Mandalay can be reached by Air, bus, train or by boat. The most comfortable and convenient way to travel to Mandalay is to travel by air. The three private airlines in Myanmar, Air Mandalay, Air Bagan and Yangon Airway, run several flights a day to Mandalay from Yangon. Most of these flights run the route Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay-Heho-Yangon or in the opposite direction, so it is convenient to plan your trip through these popular tourist destinations. Tickets can be difficult to secure during the tourist season so it is wise to book the tickets in advanced. (See Domestic Airlines for advice). However, there is some drawback for budget travelers to use plane to travel to Mandalay. The air ticket price is quite expensive compared to similar trips in other countries. The Mandalay International Airport is also quite far away – actually very far away from town. It takes more time to reach the airport from town by car than to reach by air from Yangon! Nobody knows why they built the airport at such a far away place. The airfare between Yangon and Mandalay is around 80 to 100 US$ depending on the season. All foreigners must pay ticket price in US dollar.
For budget travelers, a nice and cheap way to travel to Mandalay from Yangon is by train. Since the introduction of new trains from Chinese in 2006, the standard of the new trains become better. The trains have no air conditions even for the first class carriages, and the arrival times are almost always late, sometimes several hours later than the expected arrival time. The train ride is also quite bumpy; in some places, it is extremely bumpy. Since 2006, all trains running between Yangon and Mandalay were changed to day trains. Although this means you lost one day traveling, the experience is a great one. You have a chance to see the county site of Burma in a comfortable way. The train ride, although far from perfect, is far better than usually overcrowded air conditioned buses (which are sometimes hot inside actually). The train timetable below is the latest one we have right now but the timetable can be changed anytime, and the departure and arrival times can be changed at no notice for any reason. The train usually arrives at Mandalay Railway Station in late night or very early morning depending on various conditions. However, there is no problem getting a taxi at any time of the day (or night) at the Mandalay Railway Station. One thing about the trains in Burma is that most trains (except for the Special Express Trains), have no dining carriage, so you will have to buy your food on the way. A good idea is to pack your own lunch (and some snacks in case the train is late) for your trip from your hotel or guesthouse. Train tickets are sold in US dollar to foreigners and range from 30 to 50 US$ per seat depending on the class. The ordinary seats are cheaper at around 10 to 15 US$ but it is not a convenient way for foreigners to travel as they are always extremely crowded.
Another way to travel to Mandalay is by bus. There are several air-conditioned buses running between Yangon and Mandalay. Most of these buses are overcrowded except for a few bus services. However, the buses running in this route are generally far better than those from other routes. The buses are cleaner and newer, and the road is also better. Toilet is always a problem for bus travelers as clean toilets are virtually non-existence in Burmese highways. (See Yangon – Mandalay Highway Buses for detailed advice). Bus fare is in Myanmar kyat, and will cost around 15,000 kyat for foreigners. All the buses leave Yangon in the afternoon around 5 PM and will reach Mandalay around 7 AM the next morning. On the way, you will have to get off your bus and walk through the check point near the new capital Naypyidaw, which is a great annoyance for travelers.
Another way to travel to Mandalay is by boat. You cannot reach Mandalay directly from Yangon by boat. However, if you are traveling from Bagan, there is a boat service from Bagan to Mandalay. The boat leaves at 5:30 AM in the morning, and reaches Mandalay around 4 PM, depending on the condition of the river (it can be as late as midnight). It is a slow and boring trip but it is a very nice experience to see the life on the Irrawaddy (Ayeyarwaddy) River. And this is my favorite way of travel to Mandalay from Bagan. Boat services run every day of the week, but may be reduced depending on the tourist arrival. The time table is also changed seasonal depending on the condition of the river and you should check your timetable with your travel agent or the guest house. Boat fare is US$ 10, 20 and 30 depending on the boat and class (Shwe Kenneri – US$ 20, Pinlon/Padoma – US$ 30 for sleeping cabin, US$ 10 for deck seat).
Editor’s Note: Many of the above information has been obtained from our reference book Lonely Planet Guide to Myanmar (Burma)