Myanmar by train

I love trains and when we’re travelling, if there are trains available, I’ll look at using them to get about, especially if I can save us a night’s accommodation in the process. However, the over-riding consideration is that they must go where we want them to go, and approximately when we want.
It was therefore with some trepidation that I factored two train trips into our much anticipated visit to Myanmar recently. Having read everything I could find, which wasn’t much and was mostly out of date or had lots of ‘can’t guarantee this is correct’ comments, I put on a brave face and convinced my travelling companions that all would be well.
I have to say that I pulled the correct straw out of the bundle. Phew. The trains ran where we wanted and when and had sleeper cars attached.

So. Here is the latest information on travelling by train in Myanmar as at January 2013.

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Yangon Railway Station

First rule. You need to buy your tickets in your town of departure. Don’t panic, there should be seats available, at least our trains were not overbooked. The latest timetables and fares are posted below, it will cost you USD33 for a ticket Yangon to Mandalay, and despite it stating that Bagan to Yangon is USD50, we only had to pay USD40, plus $2 to the agent. You don’t go to the station to buy though. In Bagan, that is miles out of town and going there once is enough. You can buy your tickets from the agent in Nyaung U, your hotel should be able to point you in the right direction. In Yangon, the ticket office is a very dark building directly over the road (Bogyoke Aung San Road) from the Sakura Building. You will need your passport and nice crisp USD.

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The ticket office, Yangon

Get to the station at least half an hour early and you can make yourself at home once you are able to board. There is a tourist’s waiting room in Bagan, but it looked like it had never been used and anyway, the platform was much more interesting. The trains are all pretty old and look like they are originally from Malaysia. At least the sockets in the Yangon / Mandalay ones were, they had SIRIM stickers. You will be hassled by chaps taking your dinner orders (7000Kyat) in Yangon, delivery at 7pm, but not in Bagan. You should take food and plenty of drinking water. We loaded up with individual packs of biscuits and fruit we bought at the market so we were fine. There is a restaurant car, but we didn’t actually go to investigate, though the food apparently came from there on the Yangon Mandalay journey. Take something warm, jackets, a sarong to wrap up in, extra socks. They give you a thin sheet, but it gets really cold and you will welcome every extra layer you can find. This is the cooler part of the year, mid-year might be the opposite. The trains aren’t air conditioned, it’s all natural aided by a ceiling fan if you need it. We didn’t.

You will get a free massage during the trip. You get rocked side to side, front to back and fishtailed. Or if you prefer, it messes with pitch, roll and yaw. But the ‘best’ is the up and down. NOT! Our carriage Yangon / Mandalay obviously had a faulty spring somewhere, so everytime there was any reasonably hefty bump, the up & down movement took on a life of its own and intensified. One of our group ended up with a nasty bruise on his hip as a result.

On the whole, I would have to say it was a positive experience. The toilets were reasonably clean (but take toilet paper) and I at least, managed to get some sleep once I got into the rhythm of the train. If you wake up in the middle of the night when you’re in a station, you can see all the local travellers getting on and off and as you get close to your destination in the morning, you will see lots of morning markets at the stations. In fact, many  tourists take the circular route round Yangon to see how the other half lives. If you’ve come in on the Bagan train, you’ve already seen this, at the right time of day, so you can save your $1 and put it towards a drink at The Strand hotel instead.

One note about the Mandalay station. If you have a big bag, negotiate for a taxi straight off the platform. Then you don’t have to carry your own bag down millions of steps with no directions.

Enjoy!

34 Responses to “Myanmar by train”

  1. Scott Harkess

    Hi Lesley. Thanks for putting together this site and all the helpful info. I am planning to travel to Myanmar for the first time arriving Sat 18/02/2017. So not much time for planning. Now have the e visa. So all set. I plan to stay about 25 days before travelling to Vietnam. So far my plan is to fly from Bangkok into Yangon and stay 5 nights. Then possibly train to Bagan and ferry to Mandalay. Plan to visit the Inle lake area. But otherwise will continue researching for other lovely places to visit. Thinking of heading to the beach area of Ngapali and possibly southern Myanmar towards Dawei. Not entirely sure at the moment.

