Looking for information on the Air Asia shuttle bus to Mandalay? See our update below.
Myanmar is changing so quickly, in fact, that Lonely Planet's 2011 travel guide is already out of date. Prices have changed significantly, transportation routes have altered, new hotels and restaurants have emerged overnight. I'm happy to share my experiences from our recent trip in hopes that I can help with practical information, as well as inspire others to visit this incredibly special country.
Most people entering Myanmar do so through Yangon. Yangon is still the primary airport of choice, but Mandalay is experiencing higher traffic as travelers are increasingly entering through one airport, making their way across the country, and departing from a second location. That's exactly what we did, flying into Mandalay and eventually leaving from Yangon.
We arrived at Mandalay airport and found it quiet and well organized. A shuttle bus transported us from the airplane to the main airport terminal. The customs line went very quickly, with four agents staffing each line - one to take our arrivals card before we reached the counter, one to check it before we reached the counter, and two agents to check our passport and arrivals card once we finally did reach the counter! The staff were polite and professional.
The bathrooms were clean and a friendly attendant showed me how to scoop out soap the texture of play dough from a little cup. There was no fee to use the facilities but there was a small plate to leave a tip at your discretion. We passed a foreign exchange counter but no other amenities or services. (There apparently is a small duty free shop and cafe on the departures side). (Update from readers: There are now ATMs in the arrivals hall - no word on departure hall).
Time to Hit the Road
Unfortunately Mandalay airport is 35 kilometers away from the city center, which represents a commute of 45-75 minutes. To make your trip go as smoothly as possible, here are your best budget friendly options to get to and from the airport.
Many hotels and guesthouses offer a complimentary airport shuttle, making this a convenient and economical choice. Be sure to confirm your arrangements in advance. Many hotels in Mandalay have partnered with Agoda, a popular third party booking agent, to arrange reservations. Agoda's online booking includes an airport pick up request option but all the travellers I've heard from have reported that their online requests were not successful. Best to email or call your hotel directly to inquire about pick up possibilities.
Taxis can be organized through any hotel or guesthouse and, if you are arriving at Mandalay airport, there is a taxi desk after customs to make arrangements. Shared taxis start at 4,000 Kyat per person (maybe as low as 3,000 spending on your bargaining skills), while private taxis go up to 15,000 Kyat.
Taxis are a good choice for several people sharing costs and your only option if you're travelling to a non-city center destination. Don't be shy - make friends on the plane and band together to share and save!
Note from Vanessa (April 2016): THANK YOU to all of our amazing readers who have written in with updates. What seemed like a temporary suspension of services (shame on you, Air Asia, for the poor communication) now appears to be permanent.
Check out the comments from other readers below to see their input into this discussion and, should you have any suggestions yourself, please don't hesitate to weigh in! (And let Air Asia know that you want this service back - it was invaluable).
Air Asia has daily flights between Bangkok and Mandalay and is the leading budget choice for those travelling to Myanmar. They offer complimentary transportation to and from the Mandalay airport -but those coming in on other airlines need not apply!
All you need to do is present your Air Asia ticket/boarding pass to the staff. You can't miss the bus - it's large, red, and branded with the Air Asia logo. The bus schedule corresponds with the airline schedule, with two buses leaving the airport 45 minutes and 60 minutes after arrival (and two buses leaving Road 79 by Mandalay Palace between Roads 26 & 27 at 9:00 and 9:15 am to correspond with the departing flights).
The ride was a slow, bumpy experience that took over an hour. As our accommodations were located in North Mandalay we were still nowhere near home once the shuttle dropped us off. While we could have asked the staff to direct us to a city bus, we decided to walk.
And walk we did! For 45 minutes, in 45 degrees Celsius weather, we trotted through the city, attracting a few curious glances. Happily, Mandalay's grid system of numbering the streets made it near impossible to get lost. If you follow in our footsteps be sure to keep your eyes open for potholes and sewer drains!
Looking to travel to Myanmar? These articles are sure to inspire!
Kipling, Orwell, and Harry Potter: A Day in Mandalay
Sailing Down the Irrawaddy: Traveling by Boat from Mandalay to Bagan
The BEST Travel Experience of my Life: Balloons Over Bagan
The WORST Travel Experience of my Life: The Overnight Train from Bagan to Yangon
Besotted with Bagan: Day 10 &11 of Our Round The World Trip
At Long Last: Yangon. Day 12 &13 of Our Round The World Trip
Guest House Review: Yangon's Motherland Inn 2
*"Min-Ga-La-Ba" is the phonetic pronunciation of the Burmese word for "hello". I consulted several language guides and, while the phonetic spelling often varies a bit, this was the closest I came to a standard writing of the word.*