“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
– Martin Buber
I travelled around Myanmar by bus mostly, but opted for a boat ride between Bagan and Mandalay. No regrets there.
I had three major legs in Myanmar:
- Yangon to Inle Lake
- Inle Lake to Bagan
- Bagan to Mandalay
Two of them I used the fancy and “expensive” tourist buses and for the last one I went by boat.
Yangon to Inle Lake was undertaken with JJ Express (Joyous Journey) and the journey really was joyous, as far as I can tell the only “con” to this is that it takes time to get there (approx. 10 hours, but to be honest I remember this trip as being half that, I had to actually double check online that is in fact that long), the “pros” are many.
It cost me about $20 for a seat in the JJ VIP bus. This includes a spacious seat, a small lunch (mostly two pieces of bread/buns, nothing special), a bus hostess on call should you need any help with anything, a screen showing some crap and some good films (f. ex. I saw Jack Reacher on this trip) and a blanket (to use during the trip, you don’t get to keep it) 😉
JJ and the other VIP bus companies in Myanmar have a good reputation, and I certainly felt I got a safe driver to get me from A to B. I bring this up as a point because in my experience a safe driver is not a given…
I was told they crank the aircon fiercly on these buses and maybe they do on some, but throughout my journey I experienced comfortable temperature. I had a blanket though (they provide it) and was wearing trousers and a longsleeved t-shirt.
They stop if you need the bathroom, but have one scheduled stop for food a few hours after leaving Yangon. The place we stopped at had good, clean toilets and a restaurant selling many types of hot and cold food. Be sure to make a note of the time you leave the bus so you don’t have to stress about how much time you have left though. I forgot and panicked a bit, shuffling my food at the end and scurrying out to catch the bus, only to sit in my seat and wait for ten minutes for the bus to leave 😉
There is a K12,500 / $9 entry fee for the Inle Lake area, which you pay when entering Nyaung Shwe. They come onboard the bus when you reach the border to Inle and give you the ticket in exchange for local currency and/or dollars.
The bus is set to stop at Taunggyi, but it also stops by Nyaungshwe in a “main street” with many hotels and restaurants, and of course the ever-present locals wanting to take you wherever you need to go. (Check “Odyssey JJ Express” on Google maps and you’ll have a great idea of exactly where you’ll be dropped off) I had booked Inle Star Hotel which turned out to be a 5 minute walk from where the bus stopped, so I was golden.
All in all, this was the simplest, easiest and most hasslefree transport ever. I had the hotel book my ticket for me, ordered a taxi to the station and off I went.
The one point that is worth noting is getting to the actual station in Yangon. It takes time. A lot of time. I was off with plenty of time to spare and ended up making it 15 minutes before the bus left because of traffic, so be sure to take this into account. I got a local taxi, can’t remember the price, but it was more than reasonable. My driver asked about company (his English was not that good) and I said “JJ” very clearly, he seemed to know what I meant so I just leaned back and crossed my fingers. The bus companies are well known though, so odds are the driver will drop you off exactly where you need to be at the bus station, mine certainly did. You “check in” at the station (they look at your ticket and give you a sticker with the number of you bus), someone takes your luggage (and gives you a proper tag as a “receipt” for it!) and you get on.
I took my tour of Inle Lake straight from Nyaungshwe, like most tourists. The boats left right outside my hotel so there was no need to get accommodation closer to the lake.