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Hi Scott,
      Thanks for your kind comments. As you would have noticed, the story is a few years old, but apart from the reportedly improved availablity of ATMs and mobile coverage, much will still be relevant. Yangon is a great place to visit as is Bagan and I wish we’d had more time in both as well as a few days in Mandalay. We didn’t make it to either the beaches or Inle lake, more’s the pity. You might also like to check out some of the train trips – Yangon (Rangoon) to Mawlamyine (Moulmein) is one I’d love to do. I’d go back to Myanmar at the drop of a hat, if I had the opportunity.

      Reply
      • Scott Harkess

        Hi Lesley.
        I found your website though Seat61 website, which is terrific. I will let you know the result of this trip, as it may help other travellers. So far plan to spend 5 nights in Yangon. Then train Yangon and stay Thazi 1 night before transferring by train to Nyaungshwe for 3 nights. Then back through Thazi and on to Mandalay. Before departure, I most probably will only book hotels and trains for Yangon and Nyaungshwe and the train to Thazi. Then book the remainder while in Myanmar. Not sure if that’s a good idea, but I like to be able to change things based on new info as I go, but not sure if I will miss out on the train or hotels along the way. Not concerned, as I am a solo traveller. From Thazi will most likely then go onto Mandalay for about 4 or 5 nights and then ferry to Bagan for 4 or 5 nights. Then back Yangon and possibly head south to Mawlamyine. Thanks again.

        Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      That sounds like a lovely trip and yes, I’d really welcome your feedback, I’m sure lots will have changed. Have a great time. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Ted

    Hi Lesley,

    Thanks for the great travel blog and info about train travel in Myanmar. I’m planning a 6 day trip in Myanmar late May. The Myanmar information you and others blogged about seem pretty clear and very inspiring. I’m just wondering for your Yangon-Mandalay-Bagan trip, do you mind if I ask how much USD you had in your budget for eight days? Without regular access to ATMs, I like to make sure I carry enough to change into Kyat for the week’s sleeping, transportation, and eating needs.

    I am planning to fly in from Bangkok to Yangon, train from Yangon to Bagan and Mandalay, and fly out Mandalay to Bangkok. Do you think that’s reasonable in six days?

    Many thanks!

    Ted

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Hi Ted,
      Thanks for your kind comment. To be honest, 6 days will be tight and you’ll really need to match things up fairly well. Given that you can only reliably buy your train tickets when you get there, despite a few who have managed to find an agent to do it for them, you will need to have cash for the tickets. Between Bagan/Mandalay you’ll either have to get a bus, of if they’re running at this time of year, the boat trip along the Irrawaddy is a great way to go. If you can prebook and pre-pay for your accommodation, it makes life easier, but not all places will do this. You can save quite a lot if you’re a backpacker and look for somewhere when you arrive. We had pre-booked, but I noticed quite a few places which looked more like hostels that had room available signs. This will affect the amount you carry, but from memory we spent about USD300 per person for 8 days, including some accommodation, all meals and transport. We also did our bit ‘supporting local industry’ buying sand paintings and the beautiful lacquerware in Bagan and small wooden and jade items in Yangon. Do make sure your cash is newish notes, clean, not torn or stained and not folded. Make sure you change at official money changers, never be swayed by better rates offered by the chaps on the street. I hope this at least a little bit of help. Have a great time, I would go back in a heartbeat!

