Like most other countries in the world, road transportation is the most important communication in Myanmar. Most towns and cities are accessible only by land route. Only a few towns and cities are connected by railway lines. Even if they are connected by rail link, the condition of train services in Myanmar make it too difficult for most ordinary people to use railway as the major means of travel in Myanmar. Some towns are also reachable by rivers but river travel is very slow compared to road transportation, so it is not always practical. Thus, most people has to rely on road transportation to travel in Myanmar.
Talking about roads in Myanmar (Burma) to outsiders is not always an easy task. Most foreigners live in rich countries where roads are in very good condition, and all the towns and villages are connected by full weathered roads in very good condition. Traveling a few hundreds kilometers takes only few hours of comfortable journey for those foreigners. Restaurants, food, toilets, convenient store are easily found on the way. Explaining something that does not exist in their country to the foreigners is a difficult task, until the time they actually come and visit Myanmar.
According to official figure in 2007 (we couldn’t get the official figure for 2008 yet), there are 11 Union Highways with a total of 2,452 miles running north to south. From these highways, other highways running east-west are added. Totally, there are 45 north-south highways of 5,692 miles and 35 east-west highways of 9,450 miles. This give a total of 80 highways with a total of 15,142 miles.
There are three main highways or corridors running north-south in Myanmar. In terms of importance and traffic they are:
- Yangon – Mandalay (Rangoon – Mandalay) Highway. The road passes through major cities in the central Burma such as Bago (Pegu), Taungoo, Pyinmana, new capital Naypyidaw amd Meikhtila (Meiktila). This raod is 695 km long.
- Yangon – Pyay (Rangoon – Prome) Road. This road was built by the aid of the Japanese Government, and considered the best highway in Myanmar. It runs west of the Pegu Range (Bago Yoma) and has a length of 288 km.
- Western Union Highway. This is part of a proposed Pathein – Monywa Highway, which connects towns and cities on the west of Irrawaddy River (Ayeyarwaddy). The road is still under construction and in most part, the condition and the quality of the road is very bad.
A number of important roads extend from these three main corridors. Some of these roads are very imoportant for the econimy of the country that they worth mentioning here.
- Mandalay – Lashio Road. This road starts from Mandalay and ends in Lashio, from which another road extends up to Muse, which is the border town with China. This road is the most important road in China-Burma border trade route. From Mandalay to Lashio, it is 262 km in length.
- Meikhtila – Taunggyi Road. This is an extention from Yangon – Mandalay Road. From Meikhtila (Meiktila), which is on the way from Yangon to Mandalay, the road extends to Taunggyi, the capital of Shan State. From Meikhtila (Meiktila) to Taunggyi, it is 205 km in lenght.
- Pyay – Magway Road (Prome – Magwe Road). This is actually a continuation of Yangon – Pyay Highway. It is running along the east bank of Irrawaddy and has a lenght of 202 km. From Magwe, the road continues to Bagan, passing through Yenanchaung, whihc is the major oil drilling town in central Burma. Another road connects Bagan (from Kyaukpandaung) and Meikhtila (Meikhtila), thus connecting the east and west corridors.
Now, enough with the facts and figures. Lets go to the real life situation. Highways in Myanmar can be classified into acceptable, poor, very poor and extremely poor based on the condition of the road. The only highway in Myanmar with acceptability quality is Yangon-Pyay (Rangoon – Prome) Highway. Built by the aid of the Japanese government, this road is considered the best in Myanmar. The road is smooth and even with very few bumps and holes. However, the road is quite small, only two lanes with the second lane added just a few years ago. Recently, due to poor maintenace, this road is starting to show some wear and tear, although it is still in good shape.
The second major highway in Myanmar, and the most important one is Yangon – Mandalay Highway. Until a few years ago, this road was between poor and very poor conditions depending on the stretch of the road. However, with the improvement added in recent years, the condition of the road has improved to acceptable to poor conditions. The road is two lane in most places, with four lanes in some areas near Yangon and Mandalay.
The third major highway, the so called Western Union Highway, is the worst highway in Myanmar. Built on the western bank of Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) River, its quality is between very poor to extremely poor. In many places, it is either a stoned road to dirt road. There are many stretches of the road where it is very difficult for cars and passenger buses to drive. Most of the time, this road is not normally used by the travelers, except for those who travel short distances between towns on the western bank of Irrawaddy.
Road from Mandalay to Lashio, and to Muse is acceptable in quality. Built by British and American as part of Burma Road, this road was extensively renovated in last ten years to handle the heavy traffic of Myanmar-China border trading. This road now serves as one of the most important trade rout in Myanmar.
Apart from these major highways, most of the other highways in Myanmar are in either very poor to extremely poor condition, with an exception of a few roads which are of poor quality. Most roads are full of bumps and holes, even before the official opening of the road. Some roads turned into dirt roads within a few years or, in some cases, a few months of construction. Most roads have no or very few maintanance and suffer extensive degradation under poor construction, poor maintanance and poor weather. This make most roads in Myanmar unsutable for small cars.
For those who are looking for travelling or entering Myanmar (Burma) through land, please read Travelling to Burma by land.