It has been a little more than one year since we started Centurion Auto’s car rental operations here in Yangon, Myanmar. In that time frame we have had 100s of happy clients, and at least 200 plus personal marketing meetings with numerous corporations or clients. One continuous question always comes up; Why do I need a rental car in Myanmar? To help shed light on this topic, we will try to organize our thoughts in this post…
Problems with Myanmar Roads:
Myanmar is quickly developing as foreign investment and foreign corporations enter the country. While the development and improvement in telecom, restaurants, and retail is apparent, the development in road infrastructure is evolving at a much slower rate. This makes Myanmar a very challenging driving experience for a car owner in numerous ways. Among the most common problems are…
1- Improper lighting at night: a combination of dark, narrow, and unlit lanes along with oncoming driver’s using their high beams in an attempt to blind you creates an unwanted situation. This combination creates a blind state for about 1 second every time a car passes you. Adding humans, dogs, bicycles, and other road irregularities into the mix, and this is a very dangerous situation. Driver’s must have good eyes and the ability to avoid the glare that is ever present.
2- Road Surfaces: The roads themselves are generally quite narrow and unmarked. Two way streets are very tight once off main roads to the point where vehicles will usually need to drop a wheel off the edge of the pavement to allow the other car to pass. In addition, Myanmar tends to use too little cement or asphalt resulting in a hard degrading of the road surface within a few months of rain season. This causes massive tyre damaging potholes, which other drivers will avoid at all costs (including swinging into your lane with you there). The use of cement is quite common, including on the highways as it is cheap and known to locals. The problem arise in that the surface is very course, causing excess damage to tyres with heat buildup and that cement cannot drain water properly. This results in heavy puddles even on the highway that cause massive aquaplaning and skids off of the road.
3- Improper Signage and Traffic Lights: Only major roads tend to have signs on them. Leaving most drivers to navigate by memory or asking locals numerous times for the proper road location. Most locals know roads due to their experience, but foreigners will have a very difficult time finding roads most of the time. It is also a key point in that roads have different names in English than in Burmese. Many locals will not even know Strand Rd, but rather by its local name.
Traffic lights have become much more apparent here over the past two years which is helping traffic flow. The issue results in that the lights only work around half the time in most locations and are run by local police via remote rather than a timer. This results in prolonged waits of up to 5 plus minutes sometimes while the light is red and a green light only existing for maybe 30 seconds for your lane. This obviously produces long traffic lines, and impatient drivers who will just go and cut everyone off at the light itself creating an even worse jam.
4- Construction and Barriers: There is no such thing as a detour sign in Myanmar. Construction starts overnight without notice and usually without much thought about how to deviate traffic flow. for example, Yangon is now building a large bridge network over major intersections. Rather than build one at a time, they have decided to build 7 at once and shutting two lanes with every construction site (4 lane road before). There is no way to go to avoid traffic and has resulted in transit times that are over 2 times longer than previous. Around 2 hours to go 8 miles.
In order to prevent the large number of drivers who drive illegally on the wrong side of the road to cut out traffic, the Myanmar government has put up road dividers on almost all major roads. Its a step in the right direction, but one that comes with no notice or signage. This has resulted in some terrible accidents of drivers either hitting the barriers head on when attempting to pass on the wrong side of the road or getting stuck on the opposite lane hitting oncoming vehicles.
5- No Parking: This is a huge problem for drivers wanting to go to a meeting, supermarket or dinner. Even though they successfully navigate themselves to the location, there is no parking lot of street parking available. Drivers must then search for a parking spot along the street with very limited safety precautions in place. Vehicles will not stop and allow you to reverse into a spot or decide to double park ahead of you blocking your car. While it is an annoyance with regards to having to leave more time to make your appointment, it is even more of a safety concern as your car is left vulnerable to vandalism, theft, or even terrorism in certain scenarios.
Problems with Myanmar Vehicles:
1- Cars are right hand drive: Even though Myanmar officially drives on the right hand side of the road, most of the vehicles remain imported from Japan. This results in many RHD vehicles driving on the right lane. This is not an issue when traffic is clear, but becomes dangerous when passing vehicles ahead as drivers cannot see oncoming traffic until their RHD car is halfway into the oncoming lane. This has resulted in some horrific accidents that could easily have been avoided if they were LHD. This situation gets worse when you take into account the public buses, who also drive on the right hand side with doors on the left. Passengers exit the bus into the flow of traffic rather than the sidewalk. It makes another aspect drivers here must be on all alerts to avoid.