      Reply
  3. Michael

    Hi Lesley

    Will be in Yangon in November 2015 and would like to train/bus to Bagan. As we fly in at midnight do either train/bus leave in the morning time? After Bagan we want to get to Taungoo for a week, how do u suggest we get over there – bus or train available?
    Thanks Michael

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Hi Michael, It’s a couple of years now since we were in Myanmar, so things may have changed, and as you’ve probably realised, they don’t really have official websites for trains and buses like many other countries which are accurate and allow you to make online bookings. We did look into catching a bus, but it is a really long journey, even on the train it was about 16 hours and I would find that difficult confined in a bus seat, with fixed breaks along the way. There were a number of buses available though.
      The train timetable when we were there did the out journey to Bagan in the morning, but even if it leaves later and goes overnight, you will welcome a ‘bed’ however bumpy it may be. Bagan is not a place to arrive in later in the evening, the station is well out of town and though there may be taxis available, it would be wise to arrange a pick-up with your hotel. Make sure you take plenty of food, drinks and toilet paper! Yangon is a great place to wander, so if you can keep your bags safe, go for a walk.
      I’m sorry I can’t help you with Taungoo though, we didn’t make it there and I didn’t do any research either.
      Have a great time in Myanmar, it is really worth the effort.

      Reply
      • Michael

        Thanks Lesley for your reply. If the train goes in the morning that will do us fine. Save sitting at airport from midnight until 6 or 7pm for a bus. It sure is hard without websites with timetable and costs. Did u leave from the Yangon city station and purchase your tickets on the same day?
        Is going on to Mandalay after Bagan worth it. Transport? I can’t find any info on how to cross over and down to Toungoo so am thinking to go on up to the capital and then bus down to Toungoo.

        Reply
      • Michael

        Hi Lesley it’s me back again. After rereading you trained it from Yangon to Mandalay. Did u go thru Bagan on your way north to Mandalay. Or was it direct to Mandalay? Thanks from Michael in Australia

        Reply
        • Lesley Lee

          Hi Michael,
          We did. We did an overnighter to Mandalay and had a full day to look around (not enough though) stayed in a hotel overnight and then caught the river boat down the Irrawaddy to Bagan, which was brilliant. I would highly recommend it and they do go up from Bagan to Mandalay as well. (They don’t run all year round because of the water levels, but it should be OK in November) It takes the whole day but you can either take your own food, or they have a restaurant on board. The hotels can help sort out the tickets which were US40 when we were there. Then we had two nights in Bagan which gave us a full day plus another half before we caught the overnight train back to Yangon.

          Reply
  4. stephanie sofiantie

    Hi lesley.. which one is better route.. yangon – bagan, or yangon – mandalay first? And to buy train ticket, can we buy online? If we can, can you give us the website? Thank you for ur help..

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Hi. Sorry I missed this. I think it depends on the time of year. We were there in January and the river was low so we could catch the ferry from Mandalay down to Bagan which was a highlight of the trip. You can do it either way though. We wished we’d allowed more time in both places as they are fascinating. The train to Mandalay first suited us well. When we went you couldn’t buy online, you had to buy in person. It wasn’t a problem, you just need to go to the station and purchase it as soon as you get there, to be sure of your seat (get a sleeper). The station in Bagan is a long way from town, so if you arrive by ferry, ask the transport (taxi) to take you to the shop in New Bagan that acts as the agent for tickets.

      Reply
  5. stephanie sofiantie

    Hi lesley.. which one is better route.. yangon – bagan, or yangon – mandalay first? And to buy train ticket, can we buy online? If we can, can you give us the website? Thank you for ur help..

    Reply
  6. Mariann

    Hi Lesley,

    Thanks for putting up all these info to help others who would want to visit like me.
    I am actually traveling with a friend 2 weeks from now, with only roughly 5 days for Yangon – Bagan.

    Day 1 evening arrive at Yangon.
    Day 2 afternoon, take the overnight train to Bagan.
    Day 3 morning, arrive at Bagan.
    Day 3 evening, leave Bagan for Yangon.
    Days 4-6, roam around Yangon.

    Is this too tiring for us? We only allocated 8 hours to go around Bagan and take the same day return trip back to Yangon. Should that be enough?

    Also, do you have any recommended hostels and restaurants that are in pretty good locations around Yangon?

