Flying Myanmar Domestic Routes

Golden Myanmar airplane at Heho Airport

I read some worrying reviews of domestic Myanmar flights, airlines and airports prior to our trip, so I thought I’d recap our experiences. During our time in Myanmar, we flew from Yangon to Mandalay, from Bagan to Heho (Inle Lake), and from Heho to Yangon. We flew Golden Myanmar Airlines all three times and our experiences were generally good. We had some delays, but nothing major and nothing that’s not common in the U.S. or Europe. The airplanes were clean, service good, flights smooth. Seats are a bit tight, but manageable especially considering the short flying times for domestic flights. Everything I read convinced me flying was the only way to go, given the state (or lack) of roads and railroads in Myanmar and the distances involved.

Legroom is a little tight for taller passengers on this Golden Myanmar flight from Bagan to Heho.

The options I found online for Myanmar flights were usually Golden Myanmar, Myanmar Airlines and Air KBZ. Mann Yadanarpon Airlines also showed up sometimes. The prices were usually fairly close, but Golden Myanmar won out on all three flights for me, both on a small price advantage, but also on convenient times and an easy-to-use website. (I also looked for multiple flights a day, so that a canceled flight wouldn’t leave us with no options to continue our journey later.) Prices ran around $70-95pp one-way, including tax.

Airports: Yangon International Airport (RGN) is modern and very nice. The domestic terminal is new, cavernous and mostly empty. It had plenty of seats for waiting travelers, good air conditioning, places to eat and shop, and modern bathrooms. Our flight from Yangon to Mandalay was an hour late. Not a huge deal, but the flight itself is only about 1h20. We rode a bus from the terminal to the plane. A small meal of water and a bun stuffed with shredded meat was served.

Yangon domestic terminal departures waiting hall

Mandalay International Airport (MDL) is smaller than Yangon International Airport, but still modern and spacious. We walked from the airplane to a baggage claim area with several carousels and a few shops at one end. We also had the interesting experience of sitting across the aisle from a local celebrity, who looked every bit the aging rock star he sort of turned out to be. We first noticed him and his wife since they were rather interestingly dressed and each took a surprisingly hefty handful of the wrapped hard candies offered by attendants at the end of the flight. Saleswomen from the shops flooded out to ask for photos when they spotted him and his wife waiting for luggage at the carousel. The celebrity couple readily obliged. I snapped the pic below of the girls getting photos with the singer and his wife. When I showed it to Yan, our steamboat guide, he instantly recognized the celebrity as Thein Tan a/k/a Myanmar Pyi. I gather he’s something like the Johnny Hallyday of Myanmar, although the music I’ve found on YouTube is very Burmese and not at all rock.

Local celebrity Thein Tan a/k/a Myanmar Pyi posing with fans in the Mandalay Airport arrivals and baggage claim hall

The airport serving Bagan is actually in Nyaung U. The airport is small with two sequential waiting areas, the main area with some shops and a second area past security entered only after your flight is called. We arrived way too early thanks to a taxi called by the Vietnamese agency through which I booked our Irrawaddy steamer cruise. Bagan is small with no real traffic issues, the airport not that far away, and there’s absolutely no need to arrive two hours early despite what the airline information page says. We would have had plenty of time to enjoy the ample buffet at our lovely hotel if we’d only asked the hotel desk staff when to leave for the airport.

Nyaung U Airport (Bagan) main hall, the first waiting area. (Empty because we were the first passengers there that morning.) The second waiting room is past security through doors to the right in the photo. Passengers enter there only after their flight is called.

Heho Airport is the smallest of the Myanmar airports we flew in and out of. Upon arrival, luggage is handed through an opening to the tarmac. There are no carousels. The Heho airport is 45-50 minutes from Nyaung Shwe, the town nearest to Inle Lake. Departure from the Heho airport meant a wait for someone to appear at the one-man Golden Myanmar counter, then another two-stage waiting room process before boarding. For domestic Myanmar flights, we walked out onto the tarmac to board and exit the airplanes. Only Yangon had a bus to get us closer to the plane.

No luggage carrousel at Heho Airport

In sum, we had no problems flying within Myanmar and found Golden Myanmar Airlines to be a fine airline that we’d happily fly again. That said, I’m glad I scheduled an overnight in Yangon prior to our international flight to India via Bangkok.

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