08 July, 2012
We booked our bus ride from Yangon to Mandalay through our hotel in Yangon. The name of the bus company was Mandalar Min Express and it cost 13,000 Kyat/person (about $15 usd). We were told that because of the newly opened highway and newer buses the ride would only take seven hours vs. 15 hours. Of course, we were very skeptical of this due to so many other reports of journeys being very rough and long. However, we were quite pleased when we arrived in 7.5 hours!
We decided to take the bus for a couple of reasons. One, it is much cheaper than flying which costs about $100/person and that money most likely goes toward the government. Two, they now have a morning bus which means no overnight bus! This was very important to us as from our past experiences, taking night buses usually means you don’t get much sleep and by arriving early in the morning at your hotel there is a good chance you will not be able to check-in until regular check-in time at noon – 3pm! Not good! This all adds up to an exhausting bus ride and an exhausting day where all you want to do is get some rest but you can’t!
The taxi ride from our hotel to the bus station cost 7,000 Kyat and took about 45 minutes. Our bus left the main bus terminal in Yangon, Aung Mingalar, northeast of Yangon International Airport. Your hotel should know the amount of time required to get to the station as you should expect traffic and other road conditions. We had to cross through a flooded road which slowed us down a bit and we arrive right at check-in time of 8:00 AM. The check-in process was easy and fast and they spoke enough English for us to understand. They also have a squat toilet in the back if you need to go, as the bus won’t stop for about three hours. However, if you really need to go, the bus will stop on the side of the highway for you.
The bus was in excellent condition. We were told by our hotel that none of the buses in Myanmar are new. However, they are purchased ‘mostly new’ from countries like Japan and Korea. Ours was a Japanese made bus and it was in great condition and very clean. To help keep the bus clean, no eating or drinking is allowed on board. However, they do provide each passenger with a bottle of water, so we assumed it was fine to drink. The spacing of the seats was adequate, I would say a couple of inches more than economy class on an air flight. The seats also recline back a good amount to help you rest.
Aung Mingalar bus terminal is a bit chaotic, so fortunately our taxi driver showed us exactly where our bus was and surprisingly our bus left about on time at 8:36 AM. After maneuvering through all the other buses in the station we were on the road and within a few minutes we were on the brand new toll highway and a very smooth ride! While it is a toll highway the bus pays all the fees which seem to be quite high. I think we stopped at six tolls and the fees ranged from 1,000 to 5,000 Kyat. They appeared to have a fee structure based on vehicle type and something you might want to take into consideration if you decide to hire a car.
Our first stop was lunch at 11:30 AM. There was an announcement through the PA system that was in both Burmese and English and told use we had 30 minutes for lunch. We were expecting conditions similar to those you find in Cambodia and Vietnam – very dirty and shabby with touts trying to sell you anything and everything. Instead, we were very surprised at the modernity of the facilities! The modern setup had very clean restrooms, which were free to use with toilet paper! Washing sinks to clean up, and a variety of clean restaurants!
We ate at the Pioneer as it appears our bus company has a deal with that particular restaurant since our bus had a big label across the bus that said ‘Pioneer’ and because we pulled into the parking space of the restaurant. No matter, we only had 30 minutes and we were hungry. We ordered just one plate of chicken fried rice. To our surprise again, our waiter spoke just enough English and the service was very efficient. The cost was 2,000 Kyat and the food was bland at best, but one plate was enough for the both of us!
As we boarded the bus the attendant took a head count which was reassuring that they wouldn’t leave you behind. However, as we began to pull out, the bus stopped abruptly as a woman was running towards us. Well, I guess they don’t do a thorough head count, so make sure you get back to the bus when it’s time to get back on the road! With all passengers now on board we were off again.
Two hours later we made another bathroom break and similar type of rest stop with restaurants, clean bathrooms and vendors selling fresh fruit, vegetables and their wares. No time to have a meal this time, just bathroom and snacks. Within a few minutes we were back on the road.
I stayed awake the entire journey as it was impossible to sleep with the blaring music and/or movies playing on the LCD screen. Good thing we brought ear plugs to lessen the noise! So I spent most of my time looking out the window enjoying the very flat landscape of the countryside which was mostly farmland of rice and other crops including banana. We would also see the occasional cattle and goat herder crossing the highway with their livestock. One thing that was obvious was the faith of the people as there were pagodas that dotted the landscape throughout the entire journey. Especially on the hilltops, no matter if the hills were big or small, a pagoda was on top of it. Almost all of them were shiny gold and glimmering in the muted sunlight.
As we got closer to Mandalay we made a couple of stops to let some passengers off. So I’m assuming that you can also get off at any point if you let the driver know ahead of time.
At 5:00 PM we arrived at Mandalay Kwe Se Kan Bus Station (main station). This station was much more chaotic than in Yangon! As we pulled into the station about 30 men (mostly taxi drivers) began to follow the bus and yell at the passengers asking if they wanted a ride. The taxi drivers wanted 7,000 Kyat to our hotel, Silver Swan Hotel, near the Palace. We were able to get it for 6,000 Kyat. You can easily get a pickup truck type taxi for 5,000 Kyat or maybe less.
The total journey time was about 7.5 hours which is just .5 hours over the estimated 7 hours. Not bad at all for a very smooth ride into Mandalay! Overall, Highly Recommended!
Items to bring:
- Ear plugs – once the bus starts rolling they start blasting music or playing Burmese movies and they like to have the volume very loud! I don’t know how you will survive without ear plugs!
- Bring a light jacket or sweater as it can get cold in there with the air-conditioning on strong all the time, but overall the temperature was quite comfortable and you can even close your individual air vent if needed.
- While the bus does make a lunch break stop you might prefer to bring your own snacks to eat.
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