    Thank you in advance! 🙂

    Mariann, Philippines

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Hi Mariann,
      What a pity you don’t have longer. 🙁 I would suggest if you can alter your itinerary, that you stay overnight at least in Bagan. There are well over a thousand temples and even just getting around the main ones will take you a full day. If you stay overnight, you will have the opportunity to see both sunrise and sunset views over the landscape, stunning. The other thing to consider is that the train ride is interesting (I enjoyed it immensely) but if there is any delay you will have less time to get around. It’s also not like a suburban smooth train. The trip may take between 16 and 18 hours each way which you may find quite exhausting. The station is quite a distance outside Bagan town as well. We stayed at the thirimarlar hotel ([email protected]) in New Bagan, which is small but comfortable and has lovely friendly staff. We didn’t use hostels, but in Yangon stayed in the East Hotel in Sule Road, very close to the Railway station and just along from the Bogyoke Aung San Market. There’s plenty of street food and a number of small hole in the wall restaurants just as you head towards the Sule Rd Pagoda, to the left of the hotel. If you want a bit of something special, go all the way down to the river to the Strand Hotel and have a Singapore Sling (or Mandalay Sling or any of their neat drinks from a long list) for around USD7. Much less than you’ll pay in the Raffles in Singapore and even better.
      Enjoy your trip.

      Reply
  7. Drew

    Hello Lesley,

    I’m looking at doing both of these routes this June. Are all of the sleeper cars 4 beds or are there some 2 bed sleepers as well? I’m curious if we’ll have a couple random people staying with us or not. Also, did you take the ferry from Mandalay to Bagan? Any recommendations on the local or express ferry?

    Thank you!

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Hi Drew,
      Both trains seemed to have 4 berth cabins. There were three of us travelling and on the way to Mandalay we did have a fourth person, which was probably worse for him than us, even though we made sure we were considerate. I think they’d only put more people in with you if they didn’t have space elsewhere. On the way from Bagan to Yangon all the carriages had passengers, but none were full.
      We did take the ferry down the river and it was one of the highlights of the trip. We took the one that costs $40 and has an airconditioned cabin and a restaurant. It’s fairly basic still, but there’s plenty of room. You can sit on the deck if it’s not too hot as there is plenty of shade. We stopped a couple of times to drop off / collect passengers and at one of the stops there were people who came out to sell fruit which was fresh and welcome and also provided some great photo opportunities. The local ferry is apparently interesting as well as pretty inexpensive, but may not be too comfortable. We did pass one on the way and there were foreigners on board.

      Enjoy!

      Reply
  8. Tony Falkner

    This was a great guide to what to expect. Thanks Lesley. This is probably a silly question but I’m going yo ask anyway. My family will be travelling Yangon yo Mandaly in a sleeper. Are you able to sit down and watch the world go by in the sleeper or do you go to a main carriage to sit? As you can tell I’m a bit confused by sitting/sleeping ticket situation.
    Thanks
    Tony Falkner

    Reply
  9. Basil

    Hi Lesley,

    First of all thanks for all the info on your train trip. Just to keep you and others posted, there was no dining coach from Yangon to Bagan. The cost is still US$40 for the sleeper. Maybe it was the low season the train was not really packed with foreign tourists. Your tip on bringing jackets and sarong helps. Mosquitoes repellents is necessary too. Oh yes we travelled on 2 June 2013. Take care.

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Thanks Basil. It’s a great trip. We suspected that the dining car wouldn’t be available which is why we were well prepared with biscuits, fruit and water. Mozzie repellent is probably a good idea too at this time of the year, it was dry and relatively cool when we were there.

      Reply
  10. Martin Burbridge

    Hi
    I just took the train from Yangon to Mandalay, great experience but I would say to Yani not to travel in 2 days only , the train I was on was so bumpy you could not sleep , it would be very difficult to travel such a long distance in such a short time I think

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Thanks Martin,
      Sounds like they are still using the same carriage we had. I think the suspension is shot so we experienced the full range of movements every time we went over any little uneven spot. Up and down, back to front rock, left to right roll, and fishtailing side to side. It was certainly interesting.

      Reply
  11. Vani

    Hi Lesley,

    Thank you for the experience you provided. Found it useful.