2- Vehicles are not maintained: Most vehicles in Myanmar are over 8 years old. With limited parts availability and trained workshops, owners tend to skimp on their vehicle maintenance as its too hard or too expensive to both with. Many cars run on the wrong equipment (snow tyres in 40 degree C Myanmar is common), that causes breakdowns or accidents as the components are not meant to be used in the conditions Myanmar roads present. Many vehicles have no working lights which causes utter shock when driving on dark lanes and suddenly coming upon a dark color car heading straight at you. This lack of proper maintenance results in many cars causing accidents when they veer off the road due to tyre blowouts or mechanical failures. Unfortunately, they usually take out other surrounding vehicles and people in the process.
3- Vehicles are not clean: As stated above, most vehicles in Myanmar are over 8 years old. The weather of extreme heat, heavy rain, and lack of shelter make maintaining a car in Myanmar a challenge. This is apparent as you see the vehicles here and their lack of cleanliness standards. Cars are generally covered in dust or mud, remnants of the local delicacy of bettle nut (looks like blood smeared over everything), and numerous dents or scratches. The interior is not much better. Most taxis are very barren inside, with cloth seating, manual window levers, and a broken AC unit. The stains, dirt, and smell are a common sight and one that can make your commute to a meeting miserable.
Problems with Myanmar Drivers:
1- They are unskilled and untrained: Most drivers in Myanmar have a driving license that was issued for the use of a motorbike in their village. They then transfer this license to a driving license for a small fee. So while Myanmar people may be able to ride a motorcycle like Valentino Rossi (some are very talented), they have had no experience driving a car. Many do not use their side view mirrors at all and just drive according to feel resulting in many side swipes. To avoid this, locals will sound their horn whenever they are next to or passing a vehicle (their way of saying; “hi, I’m here”.). Drivers also continually leave improper spacing between themselves and the vehicle ahead. Combined with the poor vehicle maintenance, many get stuck at intersections as the car in front broke down and they cannot get around as they have positioned themselves too closely. This results in potentially dangerous situations where vehicles are boxed in and cannot escape in the event of an emergency.
2- They do not understand proper road courtesy: Myanmar people are some of the nicest in the world with regards to their generosity and openness towards visitors. Unfortunately, this trait is left outside of all vehicles. Drivers are very aggressive with regards to all driving inputs and right of ways. They make two lanes out of 1, push others off the road and will even yell and get physical in situations. The worst offenders remain the buses that transport nearly 3/4 of Yangon residents. Bus drivers are paid per passenger, and therefore make all efforts to increase their speed and number of passengers they can obtain within their shift. It is very routine to see Buses push vehicles off the road, hit vehicles or go down opposite lanes of traffic to get ahead of everyone else. Combined with the poor condition and near slick tyres, buses have the highest amount of accidents per vehicle type in Myanmar. Just last month alone, there were 4 fatal bus accidents resulting in the deaths of over 100 people.
In addition to this, drivers do not understand the rule of crosswalks. Yangon has been increasing the number or crosswalks throughout the city over the past few years (a good thing as crossing the road is very dangerous here). Drivers are still yet to understand the need to slow down or stop for pedestrians crossing the road. This has resulted in pedestrians not trusting the crosswalk and crossing anywhere on the road they feel is safer. If you are every walking in Myanmar, do not expect the traffic to stop for you. Proceed with due caution when safe to do so only. And you will usually have to cross roads one lane at a time.
3- They are stubborn: Drivers in Myanmar must always win. Everything is a challenge and will be fought with maximum energy. This presents a major problem when at intersections as no cars give way to allow traffic to flow. Rather then allow a few cars through to enter the side street, vehicles will block the road and leave no space for anyone to navigate. This can lead to jams of hours that could be settled with a difference of 3 feet on the road. This also makes it appearance when exiting lanes or parking lots onto a main road. While in most countries, once your nose is out in the street and blocking lanes, vehicles let you exit into the road, in Myanmar they will not. They will even go into the opposite flow of traffics lane to just get around you and not let you out into the road. It is something that is dangerous and infuriating at the same time.
The Centurion Auto Benefits:
All of the above our reason why having a professional car service is beneficial. While we cannot eliminate traffic of the behavior of others, we can adapt and make our clients lives less stressful and more enjoyable. Traffic is a way of life in almost all of Southeast Asia, and no different here in Yangon. Centurion passengers have the ability to not worry about the neighboring cars behavior or position, but instead relax while enjoying the complimentary Wi-Fi. Centurion’s trained drivers understand and analyze the risks that surround them constantly; including warning signs of aggressive drivers or hostiles, escape routes, and traffic patterns. Their local knowledge allows them to know the local roads from memory and training that makes them a proper professional image of you or your company. In addition, if an accident does occur our clients can rest assured they are covered by the best comprehensive insurance in all of Myanmar ($1 million USD comprehensive/ third party coverage). A car and driver in Myanmar makes your life easier, safer, and more enjoyable. Please gives us a call to experience the difference and judge for yourself.