It is an annoying reality of backpacking in Burma, but if you want to do any kind of long-distance travel you will find that you will probably be doing it on a bus, at night. Luckily, surviving night buses in Burma is an easy task. You may be surprised to learn that we found ourselves on some of the best buses we had encountered anywhere on our travels so far.
Now, I don’t have a great history with travelling on night buses. I have memories of being blasted with freezing aircon, headache-inducing karaoke tunes, and one particular driver in Malaysia who kept slapping himself to stay awake towards the end of a journey. Normally I avoid night bus travel in favour of trains or multiple shorter daytime journeys, but in Burma this was impossible or very impractical. As a result we did long-distance bus journeys between Yangon and Inle (Nyaung Shwe), Inle and Mandalay, and Bagan back to Yangon again.
Top Tips for catching night buses in Burma
1 – To book a night bus out of Yangon, go to the street right opposite the main railway station car park. There are lots of bus agencies there who can help you. There are a few ‘helpers’ hanging around but ignore them and just approach one of the offices directly. The company we booked with had English-speaking staff and translated our ticket into English for us. They also wrote out detailed instructions on how to get to their office at the Highway Bus Station in Burmese so we could give it to our taxi driver.
2 – If you are travelling to or from Yangon Highway Bus Station – pay attention! It took us just over two hours to get there in a taxi from just outside the centre of Yangon. The bus station is absolutely massive and completely chaotic. Your bus will leave from your transport company’s office. Make sure your taxi driver knows exactly where that is. Get them written instructions if you can.
3 – It is likely that you will arrive at your destination at stupid o’clock in the morning. We always booked accommodation in advance so that we were expected. None of the hotels we rocked up at had any problem finding us a room even though it was very early. We were always able to check in right away.
4 – We always traveled on the (very affordable) VIP service. These buses had three reclining comfy seats per row. Big enough for the kids to curl up and go to sleep on. Two out of the three buses we took also had entertainment systems in the headrests showing films in English as well as cartoons! You can travel on a standard bus (4 seats per row), but we felt the extra space was definitely worth a few more dollars.
5 – There were no toilets on board any of the night buses that we caught. Instead there are two or three breaks to go for a pee and get some food. The kids had no problems coping with this at all.
6 – When the buses stop, everyone has to get off. I cannot stress enough how important it is to memorise what your bus looks like. You can even take a picture to be sure as they can look very alike. Some of the service stations are huge with 50-60 buses parked together and the buses are sometimes moved after you get off.
7 – You don’t need to buy tons of food and drinks before you get on the bus. We always got at least a complimentary snack and bottle of water. You can also buy snacks during rest stops if you are peckish.
8 – Safety is better than you might expect. All of our buses had two drivers taking turns throughout the night. The roads are not uniformly brilliant. However, we never felt that we were being driven at an unsafe speed.
If you have any more tips or experiences catching night buses in Burma, drop us a line below. We would love to add them to our list. If you have any questions about the practicalities that we haven’t covered, please drop us a line.