Mandalay is a big city. It is the second largest city in Myanmar with nearly one million populations (there is no reliable government data on the exact population). However, the public transport in Mandalay is very poor compared to other cities of the same size in other Asian countries. Even though public transport system in Yangon is a very poor one, it has at least a functioning public transport system. Mandalay does not have. All it has is a few slow buses that travel at a snail’s pace, almost always over crowded, reaches only a few places in Mandalay, and comes one every half an hour or so. Mandalay is essentially a city of bicycles and motorcycles. Every part of the city is easily reachable by bicycle (except for the new extension of Mandalay). The roads are full of motorcycles and bicycles, with a few cars here and there. Only a few junctions have red lights which rarely work. Taxis are difficult to find (except in a few taxi stands and tourist destinations). There are very few options for foreign tourists to get around Mandalay.
The most convenient way to travel around Mandalay is by taxi. There are only very few official taxis in Mandalay. However, you can find private taxis parked near hotels and guest houses. They are black numbered private cars (easily differentiated from red numbered taxis). They are usually hired in per day, half day, hourly or depending on trip. It is better to draw your trip in advanced and hire the taxi for the whole day. Don’t ever think of getting taxi on the way. It is very difficult to get a taxi like this in Mandalay. Moreover, hiring taxi like this is more expensive than hiring for half day or whole day. If you cannot find any taxi in front of your hotel or guest house, just ask the reception to get one for you. Sometimes, the black taxis don’t come and park near the hotel. Instead, they work through the hotels and tour agents.
Taxis in Mandalay, like elsewhere in Myanmar, are non-air-conditioned cars. They are always old and dirty. There is no meter in the taxis and you have to agree the fare before you start the trip. Make sure to get agreement on the whole trip with the taxi driver as sometimes, they charge different rate for out of city trips.
Another cheap way to travel around Mandalay is by trishaws. Slow, bumpy and hot, they are the way of travel for ordinary Burmese. Many tourists like to travel in a trishaw for sightseeing around the city as it gives them opportunity to see the real life of Burma while, at the same time, slow trishaws let them have plenty of opportunity to take great photos at their leisure. The price is also cheap and trishaws are everywhere in the city. However, beware of the sun and dust as Mandalay is notorious for its extreme heat and heavy dust. Don’t forget to apply plenty of sun-screen, wear your hat and sun glasses, and a big bottle of water and a number of ORS packets.
If you are a little adventurous, why not hire a bicycle and tour around the city by yourself. The city is easily reachable by bicycle and you can travel at our own pace. And it is also the cheapest way to travel. However, be careful of traffic as bicycles, motorcycles and cars in Mandalay usually do not pay much attention to traffic rules.
Editor’s Note: Many of the above information has been obtained from our reference book Lonely Planet Guide to Myanmar (Burma)