for most corners of the country. To the west are destinations in Sagaing and Chin States; north are Bhamo and Myitkyina in Kachin State; and east includes all stops en route to Taunggyi and Lashio in southern and northern Shan State respectively, including the popular tourist destinations of Pyin Oo Lwin, Kyaukme, Hsipaw, Kalaw and Inle Lake. Heading south, the closest stops are Bagan, Thazi and Meiktila on the way to Naypyidaw, Pyay, Taungoo and eventually Yangon. Fans of long-distance bus travel can knock yourselves out with direct tickets to Hpa-an, Mawlamyine or Myawaddy.
Mandalay has four main bus stations. Highway bus terminal (on the continuation of 62th Street, south of the centre) serves the southern and central destinations to Yangon as well as southeast via Kalaw and Inle to Taunggyi in southern Shan State. Pyi Gyi Myat Shin, on the corner of 60th and 37th Streets, is for destinations in northern Shan State, Pyin Oo Lwin, Hsipaw, Lashio and ultimately Muse on the Chinese border. Smaller Thiri Mandala station on 23rd Street serves Monywa, Shwebo and Pakokku.
As usual there are myriad different bus companies and options include shared taxis, minibuses, old fan buses and VIP air-con sleepers. Hotel and guesthouses receptions are probably your best option for obtaining information and tickets and for the small commission they charge it’s not usually worth messing around yourself. Some pricier hotels may add on more substantial service charges so it can be worth checking; plenty of independent travel agents dotted around can help too.
Shared taxi and most minibus options are more expensive than regular buses but they do include pick-up and drop-off at your hotel.
Sample shared taxi fares are: Monywa, 7,000 or 8,000 for front seat; Pyin Oo Lwin, 6,000 to 7,000 kyat; Kyaukme, Hsipaw and Lashio 18,000-20,000 kyat.
The following are samples for buses:
Northeast (The China Road)
Pyin Oo Lwin: 3,000 kyat, around 2 hours, regular departures
Kyaukme: 5,000 kyat, 4.30 hours, early morning and a 14:00 departure
Hsipaw: 5,000 kyat, 6 hours, early morning and a 14:00 departure
Lashio: 6,000-6,500 kyat, 10 hours, early morning and night buses
Bagan: 9,000 kyat, 5 hours, regular departures
Naypyidaw: 5,300 kyat, 4 hours, regular departures
Yangon: fan 10,700-12,000 kyat, air-con 18,500-20,500 kyat, VIP 35,000 kyat, 9-11 hours, a few early morning, mostly night buses.
Kalaw: 7,500 kyat, 7-8 hours, early morning and night buses
Nyaung Shwe: 7,500, 9-10 hours early morning and night buses
Taunggyi: 7,500 kyat, 9-10 hours early morning and night buses
Monywa: 5,000 kyat, 3 hours, regular departures
Some buses are fan and some air-con, but be careful as some of the companies we checked sold seats on either at more or less the same price. Buses depart regularly throughout the day for closer towns—hourly for Monywa for example—but for longer routes buses leave either early mornings or sleeper versions early evenings. We also saw Hsipaw buses, both fan and air-con, departing at 14:00 as well. Shared taxis and to some extent minibuses leave whenever they are full.
From Mandalay you can in theory go either direction up the Ayeyarwady, with the Bagan journey being the most frequently taken by foreign visitors. At the time of writing there were no boats up the Chindwin from here as the road to Monywa is in good condition. For destinations north on the Chindwin you’ll have to go to Monywa first.
For points north to Katha, Bhamo and Myitkyina boat travel is dependent upon both water levels and the political situation. Road, boat, and even rail transport to Kachin State varies according to the current security situation, which can change at very short notice, particularly north of Bhamo. If the government says you can’t go then that’s it—you can’t go. During rainy season slow government boats depart most days of the week taking around two days to reach Bhamo. There are also occasional faster, but much more expensive, boats. Check on the ground close to the time of your proposed visit.