    My friend and I are planning a trip in Dec 2013. I know it is still a long way to go but we like to plan ahead. 🙂

    We are arriving at Yangon from Bangkok…and then taking the overnight train to Bagon and then back to Yangon the next day.

    I was wondering if the trains arrive on time and reach the destination on time too?

    We went to the trains website and they suggested 2 travel agents that we can buy tickets from. Did you buy yours from them? And who is the Mark you were mentioning?

    So sorry to trouble you with so many questions…:)

    Thank you

    Vani

    Reply
    • Tony Falkner

      This was a great guide to what to expect. Thanks Lesley. This is probably a silly question but I’m going yo ask anyway. My family will be travelling Yangon yo Mandaly in a sleeper. Are you able to sit down and watch the world go by in the sleeper or do you go to a main carriage to sit? As you can tell I’m a bit confused by sitting/sleeping ticket situation.
      Thanks
      Tony Falkner

      Reply
      • Lesley Lee

        Thanks Tony. It’s not a silly question at all. The sleeper cars have cabins with four berths in each, running perpendicular to the windows (i.e. the same way seats are arranged, facing front or back). Two up (no view) and two down. There are windows on one side and a door to the corridor on the other. The windows are sort of frosted, but you can raise them and let in the breeze (natural air conditioning) so you can certainly watch the world go by. If you have a carriage to yourself, and you want to go for a wander to the dining car (we didn’t) it might not be a bad idea to have a small lock you could use on the door while you are away. Regardless, bring some snacks with you and water/drinks. Before you leave Yangon, you will likely be visited by vendors taking orders for a meal (dinner, if overnight) You pay on delivery and it’s cooked fresh and hot.
        Have fun and let me know how you go. 🙂

        Reply
  12. Vanessa

    Thanks so much for the great article. I’ll be in Burma in November for just 5 days and am considering taking an over night train (or two!) to travel and save time.

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Not enough! We were there 8 days and barely scratched the surface! The train is a good option and it will be getting cooler again in November, so make sure you have something to keep you warm.

      Reply
  13. Alistair Burns

    Hi Lesley

    Thank you for your prompt and informative reply! It’s good to know there’s a restaurant car on the Bagan train.

    In fact, I wrote to at least 20 travel agents in Rangoon and only a handful replied (including Sanay Travel who Mark used to use) saying they could purchase tickets on my behalf and deliver them to my hotel. I had to send a passport scan, but I think this is normal. The 2 who replied to me are now included on Mark’s website and I will let him know if they’re for real or not!

    Anyway, thanks again.

    Best Regards
    Alistair Burns
    (Bangkok)

    Reply
  14. Alistair Burns

    Hi Lesley

    Thank you so much for such an informative and up to date website! I plan to travel to Burma this April (2013) and will get the train from Rangoon to Bagan and return. I too have been in touch with Mark of Seat 61 and told him about the travel agents where you can book tickets thru their website and they’ll deliver them to your hotel. I promised him an update too!!

    Lesley, could you plesae tell me if there is a restaurant car on the 61 train to Bagan and also the availability and price of taxis waiting at Bagan station to take you into town (New Bagan)?

    Thank you so much.

    Best regards
    Alistair Burns

    Reply
    • Lesley Lee

      Hello Alistair,
      We initially tried to book through an agent but he was very slow replying to our queries and despite his telling us he could do it, we ended up getting our tickets when we arrived in Yangon. I’m not sure if you can do a return booking in Yangon, we just did one way Bagan – Yangon so had to book that in Bagan but had no problem booking the day we actually travelled. The agent had quoted us USD60 per ticket, but we ended up only paying $40 which was a significant difference. Mark is very responsive and gets back to you pretty quickly when you email him, he is obviously very keen to keep his site relevant and helpful.
      Re the restaurant car. There is one, but we didn’t use it as it was a couple of cars away, we just took plenty of water and biscuits with us and had a good feed up before we left and again after we arrived. Have a lovely trip. I will be posting a couple more stories in the next week or two, so feel free to check and read.
      Will also email this comment to you.

      Reply

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