Like most countries in the world, highway buses form the most important part of public transportation in Myanmar. Most towns and cities in Myanmar can only be reached by land road. Even to major cities like Yangon and Mandalay, buses are the cheapest and easiest mode of travel for most people in Myanmar. Air fare is quite expensive in Myanmar and most people in Myanmar cannot afford to pay for the air ticket price. Sale of train tickets are tightly controlled and difficult to get for ordinary people. Moreover, conditions of many train carriages make it very uncomfortable for most travelers.
Although highway buses are the most convenient way to travel to most towns in Myanmar, it is not always a comfortable experience. Most highway buses are old, dirty and quite crowded. Most buses don’t have air conditions, and even if they have one, they are usually switched off. Sometimes, they open only until they left the station and once they are outside the town, they switch off. Many a time, they open the air con only very low power, intentionally forcing the passengers to open the windows to let the cool air coming in. Only very few highway buses open the air-con to the full power through out the whole trip.
There are two types of highway buses in Myanmar – expressed and non-expressed. Express buses are usually newer, cleaner and with air-cons. They are also faster, and less likely to break down on the way. They are also more likely to respect the bus timetable. However, most express buses still sell axle seats, and many switch off the air-con on the way. The reason for switching the air-con is to save fuel and hence making more profit for the bus owners. However, there are still a few express buses that run excellent service.
There are also many old and dirty express buses without air-con. Many express buses also break down on the way quite often. Worse, many highway buses, except express buses, will carry cargo at the back, as well as under the passenger seats. Passengers have to sit on the boxes and sacs in very uncomfortable position. For a foreign, it is better to avoid non-express buses at all.
Other highway buses which run only a short distance usually do not have fixed time table. Even if they have one, they will not respect the time table, and will leave the station any time they want, stop very frequently on the way, and will arrive at the destination at their liking. They are also very crowded with passengers and cargo. They are more likely to breakdown on the way also. Heat, smell, sweat, dust, and noise are unbearable. If the bus is full, they will put the passengers on the roof. If you are an adventurous person, you can venture to ride a bus like this on the roof as a new experience.
Traveling in Myanmar by bus is sometimes dangerous, usually slow and time consuming, often crowded, and rarely comfortable. However, if you are a truly adventurous kind of person, the bus ride in Myanmar is for you.