The country of Myanmar has currently three international gateways. The country's newest airport stands in the capital Naypyidaw, but it's right in the middle of nowhere as far as tourists are concerned. Then there's Mandalay International Airport, which is Myanmar's biggest, putting travelers closer to the country's most beloved tourist stops. Yangon International Airport, located far to the south, is older but has better international connections than its northern rival. A fourth international airport, Hanthawaddy, is currently being built in the Bago region and is scheduled to be completed in 2022. That airport will be the largest in Myanmar, with a capacity of over 12 million passengers annually.
As of May 2019, none of these airports' routes connect to any destinations further than East Asia or the Middle East. From the U.S. or Europe, first-time travelers to Myanmar should schedule a layover at one of Southeast Asia's international hubs—such as Singapore's Changi Airport—before flying in.
If you're visiting Myanmar, it might make sense to fly in to one, and fly out from the other. Arrange a Myanmar itinerary that starts at Yangon, then meanders through the country to Mandalay. Having different airports at the two ends of your trip ensures you won't have to double back to any previously-visited point—you can maximizing your travels as you move in one direction (whether it's northward or southbound).
Yangon International Airport (RGN)
- Location: Mingaladon
- Best for: International flights; visiting Ngapali Beach
- Avoid if: You're visiting Inle Lake, Bagan and the former royal capital of Mandalay.
- Distance to Downtown Yangon: Coupon taxis outside the Yangon Airport will charge you about $5.22 (8,000 MMK) to cross the nine miles south to Downtown Yangon. If they quote a higher price, you can try to haggle down. Catch the red-and-white airport bus that leaves every five minutes from the airport to the Yangon Central Railway Station, stopping at key tourist stops and hotels along the way. One-way fare is about $0.33.
Yangon Airport is well connected to the rest of the world, offering more international connections than the two other Myanmar airports combined. Yangon visitors can take advantage of far more flight schedules via a larger choice of airlines. You can fly to Yangon from Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport and Kuala Lumpur's KLIA—two of the most popular international gateways leading to Yangon—but you can also easily book flights to Yangon from Hong Kong, Seoul, Narita, and Doha, too, among many other destinations. Yangon also offers great domestic connections to the rest of Myanmar, so it's easy to get around the country from here if the region isn't your final destination.
Mandalay International Airport (MDL)
- Location: Tada-U
- Best for: Visiting the tourist sites near Mandalay like Inle Lake and Bagan; avoiding crowds; low-cost flights around Southeast Asia
- Avoid if: You need long-haul international flights out of Southeast Asia.
- Distance to Mandalay City Center: The 20-mile distance from the airport to the Mandalay city center takes between 50 minutes to over an hour to cross. Fortunately, some hotels will gladly arrange airport transfers for you, and a free shuttle bus to downtown Mandalay is available for AirAsia passengers. Taxis are also available, costing about $15 for a private air-conditioned taxi and about $3 for shared taxis.
Most of Mandalay's most popular tourist destinations are located in Mandalay Region and Shan State, among them Inle Lake, Bagan, and the former royal capital of Mandalay. Flying into Mandalay International Airport gives you easy access to these spots. So if your trip leaves off Yangon and focuses on the temples at Bagan and a hike from Bago to Inle Lake, enter via Mandalay International Airport.
This is Myanmar's largest airport, built when the Myanmar military government expected international sanctions to ease up in the late 1990s (spoiler alert: they didn't). As a result, the airport sees less than half of its projected maximum capacity coming through its gates annually; as of 2017, only 1.3 million passengers flew through Mandalay Airport, despite its advertised capacity of 3 million passengers a year. Despite this (or perhaps because of it), Mandalay International Airport is a favorite stop for Southeast Asia low-cost airlines flying in from Singapore's Changi Airport and Bangkok's Don Mueang Airport.
Nay Pyi Taw International Airport (NYT)
- Location: Just west of Lewe
- Best for: Non-tourists
- Avoid if: You want easy access to the major tourist sites in the country.
- Distance to Naypyidaw Hotel Zone: It's about a 20-minute drive to the Hotel Zone, located near downtown Naypyidaw. There are no buses or trains, so you'll have to take a taxi; drivers will initially charge $15 (25,000 MMK). Negotiate your taxi price before the ride, though, so you might be able to score a much better deal.
Myanmar's capital moved from Yangon to Naypyidaw in 2005, and since then, great improvements have been made to the local airport. As it stands, the airport has a capacity of 3.5 million passengers per year, though it likely sees a number well below that—traffic data isn't readily available, but given the limited flights coming in and out of the airport, it's easy to infer a relatively low annual passenger count. The majority of flights serving Naypidyaw fly to and from Yangon, though there are a few international flights to Bangkok and several smaller cities in China.
Most people who fly here are residents (and primarily government workers). Though it's sprawling in size—according to the Myanmar government, it's about 2,700 square miles or 10 times the size of Singapore—the population is less than a million, and it lacks the tourist attractions of both Yangon and Mandalay. For many travelers on holiday, there's not much reason to visit Naypyidaw, save for the giant golden temple in the middle of the city and the country's largest zoo. Otherwise, it's pretty remote and therefore not great for tourism.