Yangon (Rangoon) is to Burma (Myanmar) as Bangkok is to Thailand: it's massive and spread out, it’s the business centre, it’s chaotic and it’s nothing like the rest of the country. Unlike Bangkok, however, it has no efficient or comfortable mass transit system. The good part of this is that merely by getting around you'll immerse yourself into local life; the bad part is that you might need a little guidance to get you around.
Not going anywhere in particular and happy to just watch the world go by? Then you should cha-cha-choose the train. The Yangon circle train is of little use to travellers for getting anywhere specific, as the train focuses on reaching the ‘suburbs’ of Yangon and does not pass too close to any popular sight but it's a great way to taste the flavour of local life.
Buses in Yangon are chaotic and crowded. They are not for the faint of heart. They race through the streets like stampeding rhinos but they’re also the cheapest transport and like trains let you get up close and personal with the locals. The city is not short on stops, and you can reach most destinations, but because the bus system is dominated by private companies they don’t tend to have any clear signs or even bus numbers. Instead, they rely on the bus-driver assistants yelling out the destinations when pulling into stops.
Since many buses will only stop just long enough for people to hurriedly jump off, and for others to do a leaping latch onto the bus, the easiest we’ve found our way is by yelling back where you want to go – someone always points us the right way. Buses begin early morning around 05:00 and can go fairly late, though don’t count on anything past 22:00. Expect to spend 200-300 kyat to get you almost anywhere in the city. Main bus stops include the stretch of Sule Pagoda Road, just north of Sule Pagoda; anywhere along Mahabandoola Street in downtown; Shwedagon Pagoda, Dagon centre, and Kabar Aye Pagoda. Ask your hotel to advise you on your closest relevant stop.
Do be careful of your possessions while taking the bus. Crime is rare, but theft is always possible.
Taxis have hit the streets in Yangon in the past couple of years like an algae bloom in an algae-friendly lake. There’s so many, now, that the time to wait for one is on average a couple of minutes – for almost anywhere in the whole city. This makes taxis the most convenient and most used form of transport, but they’re starting to get tricky; taxi drivers are experimenting with just how much they can charge a foreigner. (We’ve been asked to pay 8,000 kyat for a 2,000 kyat ride.) Here’s a quick breakdown on prices:
1,500 kyat is usually the bare minimum you’ll pay for a ride, and can get you anywhere from one block to a couple of kilometres away – the distance depends on the driver, the traffic and your haggling skills.
2,000 to 3,500 kyat will be the average cost for anywhere between the river shores of downtown to the top of Inya Lake.
4,000 to 5,000 is uncommon, as anywhere above Inya Lake is usually not visited except for the airport and bus station – time to haggle!
6,000 to 8,000 kyat is the price to get from downtown to the airport or the bus station. Keep this in mind if you’re asking your hotel to book you a taxi for your departure.
When arriving in Yangon by plane, an electronic board just outside the international terminal exit lists the price to get to each part of town by taxi. Don’t let the airport taxi drivers fool you and tell you it’ll be more for traffic – just ask for the price on the board.
If you know how to say ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ in Burmese (and knowing your Burmese numbers will help – see John Okell’s Burmese by Ear), taxis will generally give you a price closer to the local price. Keep in mind that almost every driver will now try and charge more because of ‘traffic’ even when there isn’t any. Also keep in mind that if you are hauling a lot of luggage, it’s common for them to charge an extra 500 to 1,000 kyat, but they will usually load and unload it for you.
Trishaws are Yangon’s razor-scooter. Because two-wheeled vehicles are illegal in Yangon, the three-wheeled trishaw is the quick close-distance option. They can usually be found on the corners in downtown and can be very helpful if you need to get just a few blocks away after doing a spot of shopping. Expect to pay 1,000 to 3,000 kyat, which can seem like a lot considering taxis might only charge 1,500, but it helps contribute to the local community and let's face it, you’ll probably never write home about a taxi ride.
Walking works wonders in downtown Yangon. The grid structure of the main roads and intersecting smaller roads might be compared to walking through the aisles of a giant hardware store. One street will be dedicated to paper and printing; one street is where all the key shops are; one street will be home to shops selling lights and electronics and so on.
The condition of the footpaths and streets has improved tremendously over the past couple of years and although you will still have to dodge street vendors and random posts, walking can be a great experience – plus it's cheap!
When it comes to getting to other parts of Yangon, walking is usually out of the question. Unless you’re in a concentrated shopping area, the different areas of the city can spread out too far for a comfortable venture. Also considering the majority of the year can bring high humidity and temperatures, it can be too draining to get from one area to the next, and you’ll have to fall back onto one of the other options below.