It makes much more sense to do the northbound trip by flight or rail and the return trip—downstream—by boat.
While not set in stone, southbound transport is a lot more reliable, though in this case determining factors are water levels and tourist levels. As long as water levels are okay and sufficient demand is there, boats will run. However an unfortunate contradiction is that the best water levels are during the rainy season when there’s the least number of passengers around. The early part of the high season in November to December is okay, but come late January and February, water levels can get very low. Boats will continue to be scheduled, since it’s busy, but navigating myriad sandbanks with heavily laden cargo boats trying to do the same in the opposite direction can be painful and boats can (frequently) get stuck. An eight-hour rainy season voyage can easily become a 12-hour dry season one.
During our low season visit, slow boats were departing on Wednesdays and Sundays from Mandalay with foreigners charged $18-20 for a 14-15 hour trip. A private fast service (8-12 hours) was running on Thursdays for $40 to $44 per person, depending upon where you buy your ticket. Daily services don’t usually start until late October. Boats leave at 07:00 from Strand Road but you can’t just turn up; you will need to buy a ticket beforehand, as well as check times. All hotel and guesthouses will have current information and ticket sales.
See our Bagan transport section for details on boats to there.
Public boats to Mingun leave from the Strand jetty opposite 26th Street and cost 5,000 per person. Scheduled departure is 09:00 with a 12:40 return and private hire at any time of day is $25. The boat journey is around 45 minutes upstream, and 30 minutes downstream.
Myanmar River Cruises: T: (01) 294 669, (01) 901 0757, (099) 7296 2028; email@example.com; www.myanmarrivercruises.com.
Much of downtown Mandalay is walkable, with the city’s numerous tea shops and cafes making fun refreshment stops. Cycling works well too and many of the town centre’s streets off the main axis are relatively quiet. Most guesthouses and hotels should be able to help you sort out a pair of wheels or at least point you in the right direction. A couple of places we visited had complimentary bike use. Otherwise the standard day rate is 1,500 kyat.
We’re less sure about motorbike hire and though we are personally experienced Southeast Asian scooter riders, we’d think twice about taking on some of the town’s busier streets. If you’re heading to out of town sites such as Amarapura or Sagaing you are obliged to use the busier routes. Outside of downtown’s grid system, streets can get pretty confusing, too. Motorbikes are not cheap to hire: We were quoted 8,000/14,000 kyat a day for manual/automatic. Standard hire is 07:00 to 19:00, though you can of course hire it for several days. They’re mainly Honda Dreams and Waves or newer Chinese automatic scooters.
Compare bike hire with the price of splitting a taxi and driver with a couple of other people and bear in mind Mandalay's limited medical facilities. If you do want to hire, we’d recommend Mr Jerry & Miss Yi Yi Motorbike and Bicycle Hire on 83rd Street, between 25th and 26th Streets, opposite Nylon Ice Cream. They're open daily 07:00-19:00 and have bicycles too, just as their name suggests.
You’ll still see plenty of rickshaws, though they are slow and no cheaper than the moto-taxis. The latter are also common and relatively cheap with a ride in the central area coming to 1,000 to 2,000 kyat or so. It seems anyone with a moto spying a tourist on foot will present themselves as a taxi and some don’t have a clue where they’re going. More popular accommodation spots will have a couple of resident drivers outside and will also be able to conjure up an English-speaking taxi driver, too. Taxi rates vary widely, depending on how busy they are, what commission the receptionist feels like adding, or how broke the driver is. The following is a rough guide (as of 2016) for fares from downtown to:
Highway bus terminal: 6,000-7,000 kyat
Mandalay Hill summit: 10,000 return
Airport: 12,000 kyat
U Bein return: 18,000 kyat
Sagaing return: 18,000 to 20,000
Day tour around town: 35,000 to 40,000 kyat, plus a bit more if you’re including sunset
Sagaing and U Bein return: 35,000 kyat
Pyin Oo Lwin: One-way $80