Myanmar National Airlines (MNA) has applied for a license to operate direct flights between Nyaung U in Myanmar and Siem Reap in Cambodia in an effort to improve connectivity between Bagan and Angkor Wat – two of the region’s most popular heritage destinations.
No direct international flights currently fly to Nyaung U. To visit the ancient temples of Bagan, international tourists must first fly to Yangon, Mandalay, or Naypyidaw. From there, domestic flights to Nyaung U are available, but they cost twice as much for international visitors as they do for Myanmar nationals. Only 44 percent of visitors to Bagan arrive by air. Many more tourists opt instead for a bus ride that can take more than four hours from Mandalay or Naypyidaw or nine hours from Yangon.
International flights from within mainland Southeast Asia into Myanmar are generally cheaper than domestic flights inside Myanmar, so the new Siem Reap-Nyaung U route is expected to drastically cut the cost and time it takes to visit both Angkor Wat and Bagan during the same trip.
According to the Khmer Times, MNA has applied for a license from Cambodia’s State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA). It is not known how long the application process will take, but the Myanmar Times has reported that the airline is seeking to run three flights per week by April 2018.
The tourism ministries of Cambodia and Myanmar signed a memorandum of understandings last month, agreeing to each promote the other as a tourism destination under a program called “Two Countries, One Destination.”
Kyaw Swa Min, a member of the committee that planned the program, told the Myanmar Times in June: “Angkor Wat and Bagan are similar in natural features and were founded in the same century. They are also quite unique, and that is why we grouped them for development as one destination.”
“It will boost tourist numbers between the two countries. It is a good model of development for the tourism industry, similar to what we already have with Thailand,” Ho Vandy, secretary-general of the Cambodian National Tourism Alliance, told the Khmer Times last week.
Bagan received just over 280,000 international visitors in 2016 and is projected by some to welcome 350,000 this year. Angkor Wat, on the other hand, received more than two million in 2016. Improved connectivity between the two sites is expected to allow Bagan to share a higher number of Angor Wat visitors.
However, certain obstacles to the plan remain. For instance, Nyaung U is not designated as an international airport, flights may need to make technical stops in Yangon or Mandalay for immigration and customs processing. Previous attempts by Myanmar airlines to operate direct flights between Chiang Mai and Bagan fell prey to this requirement. Passengers were forced to spend more than half of the journey’s four hours waiting in Yangon.
In July, Emirates launched direct flights between Yangon and Phnom Penh.