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On his recent round-the-world trip, TPG Special Contributor Eric Rosen visited Myanmar for a week. He wrote about his tips for visiting Myanmar and his experiences in the country’s largest city, Yangon. Today he discusses the flights he took to the other destinations he visited in the country.
Although Myanmar continues to open up to the outside world after years of international sanctions and isolation, traveling there still feels like a bit of a throwback travel experience – one that requires a visa application within a certain window of time, necessitates carrying a fair amount of cash with you to pay for expenses, and where only certain parts of the country are open for tourism, and foreigners’ movements are somewhat restricted. Like the rest of the travel experience here, flying within the country to various destinations also feels like something out of the past.
That is because only domestic airlines operate within the country, so if you want to fly from Yangon to another city like Mandalay, you have to purchase your ticket from one of these small carriers. Not only that, but unless you have someone already in the country arranging the tickets for you, you will probably have to wait until you get there to buy your airline ticket from a travel agency or tour operator, and you almost always have to do so in cash, so you should budget for it and bring the money you need with you. Here’s how I got everything done.
The Flight Circuit
My own plan was to spend two nights in Yangon, then fly to Nyaung U, the airport that serves Bagan (where there are over 4,000 ancient stupas and temples along the Ayeyarwaddy (Irrawaddy) River. I would spend two nights there, then continue on to Inle Lake (the closest airport is Heho), and then finally fly back to Yangon for one final night before departing the country. That was my preferred itinerary because all the domestic tourist flights in Myanmar all pretty much follow the same circuit, and all the airlines that fly it depart within minutes of each other from each destination.
From what I could tell, the typical circuit is Yangon to Nyaung U (Bagan) to Mandalay to Heho (Inle Lake) then back to Yangon. And the airlines all fly this circuit each day. The other thing I noticed was that all the flights left very early in the morning (like around 6:30-6:50am) because temperatures in many parts of the country (and especially Yangon and Bagan) can get so high that the planes would not have enough lift to take off if they left later in the morning or in the afternoon.
I had a pretty tight schedule and did not want to leave anything up to chance, so when the business office at the Shangri-La Sule, where I was staying in Yangon, contacted me before my trip to ask if they could help with any travel arrangements within Myanmar, I took them up on their offer to book my plane tickets and hotels for me.
The hotel usually suggests a few other hotels around the country to their guests, but I had done my research and asked them to book specific ones in Bagan and Inle (I’ll get to that in a later post). As for the airline tickets, I left it up to them, but just gave them the dates I needed to travel and a nice woman named Stella took care of the details for me, sending me flight information, times and prices before booking anything.
Though Stella said that it would be possible to book the flights once I arrived in the country and pay cash for them, she suggested that I have her book them for me and pay the hotel by credit card just to be sure I was confirmed on the specific flights she had found at the price she was able to quote. That way, I could just give my credit card number to the hotel, they would charge me then pay for the tickets on my behalf, and everything would be set. The one consideration was that the hotel would require a 7% surcharge for booking my ticket that way, but since that only ended up being about $20, I decided to go ahead and do it for my peace of mind.
I had asked about flight times when Stella had sent them over to me, and she told me that my options were fairly limited and that no matter which airline I flew in the country, I would pretty much be departing around the same time, so I just went with the ones she had nailed down. She emailed me a form to fill out with my credit card information, and I scanned it then emailed it back to her and she sent me a booking confirmation for my flights.
When I arrived at the hotel in Yangon, I popped down to the business center and picked up my waiting airline tickets and hotel reservation. Stella wasn’t there (I wanted to meet her after all our emails!), but instead her colleague gave me a printed page with my e-ticket with my entire itinerary on it. The paper actually said that my booking was confirmed and that because the e-ticket was already recorded in the airline’s system that I did not need to take a printed version of the sales receipt with me, but they asked for it at the airport, so it was good to have on hand.
The hotel booked it through an entity called May Flower Travels & Tours, which has offices throughout the country in tourist destinations including Yangon, Mandalay, Tachileik (up north near the border with Thailand) and Heho.
The tickets came to $299, but my final tally was $319 including the 7% surcharge for using a credit card to book them ahead of time. What was interesting to me was the fare/fee breakdown. The Yangon-Bagan and Heho-Yangon fares were both $74 plus a $30 fee each (with no explanation given), while the Bagan-Mandalay-Heho fare was $69 with a $19 fee. I figured the $30 fee must be the one for flying into and out of Yangon. My airfare also entitled me to a checked bag weighing up to 20 kg.
My first two legs would be aboard an airline called Mann Yadanarpon, and then the return flight from Heho to Yangon would be on KBZ, though the e-ticket was issued through KBZ, so they must have a partnership. All the tickets were on a single itinerary, and once I had them in hand and the business center called the airline the day before my first flight to confirm times and my ticket, I was all set to go.
Stay tuned for future posts with my reviews of the flights and what to do in Bagan and Inle Lake.